Belonging

I stood quietly at the back of the group, watching as over fifty women talked in small groups about 2 Timothy 2. We were at the end of the first day of a conference on leadership, this session focusing on community. Some women were deep in conversation. Others’ eyes darted between the three “mzungu” (white person) standing on the outskirts. I resisted the urge to get squirmish under their gaze, reminding myself that it wasn’t judgment, but curiosity their eyes were communicating. Then almost as quickly as their eyes landed, they’d return to the other women in their discussion group.

What were they saying to each other, I wondered. Deeply wishing I could understand their native Maasai language.

This was my first time to behold the beauty of Africa. The people, culture, landscape, and wildlife had me in constant awe of the creativity and vastness of the Creator. The Maasai people form one of Kenya’s forty two tribes. Throughout the country the Maasai are respected for preserving generations of tradition. They are the warriors, even feared by the lions in some areas. They are the naturalists, respecting creation and living in harmony with it. They are the creatives, experts at making everything from colorful jewelry to sturdy houses made entirely of sticks and termite clay.

Our native friends had told us that “no matter where you were in the world, you know a Maasai when you saw one.” I soon learned why.

As I stood observing the women, it struck me. Not a single one of them was questioning whether or not they belonged. They were not questioning their identity as a Maasai. Every single woman wore similar clothes; their dresses following the same sewing pattern and jewelry using the same beads. They spoke the same language; their native tongue sustaining the decades of oral tradition. They acted the same; from dancing to sitting they mirrored each other’s posture. They looked the part, they spoke the part, they acted the part. There was no questioning if they were a Maasai. In fact, I doubt that question has ever even gone through their mind.

That sort of unquestioned belonging is something I believe all of us long for. The desire is deep in our souls. We don’t have to consciously tell ourselves to crave belonging, it just is there. Hardwired from the very beginning we yearn for the day we do not second guess our place, our role, in society.

As a believer, we do not have to strive.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Every ounce of me believes that God desires for His children to be so confident in our belonging in His family that we don’t get entangled with pointless pursuits (2 Tim 2:4). He wants us to fully embrace our place as His royal chosen priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). He has given us the Holy Spirit to help guide our actions and our speech (Phil 2:13; 1 Cor 6:11). Not to mention that He has given us His image (Gen 1:27). We are thoroughly His.

Even though it is sometimes very tempting to question whether or not we “belong,” we have assurance that we are His. And since we are His (and I say this knowing it is so very hard sometimes) we should be so marked by Him that we “look,” speak, and act like Him. Every believer shares in this belonging, regardless of any other factor.

Our belonging is twofold. We belong to God. Once we confess our need for God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death and the hope in the resurrection, our belonging to God is secure. Additionally, just like the Maasai look, speak, and act like Maasai, we as Christians are given the ability to walk in the newness of life and look, speak, and act like Christ.

What if instead of “you’ll know a Maasai when you see one” it was said “you’ll know a Christian when you see one.”

What’s keeping you from living out your belonging?

Kind

Every few years God brings me almost to a halt in order to return back to the basics of my faith. In the past it’s been recognizing the hope for Heaven, His faithful presence in my life, or once was realizing the magnitude of my sin and need for a Savior.

This is not me regaining my salvation. It is practicing remembrance. When these seasons begin, I often get uneasy because I fear that my wrestling is offensive to God and that He is disappointed that I am back to something I should have already learned.

This past month has been one of those back-to-basics moments. But this time, instead of putting on a cloak of shame, I chose to walk in Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

I have been working out my salvation by asking the question, “is God kind to me?” I feel almost heretical stringing those words together now, even after God and I have had some extensive conversations about that very topic. It just doesn’t feel right to say such a thing.

Growing up in the church, I’m pretty good at the whole head knowledge thing, but my heart is often slower to catch up. When I first spoke the question that had been rumbling around in the very back of my head I was simultaneously relieved and appalled. Relieved because I felt like the ticking time bomb had been diffused. Appalled because every Sunday school teacher or pastor I’ve sat under would probably ask me if I didn’t hear a word they had said. Of course God is kind!

But to be honest, I wasn’t feeling it. I saw God’s kindness in people’s lives around me, but was having a difficult time seeing it myself. I’d like to think that I tried really hard to see His kindness in my life, but my heart was tired and calloused. So I probably gave up quickly.

Right around this time, I had a seminary assignment where I practiced spiritual disciplines and wrote out prayers everyday for a certain amount of time. This is when I started getting very honest with God. No more of that hiding behind “I know” business. It was time to give Him a piece of my mind. There were definitely a series of “I’m mad at You because ____” and “Why haven’t You _____” and several “I don’t like ____.” Everything centered around why I thought God was disciplining me unjustly. Everything centered around me. 

I think it was good and wise to voice where I was; I needed to hear myself to realize it was all about me. So I started studying about who God is. The Bible talks about God’s character a lot. It says that He is Creator (Gen 1:1), Savior (John 3:16), Holy (Rev 4:8), Love (1 John 4:7-12), and Life (Col 1:17), just to name a few. 

Titus 3:4-7 has been a favorite passage of mine for a long time. I had completely forgotten it uses the phrase “loving kindness” until I did a Bible search for the exact phrase. 

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 

This verse is especially applicable for now for two reasons:
1. It clearly attributes kindness to God.
2. The kindness of God is the gift of Jesus. 

Fair warning: I’m about to nerd out here. 

I wanted to find a good, healthy, Biblical definition of “kindness” so I hopped over to Blue Letter Bible to see how kindness was used in these verses. Y’ALL. I LITERALLY CAN’T.

In Titus 3, Paul used the Greek word “χρηστότης” which comes from the root word of “χρηστός.” Now I do not read ancient Greek, but thanks to the little modern Greek I know some bells went off in my head…because that word for kindness sure did sound a lot like the word for Christ. LOOK AT THIS.

root word of kindness (Titus 3)
χρηστός
khrā-sto’s

Christ (New Testament)
Χριστός
khrē-sto’s

I cannot get over how close those sound. I am choosing to believe that it cannot be a coincidence that Paul, when writing Titus, chose the word for kindness that sounded so similar to that for Christ. 

At the very beginning of me examining whether I believe God is kind to me, I had a dear friend (looking at you Lizzy Cook) who encouraged me to see God’s kindness as the free gift of salvation. I can know and experience the kindness of God by walking out in the freedom and hope and grace and restoration that the Gospel brings. Jesus Christ’s presence is kindness.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I believe God is kind to me. So much kinder than I will ever comprehend. 

Fear Not

I would not typically classify myself as an anxious person. I’m pretty leveled with my emotions overall as well as in high tense situations. In fact, it’s a joke amongst my friends that if they need to go to the hospital emergency room, they’re taking me with them. I work well under pressure and tend to be able to make wise decisions in the moment. I think that’s why I like events; I know some sort of surprise is inevitable, something will go wrong and it’ll take creative thinking to improvise. I just expect it and know it’ll all work out. But lately I’ve been more anxious.

As I shared last month, I’ve been walking through an unexpected season of depression. I can tell with each passing week that God is extensively healing my soul, exposing and excavating deep seeded doubts and fears in the process. Looking back I can see the gradual shift in my thinking, going from facing situations head-on to frantically preparing for the worst. I began dreading the unexpected and in a sense, started dooms-day prepping my emotions.

It’s true that I need to be prepared for the battle. We are living in a world where evil has a strong foothold and we are called to fight against the enemy. But I have abandoned daily putting on my Armor and instead have retreated to the corner. I feel stuck, doubting the battle will ever end and fearful that I won’t be ______ enough. That blank can be filled in with things such as: prepared, strong, wise, friendly, selfless, and Godly.

So I sit in the corner. Overwhelmed.

But God, being gracious, does not let me stay there.

I’ve been taught that doubt and fear (not the holy fear variety) are not honoring to God. So in my mind, if doubt and fear are bad but God is good, then they can’t all mix together. So I’ve stopped sharing them…and especially not with God.

A new song popped up on a “recommended for you” playlist (lookin at you, Spotify. You rock.) this summer that had a line I initially questioned but have grown to love. “All my doubts and fears, they can all come too, because they can’t stay long when I’m here with You.” (The Way (New Horizons) – Housefires).

God wants to hear what I am struggling with so He can meet me in my need. I need to let Him in my head so that I can get out. When I started talking with God about my doubts and fears, His message was clear: fear not. I experienced what David shares in Psalm 34. “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Moving towards God brings freedom.

He brought to mind many verses that reiterated this simple Truth home. I mean, how much clearer can you get than Isaiah 41:10? “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I love the picture of God holding us with his righteous right hand. If the Creator of the Universe is holding me, I can be fully secure.

And John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” There is safety in His presence.

I also love the picture of Psalm 139:5: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

God goes before us, paving the way.

God comes behind us, righting the wrongs.

God is with us, comforting the fearful.

This means NOTHING is a surprise to God.

 

 

FreehandTruth_FearNot

Homesick

In a few days I will hit eight months of living in Greece.

As I prepared to make the move, I had a few people mention the “honeymoon period.” Where you’re so excited and mesmerized by a place or event that there’s little that can taint the bliss. My honeymoon with Greece lasted about three weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this place. A lot. God has provided incredible friendships and numerous other blessings. There is no doubt in my mind that this is where I am supposed to be, and now where He has me for next year too (eek!).

But I am homesick. My heart aches for my homeland, to be near “my people.”

I have wrestled with this quite a bit, especially over the last few months. If this is where God has me, is it wrong to feel homesick? Is it wrong to desire to be near my church family, when there is a church here? If I long to be elsewhere, am I not being content with what God has put before me?

Short answer: no.

My team has been studying 1 and 2 Thessalonians this semester. Multiple times Paul pours out his heart and shares just how desperately he wants to be with the church in Thessalonica. And he never apologizes for this longing. In Romans 15 he shares too that he wants to be with the church in Rome so that he can be “refreshed in [their] company.” I can relate.

So if my homesickness is not sinful in nature, what should I do with it?

Friends and family, Tex-Mex and Chick-Fil-A, vibrant sunsets and driving with the windows down…these are all things Texas holds. I intend to fully embrace all of these things during my 81 days Stateside this summer and I am confident that I, like Paul, will be refreshed by the company of familiar faces. But I also know that no matter what, I will not be satisfied.

My longings for satisfaction and comfort run deeper than my Texas heritage.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (Hebrews 13:14, NLT)

I long for Heaven home.

My Home is promised. Jesus reminds us of this perfect home in John 14:1-3 when he encourages the disciples: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” This place I long for is a reality, not a figment.

I’ve also found great comfort in these verses in the midst of my homesickness.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13

CS Lewis wrote “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

So Jesus, let this yearning serve as a holy reminder. I know that I yearn for Heaven. I yearn to see you face to face and see with my own eyes, without hesitation or denial, just how in love you are with me. I yearn to be in your presence for all of eternity.

 

Psalm91_FreehandTruth

A note about the art:
I knew I wanted to use watercolors because there is something soothing about how the colors mix and the end product often has a serene aspect. As I was painting, I just wasn’t working. The first attempt was cool, but it was at odds with how I was feeling. I needed more Princess Diaries and less Bob Ross. When I look at this one, it just fits.