Category: Kingdom Living

Book Review: Live Just.ly

Sometimes I struggle with knowing what I ought to do and then doing it.

And sometimes I struggle with wanting to live a certain way, but not knowing how to do it exactly.

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Live Just.ly is a new book created by Micah Challenge to help people figure out what it means to live justly. Written in a concise, straightforward format, Life Just.ly brings together many voices to get people talking about what it looks like to live a lifestyle of God-centered justice. They focus on five areas of life: advocacy, prayer, consumption, generosity, relationships, and creation care. In each of these areas, readers are challenged to thinking deeply about what living rightly in these areas looks like and then take action as a group as well as individual. The editors use stories, Scripture, discussion questions, online videos, prayer, and projects to help readers deeply engage in the material. It’s written in such a way that if taken seriously, transformation will happen when going through this study.

I love that this book gives you the tools you need to put into practice what you’re reading about. They offer solo work ideas, as well as group activities to cement the principles that the group is wrestling with and learning.

One chapter that is particularly challenging to me is the one about consumption. I’ve talked before about some of my thoughts on our culture’s idea of simplicity (so popular! so great! own less but you end up consuming more!). I care about this a lot because this is a place where i need to grow.  I know what I ought to do, and while I’ve taken some baby steps, I am mostly still figuring out HOW to do it.

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Take chocolate, for instance. I KNOW about the child-slavery that takes place so that I can eat a (now Hershey) “cadbury” egg. The real Cadbury egg IS fair trade, but now that the British aren’t exporting it over to the U.S. and Hershey is taking over the Cadbury egg, I’m faced with a dilemma. At first I thought, okay, I will just not eat cadbury eggs. Easy decision. But then, after some mental gymnastics, I decided, you know what- I want the cadbury egg. Me not buying it isn’t going to affect the market at all, so why shouldn’t I enjoy the cadbury egg? IT’S JUST A CADBURY EGG!

But, the deeper reality is this: I KNOW that children are in slavery so that I can eat a cadbury egg. And I’m choosing to participate. Sure, I’m not setting their work rules and regulations. But, I’m participating by buying unfair products. I’m knowingly participating in injustice because I’m far removed from it.

We all know that it’s not just about that foil-wrapped, chocolatey goodness with an oozy sugary center. It’s about cheap products. How do we get a good deal on cheap products? Well, the store is still making money. The one who is getting the short end of the stick is the one who is making the product.

“But my budget is tight!”

Oh I feel you. As a perpetual student-family, I get that. I’m there. That’s EXACTLY why it’s so hard.

If I buy cheap, unfair products, then I get to buy more of other things. My kids get to do fun things. They get more stuff (albeit cheaper). Not even an excessive amount of stuff, but just normal amount of stuff.

If I change my buying habits, then that means I’ll be paying MORE for my purchases, and I’ll have to buy LESS of them.

So, perhaps I buy fair-trade/slave-free chocolate. It’s more expensive. I think I’ll have to make cookies less often, but when I DO make the cookies, they’ll be cookies that are created justly.  Perhaps I stop buying my clothes at stores that have bad records, and instead, pay more money for my clothes and just buy LESS of them.

These are often not easy decisions for me. I LOVE “getting the good deal.” But, I have to reframe that in my mind– whose “good deal” am I getting?

All that to say, this book is an excellent resource for someone who is looking to really live more justly. It’s an uncomfortable read, but not because the authors use any shame language or “oughts” and “shoulds” (not at all!). This book is uncomfortable because it challenges our assumptions, our understandings of God’s character and values, and also reveals some of ways that we unknowingly participate in injustice.

Thanks to Micah Challenge for sending me this book in exchange for a free copy. I’m so thankful to be helping you share this really important challenge! 

p.s. For any of my British readers, PLEASE SEND ME A REAL CADBURY EGG!!!!!!

Simplicity: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Tiny house, less stuff, minimalism– simple living is a booming industry these days. When looking for an image for this post, I searched “live simply” in google images. I came across a large number of totes, pillows, posters, necklaces, coffee mugs, cell phone covers, etc. encouraging others to “live simply” (you know, because we definitely need more totes, more jewelry and certainly more coffee mugs!).

Everywhere we look, someone wants to tell us how we can live more simply. Oddly enough, we like those kinds of articles and posts, even if we really don’t WANT to live simply. I guess because we know in our heart of hearts that less is more, but getting “one more thing” feels so good (at least for the moment).

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One of my personal struggles with simplicity as it is espoused in popular culture is that simplicity still says that it’s okay to buy whatever we want– just make sure that when we buy something, we get rid of something else. So, I have a drawer full of sweaters. I see another one that I really like. I don’t need it, but go ahead and buy it. Just make sure I get rid of another and I’m still “living simply.”

I see the cutest “live simply” poster on sale for $116.90. Buy it, put it up, but just be sure I take something else down first and give it away or sell it or something.

Does this unsettle anyone else?

To me, this sound like consumerism dressed in disguise. Continue to buy. Continue to give in to the new, the fashionable, the whatever. But just be sure to get rid of the old so it doesn’t look like I have a lot.

I have a different kind of simplicity challenge:

Just don’t buy anything we don’t need. 

When we see a new scarf that we like, but don’t need, we say to ourselves and others around us, “I really like that scarf!” and keep on walking. It’s a strategy that I use with my kids, and have found it to work with myself too. We are acknowledging the scarf’s beauty, admiring its uniqueness, and then we get to recognize that we don’t have to own it just because it’s beautiful. We have enough. I also try to thank God, in that moment (Because often I REALLY WANT to take that scarf home with me.). I express my gratitude for the scarves in my closet that keep me warm and that I enjoy wearing.

It’s a different kind of simplicity, but perhaps a more honest one, especially for those of us who really want to own less, give more, and wriggle free from the grip of consumerism that we all struggle with.

 

 

Book Review: Miss Brenda and the Loveladies

I’m trying out a new book review format… let me know what you think!

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Title: Miss Brenda and the Loveladies

Author: Brenda Spahn and Irene Zutell

What’s this book about? 

This is a story about a woman (Brenda) who finds herself too close for comfort to landing in a prison cell, and how God used this to open her eyes to a totally forgotten group of people. What does it look like to serve them, love them, know them, help them? Brenda is a woman of courage, determination, and love– she used her resources, passion, and time to establish the Lovelady Center, which is today the largest nonprofit transitional center for women. This book tells of Brenda’s crazy adventures, mistakes, fears, and successes as God used Brenda and many others to build this incredible center. The story takes place in Birmingham, Alabama, and is hence rich with southern culture. I laughed. I cried. I got angry. I read it in less than a week. 🙂

Why did I choose to read this book?

Love the widow. Yes.

Love the orphaned. Yep.

Care for the poor. Mmhmm.

To be honest, my heart doesn’t race when I heard about prison ministries. It’s not really of interest to me, so I decided that perhaps it is because I haven’t been exposed to the realities of being in prison and I don’t know people who are trying to figure out how to successfully enter the “real world” upon release. I wanted my heart to soften for this group of people.

My Takeaway:

God deeply loves those whom have been imprisoned. Unfortunately, America hasn’t aced the rehabilitation process, so many ex-convicts find themselves back in the place where their crimes were initially committed…and then quickly find themselves back in prison. These women (and men) need the hope of the gospel. Their children children and family members who are hurting need the hope of the gospel. Many of the crimes are drug-related, and often times the drugs were initially used to try to make them feel better- to forget about the past filled with abuse, neglect, and dysfunctional families. Not only do this group of people need to experience God’s love, but they also need access to practical tools that will help them as they learn to be a part of society again.

Questions I’m now asking:

What is our responsibility to the prisoner? The post-prisoner? How can we creatively serve this group of people?

Where can you go to learn more?

The Lovelady Center website

Miss Brenda and the Love Ladies on Facebook

Prison Fellowship Ministry

Celebrate Recovery

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

All opinions are mine. 

What does Jesus want for Christmas?

A season of waiting.

Waiting with expectation and hope.

Hope of a babe born in a manger, a small infant that was going to revolutionize the world.

Hope of a Savior, coming back to create His Kingdom on Earth.

As we wait and hope and wonder, we also plan and shop and cook and buy and plan more. We feel the stress of the holidays by day (how do we slow down?), and sit and wonder on our beds by night.

“God, I’m waiting on you.”

“Don’t forget me.”

“Lord, let the tests come back negative.”

“Lord, let the test be positive.”

“Come Lord Jesus.”

So many things we are waiting on while we are waiting on His Return.

“What does Jesus get for His birthday?” asks a four-year-old.

How does a parent answer? Our heart? …. Of course, but somehow that doesn’t answer his question.

“But why do we get gifts when it’s not our birthday? What does Jesus want, momma?”

For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Most mornings Jake and the kids take me to the train, which I then take to work. Earlier this week I was running late, and when they dropped me off on the street, I knew I had about 3 minutes to get onto the train before it departed. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. And if I didn’t catch this train, I’d be REALLY late for work.

I hopped out of the car, jogged up the street, and as I rounded the corner and began to climb the stairs to the bridge that crosses over the street and into the terminal, I saw her. A woman sitting on the stairs, wearing a big purple coat on a morning that was slightly warm. A sure sign that she was carrying what she owned. I knew right away what she was waiting on.

“Do you have any change, ma’am?” asks the woman, who was too old to be calling me ma’am.

“Oh I’m sorry, I don’t have any money on me,” was my immediate reply. And normally that’s true– I just don’t carry cash. But that morning, I did have money. And as soon as those words were out of my mouth, I knew I was wrong. I could give her something.

“I’m sorry,” I quickly continued, giving her a half smile, thinking about that train I was about to miss. “I hope you have a good day.”

As I continued rushing up the stairs, these words filled my heart and my head:

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

I was filled with sorrow and regret. I caught the train with literally only a few seconds to spare. But I also missed out on an opportunity to give Jesus a birthday present.

What does Jesus want for Christmas?

A drink of water.

A meal.

A place to stay.

A visit from a friend.

Encouragement.

As I continue to move into the season of Advent, I’m reminded that the Kingdom of God has not fully come yet. Peace does not reign. We are left waiting. But I’m also reminded that as I wait in hopeful expectation, I am also charged with bringing the Kingdom of God that I’m waiting on myself.

Loving Other Children Well- in Real Time

Let me tell you some stories of people who have encouraged me in thinking about loving other children well.

Story 1: First, there’s Christi. Her and her family live in Kenya, and are probably one of the coolest family I’ve gotten to know up close and personal. There family is one marked by intentionality, hospitality, and deep love. Christi’s three children go to school with other Kenyan children, not the western schools that many of the other non-Kenyan go to (I must caveat this by saying that their youngest is “Kenyan”, for all intents and purpose- born there and lived his whole life there). She shared an example today about how, when her kids weren’t learning everything she felt like they should be learning there, she chose not to pull them out, but instead to leave them there, but go in and start helping in their classrooms so the other children could be better served as well.

My reaction: I love this because Christi and her husband came up with a creative idea to love their kids (make sure they got the education they needed) AND to love other kids (teach them and make sure they get the education they need too). Well, some may say, I can’t do that here in America. Maybe not. But, you may be able to volunteer in your child’s classroom if your children are in public school.

Story 2: While in Columbia, MO, we sent Asante to a preschool a few mornings a week so he could get some interaction with other kids. Little did we know what a HUGE blessing this family would have on us– we were able to get to know the husband and wife who own and work in it, along with their fun and lovely family (5 kids!). For them, there entire life is wrapped up in kids— they spend themselves not only caring for their own family and the unique needs (there have been various issues, including medical that have been really trying for them), but also the needs of the kids in their preschool and the kids on the husband’s baseball team. For this family, they eagerly take other children into their lives and heart, and give them time that they could be spending with their children in their own home. Why? Because they love others deeply. She recently commented on how she felt like she was neglecting her kids because of the energy she was needing to give to some troubled kids in their lives, but was put at peace when one of her children suggested that they pray for the troubled kids during their evening prayers.

My reaction: This family has found a way to make a living loving other kids and in turn, their entire families. God is using them to reach kids with the gospel and all that in entails. They are blessed because they have been able to care for and teach kids in ways that their parents couldn’t. I love how this family has creatively figured out a way to love others besides their children. It fits them, their interests and their giftings.

There are many more I could tell, but these are just 2 examples of what it looks like to redefine family, and to love other children well. For each family, God asks us to do different things. There is no cookie cutter answer.

I think a life lived like this looks like a.) including our kids in whatever we’re doing, b.) making sure our children know they are deeply loved by us and by the Father, c.) that we are loving others because God has asked us to.

A few days ago I was talking to Asante (3 years old) about the fact that some kids don’t have parents, or they do have parents, but there parents can’t, for some reason or another, take care of them as well as they should. I asked Asante what we could do to help others. He said that maybe we should just ask them to live with us. I replied by saying that that would mean them having less attention from me and daddy, and that they would have to share their toys and clothes with any new kids who come into our family. Asante said after some long time of thinking to himself, “Well, I think it would be hard, but if you have to give your attention to the new kid, I could try and find something else to do during those times. I will know that you love me even if you’re giving your attention to someone else.”

I can’t help but think that if our children are raised with the sense that we have a responsibility to love and care for not only the technical orphans, but also the practical orphans (kids whose parents don’t care, or can’t care, or are unable to give them the opportunities to live well), then it becomes a natural thing. Isn’t it a natural thing for a parent and a child to welcome another kid into the family? Isn’t it natural that the parent has to sacrifice some of the opportunities of the other kids for the new child? Of course. So what if that new child is a foster child- is it right for us to sacrifice as a family to welcome in a foster child? How about an adopted child? How about a kid down the street whose parents are gone all the time working minimum-wage jobs, just trying to make ends meet? Or the kid who has angry parents who don’t know how to love themselves, much less another human being?

I just think another world is possible. I have to.

What if Jesus didn’t mean “family” the way that the church defines it?

Many middle-class, American churches tend to make one of their goals to share the gospel through reaching families. And this is good. We know stories of from around the world of one person from the family hearing the message of salvation, and bringing it home to their whole family, where everyone decides to follow Jesus. We also know how influential parents are on the faith development of their children (check out Christian Smith and Patricia Snell’s research in the book Souls in Transition). When our kids got dedicated (for my methodist friends, this is kinda like infant baptism but without the water), the church presented us with some awesome kid bibles because, they said, we were our child’s first evangelist. I wholeheartedly agree and am so thankful for this declaration. Finally, I love how some churches are moving towards integrated sunday school curriculum, and multi-generational sunday school so that parents and children can learn together, and have discussions later on over lunch about the lesson (check out Orange– a great family ministry).

BUT, could it be that, in other ways, the church has placed too much emphasis on the nuclear family? In the Scriptures, what does Jesus say, if anything, about the notion of nuclear family?

I was surprised to observe that there just isn’t a ton one way or the other (I mean, how many family-oriented sermons have you sat through, right?). Jesus upholds the idea of marriage (Hebrews 13:4), and especially for the context in which they were living, children would have probably be assumed. I’m comfortable saying that Jesus is happy for people to marry and have kids (although we do have the warning from Paul that marrying [and I would include having kids, but Paul doesn’t] will leave us with divided attention (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

However, Jesus does say some things that would make us question some of our thoughts on the responsibilities of family.

  • He talks about how we must hate our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and children for the sake of the gospel (Luke 14.26).
  • When Jesus calls one of the disciples and he replies that he needs to go bury his father (i.e. stick around and do what he needs to do to take care of his responsibilities to his father until and after he dies), Jesus told him no, that he needed to let the dead bury the dead (Matthew 8.21-22)
  • Jesus assured his disciples that there were eternal rewards for the sacrifices they were making for the gospel- material and familial (Mark 10.29-31).

What to make of all of this? We each have to wrestle and pray through these Scriptures, and through God’s desires for us and the community for which we are a part, but Will O’Brien in “Family Values” offers his ideas about what all this might mean:

In God’s reign, all persons are God’s precious children. We are all sisters and brothers. Everyone deserves the fullness of our love, the intentionality of our concern and care. We treat everyone has our family. Social or cultural systems that mediate against this vision are opposed to the reign of God, and we must, as disciples, defy them. I am afraid that much of the church, in its insistence on family values, is upholding the very social and cultural systems Jesus railed against. Family values are preached and practiced in the United States today means a boundary line between those for whom we are responsible and those for whom we are not; those worthy of our love and those not worthy.

Finally, as I reflect on God in His role of Father to Jesus, I see His incredibly deep and perfect love for Him. Isn’t it the kind of love that we as parents aim for and bask in ourselves as God’s children? Yet, the Father sacrificed His one and only Son (i.e. ask a parent whose only child has died to help you understand a portion of the significance of the “one and only” part)….so that we may live. We were not His biological child. We were adopted into the family of God. In God’s eyes, we are a sister and brother of Jesus. As we parent, how can we begin to justify creating boundaries of responsibility for our child only? The example of God as parent tells us to do something very differently. If God would have said that His only responsibility was to provide the best for His child only, we would be in seriously bad shape.

Thank you God, for grace. For not caring only about Jesus, but for all of humanity. For calling me your daughter. For taking responsibility for me too. Help me to see ways that I can do that for others. Give me a deep love for other children I come into contact with everyday….and give me and Jake the courage and wisdom to put ourselves and our children in places where we can interact meaningfully with others, especially with those who have no parents or have parents who can’t or don’t love them well.

The Sacrifices We Make

What would you give up for your child?

If you’re like most parents, you would pretty much give up anything- your money (ha, which you do), your sleep (ditto), your health, your opportunities. We spend time, money, and energy making sure that our kids have the opportunities they need to grow and become all that they can be. For the past several weeks I’ve been spending all three of those things creating developmentally appropriate activities to do with each kid to help them to reach some goals we’ve set for them by the end of the year. Some of those nights I would have much rather been reading, writing or scrapbooking, but, that’s what a mom will do.

But here’s a trickier question- what would you give up for someone else’s child?

I remember Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church say that he told his congregation during a big back-to-school clothes/shoes/supplies drive to buy the same quality of clothes or shoes or school supplies that they would buy for their own child. If you shop at Walmart, buy clothes from walmart for the drive. If you shop at Gap Kids, buy from Gap Kids. If you normally spend $100 on a pair of shoes for your kid, buy a $100 pair of shoes for the drive. I wonder what the congregation actually did, because you see, it’s hard to sacrifice for someone else’s child.

This is the question that the editors of Conspire offer in “Our Children, Our Souls.”

In a world that insists that resources are scarce, where the playing field is fractured with structured and intentional inequality, children force us to confront directly this question: ‘Who am I willing to sacrifice so that my own live well?’

This question haunts me.

And if you are a follower of Jesus, it should probably haunt you as well.

Are you willing to give up some of your time for other children? Are you willing to give up a little money for other children? Are you willing to give up a little energy and hard work for other children?

Are you willing to give up some of your children’s opportunities in order to create good for other children? If giving up “best” for your child meant moving another child from “bad” to “good”, would you do it?

These are the things I think about as I play and love and dream with my three precious little children. I want the best for them something fierce. But as I pray for God to break my heart for the things that break His, I’m beginning to realize that while He entrusted these children to my care, I would be failing Him and them if I just did what I could to give them the best opportunities in life. He wants them to care deeply for others. He wants them to learn to love kids who are really different from them in all kinds of ways. He wants them to fight injustice and dream of ways to show compassion for those on the margins, even if they don’t recognize what that means. You see, sometimes what I think is best isn’t what God thinks is best.

Father, give me wisdom and courage to raise these children in ways that would love you and love others. Help me to love others, not only as I love myself, but also as I love my children.

Nothin’ Like a Good Movie

You know how sometimes you watch a certain kind of movie, and it makes you want to be a better person? The credits begin to roll, and you think, “wow. things could be different. i can do something to make things better for others.” I think this feeling, this inspiration, this letting go of the imagination, is similar to what Jesus was hoping for when he used His parables to teach on the Kingdom of God (KoG). He wanted to stir our insides, giving us a glimpse into the “not yet” so that we could be working in the “already here.”

Jesus’ parables “draw us into the kingdom world and then they set us back down in this world hungering for more, hungering for a kingdom kind of world now” (Scot McKnight, One.Life, p. 38).

What better way to teach someone about the KoG than showing them what it looks like? Stirring their imaginations towards what could be?

[This is why I really love The Simple Way’s series of DVDs entitled “Another World is Possible.” I would have totally named my blog that if I didn’t suspect they had a copyright on it ;). ]

What are some of those movies that have moved you towards Kingdom living? What movies would you use in teaching to help illustrate the KoG?

I’ll start…To End All Wars was one of those for me, as it relates to grace and peace.

Are you Waiting for Superman?

Jake and I are watching Waiting for Superman, a documentary on public education and reform in the United States. While I could give my opinions on the documentary and on public education in general, I would rather discuss the christian’s responsibility in the public schools.

The opening scene is of an educator recalling a memory from his elementary years when he learned superman wasn’t real. He cried. His mom thought it was something like finding out Santa Clause wasn’t real, but it was because he realized no one was coming to rescue him. Who will rescue the kids and their education?

Asante is becoming school age in the next year or two, so Jake and I have been looking into and discussing how to best “school” him. Do we homeschool for a year? Would we ever want him to go to a private school? What are the public schools that are available to him here, if we’re still in Philly when it’s time for kindergarten? Does the public school available affect our decision about schooling?

I know and love many people who homeschool their children, all for a combination of a number of reasons. Most of these people are Christians. While I understand the reasons, I still must ask the question- what would need to happen before Christian parents decided to send their kids to public schools? Even if Christians homeschool, is there a way that they can still impact, influence and love on the kids who are in public schools?

There is no superman who is going to save the public schools. Although there are systems that need to be changed– reform that must happen, it is also going to take teachers and students who help transform those schools. If Christians are op-ing out of the public schools, they are op-ing out of an organization that nearly every child in that community participates in. We want to transform our communities. We want to touch children with the good news of Jesus. But we remove ourselves and our children from the very place where those interactions can happen?

For me, I want the best for my children. And I know that I could do better than some of the public schools around here. But do I make decisions based on the best for my child? Or for the good of the school and community? My biggest obstacle in making this hard decision is fear. I’m afraid that if I send Asante and eventually the girls to a mediocre school, I’m taking away something from him- opportunities, positive environments, etc. But am I also taking away his ability to make friends with people who are far from God? Am I taking away my or Jake’s ability to volunteer in the classrooms, helping make the schools a better place?

This is not an easy decision for many parents, so I don’t want to pretend it is. And for some families, homeschooling is the best decision. BUT, I want to begin a discussion about how we can be serving students and their educational futures no matter which schooling decision we choose. What are your thoughts… especially those of you who have chosen to homeschool?

“Do you eat too much?” and other leadership questions

I’m reading a book about leadership development in the local church, and the authors include a sample leadership questionnaire for people who want to be leaders to complete as a first/second step to leadership. Several of the questions have to do with whether the person has had a moral mishap or gray area at any point of their lives (smoking, drinking, divorce, pornography, drugs, crime). This makes up over half the questionnaire.

My question is why in the world are we still asking these questions? Why are these the “bad things” that we have to continually admit to and revisit? Why do I have to write it down? Why can’t it be something that church staff find out as they get to know me? Also, why is this particular list the dirty laundry list? Why don’t we include questions like:

1. Do you habitually eat too much or too little? If so, how often? Please explain.

2. Do you frequently lose your patience and speak out of anger to your spouse and/or children? Please give an example.

3. Do you find yourself spending money on things you don’t need? Do you give money generously to those around you? Please attach a copy of your most recent bank statement.

4. Do you have a problem with working too much or too little? Please attach a time sheet.

5. Please tell us a recent story of you sharing your faith with an unbeliever.

A little uncomfortable, huh? Perhaps people who look good on the traditional questionnaire begin to be uncomfortable because they begin to feel that they aren’t superhuman.