And Then She Chose Courage

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.–Maya Angelou

I have been really dismayed by the response of some of my fellow Christians to refugees in the wake of the Paris bombings. ISIS is evil and their capacity for destruction is scary, but I can’t help but picture that little Syrian boy who drowned this September because his family was fleeing the very same terror. I absolutely think we should screen refugees, which is why I am glad there is a robust screening process in place. But, I question the wisdom and truth of “close our borders.” I am worried that Christians are choosing comfort over compassion. I wonder if we are choosing fear over the ways of Jesus.

I won’t pretend that the life we are called to is easy or fun. I will admit that I don’t feel like following even 60 percent of God’s commands 40 percent of the time.

Honor your father and mother. Pssh! My mom is annoying me today so snark all around. Love your neighbor as yourself. Nope! Neighbor doesn’t understand systemic racism so done with that idiot! Suffer unto me the little children.  Whatever that kid has an attitude problem so forget showing them Jesus. Visit the prisoner. Lord no! That person is a criminal!

Being a Christian is hard, it’s scary and it seems like Jesus is always asking you to do something crazy. Like that one time He told Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water. Or that one time He told the disciples He would feed 5,000 men with two loaves of bread and five fish. Or that one time He told me I could teach a class on Civil Rights at the University of Texas even though I was just barely 30 and had never taught before. I mean c’mon!

And yet Peter walked on water, there were leftovers, and I was someone’s favorite professor.

How can this be? We serve a God that asks us to give up comfort, to put ourselves in impossible circumstances because that’s when He gets to show up and be God. When no other name can receive credit or glory that’s when miracles happen.

We say we want miracles. Yet, most us keep ourselves out of any situation or circumstance that might actually require one.

Our preferred brand of Christianity is one that can be done all in our own strength. We prefer a God we can manage and totally understand. We prefer the American Dream. We prefer safety and comfort.

Comfort is so much a part of American Christianity. Our comfort has become our gospel, most of us live out Jesus commands only so long as it doesn’t require anything too difficult.  We want to serve God and while we hold fast to our dreams, our plans, our way of life. We cannot do both, we must make a choice, because at some point one thing will be dropped in the pursuit of the other.

My Bible Study group is studying Mary Jo Sharp’s Living in Truth. This week’s study included a lesson on how many people hold correct ideas about Jesus, but they don’t act on those ideas.

I think that’s where many of us fail when it comes to Jesus. We read the Bible, we believe it is true, but our actions tell a different story.

We believe God can do anything (Luke 1:37), but we act like He can only do somethings. We believe we are to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27), but only if we feel like they are spending our money wisely, or we can just give them the stuff we don’t really want anymore.  Our Bible may say show hospitality to the stranger (Hebrews 13:2), but clearly what Jesus really meant is care only for the stranger that you are comfortable with, the ones that share your values, your faith, and love America.

But the promise of ease is the absolute opposite example of what we see in Jesus’ own life and those of his disciples. Is the Jesus who hung on the cross, whose disciples were beheaded, crucified, and wrongly imprisoned suddenly promising a life of safety and comfort of 2.5 children, in a White House in a safe neighborhood with good schools?

Our desire for comfort is rooted in the American Dream, not the Gospel. Jesus promises eternal life to all believe in Him as the only way to God. He doesn’t promise a perfect life or an America that endures for eternity. Jesus speaks of building His church and promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. He does not promise to build lives of wealth, health and happiness.

And therein lies the dilemma of American Christianity. We love our stuff. I love my stuff. I love cute boots, and Kendra Scott earrings, and yearly vacations. I mean how could you not? These things are all amazing, but the problem has become we prefer our stuff to God. Our stuff seems easier, more fun, and definitely more safe.

Nothing challenging about a Saturday morning Target run (unless of course its the Saturday they release their latest designer collaboration), but reaching out to and supporting refugees being resettled in our neighborhoods might challenge my worldview.  Nothing demanding about iTunes playlists and Apple watches, but caring about what happens to poor kids might require me to invest time in a public school in a impoverished neighborhood. Nothing inconvenient about a book club with my girlfriends, but loving my neighbor as myself might mean giving up my Saturday to help the elderly woman on the end of my street.

We’d rather be comfortable. But, the truth is that comfort is an illusion. It’s the scheme of the enemy to keep you comfortable, the truth is convenience and comfort will cause you to miss out.

I love my job. It’s really the thing in life I was created to do, but it’s terrifying. It requires the sort of public life I hate, I’d much rather be behind the scenes. It requires a lot of public speaking, which makes me so nervous. I think I have sort of a weird voice so standing in front of people (sometimes lots of people) talking makes me physically ill sometimes. Usually before every speaking event, I am planning my escape, “Is it too late to call in sick?”

I never call in sick. I push through the discomfort and do the thing God has created me to do. I do it scared, but I do it.

I imagine God is more pleased with my obedience, precisely because it is a sacrifice. I have laid my comfort on the alter, because God didn’t promise me a nice safe life.

I am struck by the fact that if today, I had to choose between my old safe ways and my  life now. I would choose the scarier looking path, because on this path I desperately need Jesus.  On this path, I have seen things that can only be explained by God. On this path, I have accomplished things, I never would have dreamed, but God did and I wouldn’t have known any of it on that other road I used to call home.

Lord, help me to live out the whole gospel when it’s scary, when it costs more than I want to give, when it looks dirty, and when it’s hard. Help me to be courageous to choose what is right over what is best or most sensible or easiest. I cannot do it in my own strength. May your words be my guiding light and may I be willing to step out of the boat. Maybe I will sink, but even in sinking may it be done for Your glory.

More on a Christian Response to Refugees

Jen Hatmaker

Jeremy Courtney

Marty Duren

Ed Stetzer

 

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Welcome to Fashion Friday: Ready for Fall

While this blog will remain primarily about faith,  I am routinely asked where I shop and since the title of the blog “Surrender Is the New Black” is a reference to a fashion term, I thought it would be fun to start doing a “Fashion Fridays” post.

 

The inagural “Fashion Friday” is dedicated to the changing weather in Austin (from really hot to less hot!)

 

 photo

Dress: Ann Taylor (ON SALE!)

Jacket: Ann Taylor

Shoes: Ann Taylor 

Bracelet: Noonday Collection (similar here)

Necklace: Kendra Scott 

Earrings: Kendra Scott (similar here)

And then Her Heart was Heavy (link love)

The events in Ferguson, Mo are truly heartbreaking. Mike Brown is my brother, my friend, my neighbor. I don’t really have words for my feelings on what is happening to Black Americans across this country. Every week, I am confronted with a new name to add to the list Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Travyon Martin, Jordan Davis, Jonathan Ferrell, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, and Mike Brown.  Honestly, it is hard not to internalize the message that some lives matter more. I don’t know what to say, but I do know that my God is a God of justice and that even if society tells black people our lives are less valuable, I know that is not true in the eyes of my heavenly father. I know because He tells me so in Isaiah 58:6, the fasting that the Lord has chosen is “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

I am reminded that once a upon a time a young Alabama preacher was the clarion call for justice and equality in this country. His dream unfulfilled and likely to remain that way if we are unwilling as a nation and as Christians to actively break the chains of racism and confront our biases. I have posted links to posts that are much more eloquent than I for those who want to understand Ferguson both historically and in the context of our faith.

Here are some links on Ferguson that put the events in the larger context of what it means to be black in America.

Melissa Harris-Perry: No Rights Which A White Man is Bound to Respect

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Reparations for Ferguson

Jelani Cobb: The Anger in Ferguson

Kara Brown: This is Why We’re Mad About the Shooting of Mike Brown

Greg Howard: America is Not For Black People

Here are some links on Faith and Ferguson ( I am grateful for leaders like Matt Chandler and Russell Moore)

Austin Channing Brown: Black Bodies White Souls

Sarah Bessey: In which I have a few things to tell you about #Ferguson

Eugene Cho: Please don’t ignore it. Five ways that Christians and churches must engage Michael Brown’s death

Russell Moore:  Ferguson and the Quest for Racial Justice

Matt Chandler: More on Ferguson and White Privilege

Thabiti Anyabwile: Coming (Back) to America: My One Fear

Baptist Press: Ferguson and You

I hope that every Christian that has posted about ISIS in Iraq and cares about justice will be on their knees this week praying for the people in Ferguson and for their African American neighbors, co-workers, and friends because weeks like these are a heavy thing to carry alone.

“How long, not long because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

And Then She Learned to Love Good Friday

 

 

true love-textwebsize“If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.”
Mahatma Gandhi

 

I have been there. In a season, where every day feels like Good Friday. Filled with despair, suffering, tears.

Why God? Why this way? Why their death? Why this job?

No answers come, only more silence and more suffering. I am left at in a puddle at His feet.

Wondering, Waiting…when Lord?

It seemed like it was over. This is it. The darkness has won and I am defeated.

It is finished.

It is finished!

It is finished?

We grieve, we cry out, we remember that in “ a little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me…Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.” (John 16: 16, 20)

It is finished, but this isn’t how the story ends. No, Good Friday is just the beginning for Him and for us.

Suffering is a means of sanctification. We need our Good Fridays for Resurrection Sunday to come.

Despite how it feels today on Good Friday, God is working below the surface to breathe life into what we once thought was dead. Sunday is coming. Weeping will be turned to dancing. Sorrow will be turned into joy. Something beautiful will rise from these ashes. The Savior will come.

Why the cross?

For Your glory and Your great love.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Jesus prayed, “ I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John 17:4-5

Why this cross?

For Your glory and my good…that I may know and believe Him.

“We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us.” 2 Corinthians 1: 9-10

We grieve through the Good Fridays of our lives, but just hold on because Resurrection Sunday is coming. We will be reminded of His strength and what once we thought dead will be raised.

And Then She Learned to Live with Uncertainty

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I am a fairly confident person. I have a very strong personality and I am always sure about everything. I know my strengths and my weaknesses. I live my life in a way that plays to my strengths. I hate hate hate uncertainty, I need to know at all times exactly where I am going and what is going to happen when I get there.

I say this just so we are clear that I am happiest when I am in total control, meaning whatever is happening is because I choose to either make it happen or do nothing. But, it’s not possible to be independent and love Jesus with reckless abandon. By its very nature, faith requires you to relinquish control, to surrender to Someone larger than yourself, to believe that just maybe you don’t know everything.

Giving up control is hard…especially for a control freak!  In fact, I am terrible at it and most days I just want to cling to my will and my way. I mean it’s definitely easier to do what I want to live how I want to live, but it’s not really fulfilling. And if I am honest, my way means agonizing over every single decision, rehashing every conversation, and reliving every single mistake. My way is super stressful because it’s predicated on my strengths.

His way seems fraught with uncertainty, but if history is any indication the payoff is amazing. Abraham would never have had Isaac or become the father of a nation without leaving his father’s home in  Ur. Ruth would have never met Boaz if she had chosen to return to her family in  Moab. Paul would have never written half of the New Testament without answering the strange voice he heard on the road to Damascus.

And yet, I have tried to create a third way… a little of my way, and a little of His way.

But, lately the third way feels too clever by a half. It’s impossible to serve two masters. I cannot live to please God and please myself. I have to choose and I have come down firmly on the side of pleasing God.

Of course now, Presto! Change-o!  It’s so much easier to face difficulty and endure trials.

WRONG.

It’s more like “I hate this! I hate being here and I hate you for making me stay!”

“This isn’t where I want to be.  This place is terrible!”

“Now that I am all Ruth, where is my Boaz?”

“Why me?”

“Seriously?”

I feel like Peter, I have stepped out of the boat on faith and I am walking on water, but OMG the waves and wind, Lord! So I am out here on the water trying to walk and because I am in a place that exceeds my skill level, I am sort of stuck out here until God sees fit to rescue me.  I feel uncertain and unsure most of the time, because I am out of the boat, but the wind is still howling and the waves keep on rocking.

And if I am honest I am frustrated with God and most of the time I am feeling some kind of way about this whole living on the waves proposition. I am restless. Longing for solid ground, a weather change, or a word to calm the sea.  God has called me to something, what I am not sure and living in the tension in being to take its toll.  As someone who has always been an overachiever, whenever I face challenges in my life I have been able to conquer them, because of my education, my resources, my parents, and my friends. I have always depended on myself to carry me to the next thing, meet the next challenge, and tackle the next goal. My drive and success has for too long masked the truth of my condition…I am in great need.

I have heard many times that “you don’t know that God is all you need, until He is all you have.” In my case, I haven’t had to lose anything (yet), but suddenly it feels like the things I do have are not enough. Things that just a few months ago looked so shiny have begun to dull, but maybe I am just seeing them for what they always were.

Maybe I have been living in a virtual Christian reality.  Maybe living on the waves is the really how we are meant to live as Christians.  On the waves, we are totally dependent on God. Maybe we aren’t supposed to be comfortable at all. Maybe boat living is a shadow of what we were truly meant for.  Maybe the real glory of Christianity can only be found on the waves.

It’s weird to go from a place of total independence to an almost crippling dependence.  But, I feel that for the first time in a long time, I am exactly where He wants me, for when I am weak, I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).