I love movies. My family was (and is) a movie family. Nearly every night for as long as I can remember, we’d have dinner, talk, and then someone would say, “Should we put a movie on?”. Sometimes it was a new one we hadn’t seen, sometimes it was an oldie but goodie that had been played 1000 times (I think I could reenact every scene of You’ve Got Mail if you asked me to). Special events were often movie based too. Holiday? Let’s go to the theater. Birthday? Dinner and a movie anyone? Good grades? Those earn you rentals at the local movie store (a place very few of my students even remember anymore, but I digress).
So imagine my surprise, all of my family’s surprise, when my older sister Katie told us something rather shocking when she was in high school: She didn’t really like going to the movie theater. My whole family was in shock, “What do you mean you don’t like going to the movie theater? We always go! You always come! You love movies!”. It’s kind of hard to make anyone in my family speechless (if you know me at all you won’t find that terribly hard to believe) but Katie had managed to. She calmly explained to her insane family that she went to movie theaters because we all liked going, and she liked spending time with us. But no, it wasn’t her favorite event. She enjoyed a good movie like anyone else, but maybe we went overboard sometimes. She preferred live entertainment.
My world shifted around me. Katie only went to hang out with us? That’s a lot of hours in a lot of theaters just to hang out with people. Not to mention the hours of discussions about movies that go along with any Hayden Family Time. But Katie loves us. She knows that we love movies (yes, maybe too much). So there she sat, in theater after theater, discussion after discussion, just being with us.
There’s an important lesson here. One that took me a lot longer to learn than my sister. 90% of being there for people is just being there. Jesus understood this perfectly. The story of Zacchaeus is a familiar tale for many, but for any of us who may need a refresher, here’s the 30 second version:
Zacchaeus was a tax collector, but a super dishonest tax collector (think the sheriff from Robin Hood). One day Zacchaeus heard Jesus was going to be walking through town so he went to take a gander. But there was one issue. Zacchaeus was short (think Vizzini from The Princess Bride). So he climbed up a tree. Jesus was walking by and he stopped at Zacchaeus’ tree and looked up. Looked up at this short, pathetic, lying thief. Looked up at the man everyone knew was a huge sinner. Looked up at a misfit. And he said, “You want to have lunch?”.
Okay, probably not the line most people were expecting. If it were a movie I’d complain that it was lazy writing. But remembering the context here is important. Jewish leaders didn’t eat with non-Jews. And they certainly didn’t eat with known sinners. But Jesus was different. He created a relationship with sinners, spent time with them, ate with them, and loved them. He invested love into them and in return they invested their life in Him.
We can learn from this, Church. We need to learn from this, Church. I often hear people complaining about so and so who never comes to worship (and I get it, I’ve been there too). But when’s the last time you went to lunch with them? When’s the last time you called to check in? When’s the last time you had coffee, took them to a show, or just stopped and talked about nothing and everything? Not for the sake of guilting them into worshipping, just for the sake of being a friend. When’s the last time you slowed down enough to build a relationship, Church?
If Jesus came to me today, he’d look up into a tree and see a very broken sinner. A sinner who moves a little too fast, talks a little too much, and holds onto her sin with everything in her (because letting go may mean losing control). He’d look up in the tree at this hot mess of a woman and you know what he’d say? “You want to go see a movie?”.
Director of Christian Education
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
It’s a vow we learn as a young child when secrets are whispered amidst school yards. I’ll tell you, but do you promise not to tell anyone else? I promise.
It’s a vow that travels with us as we grow older and learn, often as teenagers, what heartbreak really means for the first time. But they promised not to get divorced. But he promised he loved me. But they promised to be here.
It’s a vow that continues to grow in its’ solemnness as we grow into adults. I promise to love and cherish you through sickness and health. I promise to bring my child continually into worship to grow in the Lord’s Word. I promise to do the best I can at whatever God has lead me to do. I promise to be the best I can for whoever God has given me.
Few things hurt as much as a broken promise.
I bet you can think of a few broken promises in your own life. Was it when they left you, or you left them? Was it when they couldn’t protect you, or when they were who you needed protecting from? Was it when you were hurting and nobody came, or when everybody came and it still hurt just the same?
How does it feel to think about it? Is it a distant wound which is only remembered when you catch a glimpse of the scar it left? Or is it a gaping cut which you have yet to successfully close up?
There are people in Scripture who felt this level of pain. The kind of pain that exhausts you. The kind of hurt that seems never ending, or at least it won’t be ending for a while.
Almost all of us learned the story of Noah’s Ark as young children in Sunday School and often it seems our own understanding of that story stays at that level. Cute pictures of animals skipping onto a boat two-by-two mesmerize us as children, and as adults we ignore the hard truth of what that story, what that historical event, really was.
The world had become so evil that existing in it was painful. It was dangerous, torturous, and the exact converse of what God’s plan for creation had been. So, He destroyed it. All of it, save some animals and one faithful family. We can assume Noah spent his last moments before the flood begging people to repent. To save themselves. These were Noah’s neighbors, his friends, his countrymen, and his fellow humanity. This was destruction on a level the world had never seen and will not see again until Jesus comes. This was pain unlike any that Noah had experienced in his 600 years.
On the Ark there must have been grieving. Not the rainy-day blues we attribute Noah’s sadness to in Sunday School, but true grieving. Everything they had known about creation had been wiped out. Any semblance of a future representing any part of their past had been washed away. They were alone in the truest sense.
And when the rain ended, this pain would not end with it. The task of reestablishing humanity was at hand, but this intense grieving had yet to be addressed.
And then God did something miraculous, yet simple. He presented healing, not only for Noah and his family, but for anyone who’s ever felt the pain of a broken promise. For anyone who has felt alone and scared. For anyone who would ever wonder where God’s hand could be in such a dark moment.
God stopped the rain and placed a rainbow in the sky.
And with this rainbow God said to Noah, “This is a sign of my promise to you and to anyone who will ever live on this Earth” (Gen. 9:17). The rainbow is a sign that the rain isn’t staying forever. That God is present in the biggest of storms. That a plan is at work. But most importantly, the rainbow is a sign that the end of your story has already been written.
I don’t know what your life looks like right now. I don’t know if you’ve seen the rainbow in your troubles or if you’re still in the middle of your storm. I don’t know if you can see an end to your pain or if you’re not sure that an end is even possible. But I do know this: When Jesus came and died for you on the cross His blood and tears became a rainbow in your life. A sign of God’s promise. A sign that the storm has come to an end. Church, you have won. This pain is temporary. The skies will clear up and we will join in Eternity to witness the greatest rainbow ever created.
Friends, promises are broken by humans, not by God. If your faith is dependent on the way the people around you act than you have a lot more faith in humanity than you do in Christ: the creator of rainbows, the Promise Incarnate, the end of the storm. We all get hurt, and it’s okay to cry when you do. But now’s the time to pick yourself up, fix your eyes on Jesus, and start looking for that rainbow. It’s coming, friends.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, your Savior” – Isaiah 43:2
“I love you, just not your choices”
“Hate the sin, love the sinner”
“I’m just rebuking you in love”
The amount of times I’ve heard these phrases being thrown around the Church is unreal. It’s the go-to explanation for how the Church can be loving like Christ and still form opinions opposite that of the world. And on the surface, there’s not much wrong with them. Any reasonable person should be able to agree that you can love someone without agreeing with them on everything. The problem is the people we are saying this to often don’t feel loved. And yes, that is our problem. Because we, Church, share in a history of not always being loving.
Now before you get angry reading that (It may already be too late for some of you) let me clarify. The Church has done a lot of incredible, loving things. Without the Church medical care would not be what it is. Without the Church many widows, orphans, and less-thans would be uncared for. Without the Church many immigrants would not find asylum, many outcasts would not find a home, and many hopeless people would not know hope. That is something to look at and be in awe of. God has certainly worked through His Church in many and mysterious ways and He continues to do so. But if we only look at the good things Christ has done through His Church, and never reflect on how we can continue to grow in our mission as His people, then we are going to become the Pharisees. So impressed with ourselves, we forget why God created us in the first place.
So back to the “our problem” part. It is our problem that the Church has left some unloved. That our history has not always been in accord with His Story. That is our problem. I’m not suggesting that we all walk around with a guilt complex. I’m suggesting that we acknowledge our mistakes, flaws, and sinfulness (isn’t this what we confess every Sunday?) and strive everyday to minister like Christ does.
Christ ministered through relationships. Every. Single. Time. He didn’t go around saying catchy things like, “hate the sin, not the sinner”. He formed relationships with sinners. Real relationships. Relationships where people trusted Him and understood that He was comfort, love, and hope. Then He talked with them about their sin. Let’s look at an example together:
The story of the Woman at the Well is a pretty common one, but even if you’ve heard it before, join me in thinking through it again. I’m going to give you the Hannah Hayden Paraphrase here, but for the full story check out John 4:1-26 (written by people a lot smarter than me and inspired by God, so you know….much better).
Scene: Samaritan Woman (enemy of Jews) is drawing water from a well. She’s a rough-around-the-edges kind of woman. The kind of woman your grandma would say ‘was very popular with the fellas’ if you get my drift.
Enter Stage Right: Jesus, looking pretty tired. Give Him a break, He had to walk everywhere for pete’s sake (or should I say Simon Peter’s sake? Haha, no?).
Jesus: To Himself and the nonexistent audience Man am I tired. I can’t wait till someone invents the car. Seriously He sends me to the desert before air conditioning was invented?
Jesus: To the woman Hey, would you mind getting me a drink while you’re drawing that water? Not that I couldn’t make this rock give me wat……well, we’ll get to that later.
Woman: Oh shoot….listen pal, you may not have noticed but I’m a Samaritan woman. You know, enemy of the Jews? And you sure look Jewish. Listen, I would but that would make you unclean which would probably be like a huge hassle for you at the temple, right? So, it’s probably better if you don’t.
Jesus: LOL, if you knew who I was you’d be asking me for a drink of living water, am I right?
Woman: What the he…
Jesus: interrupts Seriously, you don’t want to go there. Trust me it’s okay, I’m just super thirsty. Whoever drinks from this well is always going to be thirsty again, but if you ask me for living water, you’ll never thirst. Metaphorically speaking of course. I’m talking about eternal life. I just enjoy a good metaphor.
Woman: Holy cow (or whatever Samaritans find holy). You’re the Messiah? Why didn’t you just say so! I’ve never been good at the whole metaphor thing. School was rough. Well come on! Give me some of this eternal water! See what I did there? I’m continuing your metaphor!
Jesus: Listen woman, you can’t out word smith the original Word smith. But sure, I’ll give you eternal life. Hey, why don’t you go get your husband and we’ll take care of him too. Looks to the imaginary audience with a mischievous, albeit loving, all-knowing look.
Woman: Oh…..um…..I wouldn’t say that I really have a husband. Kind of living and loving that single life you know?
Jesus: Yeah, I know you’ve been loving it. You’ve gotten far too friendly with a lot of men in the way you’re only called to do with your husband. My grandma would say you’re ‘popular with the fellas’.
Woman: You have a grandma?
Jesus: Not important. The point is I’m the Messiah. You need me, and I came down for you. But if you really love me and want me to be a part of your life, you’re going to have to acknowledge that you’re a sinner in need of forgiveness. I can help you with that. In fact, I’ll inspire that. You don’t really have to understand the details right now, we’ll hook you up with the next New Member class.
And that’s mostly what happened. Now let’s look at the order of events. Jesus met the woman, He showed the woman that He was willing to have a relationship with her regardless of who she was (He wasn’t just talking the talk, He was drinking the water), He shared the Gospel, and then He rebuked her. Did you catch that? That was the last thing He did. Yes, He still did it, but He loved her through His actions first.
Yeah, it’s a short interaction. And most of the time things don’t move that quickly. Most of the time we spend weeks, months, or years building relationships (not just in words, but through actions) and slowly sharing the Gospel before we even get to the point where we can rebuke in love. Because once we have those relationships built, it truly is in love.
We live in an instantaneous society and so we’ve become instantaneous Christians. We believe we can get you to confess and turn from sin by sharing this Facebook post, or by standing outside this clinic, or by saying that I love you, just not your choices. But we have been called to relationships. To community. To the kind of love that takes some time to build. Sure, maybe God will let you see a quick conversion at some point in your life. But mostly He calls us to be a piece in the puzzle of a much longer term plan. So, stop telling people you love them but hate their sin. Just start with I love you. Build a relationship. Take your time. God will show you when the right time comes for the hard discussions. But it can only truly be in love if you take the time to love them in the first place.
And remember Church: Everyday you and I are the woman at the well. Let us not glorify ourselves to the place of Jesus, but thank Him for working through us in His own timing.
Loved Woman at the Well
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
When I was in high school I lived for Friday nights. Whether it was football games in the fall, movie nights in the winter, or bonfires and country drives all summer, Fridays were the best times with my favorite people. As soon as we arrived at school Friday morning word starting passing around about who was doing what so you could weigh your options and figure out what was going to be the most fun.
My parents were pretty cool about letting me have a social life. “Text us when you get there, be safe, and we’ll leave a light on” became the mantra of me and my siblings’ high school years. “We’ll leave a light on”. Such a simple promise but in it so much comfort. You see, my parents had a rule. The stair light up to their bedroom stayed on until the last person was in. That way, if they looked over from their bed at night they could see if all of their kids made it home.
This worked well for the most part. Every once in a while, someone would creep in late at night and slip into bed before turning off the light. And without fail in the middle of the night I’d hear a very tired parent checking to make sure all the cars were home and all the beds were filled before flicking off the light and returning to bed. Still to this day, if I go back for a visit and catch up with some old friends, I come home to find the light up the stairs still glowing, waiting for my safe return.
So, it should come as no surprise that I got a little more homesick than usual when I was driving to work and the song “Leave a Light On” by Tom Walker came on. It’s a song Walker wrote about a friend dealing with many hard things in life: depression, drugs, loneliness, you name it.
Do you know a friend like that? Are you that friend? I think we all have been at some point. Although the song is secular, the chorus is a call many Christians are familiar with:
“If you look into the distance, there's a house upon the hill
Guiding like a lighthouse to a place where you'll be
Safe to feel our grace 'cause we've all made mistakes
If you've lost your way
I will leave the light on”
If you change “our grace” to “His grace” the song becomes a familiar prayer that Church has been saying for years. It’s the call of a parent to a lost child. The call of a friend to those who haven’t been home in a while. It’s the call of a shepherd to a lost sheep. It’s the call of God to you.
Sometimes we feel far away from home both physically and mentally. We feel unlovable and unworthy, like we’ve disappointed all those around us. We feel like we don’t deserve to have the light left on because of all the times we’ve never returned home to turn it off. But there is a truth so powerful and so life-giving that the world tries to hide it from us: God’s grace has nothing to do with how we feel. The light is on for you, whether you feel worthy or not. Whether you feel close to God or far from home. Whether it’s been a bad day or a bad life.
Friends, I don’t know what 2018 has looked like for you so far. Whether it’s been a year of many celebrations or many sorrows. Or, if you’re like me, it’s been a year of both. What I do know is this: there is a place where you can always feel grace. There is a place where your mistakes don’t matter and your heartaches are softened. There is a place you can always call home. That place is in the arms of Christ. He’ll always leave the light on.
“Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent’.” – Luke 15:3-7
Director of Christian Education
Lost Sheep, Found Child
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
When you’re just a young kid secrets seem like the most exciting thing in the world. I still remember the giddy feeling of schoolgirl whispers about crushes that were painfully honest to everyone anyways. There was an air of excitement surrounding the idea that only your closest friends knew something that felt so intensely personal, and that’s why many of these secrets could only be shared in the sacred darkness of a sleepover.
As I grew older secrets became less exhilarating and more embarrassing. Middle school marks a major shift in most kids’ self-confidence, and it was definitely a low point in mine. Are the whispers about me? Are people laughing with me or at me? Suddenly secrets seem to shift from late night giggles to vicious rumors. I really believe that for many of us, that tender age is the first time we consciously figure out how to hide parts of ourselves. “Just fit in; don’t be different” whispers the voice in our head. Suddenly our secrets aren’t about the things we like, but the parts of ourselves that we don’t.
And then comes young adulthood and with it a new sense of confidence, adventure, and a fresh batch of reality that smacks you in the face. I have diplomas as proof that I could lecture you up and down about the history of the Church and educational theory, but I have to call my dad anytime my car makes an unfamiliar sound. I’ve written published papers and yet I still ask my mom if the clothes really need to hang to dry or if the companies are just trying to seem fancy.
And amid the ups and downs of adulthood secrets turn into lies. “I’m doing fine” I tell a friend on the phone as I sit alone, eating take-out on a lonely Friday night. “Work is great” I tell family after a week of wondering if I’m really worthy of the call God has given me. “I’ll figure it out” I tell myself after questioning how I’m supposed to be financially responsible, well-rested, and have a social life all at the same time. This isn’t to say I’m always feeling like this. If you constantly feel less-than, downtrodden, or tired you should talk to a medical professional! Don’t feel like you’re struggling with depression because your prayer life isn’t strong enough (that’s not how that works).
But for those of us just dealing with the ups and downs, the not so perfect parts of ourselves became our most guarded secrets. Because maybe, just maybe, if no one sees the things that are falling apart it’s not really happening, right?
In Luke 8:17 it says, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light”. That’s essentially just the Bible reaffirming what your Grandma has been saying all along, “It all comes out in the wash”. I’ve watched families who have said, “I’m fine” for years be rocked by divorce. I’ve watched people who have been ravaged by disease, job loss, or poverty answer the question, “How are you?” with “Good!”.
But there is One who sees through our secrets. There is One who is not fooled by our lies. And He’s calling to you. I don’t know what made you read this today. I don’t know if you’re at school, work, or home. I don’t if you’re happy, tired, or numb. But for some reason God thought you should hear this message today. What are your secrets, friend? What lies have you been telling others, and maybe even yourself? Whatever it is, let me promise you this. Our Savior is bigger than our secrets. And today, He’s calling to you. Lay down your secrets, oh weary sinner. Lay them at the Cross.
“I call to You when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” – Psalm 61:2
Director of Christian Education
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
I’m in the business of broken hearts.
It’s a weird thing to say (and an even weirder thing to realize) but it’s true. Have you ever heard the expression, “If these walls could talk, the things they would say”? Well my office walls would have quite the stories. Stories of happiness, of laughter, of celebrations, of joy, and of contentment. But many of the stories would be about broken hearts.
These walls could tell you all about peoples’ insecurities, their sins, their divorces, their embarrassment, their secrets, and their addictions. Some of these stories would even be mine. My walls have seen more tears than can be counted, more shame than can be measured, and more broken hearts than any office should have to see. And I’ve only been here a year and a half.
I remember the first time I felt heartbroken. I couldn’t have been older than 4 and my family was watching a movie called “Snoopy Come Home”. If you haven’t seen this cinematic masterpiece I highly suggest it, but here’s the 30 second synopsis:
We find out, shockingly, that Snoopy had an owner before Charlie Brown, a young girl named Lila. She was forced to give him away but now she is in the hospital sick and she wants Snoopy to keep her company. So, the Peanuts Gang throw Snoopy a tearful goodbye party and he heads off to be with her.
I cried through the whole party scene. What could be more sad than having to give your puppy away? But unlike later heartbreaks, this one resolves in an hour and a half so I wasn’t too traumatized.
I remember my first heartbreak as a teenager, when a boy told me he would never date me because I was ugly. That one didn’t resolve as easily as Snoopy’s, and sometimes when I’m getting ready I still feel the sting of some 13 year old boy’s callous words.
I remember my most recent heartbreak, yesterday, when a high school student shared the hard life they are struggling with and there were no words to fix it or even make them feel better.
We don’t like to share these things about ourselves very often. It makes us feel week, unprotected, and pitied. So, we safety-pin what’s left of our hearts together, we plaster a smile on our face, and when people at church say, “How are you?” we respond, “Fine! How are you?” like it’s a part of the liturgy.
We don’t even like talking about heartbreak that much. We’re afraid that if someone shows us their broken heart our safety-pins may just pop open too. So, we all make a decision to stick with the script. We’re fine. Just fine. Thanks for asking. And when the news, our pastors, or even a friend forces us to focus on heartbreak we say, “How horrible! How terrible! What a world!” and secretly pray that no one brings it up again.
But we have an unscripted God. A God who understands broken hearts. And not just in a cold, scientific, “I’ve seen this in movies” kind of way; but in a real, hands-on, “I feel this everyday” kind of way.
John 11:35 is famous for being the shortest verse in most translations of the Bible. All it says is, “Jesus wept”. But the context around it gives so much power to these two words. One of Jesus’ closest friends had just died. This man’s sisters, who were also friends of Jesus, were in agony. They were grieving. They were heartbroken. And so was Jesus. So, He cried.
And this isn’t the only time in the Bible that Jesus cries. He cries in the Garden of Gethsemane, He cried before entering Jerusalem, and He cried on the Cross. And those are only the times that are recorded! Jesus is no stranger to tears, He too has dealt with the pain of a broken heart.
Maybe this part of Jesus doesn’t fit with your idea of who God should be. But it’s a very real part of who God is. He is a God who created the brokenhearted. He loves the brokenhearted. And yes, He has even been brokenhearted.
But He is also a God who has more in store for the brokenhearted. He doesn’t just leave us, hiding in the dark with our safety-pin hearts. He gives us the Gospel, the news of His death and resurrection, and through it He gives us hope.
It’s a hope unlike anything else on this Earth. A hope that pierces the grieving, the dismayed, the young, and the old. A hope that surrounds our safety-pin hearts, and one day will fully mend them.
Church, I don’t know what your hearts look like right now. I don’t know if you feel like you’ve got all the pain tucked away nicely or if you feel like your safety pins are about to pop. But I do know this, you have a God who loves you so much that no heartbreak can steal away your hope. Trust that promise. Trust that love. Trust that hope.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:13
Director of Christian Education
Brokenhearted and Hope-Filled
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
It’s not about me.”
That’s the name of the book my parents gave me when I was confirmed. It’s by Max Lucado and it was the “teen edition” of the book. They also gave me a beautiful ring that I still wear almost every day. And while that ring was instantly a hit with me, the book made its way to the bookshelf in my room and didn’t come off it for about a year. Because, let’s be real, the name isn’t exactly grabbing to a 13 year old. Especially when it seems like your parents are trying to passive-aggressively remind you of something (which is impossible, because I assure you that I was a gem of a 13 year old).
But then, the summer before I went to high school, I packed up and headed to Camp Okoboji, a Lutheran camp right on the lake in Okoboji, Iowa. I had gone to this camp every summer since I was two, but this summer would be different. This summer one of the leaders at the middle school camp asked me if I’d ever thought about being a Director of Christian Education, or DCE. I hadn’t, but the minute she said it I started to.
When I got home from camp that year, I was inspired to take Jesus a little more seriously than I ever had before. So, I picked up the only devotional book on my bookshelf, that one from Confirmation, and began reading.
I still have that book on my bookshelf. In fact, I’m looking at it right now. It has a poorly made friendship bracelet as a bookmark and it is highlighted beyond belief (I didn’t really understand the point of highlighting back then; it just felt like coloring). And in my very messy 8th grade handwriting there are all sorts of notes scribbled in the margins. Most of them are terribly embarrassing prayers that I would never in a million years share with you (listen, boys seemed really important back then) but occasionally there’s a note that reflects the beginning of a life-long lesson God is writing on my heart.
For instance, on page 32, right in the midst of all sorts of teenage angst, I wrote, “My purpose in life is to bring the glory of God to others”. Okay, so if we get nit-picky the theology is a little off. We don’t bring God’s glory to people, He works through us to show His glory to the world. But cut me a break. I was 14, people.
Maybe to you, that doesn’t seem like that big of a revelation. But let’s take a moment to think about what that really means. If reflecting God’s glory is our sole purpose in life, how does that change the way we act? How does it change how we think? Most importantly, how does it change how we love?
It’s clear that I didn’t totally get it back then. All of my prayers revolved around my wants, my needs, and the people I love (actually, if I’m being totally honest, that kind of sounds like my prayer life now). I was (okay, am) selfish. And I was beginning to realize it. On page 89 I wrote, “I get so wrapped up in myself that I act as if God can’t live without me. The truth is, I am only His messenger out of His kindness”.
That sentence, scrawled in a book by 14 year old Hannah, could have been written today by 22 year old Hannah and it would still be just as true.
Because naturally, we are selfish people. Remember Adam and Eve? They ate the fruit because they wanted to be just as smart as God. They were thinking totally about themselves, and humans have been following suit ever since.
I see it in our church all the time. People volunteer where they feel comfortable. Or they don’t volunteer at all. People avoid the hard discussions and uncomfortable moments. Families only talk about their faith on Sundays. And I can’t remember the last meeting I was in where getting someone to pray out loud didn’t feel like pulling teeth. And that’s not to call you all out. Because I do it too (see above confession). But what would our church look like if we embraced an, “Its’s not about me” mentality.
I think our small groups would be fuller, our prayer requests would be louder, and our service opportunities would be bursting at the seams. I think our hearts would collectively break for the pain of one member of our family and collectively celebrate with the joy of another. I think we’d stop talking about our church, our people, and our mission, and start talking about God’s church, the community God has placed us in, and God’s plan for us.
Church, we’ve got a lot of work to do. And it’s not always going to benefit us. Sometimes we’ll be called to heartbreak. Sometimes we’ll be called to sacrifice. Sometimes we’ll be called to vulnerability. God will work through all of these things, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to hurt. But you have a God so loving that He gave everything He is for you: very selfish, very stubborn you. The ultimate act of selflessness. An act we are called to imitate.
And no, you’re not going to do it perfectly. You don’t have to, Jesus has that covered. So why do it? Because God has so much more planned for you than you have planned for you. He tells you so:
“Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these they will do.” – John 14:21
How can you start living an, “It’s not about me” life? Try starting with this prayer:
“God, your will be done. Whatever that looks like, however painful or uncomfortable that may be. Change my heart Lord, so that I really mean these words: It’s not about me, it’s all about You.”
Director of Christian Education
Selfish Sinner, Selflessly Saved
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
Being single in the Christian church can be an isolating experience. Sometimes it feels like all of the ministries are either pointed at kids or parents. And any single Christian will tell you that most “singles” groups at churches feel more like a cover for church-approved speed dating. I know they mean well, but I’m going to pass on that one. But the hardest part about being single in the Christian church are the typical “singles” questions and comments well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ say to you. I really believe they’re trying to be encouraging, but frankly, it’s the very opposite of that. Need some proof? Below is my list of 5 Things Every Single Christian Is Tired of Hearing (and yes, I really have heard every single one of these).
1. “So, is there anyone special in your life?”
Yeah, my parents have this great dog named Abednego and if I Skype them they’ll hold her up to the camera for me. Oh, you weren’t talking about my dog? Look, I know you’re just trying to get to know me, but there really are better questions you can start with. Here’s a few ideas that will help you get to know me: Where did you grow up? What’s your dream job? What brought you to this church/church event? What do you do in your free time? It’s not the question that I hate, it’s that it seems people always ask it before they ask anything else. It makes me feel like singleness is my main trait. God made me so much more than that, so please see me for who I am, not for who I’m seeing.
2. “If you wait and pray, God will bring you a husband/wife.”
I have a lot of personal experience with this one. And frankly, it’s just as insulting as it is wrong. Let’s start with the wrongness. God never promises that He’ll give us everything we pray for. And that’s a blessing! Sometimes the things we pray for are not best for us! There are great examples of how singleness can be God-pleasing in the Bible (hello Paul) so please remember that God’s plan and timing is different in everyone’s life. His plan may not include a husband or wife. Now moving on to the insulting part. If God has a husband planned for me, yay! Go God. But my life is not on hold until he comes around. I’m not Sleeping Beauty. God has plans and experiences and adventures for me right now. Marriage is a wonderful, beautiful, God-pleasing thing, but it is not the only wonderful, beautiful, God-pleasing thing. I’m living a Christian life right now. God is using me right now. Please don’t imply that I need a diamond ring before my life can really begin.
3. “So, when are you going to get married?”
If I knew, I’d tell you. I’ve never really understood why so many people ask this question. Do you think I’ve just had a personal chat with God and we both decided that it can wait till I’m 32? When Christians ask singles this question it once again implies that their life won’t really begin until they’re married. I know you don’t mean this (at least I hope you don’t) but you’re inferring it. And besides, I’ve talked to a lot of single Christians and none of us know how to answer when we are asked this.
4. “I have this grandson (/son/nephew/cousin/dogwalker)…”
Okay two main issues with this comment. #1 When I come to church or church events, I want to worship with you, pray for you, and spend time just being around fellow Christians. There’s a difference between worship services and Christian Mingle. As cool as your grandson/son/nephew/cousin/dogwalker sounds, when you try to set me up with him, it feels like you’re more concerned about my romantic life than you are about my spiritual life. That hurts. #2 What do you expect me to do with this information? Call him up and say, “Hey your grandma says you’re pretty awesome and also plagued by singleness, want to get married?” I know dating has changed a lot over the years, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have been the best pick-up line in your single days either.
5. “Don’t you want to get married?”
The answer to this question is going to be different for every single person. I know some single Christians who really struggle with the fact that they haven’t found Mr./Mrs. Right yet and I know some single Christians who plan to be single the rest of their days. And then the rest of us go back and forth between contentment and longing every day. But when you ask this question, you have no idea where people are emotionally at. You’re asking us to justify a status because it feels like the answer should be public knowledge. If a single Christian wants to talk to you about where they’re at with their singleness, they will. Don’t force someone to have a conversation with you that could be an emotionally touchy subject if they’re not ready too. It’s their relationship status, and it’s just another question that makes single Christians feel like they’re an anomaly.
This post isn’t intended to make you feel like a horrible, judgmental person if you’ve said one of these things. It’s just intended to remind us all that our words can be very isolating if we’re not careful about what we say. I know my church family cares about me and only wants the best for me, but sometimes it feels like they care more about my relationship status than me as a person. Let’s not let single Christians slip away from the church just because we haven’t thought about how what we are saying may sound. I love you Church, and I am loved by you Church. Let’s make sure all of our brothers and sisters, single or not, feel that way too.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
Director of Christian Education
Single (but so much more than that) Christian
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
One of my all-time favorite movies is Sabrina, with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. To this day, I can’t watch that movie without dreaming of a pretty dress, a handsome man, and a trip to Paris that inspires it all. And while a girl can dream, the chances of me marrying a billionaire business-mogul who hosts Saturday night soirees just so we can sip champagne and dance underneath the stars isn’t super likely (however if you know a single gentleman who fits that description, I’m free this weekend). I totally understand that Sabrina is just a movie – a directed, dialogued, rehearsed movie – but I still find myself getting caught up in the fantasy that that’s what love should look like. But it’s not, is it?
In reality, love is messy. It’s fighting about finances because you both just want to give the kids the best life they can. It’s attending your sibling’s graduation ceremony even though you’re pretty sure the main speaker has never publicly spoken in their life. It’s helping a friend move to a new house. It’s doing loads upon loads of laundry and sink upon sink of dishes. 98% of the time love is the most unglamorous, anti-Hollywood actions. Love isn’t perfect monologues and European vacations; it’s moments no one ever spends time daydreaming about. Love is messy, tedious, and surprisingly ordinary. And it’s also your God-given calling.
Jesus understood what love is perfectly. He didn’t form relationships with people just to ask, “But what am I getting out of this?”. He gave everything He could to people who couldn’t give a thing back. He jumped head first into unspectacular tasks without every expecting a pat on the back. He washed feet, fished for food, and hung around people deemed “unclean” by the world around them. And He did all this purely out of love. Not a pretty, edited version of love. A real roll-up-your-sleeves, this-could-get-messy type of love. The type of love that can leave you exhausted physically and emotionally. And He calls us to do the same.
Living as a Christian means loving like Jesus. It means taking the high road when no one else will. It means doing the tasks no one else wants to do. It means humbling yourself so that service becomes a lifestyle, not a special event. And it means doing all of this with a joyful heart. It’s not easy or pretty and no one’s every going to make a movie about it. But if we really believe that we have a God who loves us so much that He sacrificed His son for us, shouldn’t that inspire us to make some sacrifices too? I suggest we start with our pride, vanity, and Hollywood version of love. I think we may just find that God’s version – as messy as it is – is a whole lot better.
Last Saturday not one handsome billionaire asked me to come dance with him. No one delivered a perfect monologue about how stunning I looked underneath the moonlight. No one poured me a glass of champagne while we watched fireworks in the distance. But my roommate vacuumed my bedroom because she knew I was busy. It’s not Hollywood love, but it’s Jesus love and I wouldn’t trade it for the world (or even for Humphrey Bogart).
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”. Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
This past spring, I graduated from Concordia University Chicago (let’s go Cougars!) with my bachelor’s degree in Christian Education.
The truth is, I definitely didn’t want to walk at my graduation ceremony. They’re long and boring and all-around not my favorite event. But mom and dad seemed to think it was important (and they helped fund the whole educational endeavor) so on May 6th I donned the traditional (and altogether hideous) cap and gown and found my place in line amid my graduating peers (I know you’re all picturing me as the quiet and devoted daughter, but I assure you I voiced my fair share of complaints about the whole situation).
This ceremony was not my parents’ first graduation rodeo. In fact, I suspect that all together the ever-patient Steve and Linda Hayden have attended upwards of 20 graduation ceremonies in their lives. That’s a lot of uncomfortable bleachers and “motivational” speeches. Bless their supportive souls.
But as much as I kicked against the nostalgia and cliched sense of empowerment that graduation is meant to inspire, as I sat down in my designated seat that Saturday morning, I couldn’t help but spend some time reflecting on the transitional state my life is in. And as happy as I am to be working my dream job in a wonderful town, I still felt a little scared.
Change is hard. It’s not a new lesson or a unique thought. As an educator, I see it in the little kiddos as they beg their parents not to make them meet a new Sunday School teacher and I see it in high school seniors when the question, “So what are you doing next year?” strikes fear into their eyes. It’s not just the younger believers who struggle with this fear either. As an adult, your family is constantly changing before your eyes. People grow and they make mistakes. The people who 10 years ago you swore would always be a part of your life may not be anymore. The person you are today could be drastically different tomorrow. And that uncertainty is a scary thing no matter how old you are.
Our whole life is transitional. Every day is new and has new challenges and joys in it. We celebrate the happy transitions (graduations, weddings, baptisms, retirements, etc.) and we mourn that hard transitions (job loss, funerals, divorces, etc.). And through all the change that life brings we may find ourselves asking the age-old question, “Where’s God when I’m scared?” (cue Jr. Asparagus singing ‘God is Bigger Than the Boogeyman’).
But friend, let me assure you that you are not the first person to ask this question. Remember Jesus’ disciples? You know, the people who actually saw Him do all the amazing things we read about? They doubted too. Even as Jesus was ascending to heaven the Bible says, “when they saw Him they worshiped Him, but some doubted” (Matt 28:17). They doubted that the church could go on without
Him. They doubted Jesus would still be with them, even when He left this earth. They doubted they could survive this drastic of a change.
So what does Jesus do? He looked down at these disciples and He saw me, sitting nervously in a silly cap and gown. And He saw the family that’s changing because of a heart-breaking divorce. And He saw the high school senior who dreads the question, “What are you doing next year?”. And the little kid who hates meeting new people. And the new parents holding their new little baby. And He saw you, and whatever change, good or bad, you’re scared of. He saw all of us, unsure of the future in this ever-changing world and He said, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”.
Yeah change is, and always will be, hard. And changes never end, which means life is always going to be a little scary. But we have a God who is more amazing, more unchanging, more loving than we can even comprehend. And He’s with us today, tomorrow, and for the rest of time. So take heart church, the changes you’re facing right now may seem big but your God will always be bigger. And He’s with you now and forever, even to the end of the age.
All My Love,
Former Scaredy-Cat (okay, still kind of a scaredy-cat)
Current Director of Christian Education
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church