The Family Prophecies

I wake and the words are there, hanging in the dark, filling the liminal space between rest and rise. I etch them out, fragments and syllables, hovering above the pages they will soon be apart of. But here in the bleak morning light, they sit, unfinished and raw, in the corners of my mind, or slips of paper, or typed into a note on my phone. 

Sometimes they come in a flood, sometimes a trickle. Scraps, really. Never linear. More like a web of puzzle pieces to sort and fit together, as though I’m an old woman humming a melody I’ve long forgotten and am trying to recall the words. But in the end, these things seem to write themselves. It is as if my hands and my mind are simply the vessels through which the truths are birthed into the world. They really don’t come from me, but they are somehow apart of me. Part of my experiences, part of what I take in each day. But it’s the Spirit who does the work. He transforms the mundane into crystalized thought, and floats it back to me as a blessing, little particles of words that transcend the physical, the visual, or the material. When they are put together, the words become a mosaic of past and present, and they illumine the future in a way I never predict, a perspective only time itself can offer.

When I began this blog, it was a space in which to therapeutically process the journey of my life as a young mother. But as I have grown and years have passed, I re-read my former work and realize that these pieces are not just a collection of memories, not a museum of days gone by. They are an anthology of prophecies that speak the same truth now as they did the day they were formed and pressed out. 

Because a prophecy is not a prediction; not a tawdy, fortune-telling crystal that sees mystically into the future. Prophecies are always a gift, a different way of encountering reality, of looking at the world, and offering wisdom about the trajectory that lies ahead.

The Family Prophecies are a collection of pieces inspired by and written for each member of my family. It’s a way of speaking truth over them, calling out the best things God has created within them, and prayerfully releasing hopes over their futures. I don’t pretend to know what will happen next. I simply trust in the loyal love and promises of the God of my family, the God I serve myself. He has orchestrated and designed a tapestry of faithfulness that I pray will live on to the generations that follow me. 

And so The Family Prophecies: an anthology of poems and prayers, ballads and blessings to tell our stories then, and now, and not yet.

I never planned to write these. The words just came.

The Gaping Holes in the American Church: Part 2-Discipling Biblical Literacy

*This post is part 2 in an ongoing series. To read the first post, click here.

I will never forget the time I sat in a Bible study and the leader asked us to open up to the Song of Songs. A woman in the group who was highly regarded within the church proceeded to ask the leader whether Song of Songs was located in the Old or New Testament. I’m ashamed to admit my jaw almost hit the floor. I tried to hide my shock, but I was dumbfounded. How could someone who was seen as a mature follower of Jesus not know the general location of one of the biblical books?

As I participated in and led more groups, I realized this was very normal. A surprising number of Christians have no idea how to navigate the pages of Scripture, let alone discern their meaning. I’ve found it is not unusual to have people show up to a Bible study and never actually open their Bibles. And often, even if a biblical passage is read and discussed, people are very quick to whip out a commentary, a study footnote, or a quote from a devotional they recently read. 

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with using extra-biblical resources to better understand Scripture. I lean on a growing library of books and tools, and am so grateful for them because they’ve proven immensely helpful! We need resources from learned scholars who have dedicated their careers to the excavating the Bible and the cultures that shaped it. And of course, there will always be some who are more inclined to dig into this research than others. That’s the beauty of being in a diverse body. But when the resources replace the real thing we are on dangerous ground, running the risk of letting someone else do the work of meditating on God’s story for us.

A pastor recently told me he thinks Bible study groups are a waste of time. He claimed they are ineffective because he never sees much change or growth through them. But I had to wonder: is the problem the Bible study or how we are studying the Bible? Psalm 1 promises blessing to those who read and re-read God’s word, but as my pastor friend pointed out, he is not seeing transformation.

Think about it. How well are we in the Church doing at equipping people to consistently study the Scriptures on their own, outside of church and small groups? How many of our ministries leave people feeling more confident, more excited, and more curious about the Bible? How many churches dedicate significant portions of their staff, ministry schedule, and budgets to discipling believers into making sense of the story we claim to stake our lives on? Intentional reflection on Scripture, learning how to read it, understanding its design, patterns, and purpose—these are essential skills for spiritual formation that are sorely underemphasized in the American Church. Instead cultivating communities of Psalm 1 readers of the Bible, we rely on the pastor, the commentator, or the best selling author to tell us what glean from its pages. We have become good with keeping our Bibles on the shelf, reducing a love of the Scriptures to the Instagram Bible quotes that pop up, deceiving ourselves into thinking this kind of behavior is somehow faithfulness to our God. 

Of course, we have our reasons.

For many of us, especially long-time believers, the Bible has become dry and predictable. Been there, read that, heard that sermon a dozen times. We know the rules, the morals, the theological concepts. It’s so over-familiar it’s become hard to find anything new and inspiring, and frankly, we’re bored by a book full of “good reminders.” How many of us have sat there, bleary eyed in the morning, opened up our Bibles, and read something just to check the box? I’ve been there so many times myself, cherry-picking a few verses to get me through that day, but I’ve completely missed the bigger story at work because I lacked the tools to see it. My framework for reading the Bible left me unenthused, only getting me so far.

On the flip side, reading the Bible can also be a foreign and alienating experience. Many modern readers have no idea what to do with three-quarters of the book that lays in our laps on Sunday mornings. We search for a nugget to apply, but really we’re completely lost when it comes to something like Judges, or Leviticus, or Revelation. And so we stick to the parts we know: the Psalms and Proverbs, a handful of Sunday school stories, the Gospels, and the parts of the New Testament where the run on sentences don’t get too out of control. Sadly, I find it’s often women who stay away from the Bible for this reason. Intimidated by so many male Bible teachers, they feel inadequate on their own, so they just sort of give up.

For one reason or another, we’ve truncated the Bible into 365 neat little pages or virtually ignored it altogether. Unable to handle the Bible in its entirety, we remake it in our own image to solve the problems we import into its pages.  

For a great many believers, the story of the Bible is almost totally absent from our lives. And it’s so incredibly sad. Too many of my brothers and sisters come to me in their hurt and suffering, totally unaware that the Bible is basically a story about human anguish and suffering. So many church leaders who have been wrecked over strife and division seem to be lost as to how to move past it when half of Bible addresses this very thing. I hear things like, “My life is so broken. God feels far away.” Or “Church is messy. It’s not always simple.” Even seasoned believers seem to think the Bible is not big enough for their problems, that the wisdom it offers is wishful thinking. Better that we stick to the how-to’s and the self-helps and the popular instruction manuals for running our lives and communities. Is it really that the biblical story is deficient in offering us wisdom for the narrow road we have committed to walking as Jesus followers? Or is it, perhaps, that we’re missing it because we were never taught how to see it in the first place? 

Meditation on the Bible and the wealth of life it holds should be woven into the fabric of our faith. It should be a core part of the outworking of our lives as we follow Jesus, a skill we help each other cultivate throughout our lives. Instead it’s another gaping hole. By relying on paid professionals to do the work for us we have refused the blessing of Psalm 1. And it shows, friends. 

As I watch my children grow, I see more and more clearly how the culture around them waits hungrily, ready to swallow my four precious stones whole. My children will need more than some Sunday school stories and a commentary to navigate their way in this world. They need to know the Story. What’s more, they need to learn how to teach it to themselves. They need it evening and morning, shaping their hearts, probing their minds, forming their lives.

And so I remain committed to learn the Story myself, and help others do the same. I pray the next generation of Jesus followers are hungry to pick up their Bibles and spend a lifetime learning them, to immerse themselves in the story that points to Him, and let that shape their lives, relationships, and communities. And I pray that my own generation rises up to show them the way. It is a high call and heavy task that requires courage and humility. But I believe if we can recognize our own shortcomings and learn better ways to cope with them—if we can begin to stitch up some of these holes—we will be restored by the transforming wisdom within His word and bless generations to come.

The Blood Cries Out

There is a well-known story in Numbers 13 and 14. The Israelites finally get to survey the land God had promised to their ancestors, but as they scout it out, they find it filled with scary, giant people. They’re afraid, and so even though God promised to deliver them into the land safely, they refuse to go in. Because of their disobedience and fear, God exiled them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

It’s a familiar Sunday school story, but few pay attention to the peculiar verses that follow it. After learning about the consequence of their choice, the Israelites change their minds and try to take the land anyway. The result is utter defeat and a battle with epic losses.

It is in this story a large number of Christian Americans find themselves right now. It’s easy to read this story and laugh at the Israelites. Fools! How could they disobey God so blatantly, and then rush into the very thing He warned them He would not protect them from?

But God makes it clear how He wants His people to live and rule in His world. And when humans distort God’s goodness and design in favor of living on their terms, the result is always removal of the safety and security of home. An exile into a dangerous place we no longer recognize, a place where we are vulnerable, exposed, and scared. It is a road that leads to certain death.

In the days that have followed the breach on the US Capitol, prayers and hymns flood my social media feeds. There are posts of outrage and disgust, pictures of continued protests, calls for the tyranny to end, for justice to be upheld, for hatred to stop, for blessing to be poured out, and peace restored. But America does not deserve these things. America does not deserve God’s blessing.

On Wednesday, I did not join the Christian leaders who called believers to pray for the safety of our congress, our police, our leaders, or protestors. And I’m not ashamed of that.

I will not pray for the safety of those who chose to violate the law and ransack our nation’s Capitol. I will not pray for the safety of congressmen and women who have spent the better part of a year arguing and fighting about their own agendas while hurting people suffer another day. I will not pray for the safety of police officers who have, as a whole, turned a blind eye towards the brutality and unwarranted force they have been accused of perpetuating.

I cannot ask God to bless America. I cannot pray that He will protect us from the evil we have welcomed into our backyard.

I will not ask God for healing during a pandemic while we sit around fueling our disease with junk food and chemicals, willingly destroying our immune systems. I will not pray for wisdom for our leaders while we passively allow them to continue in their lying and conniving behavior, all as we herald the praises of whatever corrupt regime is on the way out or in. I will not pray for peace when violence is the method we employ to gain it. I will not ask God for justice in our elections when our black and brown brothers and sisters receive none in our streets. We cannot continue to bash in the skulls of unborn infants or deport the exhausted and starving immigrant at our border, sacrificing human lives to the god of our own convenience, and expect that God will strike down the evil in our temples of democracy. I cannot join fellow Christians in praying for others to see the truth when our own eyes are glued to our news feeds instead of His word. I cannot ask God to heal our land when our land is drunk on the blood of the innocent.

Whether we admit it or not, in the past year Americans have experienced oppression on their own soil like never before. We have cut off people’s livelihoods and locked down their backyards. We have abandoned people to die, needlessly and alone. Terror has erupted across our cities, our minority neighbors left even more victimized and villanized in its wake. We’ve cultivated new (and perpetuated old) social norms that defy common sense. In deep sadness, we cry out “this is not the America we know,” but it is the America we made. The reality is that we have long nurtured a way of live that robs people of dignity, and now we face the consequences of our dehumanizing actions.

To my praying and patriotic friends, we must recognize that the blood that flows down the Capitol steps is the same blood that flows down Main St. And it is all over our hands. But now we want God to come through for us. Now we want His justice. Now we want His blessings and His promises.

And so we find ourselves in Numbers 14, exiled in a wilderness of our own making. Life in a hostile environment, the bodies piling up around us, souls we doomed ourselves.

The hope, for me and many others, is Jesus. Actively, Jesus invites us to participate in renewal, unity, and goodness on His terms. We may have inherited the consequences of our grandparents failures. And we will undoubtedly pass on the outcome of our present horrors to our children. But every generation is given a chance. An opportunity to partner with God, to do things the way of His son. He won’t bail us out of our misery, and He won’t bless our evil. But He will offer us a chance to change. To seek real peace, to transform our minds, to live in goodness by the power of His Spirit in a world that is killing itself. It is to Him we owe our allegiance.

I cannot join in the petition to ask God for His protection, His blessing, or His justice for this nation. No. The blood of the innocent cries out louder than I, and I am drenched in it.

I can only beg God for His mercy, His forgiveness. I can only mourn this Babylon we’ve built with our own hands. I can only sit with a smile on my face, reading a choo-choo book to my toddler, praying for the strength and wisdom to raise children who can image Jesus in this ever-distorted world. I can only ask “How long, oh Lord?” How long until the City of God comes to transform the cities of men?

The Gaping Holes in the American Church: Part 1-Multiplying Leaders

At the conclusion of a bible study group I recently attended, someone sought me out saying “After listening to you today, I thought for sure you’re a pastor’s kid!” When I told her I wasn’t, she immediately asked if I was a pastor’s wife. At that point I laughed and explained I’m a normal person who just studies a lot. She was blown away and told me she didn’t realize an average person could know that much about the Bible. It was a compliment I treasure, but it left me uneasy. A person’s family background shouldn’t hold them back from becoming a serious student of anything, especially the Bible.

A week later, I received different feedback. I had a brief interaction with someone I barely know who pointed out the ways my observations from a passage in the New Testament fell short, alluding to how unqualified I was to speak on the topic. I was appreciative of the feedback, but left disappointed at the lie chewing holes in the fabric of the American church today.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard comments like either of these, and while they no longer surprise me, they do sadden me. Because the first question we ask a  person who shares from the Scriptures shouldn’t be what their qualifications are or what church their dad preaches at.

Well intended or not, these kinds of comments show the narrow-minded, churchy way of thinking Christians are notorious for: that the only people who are gifted enough, qualified enough, or knowledgable enough are the special people who’ve been to seminary. And so if you haven’t been to seminary, then you must not know enough to run a bible study. Or teach a class. Or lead a ministry. Or counsel the pastor.

The concept of lay leadership is virtually absent from the American church. It is so much more than being on the greeting team or in the worship band. It’s beyond a friendly smile in kid’s ministry, passing the communion tray, or being on a planning committee for next season’s retreat. To be clear, all of those jobs are important. Volunteers are the backbone of the organized church. You simply cannot run a modern church service without them, no matter how many people show up on Sunday. Volunteerism is vital, and reveals much about a church’s spiritual health and attitude toward service.

But we must not confuse volunteerism with leadership.

Unfortunately, lay-person involvement rarely progresses beyond the typical volunteer positions that come with the in-and-out tasks of operating a church facility. We in the church are not quick to grow new believers to maturity and delegate the responsibility of multiplication to them. That might be too hard. Instead we leave them in their somewhat menial positions, eager to hire out the big responsibilities of shepherding the flock to the professionals. Show me a church where the everyday attenders are also mature believers, teaching on a regular basis. Or even more, a pastor who is actually training unpaid leaders to preach, counsel, or oversee and then expecting them to do so. In 25+ years of following Jesus I’ve almost never seen church where this is the norm.

And yet it’s what Jesus asks. He expects us all to be pastors of our families, counselors in our communities, teachers to those who look up to us, and servants to anyone in need.

But for so many of us, it’s easier to farm that out. More often than not we expect our paid church staff to do those things while also providing opportunities for us to pitch in when it works for our schedules. Or, on the other end, we actually desire to be leaders but feel inadequate or ill-equipped, too inexperienced and lacking confidence to step up even in small ways.

And perhaps the worst evil of it all is that our church leaders (both paid and unpaid) allow us to live this way. They rarely hold believers accountable, calling us out in our complacency, mostly because we will run them out if they do! A passage in Judges 17 takes a sobering look at what happens when God’s people hire their spiritual leaders, and it’s a difficult story to swallow in light of the mass amount of pastoral burn-out, turnover, depression, and even suicide that exists within the American church. These people have dedicated years of their lives and thousands of dollars to earn them a job where their brothers and sisters abuse their abilities.

We have paid our leaders to be mature for us, holding a standard and putting on a show we approve of. But in the process, the body of Jesus is languishing in spiritual weakness, vulnerable to deception and attack. Is it any wonder we often look no different than the world crumbling around us?

But the Good News is Jesus. He has equipped His followers with gifts from the Spirit, who is eager to work in humble hearts and ready to move in the body. We all have gifts valuable and precious—young, old, male, female, educated, uneducated, working class, upper class, black, white, tie-die….none of it matters! All of Jesus’ followers are critical parts of His kingdom. But we cannot all be babies. We cannot all sit around and hire people with degrees and training and time to do the work we should be doing ourselves.

Friends, we do not need more believers showing up to small group having not read the Scripture passage for that week. We have enough of those. We do not need more self-righteous critique of our leaders or more self-loathing among our prayer circles. We do not need more qualified people leading the unqualified.

We need a priesthood of devoted men and women who are faithfully doing the work daily. Our Lord has called us to bear His name, to image Him in everything we do, and to help our brothers and sisters do the same. This goes beyond just being nice and moral and trying to volunteer at church once a month. It’s a practice that involves complete transformation of our minds and lifestyles. And it takes time.

We need to stop going to church and start being the church. We need to take the burden off our wonderful paid pastors and staff, and take up the responsibility for our own growth, becoming people who meditate on the Word day and night and offer ourselves as servant-leaders in kingdom of the God we claim to love.

Someday when my daughter is older, I hope she is never asked a question about her qualifications or her upbringing, as if the only people who can do anything impactful in the church must be well-educated or pastor’s kids. I hope she is looked upon as a wise leader worth following because she faithfully follows Jesus. I pray that by the time my sons are grown men they can open their Bibles anywhere and teach anyone without being professional pastors—I pray that that’s the norm within the church.

I pray by the time my children are grown that pastors have stopped measuring their success by how many people come back each Sunday, and more by how many people leave prepared and willing to go multiply themselves, wherever and however that looks. And in the mean time, I pray I can somehow inspire, encourage, and equip God’s people to love their God, love their neighbor, and seek God’s wisdom for themselves, no matter what their life experience has told them so far.

The gifts of our King surpass the greatest treasures of this world. And He’s bestowed them on us all. May we humbly ask Him to teach us how to use them and then actually go do the work.

The Glory of Summer

It’s mid-August and the back-to-school rush has begun. Perhaps it’s the relaxed routine is driving parents mad. Or maybe it’s that most American families have been without the structure of school since late March. But here in my home, we’re hanging onto summer. It’s just been so very good.

We swam, we hiked, we played ball. We’ve had nights spent outside too late, running with friends in the backyard. There have been popsicles and ice cream, BBQ’s and picnics. Many sweaty, red faces and dirty feet in the bathtub at the day’s end.

Every day I watch them ride ahead of me on their bikes. All three have grown stronger, taller, faster. Asher has said the phrase “Wait for me, guys!” more than anything else this summer. And then been out of breath as he speeds to keep up with the big kids, his dark tan deepening with every minute under the gorgeous golden rays.

Ayla’s hair has bleached into soft, caramel locks. Her fairy garden–now totally overgrown with weeds–sits tucked in the flowers, holding onto her many magical wishes. If I stand there long enough, I can still hear the echo of her happy melodies she’s sung there all summer, squatted down in the foliage. I close my eyes tight, and try to etch her precious heart in my memory forever.

And as the blue sky stretches above us, Crew has expanded our summer with his endless ideas. Every day his thoughts bubble over, exploding from his brain like a rocket and moving onto the next thing just as quickly. He is bright and cheerful and so incredibly chatty.  What would I do without him?

Every day we take a walk, Huck content to watch the world from the stroller. Chubby little legs peeking out at the bottom, small little voice babbling away to himself. We’ve laughed with friends, and dug in the sand, and cooled off in the lake. Our garden has been an oasis of delight, providing both food for our table and work for our hands.

And of course there’s the share of scraped knees, bee stings, and endless games of tag. There have been water gun fights, jumping rope, and lots of swinging. Our home has hosted birthday parties and meals with friends. And as I stare out the window now, it’s four beautiful faces dripping with watermelon juice in the shade. Blue sky above. Green earth below. Sunshine all around. It’s breathtaking, all the goodness.

Soon the air will get crisp and the sun will descend faster. We’ll crack open the books and make chili and wait for that enchanting first snowfall to come. But right now, we’re still soaking up summer. We’re still taking that moment to stop and feel the cool breeze blow through our sweaty hair. We’re playing at the park during those golden hours after dinner. We’re sitting at the beach, letting the waves tickle our toes. We’re breathing in the air during thunderstorms and getting completely soaked washing muddy garden produce. And we’re turning on a mid-day movie when we are too hot and tired to do anything else.

School will be there when we are ready. The routine, the agendas, the politics, people’s opinions, the endless openings and closing and latest restrictions, and the headaches of life right now–they’re all still there, waiting for us.

It’s true that this summer the entire world went crazy. But I guess I’ve been too crazy about my world to notice much.

Right now, they are nine, six, three, and one. And they are the glory of summer.