Author Archives: Joni

Women Pastors and God’s Intention for Creation and Redemption

Happy International Women’s Day!

On this day, I’m going to tackle a topic that is near and dear to my heart as I count down the days until my ordination in the Church of the Nazarene.

I’ve heard from people all over who say that women must be quiet and not teach or preach in the Christian church. I’ve heard of people refusing communion from women pastors. I’ve seen people walk out of services where a woman is preaching. I’ve personally experienced the heartache that afflicts many of my sisters in Christ who also are called as pastors. So let’s dig into this topic.

In Genesis 1-2, we read the creation account. In Genesis 2, we get more of the narrative. After creating Adam, God realized he did not have a “help meet.” We cannot just look at English; in the original language, this is help is “ezer kenegdo.

The woman and the man are “ezer kenegdo” to each other.

Bible scholars have tallied up the times “ezer” appears in the Bible and found 21 times that the noun is used. Eight times, it does mean help or helper—and the subject in those instance is always God. Eleven times in scripture, it is a word with those same three consonants that means strength or power. We find it twice in Genesis for the woman (Genesis 2:18, 20), three times for nations to whom Israel appealed for military aid (Isaiah 30:5; Ezekiel 12:14; Daniel 11:34), and here’s the kicker — 16 times for God as Israel’s helper (Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26, 29; Psalms 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19 115:9, 10, 11; 121:1 – 2; 124:8; 146:5; Hosea 13:9).

There are two words, both spelled the same now in the Bible; one word means help or helper and the other means strength or power—strength or power as in not answerable to another one or subordinate to another one. Thus, with respect to God and respect to each other, human beings are a strength or power equal to each other and were subordinate only to God.

When God comes to the final culmination of the creation processes, the division of the human into two—male and female—is a climactic event or process and each is a strength or power facing each other (like each other and facing each other as equals). That is God’s creation intention.

Due to sin as noted in Genesis 3, all relationships were fractured and distorted (between mankind and God, between humans in general, between humans and creatures and between humans and the earth). Between humans, this distortion included men exercising dominion over women. This is not God’s creation intention.

Because of what happened when sin entered the world, many people say that is the end of the matter. But it is not. Thousands of years later, Jesus Christ came to earth to redeem mankind and provide opportunity for mankind to be restored to that perfect state—restoration of perfect relationship for mankind with God, with each other, and with the earth.

As we move into the New Testament, we look at how God has uniquely equipped believers with spiritual gifts. If you pay attention, you’ll realize that God does not assign genders to spiritual gifts. This is underscored by scripture in Ephesians 4:12-13. Further, God doesn’t give spiritual gifts just so someone has gifts—he intends for them to be used. Both our personal experience and our rational faculties lead us to understand that spiritual gifts are not given to be squandered, but to be used in edifying the church. They are gifts to the church as much as they are to the individual.

If we stop at Genesis 3 regarding women’s roles, we are aligning ourselves with the order of the Fall; we are letting the sinful nature—and hence man’s dominion over women—be perpetuated while still claiming to be redeemed people. Even when looking at God’s intention for creation and redemption, people still choose to embrace the order of the Fall. As we seek to live out God’s love in our world, we are mindful that all theology either uplifts the oppressed or keeps the oppressed of the world in their downtrodden situation.

However, if we understand God’s intention with creation (perfect relationship), and if we understand that through his redemption Christ is making all things new, we must align ourselves with the order of creation and redemption. God does not call Christians to continue living in brokenness, but to move forward transformed and affecting his kingdom come in this world. Choosing to reject what God intended for a sin-caused outcome is wrong.

As God’s representatives on this earth, any behavior that seeks to limit or oppress people is a reflection of a fallen world and not a redeemed people. There is no basis in God’s kingdom for prohibiting women from participating and serving at all levels of the church, including pastoral ministry. To do so is denying the spiritual gifts that God has given to her and to the church.

Check out this thought from Ravi Zacharias: “Some of the finest thinking in the world has been done by womankind… If God were a discriminator against gender, the greatest truth on which the gospel hangs is the resurrection…If Christ be not raised from the dead, our faith be in vain. Why in heaven’s name did he reveal himself to the women to go and tell the message? All of Easter hangs on the testimony of womankind with whom he trusted the entire gospel. What an incredibly gracious God to remind us that none of us is superior to the other. We only have the same privilege of taking our distinctives and complementary strengths and carrying them to the world” (Zacharias).

In case you want to hear it from more men, check out these two great videos:

Coleson says it this way: “In our relationships – in our homes and in our churches, ways in which we serve each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, women have equal place with men because of God’s intention in redemption, renewal and restoration… God’s creation intention between man and woman was equality, and we can say then that in redemption that God intends that and more, and we should be practicing that in our churches and homes.”

Allowing women to take their God-given place with men is about reflecting the fullness of God to a world that is seeking something different than the sin-infested circumstances they know. If people only see the sinful nature perpetuated through the Church, their view of God may be damaged as a result.

Pastors—both women and men—are called to edify the church and shepherd God’s people. To this, I have been called, and to this call I am and will continue to be faithful. God has put me to work. He has already used me extensively for his purposes. I certainly don’t want to look God in the face and tell him I was too busy doing other things or listening to naysayers to obey.

References and Resources to Explore:

Coleson, Joseph. “History of Women in the Church.” Church of the Nazarene, Global Clergy Development.

Leach, Tara Beth. Emboldened: A Vision for Empowering Women in the Ministry. InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Zacharias, Ravi. “Does God Favor a Gender?” 26 Feb 2016,

Great  Examples:

Catherine Booth

Phoebe Palmer

Saint Hildegard

Saint Macrina

Teresa of Avila

Pope Joan

Achieving Its Purpose

I opened my Facebook Messenger app, and was very confused. I had a message from a person I didn’t know addressing me by name, and referencing a conversation we had a “long time ago.” But obviously I knew this person, as I realized when I stopped reading and started scrolling backwards in time to see our conversation – from nearly a decade ago.

I still don’t really remember this person, but she remembers me. Rather, she remembers our conversation and after all these years wanted to report back.

Because I found the conversation so intriguing, I’m sharing it here. For context, at the time I was co-leading our church’s college and young adult group.

Joni: Hi XX, Have you and [your friend] been able to find a church? Those hunts aren’t ever easy. If you’re going to be around this summer, we’re doing a Tuesday night Bible study out at the volleyball pit next to our church (with fire pit and all). Tuesdays at 7 p.m. beginning May 31… Good luck these last two weeks of school.

XX: Everything’s going well with school. I’m taking a break from church for a while, just hasn’t been my thing lately. Thanks for the invite, outdoor bible studies are always cool; however, I won’t be back in Moscow until school starts back up again. Enjoy the sun this week!

Joni: Hope finals go smoothly for you.

I received your note, and have been thinking it over all week. It saddens me that you think church is not your thing, and I’m a little curious as to whether or not that means Christianity is not your thing.

That’s an important question, and one I want you to consider carefully. The church is the bride of Christ. Why would you reject his bride as a whole? Further, why reject the bride and think you’re in good standing with the groom? It’s like someone telling your dad they like him, but despise his wife and don’t want to be around. It would be heartbreaking, and certainly damage that relationship.

I have been in your shoes, and that’s why I’m so passionate about ensuring a person’s relationship with Christ (as a whole!) stays strong in college. It’s a slippery slope that often leads to destruction.

I also have been on the long journey of trying to find a church, and I do know how hard that is. I want to encourage you to keep trying — to be plugged in and find that fellowship. It’s so important. I do care about you and your walk with God, so please know that it’s with your best interest in mind that I send this note to you. Even if you don’t attend my church, please know you can bend my ear, and I will listen. Hang in there!

XX: To say you’ve been in my shoes doesn’t make much sense until you know where I stand. I understand that you have my best interest at heart but I assure you, I’m no amateur when it comes to things of this manner. There are a lot of things about church that I like but more often, the things about it that I don’t like outweigh the positives. That’s when I have a tendency to take breaks from time to time.

To be quite honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of church. There’s a laundry list of things about it that I disagree with. My beliefs about the role of church aren’t the most common of views and that’s the main reason I find it difficult to continue regular attendance.

I fully understand the importance of being in a Christian community/environment. However, I get more from listening to Bible tapes than I ever have from any sermon at church. I have always been and will always be a Christian regardless of my attendance; God and I both know and understand that. These past couple years I’ve been stronger in my relationship with the Lord than I’ve ever been and right now, I don’t see the benefits of church as being particularly appealing.

Many would argue that I can’t feel that way about church and be close with God- I’ve heard the argument countless times from Christians. They don’t understand or think that a Christian can have a perfectly strong and committed relationship with God and not be part of a religious organization. Like I said, my beliefs about Christianity aren’t exactly mainstream so I’m used to hearing this.

I’ve always attended church to get different points of views, to be surround myself with people of similar beliefs, and to take time to refocus my thoughts on God. I strongly believe all of these things are possible outside of church. So basically, I’m perfectly happy and content where I’m at. I don’t see the benefits of attending church every Sunday when I can get everything I need elsewhere. You don’t need to be concerned; I’m pretty solid when it comes to these types of things. I know exactly where I stand as far as my faith, my Bible doctrine and God.

Joni: Based on my couple interactions with you, I have no doubt you are firm in your faith. I do encourage you to look beyond yourself, though. As Christians, we have a responsibility to be an active, healthy part of the body — not just for our own benefit, but also for the benefit and health of others.

What can YOU bring to the table, and how you can build up others in the faith, remembering Jesus’ call to make disciples? Best wishes for your faith journey.

That is where our conversation ended. I must have only encountered this young adult a couple of times before she left for the summer, and then we moved out of Moscow that August.

I know God uses us to speak his truth – and he can use all kinds of means to get a message across. I feel that in this instance, in retrospect, it was God speaking because it found its target.

Before I share her response from yesterday, I share this verse from Isaiah 55:10-11.

10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

God’s word accomplishes the purpose and thing for which he sent it. Indeed, God can and does use our words of witness to call others to action for his work in this world. And here’s the proof.

The final note from XX arrived last night. It read:

Hi Joni, it has been a LONG time…Almost 10 years now and for some reason, what you said about church to my hard, stubborn, 20 year old heart really stuck with me all these years. I didn’t understand what you were saying about the importance of church then, but I do now. And I appreciate you reaching out to me in that season of life.

My husband and I lead a life group at our church now and ironically, we just started a book on “belonging to a family of families”, you guessed it: the Church. My views have certainly changed in adulthood and as I was reflecting on my past views of the role and importance of the church, I remembered our chat conversation and thought I would reread it. My angst is appalling! 🙈Anyway, thank you for caring, thank you for your work with an age group that can be so tough, and thank you for lovingly representing Christ and God’s word to me all those years ago.

I thank God that his word penetrated the shadows that were creeping in, trying to separate her from the Body of Christ. We are called to be a people of community and relationship. We don’t achieve this in isolation.


For years I have spent extensive time communing with God in my garden. That’s when I have some of the most poignant experiences with God. This last week, I was working outside and I was going to transplant a lavender plant to my new garden from a pot. As I tried to dig out the lavender plant, it wouldn’t budge. In fact, I broke my pot. No big deal – I’d had it for 15 or 20 years, so it was okay.

Since it was broken, I started peeling back the sides of the pot to get to my plant. That’s when I found that the contents of the pot were severely rootbound. The term “rootbound” means that the roots of a plant have completely taken up space within the pot that contains it, often circling and creating a dense web of roots. This can form a compacted, hard ball that will slide out of the pot in a mass, retaining the shape of the pot.

It wasn’t just the lavender doing this, though. Over the years that I had owned this pot, I had planted more into it. I had wondered where my bulbs had gone, but blamed it on pesky squirrels. Well, I found the answer as I unraveled the roots and found dozens of bulbs. Everything was so compacted in this planter that only the things on the very top of the pile were growing – and barely doing even that.

You see, as roots take over the interior space of a container, little room is left for soil to hold water, which may lead to root death. Allowing root-bound plants to continue to grow in this fashion will not only stunt the plant’s growth, but also it can bring about the plant’s overall demise. My bulbs were there, but they weren’t able to grow. They were stuck – trapped in place with others just like them.

Immediately, God whacked me with this lesson. The lesson is quite timely as we have gone rounds with COVID-19. God showed me that this is the church. We love good roots. We put them down and hope to be beautiful for God in a place. However, our building (the pot) often constricts us. Then, without realizing it, we become rootbound. We get stuck with ourselves and others just like us, not growing, not thriving, and on the path toward demise. Sometimes new people (new bulbs) are added to our mix, and they may shine for a while on the top, but ultimately cease to be what they were intended to be. Such a situation doesn’t mean we’re not being watered and fertilized. Rather, it means that we are so stuck inward that we aren’t becoming all that we were destined to be – bringing glory to God in the process.

As Christians, we are called to be rooted and grounded in love through Christ (Ephesians 3:17). But nowhere in scripture do I see that we are called to be stagnant. Rather, we are called to go (Matthew 28:19-20). Through COVID-19, I have especially come to see that the church is not a building. The Church is who we are in Christ – people, meant for relationships and meant to draw others to Christ. If we are rootbound, we are not able to do that. So how do we do this?

Intentionally get outside the doors of the building. Many of us can’t wait to be back together at our church building (note that wording – “church building,” showing that it is a building at which the church gathers). There is nothing wrong with gathering together. We are encouraged in scripture to do just that. But God asks more of us than that. First and foremost, we must be salt and light to a world, and we can’t do that if we’re stuck in place.

The bulbs that I dug out of their rootbound home were enough to create three rows of bulbs in front of my dining room window. What had been unproductive chunks will now thrive where they have room to grow and attract others to see their beauty for years to come.

Mixed Moments

I am a communicator and a pastor. Those roles don’t always intertwine in poignant ways. But today they did.

For reasons that will remain in confidence, I was in court today to watch proceedings. I needed some information for my day job — and that was the only reason I thought I was there. As someone eloquently had prayed earlier, it was my prayer that “justice be served and the innocent be protected.” There I was to witness the outcome.

There was quite a dynamic between the defendant and the reporting party who attended court to plead with the judge to throw out the charges. It was the dynamic of a relationship of love that had been broken and the sorrow in recognition of that fact. The outcome was mostly what they desired, but I left with a heavy burden of sadness for them.

As I left, the attendant at the information desk beckoned me over and then asked: “You’re an associate pastor, right?” Not quite what I was expecting at that moment. It turns out that she attends my church.

So why would I bring this up? Because I think in that moment God reminded me that my calling is more than service on Sunday and service within the context of the place I call church. My service to him is to everyday people in everyday situations.

The two parties in this situation are broken and in need of healing. Before me is an opportunity to extend grace and redemption. This is a burden on my heart and the only response I can imagine is one of faithfulness. So for good or for bad, I have some work cut out for me.

How often are such burdens placed upon us? And how many do we choose to overlook?

For those of us who know God’s message of unconditional love, grace and redemption, we have a never-ending task to share that with others. When God specifically puts such a burden on our hearts, it is disobedience to ignore it. It is my hope that we will do more to make a difference to those around us, even when it seems out of place. Someone needs to hear that they are loved no matter what. That there is healing. There is restoration.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

A New Path Forward

Four months ago, I experienced devastation: my team was laid off from work and I was very suddenly out of a job. For about seven weeks, I experienced great ups and downs as I completed my time at UW (remotely), said goodbye to a few cherished co-workers, applied for jobs, went to interviews and more interviews, and didn’t get hired.

I applied for unemployment, went to mandatory unemployment trainings, and tried to make the best of the situation. I think this is what most people would do when faced with my situation. But this isn’t the whole story.

As my blog followers and friends should know, I am a Christian and very sure of my faith. So with the gift of time, I spent hours reading and studying my Bible, and in prayer on my knees asking God for his will and his way. I shared my heart deeply with him, and asked him to show me the path forward.

Why is it that when we ask God to do this — to guide us or our loved ones — that we think we know what is best? Why do we dictate what we think that answer should be? Why (and I struggle with this one a lot!) are we disappointed when things we desire don’t work out when we’re asking God to point us in the right direction?

I think this is the first time in my life where I truly let go and let God show me what His will is for my life. It’s amazing what happens when we let go of our own will and yield to God. He came through.

My husband uncharacteristically took some steps without consulting me, and provided strong leadership in a way that I truly think saved our lives. In a flurry of events spanning Oct. 30-Nov. 1, blessings unfolded before us in an amazingly timely fashion and we made the decision to move back to Snohomish. This wasn’t easy; it was financially costly (but better than if we had stayed), created chaos for our kids and their schooling as we transferred them in the middle of a semester, and required a very fast packing, moving, and unpacking of our lives.

Now, I know this sounds like us telling God what the path forward is, but don’t jump to that conclusion.

I’m still unemployed. And guess what? I’M GREAT WITH THIS! Why? Because I believe God has a new path forward and that His timing is perfect. Sometimes we need to be shaken out of complacency (and I mean truly up-ended, because when we are comfortable, we are stuck in our comfort!) in order to begin something new. That was the case with me.

Here are some blessings that have come as I have trusted God on this new path:

1. I have the opportunity to be at home with my children. It’s been challenging for them as they navigate new schools (even though it’s in the same school district), and I’ve needed to provide more oversight and help. I’ve also spent a great deal of time shuffling kids who don’t drive between activities, which wouldn’t have been possible for us if I was working.

2. I am able to handle the domestic side of life during the day that allows us to not have to worry about such things when my husband and kids are home. I was able to pack and move my household in 11 days. It was insane, but it worked. I take care of grocery shopping, laundry, chores and errands during the day — activities that normally would take place for two working parents during the evening or weekend hours, in addition to our church service and need for recuperation.

3. I am able to be more active in my church during day-time hours. Beyond the Sunday and Wednesday gatherings and music help I provided before, I am now able to assist with cleaning the church, help with maintenance (such as repainting the church kitchen), visit folks, arrange meals for new parents, attend a weekly day-time gathering with other from our church, and so on.

A community garden4. Finally, God has given me the vision for a community garden that can be started at our church to bring our community together, provide skills and education to people, and grow healthy produce for healthy lives. This is not just an idea — it’s officially off and running. We have our first contributions to the garden, I’m attending workshops for community networking and grants, I’m researching other community gardens, and I’m developing the plan for what this should be. This work uses the master’s degree I worked so hard to obtain several years back.

But what about my bachelor’s degree and nearly two decades of work in public relations? Are these for naught? Right now, after much prayer and reflection, I feel that this is not the focus for my life. I haven’t shut that door completely, but I believe God has a new direction for me, and one that mixes my passions for His service, gardening, and growing community.

So back to that question that I seem to receive constantly — how’s the job situation? I have a gentle request: stop asking. We are financially fine. I am on unemployment at this time, and I am still applying for jobs as part of the requirement for eligibility. But my heart and my focus are not external to this place God has brought us; God brought us to this place for a reason and He has changed my heart for His purpose. If at some point the vision or direction changes, I certainly will communicate that.

So join me in celebrating that God is doing something amazing, and encourage me to continue trusting in Him and following His plan.


A Time to be Sad

prayingYesterday morning, I found myself just sad. It’s been a tough six weeks, and for whatever reason yesterday was when the dam broke and my tears flowed. In the midst of my sadness, as I was kneeling and praying, it was as if I had laid my head in God’s lap and he was just comforting me as a father loves his children.

As the day led to more sadness — I received two “thank you, but we’re not selecting you” emails from companies with which I’d been interviewing — I found myself questioning sadness. Does being a Christian and trusting God mean that we can’t be sad? Is it wrong to be overcome by this emotion?

I think of many examples in the Bible where prophets and others cite the need to turn and repent, to be righteous, to trust, to allow God to heal and breathe new life into us. For a suffering person, no matter the reason, this is not comfort. This is smacking one on the head in the midst of pain and anguish.

Then, we look at Jesus. He cried over the loss of Lazarus. He went away by himself to mourn the death of John the Baptist (before showing compassion on the crowds that didn’t allow him that time to mourn). He poured out his anguish to God before the cross. Yes, despite knowing first-hand that God would prevail and the outcome, Jesus had his moments of sadness and a need for personal healing.

We also see how others expressed their sorrows, no matter the reason. Job poured out his heart. David used the psalms to express his anguish. The prophets cried over the situations facing their beloved country and people. Martha mourned her brother’s death. The apostles shared tears for a number of reasons. Did God ever say, “just get over it and trust that I have the victory”? No.

It is natural to have times of sorrow, sadness and mourning. (Note: Mourning is not solely for death; it means to feel or express sorrow or grief.) It’s okay to pour out that sorrow before God. We know that God allows us time for sadness, and he also will comfort us — it’s stated repeatedly in scripture.  Jesus even taught it in the sermon on the mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4).

Think of it this way. If you break a bone and need to have it fixed, sometimes the surgeon has to break it again to enable healing. In the same way, we sometimes need to reach that point of deep sadness so that healing can commence. God will help us pick up the pieces and make us whole again.

Sometimes sadness lasts for a day and is gone when a new day breaks. Sometimes it lasts for years. The key for moving forward is hope in our loving God to carry our burdens and move us from the place we’re in. Our dear loved ones can remind us of that hope.

While God is working on my heart and self-worth, I also am surrounded by those who love me and are helping me through this healing process. People who let me know they’re praying for me. People who ask how I’m doing (even though sometimes it hurts to respond, I at least know you care). People who are amazing encouragers and can lift the spirit with kind words. A hug full of warmth that allows a person to just be held. Oh, how I encourage you to do what you do best to serve as someone’s #2 (see Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

Just as I started yesterday in God’s embrace, I ended the day with another someone who held me in his embrace (my #2!). At one point early on in this life adventure, I told my husband that what I really needed was for him just to hold me when I was sad. And last night, in the midst of my sadness, he did just that. He held me tight, even as we slept. Through that quiet, strong support, he — following the example of God our tender, loving father — breathed his love into me. I knew I was held, loved, and not alone.

And today is a new day.

No Shame

Yesterday was a devastating day for me. I was laid off from a job I love and from a project that I have been part of from the ground up.

I was told this was not due to my performance, but rather due to a reorganization. Let’s summarize it this way: there is a political game very much at play in the university, and I was a pawn that was played in someone’s game. Two others of my team met the same fate yesterday.

We were asked to pack up and leave quickly so as not to make things awkward for the big head honcho who was coming to let others know about our departure. We have until Oct. 12 to finish our work at home. We were removed from mailing lists, locked out of files (which, oddly, we still need to access to finalize tasks), and cutoff from people we have spent 8+ hours a day with for the last couple of years. No chance to say goodbye, except for the few people who happened by my desk as I was packing up.

Devastated. Shamed. Lonely. Lost. Cutoff. Scared. Shocked. Angry.

The list of descriptors are those that I have felt in the last 36 hours. Plainly, this sucks. This was not supposed to happen. No one likes to be thrust out of a workplace, especially when one’s performance is above par (as, ironically, was pointed out to me with the raise I got today — informed about via email — which will cover my last couple pay periods at the university).

And yet, here I am balancing this cruelty with another side of life — my faith. Strangely, my meditations this week have been focused on trust in God, his love for us, his care and protection of us. The fact that those who are his will have no shame. I feel outcast, yet HE loves me. I feel heartbroken, yet HE will bring healing. I am really freaked out about putting a roof over my children’s heads and providing for them, yet HE tells me that if he cares about and provides birds and flowers, surely he will care about and provide for me. I wonder what I’m going to do now, yet HE tells me that he has a plan for me.

I walked out of my room this morning and saw this sign in my living room window that says:


Isn’t that truth? I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. None of us do. We may lose life or limb. We may be cut off from all we know. But my hope is secure in Jesus Christ as my Lord, and I know I’m going to be okay. My job is to trust and know that he will bring me through this. Thanks be to God!




Facade Stripped Off

Imagine being sent to your dream location. You arrive and have a lot of work to do in order to live in that location. Fast forward some 20 years. What if someone came through the area and pointed out  to you that you’ve really not done anything. In fact, what little you have done is actually being “blocked” by God, who is angry at you. What would you do?

Well, the Bible book of Haggai is such a story. And while it’s easy to point our fingers at the  Jews who had been released from captivity, this book is not just about them. In fact, reading through this two-chapter book left such an impression on it that I’ve been mulling it over for a while.

Yes, the people had returned to Jerusalem. But instead of rebuilding God’s house, they were focused on themselves, their homes, their land and prosperity, and their futures. (This sounds a lot like the American dream, right? You can have it all!) But in the midst of this beautiful dream, they’d forgotten the most important thing of all — to make things right with and for the Lord. (Remember, being sent into captivity was  result of the endless times the people had turned their backs on their faithful God for idols and things that took their focus off Him and became their obsession.) Haggai shares God’s rebuke:

“These people say, ‘The time is not yet come that the Lord’s house should be rebuilt.

Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house [of the Lord] lies in ruins?

Consider your ways…! (Haggai 1:4-5)

How often are we like this stubborn people that God spent millennia in a cycle of wooing, loving, blessing, and punishing because of disobedience? God pours out so much on us, but our focus is on us. Great — God gave us a house. Let’s spend every waking hour taking care of this house. Yay — God gave us money, so let’s go do lots of things and spend weekends (every weekend) doing so many things that make our lives full. An hour or two at church each week? We don’t have time for that, and certainly not time for daily reading of God’s word or prayer. Instead of accepting God’s blessings and returning the praise and glory to Him by living lives focused on Him building disciples for Him and spreading His Gospel, we become self-absorbed.

A church literally falling apart

I think of our churches, which are literally falling apart while congregants focus on their own blessings. God’s church — the people — are falling apart and falling away because we are consumed with our own activities.  We are comfortable in our own lives while God’s work goes undone. We plead for God to fix our country and our world. We know things aren’t right, and that only God can rectify the situation, but we refuse to put Him first and we absolutely refuse to take action. What a pathetic church we are. How dare we?

Let me say this as gently as possible: “Doing church” is not building God’s house. It’s easy to “do church” and think that we are right with God. We go to Sunday School and the weekly service. We participate in music. We attend events. But all of this is worthless if the thing we are called to do — to build His house — goes undone. Are we going to church to see our friends instead of worshiping God? Are we ignoring the broken and hopeless because it’s out of our comfort zone? Are we neglecting our own spiritual well-being because we are focused on “all those other people”? If all our “work” for God is fruitless, perhaps there is a reason.

“You have sown much, but you have reaped little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you do not have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages has earned them to put them in a bag with holes in it.

You looked for much [harvest], and behold, it came to little; and even when you brought that home, I blew it away. Why? Because of MY HOUSE, which lies waste while you yourselves run each man to his own house [eager to build and adorn it].” (Haggai 1:6, 9)

God isn’t pleased with our self-centered behavior. He needs to be our priority. We need to build His house, which is falling into decay because we’ve lost our first love. Yes, we literally need to repair our church buildings. But more so, we need to build His church — the people of this world who so badly need His saving grace. Until we put our focus in this right place, we will continue to experience God’s wrath poured out on us. He has blessed us with much, but without Him, it is nothing. Consider this, people of God, and change your ways.


Clear the Stage (Jimmy Needham)

Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze
If that’s the measure you must take to crush the idols
Jerk the pews and all the decorations, too
Until the congregation’s few, then have revival
Tell your friends that this is where the party ends
Until you’re broken for your sins, you can’t be social
Then seek the Lord and wait for what he has in store
And know that great is your reward so just be hopeful

Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper
Beg him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open
Then read the word and put to test the things you’ve heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken

We must not worship something that’s not even worth it
Clear the stage, make some space for the one who deserves it

Anything I put before my God is an idol
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol
Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol
Anything that I give all my all my love is an idol

We can sing all we want to
And still get it wrong
Worship is more than a song




Lent: Not Just the Denial of Things

I knew it was Ash Wednesday when my Facebook feed filled up with things people were giving up for Lent: chocolate, coffee, elevators, meat, and so on. But I noticed something missing in the announcements that made me chew on the purpose of Lent.

lent-spiritual-preparationLent is the 40-day period that culminates with the Saturday of Holy Week and is a time of preparation for Easter Sunday. (The Sundays during Lent are excluded, otherwise it’d be 46 days.) Lent is a period recognized by millions of Protestant Christians, in addition to Catholic and Orthodox believers.

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, repentance of sins, giving to the needy, atonement and self-denial. Tradition has held that three practices occur with renewed vigor during Lent: prayer (justice toward God), fasting (justice toward self), and almsgiving (justice toward neighbors). Now, in modern times, observers give up an action of theirs considered to be a vice and in its place add something that is considered to be able to bring them closer to God.

When you look at what I’ve just shared, can you identify what I’ve noticed has been missing in people’s Lenten posts? It’s a really easy three-letter word: God. It’s replacing the vice with a spiritual discipline to once again align a person’s focus on God.

I am given pause as to why Believers are even announcing their self-denial during Lent. Consider Matthew 6:16-18: When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

The things given up for Lent may not be for fasting purposes, but the concept is the same. If we are giving something up to be replaced by a renewed focus on God, why are we highlighting this self-denial? Without mentioning the trade-off, perhaps our focus should be on highlighting that reconnection with God. Our Facebook posts could be: “Today in my Bible reading I learned…” or “In our small group, we’re going to collectively look at _____.” We should be removing the focus from self and placing that focus squarely on God.

I recognize that giving up anything you like for 40 days is difficult, and I applaud those who do so. However, when it is associated with Lent, don’t lose focus on what matters. The point of Lent is not to give up chocolate; it’s to give up sin! May this season of Lent draw you closer to our Creator as we remember the journey that took Christ to the cross as the blood offering for our salvation.


Long-term Consequences

The first time I colored my hair, I was 16. A junior in high school, and across the country serving as a Congressional page, I was swayed to turn my dirty blonde locks a strawberry-blonde shade of red. That lasted for a couple months, and then I began to worry about what would happen when my mom would see my hair — so I dyed my hair a shade of light brown. I managed to escape notice.

I was content for a few months, until one day in my senior year of high school, I dyed it red again. It took a couple days for my mom to notice. But one night I was in the kitchen, and she realized under the glare of those lights that I had indeed done something to my hair. The anguish she expressed that I’d colored my hair remains with me to this day.

However, that wasn’t the end. Fast forward decades, and color has been applied to my hair often. Blondes, reds, browns, even black once. Often I enjoy the color for a bit, but over time decide that I want to get back to my original color (which has changed in itself over the years from a very light blonde to a medium brown). Sometimes I’d have professionals help me return to my “original” color, only to have a familiar line appear in my hair about four weeks later indicating that the match wasn’t as accurate as projected. Ian once asked me to promise never to dye my hair again — a promise I flatly refused to make.

Which brings me to this year. In May, I decided I was done with color. I asked a professional one last time for help to get my hair back as close as possible to what it should be. Then, for three months, I grew it out (and yes, the familiar line was there, though very subdued). Then yesterday, I took a final drastic step: I cut my hair off. Yes, it’s short. Short as in Ian says he needs to cut his hair so my hair is longer than his hair. Short as in my daughter says I “look like a dude.” Short as in my randomly curly hair wants to stick straight up because the curl is all cut off.

Short brown hair

Short brown hair

Yes, it’s short. But it will grow back. And I’m finally rid of the color problem that has plagued me for so long.

This experience made me contemplate the long-term impacts of sin in our lives. For purposes of definition, sin is “any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense.” ( It may start in the form of an experiment — trying something out when you know you really shouldn’t be doing something. We might try to cover it up or do it in secret. But our sin will always be found out. We may spend years — even decades — trying to fix the consequences from a “little” sin. We may hold onto sin because it’s comfortable, even when people we love try to intervene and gently share with us that there are implications. We may seek out professional help to try to address surrounding circumstances and issues. But to resolve sin, we need to take drastic action.

Like chopping off our hair, we may have to exercise some painful steps to rid ourselves of the things that get in the way of our relationship with God. Repentance is “sincere penitence or remorse”; with repentance, we should be doing a 180 on sin — moving in the complete opposite direction. Sometimes we can’t do this alone. I’d venture to say most of the time! We need God to carefully take his surgeon’s knife and cut out the things that are not of him. He is faithful; when asked to cleanse us, God will surely do that.

Does that mean the consequences of our sin won’t exist? No. We may feel pain for a lifetime for the choices we’ve made. What Christians should realize is that sin’s consequences are not eternal — we already know the outcome of God’s grace on our sinful selves. While we will need to be chastened, we can trust that God’s mercy and grace mean that our consequences have been lessened (really, death is the price for sin).

So I encourage you to not delay. There’s no time like the present to start chopping that sin out of your life today!