What Jesus Thought Was Most Important

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We are the Church.
You and me.
Trinity Lutheran
Notre Dame rose window inside
Whatever our stage of life or economic status, whatever bits of theology on which we might differ, whatever our politics or race, we are the Church.
When the world wants to know about Jesus, to know what He thought was most important, they look to us.
What did Jesus think was important?
Well, He said that loving God with all of your being was the most important thing of all, followed by loving others. In fact, the Bible teaches that one of the main ways you love God is by loving others.
Jesus thought that this loving others business was so important, in fact, that He named it as the main way that the world would know we follow Him.
Would the world know that today’s church follows Jesus?
Church light
Arched ceiling
If you knew you were going to die in the next day, what would you pray for? Trivialities and side issues, or would you pray for whatever was paramount in your heart?
When Jesus was about to leave His disciples and head toward the cross, what did He pray for? What did He think was most essential?
He prayed for His followers to love each other. He prayed for unity. He prayed that His followers would be one in the same way that He and the Father were one.
We are the Church.
You and me.
Is that what the world sees?
Dome St Peters
Jesus is no longer on this earth. His Spirit is inside of each of us, but we the Church are now His body to bring God’s kingdom to this world.
Are we acting like a body or is the hand slapping the head in the face? Is the right foot kicking the left leg?
Jesus pleaded with God to make us one. Why? So that we could be happier and have easier lives while treating each other more kindly?
So that the world would know God’s love.
This is how those in the world can know that God loves them – by the way that we love each other.
What does the world see when it looks at the Church?
That question makes me want to weep.
What does the world see when it looks at you?
Whatever has come before, I implore you now. Love each other. Be unified.
Invite someone from another faith tradition to go along with you the next time you head out to serve the hungry and the orphans.
Find someone who grew up in another culture or another part of the country or even just a different side of town, and take them out to lunch. Listen to them. Ask questions.
After this particularly nasty election is over, invite someone who voted for the other candidate over to your home for a meal.
St Peter altar
We are the Church.
You and me.
I entreat you to show the world what Jesus valued. Astound the little piece of your world with your love for other Jesus followers nearby.
Our world needs some astonishment. And it is up to us.

Art credit: Photos of various cathedrals by Kirk Sewell

Letting You In

Why is it so difficult to allow people to come in close?
Letting you in
I enjoy having friends, of course, but I still want to keep everyone at just a bit of distance.
Even my husband and my children. I will let them in closer than any others, but there is still a part of myself that I hold in reserve.
You too?
Why do we do this? Why is it so hard to be completely vulnerable with anyone?
Fear, I think, is the most simple answer.
We know how ugly our hearts can be. For myself, I know the arrogance and rage that can live inside and I want people to still like me.
I want you to like me
We want everyone else to think well of us, so we let them in enough to show that we are human, but not far enough in to let them see how very human we really are.
We don’t want to see the shock and revulsion on their faces were they to hear the thoughts that go through our minds. We want others to like us.
I want everyone to like me
It is often even hard to let God in.
Logically, I know that He already sees the deepest, most ugly bits of me, but I still have the desire to make everything look pretty before I show it to Him. You see, I want God to like me too.
I want God to like me
Not just love me. Like me.
Love seems to be a choice, a way of treating someone. Liking, though, seems more enjoyable.
Love is what I do even when it is hard. Liking is what comes naturally when I enjoy spending time with someone.
Liking each other
Yet God went to extraordinary lengths to be with us. He tells us that He wants to sit with us over meals, that He sings over us and He wants to wipe away our tears. He calls us friends.
Such amazing grace this is.
If only I could believe it completely, I would have no trouble at all in letting others in.
God, help my unbelief.

Art credit: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt

Piety or Knowledge?

I have written before of the battle between holiness and justice.  Some say we are to focus on our own moral purity, on becoming more like Jesus.  Others say we are to focus on social justice for others, on being Jesus to those around the world.
When describing the wickedness of Israel, Isaiah says “He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”
It seems that one of the Deceiver’s favorite ploys is to take a set of discipleship practices, a pairing that works best when done in concert with each other, and separate them, throwing them into battle with each another.  In doing so, he not only diminishes the efficacy of both practices but he also divides the very body of Christ.
Clearly both holiness and justice are important.  We should not focus on half of God’s commands to the exclusion of the rest.
Another battle I’ve been trying to understand is the battle between piety and knowledge.
Is it better to obey God, to act on His behalf, or is it better to learn about God, to know what it is He commands?
Some would say that knowledge is too dry, that the life of the mind is on par with selfishness.  It brings to mind ivory towers and keeping oneself unsullied by the realities of the real world.
While it is true that focusing solely on knowledge and learning would keep one from ever actually helping this world of hurting people, modern church culture seems to lean too heavily in the direction of anti-intellectualism.  There is a growing spirit of pragmatism in our churches.  A spirit whose first question about an idea is not “Is it true?” but “Does it work?”.
“Young people tend to be activists, dedicated supporters of a cause, though without always inquiring too closely either whether their cause is a good end to pursue or whether this action is the best means by which to pursue it.” ~ Rev. John R. W. Stott in an address at the Inter-Varsity Fellowship Annual Conference
It seems this is another set of discipleship practices that when separated leads to reduced success.
On one hand you have people rushing crazily about for the next good idea regardless of the wisdom or truth of it, perhaps even causing more harm than good.  On the other hand you have people sitting stagnant with their books, not allowing any of the knowledge of God to seep into their hearts and affect the world around them.
Both piety and knowledge are desperately needed together.  Only with knowledge can you know what God truly wants, what is the wise action to take.  Only with piety can your own heart be changed, can the hearts and lives of other people be changed.
Paul says in II Corinthians that we are to take every thought captive toward the obedience of Christ.
Piety and knowledge.  Obedience and intellect.  The heart and the mind.
Both are needed.  Both are required to continue to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.
Only together can these practices nourish “a warm and fruitful devotion set on fire by truth.” (Stott)

We Eat One Another Alive

Why do we eat one another alive?
It happens all the time.  Just look at what happens any time a Christian leader is found out or, worse, confesses.  Just look at what happens whenever a Christian public figure says something that is outside of our comfort zone.  Just look at what happens so many times when someone in our own churches does or says something we don’t agree with.
We talk, we rant, we fill up the air with our words.  And our words are not of grace.
It is too easy to speak harshly within the anonymous confines of the internet.  We forget at times that those on the receiving end of our arrows are as beloved as we are.
Why do we do it?
Fear, perhaps.
We fear that others will think poorly of us or of our faith if we do not speak out quickly and harshly against whatever was wrong.  We fear that we will be viewed as the same if we speak words of love instead of words of condemnation.
We fear, perhaps, that we are the same deep down inside, and we do not want anyone to know the truth.
Yet the irony of it all is that the very One we are trying to defend is the same One who shared meals, shared life with those who made the most public of mistakes.
Loving those with public mistakes
The irony is that the Bible is crammed full of one another verses…and not one of them mentions devouring one another.
Show kindness and mercy to one another.
Love one another.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Welcome one another.
Bear with one another.
Be kind to one another.
Forgive one another.
These are just the beginning.
Jesus said that people would know that we follow Him by our love.  Too often love is not what we show to the world.  I confess that perhaps I would not think very highly of Jesus if all that I knew of Him was what I read on the blogs and Facebook pages of His followers.
May God help us.
May the God of love and grace teach us how to get rid of our motto of We eat one another alive.
May He instead change our hearts to adopt the motto of We never leave a fallen comrade behind.

Art Credits: Lion photo by Juliane Riedl; Christ and Samaritan Woman painting by Henryk Siemiradzki

Be Right or Love the Person?

“Is it more important to be right or to be loving?”
I ask her the question as she stands with her hands on her hips, righteous indignation quivering through every inch of her little body.
It seems an easy question when put in such stark terms, but which of us answers it correctly in each one of our little choices every day?
Certainly not me.
I find myself struggling with whether loving the person or desiring to be right is more important.  I wrestle with the decision of whether having the perfect event or loving the person is better.  I fight hard against the desire to let my agenda, my task list trump the to-do of loving the person.
Love God.  Love people.
Love the Lord your God
It is that simple.  It is that hard.
Pride stands in our way.  Desire for an experience to be amazing puts up a wall.  Need to feel accomplished plants its roots.
Yet it truly is simple.  Will we obey our own desires or will we submit ourselves to God?
“To be loving.”  The answer barely escapes through her gritted teeth.  She doesn’t want that to be the right answer.
I know, my darling.  I know.  I, too, want a different answer.  I, too, want to protect myself, to protect my perceived interests and rights.
The trouble is that when you commit yourself to this God of power and love, you commit to letting Him defend you.  Your job is to obey.  In this case, that looks like love.
It is making yourself vulnerable in order to love the person.  It is making yourself nothing in order to love the person.  It is making yourself a servant in order to love the person.
Love God.  Love people.
Love your sister
It is that simple.  It is that hard.


I watch my littlest follow her sisters around like a puppy.  She is desperate to be big enough to join in with their play.  She is willing to try anything to keep up with them and to feel a part of their games and, more importantly, their friendship.
Following Along
I see myself all too well in her.  I, too, find myself following after others with whom I desire friendship.  I will do things that I don’t enjoy or participate in too many activities just to feel as though I belong.
Joining In
Tagging Along
I find it hard to understand why I do this, to figure out what lies behind this quiet, desperate feeling.  Part of the trouble is that there have been too many occasions of friends drifting away as though I weren’t quite worth the effort.  I think, though, that an even bigger part of the trouble is my disbelief of what God has told me, of what He has told all of us.
I don’t truly, deep down inside, believe that I am worth being loved.
If I did, it wouldn’t matter how many friendships ended quietly, I would still be ready once again to make myself vulnerable for another.
I don’t believe that I am valuable and that all I truly need is Him.  So I chase after other people, trying to prove my worth to them and to myself.  I think that I need other people more than I need the approval of my God.
One of the bunch
I forget, you see, that I already belong.  I belong to the One who tossed the stars into their orbits and who crafted the sweet violet.  I belong and I am worth more to Him than all the birds in the air.
One of the crowd
Part of the team
Maybe someday I will do a better job of believing it.

God In the Personal

Such an ugly word.  A word that is filled with fear and pain, hopelessness and loss.  A word in which the treatment is as bad as the disease, a word that contains no promise of a cure.
We’ve lived through cancer twice now in my close family.  Once in one who had lived a long and good life and who chose not to fight.  Once in one who had just begun her life as wife and mother and who fought with every bit of strength she had.  Both times, our cancer word contained death and loss.



Perhaps this is why when someone I know learns firsthand of the horrors of this word, it stirs up something inside of me.   We all have causes and issues that make our hearts feel more weighty, that bring us to tears.  Causes alone, though, don’t have the power to stir us up the way an individual can.  I give money to causes, but a cause will not change me in the way that a person can.  God works through the personal to deepen our hearts in a way that a faceless cause never can.
Perhaps if I see pictures on the news or in the papers of victims of earthquake, flood, drought, I will write a small check for the cause of world hunger, and I may even refrain from meat on Wednesdays; but as long as I am responding to a cause it will not affect my entire life, my very breathing.  It is only when I see discrimination and injustice in all its horrendous particularity as I walk along Broadway, that my very life can be changed.  If it was necessary for God to come to us as one of us, then it is only in such particularity that I can understand incarnation…But a response to a cause will never change my life, nor open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit. ~ Madeleine L’Engle  in The Irrational Season
The differences in the pieces of life we each have lived allows different causes to stir each one of us to action.  Cancer, especially when this word contains a parent with children living at home, has become one of those for me.  One reason is that this word doesn’t have to end in death, you see.  Sometimes there is hope.  That hope, however, can be expensive.
May I introduce you to my friend, Mark?


Mark and I worship together and I know him best from making music together in the arts ministry at our church.  He is a musician by trade, performing and teaching in order to support his family.
Mark is a husband to Jana and a father of five beautiful children, three of whom still live at home.  His wife, Jana, is a self-employed speech pathologist who contracts with several different school systems.

Mark's Family

A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist don’t get very good health insurance.
Mark was diagnosed with cancer in 2007; his cancer word will not have within it a cure without also containing a bone marrow transplant.  He has not yet found a suitable donor.  Mark participated in a clinical trial that held the cancer at bay for several years.
Until this past December.  The cancer returned.  Mark still does not have a bone marrow donor.
He found another clinical trial, but this one requires that he live in Houston while receiving the treatments from MD Anderson.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist also don’t make crazy amounts of money.
He moved from hotel to hotel for awhile, living wherever they could find the cheapest price each week on Priceline.  He was finally able to find an apartment, but it is in a crime-ridden area of town.  He has been hassled several times when returning from his cancer treatments, and he can’t leave his windows open at night.  In Houston.  In the summertime.  He is trying to find work, but it is difficult to find teaching gigs in a new place when you are in the middle of cancer treatments.
So here they are.  Mark, living in a dangerous part of Houston all alone without his family to support him as he gambles for his life.  Jana, caring for their kids on her own while traveling hours everyday to and from work.  Both of them living 900 miles apart and trying to hold the fraying pieces of their lives together while living with the fear that their time together is slipping through their grasping fingers.
We can’t do much.  We can’t take away the cancer.  We can’t take away the fear.  We can’t take away the loneliness or the desperation of being a single parent or a distant parent.
We can do a little, though.  We can take away the one piece of their pain that has to do with their finances.  They are not big spenders.  They are frugal and they know how to stretch their paychecks.  And they will need a bit more while Mark is living in Houston.
I have never done this before on this blog.  I may never do it again.  But I know these people.  I have served with them.  And God is working through these individual people to change hearts and lives.  Will you join me in helping them?  You can give online at GiveForward.  (If the link does not work, copy and paste this address: https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/4th4/mark-cornell-benefit-fund)
I know that we can’t do it all, that we can’t eliminate all hunger, thirst, suffering, pain.  This often frustrates me, but I am struck by the thought that Jesus didn’t do it all either.  He didn’t heal all of the blind while here on earth.  He didn’t heal all of the lepers or all of the lame, he didn’t feed all of the hungry.
I don’t know why He didn’t make all of the sad things come untrue immediately, but knowing this helps me to be content with not being able to help everyone but to, as Jesus did, help one beautiful person at a time.


Imagine that you are out taking a walk in your neighborhood and you stroll down a street that is a little unfamiliar.  The road is lined with sidewalks and trees, the houses are evenly spaced with a bit of yard for each.  The houses are nothing fancy, just small, American Dream with a white picket fence sorts of houses.  As you stroll along, just as the shadows begin to lengthen and the creeping dusk begins to carry with it the scent of a coming rain, one lighted window catches your eye.  You pause and find yourself caught by an image.  Young adults, seated around a table with a card game on it, joined by an older couple.  Children playing together on the floor.  A gray-haired elderly man walks in using a cane.  You are not sure why the scene has so captivated you, you really must be getting home before the rain begins to fall, but something about the sight of extended family enjoying each other’s company keeps you rooted for longer than you should have stayed.
What are your thoughts as you stand there, feeling chilled by the damp in the air yet unwilling to walk away just yet?  Are you filled with a longing you can’t quite explain?  Does it remind you of your own family and the time you had with them just the other week?  Do you wonder what bitter fights and disappointments lurk in a room more removed from the street views?
What is it about a family?
New Family
We all want one.  Even those who say they don’t need anyone around would, I dare say, wish deep inside for a perfect family to love them.
Even the word itself brings a picture of love and peace, acceptance and light.  The idea of multiple generations caring for one another is enough to set our hearts yearning for an ideal.
Four Generations
Does family really matter?  In this world that would tell us that career is more important than children, that independence is better than living intertwined, is family truly that important?
Yes.  Emphatically yes.
Families were designed to bring us back to God.  There is much about the workings of a family that draws us in, that points our hearts toward God.
The miracle of the birth of a baby, for instance, turns your mind toward thoughts of God, especially God as Father.  When you hold your own baby for the first time, your heart is drawn to mystery, drawn to contemplate the miracle of creation.  I just read this in WORLD magazine:
The baby daughter of writer Whittaker Chambers helped to move him from Communism to Christ. Chambers wrote inWitness (1952), “My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear—those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.’”
These children are gifts from God sent to turn us back to Him.
Other purposes of family?  Those who have been raised in godly families are more able to see the goodness of submitting to God’s authority because they have seen how good life is when we submit to the authority of our parents.  Birth and death connect us to God far beyond most other events in our lives, and we can truly experience this connection best if we are surrounded not by institution alone but by those who know and love us best.
Family after a birth
Our families are shrinking in size.  We think nothing of moving far away from our parents and grandparents.  We fill our lives with so many activities that we lose sight of the hearts of those who are most precious to us.
Sometimes these things are unavoidable.  Yet if we do not at least deliberate and ponder this mystery of what was intended by the One who created the very idea of family, I fear that we will lose something sacred, some thing that keeps us close to the heart of God.
And anything that keeps us close to the heart of God is too rare and precious to be tossed away careless.

Don’t Do This Alone

If you sometimes feel that to deny yourself and pick up your cross Every Single Day seems a bit daunting and lonely, then join me over at Embracing Grace today.  Maybe we can help each other to not feel quite so alone as we carry our cross along with Christ.
Helping Each Other

Sacred Eating

This is an essay that was featured on (in)courage’s Bloom Book Club Facebook page a few weeks ago.  Those who were featured were asked to also post these essays on our blogs this week and link up with everyone else on the Bloom website.  For those who have already read this essay once, I’ve added some pictures and a few links if you would like to read again.  For those who have not read this essay yet, welcome!
My girls love to eat.
Messy Eaters
By “love to eat”, I mean that they are mildly obsessed with eating. It is, in fact, difficult to get them to stop at times.
A eating corn
N eating corn
When I was in the hospital, having just given birth to my second girl, my dad called me around lunchtime. “Analise has had two sandwiches, some yogurt, a bunch of grapes, a banana, and some applesauce and she says she’s still hungry.” “Cut her off! Cut. Her. Off.” was my gracious response.
I am grateful that I do not have to deal with picky eaters, and at the same time I wonder how to get my girls to slow down, to enjoy the act of eating more rather than simply inhaling as much food as possible.
Glorious Food
It is so easy to fragment my life between sacred and secular, and eating would seem to fall into the latter category. Eating is, after all, a physical necessity, a way to sustain our bodily functions.
Yet God wants to knit the secular places of my life back into the sacred.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence, the dishwashing monk says:
The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.
So how do I make eating into a deliberately sacred event rather than a piece of my day that has no connection with God?
I am learning that eating is linked over and over again to fellowship with and enjoyment of God.
Christmas Dinner
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the Father celebrates the son’s return with a feast.
Jesus shares His last supper with his closest friends and then tells them that He will not drink again until He does it with us in heaven.
The image of a banquet, especially a wedding feast, is used several times to illustrate our enjoyment of God when we are finally with Him in body.
When we eat, we often are doing more than simply nourishing our bodies. We are sharing of ourselves with our family and our friends. This is sacred.
Thanksgiving dinner
Perhaps eating is one of the last things that our culture hasn’t been able to take the sacred out of.
Our world tries hard to take God out of all that we do, to make everything a matter of utility. Yet when we share a meal with our family or with our friends, there is a sacredness there that is felt even by those who do not claim to follow God.
God created food. He created eating. When all is created, when all is love, then nothing is ordinary. Everything is sacred.
I cannot separate my life into ordinary parts and miraculous parts, into secular parts and sacred parts, into praising God parts and eating parts.
Without Christ, nothing was made that has been made. In Christ, all things hold together.
Chinese New Year Meal
When we share a meal together, it is not ordinary, it is not solely of this world.
No matter how tempted I am to name something as mundane, as secular, it is not so.
Nothing that God has created is ordinary.
All is miracle. All is sacred.
There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the incarnation. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water

Art credit: Brother Lawrence in the Kitchen from a book published by Fleming Revell Co. in 1900.