Dear Gathering Georgetown

Dear Gathering Georgetown,

All weekend freshmen have been moving in on the Hilltop. They’ve arrived with all of the exuberance, dreams, and ambitions that they’ve been storing throughout their high school years. Their parents’ cars and their luggage has probably clogged the roadways and the hallways alike. They’re likely really excited and quite loud. They, with almost certainty, have no idea where the Esplanade or Bulldog Alley are located. I’m sure you’ve seen them and perhaps been annoyed by them. Please befriend them! Please come alongside them and love them. Please remember your freshman year struggles and your desire for community. They need upperclassmen to befriend them, show them the ropes, patiently answer their questions, and mentor them.

This morning the Protestant community came together for their annual Protestant Worship Service, and I heard via @jonathandrice that it was packed!

You have no idea what that news did to my heart. It reminded me that there are freshmen on campus now who I won’t get to sit down with over coffee this year. It reminded me that I’m missing my first Welcome Week on a college campus in five years. And it reminded me that The Gathering Georgetown kick off service is happening in just THREE days on the Leavey Esplanade and I won’t be there. I have to admit that I’m a little heartbroken over all of these facts, but I am thrilled that YOU are there and that your impact there will lead to more followers of Christ on Georgetown’s campus! Continue reading

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Change

Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek philospher said this: Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει, meaning, “Everything flows, nothing stands still.”

He was quoted by Plato in Cratylus, and by Diogenes Laërtius in Lives of the Philosophers Book IX, section 8
Various translations of this saying are below, but all make the same point – that the only thing constant in life is that life is always changing.

Variant translations:
Everything flows and nothing stays.
Everything flows and nothing abides.
Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
Everything flows; nothing remains.
All is flux, nothing is stationary.
All is flux, nothing stays still.
All flows, nothing stays.
Nothing endures but change.
From Lives of the Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius
Variant translations:
There is nothing permanent except change.
Nothing is permanent except change.
The only constant is change.
Change is the only constant.
Change alone is unchanging.

Change alone is unchanging. That’s terrifying. As followers of Christ, we are constantly being called to change to conform more to the likeness of Christ. Sanctification is not an easy process.

Continue reading

Marriage is Nothing Like a Hallmark Card

Josh and I are currently reading Tim Keller‘s The Meaning of Marriage with our small group.  Here’s a short taste from the first chapter (and it’s also the quote from the back of the book):

“I’m tired of listening to sentimental talks on marriage. At weddings, in church, and in Sunday school, much of what I’ve heard on the subject has as much depth as a Hallmark card. While marriage is many things, it is anything but sentimental. Marriage is glorious but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories. No marriage I know more than a few weeks old could be described as a fairy tale come true. Therefore, it is not surprising that the only phrase in Paul’s famous discourse on marriage in Ephesians 5 that many couples can relate to is verse 32 [‘A man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery…’]. Sometimes you fall into bed, after a long, hard day of trying to understand each other, and you can only sigh: ‘This is all a profound mystery!’ At times, your marriage seems to be an unsolvable puzzle, a maze in which you feel lost. I believe all of this, and yet there’s no relationship between human beings that is greater or more important than marriage” (Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage, 21).

Josh and I just celebrated (well, remembered) our 9 month anniversary in marriage yesterday. It’s actually quite weird though because despite the fact that it’s been 9 months, it really feels like we’ve been married for five years or longer. We already have trouble sleeping without each other, something I had equated to a problem only known by people who have been married two decades or longer. I’m sure that when we actually hit the five year mark and then the twenty year mark, I’ll look back on this post and laugh, but truly, it feels that we’ve matured and grown more in the last nine months together than we did on our own in the last few years.

There’s much about marriage that IS sentimental. What I love most about marriage is the “little stuff” that makes up the fabric of our lives. I love holding Josh’s hand, taking walks, just talking, teasing, snuggling, cooking together, chasing him around the condo to retrieve whatever item he’s most recently stolen from me, and just sharing life with him. And yes, that sounds like a Hallmark card (and in fact, there’s a card sitting on Josh’s nightstand that says pretty much what I just said here). But that’s not all there is to it.

Marriage changes everything about your life. You’re no longer able to do exactly what you want, when you want to. It grows you. It shapes you. It teaches you about the gospel. And yes, it’s hard. I’ve heard people say that love and marriage shouldn’t be too hard or something’s wrong with your marriage, but I disagree. That’s why I really like the Keller quote above.

I’m currently in the middle of another great book on marriage – Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. Thomas says that marriage is “the greatest challenge in the world,” and also asks some really important questions about marriage and cultural perceptions and expectations of marriage. He asks his readers “What if God didn’t design marriage to be ‘easier’? What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place? What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” (Sacred Marriage, 13).

I think God designed marriage to be hard. He wants us to be holy. And thankfully, I can say that marriage has made me both happy and holy, but I know that there are seasons of even greater difficulty ahead. In those seasons, I want to remember that the point of marriage isn’t that I am happy. Instead, the point is that God is working in my heart to make me holy, humble, and totally committed to the covenant that I made to Him, to Josh, and to hundreds of others last July. It’s an incredibly beautiful thing to share your life with someone. But make no mistake – it’s hard – but it is absolutely worth the struggle.

Recounting Transformation

All of life is a story. It’s a swirling, tumbling, organized mess of plots, subplots, and character development. Character development always leads to transformation. I knew this going into this first year of ministry and I even asked God for the kind of change that would break me, transform my heart, and make me unrecognizable at the end.

As you can see, I thought I knew what I was in for:

“Life is about learning to trust God, after all. And in this season, instead of learning to be patient in waiting, I’m going to learn to jump off of bridges, learn to venture out, learn to be daring and brave. I can already tell that He’s going to teach me to adapt rapidly instead of wait with hope. It’s going to be fast-paced, insane, and everything I’ve dreamed of. But I can guarantee that the transformation will never stop. And I hope there will be so many moments of transformation that I can recount to you along the way (From Character Transformation).”

I know, I know. I said that such a very long time ago. If only I had known how true those words would be.

I promised you stories and moments of transformation throughout this first year of ministry. I haven’t done very well. In fact, I’ve delivered only ONE single post since I jumped into full time ministry.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted is because I’m undergoing so much transformation that I can’t begin to explain it in a single post if I try. Sometimes there are more emotions wrapped up in a single day than I ever knew existed in such combinations prior to July 1, 2010. Another of the reasons is because I’ve allowed myself to get so busy that I don’t even begin to take the time to process my days, my weeks, and my thoughts. That’s all stopping this week. There are so many stories to share and so many thoughts and dreams to process.

I’m learning that reflection and recounting transformation is part of the process of  really being changed.

“The value of a story is what you take from it and what you will use from it in your life. Anybody can write a story, but the stories people remember most are the ones that changed them somehow. (Cuyler Callahan, http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Value-of-a-Story&id=3494657)

I want to remember this year. I want to remember and cling to the lessons I’ve learned. I don’t feel like I’ve only been changed “somehow.” I feel like I’m almost completely different than before. I’m not the same girl who came to work for The Gathering last June. I’ve grown, I’ve been stretched, I’ve cried, and I’ve learned what it really means to be a part of loving and building the Church. Most importantly, I’ve learned how crucial it is to not only to understand the Gospel, but to also love it and embrace it as the means of both my salvation and my sanctification.

Before this year I think I clung to the Lord to succeed. Then I learned to cling to survive. Now I recognize that Christ isn’t a means to an end. He’s not what I need to survive. He’s not what I need to succeed. He’s ALL I need. I cannot even express in words what that realization has taught me, but check back soon for a series of posts on what it means to be Gospel-centered.

Character Transformation… Always In Progress

It’s been more than two months since I last posted an entry.

Two. Months. That’s a long time, even for me. I meant to write, I really did. I’ve learned so much…. SO. MUCH.

In my post entitled “Character Transformation,” I talked about how I’d been handed my dream job and all about the leaps of faith and trust that the Lord was leading me to make as I chose to leave my career on Capitol Hill to pursue full-time ministry. I said that when a story climaxes in our lives, “something is won or lost and sometimes a battle still rages, but the growth, maturity, and transformation gained make every moment of the journey worthwhile.”

I had no idea how much more true that statement could become.

I thought I had changed through the process of dreaming and aspiring to ministry. And then I jumped into ministry and realized that relative to where my heart needed to be, I hadn’t changed much at all.

Again – here’s Donald Miller’s thoughts on change:

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another.”

I’ve realized that Miller is really, truly, and absolutely correct. Each phase, each part of the road, so to speak, involves some changing, some growing, and some adjusting. But sometimes there are major changes, seismic shifts, if you will, that God desires to create in the very depths of who we are, and those kinds of changes are the ones that turn us inside out, let us see who we really are, and then gracefully push and mold us into the people that God created us to be.

Now that I’m in ministry, I see in a new way how very much I need the Gospel.

I’ve seen in one short month just how much of a jerk and a coward (to use Miller’s language) that I am. It’s true. I’m praying the words of John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease,” more than I ever have in my life!

Everyone who has ever told me that ministry is hard told the truth. There are competing visions, clashing cultures, and multiple ways of getting a job done. Being in ministry has made me feel more inadequate than any job in government ever could have. I see all of my flaws under a microscope now – I’m  impatient, prideful, easily frustrated, and stubborn. I have to cling to the Gospel, trusting that the Lord knows what He’s doing, why He’s chosen to use me to do it, and how He’s going to break me to the point that I’m usable.

I had no idea the growth, maturity, and transformation that the last month would bring, but I was right… these things, while difficult while the battle rages, are what makes every moment of the journey worthwhile.

The point of this post, this story, this life… is transformation. The Gospel message transforms people’s lives. And I’m learning that that change – that sanctification – is both difficult and beautiful. Thankfully, God is faithful, and when He’s done with this season in my life, I know I will have evolved “from one kind of person to another.”

Stuck at work on a beautiful spring Saturday…

… But I’m reading Lucky magazine and Dug Down Deep by Josh Harris….

I’m almost finished with Dug Down Deep and I highly, highly recommend it. I’m currently reading the chapter about spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit and I love this quote:

“I’ve come to see that you can limit God in different ways. You can limit him by thinking he can never work in spectacular ways. But you can also limit him by thinking that only the spectacular is meaningful.” pg. 186

I think that’s a lot of wisdom contained in two small sentences. That gives me much to think about while I’m stuck inside today.

He also says “To be indwelt by the Spirit of the living, eternal God is a greater gift, a more overwhelming honor than any position, any possession, any amount of wealth, or any human achievement. There is no greater gift that God bestows than the gift of his Spirit. Are you aware of how he is working in you?” pg. 186

Great question. What is he doing in me? How is he working to change me, sanctify me, and make me look more like Christ?

Thoughts from a snow day

I find out a lot about myself when I look at how I spend my time. I typed something in a conversation the other day that hit me pretty hard once I looked at it again. I said, “Sleep always trumps food. Wait no, sleep trumps everything except God.” And then I realized that all too often, even sleep trumps God in my life. And then… when I take a deeper look I realize how much pride I struggle with… the idea that I’m somewhat in control is probably one of the hardest things for me to let go of. I find that I let it go and then somewhere between there and here, I’ve unknowingly picked it back up again. It determines how I behave, how I spend my time, and where I place my trust.

Pride. Sin. They keep me from God. I know that He’s completely sovereign… that He holds my life in His hands, allows each breath I take to provide oxygen to my lungs and has all of the hairs on my head numbered, but so often I question His timing, His plan, and the path I’m walking down.

Change. There’s very little I hate more than change. Especially if it’s life-altering. I recognize also, that change is good and that without change we die… but these recognitions don’t make it any easier to make the leap. I find that when I’m faced with it I begin to shut down on the inside… I tell myself it’s ok, that I’m ok, and that the distrust is merely preparation for the inevitable losses that will occur.

I’ve been this way my whole life. I’ve never been able to dive head first off of a diving board or do a cartwheel. And I think it’s because I’ve always been too worried about protecting myself – as if I could add even a second to the days I’ve been allotted (Psalm 31:15, 139:16).

Fear is a lack of faith. And its sin. We so clearly see that in the life of Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter’s an ordinary guy who displays extraordinary faith at different points in Scripture – He leaves his job to follow Jesus at just His words, “follow Me” (Matt. 4:18-19), walks on water out to meet Jesus at the word “come” (Matt. 14:28-29), and understands who Jesus really is before many other people do (Matt. 16:16, Mark 8:29). However, Peter is so often reactionary and easily swayed instead of unmovable in his faith. He starts to sink when he is distracted by the wind and the waves (Matt. 14:30), he cuts off a soldier’s ear when Jesus was arrested (Matt. 26:51), and then swears he never knew Him when he’s associated with Christ later (Matt. 26:69-75).

All of this to say: I find myself feeling a lot like Peter today. I feel like sometimes I wake up to the fact that I’m walking across water and I can’t make it on my own – I will certainly drown unless saved by grace. These times, the times when I recognize how very much I need Jesus – the times when my total insufficiency comes to light and all of my pride is exposed – this is how He keeps me close. In His overwhelming goodness, He walks me through change often so that my own heart is exposed and I’m forced to come to terms with the fear residing there. Without the grace of God, I’d be off always doing my own thing… forcing doors that aren’t supposed to open and clinging to things that I should gracefully let go of.

Ryan shared Acts 16:6-10 with me the other day:

“6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down lto Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul3 had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

The message here is great and I love the way he put it: “They kept moving. God closed doors. They changed directions. God closed doors. They went a different way. God showed them what they were to do.”

I was also reminded of Matthew 6:25-34 today:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?7 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, jeven Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

I’m learning to leap. I’m learning to let go. I’m learning to trust completely, all over again. All because of this truth: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16)”

Contentment 2.0

Tuesday evening I was running and listening to a sermon on contentment by Josh Patterson of the Village Church (the sermon can be found here). I used to run, watch a muted tv show, and also listen to sermons – all at the same time. I’m constantly the multitasker, even in what I consider to be “me time,” or “alone time.” Recently I’ve realized that I need to focus more during that time, and so now I just run and listen to sermons… it’s really brought about a lot of breakthrough in my life. I love the changes that take place in my heart when I am constantly in prayer, listening to sermons, or reading the Word.

I must have put the sermon on my ipod with purpose, but I had forgotten about it until it jumped out at me as the one to listen to right then. Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be content (as I’m sure can be seen from previous posts).  God keeps directing me to Philippians 4, and other epistles that Paul wrote… I’m learning so much about true contentment and what it means to find complete satisfaction in God alone. All of it has been amazing – I’m always constantly overwhelmed by how God speaks to me… how He uses His Word, His Church, and His world to imprint new things into my heart – things that I hope are engraved there forever. But Tuesday was really special. It was one of those defining moments that I think I’ll never forget. It was a moment when an important truth that completely changes the way I view life was illuminated…

Josh Patterson read Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT) “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”] As I heard it again, and he mentioned that Paul didn’t show a preference for either plenty or lack, I realized that BOTH are hard places to be content in. Contentment is a learned response, regardless of whether you have little or whether you have much.

I’m realizing that it’s probably far harder to be content when I have all that I want, because then, in my plenty, I lack the desperation and knowledge that He’s all I have and could ever need. I’m now praying that since God has taught me to trust and to be content in the desert or hard seasons, that He’ll give me the opportunity to learn to be content (and to practice contentment) when I have enough, or even plenty. I think I’ve always read Paul’s words in Philippians 4 to mean that we have to learn to be content when we are in lack, but I think I’ve realized that what we truly have to learn is how to be satisfied in Him when we don’t lack any good thing. That’s the hard part. I’ve spent more time in prayer in the last month than I have in years… Now I just need to make it a lifestyle and stay there.

I think I understand now, more than ever, why the rich young man in Luke 18 didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell him – he thought he had all that he needed. Even when presented with the prospect of eternal life, he didn’t understand the necessity of discontentment WITHOUT Christ. And he couldn’t imagine that Christ could fulfill him and be the place he found contentment if he didn’t have physical security, his possessions, and his stature in the community.

Even WITH/IN Christ, it takes His strength for us to rely on Him and crave Him, even when we’re in a season of blessing. The proper context for Philippians 4:13 is that it is Christ who empowers us to face any situation and be content in both the experience and the outcome, whether it be pain or pleasure. I think it might be possible that the truest test of faith isn’t where you run when you’re hurting, but where you abide when everything seems to be going your way, the path seems clear, and the future is bright.

Culture: The Driver of Politics

I’ve had a lot of people asking questions about the link between politics and culture recently… and I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long time, but I just haven’t had a chance. So, today I’m taking the chance to put into words something that I’ve been in the process of realizing for the last year or so.

A close friend called me on Sunday morning with a question – she wanted to know why so many people she knows were upset that there had been a Muslim prayer gathering on the National Mall. I emphasized the importance of that freedom and that opportunity and reminded her that if the Muslims didn’t have the right to express their devotion to Allah on the National Mall, we wouldn’t be able to host gatherings such as The Call, National Day of Prayer ceremonies, worship sessions, etc. on the National Mall either. Our country was founded in part because the Pilgrims felt the need to worship freely and that freedom is still something we hold dear today – to deprive another religious group of that right would be to deny them something that we ourselves hold as being supremely important.

I came to DC with such huge aspirations. I believed that politics would be the perfect way to change our nation. I’ve been working on the Hill for over two years now and have realized since day one how wrong I was. Don’t get me wrong – we still need more Christians than ever in the political sphere, but not for the reasons we have long thought.

I think that we as the American church have an incorrect view of the value of the political sphere, and it’s becoming more and more dangerous.  We tend to think that donating money to campaigns, knocking on doors, putting political signs in our yards, and voting are the ways to take back our culture and transform America. We also tend to believe that if we could just get a Christian in the White House or if we had a majority of believers in the U.S. Congress, that everything would change.

 The fundamental problem with this belief is that the nature of our political system is such that every four years there is an election for the office of President, and every two years we’re replacing or reelecting the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. As a country we embrace political change. And additionally, the system allows presidents and congresses to change and revoke the policies of their predecessors. In short, as in war, nothing in politics is ever final… no war is ever forever won.

[“Much of the moral and social breakdown in America is being fueled by cultural influences. The great challenge for this generation is both to think more seriously about culture and to develop initiatives and reform movements for positive change. Contrary to the common belief that major problems in our culture – moral license, sexual promiscuity, divorce, the loss of shame, shock, and manners – can be corrected through political action, the remedy […] is to promote cultural renewal through cultural means – to replace bad culture with good culture.”]

As William Wichterman states, “culture is upstream from politics,” and as such, the Church must move to change CULTURE… no amount of political change will ever change the hearts and minds of the people around us. Only Jesus Christ can do that. Until we redirect and redouble our efforts to influence, impact, and imprint our culture for Jesus, our efforts will be effectively wasted.

The job of the Church? Cultural redemption.

and look for Part II soon 🙂