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See you over there!


The Kind of Ultimatum God Loves

My four year old is an endless fountain of questions.  The other day she asked me why it is summer.  I was stumped.  (Seriously, what would YOU have said?!)  So I gave my stock answer, "Because it is."  She was satisfied not because that was a stellar explanation but because her mind had already moved on to her next question.

"What if there was no white?" she inquired.
"Huh?" I said.
"What if there was no white in the world and no other colors either?"
I was silent, so she prompted me again.
"What if, Mom?"
"Uhhh, I dunno."
"I think then we'd have no town."
"Don't you think we'd have no town, Mom?"

Questions.  Lots of questions.

Most are unanswerable, either because they are too theoretical to have an answer or because a four year old would not understand a scientific explanation of why things appear colored and how color has no bearing on existence.  Or because a 28 year old (read: me) does not legitimately know why it is summer.  

Lexi's insatiable curiosity reminds me of myself when I began considering spiritual matters.  Before I became a Christian, I had a lot of questions about why people believed what the Bible said.  Why did they put so much stock in a dude that lived 2000+ years ago?  How could they be so sure that He was God and what He said was true?

As I dialogued with Christians, I learned a little bit.  But the answers weren't very satisfying.  I had made up my mind that Christianity was a farce before these conversations ever took place.  My mind was closed to considering any information these well-meaning believers provided me.

Like Thomas, I needed to experience Jesus for myself.

I ended up at a church youth event on accident.  I had just gone to hear a band play because the lead singer was hot.  I had no idea he was a Christian and was too stupid to realize he just might be if he was playing in a band at a church.  I went, I listened, and I witnessed 100 of my peers worshiping uninhibitedly.

I thought to myself, "If this many people can be affected this deeply by Something, then maybe It really does exist."

God opened my mind that night.

I left that church believing in a Higher Power.  But I left without Jesus.  My mind may have changed, but my life didn't change.

I went back to those Christians who had been talking to me about spiritual things, and I asked some more questions.  I didn't get any mind-blowing answers, but I got a few more pieces of the puzzle.

I struggled for seven more months trying to make sense of my new worldview - a worldview that now included a God.

I wasn't getting anywhere.  Life was still hard.  Too hard.  I needed more than a mysterious, distant God to hang my hat on.  I needed an experience with Jesus.

Confused, tired, and alone, I broke.

I still remember the day.  It was July, 1999, and I was in my kitchen.  I had just gotten off the phone with the only friend I had left.  He had called to say good bye.  He was moving 1,000 miles away.  He was leaving that very day.  And I was left alone.  I remember falling to my knees in that kitchen, sobbing.

And with equal parts anger and desperation, I gave God an ultimatum.

"I CAN'T DO THIS, GOD!  If You want me to make it through this, YOU are going to have to do it!"

Lucky for me, it was the kind of ultimatum God loves.

As I surrendered my life that afternoon, I never prayed the Sinner's Prayer.
I had never read a single Bible verse.
I had never attended a church service.

All I did was invite God, albeit harshly, to take control of my life.  I yielded to Him.

And He saved me.

My life began to change.  I became friends with "those Christians".  I started learning about the God of the Bible.  Eventually, I started going to a church on a regular basis.  My curiosity about the God I had experienced firsthand was insatiable.

I asked questions.  Innumerable questions.  I sought out two youth pastors and overwhelmed them with questions about this new life I found myself in.  They were my "go to's".

I took my questions to college with me and pursued a degree in Biblical Studies and Theology.  Today, 12 years after that day in the kitchen, I teach Bible to women in my church.  But I still have questions.  And I still have "go to's".  I suspect I always will.

In Acts, an Ethiopian man who does not know Jesus is pondering the book of Isaiah.  Philip, a disciple, saw the man and asked him, "Do you understand what you are reading?"  The Ethiopian replied, "How can I unless someone explains it to me?"  (Acts 8:30-31)  Philip goes on to instruct him in the Scriptures, and the man accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior and is baptized immediately.

It blows my mind that the Ethiopian didn't get prideful and act like he understood the Scriptures when Philip inquired. He didn't get defensive and say, "Who are you to come over here uninvited and question my intelligence?"  He didn't get haughty and reply, "I got this, man."  He didn't go all individualistic on Philip and say, "I'll interpret the Scriptures any way I want to, thank you very much."  On the contrary, he basically says, "Of course not!  No one can understand the Bible without some help."

History matters.  Context matters.  Culture matters.  How each passage reads in light of the rest of the Bible matters.

We don't become Christians and just know this stuff.  We all need help understanding what the Bible says, what it means, and how it applies to real life.  To use a church word, we all need a mentor to come along side us, do life with us, and guide us when we have questions.



I'm pretty good at rationalizing things.

Take donuts, for example.  Why do I get two donuts when my four year old can only have one?  Because I have a bigger stomach, of course.  Never mind that they are completely devoid of any nutritional value.  Wait, no they aren't!  Surely there is SOMETHING in a donut that is nutritious... and even if there isn't, that glass of skim milk I'm having with my donut is well worth the nutritional cost of the donut itself.  After all, if I don't have the donut, I'll have no reason to have the milk.  But milk is so vital to my body!  The calcium, the vitamin D... as a Caucasian woman with osteopenia in her family, these are things I NEED!  So...  if I really want to take care of myself, I better grab a donut so I can drink some milk with it.  And when I get done with that donut, if I have any milk left, I should go ahead and have a second donut so I can finish the remaining milk my bones are so desperate for.

See that?  See what I did there?  I can make eating junk food sound noble.

This is a good skill to have if you're a salesman or a lawyer.  It's a TERRIBLE skill to have if you're in a relationship with the Lord.  Rationalizing with Him typically exhausts me, frustrates me, and wastes a lot of time.

When God tells me to do something I don't want to, I can put up quite the fight.  I use all the logic I have to convince God it's not really in His OR my best interest to do what He's asking.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I say, "Stop and think about it, Big Man.  If I stop looking to others for affirmation, like You're telling me to, I'm gonna feel empty and depressed and devoid of value.  Not only will that be unenjoyable for me, people are going to start thinking You're pretty unfulfilling.  'Kelly sure is bummed most of the time,' they'll think, 'I guess her God isn't all He's cracked up to be.'  They won't think it is my fault; they'll think it is Your fault.  And since we don't want to damage Your street cred, we'd be better off just leaving things they way they are.  I'll keep getting my affirmation from people instead of You, and You'll keep looking like a pretty great God to serve, which we both know You are!"

After I lay my argument out there, I give the Lord a little nod as if to say, "C'mon, God, You know I'm right on this one."

God always listens to my thoughts with patience.  When I'm done saying my piece, He usually smiles gently and raises an eyebrow, communicating through His body language that He loves me, He hears how scared I am to do what He's asking, but His mind is unchanged despite my carefully constructed protest.  I haven't convinced Him of anything except the fact that I will go to great lengths to not have to face the underlying fears that are keeping me from obeying Him.

Great.  Lengths.

It's good to know I'm not alone on this one.  When God told him to lead the Israelites out of the bondage they were experiencing in Egypt to the Promised Land, Moses rattled off reasons why he wasn't the man for the job.  Moses argued that he was nobody special; God should rethink this (Exodus 3:11).  When God offered him comfort instead of conceding to him, Moses went to argument B.  Not only was he not special, Moses was sure that he'd be met with resistance (Exodus 3:13).  "Might as well not even try," Moses insinuated, "The Israelites are never gonna believe that You sent me."  So God told Moses exactly what to tell the Israelites to convince them to follow him (Exodus 3:14-17).  Not only that, God also promised He would take care of the Egyptians.  God would work in their hearts to compel the Egyptians to release the Israelites -the Egyptians' slaves - and send them on their way with silver, gold, and clothing (Exodus 3:21-22).

But that wasn't enough for fearful Mo'.

Unable to come up with a third argument against the Lord's plan, Moses returns to his second argument, "What if [the Israelites] do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The Lord did not appear to you'?" (Exodus 4:1) 

If I were God, this is the point I would lose all my patience.  I would become infuriated toward Moses and either go find someone else who is willing to obey without all the hassle or just smite the fool right then and there.

But God doesn't do that.

He maintains His composure, and, like a sympathetic Father, He continues to try to assuage Moses' crippling fear.  God tells Moses He will perform three different miraculous signs through Moses in front of the Israelites in order to prove to the Israelites that God is indeed with Moses (Exodus 4:2-9).  Surely there would be zero room for the Israelites to doubt Moses then.  Surely Moses' confidence in God's plan would be rock-solid at this point.

But it's not.

Moses rehashes argument A.  Exasperated, he reiterates that he is not special by saying, "O Lord I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant.  I am slow of speech and tongue," (Exodus 4:10). 

You can almost hear the fear in Moses' voice.  I imagine him despairing, "Lord!  I am not a good speaker, how can I be a good leader?!"  Moses didn't have charisma or professional speech writers.  He knew, as long as it depended on him, he would never be able to convince an entire nation to follow him.

When my own kids are fearful of something, regardless of whether the fear is silly or serious, all I want to do is scoop them up and protect them.  I see the sheer terror in their eyes, the tears on their faces, and the last thing I want to do is force them to face whatever is spooking them.

I picture God, with his compassionate Father-heart, being really affected by Moses' confession of fear.  I suspect God had to really fight His Fatherly desire to let Moses off the hook in order to alleviate His beloved child's fright.

Instead, God reminds Moses that He is in control.  He reassures Moses again, "Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say," (Exodus 4:11-12).

In his last ditch effort to convince God to change His plans, Moses shelves his negative, self-deprecating comments and resorts to straight-forward begging.  "O Lord," he says, "please send someone else to do it" (Exodus 4:13).

To recap, God tells Moses to do something he doesn't want to do.  Moses tries to convince God that He is making a mistake via FOUR DIFFERENT ARGUMENTS!  I'm not special; the plan won't work; I don't have what it takes; PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME!

In the end, Moses doesn't convince God of anything except the fact that he will go to great lengths to not have to face the underlying fears that are keeping him from obeying God.

Great.  Lengths.

Hmm.  Sounds familiar.

SPOILER ALERT: Moses winds up obeying God.  And God comes through on all His promises to Moses.

God performs the miraculous signs through Moses, just as He said He would.  The Israelites believe Moses when he tells them God has sent him (Exodus 4:29-31).  God "encourages" the Egyptians to release the Israelites, and they are sent on their way with all kinds of riches (Exodus 12:31-36).  God comes through, true to His word. 

In short (which is funny because this post is so long), Moses nearly misses being a part of a pivotal chapter of world history because he is scared to trust the only One who is completely trustworthy.

I don't want that to be my story.  I don't want to let fear keep me from being all the Lord wants me to be.



There was nothing I hated more in school than the dreaded group project.   

There are two types of people in this world: those who carry the group and those who expect the group to carry them.  I always fell into the first class of students, and when group projects were assigned, I just KNEW I'd have to do more than my fair share if I wanted to ensure we'd get a good grade.  With my grade (read: my value, my self-worth) at stake, I wasn't willing to put my name on a project that wasn't done well.  And if my classmates weren't going to do their parts well, I'd cave and do it for them to make sure my grade was secure.

Now that I no longer have grades to worry about, I find other things to depend on to make me look good. 

Are my girls dressed cute for church?  They better be because they are a reflection of me.  If I let them go to church with disheveled hair, holes in their pants, and mismatched shoes, other people would think poorly of me because I am their mother.  We share a last name.

Are the women in my Bible study benefiting from my teaching?  I hope so because what they glean is directly related to how well I teach.  If they are bored and not growing in their relationships with the Lord, they will think badly of me because I am their teacher.  Our group bears my name.

Are the posts on this blog entertaining and challenging readers in their faith?  They need to be because without both aspects my writing won't reach anyone beyond my family (Hi, Mom!) and close friends.  If the articles aren't true to my style, lack depth, or are theologically unsound, readers will lower their opinions of me because I am the author.  This blog has my name on it.

In all of these examples, my reputation is at stake.

I was talking to God about this the other day.  I went on and on about how reputation is everything and how I don't want my name on something that isn't done well or right or my way.

And you know what God said?

He said, "Kelly, My name is on YOU every single day.  How do you think I feel when YOU don't represent ME well?"

My heart sunk into my stomach.

He was right.

As a Christian, I literally bear Christ's name.  And, as a result, everyone who knows that I am a Christian associates everything I do with Christ Himself.  And most of the time I'm not representing Him well. 

I was challenged to do better.  Be better.  For His sake, for the Gospel's sake, represent Him better. 

I thought about those old group projects.  When they were done poorly, I wanted to remove my name from them.  I wanted no association with the group of people or the work we had done so badly.  My reputation was at stake.

But God doesn't remove His name from me when I don't represent Him well.  In some cases, He even seems to emphasize to those around me that I am His.  Whether I am bringing Him honor or shame, whether I am enhancing or destroying His reputation, I am His.  And He proves His love to me and to the world by leaving His name on me when I am least worthy of bearing it.