Kristen Padilla

reflections on God, Scripture & the Christian Life


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My goal in blogging since 2009 has been two-fold: to bring glory to God and to minister to my readers. For the most part, my posts have been driven by things close to my heart or issues that matter to me and which I think will matter to others. Even though at different times I have asked for feedback and input into the blog, I have not made a concerted effort to hear from you. That is until today.

Please check out my new page called, Ask me, found at the top right of the page. On this page you will be able to comment or reply with a question or issue you want me to address in my blog, and I hope you will. Or, if you want it to remain more private, you can e-mail me at kristenrpadilla@gmail.com with the subject line, Ask me. 

Thank you for reading along, and I hope to hear from you soon!


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Reflections on persecution

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“Save Christians in Iraq! Save Christians in Iraq!”

 

The crowd that had gathered in London across the street from Parliament was small but energizing. As we walked past the demonstrators with our friends and three kids in tow, I couldn’t help but be pulled into the rhythmic chant — “Save Christians in Iraq! Save Christians in Iraq!” Had the circumstances been different, I am inclined to think I would have left my role as tourist and traded it in as that of demonstrator.

 

“Save Christians in Iraq!” “Save Christians in Iraq!”

 

More than 30,000 miles away, though, the voices of Christians and those who would support them has been quieted. There is no demonstration in the streets of Baghdad today, no energizing chant that would seek to draw passerbyers in. Instead there is silence.

 

But maybe not. When a family of eight Iraqi Christians were given a choice to recant their Christian faith or be killed, they spoke. Whether by confessing out loud with their mouths that Jesus Christ is the only true God or by refusing to recant the faith in their silence, they spoke. The picture given to an Iraqi Anglican vicar showed their murdered bodies lying stilled next to their open Bible. The vicar wrote, “They would not convert (even if) it cost them their life.” Their martyrdom and confession spoke through a photograph and continues speaking to all of us who hear their story — that even in death nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

 

As we speak Iraq’s Islamic State militants (ISIS) continues its persecution of Christians and of other faiths in Iraq and Syria. Right now it’s easy to find these stories on news outlets such as CNN or BBC, but you can always read more about the persecution of Christians around the world at www.persecution.org.

 

How do we make sense of it all? Leaving the demonstration last weekend, I was left feeling helpless and needing to wrestle with the current issue of persecution.

 

Suffering and persecution of Christians is nothing new. In fact our faith hinges on Someone who was killed — crucified even. We proclaim His death, and not only do we proclaim it but as His followers we take seriously the mantra, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We follow behind our Lord, who was rejected, persecuted and killed, knowing that we might face the same fate as He. This was very real for early Christians in Antiquity when they knew that being baptized would mean immediate and sure death. Almost all of Jesus’ apostles were either killed or exiled. According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down because he didn’t think he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. Paul was beheaded for his devotion to Christ. These are just a few examples.

 

But when a mantra suddenly turns into a real piece of wood and nails or a noose or a sword or a gun, what keeps that believer from recanting? What brings a persecuted believer comfort in the midst of persecution?

 

And what should those of us on the sidelines do? Should we turn a blind eye because there’s nothing we can do? Or, should we chant, demonstrate and raise our voices to help? Should we become radicals seeking out persecution and idealizing the life of a martyr because we have bought into an idea that only those who are killed for their faith have a genuine faith?

 

It’s hard to feel helpless. It’s even more difficult to face death for what you believe.

 

But here’s what I see when I read Scripture. Scripture interprets life for me; it gives me the framework from which to work through things outside my realm of understanding. First of all, there’s no teaching in Scripture that says we should cultivate a desire to suffer or die, that we should actively seek it out, or that it is a prerequisite into heaven. (Maybe you don’t think there are people who believe this, but just look a little harder and you will find them.) I would wager that any Christian suffering in these ways would gladly change places with one of us who can worship freely and openly and who can proclaim Christ with no bonds of law or of fear.

 

Secondly, for those facing death, exile and other unimaginable sufferings I humbly say that I have no clue what you are going through. I cannot understand the depths of loss or of fear. However, I imagine that in the moments leading up to your death that what comforts you and keeps you strong is the belief that as Jesus Christ died and then came back from the dead alive so too those in Christ after they die will live. Knowing that persecution is nothing new helps us to learn to not be surprised if it happens to us too. It also brings comfort knowing that other believers have walked this path. But in the end it is believing in the resurrected Christ which helps fasten our feet to the ground unmovable and unshakeable when it does happen.

 

For we confess it is the grace of God “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Tim. 1:10) And also, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” (2 Tim. 2) God will not abandon His people; death does not have the final say.

 

But there’s one more thing that brings us Christians comfort that I imagine would bring current persecuted Christians comfort. It’s knowing that though our voices might be silenced the gospel will continue speaking loudly for all who hear. The gospel cannot be silenced. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9) The Word of God is not bound. Say that again, “The Word of God is not bound!” It has to be beautiful irony that the family of eight believers were killed next to an open Bible. Though their voices had been silenced, God continues to speak. His Word will still go forth because it belongs to God. He has already conquered death and His Word will continue testifying to it until He returns.

 

Where does this leave those of us living freely, watching helplessly from the sidelines? As our hearts break, we can be comforted in the same way those persecuted Christians are comforted. (See above quoted Scripture passages.) We also can learn from their examples so that if the wind changes direction and we find ourselves on the end of persecution, we, too, will be strong in the love and knowledge of Christ.

 

Let’s not idealize what they are suffering nor pray for the same. Let’s learn from the past and not forget the persecuted Christians in the past while at the same time not become calloused to the persecution or the persecuted of the present. Let’s continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters that God would rescue them, end their persecutions, comfort them in their affliction and help them to remain strong even if it means death. Let’s speak up for them, cry for them, thank God for them and love them. And if nothing else, let’s not lose heart because we know and believe that Jesus has gone before us, He is with us, and His Word cannot be restrained.

 

In the meantime the chant has become my prayer, “Save Christians in Iraq!”

 

And at times when it’s just too much, when chanting just doesn’t seem to do much good, I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

 

(For the story about the family of eight Iraqi Christians, read more here.)


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Should we critique where there is heresy?

(For the Introduction, read it here.)

 

Does what you say matter? Are your words of value or importance?

 

I’d like you to think about this. Can we ascribe any weight to words or the people behind the words?

 

I would like to think so! Otherwise I have no reason to talk or to expect anyone to listen to me. When I look at history, I find that this is most certainly the case that words do matter. When we elect a president of the United States, we do so mostly based on words (promises) spoken. We follow authors, speakers and preachers because we like what they say or how they say it (style). Whether for good or evil, nations and thousands of people are led one way or another by words, just look at Hitler for example. And it is their words that tell us something about who they are. Words, among other things, are someone’s ideas verbalized; the origin of words spoken is with the person who speaks them. What someone says is a window into his or her beliefs, heart and personality. Agree?

 

So why is this important? And, how is this relevant to me (our favorite post-modern question!)?

 

A few weeks ago a young evangelical tweeted, “Rarely critique people, even if you think their ideas are heretical. People are eternally more valuable & treasured by God than their ideas.”

 

This tweet is not just a random, thoughtless belief. Rather, I have been reading this kind of rhetoric and sensing this attitude for quite sometime among many in the young so-called evangelical camp. This tweet is a great, concise example of the idea looming that there is a dichotomy between people and their words. I remember reading a blog once where the author wrote a response to all the criticism she had been receiving about something she said. She was complaining that in their critiques people were missing that she was a good person. She was in fact a different person than what her ideas portrayed her as. What she said was thus different from the person she was.

 

This is an Enlightenment idea, and it is a dangerous idea to hold as it relates to truth.

 

Let’s look at this tweet closer, not to pick on the person who tweeted it, but because, again, it serves as a great and concise example of what is being said and taught by many others. So here it is again:

“Rarely critique people, even if you think their ideas are heretical. People are eternally more valuable & treasured by God than their ideas.”

 

Questions raised:

1. Are our personhood/identity and our words/ideas two complete and different entities? According to her, they are. She makes a dichotomy between someone’s ideas and his or her personhood. It does not matter what someone says, even if it is heresy, because of their value to God. What someone says and thinks can stand apart and alone from who the person is, and who we are trumps what we say and think. How can she make this case?

First we must ask, What is heresy? Heresy, in church history, was a word used to describe those who subscribed to beliefs contrary to orthodox Christian beliefs. I mentioned two examples in a previous post, but will mention them again. There was Arius, who argued that Jesus was not fully God or divine, and then there was Marcion who argued that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God of the New Testament. Marcion wanted to cut out half of the New Testament. These men were called heretics. Modern examples of heretical beliefs are those held by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, which would include beliefs that contradict the deity and humanity of Jesus and the gospel of salvation that says salvation alone is in Jesus Christ and in his death and resurrection. Heresy thus speaks to ideas that debunk the identity and personhood and work of God as found in Scripture. Heresy is anti-triune God beliefs.

Second, What does it mean to be “eternally valued and treasured by God”? Since this language isn’t used in Scripture, I am unsure as to what she means by this phrase. But if I were to take a guess, it would speak of someone who is a child of God through faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ. The word eternal means forever, so if God holds someone as his eternal treasure then this is someone who will spend eternity with Him. So how can someone who speaks and holds to ideas that are heretical be someone that God eternally treasures? Wouldn’t this mean then that God is comprising or contradicting Himself?

One way this is possible is by believing that what you say and think stands apart from what you believe or who you are in God. Thus your words and ideas do not change the relationship you have with God through Jesus because your words and ideas take a life of their own. The other way this would be possible is if you accept a universal doctrine that says everyone, no matter what they say, believe or do on this earth, will ultimately be restored to God, i.e. obtain salvation. Therefore it doesn’t matter if someone speaks heresy or if someone preaches a different gospel; what matters most to God is that these are people “eternally valued and treasured” by Him.

The problem with this view is that this is not the view of the Bible (not to mention it is self-contradicting). The Bible describes people as complete beings whose words are a mirror of what is in the heart and therefore what one believes. And what one believes affects the way one lives, and the way one lives gives proof whether he or she is a child of God. In Psalms and Proverbs the one who speaks lies and deceit is a fool. The Bible doesn’t say that the person is “eternally valued and treasured by God” even though what they say is destructive to truth. Rather, what they say is an indictment on who they are — fools!

“The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.” Prov. 10:14
“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.” Prov. 10:18
“The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” Prov. 10:21
“The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.” Prov. 10:32
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” Prov. 12:22
“A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.” Prov. 12:23
“A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” Prov. 13:1
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.” Psalm 14:1 and 53:1

Clearly words matter in the Scriptural witness. Does calling someone who speaks lies, deceit, and slander a fool, fit within this belief that we shouldn’t critique someone because they are valued by God? Does calling someone who is wicked and a scoffer fit within this belief? No! I bet if we called someone today a fool or a scoffer because of what they were saying, we would receive public shaming. Scripture’s directness does not fit well in our “politcally-correct” world.

The view of Scripture is that we are complete human beings, whose words reflect what is in the heart and what kind of relationship we have to God. If we speak lies and deceit, if we do not listen to rebuke, if we preach something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are fools and fools do not know God (Ps. 14:1, 53:1).

2. Should Christians critique each other’s words and ideas? According to this tweeter, the answer is no. She commands to “rarely critique” because by doing so we are hurting or contradicting the value and relationship he or she has with God. (Actually by tweeting what she did makes it difficult for anyone to critique her or what she said because then we would be opposing God who values and treasures her above what she says or tweets. And I wonder what situation would allow for a critique since she doesn’t say never but “rarely”?) But what does Scripture say?

Scripture makes clear that it does matter what you say, that it is not OK to speak heresy and that we are to constantly rebuke, critique and reprimand in love when what someone is teaching is not in line with the truth and is leading others astray. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Matthew 16:21-23. After Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed but on the third day raised, Peter rebuked Jesus. But Jesus turned the rebuke around to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
  • Acts 13:4-12. While Barnabas and Saul were out preaching the gospel they encountered a false prophet, Bar-Jesus, who “opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” But Saul “filled with the Holy Spirit” rebuked him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”
  • In 2 Timothy Paul mentions two men by name and references others who are preaching different gospels and trying to  deceive others. “Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (2:17-18). And later in 3:8, “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” In the middle of these two references, Paul tells Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2:24-26). Although Timothy is to correct in love and kindness, he is still to correct. And these men who are leading others astray, preaching something contrary to the gospel, are captured and enslaved by the devil, doing his will. Just like the two above examples, anytime someone is opposing the work or Word of God by what they say that person is associated with Satan and his work.

There are many other examples in Scripture of correcting, rebuking and “criticizing” the ideas, words and teachings of others that are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ (see the book of Jude and 2 Peter). What this young tweeter says is actually contrary to the teaching of Scripture. So either you can rarely criticize because you believe that everyone no matter what they say is “eternally valued and treasured by God,” or you can offer critiques when necessary because you know that those who claim there is no God (i.e., Jesus isn’t fully God, there is salvation outside of Jesus) are fools and need to be rebuked.

2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” And, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

 

3. Does it matter if someone teaches or speaks something contrary to the Word of God, especially when he or she claims to speak as a Christian with biblical authority?

As you read about how Christianity spread after the resurrection of Christ in the New Testament, you will soon notice that it spread as the Word of God went out. Prayers were not necessarily being offered for people to come to know Christ. Rather the prayers in the New Testament centered around the Word of God, that the Word of God might find open doors and go forth (e.g., Col. 4:3-4, 2 Thes. 3:1). For the early church understood that as the Word, which is “the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18) and “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), went forth people would be saved.

So to teach something other than this Word or to contradict His Word is to oppose the One who breathed out the Word and who is the Word.

(For other references about the Word of God going forth or the warnings against false teaching, see Acts 4:3, 29, 31; 6:2, 4; 8:4; 12:24; 13:44, 48-49; Col. 2:8; 1 Thes. 1:5-6, 8; 2:2, 8-9, 13; 2 Thes. 1:7-9; 2:1ff; 1 Tim. 1:3-7, 10-11, 18-20; 6:3-5. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a sampling.)

 

Concluding thoughts:

Near the beginning of this post I said that the ideas in this tweet are dangerous to hold as it relates to truth. I hope you see now that this tweet, the ideas implied in it and what it represents is a post-modern belief of relative truth. Truth is relative; in fact it is so relative we shouldn’t critique what anyone says or thinks. Truth is not what matters most to God; we matter most to God. There is no place for judgment, exclusion or harshness in God’s love for us.

 

This definition of love, although not new, is spreading like gangrene among many younger so-called evangelicals. I’ve seen it heavily in Rachel Held Evans, for example. (By the way, my husband comments to me that the sermon preached at that liberal church that I mentioned in the Intro., sounded an awful lot like Rachel Evans. She acts as if her ideas are something new, but they are just really old liberalism.) This definition assumes we are lovable and deserved to be loved and nothing can change our standing with God. It is pleasing to the ears and fits well in our post-modern understanding of truth, but it is not the truth. I don’t know if the person behind our tweet knew what she was saying or if she holds to relativism or universalism. But when we accept pithy sayings without thinking through them carefully or when we put together pithy sayings without thinking through them carefully, we can put forth ideas that are contrary to Scripture and that are life-endangering. Relativism and universalism are gospel killers, and we must expose and oppose them when we see them creeping into our churches and greater Christian community.

 

As Christians, we need the greater Christian community to challenge, correct, critique and sometimes rebuke us in order to keep us — all of us (our ideas, words, beliefs, and actions) — in the center of truth. We need to be sharpened, iron to iron, so that the Word of God might go forth unhindered to those in desperate need of the gospel of grace. We need to be wise sons and daughters who submit to correction and rebuke. Let’s not be fools who refuse to listen or to be reprimanded.

 

We also need to resist the urge to say whatever it is we want to say through social media without carefully thinking through it and examining it according to Scripture. We must be aware that social media is a breeding ground for thoughtless, off-the-cuff soundbites that can spread to thousands within seconds with Retweets (RTs) and Modified Tweets (MTs) here and there. Last time I checked, this tweet had many RTs within minutes by people who, without thinking, thought it sounded good.

 

If what we say matters and if we truly believe that our words carry importance, then we must submit to correction when what we say is not founded in truth. We must resist this desire to be able to say whatever we want to say without ramifications or consequences.

 

Rather, critiques, if given and received well, have the potential to protect us from spreading false teaching, from becoming puffed up or conceited, and from error. Positively speaking, critiques help sharpen us, make us better communicators, and protect us from leading others astray. 

 

For in the end, y’all, it’s not about us. It. Is. Not. About. Us! It is about Him and His gospel of forgiveness of sins, and if we are misrepresenting either of these two then let’s stand corrected. Instead of worrying about being valued and treasured, let’s be called the fools we are when we say foolish things so that we might become wise sons and daughters.


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An Intro: Should we critique where there is heresy?

The morning started out hopeful. It was our 2nd Sunday to be in Cambridge, England and we could hear the bells of a nearby church ringing from our 3rd floor bedroom alerting us that the worship service was about to begin. We left our home to walk two blocks over to the parish church. Once at the church, we filed singly behind each other on a little stone path that took us to the church door through its small church graveyard. We were hopeful that this parish church so close to our new home would turn out to be a gospel-centered Anglican church.

 

The service was pleasant as we read liturgy, sung songs from the hymnal, confessed our sins and listened to an Old Testament reading, a reading from the Psalms, and a New Testament reading. All was well until the preacher stood up to give a homily on the Gospel reading — Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, also known as the parable of the weeds. As is well-known, this parable speaks about the eternal destiny of human beings. Those who accept the kingdom of God through Christ go to eternal rest; those who reject, go to eternal torment.

 

She began with an apologetic attitude, that is apologizing for the seemingly harshness of the text. She then gave two possible readings or interpretations of the passage. We could either take an “individualistic” reading and take the text to mean that some are saved and others are not and destined for hell, which she called an “elitist approach,” or we could understand it symbolically that weeds and wheat exist in every person. She took this second reading and said we are to accept the weeds in our life and know that when the Lord comes he will get rid of these weeds. It doesn’t matter then how we are to live but rather we are to live in the knowledge that He loves, forgives and one day will redeem us. In the end, she said we will all be OK, regardless of our beliefs or actions in this life.

 

There we sat witnessing for ourselves what we have read so much about — a truly liberal, universalist church teaching experience. So people like Hitler are saved no matter that he lived like the devil and died unrepentant?, we wanted to ask. So what’s the purpose of church or of Christianity if everyone is saved and if it doesn’t really matter how we are to live? What is the motivation of being a minister? It took everything within me not to storm out or to speak up. After all, according to her label I am an “elitist” because I take Jesus at his word. She can incorrectly label me all she wants, but what burned me up the most was the way she treated God’s Word and twisted it to make it say what she wanted to say. She destroyed the gospel, and she was leading people to hell right along with her. And you know what? That church is dying, because liberal theology destroys the life-giving gospel and takes a road away from God to hell.

 

I just finished writing a blog post that I intended to post today. In God’s perfect timing I would experience for myself the very thing I address in this post! Now more than ever I am determined with fire flowing through my veins to call out liberalism when I see or even sense the beginnings of it. My heart is burdened for the Church that false teaching and doctrine will be brought to light. Brothers and sisters, join with me in praying that we would be protected from this doctrine that teaches that YOU are the gospel, that you are not in sin, that it doesn’t matter what you say or do, that there is no truth but the truth of love that saves you in the end no matter what you believe.

 

The post to follow is long, but it speaks to an issue that God has burdened my heart with greatly and, as I experienced today, is indeed relevant.

 

A Fool Says There Is No God and Many Other Things


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7 Ways Churches & Pastors Can Support Me As A Woman In Ministry

The following is a guest post by Brenda Odom, Worship Associate at First Baptist Church, Pleasant Grove, Alabama. After posting “3 Things Girls Called to Vocational Ministry Want to Hear From Their Churches & Pastors,” I had an outpouring of responses including one from Brenda. Brenda agreed with the post but also saw the need for a post about how pastors and churches can support their women ministers. This week I asked her to share from her perspective on this topic and the following is what she said. I am very excited to share this with you, as I think it is truly excellent and will have a great impact! Brenda notes that she is currently serving in a church with a very supportive pastor, Dr. Daven Watkins.

1. Know that I am called, too.

Traditionally in our Southern Baptist denomination only the men have been considered as “vocational ministry staff.” In fact, even now it is not uncommon for some churches to use the term “staff” to refer only to the ordained men who serve there. Some church members may also stereotype the women on staff by believing they all choose to work there only because it is convenient to their home or because it allows them to be near their children. While it’s true that these factors may be important to some, women like me who are called to vocational ministry have to say over and over again – to pastors, committees, and members – “I am called, too,” not to preach or pastor, but to minister in other ways. In my case, I have the privilege of serving through the multi-faceted ministry of music. I have educated and prepared myself to do this, and I have pursued this vocation my entire adult life. It is not by accident, convenience, or coincidence that I serve this church. God led me here to serve, too, just like the rest of the vocational ministry staff.

 

2. Help me educate our church.

You can affirm me by helping enlighten our church about women called to ministry. It may be unsettling for some to hear a woman describe herself as “called,” but help me show them I am not trying to usurp anyone’s authority. I am just trying to live in obedience to God’s call to me, which is to use my gifts in the music ministry in this church.

 

3. Help see that I am treated as fairly as any other vocational staff member.

This includes matters of compensation, benefits, and opportunities for continuing education and professional growth.

 

4. Realize the unique challenges I face, some of which are these:

Chances are good that any woman in vocational ministry in the average sized church will be the only one of “her kind,” and that can be a lonely place in a “professional” sense.

Usually staff divisions occur between “the men” and “the women,” without regard for calling or function, and that can be very frustrating. When that happens, I feel I am being put in the stereotypical box I have already described. Please see me as more than my gender. I am a called professional, too.

Communication with my pastor is normally not a problem. E-mails are usually adequate and efficient for routine ministry issues. But there are times when a face-to-face meeting is required because of the nature of the concern. Obviously, I am not able to take the pastor to lunch and discuss the issue as the men can do. That means I have to wait to be worked into the appointment schedule and that can take some time. Please allow me to discuss my area of ministry with you in person in a timely manner when the need arises.

 

5. Be mindful of the fact that I am able to minister in some ways and situations a man cannot. Allow me to help in those places.

 

6. Give me the opportunity to do something new.

When there is an assignment to be made for a task or new area of ministry, consider me, too. I would welcome the challenge and would be refreshed by doing something new. Let me stretch my creativity by using my education and experience in different ways.

 

7. Know that in spite of all the challenges, I find great joy and fulfillment in doing what God called me to do.


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6 Ways To Meet With God In The Midst Of A Busy Life

As a mom I have found it more difficult now more than ever before in my life to spend quiet, reflective time with God. Before Philip was born, my morning routine consisted of coffee and reading Scripture and praying. Rarely do I get that time anymore. I don’t know about those of you who have children, but my son has a sixth sense about when I wake up. Our bedrooms are on opposite sides of the house, but the minute I decide to get out of bed I will hear our bedroom door open or see him at my feet. My mornings are no longer my own.

Then once the day starts, we go from 0 to 100 mph and we don’t slow down. Chasing, running, feeding, picking and dusting him off, cleaning after him, calming him down, playing with him, disciplining him…Whew! I’m just exhausted typing it all up. These days are long and hard but so much fun!

However, finding that quiet time with God and His Word has been a daily struggle. And because I have not been consistent in going to the well to receive spiritual nourishment, I have seen the effects in my attitude, thoughts, my relationships, my words, etc.

You don’t have to be a stay-at-home mom to share my plight. You can be an outside-the-home working mom or dad. You can be a caregiver for an adult. In fact you can just be any adult with any responsibility. Life is simply busy and complicated.

But if you are like me, then you yearn for that time with God. You yearn to protect and treasure the relationship you have with your Creator and Savior. You yearn to hear from God, to feast on His Word and be fed by Him.

I haven’t figured it all out, and this is not a comprehensive list, but the following are some ways I have found to foster spiritual formation and spend time with God in the midst of a busy and crazy life. I hope some are helpful to you. Perhaps you are already doing many of these, and perhaps you have more to add! I’d love to hear ways you find to spend time with God.

1. Use The Book of Common Prayer. I grew up Southern Baptist and am still a Southern Baptist girl in many ways. If you have any knowledge of Baptists, then you know, for the most part, we do not use The Book of Common Prayer nor do we use written prayers (nor creeds, nor confessions) in our corporate or private worship. One of the many advantages of going to an interdenominational seminary was that I was exposed to other evangelical traditions in corporate worship, in the classroom and in conversations. One aspect of Anglicanism that I really like are their written prayers. These prayers are rich in theology, Scripture and doctrine, and they are fashioned in such a way that the words are almost poetic in nature. Consider this prayer: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved thee with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in thy will, and walk in thy ways, to the glory of thy Name. Amen. What I love about this book is that it has prayers for different days (Monday, Tuesday, etc.), different times of the day (morning, afternoon, evening), holy days in the Church (Advent, Lent, Easter), and seasons of life (marriage, birth, adoption, sickness, and death). It also contains the Psalms and a reading plan for the year. While there are doctrines that I do not agree with (e.g., prayers for the dead), I find this book very enriching to my spiritual life. What are some other books or devotional guides that you use in addition to your Bible?

2. Download a Bible, Bible study tool or devotional app. In the beginning days of Philip’s life, I spent most my days holding him, whether it was feeding him, soothing him or getting him to sleep. There were times that I could barely keep my eyes open because I was so tired. In those moments I would turn to my iPhone to keep my mind busy and awake. I wish I could say that I used those times to go to the Bible on my phone or a devotional app, but I didn’t. However, that would have been the best time to do so! Just recently I discovered that there are many apps designed to help one who is always on the go spiritually, some good and some not. My favorite app (surprise, surprise) is a Book of Common prayer app called Mission of St. Clare.IMG_4445

As you can see, it gives me the option of a morning or evening prayer. The word prayer is a little deceptive here, because when you click on a prayer option it gives you Scripture readings (Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament) in addition to prayers. It’s quite lengthy, and so I only have time to read part of what it has to offer. However, this tool has been great! When I wake up and before I get out of bed, I grab my smartphone and spend time in Scripture reading and prayer. When I sometimes rock Philip to sleep, after he has fallen asleep in my lap, I grab my iPhone and go to this app. When I am at a doctor’s office, in carpool line, in the grocery store parking lot, wherever I am that I can stop and spend a few minutes with God, this app comes in handy as it is convenient, thoughtful, structured and rich theologically. It doesn’t have to be this app. It can be an app that is your favorite Bible translation or another app with prayers. What are some of your favorite Bible-related apps?

3. Listen to sermons and podcasts online. One of the many things I miss about being a seminary student is being able to listen to great sermons during the week. Chapel time was my favorite time each week. After graduating seminary, my husband (who teaches at the seminary) would come home telling me what a great sermon he heard in chapel. Thanks to technology, it dawned on me that I could listen to chapel sermons too! At least once each week (if not more), when Philip goes down for his nap I pull up a sermon online while I fold laundry or do other chores. Listening to sermons has not only focused my mind on the Word of God but it helps usher the divine into the mundane. It is much easier to do mindless, endless household chores when I am hearing a sermon about the glory of God. Beeson Divinity School has its past chapel sermons online available for viewing and listening here and has a weekly podcast you can listen to here. Overall it is a trusted center for excellent, expository sermons.photo 1I also like to listen to the sermons of my dad, who is pastor of First Baptist Church, Big Spring, here and I like the sermons of Don Guthrie, pastor of First Baptist Church, San Antonio, here. I also like the sermons of Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C., here and Time Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, New York, here. Many of these churches and institutions will have podcast apps that allow you to listen to sermons on your smartphone. I also recommend listening to sermons in the car, especially when you are going to be travelling for quite sometime. In addition I think it is a great idea if you are a pastor or someone who preaches weekly to listen to someone else preach at least once a week so that you are being fed and sharpened by other preachers of the Word. Who else would your recommend? What other institutions with sermons or podcasts would you recommend?

4. Listen to praise and worship music. One thing I have started doing recently is writing down song titles we sing in worship each week at my church. I am REALLY bad at remembering names/titles. In the past I would want to listen to a song sung on Sunday but couldn’t remember the name of it. Now I keep a list and either find the songs on YouTube, iTunes, or Pandora. I turn off the TV and put on these songs while I am getting ready in the morning (Or afternoon or night! You never know when it will happen with a toddler.). I’ll put on music when I workout at home or when I am not listening to a sermon while doing chores. Sometimes when my son and I are playing quietly, I turn on worship music. What this music does for me is to fashion my mind on God, His glory and, if the songs are written well, on Scripture. It is much more difficult for my mind to wander, to worry, to be distracted, or to be tempted when I am focusing on God through music (not to mention it’s a nice break from Veggie Tales!). I am also realizing that my son is picking up on lyrics and singing about Jesus. This is a great way for him to be exposed to who God is, His Word and the love of Jesus. My all time favorite person to listen to is Fernando Ortega. I find playlists of his music on YouTube. Some of my favorites are: Our Great God, Sing to Jesus, Give me Jesus, and Lord of Eternity. I also love Keith and Kristyn Getty and Kari Jobe. Who do you like to listen to and what are some of your favorite songs?

5. Make time for silence and prayer. It is VERY difficult to cut out the noise in our lives when we are addicted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. I am speaking from personal experience! Social media, our phones, our iPads, our laptops are our biggest distractions, I believe. I have noticed in my own life that when I do have a few moments of silence I immediately want to try to fill it with the things mentioned above. I am allowing these things to steal my time, my thoughts and my energy away from God and family. I am in the process of learning to put these things down and give it to God. Obviously I haven’t given it up all together, but I am learning to not give it first place. I want to learn to use these social media tools in moderation and only after I have spent time in prayer, silence and mediation with God. The more time and practice I put into being quiet and still before my God, the easier and more natural it becomes. Just recently I stopped listening to music for the entire duration of my running/walking. I’ll listen to music for part of my run and then spend the rest in complete silence. I use to try to fill up my time driving in the car by talking on the phone; now I try not to call people as much. I substitute talking on the phone with quiet prayer. I have noticed lately that by setting aside time to be silent and to pray, I am more aware of the sin in my life and equally, if not more powerfully, aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. What are some ways you cultivate silence and prayer in your life?

6. Don’t forsake Scripture. None of the five above options are meant to replace reading Scripture. As Christians we confess that Scripture is the Word of God. If this is indeed true and if we want to hear from God and know God’s heart, we must remain in Scripture. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Some of these suggestions, like the aforementioned app, provides daily Scripture readings, but a devotional app or worship music or sermons should never be a substitute for reading God’s Word. Practically speaking, I have found personally that I don’t do well with the reading the Bible in a year plan. I feel overwhelmed and rushed. Instead of understanding what I am reading, I feel like I am checking off a box. For some, however, this works well. If it works well for you, then don’t stop. However, what works for me is to pick one book of the Bible or two books (one Old Testament and one New Testament) and read little chunks at a time. I like to consult good biblical commentaries on the specific book I am reading and go slowly enough that I understand what I am reading. If I am unsure which book of the Bible to read next, I consult the reading plan in The Book of Common Prayer so that I am reading what many Christians and churches are reading at the same time. Sometimes I spend an entire week on just a couple of verses because they are so powerful I am not ready to leave them. Because my son is a morning person (like me!), I have given up reading my Bible in the mornings (unless I can on the app mentioned above). Now, I try to read when I eat lunch or when I am about to go to bed. Or, I read Scripture when my husband and son are playing together. I have had to change my thinking and my routine. This has been hard, but I realized if I didn’t do it I would never find time to read Scripture.

I hope these suggestions have been helpful to you. I am still on a journey of trying to give more of my time and thoughts to God and less to things of this world. I am still trying to figure out how to be creative in receiving spiritual formation and spending time with Jesus Christ during the week. I would LOVE to hear from you. Perhaps there are blogs you like to read because they are spiritually edifying. Perhaps there is a book that you would recommend as an addendum to reading Scripture. Let’s keep this conversation going so that we are encouraging and helping each other in this Christian walk!

Peace~

 


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An answer to a restless spirit

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It seems as if there is a common theme these days among Christian women: the desire for something more. There is a restlessness, a longing for something more than being defined by being a mom, a homemaker or a single female. In response to this, there have been many blog posts in recent days about finding fulfillment by using your spiritual gifts and talents as an outlet or an answer to this restless desire. I’m hearing the phrase frequently, “finding your voice.”

There is truth to this. It is encouraging to hear other women encourage others to use their gifts, and sometimes some of us need a good kick-you-in-the-pants speech to get us moving. However, I want to submit to you that this is not the final solution. The answer I think Scripture gives is this: you and I will not find rest, contentment and fulfillment in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ.

Let me give you my story.

I am prone to restlessness. I am the lyrics of the great hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that sings, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” I am prone to look for fulfillment in the next best thing. In the next phase of life. I sought this as a young, single woman who longed to find companionship and love. I wanted a husband and thought how much better my life would be once that part was settled. I married, and I love my husband with my whole heart. He has been one of the greatest blessings to me. However, he did not answer my heart’s needs for rest and contentment.

During our marriage when I was on staff at The Alabama Baptist writing news and feature stories, laying out pages, meeting with important Baptist people for interviews, I was physically tired because the job required a lot and didn’t allow for pursuing personal ministry goals. I always dreamed of being able to stay at home one day and to not have to depend on me having a salary. I wanted the freedom to wake up late and be home (I love being home!) when I wanted. This is what I dreamed life would be as a stay-at-home mom. I was looking for contentment in the next phase of life.

When we found out we were pregnant with our son, I was relieved to know that my American dream of having a family would come to fruition. Plus I would really now be content because then I could focus on writing what I wanted to write, blogging, and perhaps even writing for Christian publishers! I wouldn’t have the stress of a job; I could roam around my town instead of sitting behind a desk while looking outside the window as other people enjoyed the day. But once my son came and I became a stay-at-home mom, I continued to be restless.

Now, I resented not having a place to go because it meant I never dressed up anymore and I didn’t necessarily have to shower (other than for the sake of my husband!). I was covered in spit-up, poop, pee in the beginning. The next year I couldn’t leave my son alone for one second because he was into everything and was a danger to himself if left alone! The next year as he learned to talk, I lived day to day hearing “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy.” This past year I have spent my days disciplining, correcting and enduring all those temper tantrums.

I was restless. I thought I would find contentment in the next stage of life. The next person. The next job. But I didn’t. I still haven’t found contentment in those things. Nowadays, if you were to ask me what I am restless for or am hoping to quench my restless thirst with, it would be having a full-time writing and speaking career using my gifts, passions and seminary training for the Lord. Surely that’s what is needed because, of course, unlike those other things mentioned this is for the Lord! It is what I believe He has called me to do!

But lately I have begun asking myself the question, “Will I find contentment and rest even in using these gifts and passions how I want to use them?” Am I waiting to find contentment until the day I have a teaching ministry? Will I feel at peace and fulfillment when I publish my first book?

The answer I have come to is “No.” No I won’t. If I can’t find rest, contentment, joy, peace and fulfillment in the Lord now, then I will never find it in these other things or people. Even if they are good things. Even if they are rendered to the Lord. So often we try to find fulfillment and joy in our service to the Lord apart from the Lord. We are too busy doing things for God that we don’t have time to spend with God. We want to serve the Master without knowing the Master. Then before long we believe we are carrying out the will of God when really we no longer know what His will is — it’s been compromised with our own will.

So this is what God has been teaching me lately and which I am still trying to learn and put into practice: I will find true contentment, joy, peace and rest in whatever stage I am in my life if I find it first and foremost in Christ. I must learn to base my own identity and to measure my worth by who I am in Christ rather than what I am doing or by how much I am doing.

Lately I have been asking myself, “Kristen, are you too busy working and looking toward the future that you are missing out on being faithful with the few tasks God has given you now?” How am I using my spiritual gifts at home with my son? Am I missing out on opportunities to teach him God’s Word and the gospel because I’m too concerned with teaching adults? Is my calling as a mom not as important as my calling as a writer? (If my answer is yes it is not as important, then shame on me!) Am I not paying attention to the needs of my husband and failing to serve him and his needs because I want to take care of others’ needs first? We — I — forget that our neighbor (in reference to the second greatest commandment) includes my husband and son! It includes those closest to me.

I must be found faithful doing the things that God has called me to now, today, or else I won’t know how to be faithful with those things in the future. Yes, by all means I am to use my gifts for God’s glory in the church and in the community now (who says you can’t do both?) but not at the cost of not using them at home or at the cost of not spending time with God. My gifts will only be as effective as my walk with the Lord. If I am not spending time in Scripture, prayer, gratitude, reflection and mediation on His Word, then my gifts will no longer be reflecting the glory of God but of me.

If you think about it, we in the United States are very narcissistic. We are obsessed with self, and because of that we get really depressed when we aren’t accomplishing something or getting recognized for our achievements. Two years ago The Huffington Post published some research about the nations with the highest clinical depression. United States came in second at a rate of 19.2%. That is really astonishing given the fact that we are one of the wealthiest nations. We don’t have to worry about being invaded or wars (too much, as they are often thousands of miles away). We don’t have to worry about major disease epidemics, religious persecution, drug lords coming into our homes and decapitating us, famine, or drought. Yet we are depressed.

Why? I really think it comes down to our obsession with self. We think by making self the most important thing we will satisfy these needs of contentment, fulfillment and joy, but the irony is that by elevating self we are destroying ourselves. We can’t give ourselves what only Christ can give us. We can’t find what we’re searching for in sinful human beings. It’s like eating chocolate to satisfy a hunger. Sure it tastes awfully good and feels good at first, but too much of it can make you downright sick and yet if you just eat one piece it makes you lust for more.

We also are depressed because we find fulfillment and identity in what we do. This is probably why Purpose Driven Life sold so well! We want to make sure we are living with purpose. But God has been bringing to my mind repeatedly that Jesus spent 30 years growing, praying, spending time in the synagogues, and preparing before having a public ministry that only lasted 3 years! “All those years wasted!” a good American might say. We cannot fathom doing “nothing” for that long. We don’t value waiting, listening, learning, preparing, and praying; in fact we consider those things as “nothing” or as accomplishing nothing. In a give-me-now culture where we basically can have everything we want with the swipe of a credit card, the opening of an app, or the tapping of a tweet, it is against our very nature to sit still and wait. To exercise patience.

But this narcissism, obsession with self, has crept into the churches and Christian communities. As E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien wrote in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, “When the ‘me generation’ became Christians, we baptized this egocentrism” (p. 194). Just pay careful attention to sermons and blog posts. Ask yourself, “Who is the subject of this sermon or post or article?” You can find this out easily by counting the number of pronouns/names used. How often is Jesus or God mentioned in comparison to “you”? You can also figure this out by looking at the goal — is the goal to become a better more impassioned you or for God to be glorified.

So often what I am being fed is a form of existentialism. A short definition of existentialism is “a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.” As Christians we have baptized our obsession with self and this existential philosophy and have put a Christian spin on it. Here’s the Christian spin. You are still the subject and your happiness is the goal, but God is introduced as a supporting actor to help you accomplish your life’s goal and purpose. Whereas when you read the Bible, God is the main subject and we are recipients of his saving work. Here’s another great quote from Misreading Scripture:

“The idea that we are only a part of God’s redemptive plan is hard to swallow for Christians raised to believe that if I had been the only sinner ever born, Jesus would still have gone to the cross for me. When we realize that each passage of Scripture is not about me, we begin gradually to see that the true subject matter of the Bible, what the book is really about, is God’s redeeming work in Christ. God is restoring all of creation (including me), but I am not the center of God’s kingdom work. This is a much greater thing to be absorbed with than ourselves.”

It seems so counterintuitive doesn’t it? If we want to find true self-fulfillment and joy in this world then we must “deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him?” (cf. Luke 9:23) Isn’t it against everything my culture is telling me and pulling on me to say that Jesus is the main actor in my story, not me? I am the supporting actor in my life. Let me tell you, I didn’t come to Jesus so that he could help me find my voice or make me a happier person. I came to him so that he would save me from my rottenness, my sin, and transform this dirty vessel into something more like him.

Yes, I still believe God is calling me to a speaking and writing ministry. I look forward to doing what I love the most full-time — one day. In fact I am doing some of it even now, even though it is in small doses. But I must not let my hope for the future blind me from the present. Although it’s difficult to see, what I am doing now does count. It is part of God’s greater calling for my life. I will have to answer to Him about how I treated my roles as wife and mother. Did I honor God and love God in those roles and love my husband and son like myself? Using my gifts in the church without getting paid for them does count. It does matter.

I will find contentment and joy in these things despite them because I am doing it for the Lord. My rest and joy come only from the Lord and He gives me joy for all things, mundane, dirty and not-so-fun things. My prayer is that when God is ready to use me in other ways and for other things and to move me into a new stage that I won’t regret mishandling the past and that I will do these things out of an already fulfilled, content place where God is receiving all the glory.

And if I can’t learn the lesson of contentment now, then how will I ever learn it? It’s funny that we quote “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil. 4:13) to refer to anything and everything we want to do. I think we like this verse because it seems that the emphasis is on me and doing all things. It appeals to our American senses. Yet, read in its context we read that just a few verses prior Paul says, “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” We must learn like Paul not to find contentment in circumstances because they so easily change; sometimes they are good and sometimes bad. But Paul is content through good and bad because God strengthens him! It is God who enabled Paul to find contentment, for Paul’s source for contentment came from the Lord.

As we learn contentment and how to find that in Christ alone, let us adopt the words of the psalmist who praises God at all times for who He is. Circumstances might not be great, life ebbs and flows, but still he praises God. “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts!” (Psalm 33:1-3)

I find that a heart filled with gratitude and praise helps me on those days when I am feeling restless, when I am forgetting that it is Christ who gives me contentment, when I want to rush through these days that one day I will look back on wanting to return. So in these days I am finding my voice in my praises to God.

So this is my story. What is yours? What are you feeling restless about? Yes, by all means, find those things you love and do them. Use your spiritual gifts, talents and passions to glorify God. Just know that even those things won’t bring you complete contentment and joy, for that only comes from the Lord Jesus.

And how does the hymnist of Come Thou Fount answer this proclivity to wander and to be restless? He writes, “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.”

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

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