A Letter To My Daughter On Her 17th Birthday

To Lilly on Her 17th Birthday,

According to Jesus, who was worthy of blessing and to experience the Kingdom of God?

Think about the people Jesus wanted us to reevaluate? Little children, the last and the first, Samaritans(even sinful ones), tax collectors, and the sick and dying all had their fates and worthiness already determined by a society obsessed with appearances, categories, labels, judgement, condescension, and condemnation.

Jesus rejected this notion. For Jesus, there is nothing about a person’s exterior that determines blessedness. It is a matter of the heart. For “man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart.”

You are at an age where aesthetics and vibes rule and affect choices from what people eat for breakfast to how they wear their shoelaces. As important as these things might seem to you today, they are not a recipe for true blessedness and a good life. 

The good life comes from knowing Christ and having the power of his resurrection in your life. The good life comes from letting him wash the inside of our cup so that the inside and the outside glistens and shines. The good life begins and ends with Christ and is not determined by your status, your circumstances, your phone notifications, or any of the other ways we try to score our life.

I hope that I have given you a small example of what this blessed life with Christ looks like and that the peace and joy that is available in Christ has shown through my life for you to see. When that has not been the case, I ask for forgiveness. 

My best life has been when I have let him live his life through me as if he were me. This is where I have found blessedness, this is where I have found direction and purpose, this is where I have found love and acceptance. You can find this too. I have already seen him work in you and your sweet nature, warm compassion, many talents, and resilient character. Let your heart know the Christ of love and new beginnings and trust his ways as you grow up to be a beautiful, smart, and inspiring young woman.

May you take in Jesus’ words and let them ruminate in your heart and soul so you can live a life full of goodness, beauty, and truth. Blessed is Lilly on her Seventeenth Birthday for hers “is the kingdom of heaven, for she shall receive mercy, for she shall be comforted, for she shall be filled, for she shall see God, for she shall be called a child of God.”

Your Church Could Do This Now

Many churches in my state are starting to reopen but with really strange requirements like RSVP, only sitting in certain locations, escorts in and out, and limits on attendees. I am encouraged that church families will start to gather again, offer collective praise and worship, and actively demonstrate their love for God and one another. But is that all there is to a church? My prayer is that churches have realized during lockdown and shelter in place that outside of a weekly gathering, there is so much that they can be doing. Here are just two examples:

Provide An Outlet For Prayer and Encouragement. The other day, I was getting gas and a woman who I had spotted earlier pulled up close to my gas pump and began imploring me to “call out to Jesus, to pray for my family and to ask for his protection and care. That Jesus was my only hope and answer for salvation.” She didn’t know that I already call out to Jesus and that I already trust him. It didn’t matter to her, driven by a sense of urgency for our world and the reality of a scary virus, she needed to proclaim what was most important to her.

The bottom line, people are still scared and freaked out and concerned. They may have lost their job, they may be banned from seeing their ailing parents, they may be trying to manage a broken relationship in the midst of shelter-in-place, and they have not seen close friends in months.

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Churches should create prayer lines, or private Zoom forums for people to let out their frustrations and have a caring, loving person listen. They could throw together a small prayer garden with some benches and flowers to let people just come and sit in a tranquil location. Churches can’t assume that everyone is managing this time well. They need to be creative to help those who are urgently seeking answers and are scared and uncertain.

Open Up A “Business” Center. I am the director of a college library and as we started to open the group of people who most wanted to be in the library were not just students but community people who are desperately trying to navigate job applications, resume building, unemployment benefits, and form after form. They may be lacking the toner ink or the paper or the quality wi-fi to manage all that they are needing to do to provide for their family and survive the next year.

A church could make a room available in their building with a few donated computers, a printer, good internet, a smile, and some coffee for community people who are desperate to handle the frustrating hassle of what comes next. Sure, be safe, make people set an appointment, screen people, wipe down everything. But, offer a basic service that would be quite simple to provide and manage.

COVID-19 has helped us all rethink how we work, teach, worship, and be a family. Let it also help us rethink how to be the church and serve our church family and the needy people outside the church walls.

Finding Jesus In A Podcast About Buddhism

While listening to a podcast that was highlighting the work of a Buddhist author, I heard phrases and bits that led me to deeper and more profound thoughts on Jesus and his love.

The first phrase that was mentioned was, “this kinship with the suffering of others.” This made me think about Jesus when his friend Lazurus dies and Jesus is so overcome with emotion that he weeps. I thought about the ridicule, false accusations, and attacks that Jesus suffered from people that had such influence and power on the communities where he operated. I thought about Jesus being betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends and how that must have left him so lonely and disappointed. I thought about the humiliation and pain of the cross and facing death in such a public and torturous way.

Jesus knew suffering and knows our suffering.

The next phrase that they mentioned was “a love that never dies.” There is nothing very revolutionary about this phrase because we use phrases like endless love and never-ending love in songs and on cards all the time. What I thought about was Jesus embodying the phrase “a love that never dies.” The person of Jesus, representing love, dying but three days later being resurrected. I moved from the pop song, greeting card notion of love to a person making the ultimate sacrifice and defeating death. He truly is a love that never dies. And I get to experience that person dwelling inside me, working on my behalf, and showing me how to walk in that kind of love.

The third part that more than just go my attention was a discussion about descending into human identification and suffering rather than just seeking spiritual heights and ecstasies. The thought that came to mind was Jesus experiencing the eternal presence of God, the joy and certainty of heaven but yet coming to inhabit earth. Jesus seemed to prefer to be with the lowest of the low and didn’t require his followers to meet him on some high spiritual plane but moved down and down into humanity because that is where he is most needed. “Right down into the thick of things we discover the love that never dies.”

The differences between the Buddhist thought expressed in the podcast and the way of Jesus is that Buddhism asks the individual to achieve identification with the suffering of others, the individual to develop the love that never dies, and the individual to move down into the thick of things despite the pain and turmoil that might be there.

Christianity is making a person, Jesus Christ, the Lord of your life because he already knows our suffering, our temptations, and our disappointments. He demonstrated and allows us to share in his death and resurrection because he is the love that never dies. And Jesus is not sitting on some high mountain of holiness expecting us to climb to him but descended to us and made his kingdom as present as the next room, present even to our own hearts.

Christianity begins and ends with the person of Jesus Christ. So much so that even as a I was listening to thought that was not my own, all I could think about was Jesus and his truth.

Now Is The Time For A Spiritual Check Up

Eight weeks of shutdown has made us all assess every aspect of our life. What work and school can be accomplished at home? What is this place they call a park? Do I know how to work an oven? Is our WiFi strong enough?

But as some areas begin to open up and people start to find what they have been missing, I thought it would be a good time to assess where we all are in our Grow Up plan, our spiritual formation.

So, here are some questions to ask yourself and some exercises to try to strengthen or develop what needs to Grow Up.

Questions of Assessment

God

  1. Is the God you are envisioning right now good and merciful and loving or is he angry, wrathful, and stingy?
  2. Are you connecting more to God through prayer, listening, and worship or do you find it harder to practice these soul training exercises?

Your Life

  1. Do you find it hard to consider your life good right now with so much taken away from you? Is your faith at the mercy of your circumstances?
  2. What negative points of your character have surfaced and been prominently revealed to you and others? Anger? Impatience? Fear? Selfishness? Lack of Sympathy?

Community

  1. How has your thoughts on the value of the local church and your role in the church changed during this time?
  2. Have you been motivated to serve others and help those in need?

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Exercises to try to help you Grow Up in these areas

God

  1. Take a walk and consider all that God has provided for you in his natural world? Notice something new that is worthy of your amazement and thank God for it.
  2. Instead of making requests of God, ask him what he wants from you and then listen for his reply.

Your Life

  1. Read Mark 9:1-29 everyday for a week. Notice Jesus, notice the disciples, notice the boy’s father. Let God reveal to you what is most needed in your life.
  2. Live with Jesus for the next 10 minutes. Don’t try to solve all of your spiritual problems at once. Just simply see what it looks and feels like to walk side by side with Jesus for the next 10 minutes.

Community

  1. Who can you connect with today? Who needs to hear from you? Make an effort to call, text, write a letter, or FaceTime this person.
  2. I love the stories of surprise gifts and unexpected blessings. Who can you surprise with a small gesture of service and love? Give them toilet paper, or a box of masks, or some crayons, or a gift card. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate.

It has been said many times to not let “a crisis go to waste.” Ask God what he wants your life to look like right now and go about letting him shape that life. Surrender to whatever he has for you. You won’t regret it and will look back on this strange year as a time when you Grew Up like never before.