Playing for Blood

This is a repost I felt to be highly appropriate as we watch the continued political war we’re witnessing this week as we get closer to the November elections.  I’ve also experienced a couple things that emphasized again to me the truly twisted nature of domination and competition on a personal level.  Our systems and mindsets are broken but there’s still hope… there’s always hope.


Competition motivates us.

We have to run smarter, faster, better, healthier, and happier than anyone we know. It’s not a question of want; it’s an inbred need, a driving desire and a very natural one, I might add.

A girl gets a degree to earn the edge she uses to divide whatever comes between her and the pursuit of happiness. A guy fights his way up the ladder in his given field leaving some hung on the rungs behind. It’s not his fault, of course; it just the order and way of life.  He’s just better at what he does, that’s all.

A girl marries… maybe because she thinks she’s in-love but also to lose a stigma and gain a status. If the guy is fortunate in his choice, he’ll be further validated by his partner’s beauty, intellect, or adoration. Both of them want everyone to know they have what it takes to get what they want out of life.  This is only natural.

How appropriate that Darwin classified biological processes as “natural” selection. Life and all its rewards are just a matter of “survival of the fittest” right? Ecology, capitalism, socialism, and communism are all different levels of the same concept; from the lowest, most instinctual behaviors to the highest powers, humanity competes for the most and best of everything.

This was on my mind a great deal this week as I was watching the competition being waged over the U.S. presidency. My academic discipline is based on rhetoric and debate so politics still maintains a high degree of priority in my thoughts and attention. On a global scale, competition between the nations is rising as countries like Iran and Israel continue to face off in the Middle East and countries like Russia and North Korea acquire weaponry in the growing shadow of China.  The battling titans seem to eclipse any lesser rivalries but those everyday challenges still feel like a big deal to those of us living with them, don’t they?

A girl is often thought more beautiful or desirable if the guys are battling it out for her attention; a guy is usually considered more respectable if he’s better than other men in business, athletics, music, engineering, etc. You have to compete to get a job; you have to compete for scholarships; you have to compete for status or the symbols representing it; sometimes you have to compete for love from family, friends, or peers.  Even churches are competing against one another for higher attendance numbers and better overseas missions programs. Whether or not we’re cognizant of it all the time, contention, antagonism, and rivalry are a normal part of our day-to-day lives. Society is built on dissatisfaction, envy, and competition.

How does this fit with the verse in Philippians that says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves”?  I remember a professor telling me a couple years ago that competition wasn’t “in the nature of our Lord Jesus.” I hadn’t thought about that before.  I suppose I always considered competition a good thing.

Growing up, my family loved games. My grandpa and I would poke fun at each other over Risk or Scrabble as we tried to dominate the board. My brothers still love to play Super Mario Brawl matches. I’ve competed for jobs, scholarships, and awards; I run 10k races every year.  We have sometimes called it “playing for blood” when competition gets intense. My extended family values sports and team competition as character building exercises and become maniacs… literally exemplifying borderline insane obsession… during football season especially if it’s Ohio State football. Ultimately, I have to admit I understand. Who doesn’t love the feeling of taking first place or the pride of having supported the winners before they won?

Then I remember… my idea of winning is different from God’s. “The first will be last?!  Are you kidding?” Matthew 20 sounds like ridiculous, confusing, double talk if your spiritual eyes are closed but the Bible IS the ultimate knowledge foundation so… openness and a willingness to try is a start. When Jesus said “if anyone wants to be first, he must be… the servant of all” in Mark 9, even though it sounds foreign to a culture that values assertiveness, we realize culture obviously doesn’t have the answers; it’s always changing the standard (beauty, fashion, gender roles, food portions, movie rating criteria, etc.) You know what I’m talking about.  One thing hasn’t changed; according to any “normal” person fighting to live life in the 6th century B.C., death on a cross looked like the most painful, abysmal failure of all time. It would probably still look that way today. However, in reality, that event was the most incredible victory in history. One side was playing for blood, the other side paid in blood. Ironically, the side playing for blood lost.

Now, when I think about survival of the fittest I  think of the verse that says “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:24) Our biggest challenge is in getting the FACT that our heads are a mess.  We only think we’re clever. The only way to fix us is to “give [our] bodies to God for all he’s done for [us]… don’t copy the behaviors and customs of this world but let God transform into a new person by changing the way you think.”  (Rom. 12:1-3)

Posted in Renewed Thinking | Leave a comment

The Faith of a Civilian Soldier

My Grandpa has been known to say incredibly profound things like “If it doesn’t make your flesh nervous, it doesn’t require much faith.” He is a deeply humble man, an author, and an evangelist with a doctorate of theology who still has a tendency to school me in normal conversation. I have always loved him for it. His favorite phrase when I would ask him a question or request a definition of a big word was “Go look it up!” He knew that if I did, I would remember the answer because I had worked for it. As someone who has grown up knowing Jesus Christ and serving Him consistently from an early age, I spent a lot of time “looking up” answers to questions in my Bible. I thought faith and prayer were two areas where I had pretty solid understanding and discipline. I could not have been more wrong.

Like my Grandpa, God is still schooling me in normal conversation with Him. While I was reading in Matthew 8 this week, I was struck by God’s desire for greater faith from me. As a single, college graduate without debt, I have felt a lot of freedom to accomplish whatever it is that God would give me an opportunity to do, including ministry and missions. If I am being honest with myself, this has not actually required much faith from me. I grew up in a ministry lifestyle. It’s like being in the military in a lot of ways. Your life does not belong to you and you follow orders. It’s a driving passion but it becomes your ‘normal.’ In keeping with this fact, my prayer life has been rather “mild” until recently. Sometimes God enjoys instigating adventures that spice up our relationship with Him.

In terms of relationships with other people, ministry, and work, I have been a communicator of the Gospel (a soldier) first and, then, who I am as a friend, a reporter for the newspaper, a leader, a daughter, and a sister have all seamlessly intersected that role. Even writing for the newspaper has offered unprecedented opportunities to serve the community and pray with people or share my faith every week. It’s a life consistent with everything I value. Straightforward. Real. It is amazing, however, when God knocks on your heart and sets you on a journey that goes far beyond anything you would expect to accomplish on your own. The commencement of a masters program, the many thousands of dollars it requires, and the dedication of my time to the pursuit of personal spiritual development has almost frightened me (just the word “seminary” gives me the heebie jeebies – when I was a child, I remember my pastor calling it “cemetery” because of how it can kill your passion and turn it into an “ology”). I guess you could say I am accustomed to putting ministry first and the idea of putting time and money toward a degree was not a plan I in any way conceived on my own. I thought I was skilled in putting my flesh to death until a couple months ago when I registered for my first classes in a Masters of Divinity. My dedication to prayer has gone from mild to intense in a matter of weeks.

I read the account in Matthew 8 of the centurion who approached Jesus on behalf of his sick servant. Although I have read these passages in Matthew numerous times, the centurion’s story gripped me this week like never before. I was in his shoes (or sandals) this time, looking to Jesus to help me as I disciple and teach precious believers, several of whom are struggling with so much sickness in their spirits. I want it to be said of my faith, like it was said of the centurion, “Jesus was amazed.” (Matthew 8:10) God gave me clear direction in pursuing a deeper understanding of His word through a Masters of Divinity program. I’ve stepped out in obedience but it has shaken me to the core. The confident faith of the centurion has yet to rise up in me.

In an older translation of Psalm 3:6 I read this week, it said, “I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn against me on every side.” The author was speaking of physical assailants but, in the moment I read it, I understood that I should not fear the “tens of thousands drawn against me” financially. This is not a pursuit of the flesh; it is a pursuit of the Spirit. In that, 1 Corinthians 4:16-18 applies when it says, “Therefore, we do not lose heart; though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day, for our light and momentary struggles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix out eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen because what is seen is temporary. What is unseen is eternal.” 

When I was a 3-year-old child, I recorded an album with various Sunday school songs and hymns on it. My father had gotten the recording out this week and was playing it for my infant nephew. One of the songs on that album is based off 2 Chronicles 20:15 and repeated the refrain to me in my 3-year-old voice, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid for the battle is not yours but it’s God’s.” That child-like confidence in God is something I have needed to rediscover. When Jesus said in Matthew 18:4 “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” He was talking about innocent trust and dependency. Although it seems counter-intuitive to find child-like trust in the pursuit of a Masters degree, God loves to take his children on surprising field trips to help them understand that He is completely in control. Yes, I’m still being schooled in my faith but I’m okay with that.


Posted in Life Philosophy, Renewed Thinking | Leave a comment

Personally Experiencing God’s Power: Travel Journal 2010

Deuteronomy 4 says “…watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”

January 20, 2010: Coming home from Hong Kong

I’m sitting right now overlooking the road coming into O’Hare Airport from the terminal waiting area at Gate B22. Our flight to Dayton was rescheduled because we missed the 1PM departure but we were thankful for the extra time and the suspended pressure. I just had a Starbucks cappuccino and a double shot of Jamba Juice wheatgrass but I still feel like I’m in a hazy, sluggish limbo. My limbs and eyelids feel much heavier than normal as if the pull of gravity increased proportionally to the loss of hours.

When we landed on the runway in Chicago I felt like standing and singing America the Beautiful but when we entered the airport, I felt just as much like a foreigner as I did anywhere in Asia. I didn’t hear any true English spoken by anyone and there were more people who were black and Hispanic employed in airport security and immigration than there were people who looked at all like me. Airport employees were loud, large, and pushy – the antithesis of every Asian in airports I’ve been in over the past 2 months. It’s amazing to feel like a foreigner in one’s own country. The more countries I visit, spending time with the people and learning their cultures, the less I feel like I belong or fit in the United States or any other country. The blessings of our country have been unparalleled and I would never choose another place to call home but the feelings of belonging here are gone. I also realize we’re not supposed to feel like we fit. It’s a poignant reminder that this is not my home.

Over the past two months:

I witnessed over 20,000 people come to faith in Jesus Christ and worshiped in house churches suppressed by government regulation.

My family sang about Jesus Christ in a country that has not allowed a DSC00822single foreigner (even in a SECULAR venue) to share in public since the 1950s; what’s even more amazing is that it wasn’t just a small group but a group of 45,000 people!

I personally prayed with Malaysians, Thai, Indonesians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Australians, British, Chinese, and Indians.

I rang in 2010 singing familiar praise and worship songs in 8 or 9 different languages, sharing communion, and eating foods from all over the world.

My family and I stood on top of Victoria’s Peak with friends on New Year’s Day and prayed over Hong Kong as a gateway city and port of China.

I stood at the door of a church three days after it and 7 other churches were bombed by Islamic terrorists in Kuala Lumpur and my family and friends prayed for God to bring revival to Malaysia (We didn’t even know we were GOING to Malaysia until a week before!).

I did ministry with my family in a Muslim nation for the first time ever and prayed with precious people at the altar.

I ate in people’s homes, went to their favorite hang outs, slept in too many different beds to count for too few hours, played games, teased, sang, danced, and felt the peace and presence of God in places of heavy spiritual battle and intense persecution.

The most incredible part of it all… none of these things happened because of me or my DSC06141family or our gifts or our connections. Had we found the best promoter on the planet, we could not have humanly organized the connections and events that took place so quickly. It was nothing but the grace and favor of God! I get teary and overwhelmed thinking about it, especially if I look back over the past 12 months.

2009 was a hard year. I realized in so many ways how one blind or selfish choice could change my life forever and remove capacity for ministry or powerful destiny. With how many times I’ve questioned God and his direction for my life, I don’t deserve for him to bless me… I even questioned continued involvement with my family in this ministry this past year. However, I do recognize that I HAVE TO be faithful and look for God’s best even if it’s not an idea I came up with for myself. Praise God for his faithfulness to us even when we don’t deserve it.

All that being said, the past two months obviously had nothing do with us but God uses very flawed, dedicated soldiers. You just do what you have to do. What good are gifts if you hold onto them or selfishly use them to further your own ambitions? God disciplines you mind, body, and spirit and then commissions you into active service. I think this is what God is calling for when he says we have to die; Dying to oneself is choosing something you don’t want and didn’t ask for and finding that the sacrifice doesn’t even compare to the reward.

What an amazing God we serve. Without his direction my aims are pointless. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t give to see people love and serve him.

Posted in Memories, Renewed Thinking, Travel Journal | 1 Comment

A Few Things I’ve Learned

Repost from April 25, 2010
Because David Letterman already has the copyright on the top 10 list, I’ve decided to do my own thing and make it twice as good with a Top 20. Click on the links to see posts detailing some of the reasons behind each one – these are all born out of the experience of one insatiably inquisitive redhead:

  1. Discipline is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. If you’re not disciplining yourself, your thoughts, words, and actions, you’re not a disciple.
  2. Knowing and understanding are completely different. To understand something you have to experience it and let it become a part of you.
  3. Never claim an illness or disease. If you say “my” cancer, diabetes, flu, etc. God will respect your claim to it.
  4. Going through the motions with God and calling yourself a Christian is like a loveless marriage (e.g. claiming commitment and then living for yourself).  If it’s just about rituals and words and you’re not passionately in-love and deeply emotionally, spiritually, and physically connected, give up the charade or seek counseling.
  5. Freedom is, quite simply, choosing who to serve. If you choose yourself, you’re in for a lonely ride.
  6. Conviction is better than conscience. One’s conscience can be ignored; conviction comes from your core and necessitates action.
  7. Satan is the author of confusion. If you’re confused, whatever’s confusing you is not of God.
  8. The most important book in your study of anything is the Bible – God made the world; God wrote the Bible.  There’s no more simple, logical relationship.
  9. Arrogance is THE parent-sin. You’ll find it behind every unresolved issue and conflict. It’s the opposite of love (yes, hate or apathy are considered the opposite but even these are born out of arrogance).
  10. Your face and the way you carry yourself tell almost everything about you.
  11. Because we’re a body, mind, and spirit, all three are all you and equally important. Neglect one and you’re not a whole person.
  12. People are the only asset worth investing in; they’re the only investments you’ll ever make that will last for eternity. Relationships are the currency of the Kingdom of God.
  13. Internet friends ARE NOT real relationships. You can’t trust them and should never make any emotional investments in them. Their stock is as flimsy as that of BP in 2010. There is no credibility. Put out for the ones who show up!
  14. THIS ONE IS MY FAVORITE: Life is too short to lend an ear to a pessimist’s drama or to drink bad coffee. Both will ruin your day and leave you bitter.
  15. Never believe in people too much. They’re only human.
  16. Human beings are all weak-willed; if we hear or see something long enough, we begin to believe it. If we believe it, we reason according to our belief; if we reason according to a belief, we act on it and it then becomes a confirmed part of who we are.
  17. Thoughts are the circulatory carriers of the mind, like the blood is to the body. In the same way the foods you eat affect your body positively or negatively, the movies, music, books, and messages you take in will affect your mind. Whatever is pure, noble, of good report, etc. (Philippians 4:8) are the building blocks of a healthy mind.
  18. Every person alive is an artist. Each life is a canvas. Every action and word is a brushstroke. All you say or do is recorded for better or for worse.  When we get to the end of our lives, God will show our work to us and, like any good art instructor, won’t mark us down for the mistakes made if we used them creatively as a part of something beautiful and meaningful.
  19. You have only two choices when it comes to the Bible or faith in Jesus Christ: you either accept all of it or reject all of it. By rejecting part of it, you are rejecting all of it. There is no space in-between.
  20. Prayer is the only way anything good happens.
Posted in Life Philosophy, Renewed Thinking | 2 Comments

Christmas & Church Family

There is always an anticipation and excitement in the magic of Christmas. It’s a family holiday and a time when we get to lavish love on the precious people in our lives. Especially during this time of the year, as I’m thinking about the people in my life and the church family I want to celebrate, I struggle looking at my Christmas list and pictures from the year before.

The truth is, I will never understand why people leave a church home and are vocal about the fact that they’re leaving (for reasons not pertaining to any moral failing). I also don’t understand why other members of the church they’ve left are okay with hanging out, talking casually with, or continuing in deep relationship with a person who spurned the people they love. Doesn’t anyone else chafe at unfaithfulness, disloyalty, and dissension anymore??

I’ve heard reasons like: #1 “Oh I had to leave because I disagreed with this or that…” Seriously? Disagreement is life! How shallow are we if we’re willing to walk away from relationships when we don’t see eye-to-eye?

#2″I felt God leading me elsewhere…” Does God lead people out of an environment where they are loved and growing unless it’s to plant another ministry that’s in unity with their home church and family? I don’t see that anywhere in scripture, do you? And even in the scenario of a “plant,” it’s not leaving, it’s building – everyone agrees and is excited! Each visit is a long-anticipated reunion where we talk about the goodness of God, not an awkward meeting where we don’t discuss church!

#3 “I can make new friends…” This depends on what you consider a friend. Only a true friend, who knows you well, will tell you what you don’t want to hear because they’re anxious to see you blessed and growing spiritually. If we can’t receive nurturing accountability from people who love us, then we will never have true, lasting friends. In the end, we will be very much alone. Lack of commitment is a systemic failing of our culture and is the antithesis of everything we claim to be if we say we’re a follower of Jesus Christ.

For the rest of us, are we so anxious to be understanding and accommodating of people’s issues that we aren’t willing to love a person into right behavior and unity that will bless them and us with continued growing relationships as a functioning part of the church? If we enable a person’s issues or venting of frustrations instead of encouraging them to make things right, how does this bless them? How can there be deep, loyal relationships, growth, training, and accountability in a family if people just get offended and leave and no one says anything about it?? Whatever happened to doing things by The Book – actually applying scripture to the situation instead of doing what we feel and just bailing or allowing someone to bail without consequences?! (Matthew 18) Where’s the reconciliation and the faithfulness that makes church a family and a home? This is what Christmas is all about to me.

I don’t know what anyone else is praying for this Christmas but I’m praying for my lost church family, those I still love but can’t celebrate with this year. There is still hope in the humility of Jesus’ birth and the salvation of His sacrifice for us, if we’re willing to receive and apply His life to ours. Despite the painful reminders of our humanity during an idealistic season, we celebrate a greater, heavenly reality in a future with Emmanuel, One who will never leave us, this Christmas.


Posted in Life Philosophy, Renewed Thinking | Leave a comment

True Leadership = Love + Serving

“Peter, do you love me more than these?” Jesus asked.

“Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” Peter replied.

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus said.

Have you ever realized that Jesus was asking Peter to lead… even after Peter’s painful demonstration of cowardice and unfaithfulness? Peter, distraught with regret, regarded more heavily the question of his love for Jesus. I don’t think Peter had a clue that Jesus was making the connection between love and leadership – the resurrected man he had loved and denied was sitting in front of him alive again asking “Do you love me?” The abject humiliation and pain of Peter’s stupid mistake was still so fresh on his mind.

It’s a little known fact that successful leadership is a question of love for Jesus first and then the disciplined act of serving the people he asks you to patiently guide.  Peter was an uneducated fisherman. Jesus boiled down leadership to the simplest principles. Neither man looked like much from the outside -a king raised in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth and a powerful leader called out of a stinking fishing boat- but it goes along with the counter-cultural way every teaching of Jesus runs. Nowhere in the Bible does righteous authority involve subjugation or using people for material gain. To make it in the world, stepping on people is the only means of reaching the top; character is not a necessary component in accomplishing goals. How strange it must be to think of a leader standing in front of the gun for a soldier he commands or lovingly washing the dirty feet of his men.  And yet, the greatest leader of all time did just that.

How many of us would be willing to do the same? “Not many of you should presume to be teachers/leaders, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly,” James said. When the microscope picks up discrepancies in our character, will we humbly accept the scrutiny and discipline ourselves to love and serve, arising to greater levels of leadership and growth as we follow Jesus Christ, or will we agitate under the pressure?

“…For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow me as I follow Christ.” (I Corinthians 10:33-11:1)


Posted in Life Philosophy, Renewed Thinking | Leave a comment

Hands of Time

I haven’t always thought of time as my friend. People have called it a speeding train, a monster, a slave-driver, and a crocodile. The fact is, it has been a patient, albeit unbending, teacher even when I fought it for all I thought it should do for me. Through it all, what a kind companion it’s been.

Anyone who has known me for very long has heard me claim to have “Peter Pan syndrome” because I love the magic and energy that accompanies the perspective of a child. I’ve even posted blogs titled Why do we have to grow up? The real issue at work in this idea is innocence, not time. I’ve seen 15-year-olds with the bodies, minds, and experiences of 30-year-olds and 50-year-olds with the open expression and reckless love of a child. Our minds and hearts create the structure of the reality in which we live, not time. It begins with who we choose to be at our core.

I’ve told many friends, “My time does not belong to me.” It’s a thought that seems backwards to people… but it’s Biblical! “You are not your own; you were bought with a price!” (I Corinthians 6) That is to say, nothing I am or have is actually mine except my choice. And I have chosen: “to live is Christ and to die is gain”… therefore, time is on my side whether I live or die, stay young forever or grow old. God’s kids don’t lose because we have everything to gain if we give it all. And that’s just what we do.

“Time cools, time clarifies, no mood can go unaltered through the course of hours,” according to Mark Twain. Time is actually a friend of mine… with amazing hands. These hands have encouraged me over and over. They’ve helped me grow, heal, resolve conflicts, and create masterpieces. Their steadiness has taught me to be measured; their constant movement keeps me from boredom; and their true value is as priceless as the life they sustain.  What’s more, they serve (without fail) the God I love and trust.

Who wants to fight an ally or waste a priceless gift? Once again, I’m struck by the loving, uncomplicated way time has resolved an important question I could not answer and saved me from a mistake I could never have taken back. I can’t help but be awed by the power, the patience, and the ever-presence of Jesus Christ and His gentleness and steadiness exemplified in the hands of time.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Real Men


My brothers and a couple friends joke regularly about what “real men” are supposed to be like. This usually involves a lot of grunting, flexing, showing off one’s “guns” and tough talk. It’s pretty funny and I laugh right along with them but I like to think that REAL men are more than a superficial show of dominance and ego.

I originally posted the following highly-controversial note on facebook a couple years ago.  The long list of comments made afterwards by outraged young men of my acquaintance struck me again with what I had always questioned; do true gentlemen exist?! I believe they do but they are very rare.  As young people of any moral and spiritual depth, we can start to lose hope when Godly examples are non-existent or we have no high standard to look to or reach for.

I am SO proud of the guys I know that are “real…

View original post 409 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment