Am I Working, or Just Wasting Time?

I talked to my mom yesterday about a conference she and my dad attended at my younger sister’s church in Waco, Texas. World Mandate is a weekend focused around missions and urgency and from talking to my mom, it was a weekend they won’t soon forget.

One of the speakers they heard was Christine Caine. I’ve decided I need to get to know this person. Or at least hear her speak. Christine’s passion lies in ending the injustice of human trafficking and apparently she convinces people they should move to places like the Amazon immediately. And start spreading the gospel. I think I would like someone who could convince people to do such things.

I also heard one comment she made–almost as an afterthought–was that we sit around writing and reading books about love languages, our gifts and passions from the Lord, etc.,  instead of acting. Doing something. Actually fulfilling what Jesus told us to do: make disciples of all nations… We’re stalling. And why?

I remember a moment when I was in Zimbabwe and we were sitting around in a circle eating lunch, I think, while working at an orphanage. All month we had been following around these two vocational missionaries from Oregon. They had lived in South Africa (Zimbabwe before that) for eleven years and I remember looking at them as we sat in that circle and thinking “There really is no greater job, is there? Than being a missionary. There is no greater purpose to fulfill.”

Despite that revelation, I am not a missionary. I came home from Africa and haven’t gone back. Some may make the “I’m a missionary in my workplace, in my school, in my current environment” argument and I agree. People need to know the gospel here as much as they do there but can my life be dedicated to it here, where I have a day-job and it’s not evangelizing? Are we wasting time and making excuses for the laziness?

He said to all nations. But I’ve spent the majority of my life in one.

Are You Settling? And Is that So Bad?

The “S” word has such a bad rap. My generation–I think more than the ones before–has great pressure on it to never settle. We are to dream big, pursue those dreams, achieve them, then what? Dream bigger, pursue those dreams, achieve them. Then… I’m exhausted. Yet, the alternative is invariably worse: slowly forget your dreams of taking over the world while you were in college, your dreams of finding the perfect mate, of the perfect job that allows you to travel the world. Forget those thoughts and replace them with reality: the job offer down the street, the guy down the street. Settle into life, look up at the age of 35 with only faint memories of conversations in college you had with your friends about taking over the world. You’ve settled, yes. But is that so bad?

I ask this as someone who’s done both: I have settled and I have refused to settle. The latter typically gives me more of a sense of victory, but as I grow into my mid-twenties, the former is oh so realistic, commonplace and logical. People have kids, they have mortgages, and car payments, and lots and lots of school debt. At some point, settling is survival.

Not to mention time. It goes by really fast (Maybe I’m the first to have ever said that.) and doesn’t leave much room to not settle. Pursuing big dreams and waiting for them to materialize can take years. But that’s always the argument for not settling: life goes by too fast, seize the day. How tricky and two-faced I am just now realizing the “life goes by so fast” argument actually is.

Both sides of the spectrum–settling and refusing to–seem to be pressuring us at any given moment. And I would argue that more often than not, settling wins. So if settling is the majority of life, why do we hate it so and beg ourselves and others not to?

Why does settling continue to be my absolute worst nightmare? And why when I see others doing so, do I feel like screaming?

Surely something intended for us would not cause such an outcry in me. But maybe that outcry will quiet with time. I know it already has in some ways.

Can it get quieter? Should it?

What Does the Bible Say About Exercise?

Today I celebrate Labor Day, meaning I’m not working as I hope most of you American readers are not doing as well. And since I’m not working today, I’m posting a link to work I did last week. On a blog called Her.meneutics (the Christianity Today Women’s blog) about a topic I’ve grown interested in: what exactly does God say about food and exercise, balance and the extremes? I had the opportunity to explore that a little in this blog post: Maggie Goes on a Diet: A Story for Children? 

I and Her.meneutics would love to know your thoughts.

Am I Broken?

by guest blogger Katie Richards

Around the age of 23 my mind began to flood with questions. Some of these questions came from the transition of college life to living in the real world.  These questions had me pondering what I wanted my life to be about, the contribution I wanted to make to this world and the risks I was willing to take to make this happen.

But then there was another set of questions.  These questions were birthed out of pain and confusing life circumstance.  These question were much more introspective and their answers were not easy to accept.  Questions like, “Why do I keep repeating this pattern?”  “What is wrong with me?”  “Will I always be like this?”

The answers to these questions kept leading me to the root question that I desperately needed an answer to: “Am I broken?”

Fast forward four years and hours of counseling later, these questions have given way to answers, insight and a lot of healing.  But not everything has been cleared up.  There are still small amounts of unhealthy residue that show-up at random times in my life and in the back of my head the question of “Am I broken?” still finds a voice.

As I have walked this journey I’ve been able to share parts of my story with different people. The story of my process is often answered with similar stories from others.  While the events of the stories may differ, the feelings of inadequacy and impairment are often the same.

I’ve started to believe the question of “Am I broken?” is being asked by more of us than not.

The person whose spouse has betrayed them, the couple who is having fertility issues, the student who never gets asked on a date, the professional who has been laid off and can’t find a job, the person who seems stuck in a cycle that they just can’t break.

At many points in my process I asked (and continue to ask) the Lord this question. Over and over again He has been gracious to give me the loving truth of “Yes.” And in the same breath the redemptive answer of “No.”

I am broken.  Scripture makes it clear that I came into the world this way (Romans 3:9-12) and that I am in need of healing that only a savior can bring.

It’s in the sacrifice of the savior that I am healed.

The gospel makes it clear that the Lord sent Christ to be my savior and redeem me.  That on the cross my sins were not only atoned for but Christ’s righteousness was credited to me (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It’s been through the continual unveiling of the gospel that God teaches me the question to dwell on is not “Am I broken?” but “Do I believe the Lord to be Healer?”

While seeing God as Healer does not excuse me from pressing into and dealing with my sin issues and brokenness, it does give me a different focus.  I am not left to dwell on my shortfalls but am freed to enter into a deeper relationship with the one who has healed me.

So what about you?  Are you feeling broken?  If so, how are you finding healing?

About the guest blogger: Like Kelsey, I met Katie at my church in Nashville. She’s actually my community group leader and has become a dear friend to me in this city. By day, she works for the YMCA as their Regional Training Director. By night and/or weekend, she is a speaker, team-building facilitator and blogger at Katie Thinks…Thoughts on the “in between,” the strange stage of life between college and whatever is next. She also has the greatest laugh ever and mad kayaking skills. 

What Makes Art Christian?

by guest blogger Kelsey Alexander

Picture an oppressively hot July day in the middle of the Colorado Rockies. A Christian youth conference is underway on a local college campus, and its basketball stadium is steadily filling with teenagers. In walks a frizzy thirteen year-old redhead with a mouth full of braces and a fanatical love for the Backstreet Boys. Bible in hand, the frizzy redhead navigates the sea of jorts and WWJD bracelets and finds a seat next to her friends. Moments later, the speaker takes his place at the podium, adjusts his headset mic, and launches into a passionate discourse on the harmful influences of secular art on Christian culture. How the consumption of secular music, books, and movies can distract Christians from God’s will for their lives and drive a wedge between the Lord and His children. How it condones underage drinking, wild parties, premarital sex, and worst of all—dancing. The speaker continues, saying “We’re to be in this world and yet not of it,” and he implores the crowd to rid themselves of temptation and turn to “Christian” art for entertainment.

Filled with conviction, the frizzy redhead returned home, promptly gathered up her extensive CD collection of secular music, and asked her mother to take her to the secondhand music store, where she exchanged the CDs for cold, hard cash. Had she been truly faithful, she would have foregone the cash and burned the CDs ceremoniously in her backyard, so no one’s salvation would be jeopardized by the controversial lyrics of “I Want It That Way.” Unfortunately, the American entrepreneurial spirit won out.

Why do I share this story? To pose a question, a question this no-longer-frizzy-having-discovered-Moroccan-Oil-redhead still wrestles with today: What makes art “Christian?”

Some might say it’s the number of times a lyricist injects “Lord” in a song or how often an author cites Scripture in a novel. Others might disagree, saying it’s not defined by the content of the art but rather the intent of the artist behind the creative work. For example, I once heard a youth pastor say that if spiritual parallels can be drawn from an artist’s creation, then that work falls under the Christian genre. If that’s true, then a novel featuring a character who sacrifices his life to save those he loves could be categorized as Christian. However, would there still be room for that novel in the Christian genre if the character was say…a young wizard who attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and wields a magic wand?

It’s a slippery slope, this labeling of what’s Christian art and what’s not. And it’s made even more so by art’s subjective nature. In theory, two people can listen to the same song and walk away with two completely different opinions, and neither would be wrong. I’d like to think the same subjectivity applies to Christian art; just because a song isn’t sung by a Christian artist or isn’t explicitly Christian, it in no way limits God’s ability to use that song and that artist for His ultimate purpose.

Bottom line, I don’t have a clear and fast definition for what constitutes Christian art. However, I’d like to think that God’s all-pursuing love and the depth of Christ’s sacrifice can’t be confined to a particular genre. Regardless of an artist’s intent, I believe that our Creator has the ability to use all forms and genres of art for His Glory and to draw people nearer to Him. After all, He used Pharaoh to work His will. Who knows, He might even use a Backstreet Boys song.

About the guest blogger: I met Kelsey soon after moving to Nashville. We’re a part of the same small group at our church (Fellowship Bible Church). She was actually the first person I met in the group, assigned to greet me “the new girl” as I pulled in so I knew which apartment door to walk into. Right away I knew I’d like Kelsey. She was funny, kind and had awesome hair. Since our friendship, Kelsey as begun blogging herself at Kelsey to be Determined. And if you’re lucky, she might agree to cater your next event with her oh-so-yummy desserts. 

Am I Doing It Right?

by guest blogger Katie Noah Gibson

That’s the question that has plagued me all my life.

I am a classic oldest child – organized, responsible, driven to excel. These traits came in handy as I competed in spelling bees and made straight A’s, and later as I learned to drive, plan my own travel, pay my own bills, and write research papers (of which I wrote plenty as I earned two English degrees). When I want to learn how to do something, I consult a book, to make sure I’m doing it right. And I’ve always tried to avoid the embarrassment caused by doing anything wrong.

For years, I applied this logic to my Christian faith, believing God had one perfect will for my life, and that I could discover and follow it, like a treasure map leading to some fabulous discovery. I attended a thousand (more or less) youth group meetings and camps where I heard about finding the right spouse, the right career, making the right choices to follow God’s calling for me.

This mindset led, understandably, to a lot of agonizing – and fear of making the wrong decision. Should I take this class or that one? Date that boy or this one (as long as they were both Christians)? Go to this Christian college or that one – though they stood less than two miles apart from each other?

Unfortunately, the fear of doing it wrong has often paralyzed me, preventing me from taking risks, making messes or enjoying new experiences. I’ve been so focused on doing it right that sometimes I forget the value of a messy, exciting life, lived with confidence and even joy.

A year ago, my husband and I made a cross-country leap, moving to Boston from West Texas. After months of thirsting for a fresh adventure, it felt like the right decision, the alluring “bend in the road” beloved by my heroine Anne Shirley. But during a long, cold winter that included record snowfalls and six months of unemployment for me, and as our list of friends in Boston remained stubbornly small, I began to wonder if we were doing it right after all.

I still wonder that, actually. Should we be living so far from our families and the friends we left in Abilene? Should we move somewhere less expensive so we can begin to save for a down payment on a house, and the eventual children we hope to have? Should I start writing that memoir now, instead of letting the story simmer awhile? Should I think about pursuing an MFA or a Ph.D., when many of my creative friends are doing so?

I don’t know the right answers to these questions – and I don’t know, honestly, if there are any. I’m starting to believe I could take one of several paths and still come out with a full, rich life. And on the spiritual side, I’m starting to believe God’s will looks less like a treasure map and more like the words of Micah 6:8:

“He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

This verse sounds like a simple prescription for a good life, but it’s actually quite demanding – and often complicated. However, it does relieve some of the pressure to get every little thing right. Trying to be a certain kind of person – just, merciful, humble, loving – is much simpler than trying to make sure every single decision is the “right” one.

Do you struggle with getting things “right” – either in a spiritual sense or in a broader life sense? How do you deal with this big question, or quiet your inner critic?

About the guest blogger: I know Katie because we both attended Abilene Christian University and I somewhat inadvertently followed in her footsteps: she was an English major, I was an English major; she worked as an editor for our alumni magazine, I had the same job two years later; she attended Oxford-Brookes University for her M.A. in English; so did I, a year after her. I promise I’m not stalking you, Katie. But I guess I kind of am. Now, Katie lives with her husband near Boston. She freelance writes and edits and blogs at cakes, tea and dreams

Do I Stay or Do I Go Now?

by guest blogger Ashley Schneider

There he is. That guy. The employee I lied to about not having a YMCA membership, so I could test out the facilities for free. Why is he always working when I want to sweat it out? He knows I lied, too. Shortly after my tale of being new to the neighborhood, I found out that I could actually afford the fee to join due to my work discount and reactivated my membership. So now, every time he scans my ID it pops up that I’ve been a long time member; a lying long-time member.

I avoid eye contact, grab a towel and get away from him fast. I just know one day he’s going to call me out.

I love this crowded, smelly gym. It’s mine and not even facing someone I told a little white lie to multiple times a week can keep me away. I like my bike in the middle back row of spin class. My spot in the group cardio class is front left and, if that guy would get off my set of rotating stairs, life would be perfect.

You see, I fit in this city like a hand in a glove. Like Dolly and her…well, you know.

Corner Pub Green Hills is my neighborhood bar. Marche is my restaurant and Centennial Park is where all the magic and miles happen. I’ve got friends here who’ve known me since I was 13 years old; when I was all arms and legs trying to learn how to shoot a basketball. Other friends I’ve bonded with over jobs, costumes, friends of friends and the occasional trip to the water park.  When I walk the sidewalks of 12th South Avenue and see the patio at Mafiazo’s full and other fellow Nashvillians enjoying their frozen Las Paletas treat, I feel a sense of pride. An almost ownership of the city, if you will.

When the flood came, I picked up supplies, volunteers and countless pounds of soaked wet drywall. I found a church I can completely relate to and a kickball team whose motto is “We may not be the best, but we’re the most fun.”

But what if one day, the perfect job I didn’t even know existed fell into my lap? But this job was in Portland or Boston or Phoenix? The dream job would feed my need for creativity, my daily tasks constantly changed, I found it challenging, sporty, full of relationship building and of course, paid amazing. Here I am at age 29.5, single, with friends, family and memories rooted six years deep in Music City.

Do you leave your happy established life for a chance at a dream job or does your happy established life outweigh the 8 to 5 you’ve always wished for?

Do you stay or do you go?

About the guest blogger: I met Ashley almost two years ago when I started working at Thomas Nelson publishers in Nashville. She does marketing for our fiction division and is absolutely hilarious. She recently started what has become the “healthy desk” trend in our office, being the first to create a stand-up desk. When she’s not brilliantly marketing Christian fiction and being a trend-setter, she maintains a very entertaining blog at Chatterbox

I do believe, but I’d like to be more certain

by guest blogger Dylan Malloch


There’s a great moment in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where, close to reaching the fabled Holy Grail, Indiana has to take a leap of faith.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwMdb9YZkcw&feature=related)

He’s on one side of an enormous cavern and needs to reach the other side.  The only problem is, there’s no path… that he can see.

After a moment or two’s hesitation, Indie steps boldly out in faith and miraculously lands on an invisible path.

The fact the path existed was, scientifically speaking, never in doubt.  It existed, it was just invisible.

However, from the perspective of a mere mortal, all indications were the path didn’t exist, because you couldn’t see it.

It may sound crass, but this is very similar to one of the biggest obstacles I faced during what I refer to as my “Christianity Exploration” phase.  Ironically, the biggest obstacle I faced, was that I was certain God didn’t exist.

In my books, religion was just something people invented because they were scared of dying.  I pictured cavemen saying, “Hey, what if there was another world I could go to so I never actually died?  Awesome, right?”

I won’t go into my entire investigation process, but out of all the objections and tough questions I pondered as I investigated Christianity, the question of “did God really exist?” left them all in its wake.

You see, I could understand why Christians thought the way they did on issues like abortion, same sex marriage, euthanasia, etc, because they were starting from the perspective that God exists.  Once you believe in God, your entire world changes.

However, trying to believe in a being I couldn’t see or reduce to a formula (like x+y+z = God) to prove its existence was nigh on impossible.

When I was investigating Christianity in my late teens/early twenties, I read a ton of books.  I interviewed experts from both sides of the argument.  Ultimately I concluded, 1: There’s evidence Jesus existed.  2: Christians weren’t all stupid.  3: The fact that suffering exists didn’t prove God didn’t exist.

Yet I kept coming back to the fact that, ultimately, I’d have to make a choice: whether to take a leap of faith.

All my Christian friends were so certain God existed, yet I still had doubts.  In fact, it’s probably my biggest weakness as a Christian to this day – I still sometimes have my doubts that God exists.

Not often, I should add.  But sometimes.

In some ways though, I think it’s a good thing.  By constantly re-examining my faith, I’m making it stronger.  Even if it is a little painful from time to time.

It also helps in Mark 9:24, a man asks Jesus for exactly the same thing – “I do believe; help me with my unbelief.”

I feel like saying that to God all the time.  “God, I do believe you exist, but please help me believe it more!”

About the guest blogger: Dylan Malloch lives in Sydney (area), Australia and works in public relations. We “met” via Twitter, and when I found out more about his faith story, I begged him to share it on my blog. So thanks, Dylan! You can visit his website at DylanMalloch.com.

Why Do I Have So Much While They Have So Little?

Khayelihle Children's Village, located outside Bulaweyo, Zimbabwe. Where we spent the majority of our trip.

I remember the most malnourished children I’ve ever seen. I was 19 years old in Zimbabwe somewhere between Victoria Falls and Bulaweyo, the second largest city in the country. Our bus had broken down so we were hanging out with the natives on the side of the road, as you do, as someone repaired it. Most of the kids we met there weren’t wearing shoes (Zimbabwean kids don’t like shoes) but they had clothes and looked relatively healthy and energetic until two small kids, one girl and one boy, arrived. They were acting odd, almost crazy. Their hair was reddish colored, clothes barely held together, and stomachs protruding. It took me a minute but after observing I realized these kids weren’t acting a little crazy because they were ADHD. They were acting crazy because they were starving.

After playing with them for a little bit, our group leaders started serving our lunch on the broken down bus. I couldn’t eat. I was wallowing in guilt and confusion over what I had just witnessed in those small children. I kept asking God why I had so much when they had so little. God did not seem fair or loving in that moment. In fact, during that entire monthlong mission trip, God felt very distant. Probably because I kept pushing Him aside, so upset that He had allowed the suffering I witnessed in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where we also traveled.

I now realize how unproductive my response of not eating lunch had been that day. Though I was focusing on the poor and needy around me, I was also very self-focused, allowing guilt to be my dominant emotion. My parents had warned me against this feeling before. Growing up in a mission-minded church, I had opportunities o’plenty to do out of country mission trips. After these trips, I would come home and cry to my parents about the fact we have a.c. and walk-in closets and indoor plumbing. Before I could threaten to move into the backyard and live like the community I had just spent a week or so with, my parents would intervene with the wisdom of long-term missionaries: guilt is not a feeling from the Lord and, therefore, feeling guilty is not the purpose of those trips. Instead, turn the guilt into a desire to do something about people’s dire circumstances.

Stats like 925 million people are hungry in the world today can make us feel really bad about our full refrigerators. But get over it. Why do we have so much and they don’t? I don’t know; we just do. So let’s make use of our resources.

Is Christianity Merely Comforting?

I just don’t know how non-Christians do it. Live, that is. You would have to be a very strong person within yourself to not simply give up after your first heart break or death of someone close to you. So many difficulties I face I can only face because of the belief of God inside of me. Take the below image as an example. The same street photographed soon after the March 11 earthquake in Japan and then again in June after major clean-up:

Published in the Daily Mail, full article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2001984/Japan-tsunami-earthquake-Pictures-recovery-3-months-later.html

If this destruction had hit my street, and I did not believe in a loving God or in hope that came in the form of Jesus Christ, I would not clean it up. I would walk away. “What’s the use? Another tsunami/earthquake may come tomorrow. This is a hopeless situation if I’ve ever seen one and if everything I’ve worked for and toward can be demolished by ripples  under the earth completely beyond my control, why ever work for or toward anything again. I give up.”

This is why those without my faith amaze me. They have no comfort yet live on and even rebuild. I have comfort and seem to barely scrape by at times. As much as I hate this question, I must ask it: Is that all faith is? Believing so that we can pacify the crumbling world around us? I had a friend describe my Christianity to me that way once. And ever since, his words have haunted me. Christianity is a very comforting thought. It assures this life isn’t it. There’s more. It keeps going after so I don’t have to feel leveled by my everyday circumstances. It is often the desperate times that bring people to faith, isn’t it? When they need comfort most?

But for something so comfort-giving, Christianity is also incredibly uncomfortable. We are asked to do things like love people hard to love and forgive people who don’t deserve forgiveness, in our humble opinions. We’re to abstain from drunkenness, sex outside the confines of marriage, and fighting back. What’s so comfortable about that?

So the belief is comforting, but the maintaining of the belief? Not so much.