Saturday, July 27, 2013

Year of Starting: A Response to Jon Acuff and Jen Hatmaker

Although the calendar may say that a new year begins on January 1 and ends on December 31, I know better. See, I'm a teacher. I measure my years from August to August. And in the last few years, the measurements have been very distinct and informative. 

In August of 2011, I attended Jesus Culture Awakening in Chicago. That sparked what I now call the Year of Fire. I was solely focused on learning about the Holy Spirit and teaching others to enter into His presence. The year was exciting and scary and new and amazing. 

In August of 2012, I was returning from a missions trip to Belize that taught me about depending on Jesus when I had no one else. I would call this past year a Year of Discipleship. I went through an intense time of letting God uncover my hurts, fears, insecurities, and sins. It was hard and scary and awful and sad and good, ending with my miscarriage and a sweet time of closeness with my Savior.

As August of 2013 approaches, I already know what the label will be. This is a Year of Starting. Because of the Start Experiment, God has already been showing me ways that I can "punch fear in the face" and embark on different journeys in which He has called me. 

I've already STARTed a project with a friend, one that we hope will continue for many, many years. God has been helping us network and has opened many doors for this dream to be realized. But I believe that this is just the beginning. 

Along with Jon Acuff's book, Start, I recently read Jen Hatmaker's book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  

Best friends already!
You guys. I cannot stress to you how lovely Jen Hatmaker is. She's witty and poignant and sincere and inspiring. I honestly believe that she and I could be besties, and based on the fact that she tweeted me back the other day, I think she probably believes it, too. 

Ironically, I've met Jen's husband Brandon. In February of 2011, Brandon spoke at a young adult conference for the Free Methodist Church's Gateway Conference. Much of what he discusses was about reaching out, helping the poor, and taking the Jesus of the gospels seriously. Jesus said to feed the poor? Let's go do that. Jesus said to give out water in His name? Let's go do that. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself? Let's go do that. 

Brandon & Jen Hatmaker
I have to be honest. For me at that time, it wasn't the most appealing of talks. It didn't seem like anything that could become me-focused. And I wasn't ready to care about others like that. See, I hadn't yet experienced the Year of Fire or the Year of Discipleship, so I wasn't ready to embark on the Year of Starting. But now, Jen and Brandon have a heart for others that is speaking to me. This book, 7, screamed my heart. 

A quick summary from Barnes and Noble, so that you can track with me: 
7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.
Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. They would spend thirty days on each topic, boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in seven places. Eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.” So, what’s the payoff from living a deeply reduced life? It’s the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity that transcends social experiment to become a radically better existence.
Not only is Jen hilarious throughout (ex: "I'm not an accomplished thrift shopper, meaning I never thrift shop. I'm easily overwhelmed in a regular store organized by genre, color, and price point, so throw a little chaos and fifty crammed racks together, and I might start maniacally humming and hitting myself in the head"), but she seamlessly weaves her faith and convictions in this journal. 
And what happens when you combine Start with 7 at the beginning of a school year? A new goal. A hunger to be awesome in helping others. There are so many ideas running through my head: setting up a storage for old clothes in my school so that we can help families in need; planting a community garden on my school grounds that my students will cultivate; partnering my students with a missions organization to raise money and send aid. 
I can't wait to see what God tells me to START next. 
It's gonna be a good year.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Trades of Hope Giveaway: Raising Awareness with Scarves

For the past decade, I've volunteered with the high school youth ministry that meant so much to me when I was a teenager. It's an amazing group with one of the most dedicated and godly youth pastors I've ever met. In the fourteen or so years that I've been involved in directly, the group has traveled on about five different missions trips, including four to foreign countries in central America and Europe. Under the leadership of Greg Groves, the Greenville Free Methodist Youth (FMY) has learned how to minister and care for others, especially those less fortunate.

About eight years ago, Greg taught a lot on social justice. We studied about the International Justice Mission (IJM) in particular. IJM is a human-rights agency that works to rescue people out of sex trafficking and slavery. Greg challenged the group to raise funds to send to IJM to help with a rescue. Our teens voted and decided they would raise $5000 that year. Greg was skeptical that they could; at the time, the group had about 60 regular attenders, and that seemed like a steep number for a group that size. But the kids were insistent, and Greg felt bad for trying to squelch their drive, so he let them go. Those teens amazed me. They set up a program at the high school called Loose Change to Loosen Chains (LC2LC) and placed buckets in every classroom and the lunchroom. Between that and other fundraising efforts, the FMY raised more than the $5000 they had pledged. We were pumped that our small efforts were going to help a girl in Asia make her way out of forced prostitution and be equipped to live a healthy life. 

Since learning about IJM and the very real dangers of modern-day slavery and sex trafficking, I met a man who runs a Free Methodist organization called The Set Free Movement. They call themselves abolitionists who promote faith-based change locally and around the world where slavery and forced prostitution are rampant. My friend Ginger Coakley wrote a guest blog on here recently about the work that she does with Set Free.

Women from Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world
And now, because of my involvement with the Start Experiment, I've learned about another social justice organization called Trades of Hope. Through a mutual friend, I've learned about Stephanie Erickson. She's a compassion entrepreneur (CE) for Trades of Hope, which she explains is an organization that "supports ministries worldwide who teach women in extreme poverty and/or high risk sex trafficking areas how to run a sustainable business by making handcrafted items." 

Trades of Hope pays six times the amount when they purchase the handcrafted items, and they turn around and sell it here, partly to continue the business to support the artisans and partly to raise awareness about TOH and the artisans they support. You can learn more through the website:

Right now, TOH is offering a special giveaway through bloggers, and Stephanie has graciously given me the opportunity to be a part of it. The prize? A handcrafted scarf made in Nepal by local artisans who are benefiting from Trades of Hope's mission.

Contest ends on Wednesday, July 17.

Want to win? Here's what you have to do:

1. "Like" Stephanie's TOH Facebook page at
2. Share this blog post on your Facebook or twitter accounts. 
3. Become a follower of my blog (there's a button to click to the right of the screen).
4. Leave a comment on this post telling me which numbers you completed. 

If you complete all four, your name will be entered into the drawing four times. 
Best of luck to you, and thanks for supporting social justice around the world!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Jesus Juke Has Messed Me Up (Sorry, Jon Acuff)

If you've been around me in the past few years, you'd know that I'm a big Jon Acuff fan. I know I mentioned him a few blogs ago when I talked about the Start Experiment. He's not just the Start and Quitter guy; he also is the genius behind the most amazing blog and book of all time: Stuff Christians Like (SCL). This book is such a great satire of Christianity by a Christian for Christians.

I first learned about SCL from Sarah Groves. She was reading excerpts of it (I specifically remember hearing about the metro-sexual worship leader) on an FMY bus ride. It was great. After that, I became a blog follower and eventually purchased the book. Although I didn't have the opportunity to hear him speak at Greenville College a few years ago, I've been actively stalking following Jon on all forms of social media.

I regularly read SCL posts aloud to my students. As kids who grew up in the church and a Christian school, they can appreciate the satire. One of my favorite posts is about the Jesus Juke. You have to read the post to get the full appreciation for it, but in Jon's words, "the Jesus Juke is when someone takes what is clearly a joke filled conversation and completely reverses direction into something serious and holy."

We all know what he's talking about. We've all had it happen to us.
Example: the pastor who says to his congregation on Super Bowl Sunday, "I wish you had the passion for Jesus that you have about today's game."
Example: a student says, "I can't find my keys!" and her teacher replies, "You only need the keys to the Kingdom!"

(The top is hypothetical. The bottom really happened, and it still makes me giggle. I only wish I'd been that teacher...)

However, I'm nervous that I've gotten too sensitive to it. It's become today's snarky equivalent of the "Sunday School answer." When Dora the Explorer asks my four-year-old, "Who do we ask for help when we don't know which way to go?" I always shout, "Jesus!" And Jorie's all, "No, Mom. The talking map. Duh." And I try to turn it into some spiritual discussion about how talking maps don't really exist (except I realized they invented them in the form of the GPS, but she's four and I'm not getting quite that in depth here), but we always have Jesus and the Holy Spirit to ask when we feel lost or alone. And then she's like, "Yeah, but Dora uses a talking map." And she wins the discussion.

But even though that's a half jokey juke, it's a real lesson I want to teach my daughter. And she's too young to catch ALL the sarcasm that I have to offer, so I can still make those legitimate discussions. But what about when I'm talking to my high school classes at a Christian school? When a student asks my advice about something, if I tell them they need to seek God, they're like, "Nice Jesus Juke!" And I'm like..."but I'm serious"... and then I facepalm.

Even on the Start Experiment board (mostly Christians, fans of Acuff, people ready to change the world), I've seen lots of comments about God and someone calling it a Jesus Juke. Can we not talk about our faith issues, questions, struggles, truths, and answers without someone calling it a juke?

Let's not let truth become the Sunday School answer. Let's not let fear of the juke keep us from speaking truth.

Did I just Jesus Juke the Jesus Juke?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Finish What You Start

Usually when I blog, I title it when I'm finished writing. I like to pick out a poignant phrase or concise sum-up of my post and then tack it on to the top. This time, I started with the title, mostly as a reminder to me to FINISH WRITING WHAT I'VE STARTED.

It's hard to focus because Facebook keeps making dumb little noises telling me I have a notification on something I probably care nothing about, but every time it dings I check it like I'm Pavlov's dog. I know, I know. Close down the browser. That seems simple. Not gonna happen.

The theme of this post came to me last week as I was trying to fall asleep, but it's taken me this long to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you will). Hey, look. Another obvious reason for the title. These thoughts started that long ago, but now I'm finally getting around to it. (Maybe. I'd like to point out that I'm already three paragraphs in and haven't even mentioned where I'm going. Horrible journalistic skills. [And also, did anyone else have a crazy English teacher mom who used to have a circle labeled TUIT hanging on the wall? You know...a round TUIT. Around to it. OMG. This blog will never get written.])

Here goes. A few years ago, my pastor, during a rare altar call, asked anyone to come forward to wanted to be anointed with oil for a specific evangelistic purpose. (I think. Maybe.) I went forward, and I remembered telling my pastor and his wife that I felt a call on my life for nominal Christians. That is, people who call themselves Christians because they 1. attend church 2. give money and 3. do good works. Other characteristics may include answering an altar call as a child or occasionally reading the Bible and/or praying.

I was a Christian in name only for most of my growing-up years. I was baptized when I was nine, but I don't remember having a relationship with Jesus or inviting Him to be King of my life until I was a freshman in high school. I'd consider the next decade tumultuous at best in terms of that relationship, but it was genuine, if misguided at times. But during that childhood time, if you had asked me if I was a Christian, I would have responded with, "Of course. I go to church twice a week. I was baptized, even." But I wasn't a Christian. Not in terms of surrender. Not in terms of dependence. Not in terms of Jesus being my Lord. Actually, to get really picky, if those are the qualifications (and I'm not claiming to know them), maybe I was a nominal Christian until I was about 24. Hmm. Interesting.

Now I teach at a Christian school. And I see lots of kids who call themselves Christian because they go to church. Or because they attend a Christian school. Or because their moms and dads are. Or because they know tons of Bible trivia. But if you walk down the halls of my school, you'd think it was any other public school, except with fewer students and more khaki pants. These students listen to the same music as anyone else. They spend their time like all other teenagers. They use words like everyone else and talk about the same stuff the world does. (These are sweeping generalizations. I don't mean EVERY student is like this ALL the time. But I would claim that it's a majority of the students, a majority of the time.)

Teenagers aren't the only people who are under a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian. Plenty of adults are, too. Like I said, perhaps that was me. I think sometimes we are ignorant of our own spiritual state. In fact, Jesus, in Matthew 7:21-23 says, "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (NIV)

Does that scare anyone else? Could those of us who call ourselves Christians, who perhaps even practice the facets of Christianity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, really be denied heaven because Jesus NEVER KNEW US? That's what it says. And hey. Wake-up call. Are we pursuing Jesus, or are we pursuing works? Are we promoting Jesus, or are we promoting ourselves?

Why start down the road of Christianity if we're not going to finish it with a relationship with Jesus?

There's another group, too, included in this. And perhaps it's a fine line between the nominal Christians and the saved-only Christians. The saved-only Christians (label based on a quote by Bill Johnson that says, "Many people repent enough to get saved but not enough to see the kingdom") have come into the knowledge of who Christ is but aren't concerned with anything but their eternal salvation. If the first group is more about works and lacks the grace of a saving relationship, then this second group receives the grace but refuses the works that accompany a lifestyle of following Jesus. 

There should be a balance of works and faith. I think that's what the whole book of James is professing. We cannot be saved by works, but faith without works is dead. If we only turned to Jesus for fire insurance, for an escape from Hell, then we're missing our calling as Christians. The word Christian literally means little Christ. If we claim that label, then we should be striving to live like Him. Total surrender. Total reliance. Total dependence. Total DEATH to His own agenda. Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing. Our job is to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth, not to waste our days on earth doing what we want in the hopes of reaching the kingdom of heaven after we die. 

I'm done excusing my sin with the knowledge of grace. Yes, His grace covers all. But repentance is about more than asking forgiveness and moving on my merry way. It's about turning in the opposite direction and moving on His merry way. I want my life to follow Jesus. I want my heart molded in His loving hands. I want to do whatever it is He asks me to do in order to bring His kingdom here. 

I started the journey of being a Christian when I asked Jesus to forgive me. But I want to finish when I turn from my own ways and follow Him in everything He asks of me.