One of A Kind

God showed up. He did. And He answered prayer for breakthroughs. His Spirit was at work in the hearts of the women from Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles. It was beautiful to observe their hearts respond to the messages of surrender, forgiveness, vulnerability, and the character of God. The core leadership team worked tirelessly to create an environment of safety and space for women to connect, be challenged and be refreshed. It was an honor to be with them and hear some of the stories of how God worked.

During the free time on Saturday afternoon an optional craft time was set up to make tile crosses. I am not very skilled in the craft department and not into precision and details. My stick figure drawings of people and animals hasn’t changed since grade school. I went into the time feeling a little reluctant. But the option was either staying in my room by myself and writing about cancer, or being in a room of amazing women and making a keepsake I could have to remember the weekend.

Wonderful Phoebe gave simple step by step directions which, to my relief, made the craft sound actually doable. She pointed out an example of the finished product, handed me a wooden cross, then directed me to bowls and boxes of various tiles in assorted colors. Different tables were set up for the staining area for the wood and the plastering part. I took a deep breath and plunged my hand into the nearest bowl and picked out handfuls of tile. I sat down and started arranging the pattern and glued it down. Sprinkled throughout the assembly process I heard bits of life stories from the women sitting around me. I watched as some women approached the project systematically, placing tiles in order by rows, others arranged by color with more of a mosaic feel. Some used just a few tiles spaced out, others filled their crosses with small tiles. Some worked quickly, others took a long time. No two crosses looked the same. But each one was beautiful.

The life lesson/reminder for me was simple.

My life/cross won’t look like anyone else’s. God’s infinite creativity makes room for every life, every finger print, every path to be unique. Rather than compare my life/cross to others and either get discouraged by the gifting of others, I need to focus on the tiles of opportunity God has placed in my own hand. I don’t have control with how many tiles or the shape, size and color of the tiles God gives, but my responsibility is to steward well what He gives in the one life I have to live.

What is the best way to honor God in my life with the tiles He’s given?

How about you?

Here’s what I came up with:

 

Women Leaders: Strength and Dignity

As the month of May winds down to a close, I find myself reflecting back on some significant “firsts.” Earlier in the month I had the honor of speaking at the first Asian American Pacific Islander Women’s Leadership Conference. Women, along with some incredibly supportive men, from across the country and from as far as the UK gathered in Southern California. We represented leaders from different churches, parachurch organizations and seminaries. Our families originated from throughout Asia. Our experiences were as varied as the languages we or our parents spoke, and the countries we or our parents came from. But as we shared our stories, we found common ground in our struggles and challenges. Friendships were forged. Some were rekindled. We left encouraged, understood, inspired, validated and hope-filled. We were not alone as we sought to live out God’s call on our lives.

The middle of May found me traveling for the first time to the Chicago area to attend the first Redbud Writers Guild retreat. Thirty of the fifty-eight of us gathered as we pursued living out our tag line of: fearlessly expanding the feminine voice in our churches, community and culture. Again, our experiences were varied. Our journey as writers was as unique as the fingerprints found on our laptop keys. But as we shared our stories, we found common ground in our struggles and challenges. We received input, we brainstormed, we dreamed. Names, faces and voices connected. We left encouraged, understood, inspired, validated and hope-filled. We were not alone as we sought to live out God’s call on our lives.

In both settings I found myself looking around and wondering out loud, “How in the world did I end up in a room together with such amazing, high-caliber women?!” Both settings included women leaders with multiple advanced degrees, hearts aflame with love for God, ministry experiences across the country and around the globe, vision for being a part of righting the wrongs in this world and the shared agreement to build up rather than compete against each other. We were intentional about acknowledging differences while remaining unified. In both settings we knew as women leaders our collective voice gave us strength to contribute uniquely in the various spheres of influence we walked and ministered. In both groups these women leaders held a high view of men. And we understood through advocacy, mutual respect and support from good and godly men that men AND women together paints a fuller, deeper picture of God’s character and the message of Hope for our hurting world. Not surprisingly, both of these groups have been positively influenced by the Synergy Women’s Network. The message of Synergy resonates in our core how we are created as image bearers, warriors and how together with our husbands and brothers we are to walk in the good works God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in (Eph. 2:10).

My heart is concerned and saddened by the confusion and nastiness I often see online as it relates to Christian women and leadership. I have godly friends on both sides of the theological spectrum. I have studied and read side by side the writings on the various passages in the Bible addressing women and leadership written by men and women who love God wholeheartedly. This blog purposely does not include a book list and blog roll. I don’t want readers to draw conclusions and dismiss my writing based on who I read or don’t read. I welcome dialog, discussion and have come to believe reading widely is helpful in broadening our understanding of who God is and how we reflect Him through our culture, gender, gifting and experiences.

My fellow Redbud, Stephanie, tweeted this Chinese proverb today:

When sleeping women wake, mountains move.

The women leaders I have been privileged to link arms with through the API Women’s Leadership conference and Redbud Writers Guild display strength and dignity that is feminine and powerful. Their faith, character, vision, and voice will surely cause mountains to move. Mark my words.

 

 

Small World Through My Almond Eyes

Disneyland. The “Happiest Place on Earth.” Julia started enjoying the rides while still in the womb. She went from the Baby Bjorn and nursing in the air-conditioned rocking chair room to riding around in a stroller. Oh, I remember the stroller. Probably folded and unfolded the thing 10,000 times maneuvering around Disneyland. After she learned to sit up on her own, she would smile and wave from her stroller to all the people walking down Main street as if to say, “Glad to see you. Welcome to my personal parade. Thank you. Really. Thank you, for coming to my park!”

Once the potty training season came around, she couldn’t wait to try the special toddler size potties. Several attempts, perhaps one or two actual uses. Then we rolled into the princess stage and she patiently stood in long lines, dressed as Belle, and took pictures with all her favorites. Her height had to catch up to her adventurous spirit but soon enough she was tall enough to ride the roller coasters.

A decade flew by. My parents generously gave Julia a pass to Disneyland for her birthday this year (and included me, too, since I’m the driver :)). It had been over a year since our last time in the park. We went on Monday, stood in long lines to ride the fast rides, but we also took time to enjoy “It’s A Small World” together just like we had the previous ten years.

We were seated on the first row. We laughed and threw our hands in the air and “woo-hooed” like the roller coaster rides when the boat moved off the track and slipped into the water. Behind us was a caucasian mom with her preschool aged daughter. We drifted into the tunnel and then into the magical world of 300 dolls singing the song that never ends. The mom behind explained clogs to her daughter as we passed Holland, we saw Alice, Cinderella, Big Ben, Italy, and all the while the mom pointed things out to help her daughter learn and understand what she was seeing about the world.

Then we went through another brief tunnel into the Middle East and Asia section. The explanations behind us stopped until Mushu was spotted by the Chinese fire crackers. The ride took us by Africa, Latin America and then Hawaii, the South Pacific, Australia and the U.S.

Then it struck me.

I’ve ridden this ride hundreds of times but never noticed. Even though the ride was created to illustrate the whole world, the world was presented as primarily a white Euro-centric world. A full three minutes of this ten minute ride focused on Europe. The Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America were all covered in 30-45 seconds each. It brought back to mind the frustration I felt when my oldest needed to pick a foreign language for the International Baccalaureate program. He wanted to take Japanese, but the high school would only give credit for French, German or Spanish because those were the only languages they tested. So much of history and geography taught in our schools centers on Europe. Like the mom in the row behind us, we teach what we know but miss so much of the actual world.

The final section of the ride was when all the dolls, dressed in white, sang together intermingled. I thought about the world’s current population. If the ride was true to actual cultural and ethnic breakdown, one-third of the dolls would be from India and China alone. Only 13% of the dolls in the white section would be white.

Walt Disney had in mind showing the world the children of the world living together in peace for the last section of the ride. I’ve always thought of the white section as a glimpse of heaven. “…a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes,” Revelation 7:9.

If I’m honest, since the vast majority of the Christian books I’ve read have been authored by Caucasian men, the vast majority of church history I’ve been taught have been about Caucasian men, and the vast majority of Christian leaders I’ve seen and heard from have been Caucasian men–I kind of picture heaven full of Caucasian men.

While I respect, appreciate and have grown through learning from Caucasian men, I wonder:

How much do I miss of the actual make up of heaven and of the actual heart of God because I have not learned more from women and from the rest of the world?

What do you think?

Lamb Tongues

I push the grocery cart fast. Breezing through the aisles. Places to go, errands to run, lots of this and that on my mind. And out of the corner of my eye I see the yellow tray. It doesn’t register until after I push past the glass case.

I’m brought to a complete stop. And then I back up my cart and peer in.

A yellow tray holding rows of purplish, pinkish somethings. I read the sign, part Arabic, part English.

Lamb tongues.

Whoa. I’ve never seen that before. Then again, probably 40% of the stuff in the store would fit in that category.

I love this little store. Persian music playing overhead, stacks of Iranian phone books outside, a hefty bunch of red leaf lettuce sells for .59, Arabic pita bread for .75, the produce is fresh and the prices unmatched. But what I love most is hearing the different languages, and seeing people from different cultures. A woman from a South American country picked up a bag of dried brown oval-shaped things and looked at me, “What do you think this is used for?” I read the bag, part Arabic, part English: Dried Lemons. “I really don’t know. But it looks interesting.”

Here in the aisles of this little grocery store I find packages of things unfamiliar. But for most of the patrons, these same packages and smells bring memories of home and comfort food.

And I think about the smell of the pantry in my parents house and it’s the same as the aisles of the Asian markets I visit. These markets have huge tanks of live fish in the back of the store, and duck tongues and chicken feet in styrofoam trays and plastic wrap, placed right next to the drum sticks and chicken thighs.

I grew up eating roasted watermelon seed, the cheek meat of fish, sea cucumber, and not only the sweet meat of the blue crab but also the green pasty eggs of the female crabs. These were delicacies we enjoyed on special occasions.

And I wonder if lamb tongues would hold the same place of honor in a meal shared by a Middle Eastern family.

Like snails and frog legs in France, or sheep brain in Central Asia. Raw fish in Japan.

I marvel at the variety of food, and languages and cultures and it comes to me all over again: God is not an American.

Sometimes I forget this fact and think that God only hears prayers in English or that it’s the original Hebrew and Greek and then the English translation of the Bible. I read my Bible with American lenses, but the details that stand out to me as I read are often from a woman’s perspective. And I wonder how the same passages would be understood by the people in cultures different from me or from a different time period. Or how their lenses would help me understand more richly and deeply the Word of God.

Darrin and I teach from the Bible in different contexts–Bible studies, retreats, conferences, Sunday school classes, etc. and I can tend to come across kind of dogmatic and black and white. But I have come to appreciate and respect Darrin’s humble posture. He says, “The Bible has been around for thousands of years, translated, studied and taught by godly people through the ages. Who am I to say so emphatically what a particular passage says or means?” I don’t think this means that we have a wishy-washy approach to Scripture, but I am challenged to continue to grow and evaluate how I read the Bible in light of culture and context.

I love how God displays His beauty and creativeness through different languages and peoples. And as His image bearers, we reflect who God is through who we are and how we live. I think that it is through bringing together all nations, ethnic groups and tongues that we are able to see Him reflected fully.

What an amazing God and what an amazing, diverse, wonderful and tasty world we live in.

Epic Gathering: Prayer is Dependence

*these are the talk notes from our first Epic Gathering…it was a webinar through dimdim and we had over 100 staff and epic students participating earlier this evening!

We are entering fall which is my favorite season of the year. Having been on staff and in campus ministry for 21 years, I still look at fall as the beginning of the year. The technology that allows us to all participate in this epic gathering from all across the country is amazing. As I look down the list of those attending, I feel privileged to know many of you and be able to put your names and faces together. For those of you I haven’t met yet I look forward to our paths crossing in the coming months and years.
This is what I picture in my mind as I think about this time each of you checking in from all over the country. Some of you are exhilarated by people coming to faith or coming out to epic events or God providing in completely unexpected ways. Some of you are still flying high coming off the most amazing summers of your life. I know that each of our epic interns has experienced God provide their financial support down to the wire and we celebrate everyone reporting. Some of you are awestruck that the prayers you prayed last spring for this incoming class of freshmen have been answered way above and beyond your expectations. Others of you may be feeling alone or beaten down and discouraged. Some of you are facing challenges that seem insurmountable, some of you are running on very little sleep and you are physically wiped out, some of you may be emotionally running on empty. Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum of your experience so far, all of us are connected through being a part of something bigger than ourselves.

We are here. And even though sometimes we struggle with wanting to quit, each of us has come to a place in our relationship with Jesus where we have said, like Peter and the end of John 6 when Jesus asked him if he wanted to bail, “Lord, to whom shall we to? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” I trust that you and I are in on a journey of knowing and loving our King and the things of the Kingdom and that we are involved in epic because we have been captured in our souls by the incredible greatness of our God–that 1 Peter 1:8 resonates in your heart and mine: “and though you have not seen Him you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” As we trust God to raise up Epic movements all around the country I pray that our motivation comes from an overflow of experiencing God’s love and forgiveness, gratitude for God’s mercy in rescuing us from the kingdom of darkness, and the hope and anticipation that we can be a part of pointing those who are lost to the Lord.

Tonight we are going to be talking about prayer and dependence on God.

There is so much that can be shared on this topic. Entire books have been written on prayer. My hope is that as a result of our epic gathering we will feel more connected to what God is doing across the country and that we would be lifting up our brothers and sisters and epic movements to the Lord in greater frequency and with greater insight and clarity. I am going to focus on one thing tonight: prayer is dependence.

Anytime prayer is brought up, it often evokes feelings of failure or for a rare few it can lead to pride. Who can really say how much prayer is enough? I think this is because we look at prayer as something to check off on a to-do list, an agenda item or the way we start and end meetings. Prayer can sometimes become boring or monotonous. But I think prayer is not so much about reciting a laundry list of requests but a heart posture of dependence on the Lord. And rather than another thing to do to add to the already too full plate of things to do, it is, instead, as natural as breathing. I am going to be jumping all around the Scriptures, so I will be putting the passages on the power point so you can look them up and read them on your own. I will also post on my blog these notes so you can read them if you like.

QUESTION: Why do we need to pray/depend on God and not ourselves:
ANSWER: Because our battle is spiritual
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,

Sometimes we can mistakenly think that our enemy is the school administration, or other people, but the Scripture is clear: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Eph. 6:12
We are engaging on a spiritual level in a spiritual battle and are unable to see with our earthly eyes what is going on in the spiritual realm. In 2 Kings 6:15-17 Elisha and his servant are surrounded by an army with horses and chariots circling the city and the servant freaks out, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Elisha prays that the Lord would open the servants eyes to see reality and God answers and “he saw; and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

QUESTION: How do we express our dependence on God/pray
ANSWER: Inquire, acknowledge, dwell/linger

David: inquired of the Lord before battle: some examples–1 Sam. 23:2,4, 1 Sam. 30:8, 2 Sam. 2:1 As leaders, I want to exhort each of you to follow David’s example and be diligent in inquiring of the Lord
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEGE HIM, and He will make your paths straight.

One of the observations I’ve made as I read through the Bible is that no two battles are the same. Sometimes God confused the enemy and they ended up killing each other and the Israelites only had to walk in and plunder. Sometimes they had to do hand to hand combat and there was blood and death and pain. Even the miracles that Jesus performed looked different each time. Sometimes healing came just from Him saying the word and the person wasn’t even with Him like the centurion’s servant, sometimes He gave instruction to do things like the blind man who had to wash a certain number of times in the pool of Siloam (John 9) and then his sight was restored. I think God mixes it up so that our dependence is on Him, not on methodology. So what works on one campus may not work on another. Our confidence cannot be in our training, our leadership, our ministry philosophy, our skill set, gifting, or past experience. Our confidence must be in the Lord. As we turn to Him, fix our gaze on Him, inquire of Him, He will give us wisdom, ideas, favor, courage. Remember, we are a part of something much greater than we even know. So much of what is happening occurs in the unseen realm.
I love the example of Joshua: in Exodus 33:11 would sit and linger in the tent of meeting after Moses left and had spent time hearing from the Lord.

QUESTION: Who should we invite to join us in dependence on the Lord/prayer?
ANSWER: Leaders, churches, alumni, kids, grandparents, everyone….

As you move out to “take the land” enlist the prayer support of everyone you know who prays. If your church has a prayer chain ask them to be in prayer for your outreaches, for your fall retreats, etc. Enlist those godly prayer warrior Grandma’s and have them adopt your campus to pray for you. Send out fb msg to your friends and family near and far and ask them to join you in praying for your campuses.

I’d like you to take a few moments and share two or three prayer requests for yourself or your campus on the live chat. We will be able to capture these requests and continue to pray for you in the coming weeks.

Some of you are experiencing incredible outpouring of God’s blessing and we want to celebrate with you. Some of you are facing campuses that have spiritual strongholds and things have been discouraging so far. One of the great things about this format of meeting is realizing that we are not alone.

aside: Some of you will be used by God to lay the foundation as a “Moses” kind of leader. You will not actually get to enter the promised land, but you will raise up the next Joshua and he or she will be the one to take the land, or in our case see Epic become established on your particular campus.
We are all a part of the story–the Epic story that God is unfolding. It is an honor and a privilege to travel with each of you.
Pray