If God is real … then what?

February 10, 2014 | 56 comments

I was twelve, and I would ride my Schwinn bike along the dividing line. It was that paved road east of town, the road that separated the Catholic cemetery from the one where the rest of the bodies were buried.

And then, I could pedal on down to the Bailey farm, gravel crackling under our tires. July sun beat through the thin fabric of my halter top. I’d put my skinned knees under Holly Bailey’s table. We drank chocolate milk, across the table from her dad Charlie, who had come in from chores with manure-caked boots.  He chewed roast beef slowly, and told us that none of his girls would marry a Catholic if he had anything to say about it. And Mr. Bailey felt like it was safe to tell me, because I was a Methodist.

Mr. Bailey always prayed before meals. And when he ate, he kept one elbow on the table, with a slice of bread in his soiled hand.

DIVIDING LINES

The dividing lines were everywhere in my town. They looked like fences and altars and baptismal fonts. The lines smelled like grape juice, or Mogen David, depending on your theological bent. And it wasn’t just Us vs. Catholics. Some dunked; others sprinkled. Lines ran straight through the sacristry of the Lutheran church, where the pastor wore a robe. The line snaked through the door of the Pentecostal church, where the people talked funny. (Some folks said they made up that crazy language.)

I didn’t know what that all meant when I was twelve, but the murmuring at dinner tables never felt right to me. It made me itchy under my halter top. I could never figure out who was right or wrong, and it seemed like they couldn’t agree on much of anything — not even the contents of that fat, gilded Book opened heavenward on their altars.

STARS IN MY EYES

I walked out on Jesus about the time I walked onto a college campus, and when I came back, I couldn’t see divisions at first. I had so many stars in my eyes about Jesus.

But the differences didn’t really go away. They just lived behind new-fangled fences, and it wasn’t long before I could see them again. I could hear about the differences under steeples on Sunday morning — sometimes subtle, sometimes not. And I can read about them at 2:30 p.m. in my Twitter feed. Who knew that you could turn 140 characters into a dagger? 

I don’t see people fighting much over things like over KJV versus NIV anymore. I’m sure they do, but there are nosier fights these days.

But did you know that people are getting unfriended on Facebook — by other Christians — because of their views on women’s roles in the church and in the home? And because of how they voted? And because _______ (you fill in your own blank here).

Yeah. You knew it. Stings, doesn’t it?

And maybe you’ve traced your finger along the history of the Church and seen how our differences have morphed with generations. How we’re holding tightly to the Word like it’s a weapon, instead of a signpost toward our greatest Hope.

Maybe we’re all holding up bread in soiled hands. Forgive us, Lord. 

And maybe we’re itchy under our shirts. Maybe we’ve been restless for something more … like Jesus.

THEY’LL KNOW WE ARE CHRISTIANS BY OUR …

I went to the IF: Gathering in Austin, Texas, over the weekend. I went hungry for more Jesus. A whole room full of us went hungry for bread — and we didn’t care which hand held it. We didn’t care if they served grape juice or wine, or who read the Message or the KJV. We wanted to be a part of bowing at the feet of Jesus together, instead of divided and apart.

In the lobby, between sessions, a woman thanked me for being an encourager in the Kingdom. She remarked about my kindness toward people “on both sides of the aisle,” even if I didn’t agree with someone theologically. And at first, her affirmation made me feel warm on the inside. How nice, I thought to myself, to be called out for kindness. But then it made me really sad, because it meant that my bent toward encouragement was unusual enough to merit a mention in a conference lobby.

I thought later of that song, the one about how people would know we are Christians.

Will they know us by our foot stomping? Our demands to be heard? Our right to be right? Our vitriol? Our word-grenades in the Internet ghetto?

No. They’ll know we are Christians by our love. By our love. Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

photo (47)

BUILD THE KINGDOM? OR TEAR DOWN THE WORKERS?

One of my favorite moments happened Saturday morning when Christian authors Jennie Allen and Sarah Bessey stood on stage, shoulder-to-shoulder. These two women come from different theological zip-codes, but they agree on the most important things — the non-negotiable things like a cross and a tomb.

And as they stood up there, with their faces lifted toward thousands of women watching in the room and on screens around the world, I thought about how much more effective we could be in building the Kingdom, if we didn’t spend so much time tearing down the workers. 

Look, we aren’t called to bow at the altar of Paul or Apollos, Luther or Wesley, John Piper or Richard Rohr, Beth Moore or Rachel Held Evans. We bow at the feet of Jesus.

That morning, Sarah told us, “I still have stars in my eyes about Jesus.”

After Sarah spoke, I had lunch with a Baptist, an atheist-turned-Catholic, and a mama who is preaching gospel every day from between the laundry baskets and cereal boxes.

The four of us held hands, and I felt stars in my eyes again, when our Catholic friend at the table prayed a blessing over our meal: “Bless us Oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.”

And we lifted the bread in our hands.

* * *

Dear Jesus, put the stars back in our eyes — not so we are blind to our differences, but so that we have the light to see past them. Help us keep the main thing, the main thing. Amen.

If God is real,
then I want to see by starlight.

HEARD AT IF:GATHERING

“The more humbly we serve, the more we love, the greater we are.” ~ Jen Hatmaker

“Let’s not copy, compete or compare. Let’s cheer each other on.” ~ Rebekah Lyons

“Our God has not changed. He is as able as He ever was.” ~ Jennie Allen

“You can come out of Egypt, but still have Egypt in you. … Why settle for deliverance when you can have freedom?” Christine Caine

“God saved you because
He loves you. God doesn’t want to just ‘use’ you. He wants to be with WITH
you. … We are invited to the ‘God-with-us’ life.” ~ Sarah Bessey

“Love is our identity, our calling card, our home.” ~ Sarah Bessey

“It has been said, ‘hurt people hurt people.’ Well you know what? Free people free people!” ~ Bianca Olthoff

“Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America.” ~ Deidra Riggs, referring to Martin Luther King Jr.’s words in 1963

“We have always measured greatness in terms of power. (Jesus) always measured greatness in terms of service.” ~ Jen Hatmaker

 

 

by | February 10, 2014 | 56 comments

56 Comments

  1. Megan Willome

    Beautiful, Jennifer!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      The fact that you’re here first in the comments? Makes me smile big. I look forward to breaking bread with you again. I love you, Megan Willome.

      Reply
  2. Alia_Joy

    Beautiful words, Jennifer. It is sad that unity can seem the rare thing in the body. But no more, yes? I tuned in from home and I believe a generation of change is coming. I think we are tired of it. I think we want to see God.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I agree. One day, every knee will bow. Why not get a head start now, all bowing together? Love you, Alia.

      Reply
  3. Colleen Chase Comito

    I passionately love Jesus, and my sisters in Christ. Jennifer, you have written what I have feared in “friending” my sisters on Facebook….so afraid that they will unfriend me because I am Catholic…
    I look to, and always have looked to Who binds us together, and by what…Jesus, Love! If we have not love , we are nothing.
    Thank you for your healing words….can see in my mind’s eye, Jesus holding out His arms to ALL of us and saying “Come”! Be together in my love….., we all have something to give for the greater glory of God!
    I can say that I love each and every one of my sisters at inCourage, and DaySpring..I am nourished by their words, and books, all of which I have, and I hope that I have touched some of my writings.
    But in the end, it is all about Jesus….Amen?
    God bless you Jennifer…the light of Christ shines through you like a beacon on a foggy night….

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I love my Catholic sisters. And I love you! … Say, Colleen, do you know Jennifer from Conversion Diary? Have you read her story from atheism to Catholicism?

      Reply
  4. Kelly Greer

    Jennifer – As I have shared Jesus with the world I have encountered so many who tell me us Christians are known for our wars, our hypocrisy and our judgement. My mom was raised Catholic; my Dad, Baptist. I went to Catholic grade schools, got married in the Lutheran Church, got saved in a Calvary Chapel plant, attended Baptist church for a few years and a non-denominational and black church where they believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The common amongst all these was the condition of the sinner and the victory of the saints with a Jesus who is love.
    The church where Jesus has been most evident in my life has been the group of women God brought together here to pray for our children, a Moms in Prayer (fka Moms in Touch). This church of praying sisters stretches across all ages, shapes and backgrounds. We come from churches as diverse as our size. Jesus is in the midst of us! And the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed. I have learned more about the character of God during our weekly one-hour prayer session than any other means out there. Amazing what God reveals when we come together across denomination…our group includes – E-Free, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Pentocostal, non-denominational, Catholic…
    It is a beautiful, powerful thing when we embrace our differences, learn from one another, grow in faith and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ! Let us continue to find opportunities to do this and ministries that invite us all to the table (like MIP and IF) where differences are valued as we all share the same Jesus who has ministered to us faithfully wherever we are. This is the place where our love for Jesus and one another will grow, then overflow, and the world will know us by our love.
    Thank you for cheering us on!
    Love,
    Kelly

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      What a beautiful picture of unity. You know… we don’t have to agree on everything to be kind to one another, to listen to another, to pray for one another. I’m so sad for all the ways Christians have torn each other down. It was such a murmured part of my growing-up years. My parents didn’t do that, thankfully, but I got enough of it in other places.

      Moms in Touch, MOPS, and other like ministries have done a wonderful job of bringing people together, across denominational lines — and also drawing in people who don’t affiliate with any church at all.

      Reply
  5. IfMeadowsSpeak

    I love you. That is all. 🙂

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      And I love you, too. Whole bunches. 🙂

      Reply
  6. HisFireFly

    I want to see by starlight too, no other light but His!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      He’s a lamp to your feet, my friend. You’re a shining firefly. 🙂

      Reply
  7. DeanneMoore

    If God is real…then let’s let Him be God. Jennifer, thank you for sending “keys” out every week. So glad you were with the poets, the preachers, the prophets, and the peacemakers. Your “bent toward encouragement” is a gift. You shine…”Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Dan. 12:3 God bless you this day..

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      “If God is real…then let’s let Him be God.”

      Oh. Yeah. That’s it right there, Dea.

      Reply
  8. Karrilee Aggett

    I love you. That is all. (Except, of course, it isn’t! It isn’t all… it is the beginning, it is the fullness of truth, it is the knowing – kindred spirit, heart, and joy… it is the one day I just MAY show up to play Bingo… one day, I just may!)

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I love you too, Karrilee Aggett! And yes to Bingo… I’ll save you a spot. 😉

      Reply
  9. Vivian R West

    GOD IS REAL!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Oh yes. Yes, He is. Realer than Real.

      Reply
  10. Shanyn

    Bless you for this. I was thinking about this last night when I tweeted and shared this question, “What if instead of asking ‘What would Jesus do?’ we asked ‘How does this show people Jesus in us?”

    Being an encourager should be more common, and yet it is not. And it is somewhat of a target too, but I’m glad for the shots taken because they land smack in the middle of grace. Of mess. Of me loving Jesus.

    Love your words and your heart!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I like the way you’ve phrased the question. Thanks so much for sharing that.

      Reply
  11. Ann Kroeker

    Though Psalm 133 with its image of oil running down Aaron’s beard does not offer the most contemporary, American, or feminine image to consider, your post and the idea of IF reminds me of that psalm and how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wish I could have been there.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      That image is just right. It was a really moving, soul-stirring event, Ann.

      Reply
  12. Michelle DeRusha

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much this post means to me, right when I feel up to my eyeballs in divisions and boundaries and who’s in and who’s out. Thanks for this, Jennifer.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I hear you. I do, I do, Michelle. And when I start to wonder if I’m in, or if I’m out … God keeps taking me right back here — to those verses from Colossians that remind us that our lives are “hidden with Christ *IN* God.” We are *in* God, no matter if we are *in* human circles. #Notetoself

      Reply
  13. Kris Camealy

    Thank you, Jennifer. I am just soaking this goodness up. I LOVE the truth here, we’re all in, right? We’re all in. May I never forget this. (So wonderful to finally hug your neck! Love you so!)

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Seeing you was a highlight. Thanks for your friendship. Wish I had been more “up” for conversation on Saturday night.

      Reply
  14. Christie Purifoy

    Excellent words, Jennifer! I, too, grew up in a tangle of dividing lines. I’m so grateful to God for giving me a shove across the line, and then another one, and then another. I know I never would have been brave enough or wise enough to do it on my own. What a blessing to see those lines fading away through movements like this. Glory.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      It was a very unifying event.

      You know, we will probably always have our differences. I don’t have a problem with differences. In fact, I think they help us grow.

      But what troubles me is the way that we bicker over them, and backstab, and unfriend, and gossip, and murmur, and point 140-character swords at each other’s necks.

      Did you get to see any of the IF recordings, Christie? So good. I’m still processing so much.

      Reply
  15. Deidra

    No more lines. No more walls. No more. Period. As much as it depends on us…

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      As much as it depends on us, indeed. Thank you for leading the way. You’re a wall-tearer-downer.

      Reply
  16. Kim Reisch Vander Poel

    Jennifer–Such beautiful words…Since I have had the unique privilege to be part of different congregations with some very different beliefs, your words touched my heart. I often share with others the wise words from one of my elderly patients who had dementia–she didn’t even know her name–but her words rang so true, “Your admission into heaven isn’t determined by your denomination on earth.” Blessings!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Oh, Kim, that is lovely.

      Did you get to see any of IF via simulcast or the recordings, which were made available?

      Reply
  17. Laura Brown

    My path to Jesus began in the campfire song circles at church camp, and “We Are One in the Spirit” was one of the first I learned. I loved that song then, and now. Come to think of it, can’t remember when I sang it last. Hm.

    You said grace juice. Did you mean to? If not, DON’T FIX IT! That is my nominee for Most Felicitous Typo Ever.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Ok. So I fixed it last night, as I told you via Facebook message. This whole post had so many errors, and that’s terribly embarrassing. I wrote it straight from my gut and hardly looked back. I NEVER do that. Of course, the one post that is rife with errors gets a larger than usual number of social-media shares. #humbling

      🙂

      I’ll just go pour myself a glass of grace juice and chill.

      Reply
  18. Rhonda Quaney

    So, so well weaved together Jennifer. Love you tender spirit spilled out in the lines.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Have you written about your reflections, Rhonda? Are you still processing? I think I will be processing for quite some time. Would love to hear your main takeaways.

      Reply
      • Rhonda Quaney

        I honestly walked away from If:Gathering unsure of where women in my season of life fit in to what God is doing. If I were honest, I’d admit that I feel the heart of the older woman is missed in the on-line world. Now months later I am deeply grateful for the heart of the God and how He is moving at this time and that includes the beautiful gift of IF:Gathering, IF:Local, and IF:Pray. God is on the move and I want to be about what Jesus is doing.

        Reply
    • dukeslee

      Love you too, Lore. I am so glad we had a few minutes together. Hope to see you again, soon.

      Reply
  19. Annie Barnett

    I am so glad you write. Love your heart here.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Oh, thank you, Annie. Always does my heart good to see your smile in the comment box.

      Reply
  20. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Jennifer, I was convicted by these words and then felt thankful that, wow, God, you’ve done a work in me. When I joined the online Christian community 2 years ago as a blogger and started reading posts by people WAY different than me I went judgmental in like 30 seconds. By God’s grace and over time, my ideas about what Christianity looks like are getting much closer, I think, to what Jesus had in mind. There are a whole lotta shades of saved.
    thank you for this.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      A whole lotta shades of saved. 🙂 … I like that. xo

      Reply
  21. pastordt

    Wow. So glad this was the theme of the IF gathering. I hope there were a few voices over the age of 50 to speak into and agree with this oh-so-important truth. And I thank you for summing it up so beautifully. Well done, my friend.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Diana,

      Honestly, the voices tended to be younger. (I’m 42 and felt “old” while sitting in the audience.) I would say that Shelley Giglio — who I think is about to turn 50 — and Deidra Riggs were probably the oldest speakers. During her talk, Christine Caine gave a nod to some of the “older” Christian women leaders who have been influential in the lives of scores of women. She said that the IF stage wouldn’t exist, if not for those who had gone before.

      Reply
  22. Leah Adams

    Can you hear me standing up in front of my computer, shouting, “Yes?” I am certain my godly Grandmother was the most surprised person at the pearly gates when she found out that there were non-Baptists in heaven. Truly I don’t believe there was malice in her heart toward others of different theological bents, rather it was ignorance and a failure to interact and learn from others.

    When I am asked ‘what are you?’….I say I’m a Christian, who happens to attend a Baptist church. I’ve also attended Church of God (and loved it) and a non-denom church in the past. My in-laws are Methodist. I lead a Bible study that includes Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Church of Christ ladies. It is a beautiful blending of the body. Honestly, I do not think God is blessed by all the denominational bickering.

    Reply
    • Traci @tracesoffaith

      Leah, My story matches much of yours. I LOVE it when women from different faiths reading different translations walk into my Bible study. We learn and grow together. To God be all the glory!

      Reply
      • Leah Adams

        Yes, to God be all the glory!

        Reply
    • dukeslee

      I appreciate good theology, and have no problem with denominations. But it is the bickering that frustrates me, and it surely grieves the Father.

      Thank you for your ministry to people across denominational lines, Leah.

      Reply
  23. Nancy Ruegg

    At the Christian college I attended we were required to take the course, “Philosophy and Christian Thought.” One of our textbooks was titled, “The Protestant Faith,” which highlighted the theology and biblical principles upheld by the church universal. I was astounded by its size and weight. Who knew that across denominational lines we had so much in common! Now, years later, I’ve had the opportunity to know devout Catholics who also have put their faith in Jesus for salvation. We have much in common with them, too. I love your image of stars in our eyes that blind us to inconsequential differences. And thank you, Jennifer, for sharing all those wonderful quote-tidbits from the IF conference!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      My notebook is FULL of gems. I’ve only begun to process all that I learned. I suspect I’ll be thumbing through that notebook for a while. Did you happen to catch any of IF via simulcast or the recordings?

      Reply
      • Nancy Ruegg

        No, I missed the IF-Conference boat!! I’ll have to back-paddle and see what I missed.

        Reply
  24. Traci @tracesoffaith

    This Southern Baptist turned Presbyterian turned Non-Deonominational turned Reformed Christian thanks you for your pearls of wisdom. I have never understood the battle lines either. Jesus never abandoned His religion but He did so much outside of it. Much to learn.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Ah yes. … Such truth there, Traci. Thank you for sharing here. I’m writing to you from a very strong Reformed Christian area, by the way, up in northwest Iowa. Taught at Dordt College for several years. Even though I’m Lutheran. 🙂

      Reply
  25. ro elliott

    I got to watch most of if at home…I can say as someone of the past generation my heart was so blessed…your generation and these even younger ones are ushering in a new…well not new…because this has always been God’s heart… And I pray “older” woman will receive from this generation a better way to walk..a freer way to live…

    Reply
  26. Beth

    Oh I just love all of this.

    Reply

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