I was privileged, recently, to travel and lecture with a team of physicians, nutritionists and residents at medical universities in Russia. These were amazing collaborative ventures designed to strengthen Russian family medicine. I met so many people wonderful doctors, students and residents. It was a truly new and valuable experience.
However, the highlight of my week, as a missionary doctor myself, was being invited to assist in a clinic, staffed by Agape, inside of a homeless shelter.
The patients we treated were mostly men, with leg and foot wounds from frostbite. Some were complicated by alcoholism and/or depression; Russian winters are unforgiving if you fall asleep in the street.
One woman arrived as we were leaving; we opened up again for her. She adamantly refused prayer (which is her right) but received refills of her medication, a listening ear, friendship, humor and compassion. I did not know she had refused prayer and asked her, as we giggled together about a sarcastic remark, if she would like prayer. To everyone’s surprise, she agreed. It was a touching moment.
One disturbed young man refused to let me change his bandages. “No Americanski!” he shouted. In these moments, it is so good to know the Holy Spirit. I quietly stepped aside and let the Russian doctor care for him. And then I realized, I could imagine my uncles or cousins doing the same, if the tables were turned. Learning not to take offense is a valuable skill; I would have missed the opportunity with the last woman had I been in a funk.
After we finished clinic, the amazing guide Alexey drove me and my interpreter, Tatiana, to an apartment that Agape and a local church are using as a halfway house. It serves men recently discharged from hospital, who are open to the Gospel. These men, also, had injuries and wounds associated with alcoholism. We tended their wounds and changed their bandages.
Then we got the most amazing surprise; these men had made dinner for us!
We ate cabbage-stuffed rolls and grapes, with strong coffee, and talked about the Gospel.
It was strongly on my heart that God has forgiven these men, yet they still feel such shame and guilt. Their lives are so important to the Father.
I knew that, in Russia, one cannot preach without a license, and that my ministry license is only valid in America. So, following the prompting of the Spirit, I simply started a conversation. About Romans 8:1.
So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
We began to discuss this, as Christians, together. These tough men had tears in their eyes.
Then they each told me their story. We received them, without any condemnation.
Even my Christian translator sensed the presence of God and asked for prayer!
It was truly a night to remember.
Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”
Here I was, half a world away from Texas, discussing Christian truths with men whose language I don’t speak, in a halfway house. And Jesus was there.
Maybe that’s why it was the most delicious cabbage roll I’ve ever tasted.
And I normally don’t even like cabbage!
This week, I was invited to three women’s events.
As a missionary-minded Christian, interested in relieving oppression, I went.
Call me a burgeoning feminist.
But the events weren’t quite what I had hoped for.
At a forum on women’s leadership (which was quite good), we ended with a male institutional leader joking that we might get “bossy.” He actually said this, about a young female co-leader, after he interrupted her and did not allow her to give her closing remarks.
He thought it was funny.
I have yet to hear a man called “bossy.”
It is an intensely female word.
Usually indicating leadership. Or ambition.
When discussing men, we say “strong leader.” “ Ambitious.”
Not women. The word itself signifies that there is something inappropriate about feminine leadership.
I have known bossy men.
When I brought it up I was told, “oh, don’t mind Joe. That’s just how he is.
It’s part of being a strong leader.”
At another event for female leadership, I heard a prestigious woman refuse to take credit for her achievements, a corporate leader (first in her position) say that we needed to be very careful assuming that anything was sexist, and a Hispanic leader proudly relate that her family never calls her by her name.
She is “doll” to the people who love her best. And proud of it.
I left bewildered, but grateful.
At least someone called for the meeting.
And then I went to a church event.
It wasn’t billed as female only, but my husband and the sound guy were the only men in the room.
I heard the founder of a spiritual network that builds real relationship and close community insist that “we are not a church,” and “I am not a pastor.”
During her teaching time.
And I wondered, what is a church?
Because a gathering of people, in community, around the Scriptures, sort of fits my definition.
I guess the fact that we were women is what negates it.
As I looked for the event, which was centered on Christian yoga, we ended up at the wrong campus of a very large church.
I talked to two preschool teachers, coming in for a meeting.
Then I asked a group of men leaving their Bible study.
“Have you seen any yoga people?” I queried.
“Oh, yeah, there were some women over there,” one said.
The preschool group.
“Were they yoga people, or just female?”
I didn’t let him off the hook.
“Oh, females,” he said, sheepishly.
Church, there are reasons millennials are staying away.
In large numbers.
We have a long way to go, baby.
When I was seven, a little boy threw a rock at me.
Because I was white.
I hit me behind the right knee, in the soft spot. Left a mark. And really hurt.
But what hurt more, to an innocent first-grade girl living in another culture, was knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent it.
I didn’t know, that then, as now, people who look like me had exploited the beautiful Puerto Rican island, charging high taxes but providing few government services, exploiting lower minimum wage requirements, and living high on the hog while those who worked for us struggled.
I didn’t know I was a colonialist.
I didn’t know that the reason I attended private school was because the schools on the island weren’t considered high-quality enough for my middle class parents.
While I revelled in a multicultural world and learned history differently than my friends back home (Christopher Columbus looks a little different standing in the ports where he landed), the Native Americans in my country, that Columbus christened “Indians” were dying quiet deaths from desperation and alcoholism.
While I learned Spanish and had my first crushes on Hispanic boys, their cousins were carrying out terrorist attacks in the US due to inequities.
That when I gave my heart to Jesus and pledged to become a missionary going into all the world, that others were dying at home, due to racial injustice in my own nation.
I didn’t know.
But I sure do now.
Or, at least, I’m starting to.
They call it getting “woke.”
And the Christian in me is actively believing and praying for another Great Awakening. Many of my Christian friends are. Diligently.
I don’t know that we realized that we might be the ones that got woke.
I don’t guess we knew we were asleep.
Racism. I was taught, returning home to Texas, that the civil rights movement had won, the racism was gone and we were all equal.
But a quick glance around my third grade classroom, with people sitting in groups according to skin tone, would’ve shown that to be a lie.
It wasn’t gone. It was so much a part of our daily life in around Houston, Texas, that we became immune to it. It became invisible to us.
The first step in racial reconciliation in America today is this: we have to believe that racism actually exists. It has to be revealed to people like me, in the middle class or even higher, with light skin and great schools, who grew up in fantastic churches where there just, um, weren’t very many black people.
Not everyone lives in the same America.
Because any honest look at America will show us that there are differences in the way people live. If you look at income, academic achievement, incarceration, even diseases, people of color fare worse–on almost every measure.
Regarding how and why people of color have it worse, there are only two possible explanations.
Number one is that there is an invisible wall stopping people from succeeding. This is so painful to those of us who didn’t construct it that we don’t want to acknowledge the possibility. And, to be fair, we truly benefit from it. But most of us don’t even see it.
The other possibility is heinous. And that is to assume that somehow people of color are somehow not as smart or as noble. Their failure to achieve is due to defects in character, ability, or just plain poor choices.
If you take a minute to think, that doesn’t even make sense. So, if we assume that character isn’t linked to skin type, and intelligence isn’t linked to the amount of melanin you have as pigment, then we have to stop and realize that the only real possibility is that the playing field isn’t level. The system is not just for our brothers and sisters who have slightly different amounts of brown in their skin than we do.
I came to know little bit about this, like I did when that rock hit me behind the knee, when I began to work as a female professional in Fort Worth.I was shocked to find out that even when my qualifications, expertise, and achievement statistics were greater than those of my male colleagues, I was treated in meetings as if I was a little girl. My comments were tolerated, my insights ignored. That is, unless a male colleague repeated them and took credit.
In America women function normally in careers, jobs and professions until they reach a certain level, beyond which the consensus is that it’s inappropriate for them to go. I liked to joke, when I was younger, that I didn’t believe in the glass ceiling until I hit my head on it three times. But it’s too true to be funny. And I like to think that, just like that rock against the back of my leg did, those experiences give me a small window of insight into what it might be like to be black in America. But I admit that they give me just enough insight to realize this: that I don’t know what it’s like, at all.
I don’t know what it’s like, if I step into the elevator, for everyone there to assume I’m there to steal something.
I don’t know what it’s like to tell my son to be very , very careful driving at night, or in wealthy neighborhoods, because his life might be at risk.
I don’t know what it’s like to tell my daughter never to talk back to the policeman because she might die. I have no idea what that feels like.
We have excused atrocities until we are numb. This is the strategy from Hell.
And it seems to me that for many white Christians the question is this: is it a sin, that when your brother is dying, you do nothing?
A sin of omission.
DEAL WITH IT
What we need in America is a witness. The Holy Spirit has been calling, for generations, for a real choice from those who have the power regarding the twin sins of slavery and racism. For the descendants of Western Europeans to realize that we are brothers to our family with brown and black skin. That it’s not just glass ceilings. It’s glass walls, glass tunnels. It is past time to dismantle the structures in society that keep people down.
It is time not just to awaken from sleep. It is time to get on our faces before God. To cry out and repent of the sins we have committed. When Jesus spoke of the terrible act of leaving a man bleeding by the roadside, it wasn’t the thieves he castigated. It was the religious, the rich and the legalistic who walked by, because they were busy. and the only person in the story who spent his own time and resources to restore, was the only person Jesus praised.
Interesting that the Master chose a hated minority to play hero here. Making the point that love has no color.
We see signs that say, “No justice, no peace.” I say, “If we don’t deal with it, we can’t heal from it.”
We must find our way back to justice; we must become champions of the oppressed.
It’s not a popular Scripture in American evangelical churches, but the Bible says this:
“”Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.”
But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court?”
James 2:2-3, 6
The King James actually says, “it is the rich who oppress you.”
Not something you are likely to hear at a “Biblical Values” meeting of Christian Republicans.
After we open our hearts for God to reveal it, we must deal with it.
We have to find wise and just policies for loving our neighbor, for truly being our brother’s keeper. With a level playing field, black, brown and red talent can take off, making contributions and enriching our society.
And then, we must heal it.
Everyone of us must confront the sins of our own hearts.
Racism. Bitterness. Apathy. Anger. Discrimination. Prejudice. Legalism. Religiosity. Slumber.
Ephesians 5:10-14 Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. Everything that is revealed by the light is light.
Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
We’re waking up. To a better tomorrow. Together.
So, once again, we see Jesus. Being absolutely crazy.
He had just commanded us to pray that the Father send Laborers into the Harvest. (Matthew 9:38)
And, in typical Jesus style, he immediately (hearing from that same Father), set about bringing the answer. He called his own twelve guys, instructed them, and sent them out.
Matthew 10:5 (The Message version) Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.”
Matthew 10:16-17 “Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. “Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.”
So, yeah, Jesus WAS the answer.
And, here, He created the answer. To a really big problem.
But what He said seems seriously crazy. And, er, not at all how we would do it.
Are still doing it.
So let’s look at how Jesus would do evangelism.
If He were directing it. Because He is.
Matthew 10:5 Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
Touch the untouchables. My apologies to my friends from India here, but I thought that only India had a caste system. Had people who were “untouchable.” Oh. Wait.
I think that the most radical thing Jesus said here was that reaching the “untouchable” people right in your own neighborhood is way more important than taking a big mission trip to another continent or culture.
Now, if you know me, you know that I was called to serve as a foreign missionary doctor when I was 7. And missionary endeavors that are cross-cultural and effective are sort of a big deal for me.
But somehow, that wasn’t Jesus’s priority. “Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.” Wow.
Check out the same theme, in Acts, chapter 1.
Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Jesus’ charge to the disciples here ended with the ends of the earth.
But it didn’t start there.
It started…in Jerusalem.
Right. Where. They. Were.
And this is the take-home: If you don’t openly share Jesus where you are, why should He send you anywhere else?
A witness doesn’t have to be obnoxious.
They do have to tell the truth.
Would you recommend a great movie to your next-door neighbor?
Sure you would.
But have you ever mentioned what a great Savior you’ve heard about?
So there’s the problem. We’ve all seen “witnesses” we wouldn’t want to be.
Competitive. Judgmental. Not really, “Wow, check this out!” But more “I know something you don’t know….” (Sing-song voice here…). Or, even worse, ‘My religion’s better than your religion!”
Throw up. That is NOT the Gospel of God.
It was never, and I mean NEVER, meant to be a vehicle for our own pride.
But when it’s done with love, humility and respect for the other person, nothing can outshine it.
And it doesn’t take mad skills.
Just love. And willingness to try.
2). Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchable. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
I know, I know. I’ve gone all charismatic on you.
But this is Jesus.
And His recipe for going to the lost included healings, miracles and, er, “kicking out demons.” Wow.
Now we can do some healing through missionary doctors, nurses, hospitals, etc. And that’s good. Great, even. Christian history is full of noble healthcare workers who laid down their lives in this way.
But that wasn’t always how Jesus did it. In these chapters, He performed real miracles.
And trained his staff, before they were even born again, to do so as well. And they didn’t always seem very spiritual.
And I think that that’s the secret.
When He tells us to do something amazing, it has nothing to do with our goodness or power. Just our obedience. Willingness. Faith.
I’ve seen some amazing things.
You will, too.
3) You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.
No, Jesus didn’t plan for us to build a zoo. But He did give us pretty clear directions.
He wants us to be smart. As cunning as a snake. This might include things like learning local customs and laws, whether at home or abroad, before you take to the streets to preach.
Or give away a car. (I almost went to jail in another nation for that one, once.)
Maybe it means not being naive about human nature. About what unbelievers, and sometimes, believers, might do. Out of jealousy. Spite. Competition. Ouch.
And yet, while being so very aware you of the pitfalls, we are never to walk in pride. Not carry ourselves as if we know more than others. And that’s cool.
Starting at home.
Believing for the miraculous.
Combining great wisdom with great humility. Or at least trying to.
Gee, maybe it’s just me.
But that doesn’t seem like the way it’s often been done.
But we can try.
And I think we’ll see something amazing happen.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
And THAT is what it’s all about.
Matthew 10:5 Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. Matthew 10:16-17 “Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. “Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.
It all started with my hairdresser.
I had been talked into (true confession here) letting her do my hair, always, because frankly, I suck at it.
So I saw her every week.
The salon was trendy. Modern.
The music? Not my favorite. Worldly.
The workforce was straight, gay and in-between.
My stylist had tats. (Tattoos, for the uninitiated).
A different hair color and/or style, regularly.
And I absolutely loved her.
She reminded me that, years before, I had been her family doctor.
Can’t make this stuff up.
And she loved me. Out loud and effusively.
So I kept going back.
Making an effort to listen to the Holy Spirit.
And love the people who worked there, and came there.
And she would confide in me.
Our weekly shampoo and style-out became part pajama party, part counseling session.
And loads of fun.
And I didn’t push her.
Even when we discussed parties, and boys and bars.
I held my peace. (And withheld judgment).
And gave sound counsel. In small doses.
Waiting for the still, small voice.
And building relationship.
Because, one day, in an exam room, I had led her in a prayer.
To make Jesus her Savior.
I didn’t know if she remembered, but I did.
And I loved her. Listened to her.
And talked about Jesus, when it helped her with her here-and-now life.
Once the Lord gave me a sudden, divine insight into one of her friends’ problems, as we talked. And she stopped, mid-motion. Brush in hand.
“What an…epiphany,” she murmured. “Can I tell him that?”
“I think God is helping us. Please do.”
Wow. Just wow.
Three years into this process, she suddenly tells me she has decided to go back to church.
Be still, my heart.
And join a Bible study.
Lord, you do all things well.
Of her own accord.
Then she tells me that her lifestyle needs tweaking.
To line up with the Bible.
And eventually moved away. To live her dreams.
When I drive through her town, I stop by.
Or a blow-dry.
And we talk Jesus.
Evangelism doesn’t always mean going to China. Or Syria. Or Uganda.
It might mean biting your own tongue.
And building relationship.
With the people in the world around you.
You could start with your stylist.
But don’t take the shortcut and just preach at them.
Take the time.
Make the investment.
Whether they ever receive Him or not.
Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to every creature.
“Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
–anonymous Christian quote, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
In June of 2014, I had an encounter with a dynamic personality, that left a mark on my life.
I was at a Joyce Meyer conference. Of course, I was.
And Joyce’s speaking points seemed so simple. Of the “Of course, I already know that” sort. Yet, by the end of the 3-day seminar, I felt unusually changed. Different. Like, permanently.
Let me back up. The whole story started with an act of generosity. (Doesn’t it always?) A young minister, in a tight place, needed some health care. I decided to treat her, free of charge.
She turned out to be that most unusual Christian minister. A former homosexual. Ok, I can say it. Lesbian. God had brought her so far, and now she writes books and speaks all over the country, helping gays get free. The church finds her story very uncomfortable. And the gay community wants to destroy her.
But…salvation is real. Or it isn’t. Make up your mind.
And a person’s past is just that. Past.
I really liked this woman. She was warm, real and genuine. And, oh, so honest. Gut-level honest.
We started to talk about the church, homosexuality, and teenagers. All critical topics in this day and age. I shared with her my plans for a book on parenting teens, mentally healthy teens. She shared with me that 75% of lesbians were abused or molested as young people. We bonded over the need to educate Christian parents on godliness, Biblical sexuality, and Biblical empowerment. Especially for teens. Especially for girls.
Two days later, I got a call. It was her. “I have 6 passes for the ministers’ section at Joyce Meyer. I have women’s ministers for 5 of them. The Lord instructed me to offer you the last spot.” Would I like to come?
Joyce Meyer. Ministers’ section. Um, yeah…
So I took 3 days off and came. And God, through Joyce, changed my life. Again.
At the end of 3 days, I could tell I was different. I just couldn’t figure out why. The Holy Spirit is like that sometimes.
And to be honest, neither Joyce Meyer nor my ministry friend was the dynamic personality I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. That happened after.
At the end of 3 days of amazing ministry, I had a tug on my heart. I was, at that time, the employee physician for Kenneth Copeland Ministries. And I just knew I should drive out there.
Now, “KCM”, for those who work there, is not in Fort Worth. It’s….near. Sort of.
And Joyce was preaching in Fort Worth. But, that still small voice beckoned. Whispered. Smiled.
And I called my husband. My quality time and acts-of-service needing, amazing husband.
“Go ahead, take all day if you want to. I’m working on the car.” Huh.
45 minutes later, I pull through the gates of a very empty Kenneth Copeland Ministries campus. On a Saturday. Scratching my head, figuratively. And my phone rings.
It’s one of Brother Copeland’s assistants. And he wants to know if I could possibly drive out to the campus that day for a special meeting…These are the moments I love learning to be led by the Holy Spirit. Smile.
It is beyond the scope of this blog to detail the private workings of a KCM meeting, and highly unethical. It was a good meeting. Great, even.
But it was what happened after that marked me. Probably forever.
Everyone else left, and I found myself alone with Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. In their blue jeans. On a Saturday. Both of them incredibly sweet. And I did something crazy. I demanded that they let me pray for them.
Yeah. I really did that. To my childhood heroes and mentors. On the first day I really ever met them.
If you’re Baptist, it would be like meeting Billy Graham. And then demanding that he let you preach. (Cue wince here). And they let me. Very graciously.
I can honestly say that it was one of the more focused, concentrated prayers of my life. I pled the blood. I stood on the Word of God. I put pressure on our covenant with God through Jesus. (See, I really have listened to them all of my life).
And a funny thing happened.
God began to move. Brother Copeland (forgive the formality, but I deeply respect the man) started to pray, too. Then he preached. Then he sang. And, as he sang an old hymn to me and to his lovely wife, the craziest thing happened. A particular line in the song, completely unintended, yielded the answer. To our whole meeting.
I can’t tell you how excited we got. Like only Kenneth Copeland, and Karen Smith, if you knew me, can get excited.
We jumped. We laughed. We cried. We celebrated.
It’s so good to hear from God, through each other.
And he gave me his number. “Call me, girl, anytime you need anything.”
I remembered another preacher, Jerry Savelle, teaching on the favor of God. And I corrected myself.
“This happens to me all the time.”
And I said, like only a Texas-born, Texas-raised woman would, “You better make sure you wanna give me that.”
“What?” he asked.
“Brother Copeland, I’m a missionary. I was called at 7 years old. I’ve been preparing. And things are changing all around me. I’m going to need godly counsel. So I’m just saying, if you say I can call you, I probably will. Be sure.”
He grinned at me. “Girl, I said you could call me.”
Gloria smiled at me, and they left. I just sat down. And shook my head. This Jesus.
We met the next week. And I got godly counsel.
I followed it–all the way to Amarillo, and away from KCM.
And tomorrow I start volunteering at an inner city children’s ministry that serves 21 different nationalities in their ESL program.
I feel like a Rubik’s cube that’s been disassembled, lubricated and put back together.
And now God is spinning all the pieces into their places, solving the puzzles. (Cue whirring noise here).
CityChurch Amarillo. By morning. Here we go.
Pray for me, if you think about it.
I stepped into the exam room to face a frightened 4-year-old girl and her mother. (Apparently, somewhere alone her brief life journey she had an encounter with a doctor that involved pain. Can’t imagine where.). Tears were in her big blue eyes; her bottom lip trembled. Seating myself at her eye level, and breaking out my best and brightest children’s TV voice, I asked her if she knew of Doc McStuffin. The wheels began to turn. Her eyes lit up with recognition.
“Well, I’m Doc McKaren. And she’s my friend.” I showed her my stethoscope, my otoscope, and my blood pressure cuff. All the paraphernalia of my clinic profession. Just like Doc has, on TV. And the tears dried up. But she still eyed me warily. So, after asking her mother about the symptoms that brought them to the clinic that fine day, I turned to my patient again.
“Can I tell you a story?” I asked, seated on my rolling stool. Surprised, she nodded yes.
“Well, today…a princess came to see me…” And so began the story of Elsa, and Anna, and Olav, who eventually got lost. And the subsequent search for them–in the patient’s ears, mouth, tummy and back. While we giggle. It’s a trick that works for me nearly every day in a busy outpatient clinic. And I get the information I need to help her. And her mom leaves happy.
Kids love Frozen. It’s a great story, with a great message. About being different. I was raised in the 80’s, when everybody was really trying to be…the same. My mother once came to my 5th grade choir concert, and left shaking her head. When I asked her why, she said that every single girl had the same haircut. (Feathers, anyone?)
And my husband once saw a TV interview of young teenagers at a Madonna concert. The 80’s version of Madonna. And the young woman on TV was dressed in a leather jacket, torn clothes and curly blond hair. Like…Madonna. And when the reporter asked her why, she said, “Because I want to be different. Like everybody else.”
Shake my head. In mercy.
Another thing that was popular in the 80’s was french braiding. I never really got the hang of it, although I managed it once even with my thick wiry hair. In the Houston humidity. But now we live in Amarillo, (much drier), and I like to wear French braids at work. It keeps my hair out of my face when I am a looking in little people’s ears and listening to their tummies.
And we wear them on mission trips. A couple of months ago, I was with 40 medical and health professions students on a mission trip to the US-Mexico border. Seeking out the underserved, and those without access to care. Believe, me, they’re there.
And I came out to the vans in the early morning frost and fog (El Paso is a desert, and it gets really cold at night), and ran into a dietician student with a…French braid. She laughed and said, “We both have on our Frozen hair!” It took me a minute, but Elsa does have the coolest French braids. And kids today call it “Frozen hair.” Interesting.
What’s cool about a braid is that it’s not easy to undo. It doesn’t come apart accidentally. You have to want to take it apart, and do so purposefully. (At least, if you have thick, wiry hair!)
Ecclesiastes 4:12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
It’s a Biblical principle. God likes strength. And he often does things in three’s. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Earth, Sky, Water. (I remember a game from my childhood called “animal/vegetable/mineral.”). A triangle is the most stable shape in nature. Three points define a plane. And so on. When it comes to people, he also made them in three parts:
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
In the Scripture, men and women are delineated as three-part beings. Spirit. Soul. And body. And like the earth, sky and sea, they are intimately related and intertwined. You can’t have one without the others.
So let’s talk about it.
This is the part of you that gets born-again. By faith in Jesus. That mounts that very still, small voice that leads you into good decisions and God’s plan for your life. It is your core; the essence of you. The part that communicates with God. Your Father. It is eternal and not bound to this earth. And it is not male or female.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Gal 3:26-29
The word “Christ” isn’t just Jesus’s last name. (OK, it isn’t Jesus’s last name. It’s His title). And it literally means “anointed.” Like, with oil. As a type of the spirit. Oh, yeah. Spirit. That part of us that is very like Him. In the Spirit (where our spirits connect and function) there is no gender. And no…lots of other things.
But many people confuse the spirit with the soul. The Bible uses both words, but not interchangeably. So, simple logic here. If the spirit is the born-again part (if you’ve done that), and the body is the third part…what’s left for the “soul” is: the mind part.
Now, your mind isn’t exactly your brain. Scientists keep trying to prove that that’s all there is to us. They haven’t been able. BUT your mind is intimately connected to your brain. And the Scripture gives us clear instruction concerning the mind:
12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12: 1-2
Your mind has to be renewed. Retrained. Filled with good things. Spiritually educated. Then, according to verse 2, you know what to do. What God’s will is. And the soul includes non-cognitive aspects of the mind, like emotions, intuitions and the subconscious/unconscious parts of us. And gender, birth order, and many other factors go very deep here. One simple definition I heard a preacher use of the soul was “the mind, will and emotions.” I like that.
Lastly, we have the body. Many people believe that their body is their problem. But, honestly, the body is just a follower. It follows what the mind says. And, if you get the mind renewed with the Word of God, it can trump any appetite, habit or problem.
And these three–spirit, soul and body–are woven together. Like a braid. With deep and complex connections we don’t fully understand yet.
Psychiatry has a concept called “integrated personality.” It means that everything in you hangs together. Works in harmony. Isn’t going different directions. And that you know you are.
Electronics talk about “integrated circuits.” Where everything affects everything else. In a complex way. God, however, chose a 3-fold cord as His symbol. Because it works.
So…care for yourself.
Feed your spirit. The Word of God, prayer, worship.
Feed your soul. Mind/Will/Emotions. The Word of God. Healthy relationships. Healthy boundaries. Positive self-talk. The list goes on.
Feed your body. Healthy foods. Water. Vitamins. Supplements, if you need them.
And exercise all three. And rest them. And get them help if they are injured or ill.
Maybe some nice doctor will step into your room with “Frozen” hair and tell you a story.
I once attended a Bible school, housed in a giant round building with a HUGE sky-blue dome. No kidding.
The minister was a thin man, short, with a very gentle spirit. He wore soft-gray conservative suits. His wife, also a minister, was a all and rather large woman with a loud, direct manner and a preference for floor-length, ruffled dresses.
In the 80’s.
This was a “dancing” church. Speaking in tongues, right out loud, was common. The music was loud.
We had a lot of fun.
But we could never figure out why the world at large thought we were weird. (Um, duh).
“Be under the spout where the glory comes out!” was our motto.
And we were.
I learned a great deal from these people.
They knew God, and knew a great deal about Him.
We saw real healings. True miracles.
And, one day, the woman minister pointed out that when you are known for moving in God’s power, for getting answered prayers, and for seeing the miraculous change lives, you attract “granola” Christians. I had no idea what that meant.
Then she explained. “Fruits, nuts and flakes!!” She guffawed.
And it was true.
I went on to college from that place. Looking for a church that moved in the miraculous.
Not finding one. I settled for solid Bible teaching and a culture of service.
But I kept looking. Always hungry for the power of God that could change lives. Heal bodies. Fix problems.
In a single bound.
Eventually, I found another church that focused on the “power gifts” and the miraculous.
Through Bible knowledge.
But, interestingly enough, the Bible has something to say about knowledge.
(That might also apply in this divisive political year).
1 Corinthians 8:1-3 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.
Knowledge puffs up.
I have to admit that, as a young Christian, I was pretty “puffy.”
And, embarrassing as it is, we were pretty, er, cheesy.
Historians and critics divide the lives of famous people into “periods.”
Picasso with his “Blue” period, for example.
So I call this my “cheese puff” period.
Lots of crunch. (Granola, anyone?)
Appealing on the outside. Yum, artificial cheese powder with salt AND MSG.
But not very nourishing.
We thought we knew. So much.
And we did. And the miracles were real, too.
But that misses that point.
Because, what is more important, more valuable, than a big, blue, fabric dome?
A real building.
I speak metaphorically. Of course.
Great things have happened in tent revivals.
But, in my life, I want a faith structure that stands.
That provides shelter for others.
That still has room for the miraculous.
For the move of God.
That gives Him time to speak.
But the building block is love.
When we go back in time, and dig up ancient civilizations, we rarely find their fabrics. Their tents.
But edifices? Edifices, well-constructed, stand the test of time.
The “ruins” you can se on a trip to Rome or Athens are …
Made. Of. Stone.
The root word for “edifice” or building.
We build one another up. By love.
Knowledge, alone, brings pride. “Puffs” up.
And won’t stand the test of time.
And so it is that I must tell you how much I respect the two ministers I began this post with.
They might have dressed funny, and had unusual people in their church, but…
They. Walked. In. Love.
And it made an even bigger place for their spiritual gifts. Healings. Miracles.
And, years later, I heard that the woman minister led her nurses to Jesus.
On her deathbed.
And I thought about granola.
Because it can also be called “trail mix.”
Food for the journey.
And I think spiritual gifts are important.
When they are subservient to love.
And cheese puffs and trail mix have one really great use.
At a party.
Where they are opened up, displayed publicly, and consumed by others.
To promote fellowship. And start conversations.
If that’s the life you want, good on ya (as the Aussies say).
Let God open you up, display you publicly (embarrassing, right?) and serve you.
Your knowledge. Your gifts.
To start conversations.
But remember, it’s your love, above all, that will build lasting truth in their lives.
What is it about life that makes us spend most of our days with our fists and teeth half-clenched, instead of living as if we’re laying back in a hammock, swinging?
Are your muscles tight?
Is your lower face and jaw tense?
Are your thoughts…racing?
Or are you sitting in the (imaginary) sun, taking a deep breath of…heaven?
What is it that makes us anxious?
What, on earth, are we…So.
And, on a related note, do we ever feel “good” enough?
When I was in high school, our Drill Team (women’s halftime dance team, for those not from the South) put on a performance for a few hundred young children. And we dressed up like clowns. It was so much fun.
And I borrowed my Dad’s high-school basketball high tops to wear with my navy blue baggy pants.
It was a great costume. And a fun day.
But my Dad had been a size 15. Men’s. And, while I have big feet for a woman (anywhere from 9 to 11, depending on the shoe), I couldn’t touch that. (A men’s 15 would be a Women’s 17, I’m told. Or something like that). I had to stuff the toes.
And, I wonder, if sometimes I try to fit into my “heavenly” Father’s shoes. You see, He’s quite a visionary. And the “shoes” he gives me to wear, so often feel like they’re..Just. Way. Too. Big.
Speaking of spiritual fathers…
I once had a pastor who preached love and faith. It was awesome. Really.
But, if you talked with him, or worked side-by-side with him, any given day, you realized you…weren’t good enough. Pretty quickly.
And staying in church there was an exercise in anxiety.
The disconnect between the pulpit and the personal was… huge.
A chasm that made you feel you needed a rope swing, and all of Tarzan’s skills, to begin to measure up.
And, if you were a girl, you might as well just forget it.
(No upper body strength–yeah, we know.
Or substitute whatever masculine trait you deem necessary for excellence here…)
And it rubbed off, inevitably, on my relationship with God.
How I saw Him.
Because, (and I seem to say this a lot), God just isn’t like that.
But I didn’t end up there, with that fiercely disapproving spiritual father, because I was anxiety-free, coming in.
A high-achieving little girl, fierce in her determination to finish her calling, I knew I was supposed to be a missionary doctor.
And when your high-expectations, strong-disciplinarian natural father abandons your family right as you enter puberty, it can mess you up. We had to dig those high-top basketball shoes out of storage, because Dad wasn’t around to help us find them.
Because, no matter what else Dad ever said about our family’s divorce, one thing was clear.
I wasn’t enough, for him to stay for.
I don’t blame my Dad. Not anymore.
Or my mom, or anybody else involved.
But I talk about it. Because so many people have been through this.
And it affects us. Even though we pretend it doesn’t.
The Ultimate Father.
You know what? He stayed.
He even died. For me.
I . Was. Enough.
And he doesn’t criticize. Doesn’t condemn. Doesn’t abandon.
And I have a game-changer for you.
You’re good enough. Great, even.
Because (and only because) Jesus has already made you perfect. Righteous. Clean in His eyes.
2 Corinthians 5:17-18 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
And the shoes God gives you to fill are way beyond your capability.
Even on a good day.
So, it’s time to lay back in the hammock of Grace and the Miraculous.
In an every-day way.
And let the wind of the Spirit blow it, gently.
Unclench your fists. Your jaw.
Still the voice in your head that questions everything. Even yourself.
And let go.
And put on those big, big shoes.
And dance your heart out for the kids.
Because he really is able–to make you able.
And your feet are just fine.
Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,that publisheth peace;that bringeth good tidings of good,that publisheth salvation;that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!
Quit trying to be good enough.
You never were.
And live the miracle.
You are. Now. Because of Him.
When my oldest son was about three, he did something I will never forget.
We were avid church-goers.
And, one day, my son and I were messing around. And he started singing. “Je-sus.” In his little sing-song voice. “Gah-ah-ad.”
My mother’s heart was thrilled. All that Sunday school, paying off in deep spirituality. In a three-year-old.
He kept singing.
“Je-sus. Gah-ah-ad. And the heli-cop-ter. Vroom. Vroom.”
I wanted to cry. Then I started to laugh. And then, I laughed until I cried. It’s so easy to put expectations on our kids. To want them to be the next prophet. Or president. Or astronaut. And to think that singing about a helicopter is way below-the-mark, compared with singing about Jesus.
But to a three-year-old boy, putting Jesus in the same category with helicopters means one thing. Helicopters are pretty cool. And therefore, so is Jesus.
Little boys can love helicopters. And they can love Jesus. For their age. And their stage.
And that’s fair.
So I dialed it back a notch.
God is always fair. And He parents us according to our developmental stage. (Although sometimes we expect things far beyond it from each other, which is another post entirely).
And today, I’d like to take a look at God. As a parent.
And what we can learn from it.
As parents, yes.
But also as His children.
So, let’s look at the first time God’s children disobeyed Him. You probably know that He had put them in a magnificent garden. And He only gave them one prohibition. Oh, He gave them more than one instruction. They were supposed to be fruitful. And multiply. And take dominion. And replenish the earth, and subdue it.
In short, to develop what they were given. To be so blessed and prosper so freely that everything around them was affected. For the better.
But there was only one thing that they couldn’t do.
Genesis 2:15-17 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
And of course, they did it.
So let’s look at how the ultimate Father handled the first act of disobedience.
1)God wasn’t afraid to let them make choices. Even wrong ones. Many parents today are terrified to let their children take a chance on…making a mistake. So they “hover” over their children. And if they see something even headed the wrong way, they jump in, take over and keep that child from making that choice. They “rescue.” And “hovering” and “rescuing” are the actions of a Coast Guard emergency helicopter. So, they have been dubbed “helicopter parents.”
The world is very aware that many Christian parents are terrified. Of mistakes. And it is fairly well-known that a lot of our kids don’t get to make any decisions for themselves. And that we often live in denial of the lives they have away from us. And, worst of all, that in order to breathe, as adults these kids frequently separate themselves from these parents, and the faith they blame for suffocating them.
But God, Himself, didn’t do any of that.
Fear-based parenting is not the role model.
And (shocker here) Adam’s mistake didn’t end the world or stop God’s plan.
It really didn’t.
Let’s look at what God didn’t do.
He didn’t keep the tree (and therefore the choice) from being present in the Garden. He didn’t rope off an area, and keep Adam away, so that he couldn’t possibly mess up. He didn’t hover. (Scriptures implies, incredibly, that he wasn’t even there when it happened. He had trusted Adam to make good choices). And He definitely didn’t jump in front of the tree, and shout, “Baby, don’t do it! You’ll hurt Daddy’s feelings! You’ll embarrass the Family!” He didn’t “rescue.” Not before the fact, anyway.
2) He gave them clear instructions, including consequences.
Genesis 2:15-17 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
God tells us, over and over again, in the book of Proverbs, to teach our children. While we walk, when we get up, when we lay down, while we work. Constantly. And he role-modeled it for us, by walking with Adam. And teaching him. Adam clearly understood what he was doing. And he knew the implications.
3) He gave them a chance to repent.
Genesis 3:8-13 And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
God knew what had happened. He didn’t ask them where they were for His sake. He was giving them a chance…to repent. He called a family meeting. And, on that fateful day, these two “children” made very different choices. Adam had a choice. He chose to blame Eve, and by implication, the God who had blessed him with her. Eve, a separate, individual human being, made a different choice that day. She credited herself and the devil. But God had given them both a chance, and space, to make another choice. To choose to confess and repent.
4) He enforced the consequences, but their repentance affected the severity of the consequence. (And he helped them through the consequences). The Father now had to treat his two children very differently. They had responded differently to opportunity. And Eve, although she has been vilified through the centuries for being duped, actually did admit her guilt. Adam didn’t; certainly not at the same level. And, interestingly, it was to the woman that God would give the promise of bringing forth a Deliverer. To avenge her. Of her adversary the devil, and deceiver. Because she had repented. Adam got the consequence straight up, although being in a family with Eve meant he would be blessed with her promise. Food for thought.
And then, God killed the first animal and clothed them. In fur and leather. Not doing away with the consequence, but helping them to survive and cope with it. And showing He still loved them.
5) He never used a Guilt Trip. This has two very implications for us, which is really the point of this post.
Firstly, God never uses a guilt trip. Ever. He takes no joy in making us feel condemnation and unworthiness.
He just doesn’t. Why? Mainly, because the price for sin was paid by Jesus. From the foundation of the world. We don’t have to do penance. Sometimes we have to live with consequences, but that is a very different thing.
But God also refuses to use “guilt trips” because, quite simply, He is not afraid. Of our mistakes. Or our shortcomings. He sees the big picture. And He has a plan.
And the upshot of all this is that if someone is trying to “guilt trip” you, it isn’t coming for God. It’s coming from them. Oh, the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. But never with condemnation. Or hopelessness. Or worthlessness. Never. It’s not the language of heaven. So, if someone (or yourself) is trying to invite you to take a guilt trip, politely refuse. Your Father didn’t plan the trip. It won’t be any fun. Or get you anywhere.
Secondly, (and this is very important), we can’t wait for an inward guilt trip in order to know if something is wrong. I really think a lot of Christian people (including me) have made major mistakes because they didn’t feel…wrong. God had told Adam very clearly not to eat that fruit. It didn’t matter how Adam or Eve felt about it. It didn’t matter that the Father didn’t jump in front of the tree and stop them. I really think that regarding decisions, say, like sex, or debt, we often reason that because we didn’t feel bad or guilty when we made choices, they weren’t wrong. And that is absolutely not true.
God loves us. And He’s really, really smart.
He’s given us His Word as a roadmap for life.
No, He’s not throwing lightning bolts from the sky. Or condemning us.
Not even criticizing.
But, if two people wait until marriage to explore their sexuality, they get all of the fun, without most of the problems. Teen pregnancy. STD’s. AIDS. Child support. Court. Wage garnishment. Jail. Cancer (really–check out HPV).
God loves us enough to save us some trouble.
And, if a person, or a family, chooses never to borrow money, they will never have a negative net worth. Think about it. And the Bible is also clear on this.
Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.
But taking His advice is absolutely voluntary. When we borrowed money, as a young couple, for a new microwave it didn’t feel that wrong. And when I was kissing my college boyfriend a little too much, ti didn’t feel bad. I had to remember what God had told me, beforehand, to be able to make the right choices.
The buzz on helicopters.
Helicopter parents take…guilt trips. And they drag their “rescued” kids through the waves, in their rescue harness, with them.
And, if you see yourself in this, please take a good, long look at how you see the Father. How we treat our children is an amazing mirror of what we really believe. And He wants us unafraid.
And if you were raised like this, you can re-learn. God loves you.
Even when you make a mistake. And He’s the best parent and teacher there is. He can “”re-parent” you.
So… put away fear. The Bible says “Fear not” 365 times, I am told. Enough, incredibly, for every day of the year. Mistakes are not a reflection of bad parenting. Let your child learn from them, when he is young, and the stakes are small.
Many of you know that I once found myself in a Christian cult. (From which I have been thoroughly and miraculously healed, thank God). Many of my fellow cult members ended up there because all they knew how to do was obey.
And when they got to college, they had to find someone else to…obey.
Now, obedience is absolutely part of Christian parenting. It starts when you’re about two. But, if we never go on to empowering our young leaders to learn to make good decisions by trial and error, we are setting them up for failure as adults.
Mistakes are part of the learning process.
Without them, there would be no science. It’s a fantastic, organized, disciplined process of…trial and error.
Most of our greatest inventions were…accidents. Really. And science, real science, absolutely positively can’t be done if the scientist is paralyzed by the thought of making a mistake.
And, in parenting, God’s design is to let kids learn from mistakes while the consequences are small. Painful, but small. And to figure out how to make better choices as the stakes get higher.
Hey, don’t blame me.
God set it up.
And He doesn’t freak out.
He modeled it for us.
And it didn’t always work out well for His family, either.
(And He still didn’t freak out).
But the alternative is actually a type of bondage. No freedom.
There is no freedom if we are not free to err.
And free to learn from the consequences of our error.
So let’s beach the parenting helicopter.
And save helicopters for the real search-and-rescue missions, where they belong.
And, maybe, for the songs of a sincere little boy.
God loves us.
And it’s all going to be OK.