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We Are Called to Desire (Part 1)

4 unfounded fears that come with wanting

In a book I recently reviewed, the author warned readers about the dangers of human desire, which he seemed to view as an obstacle to Christian obedience. His advice was simple: “Write out all the things that you have wanted from life. Finally, draw a cross over it as a symbol that you are offering it in sacrifice to God, saying, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’ ”

On the surface, the advice seems wholesome. Isn't the Bible insistent about the deceitfulness of the human heart (see Jeremiah 17:9)? Can we really trust ourselves to want? Like this author, I had long been sympathetic to the idea that human desire was unequivocally corrupt. I wanted to write. Bad. I wanted to decorate my home. Greedy. I wanted to share more of the domestic responsibilities with my husband. Selfish. If a desire surfaced, I rallied to submerge it, counting every act of crucifying my desires a step toward losing my life (Matthew 16:26). To refuse was to forfeit the soul.

Only more recently have I examined my instinctive fears about desire. Some have proved reliable, other unnecessary. In fact, the more I have studied, the less tenable the notion of abandoning desire has become. Indeed, with more careful reading of the Scripture and other theological writings, I have felt invited into desire and have even come to believe that desire is necessary for a life of faith.

In this two-part article, I want first to briefly examine four common suspicions about desire. In the second-part, I want to propose four important reasons for recovering desire for our spiritual formation.

Suspicion 1: Desire is to blame for sin.

When I became a Christian late in high school, I had enough history of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ ...

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Thu, 5 March 2015 08:00:00 CST
Lead Me On: When Downton Abbey Beckons Us to Begin Again

Nothing compares to knowing someone loves you no matter what

Against a complicated backdrop of lords and ladies and a civilization under reconstruction, Downton Abbey’s plotline still illustrates a simple truth: things haven’t changed much.

As with any time in history, we find a gaggle of mini storylines that spotlight the human condition and characters wrestling with familiar themes.

Like new beginnings.

Enter First Footman Mosely, who thinks the best of Miss Baxter, no matter her sordid, mysterious past. That is, until he finds out the sordid part of said past and he’s knocked back, wondering how this virtuous woman could have ever behaved like such a total…jerk.

“There must be something more. There must be a cause or a reason…” he said to her hopefully. “Perhaps there was someone that you cared for who needed money or had some kind of emergency? And you were desperate to help…?”

Sorry, Mosely. There were no valiant reasons for Baxter’s behavior. Confusing though it is, back then her behavior was flat out…bad.

“I would only say,” Baxter said carefully to Mosley, “that I am not that person now.”

Some people edge so far into the realm of conduct unbecoming, that even sympathetic new friends struggle to see a chance at a fresh start.

Just ask Jacob.

Could there be a bigger cad than Jacob featured among the Bible’s forefathers? He steals his brother’s birthright over soup, he tricks his father into giving him a blessing, and he jerks around poor Leah in favor of his beloved Rachel. He’s the poster child for Meghan Trainor’s worst lyin', lyin', lyin' nightmare.

However, in what is one of the weirdest scenes of the Bible, even by ...

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Mon, 2 March 2015 08:00:00 CST
Go Ahead and Grin—Church Is Hilarious

Ministry is a lot more fun if you laugh at just about everything.

Somewhere along the line, I decided that it was better to laugh at all the craziness that goes on in churches instead of feel complete and total angst. This state of mind came about after our family’s visit to a friend’s first pastorate. We wrote down careful directions on how to get to his country church. He said there would be a welcome sign at a crossroads that would indicate where to turn. When the day arrived for our visit, we drove for miles up and down the road without ever seeing the sign. Finally, by accident we located the church. When we told our pastor friend about our trouble, he was confused. He asked the church trustee what happened to the sign. The trustee explained, “I took it down for the winter so it wouldn't become weathered.”

Our friend taught me something that day. Instead of going into a tirade about how his congregation just didn’t get it, he laughed. And he kept on laughing. I decided I needed to adopt his attitude more often, so I began to see humor everywhere.

I was amazed at the opportunities to laugh at things that go on in the church. Rather than be appalled that the man attending our church argued with my husband about his sermon each Sunday, I began to find it amusing. I particularly enjoyed the time he said, “I’m praying one of us goes blind. If it’s you, you’re wrong. If it’s me, I’m wrong.” Now I admit that’s a pretty serious thing to pray, but I found it comical. I still laugh every time I think of it. He left our church shortly after that statement and we didn’t see him again until we moved into our new neighborhood and found out he lived behind us. My husband saw him first and when he told ...

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Thu, 26 February 2015 08:00:00 CST
Worship in a Dynamic and Diverse Culture

An interview with Nikki Lerner, Worship Director at Bridgeway Community Church

Nikki Lerner serves as the Worship Ministry Director at Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Maryland, under the leadership of Dr. David Anderson. She has the honor of leading worship for a thriving multicultural congregation of 3500+ people every weekend. In addition to leading worship, Nikki does extensive mentoring for pastors and worship leaders around the country. She is a contributing author to the Multicultural Ministry Handbook: Connecting Creatively to a Diverse World. She continues to consult for The BridgeLeader Network by helping organizations navigate racial reconciliation and matters of diversity in addition to speaking on issues concerning multicultural leadership, team-building, vocal training, and relationship-building.

First let me say that it is an honor to sit with you and I think the ministry work that you do is so very important for this critical time in American history. When we discuss topics like race, racial reconciliation, and diversity in the church, people are reminded of the estimation that by the year 2050, the racial and ethnic minorities will be the majority in America. Why is it important that we share this information with church leaders and train them concerning the challenges they will face when leading multi-ethnic and multicultural churches, organizations, and teams?

For one thing, it (meaning the changing demographics) is already happening. Also, I believe that the issue of diversity across racial and ethnic lines is God’s kingdom issue and not just a nice thing to talk about. God cares about people. I have been married to my husband, David, for 14 years, and as an interracial couple, we joined Bridgeway because we wanted to be members of a church where people didn’t ...

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Mon, 23 February 2015 08:00:00 CST
Healing—and Leading—After Tragedy, Part Three

Recovering from trauma is possible, necessary, and sometimes very hard.

I thought Rich’s death meant the end of my ministry dreams. He was my husband, and he was my ministry partner, part of every plan I had. I had leaned on his strengths heavily. He dealt with the people issues; I kept everything organized.

Once he was gone, I had no one to defer leadership to. The buck stopped with me. So as much as Rich’s death was the end of our ministry, it was just the beginning for me. The next few years chiseled away my inexperience, and I learned how to stand on my own two feet as a leader.

Many people asked me why I didn’t take a year off or quit entirely. I think most people expected me to. The truth is that in many ways, ministry saved me. It kept my focus on helping other people. Being aware of the depth of someone else’s pain somehow makes your own more manageable. You realize you’re not the only one with a story. Ministry kept me looking up and out instead of being self-consumed.

I’ve seen leaders who carry their wounds into ministry and try to pretend they aren’t there. These wonderful people do their best to give when they don’t have much in their emotional tank. Unfortunately, they often isolate themselves or create unhealthy leadership cultures within their teams. Pretending we are great all the time is not helpful to us or to the people we serve. People don’t grow by seeing leaders who have it all together. They grow when they see us grow and heal and the path we take toward wholeness becomes one they can follow.

As my leadership skills grew, my responsibilities in our church grew. Eventually, my role in the adult ministry eclipsed my service in youth ministry. I pastored the musicians and singers, led teams, and organized creative ...

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Thu, 19 February 2015 08:00:00 CST
Healing—and Leading—After Tragedy, Part Two

Recovering from trauma is possible, necessary, and sometimes very hard.

The days immediately after Rich’s death were a blur. Hospital scans eased doctors’ fears about internal injuries, so they released me. My parents took me home. I looked around my room, feeling hollow until I walked into our closet. His smell, his essence, was all over his clothes. I buried my face in his shirts and cried for a long time.

My practical mother recognized that I was not going to be able to sleep in my own bed and made up the futon in our home office. In spite of her efforts to get me to rest, I stayed awake that night.

My heart was in turmoil. Not only had I lost my husband; I felt abandoned by God. I lay grappling with my thoughts, trying to make sense of nonsense. I desperately needed to find some peace. After flicking on the desk lamp, I opened my Bible. A steely resolve filled me as I read about Job’s faith. I made a head decision that would lead my broken heart in weeks to come.

I chose to believe that God was good, regardless of my circumstance. It was enough that Jesus died for me. He proved his love for me a long time ago. Nothing that happened could erase that truth. I took a shaky deep breath that morning, and my spirit was refreshed. My soul, however, was still shattered.

I made it through the funeral in a fog and then took several weeks off. I felt burdened by the teenage grief I had witnessed, and a sense of responsibility toward the young people. Rich had wanted to help these kids, and I couldn’t abandon them. When I returned, I dove into my ministry responsibilities. This gave me a sense of purpose in spite of the death of my dreams. It kept me from imploding.

For several months, each morning I would wake up uneasy, trying to remember why things didn’t ...

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Mon, 16 February 2015 08:00:00 CST
Healing—and Leading—After Tragedy, Part One

Recovering from trauma is possible, necessary, and sometimes very hard.

Millions of predictable seconds will tick by, marking out a lifetime for each of us. Just a handful of moments will stop us short, altering our future so completely that it’s not recognizable as connected to our past. Thirteen years ago, I was confronted by this kind of moment.

I had a happy childhood that was coming to a close when I met Rich Bourke. I was drawn to his natural charisma. He was one of those ridiculously talented people you can’t help but envy, but who make you love them anyway. He was effortlessly charming, oblivious to his good looks: tall, athletic, and tanned with bright blue eyes and an easy smile. He was quick-witted, funny, and articulate, with dozens of best friends. He was always the center of the room; he certainly had my attention.

To my delight, we quickly became good friends and spent hours together volunteering at church. Over the years friendship turned into something more. I fell in love with him and was blissfully happy when he finally asked me to marry him.

We had so many plans, enough to fill several lifetimes. Two weeks after we got married, a church hired us as youth pastors, and we were on our way! We packed up and moved across the country, excited and nervous.

Two years in, things were going amazingly well. The youth ministry, fueled in large part by Rich’s talent, had grown to more than 800 students. We were astounded and thrilled by this success. At 23 years old, I’d happily settled into a behind-the-scenes role.

To celebrate our second wedding anniversary, we took a few days off for a road trip. Rich wanted to be back well before our youth service, so we started our eight-hour drive home the night before. I took the first shift and Rich took over ...

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Thu, 12 February 2015 08:00:00 CST
Can We Stop the Fall from Grace?

Its unwise to believe we can fight temptation in our own power.

Three days after I read an article by a church leader who had fallen into sexual sin with someone in the church, my husband asked me to pray with him because he felt he was being tempted by women at his job. He said the attacks happened quite suddenly and wanted me to know what he was dealing with so I could stand in prayer with him.

My husband is on the board of trustees at our church, and while he has more responsibility as a board member, wives have some responsibilities as well, so together we are a board couple. Among other things, we have assigned seating during service, right in the second row, and we are called to pray during altar calls. We are visible leaders within our church.

When my husband shared with me about his temptation, I thought to myself how much we have grown as a couple and as leaders in ministry. I easily could have been upset or allowed my pride to be shaken. Tempted? How can a married father and man of God be tempted? That's an easy one to answer­—SIN. The bottom line is, sin is real. So is temptation. It's my opinion that many Christians believe being “saved” exempts us from temptation, which is unfortunate because many leaders in church are tempted daily without being covered in prayer.

Together we prayed and continue to pray. We take seriously our commitment to God, our marriage, our family, and our role as leaders. I had already been praying daily for my husband and for myself to be protected from temptations, but this was a reminder not to let up because Satan wasn't going to stop.

Christians Do Get Attacked

My husband is no different from any other Christian. He and I both get tempted, as all believers do, as we grow with Christ because Satan will ...

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Mon, 9 February 2015 08:00:00 CST
Youve Hit a RoadblockNow What?

When God says stop, he doesnt always mean quit

Have you ever come to a roadblock in your ministry or job and wondered why God would lead you along so clearly only to bring you to a sudden standstill? That’s happened to me many times as I’ve followed His leading and then gotten confused when I felt Him say stop.

Wait a second, Lord. I thought you said we were going from A to Z, and we’re only on M! Is this where I’m supposed to quit and move on to something else? This makes no sense!

Recently, when I came to a stop sign that’s in an odd place along the country road near my house, I was reminded of those confusing moments in life. That sign seems to make no sense either. It is placed on the road where a smaller lane “Ts” into it—a lane that is seldom used, and has its own stop sign for drivers to give way to the larger road. For about ten years, we drove through that tiny intersection without a stop sign there, and without any incident to warrant one being installed.

And then one day, there it was. A big, red stop sign with ags and a blinking light atop it to alert drivers to its new placement. I personally ran that stop sign about twenty-ve times out of sheer habit. And each time I’d curse its meaningless existence. There was never any intersecting traffic and it was such an annoyance! (Insert angry muttering here.)

Finally, it occurred to me that the stop sign was not really intended to protect drivers at that intersection. No, it was actually to get drivers to bring their cars to a halt so they would proceed with caution through the next stretch of road.

You see, right after the stop sign is a dangerous curve that leads to a bridge. Every month there is at least one new accident at that spot, caused by ...

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Thu, 5 February 2015 08:00:00 CST
God Lives in the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days

We need more leaders who are willing to say they don't have all the answers

“It's been an Alexander day.”

I love that when I say that to my True Love, he knows exactly what I mean.

“Some days are like that. Even in Australia.”

My Alexander day didn’t involve railroad pajamas, but it did start with only five hours of sleep. And I drove to the gym in darkness only to discover they cancelled my exercise class.

But my Dear Friend also showed up, and we opted to go for a morning cup of coffee and chat. Maybe not endorphins, but something to get us through the day.

Only we got the text before sunrise that Sister’s family was in deeper crisis than first imagined. Not only the crisis of faith we knew about: “I don't believe in Jesus anymore.”

That one we’d prayed for already.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore. I can’t be married to you anymore.”

Oh, Jesus.

Four babies. One still fresh from the womb. My mind can’t even go there. We won’t go there. Grace for today. Bright hope for tomorrow. Blessings all mine, with 10 thousand beside.

Only it doesn’t feel like blessing.

Because I read in my inbox that Bob crossed over into eternity, face to face with Jesus himself. And I'm sad. Even though I know he is more alive at this moment than he's ever been before.

Because life is hard. And it might not get easier. (That's the line my mama sings. Some days I hate that song.)

But today I have to turn my radio to Natalie singing “Someday Our King Will Come,” “Your Great Name,” and “Greatness of Our God.”

Because today is too hard to handle otherwise. The day that would’ve been Ryan's 49th birthday. Life, family, marriage cut ...

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Mon, 2 February 2015 08:00:00 CST
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