To the Brave Volunteers at VBS (or Holiday Club, or Vacation Bible Club, or whatever you call it)

to the brave volunteers at

I signed up to help with our church’s annual Vacation Bible School this year. Again.

And—just like I do every year—I’m wondering why the dickens I volunteered for the madness. Again.

But as I think about it—again—I can tell you why. It’s not because I’m great with kids: I am not the Pied Piper of Hamlin by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not because I love songs-with-dance-moves and themed snacks: trust me. And—perhaps this might surprise you—it’s not because I have three kids that will be participating and I feel the need to watch them and participate with them. It’s definitely not because I have nothing better to do.

The reason I sign up… for the tenth year in a row now… is because of the difference one volunteer made in my life, over thirty years ago. My parents were newly divorced and as is the custom for many kids-of-divorce, we spent alternate weekends and holidays with each parent. My Dad had started going to a church, and during one of the first holiday times we were with him, he signed us up for Holiday Club (as it was known there). It was next-to-free-childcare; it seemed fun, and he had to work. So, we went.

I don’t remember much about that week. I vaguely remember a gaudily decorated hall, and I’m fairly sure there were games that involved screaming as we chased beach balls. I don’t remember a single person’s name, but I do remember this: not long after Holiday Club, I got a letter in the mail from one of the leaders. A real letter. With my name on it. In the mail. With a stamp. For me.

I remember pacing my room as I read, and re-read, it. I remember crying, because she remembered what I’d told her the week before: that my parents were divorced, that it was hard, that adjusting to step-parents and juggled weekends and school stress was difficult. That I was lonely. That I was scared. She remembered and acknowledged those details; she reminded me to trust in God because he cared about me; she said she was praying for me. Her letter was less than a page long, her name signed with a flourish in the bottom right hand corner. It wasn’t much and yet it was everything.

Her care showed me God’s care in a way I’d never seen before. Her seeing me and noticing me in the middle of a crazy week with screaming games and wild distractions made me feel profoundly seen and noticed. She offered me a glimpse of the welcome of heaven, and I was desperate for it.

I wrote back, and I think she wrote me again two or three times before our correspondence dwindled.

But it didn’t have to be a lifetime of correspondence to have made a longlong impact. That first letter was enough. She was a volunteer—possibly a high school kid—and she took the time to show love to a know-it-all kid who was really hurting beneath her sassy exterior.

It’s been more than thirty years, but I think of that Volunteer every year. I think what a difference it made—and how she’ll never know—and when that sign-up clip board gets passed around asking who wants to help out with VBS, I write my name on it. Even though I’m not fabulous with kids. And even though themed snacks and decorating are not my thing.

I sign up because children are people, and I was a hurting little person once and a volunteer saw me as a person and loved me. I may not be great at children’s ministry, but I can love a little people for a couple of hours once a year. And who knows what difference it may make?

To all you brave, wonderful people who signed up on that clip board and who will be playing the games, serving the snacks, sitting in small groups, and talking with kids this holiday: I wanted to say thank you in advance. And Bless You. Yours is Holy Work, although you may never know what difference you made.

But I just wanted to say: you do make a difference.

And,

Thank You.

 

Photo credit: cbcphotos (Flickr Creative Commons) / edited by BL using Canva.

Better Than a Rolling Jail

minivan

My kids say some pretty-dang-hilarious things, and I was reminded yesterday of one of the funniest quips yet.

We had spent the afternoon with fun friends on their farm (the same friends who took a mislaid stripey sweater on the adventure of its life), and it was time to leave. Of course, the kids didn’t want to go, and the effort of corralling them to the car felt a bit like trying to catch that one piece of egg shell that slipped into the cake mix. After several kind requests, I upped my Mom-game: “GET. INTO. THE. CAR.” I hissed as I strong-armed him into his buckles.

My son didn’t miss a beat: “This isn’t a car,” he yelled, “It’s a ROLLING JAIL!”

I laughed the whole drive home.

****

I’ve been slowly making my way through the one year devotional based on Dallas Willard’s Hearing God. Yesterday’s entry was based on Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God.

As if often the case when reading in the morning, my eldest had slipped under my arm and was reading the Bible with me. I read the verse out loud and thought a moment, before saying to her: “I think we do this most regularly in the car, don’t you think? I think that’s the place we most often talk about what we’re learning, and it’s definitely the place where we do the most singing.” (Note to the reader: we’ve had Seeds Family Worship albums playing on repeat for pretty much five years continually now. And I’m still not sick of them.) My daughter agreed: yes, the minivan probably was the place where we heard and sang Scripture most regularly, and after more than five hundred repeats of those CD’s… the words are carved deep into our subconscious… which sounds like letting it “dwell in us richly”, don’t you think?

And all of a sudden my son’s hilarious words from the farm flew back into my memory, and I thought a new thought about our minivan and its unexpectedly prominent role in our spiritual formation:

It isn’t a car… it’s a Rolling Church.

And that thought kept me laughing the rest of the day.

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

It is no secret that it is Tim Fall’s fault encouragement that got me blogging. I always enjoy Tim’s words, and am delighted to welcome him here today with his usual blend of funny, warm and robustly encouraging insight.

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

Contrary to the impression I might have given with posts on running a 6 mile obstacle course and a half-marathon in the Happiest Place on Earth, I am not wont to join a few thousand strangers in order to traverse long distances in company.

But I did it again.

This time it was a 5K through a bunch of bounce houses. Three miles and a dozen inflatable obstacles made for a fun-run in the truest sense. It also made me feel like the folks in this verse:

They reeled and staggered like drunkards … . (Psalm 107:27.)

Tim Drunkard

Me reeling and staggering, but not falling down.

 

We signed up along with a bunch of people from the gym. As the day approached the young guy who owns the gym – and whom we looked to as our fearless leader for the race – went and blew his knee out and ended up having surgery.

That didn’t stop him from taking the course. He said he’d do it, and he did. And we did it with him. He couldn’t run so we all walked with him 3.1 miles from obstacle to obstacle. He hobbled through the obstacles along with the rest of us, laughing and joking around. It wasn’t the way the course was designed to be taken, perhaps, but it was the right way for us to go.

The Right Way to Go

Which reminds me of another verse:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(Proverbs 18:24.)

This group of friends stuck together for the sake of the one who could not run full speed. It’s the same with the church, the people of God. We are called to come together, to be with one another, to love each other in the good times and the bad times. In fact, it’s this love for one another that shows people who we belong to.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)

How can you love one another so that people will see you belong to Jesus? Good question, and one I hope you’ll help answer in a comment. For me it often means encouraging people. I don’t restrict this to fellow Christians, of course. Jesus’ love is something I can share with everyone God puts in my life.

When we love those outside the body of Christ, we do it without expectation of reciprocation. When we do it with each other, though, it should be a mutual care and love for one another. It is this bond of love – the back and forth, the give and take whether everyone can run at the same speed or not – that shows people who we are.

That’s what Jesus said.


Tim Fall pointsTim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 28 years with two grown kids, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. He blogs, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook too.

 

 

A Hairy Confession

The sun has come out and the daffodils are peeking through. On Sunday morning, in the scrambled few minutes between “here’s your breakfast,” and “we’re late for church—WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES?”, I pulled on a short skirt. If the daffodils can come out, so can my knees: that seems as good a rule for seasonal dressing as any.

We were nearly at church when I looked down at my knees, highlighted just so by a shaft of sunlight coming through the car window. I squealed at my husband: Oh nooooooo! Look at my hairy legs! With a short skirt! I didn’t even think about that! I can’t even remember the last time I shaved. Better make sure I don’t stand in the sunlight too much.

My level-headed husband, not given to fussing about fashion at the best of times, looked across and assured me: Nobody is going to comment on your legs.

Well, dear reader, let me tell you this. Not fifteen minutes later, SOMEBODY COMMENTED ON MY LEGS. He was wrong.

But actually, so was I. Because the person who commented on my legs did not say “whoa! you should be wearing a hazard sign with those spikes out in public!” In fact, she said, “have you been working out? Your legs look good.” I gaped at her fish-faced. I did not see that coming.

These are not my legs. They belong to Celine Dion. But you'll agree that these legs are GORGEOUS, aren't they? Even though the picture is... fuzzy.

These are not my legs. They belong to Celine Dion. But you’ll agree that these legs are GORGEOUS, aren’t they? Even though the picture is… fuzzy.

My legs were not the only prickly things I brought to church on Sunday. I brought prickly attitudes, sharp opinions, unkempt fears and a whole lot more, and these too went unnoticed by those who were there. Instead, we sang in worship and talked about what it means to be poor in spirit, a quality describes as “blessed” by Jesus.

Here is the truth: I would prefer to come to church all put together, both on the inside and the outside. I would prefer to be less confused, less hurt, less prideful. I would prefer to be less prickly, both in my heart and on my skin. I sometimes hope that the sun (and the Son) won’t highlight these areas of deficiency, otherwise others may notice.

But this is also the truth: my focus is all too often myopic and self-centered. I need others to help me see myself more clearly: to help me see the big picture, to put things in perspective, to trust in the healing work of community and the slow progress of redemption. Being aware of my shortfalls (even if they are as superficial as hairy legs: I concede this is utter vanity) is actually a GOOD thing when we gather as God’s people: it’s one step closer to humility. Sometimes it’s a good thing to come to church with prickly legs, or in the middle of heartbreak, or while you’re fighting with your loved ones, or right after you lost your temper and you haven’t quite been able to recollect your calm face. Maybe people will see our prickles. Maybe the light will highlight the crisis. But maybe… just maybe, our focus will be redirected. We’ll be humbled, and in that moment, find grace.

For those who think they have it all together have no need for Jesus, now do they?

Women, Leadership & The Bible

Confession: When I heard that a book called “Women, Leadership and The Bible” had been released, my first thought was “just what we need… ANOTHER pushy book on women in the church.”

41EyH70ZyYL._AA160_But this is not that book, and in fact, the more I’ve read and the better I’ve got to know Dr Natalie Eastman—the author—the more excited I have been about it. Women, Leadership and The Bible is not a book that tells you WHAT to think, it’s a guide to HOW to work through the questions (and even identify the questions!), and to find answers in scripture yourself. The subtitle of the book is truthful: “How do I know what I believe? A Practical Guide to Biblical Interpretation.”

I believe every Christian woman should be able to handle the scriptures FOR HERSELF. Natalie Eastman is passionate about women being better equipped to ask better questions, to find better answers, to know what you believe and how you got there… and in this book she’s created a fantastic go-to resource which is thoughtful and thorough in approaching questions about women in scripture, but in fact questions about anything in scripture.

Eastman is so committed to women having the tools they need to wield the Word that, not only did she write a book, but she’s also developed a range of online tools and training videos for women to use everywhere. And when she asked if I would be interviewed for her series on how I go about interpreting the Scripture, I couldn’t say yes fast enough…. even though being videoed is seventy six times more terrifying to me than public speaking. Yes, friends, THAT’S how much I want to support this project.

So for you, readers? Here is the link to my interview on Natalie’s blog series: on studying the bible for all its worth. (the first six minutes or so are introduction, and then the interview goes another 35 mins or so. Also, my youngest kid makes a guest appearance at about 7 minutes 🙂 CUTIE PIE ALERT) You can click on the image to take you to the video, too.

Bronwyn-Lea-Collage-300x225

Also, take a look at some of the FANTASTIC resources available at the Women, Leadership and the Bible website.. I mean, seriously, look at this line up of guest speakers on everything from handling tricky topics to a host of women sharing one tip they’ve gleaned about bible study… all streaming right to your little screen at the touch of a button.

AND – I have one copy of Women, Leadership and The Bible to send to a lucky reader. Enter below, and tell a friend. (Sorry, entrants must be in the USA or Canada….)

Enjoy, friends. This is a good one.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

Ask Me: How Should I Respond to the SCOTUS Decision if I Disagreed?

Dear Bronwyn,

How would you suggest Christians who don’t believe in the morality of gay marriage react to a culture at large who will attack and invalidate a dissenting opinion as hateful and bigoted? Almost everyone I know who disagrees is too afraid to say anything to the contrary lest they be verbally assaulted – by Christians and non-Christians. Is it just best to hold to the unpopular truth with as much love and gentleness as we can, and take the inevitable hate that is going to spew our way? Or be silent on the matter and show love and acceptance (without approval)? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
– Conscience-Bound
Dear CB,
Within my own Christian community, there are those that were celebrating Friday’s decision, and a number who bore the day with heaviness. The SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage was SIGNIFICANT, for a host of reasons.
The question is: what do you say or do now, if you were hoping the decision would go the other way? Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Take the long view:
I loved Andy Crouch’s advice in this interview. He urges us to take the long view: our culture is in the middle of a long conversation about what it means to be male and female. This decision reflects part of a much longer arc – so we have some thinking to do on that. Here’s Andy’s quote (at length), but I found it so helpful:

Whatever the Supreme Court’s decision, we have to see this as a multi-generational story of our culture trying to negotiate whether there is any significance to our creation as male and female in the image of God. That is not going to turn on a dime, and healthy cultural change actually never happens quickly. It’s worth remembering that Christians — both liberal/progressive and conservative, but especially the modernist Protestants who were then in positions of cultural power — created and sustained the ideology of racism that gained power in the 19th century, advancing the supposedly “scientific” belief, concurrent with the rise of Darwinism, that some races were intrinsically superior to others. And there were plenty of Supreme Court decisions along the way — Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson — that seemed to reinforce that arc of history. It took the better part of a century to reverse that profound insult to the biblical doctrine of the image of God, which was always meant to be expressed in human cultural and ethnic diversity.

If, as I believe, we’re in the midst of an equally mistaken denial of the image of God in human beings as male and female, that is not going to be undone quickly. So any contribution to the discussion about this month’s decision should take the long view. What is our hope for human beings, male and female, several generations from now? What kind of society do we want to leave for our children and our children’s children? The more that our contributions to the conversation can be hopeful — not necessarily optimistic in the short run, but hopeful in the long run — the more chance we have of helping our society turn the corner on these issues.

2. Take it as an opportunity to refocus.

One of my professors at Bible College warned us often that those who taught wrong doctrine were in just as much trouble as those who taught right doctrine, but gave it the wrong emphasis. Christian cults are often guilty of exactly this: teaching true things, but in such disproportion that the net effect is not a faithful witness to the gospel.

I found Ed Cyzewski’s perspective helpful here: he views the SCOTUS decision as a gift to the church: an opportunity for us to recalibrate and, rather than using all our energy on fighting same-sex marriage, to major on the majors according to Jesus in Matthew 25. We have a hurting, bleeding, poor, starving world all around us, with nearly a third of people not yet even having the beginning of a Bible being translated in their language. We have work to do. Prayers to pray. Money to give strategically to Kingdom work. Let’s get busy.

3. Find a way to put it into perspective.

As I’ve said before (here and here, for example), I think that we fail in the realm of sexual ethics on a whole host of fronts. Our world is full of people struggling with pornography, our churches have adulterers and divorcees and who knows how many couples who are sexually active before they are married. Every one of these falls short of what God has said (even though, for example, a couple living together may not think there is anything morally objectionable about their arrangement at all!) And yes, I believe same-sex relationships are a violation of God’s sexual ethic, too.

So, for me it is helpful to see this current crisis in the bigger context: another way in which we need to think deeply about how we talk about sexuality and sex and our bodies, and what Scripture says to these bigger issues. God’s word is good and his truth is freedom – somehow, we need to be better at figure out how to give a vision for God’s good for us in his words on sexuality, and prayerfully seek gracious truth in how we encourage one another towards righteousness in all areas of life, and all areas of sexuality. This article from Karen Swallow Prior on Gay Marriage, Abortion, and the Bigger Picture is a truly excellent example of this.

4. And if you take abuse, turn the other cheek.

It’s okay to be disappointed—heartbroken, even—but don’t be angry. If we are being labeled as  bigot or haters, I think that is a real invitation for us to search our hearts and figure out if there is any truth to those accusations. Have we majored on a minor, or caused “a little one to stumble” in our dealings? If so, we need to apologize for being offensive.

But if you know in your heart that you were not being hateful, that your position is one of sadness and wishing it were different for the sake of others’ well-being, then dear friend: try to turn the other cheek. As one wise counselor once said to me in marriage counseling, “What’s more important here: being right? Or being in relationship?”

Take courage. Jesus is still King and he has given us work to do. Let’s get on with it.

 

Ask Me: How Do I Choose A New Church?

new church

I’ve received two letters from readers in the past month asking for advice about finding a new church. Here are excerpts from each:

We were part of a church plant for a couple years: a wonderful experience of everyone being on the same page, but it has now disbanded. Now that we’re on our own looking for a new church, I feel totally lost. I realize we have to compromise… but there doesn’t seem to be a church that has everything in line with what we want.  I have no idea what’s dire to have and what’s okay to forgo. Is community more important than the teaching? What about the worship? Their beliefs on mission? Geographical proximity? Multiethnicity, women in leadership, discipleship, etc etc… I understand this question is TOTALLY personal. I just wonder if you have any suggestions on choosing the right church.

and,

After more than twenty years of working weekends, I have relocated and wanted to join a church to find a church home and make friends.  The church I was raised in was a Presbyterian church & seeing an older established Presbyterian church nearby, I gravitated there to the comfort, familiarity, music, friendliness I remembered of years gone by.  I realized recently that this church has taken a position on some issues (same sex weddings and creation) that I believe are against the Bible.  I feel the church I knew has left me. I am sad. I have made friends here, but feel I have to find another church.  How do I find a church that doesn’t turn the Bible’s words into something that suits man, rather than guides man, as God intended?

Your advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

Longing For A Church Home

Dear LFACH (x2),

Changing churches is always an emotionally laden transition. I understand the longing to be part of a faithful community, but it’s hard to do when you may be feeling disconnected, grieving for what you’ve lost, and also needing to muster courage for a new search.

I only know of one way to find a new church, and that is to visit a number in your area. You may already know of a few to visit: places where friends go, perhaps. Depending on the city, there might be some kind of local wiki which lists the churches near you and you could scout your options out online to make a list of three or four to visit. Those visits will be hard, but ask questions when you go too: ask people what they like about this church, how long they’ve been there, how they came to be there and why they’ve stayed. Of course, this assumes that someone talks to you while you are there…. if they don’t, it will take extra courage to make a second trip.
Of course you know there are no perfect churches, but I think there are a great many HEALTHY ones, and often talking to some of the people in the pews will give you a better idea of the health of the community than reading a manifesto. Finding a community who love God, love the Bible and love people seems like a short and simple list, but finding those three things really is gold, no matter what the worship style is. I also think for people visiting a church, it’s entirely appropriate to call the minister or someone on staff and ask them if they’d mind talking to you about their church. Tell them a 60 second version of your background and some of the things you are looking for, and what they say in response could be really illuminating!
My personal thoughts on things that are essential in church communities is that we would do well to stick to Acts 2, and seek out communities that devote themselves to the apostle’s teaching, to fellowship and to prayer. By apostle’s teaching, I understand that to mean a faithful commitment to understanding and applying the teaching of Scripture. We are people of the Book, and so the way the community handles the Book matters tremendously. It should be read, relied on, and the worship and prayer (whatever format that takes), should reflect the priorities and passions of Scripture. I believe this is one of those things where we can ask the Holy Spirit for His specific guidance as we visit: He is the one who is able to lead us into all truth. (I have some thoughts on different church cultures here, if you’re curious.)
When it comes to “deal breaker doctrines”, that’s a matter for bible study and personal conscience: if you have strong convictions about the earth’s origins, or the Scriptures teaching on the place of women in leadership etc – you need to figure out whether this is something you can extend fellowship to others who may disagree in the spirit of Romans 14 (which you would have had to do if you were a Roman Christian… there weren’t exactly a plethora of churches to “shop around” at), or if conscience is leading you to find a place where you can serve and submit to church leadership with a clear conscience. Certainly, finding a place where we could serve with a clear conscience was a big factor for us the last time our family found ourselves looking for a church.
Acts 2 also mentions something about communities devoting themselves to fellowship, which I think has a bearing on the geographical location of the church. My wise friend Kevin once told me he had stopped going to church in a neighboring town because “you can’t commute to community”. There is something to be said for attending church where there are small groups that meet within your area, so that it becomes workable to actually live some of your LIVES together: to see one another in the grocery store, to organize a dinner, or serve together on a project. Proximity greases the wheels of community-building.
As such, this probably means that a local church should reflect the demographics of the community you actually live in. If you live in a multi-ethnic and multi-generational area, but the church is only reaching a fraction of those, that may be cause for concern. If, however, you live in a place with a fairly homogenous population (a college town of highly educated people), then it’s a bit of a stretch to look at the church and say “why are there only students and academics here? where are the homeless people and African-Americans?” Because, in truth, those populations are vastly outnumbered in our area.)
Finally: a church that devotes itself to prayer. This might be a difficult thing to assess on a Sunday visit, but it is something that will be reflected in the way people talk about challenges they are facing, or approach problem solving in the church. I think many of our evangelical churches are great in programming and poor in prayer. I wish it were different.
All that being said: there IS a church community there that God has for you, and where YOU are currently being missed as a vital part of Christ’s body. I pray you will be able to find a place to connect and thrive soon.
Best,
Bronwyn
Got a question? You can ask me anything: contact me here 🙂