Did I Hate 2008?

I’ve been quite melancholy the last few days, and trying to figure out why. Maybe it’s because Christmas reminds me how painful family is. I want to fix my family, but I can’t. So I want to love them, but I don’t know how. And it’s so broken now. I picture my sisters on the swing set and trampoline outside, living the glorious, American childhood dream our parents managed to provide. I remember playing dolls in the basement for endless hours, pilfering bits and pieces from all over the house for our elaborate doll houses. I recall the intricate societies we built out of sticks and stones outside, and Legos and waffle blocks inside. It was always less about the toys than it was about our unified creativity, about the characters and stories we created. Our fights about who should play the lead role in our production of Sleeping Beauty or whether Lego “trades” were permanent sound so refreshing now that family feuds are more serious.

When I was in middle school my parents went through an odd PDA phase where they would playfully kiss or cuddle. I hated it then, but now I wish I could go back and delight in even the façade of happiness. I wish they didn’t live in different houses, but at the same time I don’t wish things would’ve stayed status quo. That would have been even more painful for everyone involved.

So I was already feeling this after Christmas and then I watched P.S. I Love You with Anele, Elli, and Lauren Dakters. I cried several times during as I contemplated Neil dying, but in the solitude of my car on the drive home I melted into a soggy mess. I’m uptight and mean like the Holly character in the movie, and Neil is my adoring, light-hearted husband. What would I regret? Next I started worrying about if one of my parents or siblings died. Would I feel guilty? From there I moved into fears I never even thought to worry about before: what if Diana died? And I went on and on until I got home and sobbed my eyes out to Neil, who was compassionate and comforting as usual.

Perhaps another factor in my recent grumpiness is that I hate New Year’s Eve. The whole holiday revolves around staying up late, one of my least favorite activities. Night is not my best time of day. In the morning I find it much easier to be upbeat and optimistic; after all, nothing bad has happened yet. But at night I get negative and depressed. I also hate being cold which is the main event at First Night. I know I’m just being a whiner but I feel compelled to put it out there. So there it is. But I am going to try to have a good time. I bought a new coat today with some Christmas gift card/cash action. I wasn’t planning a nap as part of my preparations but after all the sobbing exacted from me today that might be in order, too.

But rather than whine all day, I want to consider 2008 from a spiritual standpoint. So much happened, but did I grow? Here’s what happened:

I lost my friend and disciple of five years, Jen. It was very sad and hurtful to her lose her to such a bad situation. I know I made some mistakes with her but I really experienced God’s grace throughout the six-month drama leading up to her departure. I learned to be bolder when speaking the truth in love. Also, I learned to persevere and love people with hope but without expectation–or at least, fewer expectations. Apparently she got married last Saturday. I’m not sure what to feel. Scared for her? Angry? Sad? Hurt? Mostly I feel sad for the life of pain she’s in for. He always tormented her and I’m sure he still does. But she made her bed and she was warned. So I don’t feel responsibility or regret. I did and said all I could by the end.

I started applying what God taught me from Jen as Yana struggled spiritually. Now I had more zeal for her well-being and was more willing to be uncomfortable when it was necessary to love her well. When she slipped away, with much less drama than Jen, it was very heart-wrenching. And I wondered what was wrong with me, especially because I tried so hard not to make the same mistakes that I did with Jen. Again, God showed me his grace. It’s not about what I did or didn’t do. She too made her choice. But we still talk and I keep praying she will come back.

Love ethics class taught me so much about how love works. I was so frustrated with it at first because I was confronted with my inability to love. But by the end of the class I was convicted to take the steps God showed me, and it has definitely made a difference in my relationships, especially with my family. It’s still very confusing and a source of much pain, but I’m not going to give up. And I need God’s grace for all the mistakes I make with them.

South Street after school program also taught me much about failure. It is so hard to know how to love, discipline, and teach inner city kids! My experience teaching rich high school kids didn’t help as much as I’d hoped. But I learned compassion, humility, and gratitude from serving there. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so much in my life as when we started running two days on our own last year! Now that we’ve had two weeks off for the holidays I really miss those kids.

After all this failure I was depending on God more than ever, but then He threw me a curve-ball: leading in Word. While I’d served there before, I was working with goody-goody girls from other churches. This time I felt like I was getting thrown to the lions in a cell group of emotionally needy, unstable “mean girls”–with a few exceptions. Even as God provided other leaders–super-capable Carrie and super-fun Michelle–I knew failure was probable. With a mixture of fear and hope, I started hanging with Shelby and discipling Anele, Chloe, and Shelly. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing everything wrong. But then I remember that’s not what it’s about, and God can use my efforts under His grace.

Perspectives also changed me spiritually. It gave me a new conviction for the world, for those who couldn’t hear the gospel if they wanted to, who often live in such squalor while we have so much. And it changed my view of God as I learned more about His compassion for all people and the powerful ways He’s working around the world. Asking if we (Neil and I) should “go” is scary, but I want to be open to whatever God has for us. I hope what we’re doing now can prepare us to serve in another country. Interestingly, the Gibsons said that one of the most important qualities for missionaries is the ability to deal with failure and keep going. So maybe that’s what God’s got up his sleeve for me.

What Not to Wear

I’m no fashion expert. But lately I’ve realized I need a wardrobe change when it comes to my attitude. Luckily the Bible tells us what not to wear and what’s spiritually in style instead. Consider Ephesians 4:22-24:

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted according to the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God is being created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

What not to wear is our old self, Paul’s term for the person we were before the Holy Spirit indwelt us. This doesn’t mean we abandon our personalities and adopt goody-goody fakery. The difference lies in the fact that the old man is a slave, unable to break out of the habits and attitudes that go against God’s design for us. The new man is freed from the slavery and addiction to sin and released into the radical freedom of God’s grace. Instead of laboring to break bad habits or follow religious rules, the heart of the new man is transformed by the power of God’s love as we allow Him to work.
So as believers, we ought to take off the outfit of the old self: the selfishness, defeat, and dissatisfaction with life. Instead we should wear the new self which looks like God because we have His Son’s righteousness, holiness, and truth as a result of our new identity in Him. The new self is our identity as a Christian. Galatians 3:27 says,

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” We already have our Christ clothes, but we choose to put them on by knowing, believing and acting like it’s true.

The verses that follow Ephesians 4:22-24 illustrate the concept. It tells us what not to wear: lying, unresolved conflict, stealing, hurtful words, bitterness, anger, and slander. Instead we are to don truth, unity, generosity, encouragement, kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:25-32). The one that convicts me the most is verse 29:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Meanness and mom jeans are fashion emergencies!

Ask any of my former roommates or my husband, and they’ll tell you I’m not the most edifying person. In fact I can be quite harsh and downright mean. If I’m cranky in general or unhappy with someone in particular I get wrapped up in negative thoughts, and these find their way out of my mouth in sharp words. “Could you please take out the trash?” becomes “You never take out the trash!” with “what a slob” added internally. And of course encouraging people becomes the furthest thing from my mind. This is the old self, and while it’s still there, it no longer has the same power over me. I can choose otherwise if I’m willing to be changed by God.

Colossians 3 also talks about our new life in Christ. Verses 8 and 9 tell us what not to wear with a list that matches Ephesians 4. Then Paul tells us what to wear instead:

“put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you . . . Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12, 14).

How I want to operate out of a heart of compassion and love! The qualities in this passage cannot be faked for long, if at all. They are heart attitudes which only God can cultivate in us. Without Christ I am cold, mean, proud, harsh, impatient, intolerant, and unforgiving. And I still struggle to wear the clothing of my new identity in Christ. But it’s completely absurd not to put on our new selves. It’s like if a poor street orphan were adopted by Bill Gates, given the finest designer clothes, and continued to wear their filthy rags. How ridiculous! But sometimes I prefer to wallow in the mud of my old self than slip into an Oscar de la Renta gown!

Oscar de la Renta, my favorite designer

Speaking of finery, 1 Peter 3:3,4 says,

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

While Christians have formulated all sorts of legalistic dress codes based on this verse, the idea is to pay attention to inner beauty more than outward appearances. Again, I long for “a gentle and quiet spirit.” 1Timothy 2:9 also says women should clothes themselves not with expensive garb “but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” Indeed, the Proverbs 31 wife is attractive because of her character and service to others, not her bikini bod.
The Bible speaks of another set of clothes we should put on, which goes hand-in-hand with the new self. It is the “full armor of God” described in Ephesians 6: the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and the sword of the Word (Ephesians 6:11-17). Romans 13:12-14 also talks about the spiritual battle against Satan’s darkness:

“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

Why not lay aside the sin which destroys us and instead put on the “breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thessalonians 5:8) in which there is much victory and healing?

Get Ready to Get Rocked

“Go and make disciples of all the nations.” So begins the Great Commission. But are we obeying Christ’s call?

The Perspectives class is a great way to enter the Great Commission. It begins at the Hudson Community Chapel on January 12th and meets Mondays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Or take the class on Tuesday evenings, beginning January 13th at Grace Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Middleburg Heights.

All our new ministries are so exciting: the Discovery Groups, the International Student Ministry, Crossroads, and the Western Ohio Enterprise demonstrate how many in our fellowship are pursuing the Great Commission.

But are we taking the gospels to “all the nations” by participating in God’s work around the globe?

What You’ll Discover
If you want God to rock your world, take Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. The fifteen-week course offers a challenging look at the theology, history, and methods of missions. It’s appropriately titled, as any alumni will agree: the class transforms your view of God, the gospel, the world, and your part in God’s plan.

your perspective will change!

Meet missionaries serving in the Middle East or in cannibal tribes or the slums of India. What stories, pictures, and insights they share! This is a typical night at Perspectives class. It means developing deep convictions and new understandings you never held before.

“It was really eye-opening to see how much of the world doesn’t have access to the gospel and what missionaries are doing that we have no idea about,” Diana Michalek said. She also loved learning about the many indigenous movements such as the underground church in China. Her favorite memories of the class include a video about how a tribe in Papua New Guinea came to Christ and hearing Don Richardson (author of The Peace Child­) speak.

It’s so easy to get bogged down in our own culture’s version of Christianity, but it isn’t an Americanized belief,” said Jackie Leon. “Learning about missions broadened my understanding of the way the Lord works around the world.” This was important to Jackie because a secular friend told her Christianity was a Western religion, but the Perspectives class helped her understand that, “God doesn’t want every church to be like the Western church.”

Practical Learning
“We’re learning about things we can do here,” Diana said.

Ryan Leon agreed: “It really helped to learn about the history of missions, what worked and didn’t work in different fields.”

Be forewarned: Perspectives will change you. Diana, Jackie, and Ryan have taken new steps to financially support missions work, write to missionaries, teach others about missions, reach out to international students, and learn more through reading. The Gibsons, missionaries to Taiwan, took the course as freshman in college and asked, “If we’re able to go, why not go?” It’s a scary question, but the Gibsons are so glad they asked it.

“I recommend every Christian take Perspectives,” Jackie said.

Check out perspectives.org for more information and to register soon!