Can We Celebrate the Set Free?

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. 1 Corinthians 10:13, NLT

I have been decluttering our home little by little for a few months. Though no one else seems to be bothered by it, and the rare visitor we have doesn’t care…clutter causes panic in me. It causes my brain to feel overworked and less at ease, so I am trying to eliminate it in my “safe space.”

As I was going through the number of cups in our cabinets, I noticed the 3 wine glasses I had been holding onto. I gently removed them, and packed all them all in a box. Loaded them up to take to our local Goodwill, and thought back to a conversation I had a bit ago related to weddings and wineries. My choice to attend, but to leave when the wine started pouring. During this conversation, I was told this was “judgmental and unloving.” Say what? To attend the wedding, but not the reception?

Was I really being judgmental by making a choice to stay sober?

I have been vocal in the past about my journey to living a life without alcohol. In written words, of course. Words on a page, or on a screen feel safe when something like your “vice” are being bared to someone else. Unlike others I have been spared the “staring in your face judgment,” though I know the words spoken off-screen to others about this choice have not been filled with grace.

When I have spoken in person about my decision to remain sober. This chosen lifestyle and the choices I make because of it…grace isn’t something I have received, either.

My choices are a choice to preserve that life. Not judge another’s choice to partake. Yet it’s often seen as the latter.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12, NLT

As I packed up those glasses, I also recalled providing my reasons…revealing wine was my “vice” of choice. I spent weekends away from my family at wine festivals, getting sloshed at all the tables, sometimes not remembering my actions or being appalled by them later. I would drink sometimes before my kids got home. My son at the time was hard to manage. Wine helped me manage his tantrums. Two or three glasses to “help me sleep.” Claiming it “calmed” me, or all those festivals were because I liked the “taste.” No…I was addicted to the substance that was allowing me to escape real life. A slave to the belief that it could make everything OK. The “Mommy-juice” that helped me cope.

Wine is a huge trigger. For me. Maybe not for anyone else, but for me-I can’t be around a bottle. And in my decluttering adventures, and on my path to who God has been revealing me to be-it was revealed that the glass is, too.

See, I filled them with tea. Or sparkling water. I was continuing to play the part of the past days when I drank a glass at dinner. Cleaned with glasses and glasses to rid my mind of anxious thoughts, and as I drank from one I longed for just one glass of the syrupy substance. Like the wine-filled bottles that were poured down the drain two years before…the glasses had to go, too.

It may not be your trigger, but it’s mine. You may be able to keep these glasses with no problem. The wine in your cupboard even. But not me. I had to make a choice to get rid of anything that could be used as a salve that could soothe. A salve that was not Jesus…ever again.

Is this judgmental? Or healthy?

And, I wonder…would you judge the woman who 2 years ago, was filled with confusion, doubt, a lack of faith, and riddled with anxiety and despair. The one who found herself falling down drunk in an out of town bar, broken bones and all. 6 years sober, and now not. All because she was triggered. Would you judge her choices harshly then? And knowing what she chooses now, would you continue to judge her choice to never get to that place again?

Or would you celebrate every step she makes to forward progress as she, or anyone who struggles daily with walking and living sober, so hope you will. As we so desperately need those around us to. Because what is good for you isn’t good for me, and that’s ok. I don’t need you to change what you do for me, or act differently around me, what I (we) really need is grace. Not judgment. I need understanding when I leave the party. I need understanding and support when I choose to grab water. I still want to be invited, but I need you to know I may not come. I need you to know I’m still fun, even better actually…because the alcohol doesn’t fuel my thoughts, behaviors and actions. I still need you to believe in me, not believe I think I’m better than you.

I need understanding when I come but then quietly depart your event. I love you. I want to celebrate you, but I love my sobriety even more. And I hope you celebrate with me the path I have chosen, along with so many who do daily.

Can you choose to celebrate those who make the daily choice to refrain? To remove triggers? Celebrate, even if missteps happen, without judgment, but with grace? We do need more of this-all around. In each and every one of our lives.

Really…it’s what helps keep moving any of us forward. It’s what helps us step out of our own judgement and into His grace. It’s what sets us free.

It’s All About the Heart

“Yes, she is a pastor.”

“Oh, really? I never would have guessed that.”

This was the response received in the cabinet section at the local home improvement store. The comment made when my husband advised the sweet lady of my second “vocation.” It wasn’t the first time I had been told this. It was a comment I heard as I got one of my many tattoos. A comment I hear quite often, actually.

This time, I simply smiled. Went about the cabinet selection business with manners and kindness, but on my way home began to wonder, What exactly is a pastor supposed to “look” like?

Since for me the Bible is my standard for living, and the place I turn to for guidance, I looked for Scriptural evidence that pointed to some means of dress or appearance that pastoral staff should adhere to. Some likeness that a pastor should possess. Was it dress? Was it appearance? Was it how they wore their hair? Jewelry? What is it?

First, I went to the reference many use when determining “appropriate” dress for clergy, especially that of women. Now. Let’s be real. We critique the dress of women far more than we ever do men. How their hair is worn. Whether it is long or short. Too much makeup, or not enough. Choice of clothes. Body types. We do not do this to men, or nearly as often. So, here we go:

And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. 1 Timothy 2:9-10, NLT

However, this is mostly taken out of context, because anytime we use Scripture to make a point, or when trying to determine what God says on a subject, we must also take into account the historical and contextual evidence at the time as well. Paul was not talking to EVERY woman. He was talking to those who were placing their value in material things. In expensive jewels and clothes. It had nothing to do with dress. It had nothing to do with hair.

To clear this up, look at The Message version: And I want women to get in there with the men in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it.

Paul is saying, “Be holy. Do the work of God, and stop worrying about your appearance. You will be beautiful, because you are working for Him, not because you dress a certain way.”

We don’t get this message because we focus on appearance. Our human nature is to focus on what is outside. We focus on hair. We focus on clothes. We focus on jewelry. Someone’s home. Cars. Jobs. And yes, even tattoos.

When what God focuses on…is none of those things.

So what a pastor “looks” like, pours from that-his or her heart.

A pastor looks like Jesus. Not in appearance. Because I look nothing like him in physical appearance. But I do in heart. In action. In speech. In how I love on others. How I work for justice. How I forgive. How I help. How I use my voice.

Because I remember also hearing this when I told someone I had become a pastor: “That doesn’t seem too far-fetched. You were always taking up for the less than when we were younger.”

Back then, I didn’t look much different. My hair was a different shade. It still had the same unruly curls. I had no tattoos. I didn’t dress in the same way as my peers. I wore big earrings. I didn’t speak differently than I do now. I had the same dialect, and at times…well, I was loud. I spoke up with passion that was seen as anger. And, well…I may now have better word choices-but at the core, the personality is still the same. The same hair adorns my head in a different shade. I have tattoos. And my dialect is still strong. My voice still loud, passionate, and dying to be heard when speaking for those whose voices aren’t asked to be at the table. I am still the same young girl, just not ruled by the desires of the world. I still look like her, I just love like Him.

That, my friends, is what a pastor “looks” like.

They “look” like one called to reach the least of these. With the personality and gifts God has created in them. They “look” like their Jesus. With the love to reach those who need to know that they too are loved for who God created them to be. Not who the world thinks they should “look” like.

They may just “look” like me.

WWJD About My Tattoos?

Tattoos. Mention them, and a number of opinions are generated from one simple word. Tattoo.

“Oh, I could never.”

“You know what it says in Leviticus.”

I know what it says in Leviticus. I read the entire chapter. Every single word. It had much more to say than merely mentioning the abomination of people with tattoos.

This paradox was the topic of conversation as I sat in the latest of many tattoo chairs. The artist, who did not subscribe to a religion persay, was actually surprised I was a pastor. And we had an entire conversation about tattoos and the Bible. He had his co-worker come by, and even guess what I did for a living (which is putting it mildly, because well…I am not a paid pastor). Why was this such a big topic of conversation? Rituals? Laws? That had nothing to do with love? Nothing to do with Jesus?

So the question for today! What would Jesus do if he encountered someone with tattoos? Well, love them. He definitely would not judge the covering. Choose not to get to know their heart simply because they decided to tattoo one on their arm.

Take a listen and feel free to weigh in on what YOU think Jesus would do! 

Offering Cups of Grace

“But as Jesus saw her walking toward the well where He was waiting, He saw what others did not see; a future trophy of His grace.” Derwin Gray, Limitless Life

There is often a common stereotype the surrounds the term “Christian.” Words like “hypocrite” and “judgmental” come to mind as those that are often thrown around. The very words that do not at all describe Jesus, are used to describe a throng of people who are supposed to be loving, kind, and forgiving.

And the fault is all our own.

Because, sometimes when we become Christians, we also inherit the false sense of responsibility to judge the actions of others.

That’s just not our job.

But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. James 4:11-12

Yet, often when we become saved ourselves, we think others will be too, but only once we point out all their flaws. Once we dole out our “Christian” judgment. Once we complete what we think is our job.

“Do you and I give people cups of grace to drink, or cups of judgment and condemnation?” 

What cups do we hand out? Do our conversations look anything like these?

“I can’t believe she wore that to church.” Because we think it is our job to judge the outward appearances of others.

“Oh my! Does she have any control over that child? Clearly all he needs is some discipline!” Because we think it’s our job to judge the skills of another mother.

“Did you see that picture on Facebook? I cannot believe he/she posted that!” Because it is our job, of course, to judge the actions of others.

“Why should a drug addict get out of prison early? They got what they deserved!” Because we think it is our job to judge the sins of others.

But, it’s not our job.

When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do the very same thing. Romans 2:1

And it means that I will be judged for all the times I have said something to condemn someone else (because, yes, I have said all of the things I mentioned above). I will be judged because I thought it was my job to condemn everyone who was not living the way “I” thought they should be.

It’s not my job.

No, my job is to give out cups of grace to everyone I meet. Just as Christ himself did. The Son of Man who never sinned. A man who could have easily judged and condemned the sin of others, but instead “humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Phil 2:8)

My job as a Christian is to show the love of Jesus, without condemnation. My job as a Christian is to remember that I was once a sinner. Once foolish and disobedient. Once mislead. Once a slave to many lusts and desires.

I was once the one who wore that to church. I have been the mom with the screaming child. I have also partied, and committed acts of sin that I would never want on Facebook.

And, I was also just like the woman at the well. An outcast. A teenage mother out of wedlock. A divorced woman living with a man who was not my husband. A girl, and a woman in need of grace. Not judgment.

It’s no longer my job to condemn those sins, but to proclaim to everyone how God made me new. How I was saved from my bad choices, my deplorable behavior, and how much I am loved unconditionally despite the things I have done.

It’s not my job to judge.

It’s not my job to condemn.

It’s my job to be Jesus in the flesh. To reach out to all. To offer them cups of grace. To believers and non-believers alike. Sinners and the righteous. The lost, and the saved.

It’s not my job to judge. It’s my job to love.