Category Archives: Life as a Christ Follower

Book Review: Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

Remember the book Kisses from Katie? It flew off Christian booksellers’ shelves a few years ago, when we discovered the story of this young world-changer who dropped everything in Tennessee to move to Uganda in pursuit of Jesus’ calling.

The book Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful is a continuation of that story of redemption. I am so, so, so thankful to be part of the team that’s had early access to this book to share it with others. Katie’s book has a beautiful message that I think will touch so many people–especially those who have experienced loss and struggle.

This book covers a lot of ground: Katie shares many stories from her time in Uganda, and she shares what God has been doing through her and her ministry, Amazima.

But Daring to Hope is mainly about a few specific themes:

This book is about hospitality.

And I don’t mean fancy dinner parties. In my exploration of what the church is (and isn’t) in the last several years, I’ve read and experienced hospitality so beautifully, and I love to see how well Katie exemplifies this beautiful gift. She welcomes people into her home so, so well: those who need long-term care or support, and those who just need a warm, soft place to be heard.

What I love about this book, though, is that she’s honest: “Loving people is hard. It brings us to the very end of ourselves. And as much as we are trained to avoid it, the end of ourselves is such a very sweet place to be” (49). With this beautiful dependence on Jesus, she walks with people through awful, difficult times in their lives, finding healing and hope simply in the presence of community.

This book is about loss.

It’s so hard to imagine everything that Katie has seen in her time in Uganda–she details some of the hardships in this book, but I won’t spoil them here.

But through it all, she writes with a deep understanding of who God is through her loss: “He wasn’t promising me a world without trouble, without heartbreak along the way. He was promising me Himself” (23). She’s developed the wisdom to see that in so many situations, He was present in the depths of her pain, and that is enough.

I think this book is important, then, for those who have experienced loss. Katie is so honest about it. There’s no doubt it’s been hard. But she also has learned who God is through the losses, and it’s these beautiful lessons that I’ve stored away in my heart to recall when (not if) life brings pain.

This book is about hope.

I resonated so deeply with Katie when she explained that she had arrived in Uganda with a reckless optimism, with no concept of the pain and loss she’d soon endure.

She writes, “Reality would shatter my optimism, but I would realize that it was only a cheap substitute for true hope anyway” (5).

As an optimist and a lover of beginnings and fresh starts, I too can lose myself in reckless optimism. But this book serves as a reminder that God is still on the throne, even during our struggles. In fact, He’s making our stories even more beautiful through pain:

“God kept reminding me that I wasn’t the writer of this story, and that when I tried to write all the endings, wrapping them up in a neat little package, I was diminishing who He was and all He could do” (24).

dth 2

This book is a sweet taste of God’s goodness and faithfulness in one corner of the world. It will refresh you and perhaps cause you to shift your perspective. I’m thankful I’ve read it, and it contains truths I will return to again and again.

DaringtoHope_Preorder_900x900

Advertisements

On resting in the good news.

You know those videos where a marathon runner’s legs buckle moments before the finish line and they wobble to the ground, so other runners have to help carry them across the finish line before transporting the poor soul to the hospital?

That was me as a first-year high school teacher, stumbling from my third week of teaching into this 3-day weekend. Teaching is incredible and a fulfillment of my lifelong dreams, but it ain’t no joke, fam.

By the grace of God, a new friend was going out of town, and her beautiful waterfront home by the bay was empty for the weekend. She invited me to come rest. “Here’s the spare key. Make yourself at home.”

panoram
My weekend view.

(This should probably strike me as odd, that a woman I’ve met just once in person would allow me to live in her house for three days. What generous and abundant hospitality. This is uncommon. Surely I don’t deserve this. But I know that when we love Jesus, He shows us how to love extraordinarily, and my friend is simply loving me with everything she has–including her home. So this humbles me and points me to Jesus, but it no longer surprises me.)

So here I am, on a sister in Christ’s back deck overlooking the water. I’ve consumed one million bajillion calories this weekend–all of them empty, many of them alcoholic, all of them delicious–and I’ve finished three books that have sat on my shelf half-finished for months. This has been the perfect setting for Skype dates and phone calls to maintain relationships that are now separated by thousands of miles. The quiet has opened enough space for Jesus to whisper gentle reminders to me on the breeze.

Rest is so healthy and allows us to recharge to do our work to the best of our abilities. Jesus modeled this rhythm of rest and commanded us to follow His example. (This is essential doctrine, people. That’s why there are so many books and articles on it.)

And as I rest, the reminder that the Holy Spirit keeps impressing on my heart is simple: you are already loved and cherished. You cannot earn God’s love or favor. You’ve already got it.

This is hard for me to wrap my mind around as an academically-minded lifelong student with an all-American work ethic. From grade school to grad school, I constantly performed for grades and constructive feedback. As a teacher, I’m consistently being observed to ensure I meet expectations. I’m always watching the state standards to make sure I’m aligned with them. I never stop trying to prove myself to my students and even to myself.

But not so in the kingdom of God. Like the lamb in the parable of the lost sheep, I’m helpless on my own; I can’t earn the rescuing of the good Shepherd. Like the lost coin, I can’t help myself be found and treasured. Like the prodigal son, I can never do enough to prove my worth or make my Father love me.

We’re already valuable and treasured because our Father has a reckless love for each of us. No performance review will change that–either for better or worse. No failure is enough to change His love for us or change the fact that we are children of God. Yes, we should work hard to use the gifts He’s given us well, but when we mess up, He doesn’t back off.

So I don’t have to hide in shame, for His love is not contingent on how good of a teacher I am or how loving of a sister or friend I am. There are no standards I have to meet, no tests I have to pass. Thank God!

And this is true for every single person: you are already welcome at the table. Despite your screw-ups and awkwardness and history of running away. Despite your background, and despite all you’ve ever done. Even despite official church statements that determine whether you do or don’t belong.

You don’t have to have your membership up-to-date to partake in the love of God. No one but Jesus can decide who’s welcome at the table, and He has already said that everyone belongs: Jews and Gentiles, men and women, sinners and saints. He welcomes us into His presence, knowing that His words will draw us in, transform us, reorient us.

We don’t instinctively think this way. In his new book Whisper, Mark Batterson talks about how we won’t hear God’s voice if we don’t set aside time to hear it, and it won’t happen by accident. It takes deliberate rest, and deliberately seeking to know the truth through God’s Word and through His whispers.

That’s why I’m thankful for the privilege and the discipline of resting this weekend. And even as I return to another week of hard work as a teacher, striving for excellence as I living a life that I’d only dreamed of just a few years ago, I’m thankful that nothing changes how wide and deep and vast God’s love is for me.

panoramic sunset

Book Review: Convicted by Jameel McGee & Andrew Collins

Hello, dear friends. I’m reviving my blog for a while because I have a lot to say. Specifically, I’d like to share some books and projects that I’ve enjoyed in the last few months.

To set the stage, I have the immense privilege of helping launch several books from publishers and authors whose work I believe in. I hate selling a product, but I love sharing what I’m passionate about.

And the book I’d like to review here has gripped me.

21291553_10155707687552803_536244804_n

When I signed onto the specific launch team for Convicted, I wasn’t entirely sure what the book was about. It sat on my shelf for a couple weeks while I tended to other reading and projects. As soon as I picked it up, though, I could not pull myself away from it.

It’s not the writing of this book that draws in the reader. No–the writing is adequate, but nothing special.

Instead, this book has the mark of an authentic transformation in two broken men that can happen only by the power and grace of Jesus.

The true story takes place in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Just across the river is another town, St. Joseph. One of these towns is primarily African-American and riddled with distrust, brokenness, and hurt. The other is a thriving tourist trap. I’ll let you guess on which side of the tracks this book takes place.

As I read this book, I recognized this setting. On a recent ministry trip I led with Liberty University to Baltimore, my team spent one morning planting trees in a rough neighborhood on a street corner specifically known for drug activity. Just a few blocks away was Inner Harbor–the part of Baltimore you’ve heard of. It’s a magnet for visitors. It’s where you go to “see Baltimore.” But racial tensions bubble under the surface, ready to blow up just like we saw plastered across the news in 2015.

While we were there, the church we partnered with also sent us on a prayer walk. It was no more than a few blocks. As we walked in a straight line, it was like traveling through entire cities: we passed through pristine, upper-class housing, followed by a Hispanic section, and finally we entered a primarily African-American neighborhood so run-down and battered that I hesitated to allow the college students in my care to keep walking for fear of encountering trouble.

It’s tempting to to think of “bad” neighborhoods as far removed from our safe suburbs. But they’re right next to the facades that we frequent. And they’re filled with stories: true stories of hurt and devastation and hopelessness.

Out of this setting, the hurting town of Benton Harbor, Convicted tells the story of another crooked cop. Another innocent African-American man.

I’m tired of these stories. I know you are too.

But this story demonstrates the way that Jesus works in the most broken and depraved situations. Andrew truly was a bad cop. Awful, in fact. He broke the public’s trust in law enforcement and acted selfishly and recklessly. He lays it all out in this book, and the depth of his corruption made my skin crawl.

And Jameel was truly innocent. He has been the victim of so many circumstances embedded in his environment. He was so badly victimized by Andrew.

And this is the story of how they found forgiveness and hope in Jesus, then found forgiveness and hope in one another. This book gives them both a voice, and it shows us who Jesus is in the worst of circumstances.

Convicted will be published on September 19, 2017. It’s timely for our world today. We’re still wrestling with bad cops, innocent black men, racial tensions and divide, and sin in our world. We need the message of this book that anyone can find healing in Jesus and in honest relationship with one another.

A line from coauthor Mark Tabb’s author’s note summarizes the deep purpose that this book has for those who read it: “Convicted is only one story of life in Benton Harbor. Maybe its hopeful ending is just what this town–and all of us–need.”

If you are interested in this book, you can pre-order at www.ConvictedBook.com.

On speaking for justice.

In the midst of Trump’s executive order regarding refugees, and in the wake of the March for Life, I see many of my Christian friends speaking out against injustices this weekend to defend the helpless and the voiceless. I am proud to align myself with them.
I remember a specific situation when I ignored a need for action. When I was very young, my family went to the Wild Animal Park in San Diego. As we walked, I remember watching a woman in a wheelchair take a sharp corner too quickly and tip over her chair. I looked up at my dad, but he had been looking at something else. It quickly became apparent that I was the only one who’d seen her fall. I should have rushed to help, gone to her side and checked that she was okay, but I froze. I did nothing as she laid there. It wasn’t long before her daughter came to her side, but that moment has always haunted me. I still do not understand why I didn’t rush to help.
Flash forward fifteen years to Liberty’s campus. My then-boyfriend and I were fighting in a hallway. He was verbally abusing me and was threatening to physically hurt me when someone came out of a classroom to ask us to lower our voices. They had seen him slap my shoulder bag and prepare to hit me, punching his hand with his fist as a threat. They said nothing. They went back to their own business.
But I have friends who advocate for widows and orphans, unborn children, those without a home or a country of their own. They’ve seen something go wrong, and they’re saying something. Injustice is their business.
Never again do I want to be in a situation where I knew something was wrong and said nothing. Thank you, friends, for taking action when you see needs.

On control and not having any.

20161105_082208.jpg

I never would have labeled myself a “control freak.” I’ll change plans at the drop of a hat, let someone else plan and handle all the details while I ride along, happy to simply be. I’ve been known to put my jeans back on to go out with friends after I was already snuggling in bed for the night.

But sometimes, real life gets way out of control. I didn’t have control over the presidential election when the candidate I voted for didn’t win, and I don’t have control of what the president-elect will do. I lost my job as an adjunct professor due to new federal regulations–can’t control that. I live in a world that, in many ways, is under the control of others, and their decisions don’t always make sense.

The fallback Christian answer–in the election season, in job woes, in relationships, etc.–is that “God is in control.” I’ve said it (and sung it) myself. I’ve heard so many people remind each other, “God is still God.” As if He can become something else.

But do I really believe that? With a dangerous man’s finger on the nuclear trigger and car and student loan bills coming in as fast as I can pay them off?

I’m not being rhetorical. I’m seriously asking. I don’t think I believe that enough to let Him have control of my life. I resist that with my whole fleshly being.

On the morning after the election, I woke up feeling like I was in a strange alternate universe where everything is wrong. A friend pointed me toward Psalm 23, and I was struck by the verbs in the psalm: he leads me. He guides me. He is with me.

I don’t understand the theological implications of the control God has in our lives, and I don’t necessarily want to. My finite little mind can only hold so much. But I know Who is leading me. I must try not to forget.

On Ecclesia: How Jesus Brought Me Back to Church

It took twenty years of weekly church attendance and sinking to rock bottom for me to figure out what the point of church is, and what the Bible really means when it talks about the body of Christ. But I know that the Lord is a Redeemer, and He has redeemed my legalistic thinking about His church and showed me how the Gospel operates in my life—here and now.

It all started with the rock bottom. I welcomed New Year’s 2014 fighting a small legal battle against an ex-boyfriend—skipping class for meetings and phone calls with police officers, spending my evenings filling out paperwork for a restraining order and sinking into the pain of the end of an abusive relationship. It wasn’t how I’d planned for my senior year of college to go. This wasn’t really what I’d planned for my life at age 20. I was on an externally successful trajectory as I finished college and was accepted into grad school, but I was hurting and lost and alone; the relationship had caused me to lose most of my friends and fade from the religion I had grown up on.

I hadn’t “lost my faith,” necessarily. But my life didn’t reflect that I knew the Lord in an everyday sense. I did not trust in Him as “my Rock, my Fortress and my Deliverer” (Psalm 18:2) through my pain or in my new season of life. Even though He was always close to my broken heart, like he promised in Isaiah 43:2, and He never left my side, I’d pushed Him away. I wasn’t going to church, and hadn’t gone consistently or intentionally in several years. And suddenly, I looked up and noticed that I had no community—anywhere. I graduated college and enrolled in grad school, hoping for a fresh start.

That’s when I encountered Ecclesia Communities in the fall of 2014.

The first time I walked in the front door of the home where Ecclesia gathers, I came as an uncomfortable guest and left feeling … still rather uncomfortable. After months and years of keeping to myself — even within the pews of a church — I’d met an onslaught of new people in a very personal setting. It was the cozy, welcoming home of a family I’d never met. Believers of all ages filled their kitchen table with food, poured ourselves coffee, and ate breakfast together in their sunroom.

Table

I’d never seen “church” done like this. We shared a meal together, sang together, and opened the Word of God together, but it slowly dawned on my nervous soul that there was no schedule. There wasn’t even a bulletin or, at that point, a website. Instead, when the Lord impressed a verse or a praise on someone’s heart, that person spoke up for the benefit of the group. It followed the model in 1 Corinthians 14, in which “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” It was different.

Living Room.jpg

But I was intrigued, so I went back. The second Sunday morning, I was greeted by name when I walked in the door, and several people asked how my week went, how specific classes were going, how my roommates were doing. They remembered me. And I was welcomed into the family in a way that I had never experienced before.

 

John 13:35

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Ecclesia represents to me the body of Christ in motion. These are the people I turn to when I have a need, and I’m constantly aware of theirs. They’ve helped me move, and I’ve helped them move. They’ve fed me and provided for me, and I’ve fed and given to them. They’ve asked me tough questions, challenged me to think, and they’ve prayed for me, and I strive to do the same for them. The family of Ecclesia has taught me about Jesus—and how He would have acted if He were on the Earth today.

Living Room.jpg

I don’t remember making a conscious decision to keep attending Ecclesia, to integrate myself as part of this body, but with the passing weeks and years I am more and more convinced that this is the body of Christ in motion.

Call it what you may: house church, missional community, simple or organic church, or simply following the Old Testament model. But Sunday isn’t the point; it’s not the religious pinnacle of the week. Wherever I am with other believers is just as powerful for edification and growth as a Sunday morning gathering.  But the result of my participation in this body of intentional believers is that I began to view the Church as a part of my life, restoring my relationship to the Church as well as to the Lord.

In praise of seasons.

Transitory. That’s how I’d describe the past few years of my life. I’ve moved between many homes, traveled cross-country, worked new jobs, and met new people. This summer is the first in four years that I haven’t moved living situations, but I have changed jobs after I completed my Master’s degree last month, and with that comes an onslaught of the new. With each change, the rhythms of my life adjust accordingly, but it seems that I am only just getting settled in before something shifts.

Of course, constant change can bring a sense of insecurity, if my sense of security is found in earthly things. But I’m learning that these changes force me to realign my gaze with the one constant in my life: who God is and who I know him to be.

As a result of this forced realignment, I’m growing with each new season. As I go, I learn, and I collect more wisdom and truth and practical skills, assembling it all into a collage of who I am. I hope to never go through an entire season of my life without leaving as a changed person, more in tune with who God is in each situation. Whenever friends see an old photo of me with long hair, they comment on how much I’ve changed physically. I hope that my soul is changing just as radically.

I think this process honors God by allowing Him to move and work in my life. The Bible uses the metaphor of a potter and his clay several times; God as the Potter must shape away pieces of my life that don’t align with the creation he’s transforming me into. If I trust that He is a good Potter–the most excellent–and is crafting something beautiful, then I will allow for even difficult moments of shaping. Oswald Chambers says it well: “Allow the Potter to put you on His wheel and whirl you around as He desires. Then as surely as God is God, and you are you, you will turn out as an exact likeness of the vision.” I hope to always submit to this process with humility and grace, knowing that even difficult changes shape me into who God wants me to be in order to best glorify Him.

Ultimately, the changes in seasons reminds us that everything around us is transient; this world is not our home. 1 Peter 2 calls us “sojourners and exiles.” The only permanent identity we have is in Christ: we’ve been called “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” In the midst of change and decay on this earth, God has promised that our souls can hope in Him who does not change. As we await eternity, may we be transformed into His likeness, leaning into the God who cannot be moved.

000_0248.JPG