My Top 10 Reads from 2015

For the past several years, I have tracked the books I read. This year I was able to complete 41 books total (which completely smashed the previous years’ reading records). I selected 10 books that were my favorites from this year.

To get on this list, the book must have:

  1. made a lasting impact on my thinking or way of living
  2. presented its message beautifully
  3. left me ready to re-read it immediately

Here are my top 10 reads from 2015 (by author’s last name):

The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction by Frederick Buechner

Genre: Essays

I had the privilege of meeting one of my favorite writers this year, who gave me the following advice: read beautifully written books and pattern your writing after them to help shape your voice. One of the authors she recommended was Frederick Buechner. This essay collection wrestles unashamedly with hard questions and points to Jesus. Through mediations on pain, Flannery O’Connor, and a man standing on his head in the top of the church, Buechner celebrates “the rapturous shenanigans and holy abandon of faith kicking up its heels”. This book expanded my heart to love God more excellently and honestly in writing.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Genre: Memoir

I have been encouraged by Dr. Butterfield’s testimony and perspective for several years, but had never actually read her book, until I listened to the audiobook during a trip this year. Hearing her voice enhanced the honesty and fervency she has in sharing God’s transforming work in her life. Through the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit, she was converted from an atheist, self-sufficient, lesbian English professor to a follower of Christ. I especially appreciate her heart for ministering to the people the church often ignores (to our shame). Her story gave me hope for my own struggles with sexuality, while also pushing me to greater faithfulness in serving God and others.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Genre: Non-Fiction (Psychology)

I also listened to this as an audiobook. An introvert herself, Cain explores the development of extraversion as the ideal of Western culture and how that ideal has caused an imbalance in our society. She explains the biological basis for high sensitivity and the unique contributions introverts can have in a loud world. As I listened, I thought, “Someone gets it!” and “Yay, I’m normal!” Although I’ve been studying personality types for a few years, Quiet helped me to truly celebrate the way God has wired me.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

This was an unashamed audiobook binge–one after the other. If you also enjoy dystopian fiction, and have not read these yet, you should. Unlike in many recent teen-dystopian series, Collins created three-dimensional, breathing characters with major flaws, nervous breakdowns, and a conscience in taking human life. The protagonist and narrator, Katniss Everdeen, is a sixteen-year-old girl who lives in a cruel society that demands its children’s blood in exchange for peace. Collins did not make her the ideal heroine. Rather, she is the protagonist that is easy to both love and hate. She does not shy away from hard aspects of war like propaganda, post-traumatic stress, and the death of loved ones. These books remind the reader that there is no true winner, but many casualties, in wartime.

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard

Genre: Memoir

I gave this to a writer friend for Christmas, telling her “this is one of the most beautiful books I read this year”. In this memoir of her youth, Dillard writes with both childhood wonder and an adult self-awareness. She recalls moments of discovering life-long passions with startling immediacy and reflects on childish pranks with a sly smile. My imagination was captured from the first sentence and was not released until long after completing the final page. Dillard’s writing showed me how to show a story in my writing and reflect on a happening while still reliving it with the reader. She also reminded me of the layers of meaning time gives to memory and the value of returning to the past with fresh eyes.

True Woman 101: Divine Design by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian

Genre: Christian Living

I had the benefit of going through this book twice this year–once on my own and once with the ladies from my church. This book explores God’s design for women and men as presented in Genesis. The authors seek to confront beliefs about womanhood that originate in our culture with truth from God’s Word. They confront abuses of male authority, domineering women, weakened masculinity, and the cheapening of a woman’s worth with equal grace and boldness. The Holy Spirit used this book to help me to see my value as a woman made in the image of God and to also value the unique ways He has designed men as well. Although at points I was angry at what I read, in the end, this book’s message was healing to my heart.

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

Genre: Christian Living

I purchased this book after hearing the author interviewed on the Art of Simple podcast. This book made such an impact on me that I’ve given it away and repurchased it twice this year. And . . . I purchased and read her other two books as well. Her writing is full of breathing space and wonder. In this book, Freeman defines art as doing what God has made you to do. She explores the art of music, train-making, mothering, and even plumbing as God glorifying. She encourages her readers to release fears that are preventing them from embracing their calling and to boldly live their art. After reading this book, I was able to finally say “yes” to writing as my calling when God gave me the opportunity. I would not be pursuing full-time ministry if it was not for this book.

Notes From A Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider

Genre: Memoir/Christian Living

Tsh Oxenreider blogs at The Art of Simple, where she encourages her readers to “live holistically with your life purpose”. This book is essentially her living manifesto of that statement. She shares her family’s journey of learning to be intentional in their food choices, work, education, travel, entertainment, and rest, as they travel to and live in several different countries. Her writing style is both engaging and practical as she switches between story-telling and giving advice to her readers. This book encouraged me to think more deeply about my everyday choices and to boldly follow the Lord in every area of my life, from the spectacular to the mundane, especially when it opposes the expected.

The Song of the Wren-Falcon by Mary Ruth Pursselley

Genre: Fantasy

This book is actually a friend of mine‘s first novel, but it is included on this list by its own merit. The story surrounds a prophecy, a young woman named Orienne, and a battle between kingdoms. Any lover of the Lord of the Rings will feel at home in this book. I am usually skeptical of Christian fiction, but this book had wonderfully flawed characters and real pathos written into it. One character in particular is forced to confront his demons and walks away with a new identity. The scene of his transformation made me think the author had looked into my own heart. Her writing displays a mature understanding of human nature while displaying hope in dark places.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction

I left this book in tears over its painful beauty. This is a World War II story narrated by Death. Even though the reader knows from the beginning that the protagonist dies, the story of her life draws the reader in as it is told both cruelly and poetically. I winced as Liesel was beaten, I cheered when she stole her first book, and I sobbed as Death described carrying her away. I normally love books about this era, but this one stands apart for its creative storytelling and the author’s ability to narrate detachedly but engaged with the horror of the era.

What were your favorite reads of 2015? I am always looking for a good book! You can email me your thoughts here. Happy reading in the new year!

Looking Back on 2015

2015 was a year of both aftermath and beginnings. 2014 was a year of loss for me; 2015 was the year of grieving those losses. But at the same time, the sorrow I felt was mixed with great joy as I followed the Lord into new territory. Today, I’m looking back (and looking forward).

What I Did In 2015:

  • Worked four jobs at once and left them to follow God’s call to full-time ministry.
  • Planned to move to another city and then saw God redirect me.
  • Accepted a job offer with Revive Our Hearts as an editorial services assistant and began building a team of financial and prayer supporters. 
  • Traveled (a lot):
    • Two trips to Niles, Michigan for a job interview and training at Life Action Ministries
    • Flew and then drove cross-country to help my grandmother move from New Jersey
    • A two-week fundraising trip to Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin
    • Returned to Michigan for Seek Week, Life Action’s staff revival week
    • Traveled to Little Rock for prison chaplaincy volunteer training
    • Served with the Revive Our Hearts team at their women’s ministry leader conference, Revive ’15: Women Teaching Women, in Indianapolis
    • Took another trip in October to Michigan, where I shared my testimony and presented the ministry to two women’s Bible studies at my childhood church.
    • Took two trips to McPherson Women’s Prison in Arkansas, once in August to help with a Bible retreat and once in December to play music, visit in the barracks, and help with Christmas distribution of t-shirts, socks, and treats to 1100 inmates.
  • Created a personal purpose statement.
  • Read 41 books (I am planning to post on my favorite 2015 reads soon).
  • Renewed several old friendships; lost a few others.
  • Joined my church in covenant membership.
  • Spent nearly two months in bed and in doctors’ offices, during which God taught me to better rely on and trust Him. Although I am still dealing with health issues, I am grateful for His mercy towards me.
  • Completed my first Whole30.

Things I Learned With God in 2015:

  • God has wired and called me to be a writer. Although I have always wanted to write and it is like breathing to me, I was afraid to believe I could be a writer. (This book challenged me to embrace the desire God had put in my heart.) When He overcame my objections, I was able to say “yes” to using my writing skills in full-time ministry.
  • Being a writer means He calls me to write about the hard things. This year it is going to happen . . . with lots of prayer.
  • God provides in ways I do not expect or can see. In the journey of raising my financial support for the ministry, God has used many people to provide for my needs. I am thankful for His sovereign hand working behind the scenes.
  • Hospitality is beautiful (no matter what form it takes), and it’s also a two-way street. In most of my traveling this year, I was staying in others’ homes. I even stayed with a couple I had never met before! Each family approached hosting differently, but each shared what they had and treated me like family. As a guest, I learned how to appreciate and accept God’s love working through them. They showed me the Savior by providing practically and sharing their everyday rhythms.
  • Lessons about God’s grace working through my weaknesses:
    • Something can be a permanent part of your story without being a permanent part of your identity.
    • Every open wound is also a door for God’s grace to walk through.
    • To be truly broken before God means not hiding my weaknesses, sin, and struggles from other people.
    • Being vulnerable about my struggles with sin may be the path to healing for someone else.
  • God’s love doesn’t call me to a cupcake life of sprinkles and frosting, but a cross-carrying life of blood and tears. But God is my help and is with me every step of the way. More about that lesson can be found here.
  • To live simply. I am learning to clean out the clutter in every area of my life and focus on what and who are most important.
  • Faith does not always look extraordinary. Instead, it is found in the mundane, ordinary obedience of every day.
  • Singleness can be an idol just as much as marriage. (Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ testimony broke me.)
  • A truly beautiful covenant community is one that loves Christ and loves people. I joined a new church this year, and I couldn’t ask for a better fellowship to travel with in this season of unknowns. My church is not perfect, but in our imperfection, God’s grace always shows up. I love that.
  • Even though some Christian leaders will fail me, there is always a remnant that seeks to follow the Lord faithfully. The past two years, I have seen many pastors and teachers fail, including a few close to me. The godly, caring leadership of the ministry I am joining and my local church has helped to heal the broken places left behind in the storm. I see Jesus in their successes and their weaknesses, and that vision encourages me to stay the course of faith.
  • I should seek God’s Kingdom and build relationships where I’m placed, instead of always pursuing the next thing. I have a tendency to live in the future and forget that God has put me in this moment and this place to serve Him. He is sovereign over tomorrow, and He is also sovereign over today. I should live like I believe it.
  • Lessons about relationships:
    • When a friendship ends, it is not always my fault. Some people will forget or leave me, and that is ok.
    • I do not have to be everything to everyone – God has given me certain responsibilities and relationships to fulfill faithfully in different ways.
    • Not everyone will understand everything that I’m struggling with, but God can still speak truth into my life through them.

Other Things I Learned:

  • I do not like the taste of alcohol.
  • To choose clothes that suit me.
  • To use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram as tools in understanding how God has wired me, seeing areas to grow in, and relating to others. I learned I’m an INTJ and Enneagram Type 4 (it is an unusual combination, but it explains me well).
  • To build and code my own website (and resurrect it after I crashed it!).
  • To use a bullet journal to keep my days organized and document my year.
  • To use Instagram and MailChimp to connect with people.
  • To make my own beauty products and home remedies.
  • To play the guitar (enough to get by).
  • I love songwriting.
  • Routine and structure is good for my heart.
  • I don’t need access to everything all the time. My iPhone got significantly “dumbed-down” this year. Although I still use a lot of apps daily, social media and the browser have all been removed. I’ve chosen not to check my email on my phone either. The quiet has been healthy and needed.
  • I need fiction and memoirs in my reading diet. They’ve done more to show me excellence in writing than anything else.

5 Things I’m Looking Forward To in 2016:

  • Finishing building my ministry partner team, moving to Michigan and beginning work at Revive Our Hearts (if you would like to help, you can donate or become a monthly ministry partner here!).
  • Blogging weekly and starting to write about hard things.
  • Doing the Visual Theology Reading Challenge.
  • Focusing on deepening my prayer life.
  • Following God into the adventure of turning 25.

I will be sharing my favorite reads from this year next week, but in the meantime, have you taken time to reflect on and thank God for 2015? Remember this as you move forward: the grace that kept His people last year is the same grace that calls us into new territory this year. With His help, we survived; with His help, we will run into a new year with hope.

7 Reasons To Not Give Up on Church

Church blog post

Have you ever felt or thought the following?

  • “I love Jesus, but I hate church.”
  • “I feel that my faith is something just between me and God.”
  • “I’m an introvert, and church – with all the people and loud music – is just overwhelming.”
  • “Church people just aren’t authentic. They come together and ‘praise Jesus’ but then treat you like dirt. I just don’t want to be a part of something so fake.”
  • “I feel like I can’t be real or share my issues at church, so what’s the point in going?”

If you have, you’re not alone.

It seems like everywhere I turn, people in my generation are giving up on church. I have several close friends that are either between churches, have given up on going, or are struggling with staying at their church. Some bloggers I respect and enjoy reading have recently shared on their websites reasons why they no longer attend a local church. It’s a theme that keeps popping up on my Facebook feed and in conversations. Church has become a bad word to many people.

I get it. I really do. Being part of a church can be painful and more discouraging than life-giving at times. I’ve been part of many different churches in my short lifetime. I’ve experienced church splits, backbiting, and the loneliness of fake smiles. But I’ve also experienced the flip-side: love, unity, and authentic community.

So, if you’re in this struggle too, I want to encourage you.

Here are seven reasons not to give up on church:

1. Being part of a local church is commanded for our good.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says this: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

If you’ve ever struggled with attending or committing to a church, you’ve probably heard this passage. But have you ever wondered why God expects this?

Earlier in the book, we find the answer. “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13). God calls us to obey this command so that we would be protected against spiritual blind spots. Having other believers around to speak into our lives keeps us from falling into sin’s traps and hardening our hearts toward God.

2. Being part of a local church gives us a context to practice the “one anothers” of Scripture and use our spiritual gifts.

“Love one another” and “bear with one another” are two commands we cannot obey without other people. When I’m connected with other believers (who are imperfect too), it’s going to be hard. It reveals my own sin as I react to personality differences, disagreements, and even others’ sin. In those moments, I can choose to take my eyes off my own needs and ask God to help me learn love and care for my church family. That’s why Paul wrote that “each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). God gives us spiritual gifts so that we can help and serve one another in Christ.

3. Being part of a local church keeps my faith from being merely an individual project of my own making.

It’s become more and more popular to make a “custom-built” faith. Just me and Jesus. The fact is, my faith was never designed to be only my personal relationship with Jesus. That is part of it, but not the whole story. The church exists as a Body–individuals in a family. There’s a communal aspect to it. God desires to put us with people and under authority to keep us from heading into error or isolating ourselves. Proverbs 18:1 has some wise words: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” Scary stuff.

4. Being part of a local church allows me to hear all of God’s Word preached – not just the parts I like or consider relevant.

Christians often will only read the parts of the Bible we enjoy (I’m guilty of this too – the Psalms are my jam), or ignore things that don’t line up with our way of living. We don’t want to wrestle with hard commands or questions. Thinking through things is good, but thinking that does not consider the whole of Scripture can lead you astray. A faithful church will not shy away from the hard parts of Scripture, which means a consistent church attender will have to deal with the conviction of the whole counsel of God. When the whole Bible is heard, the Holy Spirit can point out our hidden sin and make wandering off into error more difficult.

5. Being part of a local church expands my view of the grace and love of God.

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28). I love this passage. In my church, there are many people who are not like me, and that’s a good thing. Because of Jesus, all of these different people are brought together. Our God is great and He shows that greatness by saving a diverse group of people (Rev 7:9-12). I never see that if I’m only spending time with people who have the same background and interests as me.

6. Being part of a local church provides me with the wisdom of multiple generations and differing experiences.

It’s really easy to just hang with “my people” and not step out of my comfort zone. Being involved in a local church makes me do that constantly. When I do that, I open myself up gaining wisdom. It is good to have older people and younger people in my life. It is good to have people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, politics, ethnicities, and education speaking into my life. Their perspectives from walking with God in different circumstances and insights from their lives have a deep wealth of knowledge I can draw on. When I don’t have that, I could be on a path to trouble. That’s why Proverbs says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Prov 11:14).

7. Being part of a local church unites me with others in covenant and a common mission.

Have you ever wanted to be part of something bigger than yourself? Here is the greatest mission that has ever existed:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:18-20)

The Great Commission is a “co-mission”–a mission to do together. Like anything in life, if there is a large goal to meet, it is always better to have a team. Jesus’ team is the Church. When you join a local church, you’re becoming part of a band of brothers on mission.

In many churches (including my own), members commit to a covenant. It is a binding promise that the church is going to care for you, and you are going to care for those in the church. That church becomes a family to you on the basis of a solemn commitment. Through thick and thin, you are a part of that body and an essential part of its mission.

The early Church understood covenant well. Scripture tells us that “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:42). Isn’t that a beautiful picture? That is God’s desire for today’s churches also. They often don’t measure up to the ideal, but my generation can be a part of making that happen – if we don’t give up.

Bonus reason: Jesus hasn’t given up on the Church.

She is His imperfect, but beautiful Bride. He died to save her, and His love for her is perfect and unending. If Jesus is my Lord, I should love and fight for what He loves and fights for. He sacrificed His life. I may have to sacrifice my preferences or comfort or self-protection. But if He thought she was worth it, she is.

Embracing My Smallness in God’s Kingdom

Several years ago, I took a study-abroad trip to China through my university. I never realized how large China is until I was actually there. We visited several cities, but Shanghai was especially enormous to me. Over 24 million people live there—almost as many as in the state of Texas.

China 2011 037

Not only is it large, Shanghai is also amazingly cosmopolitan. Next to a Chinese grocery store, you
will see KFC and an HSBC bank. On a corner where a street sweeper is working hard with a straw broom, you will see a Nike billboard featuring an NBA player. Myriads of bicycles travel along streets along with BMWs. 7-Eleven stores sell rice and fish balls. The icons of Western materialism have arrived and been transformed.

As the days went on, I felt more and more at home, but I also became more and more aware of my smallness. So many people that I never knew existed. So many hearts beating in one place. So many people that speak a language I did not understand.

China 2011 167While we were touring Shanghai, our tour guide took us to a riverwalk area called the Bund. To get there, you cross the Waibaidu Bridge. It was the first iron bridge built in China. Walking there feels like you’re entering an unknown, but familiar past. Then the tour guide tells you: this area is where westerners were allowed to settle and trade in years gone by. That explains it – here is where east met west. You can almost hear the footsteps of European traders in a foreign city.

Crossing the bridge, the gray Huangpu River flows to your left. The metal supports of the bridge loom large to your right, dazzling in their geometric symmetry. Ahead, you see a large stone walkway. It is wide and open to the river’s view. Food carts beckon, advertising Chinese soda pops that are pleasingly sweet, but barely carbonated.

As you step onto the Bund and look to your right, you’re surprised to discover Europe. Dutch, English, German, French, and Italian all whisper to you from buildings that once housed the best in western capitalism. Art deco, neo-classical, and Romanesque are all here in a playful decoupage of styles. Their windows, roofs, and shape don’t say “China” at all . . . where did we take this trip to again?

China 2011 192

Then your ears and eyes tune back into your immediate surroundings. The area feels so European, but you and your friends are the only Westerners in sight. Then you feel your smallness even more. You understand nothing being said. No one looks like you. You’ve never felt so connected to the world’s largeness, yet you’ve never felt so alone.

Can you feel it with me?

I felt my smallness then. But I didn’t really take it to heart in that moment. Instead, my friends and I invented a game that continued for the entire trip. It was unfortunately called “spot the white person”. We saw so few Westerners in China, it was entertaining for us to count them.

Today, it’s not the “white” people that stand out in my memory. I remember beautiful Chinese faces. Not one was the same. There were so many ethnicities. Millions and millions of people, all made in the image of God.

Looking back, I think this was the day I learned this: humanity is bigger than I think, and not everyone displays God’s image the same as me. I am not the sole picture of personhood. God is more creative than that.

Spot the “True Believer”

I have to admit, the game I played in Shanghai was immature and small-minded.

But I think that there’s a similar game many Christians like to play: “spot the ‘true believer’”.

I still catch myself doing it. I put myself in God’s seat as judge and ask, “Does that person really follow Jesus?”

When I was younger, I looked at other Christians and played the game like this:

  1. Evaluate them based on my standards, not God’s.
  • Are their clothes an acceptable length or style?
  • Do they refuse to read certain books or watch certain movies?
  • Does their music adhere to certain rules?
  • Do they attend a church just like mine?
  • And on and on . . .

2. Make a judgment call about their relationship with God based on what I could see outwardly.

3. Disassociate myself from them if they don’t measure up.

4. Whisper and gossip behind their backs.

5. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Pretty immature, huh?

Here’s the deal. I’m tempted to say that I don’t do this anymore, but I do.

It’s the same game. The questions I ask may look different, but it’s the same.

I like to point fingers at other people and say they are the judgmental ones. But in my heart, I know the truth. I judge other Christians based on me. Their Christianity has to look like mine. I take God off the throne and set my own standard.

IMG_0407Let me paint another picture for you. Last year, I attended a prayer meeting as part of a women’s conference. It was held in a large, carpeted room, decorated in the neutral tones of a convention center, with the typical padded conference chairs.

There was no seat to be found, though. This meeting was packed. I sat down on the carpet with my back to the wall, grateful to be off my feet.

To my left was an older Mennonite woman, with kind, blue eyes and a white, sheer cap covering her gray hair. We sat on the floor together, as the voices rose, petitioning God to work in our lives and praising Christ for His mercy.

I heard an African-American woman nearby praise the Lord Jesus with a joyful, rich voice that sounded like hands raised in the air.

I heard a Texan woman with large, blonde hair read us a psalm in a ringing treble.

I saw and heard women from India, the Dominican Republic, New York, and Kansas lift their hearts together to our blessed Lord.

I saw people of many different denominations and backgrounds joining together around one center – the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That day, I learned this: Christ’s kingdom is bigger than I think, and not every Christian looks like me.

Jesus Defines a True Believer

By rights, Jesus should set the definition of a Christian for me. This is what He says:

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” – John 14:21

Love for people and obedience to God’s Word (including the command to repent and believe in Christ) – those are the marks of a follower of Jesus. It’s not the clothes you wear or the worship style you use or the denomination you claim.

When I play “spot the ‘true believer’”—also known as legalism—I am not living like a Christian myself. I’m not loving my fellow Christians, and I’m not obeying my Lord’s commands to “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” (Rom 12:16)

I need to remember the smallness I felt in Shanghai. God’s Kingdom is bigger and more diverse than I think, because God’s grace is greater and more glorious than I think. When I try to make His people into my image, I try to make Him into my image too. Maybe instead of playing judgmental games, I should be pleading with God to change my heart toward humility, love, and obedience. And I am.

Today, I am grateful for His grace. God set the highest standard – His perfection and holiness. I can never measure up to that. But unlike me, God doesn’t gossip about me or turn away from me.

Instead, He sent Jesus. Jesus lived the life of perfection I never could have lived. He died the death I deserved to die for shaking my fist in God’s face. He was resurrected to give me new life and declare me righteous in God’s sight. And now He lives to stand as a mediator between God and His people. He will return and make all things new and right.

I don’t deserve to receive any of that. These gifts are grace. And that grace reminds me of my smallness. Today, I choose to embrace my smallness, and I’m asking God to give me the humility to match it.

China 2011 233

(Me in Shanghai – May 2011)

Instant Coffee, Instant Faith

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My friend Rebecca loves her coffee strong and dark. Those one-cup coffee makers don’t cut it for her. The options that give you a decent sized cup make coffee that is too watered down and weak. According to her, the only button that makes almost “real” coffee is the one with a tiny teacup on it. Elf coffee. Like a little espresso shot – with much less impact and caffeine.

A cup of coffee made in this machine has all the right physical elements – grounds and hot water. Yet for die-hard coffee fans, it is sadly disappointing. Something crucial is missing.

So . . . how can you make good coffee?

Well, you have a couple options. You can drip brew it (the option loved by most offices). The time it takes for hot water to drip, drip, drip onto and through aromatic coffee grounds makes for a much better coffee with more flavor and body.

But what if you want an even better cup? Then you buy a French press. This method combines hot water, time, and pressure to make an even better caffeine supply.

In the one-cup coffee maker, the water just runs straight through in the hopes that the sudden rush of water will magically make coffee. But genuinely good coffee needs time and pressure to brew properly.

A lot of times, I approach the Christian life like a Keurig machine approaches coffee. I want instant results.

Have you ever thought these things? (I definitely have.)

  • “I prayed the prayer – I’m good.”
  • “I do what God asks of me – why is my life a mess?”
  • “I had this amazing spiritual moment that seemed to change my life, but I don’t know why this sin-struggle still hasn’t gone away.”
  • “My friend asked my forgiveness – why does she still keep hurting me?”

This is what I’ve had to keep learning: following Jesus isn’t an instant or easy thing. We hear people talk about when they “made a decision for Christ” and their life changed immediately. They broke their rock-and-roll tapes in half, gave up drugs (and never wanted any since), gave away all their stuff to the homeless, and started spontaneously preaching like the apostle Peter and a thousand people gave their life to Jesus.

I’m exaggerating, and maybe some of those tales are true, but from where I’m sitting, that kind of instant, complete change is the exception, not the rule. Instant coffee is not real coffee, and instant faith is not real faith.

Real Faith is Mundane, Not Instant

When God opens a person’s eyes to their need for Christ, a hard, painful process begins. God uses faithfulness over time and through immense pressure to make a person more like Christ.

Psalm 1 has so much wisdom for our Keurig-style Christianity:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by    streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

The person described in this psalm is not rushing after the next best thing to help them instantly grow. There’s no new technique or teaching that’s making this man prosper overnight. No. He is relying on the everyday dripping of God’s Word.

It is not the massive floods that cause a tree to grow – it’s the steady stream of water day after day, month after month, year after year. The Christian life does not consist only of great breakthroughs; it consists mainly in mundane, steady obedience. Like David prayed, it is the pursuit of “one thing . . . to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”

Pursuing God faithfully gives a person unique stability and depth that allows him to produce fruit. A tree does not will its fruit to grow – it just happens when it is well-nourished. Our lives are like that. We can’t will ourselves to produce fruit. The Christian life doesn’t produce instant results by pouring a bunch of water suddenly. For growth to happen, there has to be a steady and permeating trust daily in the ordinary means of grace. Then God Himself produces the fruit.

God’s Mundane Faithfulness

God is faithful through the mundane everyday of our lives. It’s not just in the storms or on the high mountains that He is faithful. It’s when we sit at a stoplight. It’s when we pour ourselves a glass of lemonade. It’s when we’re folding socks. He knows and cares about when we sit down and when we rise up, as Psalm 139 tells us.

God uses the everyday to prepare us. The big moments came for the men and women of faith because they were faithful with what God gave them today.

For the apostle Paul, some days were for making tents and arguing with people in the city square. Other days, he was stoned, shipwrecked, or living in prison. But the faith that sustained him as a tentmaker is the same that sustained Him as a prisoner.

God didn’t change in those different situations. The power of long-lasting faith in our lives is that it doesn’t change in those situations either. It is modeled on and rooted in the faithfulness of God.

Our Mundane Faithfulness

Faith is not just about the major acts of faith like building an ark. Noah was just as faithful when he was eating breakfast with his wife or chasing animals around in the ark.

We don’t hear about those “everyday” days in the great men and women of faith’s lives. We only hear the highlights. I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to fall into the trap of trying to live only for the big acts of faith:

“Oh, Abraham sacrificed Isaac, so I need to find some big sacrifice to make for God” or “David slew Goliath, so I need to go find my own giant to slay.”

What we don’t see are the years Abraham sat in a tent and waited for God to finally fulfill His promise. Maybe drinking goat milk. Maybe combing His beard. Were those days of waiting less an act of faith than climbing Mount Moriah with Isaac?

Or how about the years David spent sitting out in a field alone talking to and singing to his father’s sheep? Was that less obedience than putting a rock in a Philistine’s head?

No. Maybe God shows us the highlights of others’ lives so that we have a vision of what days and weeks of mundane faithfulness can lead to.

Ordinary, mundane faith. It was the faith of Brother Lawrence as he washed dishes and peeled potatoes, while reveling in the presence of God. It is also the faith that sustains Saeed Abedini in his prison cell in Iran. This is the faith that goes with my bi-vocational pastor from selling welding supplies to preaching in the pulpit. It’s everyday, but it’s extraordinary.

What does faith look like for you in the ordinary and mundane of today?

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“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1