The Halfway Point

A few days ago on my birthday, I reached one of those seismic “a-ha” moments that is large enough to still leave you repositioning yourself for several days after.

In a hard moment where God asked me what I want most of all, I became aware that the direction God is taking me in now is more wildly different than previous seasons than I realized. While learning for me is a pleasure and a joy, God is more interested in this season in building up my heart than my mind. While I always knew that God wanted me to focus on connection during this trip, I didn’t realize that he’s currently more concerned with answering my unvoiced prayers than ones I had explicitly requested. Sometimes the breakthrough we need isn’t the breakthrough we asked for, and hallelujah Jesus that he knows us better than we know ourselves.

Partially for my own sake and partially because I believe it’s so true to how God moves, I’m taking a little time to reflect on what I know and what I don’t at the halfway point of this season.

I say halfway point, because my current travel journey started just a few days before last Christmas. I say halfway point because there are several clear time time frames the Lord has given me for this coming Fall and Winter 2022.

What the Journey has been like So Far

January 2022 Monthly Summary

February 2022 Monthly Summary

March 2022 Monthly Summary

April 2022 Monthly Summary

As I obeyed God to leave my job, listened carefully for direction and learning, gave all my stuff away, God gradually built me up to the point where I knew his voice well enough to discern whether an unction to visit a place was from him. Through tracking my dreams and simply trusting him in obedience, he is connecting me with the right people and ministries.

Right now, I would say that about 40% of my daily logistics are fixed, while about 60% are flexible. Usually when I start discerning a new place, I have months worth of patterns in my dreams about that area that I’ve already organized by theme, to explore further. So far, the Lord has pulled my attention to regions based on its need, based on emerging leaders there he wants to elevate, based on emerging ministries that have his favor, and based on long term callings he wants to solidify in me. I’ve gotten better at recognizing that unction over time, and navigating how God is speaking.

As I do things like buy plane tickets and reach out to friends to see if they know people, details begin to fall in place. I prioritize establishing a rapport with individuals or groups first, then deal with logistics like accommodation or flights. And similarly, since God made the goal of this trip as connection, my events are flexible and mostly focused on getting to know people.

Once I start to book plane tickets and accommodation, God sends me more people, which multiples (since people know people). For example, after I decided to visit Singapore, a friend I had known years back on a prayer team in a former church reached out, said she’d love to connect, and is helping connect me to people in her current church who can give me an idea of what God is presently doing in the city. I expect there will be a domino effect from here.

In early April, God really challenged me to learn trust him more fluently, so there were lots of moments where I only could plan one day at a time. As I was in need of clarity, God would add or eliminate possibilities so that it was obvious what doors to take. Over the past month, God has been trusting me with more information for longer periods of time, and my capacity to connect with new people has seemed to accelerate. Unlike the days where I could just plan one day at a time, today I have clarity on where I should be until at least halfway through July.

There is still plenty of time for God to move between mid-July and this Fall and Winter. While I don’t have the logistics yet, I know his plans will be good. For now, thematically, spatially, and chronologically, there are several reasons why I think I may be nearing the halfway point in my trip.

Thematically: Getting Outside the West

As I prepare to travel to Singapore in a few days, I’d be lying to say I haven’t been longing for this moment. I am so grateful for the work God did in Glasgow, London, and Munich, but my sincere desire has been to experientially make sense of a pull to the Southern Hemisphere. In my dreams, the Lord has been speaking about partnerships between the Southern Hemisphere and Western nations he wants to create through imagery of infants of mixed ethnicities.

I’ve had various similar dreams about strange new fruit that the Lord wants to produce through these partnerships, that visually looks different than anything else that currently grows on the Earth. And I’ve had various dreams of God mixing together ingredients from various parts of the world (for example, like European strawberries, Chinese dried black mushrooms, Thai chillies, Mediterranean figs, and more). I’ve had visions where Jesus personifies himself as an Asian or Latin American. I feel very fortunate to go directly from Singapore to Brazil, as for months I’ve been having dreams where I start in Latin America and by the end of the dream am in Asia (or vice versa). Similarly, I am often sharing things from Asian grocery stores with Western nations in my dreams. However he does it, I know that the Lord has plans for these nations to build apostolically together.

Along with several notable prophets, I believe that at this time, God is moving his favor outside of the West and to the Southern Hemisphere. Because of the way God is moving at this time in history, if I am going to be explicitly honest, I am wondering if the financial breakthrough I’ve needed will come when I am spatially outside of the Western world. If there was a time to build in alignment with ministries outside of a Western worldview, that time is now.

As I physically cross over into Asia and then to Latin America, there is this a sense of passing through a barrier that I have been waiting to cross. To me, this feels like a symbolic halfway point that time in the UK and Germany has been building towards.

Spatially

One week ago, I had a dream where I was watching myself traveling on a map. Seeing visuals like maps, infographics, and videos is relatively common in my dreams, so I wasn’t surprised that it looked like Google maps. From the beginning until the end of the journey, I ultimately moved in a square. The place I returned to was ultimately very close to the place I started, but it wasn’t clear if I would stay there or continue on elsewhere.

In real life, I am about to live that square (ish) pattern. Starting in Washington, DC, I will move from North America to Europe, from Europe to Asia, from Asia to South America, and from South America back to North America to finish some classes for Seminary.

Ironically, the place I am going to seminary will be just a 45 minute drive from my original DC address. I will be there for 3 weeks, then the unknown.

Chronologically

I find that imagining time zones is easiest when you think of it like a number line. When you find the difference between two numbers on a number line, all you have to do is count the hops.

According to this map, there are exactly 12 hops between Washington DC’s time zone (EST) to Singapore’s time zone (CEST). That means that give or take, they are nearly on the opposite side of the world from each other.

I’m actually quite curious about what God will do when I’m spatially as far away from home as possible. I have already been coordinating with friends in North America about how we will communicate, and to be quite honest, the communication prospects will either be very intentional or limited. Since I’ll just be in Singapore a few weeks, I actually think that it’s likely God will do some important building in me when I have more distance from other people.

Another reason I feel that I’m reaching a halfway point is that after I attend seminary in Alexandria, there will be about half a year remaining until the timelines God has given me for this Fall and Winter.

If this has been my progression so far…

Just imagine what would happen if you took all the months and folded them in half vertically?

We all know that the halfway point in a Western calendar year is between June and July. If I stack these two halves on top of one another, I have nearly two equal portions: one clear, the other unknown.

Allowing the Unknown

While I am certainly learning and enjoying this part of my journey, lately it has felt like a furnace. When you pass through a tunnel, the middle part is often the least visible. The good thing about a tunnel is that you don’t have to focus on the entrance or the exit, only where you are currently at. We have to learn to trust that at some point, things will become clear again. As we trust, we simply keep going and gradually learn to relax.

‚ÄúAs the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9

I am believing that God’s plans are good, even when we don’t know them. Instead of asking God for more logistics, I am actually asking for him to leave me in the furnace a bit longer and let it spread to the rest of my life. I’m not holding back and I’m not asking for it to stop. Again, I’d rather that God look me in the eyes and know that I’m serious rather than for him to make me more comfortable. I don’t want to be overzealous like Peter when Jesus washed his feet, but out of trust, I don’t want to hold anything back. It’s not just fear of the Lord, it’s knowing God as trustworthy.

What comes out of a furnace is beautiful. God has been especially bold already this year in sharing some of his plans for my life that he means to establish. Because of the size of some of the things he’s talking about, my reaction at this point is mostly peace and a “Well, up to you to make that happen.”

Spatially when it comes to travel, the safest place in the world is in the will of God. If I’m being honest, sometimes I think God is like a parent with a squalling toddler, “Just get in the car and I’ll tell you where we’re going on the way.” It’s not just that we wouldn’t always be ready to know, its that it’s a waste of time to explain.

Lord, give us the capacity to track so closely with you that we don’t hesitate. Give us the wisdom to wait and the wisdom to go, and make our attention undivided.

In another 6 months, I’ll do another one of these reflections and share how close my predictions came to real life as well as some next steps (if I know them by then, lol). In the meantime, Lord, steer.

April 2022 Monthly Summary

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Would you believe that tomorrow, it will be my birthday?

And do you know what? Ever since I was little, I have always wanted to be 28! Something about the beauty and the symmetry of the numbers has captured my excitement to this day.

God must Fill the Gap

In this season of training, sharpening in the prophetic, and people gathering, it is so obvious that God must fill be the provider. God must pour out his grace to give me words to say, build connections, and provide financially.

Since it’s so near my birthday, this month I’m going to be a bit atrevida and invite you all to sow into what God is doing in my ministry at the beginning of this post instead of at the end. I am trusting that if I continue to walk in obedience with the steps God is calling me to make, all my material needs will be provided for. If you sense that God is calling you to invest in the work he is doing in me now, trusting that it will bear greater fruit in the future, your partnership is very welcome.

You can sow into my ministry training travels here

People Gallery: A Celebration

If 2021 taught me anything, it’s that my favorite way to remember time is through people. In this season, I’ve intentionally taken a Latin American approach to build relationally first, knowing that out of organic alignment, God can leverage these friendships for ministry later on. Over the last 6 weeks, the Lord has brought me around so many glorious friends!

These are some of my favorite moments with favorite people so far:

London

This time a month ago I was exploring a strong pull that I felt to visit London. The sense of pull was the same texture and tone as the sense of pull that I had in leaving DC, and was cut from the same cloth as other major decisions I’ve made, like applying for seminary for the first time. In the past, the texture of this pull has come with other confirming details, like timelines, names of people, and clarity on exactly my role when I am there. But this time, I felt that sense of pull without God having revealed the full picture.

Unlike times past, my only other major point of confirmation (to compliment that unction) was dreams. Over the period of 3-4 months, God had sent me about 10 dreams about specific details of the spiritual landscape of the city and how he wanted me to partner with him in prayer. Ultimately, I decided to ditch my reason and trust that I was hearing God rightly. As soon as I did that, God orchestrated for my friend Vera to join me and so many other divine connections to happen. This month, I spent a glorious 10 days in London, and the Father honored that risk.

Reflections from Easter

In going to London, it was my sincerest longing to find a place to spend Easter in community and because of the resurrection of Jesus, see miracles.

That day, I got to:

  • Attend a service at Catch the Fire London
  • Prophesy over people in the park with my friend Tania and her team
  • Catch a ride with some Romanian friends to My Church Windsor, meeting Dr. Sharon Stone

While I normally operate as a Seer, God stretched me mightily in April to get the majority of my revelation for others through Nabi words. It was my first time prophesying to strangers in a public setting with a prophetic team, and I was shocked by how open the people were once God began to speak through us. As I trusted God, I found that there really was no end point in terms of what he had to say. I had to be pulled away at the end because we reached the end of our timing, but wow. It was such a good learn to experience the limitless revelation of God, when you are aligned with his heart.

My favorite moment was seeing Tania prophesy over a little girl of 3 years old. At this point, we had prophesied accurately over nearly all members of the family, and Tania offered to give a word for their very social little girl. I watched as she spoke to the girl in an encouraging, playful tone about her love for TV and dancing, and how someday, God would teach her how to make TV programs for adults. The girl’s eyes got big and until we left, she told us about her favorite TV shows, shared her food with us, and kept inviting a third member of our group to play.

As someone with a background in Early Childhood Education, I was moved by how safe the girl felt with us once she had heard the Lord through Tania. Even for very social children, I have never seen that level of safety so quickly with strangers. When the parents saw how enthusiastic their daughter was, they trusted us to prophesy over their baby who was 7 months in the womb. I was humbled and honored to be given that level of trust.

From prophesying, my friend Vera and I met a small group of Romanians who invited us to carpool with them to Sharon Stone’s church in Windsor. Believe it or not, the car broke down just a few minutes from the church, and some of us walked while the others stayed behind to help. As God does, he sent along several English men who were very friendly and got the problem sorted before church even started. Due to the car break down, I was sitting in the lobby of the church on a blue couch as Sharon Stone walked through the door, greeted my friend Vera and I, and continued on in warmth and elegance. Being around her made me realize more deeply that I have latitude to still be myself even as I train and lead others. I can remain in my values of honesty, simplicity, and warmth and speak with my own voice.

On Saturday the 23rd of April, Vera and I got to attend a prophetic gathering in London with Emma Stark, Sharon Stone, Tomi Arayomi, Rob Cates, an Steve Tebb. I was able to serve on their ministry team to prophesy to others, and I had so much fun prophesying to people (in formal moments, in the bathroom, getting food, all over) that I lost count of the number of people I shared with (15-20?). Grateful for increasing freedom in God.

Honestly? God really refreshed my soul, seeing London in a time of so much beauty. I didn’t know how badly I needed that refreshing until I was there.

Munich

From London, I accompanied my friend Vera back to her home in Munich. I have been in Munich for about four days, and we are finally in some glorious weather!I have been learning so much from Vera and her mother’s heart for Germany. She has been sharpening me through her joy and directness, and I’ve needed to come up some levels to keep pace. God is using Vera to show me the strength, endurance, and faith that I will need to have in him now and in the future. As her ministry expands, I know she will be able to bless many others through the same things she’s teaching me now. I feel lucky to come and spend time with her now, before I have to share her with the world.

You may notice that I cut off a significant portion of my hair this week, and it’s so much lighter. Since I’ve been in Munich, I’ve needed to find clothes at thrift stores for upcoming travel (keep reading)…

Here are some beautiful moments in the Englischergarten earlier this week.

Next Steps: New Assignments and Traveling

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have longed to get outside of the West for some time. God has mixed together specific imagery of Asia and Latin America so much in my dreams that I know I will be returning to both areas various times in the future in a way that builds a highway between them (and other places).

After the experience of recognizing God’s pull on my life so clearly for London, I was less afraid to trust him for the next steps when I felt that pull come again.

My next destination after Munich will be Singapore! I will be sitting in as a guest at several classes from Awaken Generation Singapore on prophetic vocals and songwriting. This squares with various dreams I’ve had about open doors in Asia, worshipping Jesus in various languages, and latent gifts that the Lord has been prompting me to re-develop. I became aware of this group months back during the pandemic when my elementary school students and I used their music to worship Jesus during the pandemic. I really believe the Lord’s hand is on them to develop pure worship that influences Southeast Asia and Asia for Jesus.

After Singapore, I have been invited to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I will be able to build relationally and help train adults and teens in the prophetic. I will be sharing more about how the Lord established this connection in next month! For now, I am just grateful. It’s been 8 years since my feet have been on Latin American soil, since my salvation experience. I feel like I’m going home. Not just that, but because the intentionally relational approach I’ve taken squares so thoroughly with a Latin American worldview, the Brazilians have intuitively resonated more than all the nationalities I’ve spoken with. It isn’t just that God’s hand is on Brazil, it’s that there is a similar orientation in our expectations of God’s ways.

In each of these territories, God is challenging me to play a different role, in response to what he is currently releasing. Here is a short table describing each of those shifts.

Revisiting What I Knew in February

I tell you, it’s been a wild few months! Back in February, I had really sensed that my journey would start with Brazil, because I knew at some point I would need to go back to Latin America for a season.

God has his own timings and his own order. I truly believe that God’s will was to bring me to multiple places in order to have me more robustly formed by the time he brought me back to Latin America.

As of February, this is the list of things I confidently felt him saying:

Of the things on this list, the relationships and network he wanted to reveal to me has already been starting to form organically. He confirmed dreams about traveling to multiple locations, and more to come. In February, I knew that worship was a significant theme on the Lord’s heart, but I didn’t realize that it was such an important facet of the learning he wanted me to receive. I tell you, from Glasgow til today, God has surrounded me with an uncanny number of worshippers for reasons that I am still unpacking.

So far, my financial provision has come from various sources, mostly prior to leaving North America. I’m expecting God to continue being himself and taking good care of me. Related to timelines of leaving DC, in February, I hadn’t yet learned to recognize the unction of God that pulls you to certain places with certainty (see the section I wrote on London earlier). I expected God to send me a special invitation to leave DC, and in reality confirmation was more like accepting that the grace had run out and trusting him to let go. I made the decision to finish getting rid of all my stuff just days before I was already scheduled to fly to Glasgow, and trusted him. He has honored the faith it took to leave and added more to it.

Another cool thing: I recently got approval from my leaders at the Global Prophetic Alliance to begin develop structure for a small group over Zoom, devoted to training teens in the prophetic. I am thrilled to return to working with youth, and after having so many dreams specifically about training teens in the prophetic, I’m comforted and relieved. Please send up a prayer for us as we break new ground, that God would guide the entire process in glory and beauty.

Healing, Restoration, Inheritance

Each month, I use this blog to worship Jesus, celebrating what he has done and pausing to contemplate what he wants to do currently. I take an intentionally celebratory tone because I want to not just provide information, but worship. It isn’t that I don’t face challenges, disappointment, or changes in plans, but I want to exalt him over them. I want the last word each month to be about the greatness of God, because I expect him to deliver me when I face challenges (and he timelessly has).

If I’m going to be 100% honest, this is both a training season and a restoration season for me personally. The Father is challenging me to delight in the goodness has surrounded me with, and to simultaneously work on inner healing. God has put a special grace on this time of transition for me to receive. I end up covering the same amount of ground through taking myself less seriously and relying on God’s strength in me to honor and bless the people he has given me. It’s been a real challenge to transition out of a performance mindset, and just receive. God has been guiding me to approach my training in the prophetic through a lens of security and trust that he will ultimately be the one to lead the process. As I surrender and let him continue his perfect work, he is redemption.

Owning my Voice and Call

Back in March, I was in the Spirit. I had an encounter where I saw Jesus, but when he spoke, he spoke with my voice instead of his normal speaking voice.

In this time of standing alongside strong people, it has been so important that I 1) use my voice and 2) make my voice sounds like the fullness of his. God wants me to be prepared to speak clearly and in Christlikeness to strong people in the future. He is tuning me like an instrument, and I have to allow myself to become more useful and in tune.

Since February, I have had the great benefit of attending a closed group prophetic nest (small group) focused on equipping Seer Prophets for leadership. The level of character and capacity of our leader Robin (and other nest members) has been a gift to me (more about Robin’s ministry here).

In our last meeting, Robin taught on the difference between passion (our mere interests) and complaint (what irritates us enough to keep us up at night; paraphrased).

For me personally, I have various passions. I love to cook, I love theology, I love nature and spending quality time with family and friends.

But my complaints are much more serious.

I believe that for generations, the Church has robbed youth of their inheritance in Christ. Children can mirror Christ even at an early age, and we must expect more for them! We will see children moving intuitively in miracles, signs, and wonders (Acts 2:17). To accept anything less is to rob Jesus of a measure of worship he paid for in blood, and to rob the nations of their inheritances from the Lord. The Lord has given the nations children (both chronological children and born again believers), and they are a gift (Psalm 127:3).

Worship and prophesy should be beautiful! Worship is a wave that carries us into the glory of God, and prophesy should be as creative as the Holy Spirit. We should always expect God to encounter us through a variety of methods, and innovate new ways to share his voice with others. We must be more multilingual to mirror the beauty of Revelation 7:9 throne room worship. We must be purer voices than the mediums and witches, with greater manifestations of the favor and power of God through our loving obedience. We must expect to inherit more and pursue the “more” God wants to release, because whatever we receive, we can pass on to our children. To settle for anything less than the fullness of what God has to offer us is foolish, selfish and undercuts those who have to come after us.

A Ready Bride

On April 23rd, I listened to Emma Stark describe the importance of sharing the emotional state of the Bridegroom, saying in the Spirit, “[I the Lord] want to marry you having you understand who I am. I do not want to marry a startled Bride!”

Pretty much since that experience, I have been praying that I would be a Bride Jesus would want to marry. At this point, I don’t want God to comfort me, I want him to look me in the eye and see that I’m serious. I don’t want to limit God by my timings or my terms. I’m giving God permission to give me away with his own ways, timings, thoughts, and intuition.

It makes think of something that Sharon Stone said on April 23rd about how she invested her life in God because it was a relationship where she wasn’t just invited to be a consumer, but in trusted partnership with Jesus. Truth that establishes something real.

It’s like a relationship where there is mutual attraction, but the couple hasn’t gotten close enough to really experientially learn one another. Transformation cannot happen without closeness.

I think about the months of furnace and serious cost it took to get to the place where I would be positioned to experientially learn God the way I am in this season. The Lord moved me into the season I’m presently in after there had been enough testing for me to bear (and receive) it.

On a larger scale, there is an exclusivity that has to come into the way the Church relates to God, to allow him to be the only one to water her garden. The Church has got to reclaim her beauty as belonging to God alone. Just as a woman refuses to be a single man’s direction or a married man’s distraction, the Church in various nations has got to break agreement with a political spirit and other lesser loves. Lord, help us as individuals and as your Bride draw closer.

Prayer

This month, I am jealous for your prayers, that God would:

  • Give me creative grace to develop, gather, and launch a virtual small group for training teens in the prophetic
  • Give the same creative grace to keep experimenting with technology; partners to help animate a prophetic word on surrender I have been curating
  • Show me what to do with the downloads of revelatory teaching I often get in worship, and potentially provide opportunities to release words in real time (vs. only writing them after)
  • Provide balance between writing and active ministry
  • Grow my trust in him across the board
  • Keep healing me
  • Provide further open doors, radical blessing and favor

Writing from this Month

Theology

Applied Teaching

Reflections on Regions I will be Traveling to

“Who Will Value the Cost?”

During and after Holy Week, I had the great benefit of sitting under some outstanding bible teachers and prophets in London. While I was worshipping Jesus with Catch the Fire and My Church Windsor, the Lord gave me a glimpse of some of the emotions he felt before and during being anointed at Bethany (Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-11, Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-11). I’m sharing that revelation now so that his Ekklesia will honor him even more greatly for his sacrifice.

Tenderness for Torture

Each of the four gospels shares a scene that in the minds of many Christians, has become a living symbol of what the Church in intimacy with Jesus can look like. A sinful woman comes close to Jesus and opens a jar of costly perfume. She weeps over his feet, wipes them with her hair, and begins to anoint them with perfume. In John’s gospel, the woman is Mary of Bethany, who displays her love for Jesus while eating at a table with family and friends, as community. In Luke, she is a woman who has been forgiven an incredible debt, who has been taken from the margins and forgiven by God. In Matthew, she does “a beautiful thing” to Jesus by preparing him for his burial. In Mark, her cost is misunderstood by Judas, who goes off in search of material gain.

In each of these accounts, the details that most stand out to me are sensory. The arm strength required to break open the vial of nard. The accusatory tones carried in the voices of at least several in the audience. The sensation of tears dropping off your face and the visual of them mixing with the dirt on his feet. The softness of strands of a woman’s hair against your skin. The perfume that would have still been clinging to his skin, comforting him as he was crucified and waited to be restored to his right place.

In the versions in Matthew and Mark, Jesus indicates that, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Jesus indicates to his followers the importance of her action as well as his will that it be commemorated, but why?

Her actions were not just a demonstration of intimacy with the Trinity, however beautiful.

Her actions were not just full recognition of her own sins and an act of incredible kindness, however commendable.

I believe that her actions mark her as the only member of the audience to perceive and rightly honor Jesus before he was tortured.

God moved her heart to honor him through tenderness that would have been the exact opposite of the gruesome death he was to experience.

With her tears, she washed the dirty feet that in bringing good news to many, would be pierced to bring life to many more.

Her perfume became a scent that would linger, even as his closest friends left.

Seeing eternity, he had denied his right to marriage while on the Earth, yet another act of isolation. The softness of her hair would have reminded him of his Bride, whose future beauty would have lingered in his mind as he allowed himself to die.

Like someone staring you in the eyes in recognition, like a gentle word while receiving death threats, like a place of refuge after being doxxed, Jesus was so honored by the tenderness of her actions that he indicated to his disciples that they must include it in his story. We do not know whether she consciously knew what would happen to Jesus or whether she felt the unction to do this and allowed herself to be carried along by her spirit. Either way, Jesus clearly valued her actions.

And it isn’t hard to understand why. For weeks (maybe months), Jesus had been explaining his plans to his friends. He entrusted himself and his disciples over to God not just in the moment he gave up his Spirit but many times, especially in their lack of understanding. He prepared their hearts even as they did not understand what he was doing. Taking their proximity to him for granted, they assumed, “surely if there was something important to share, surely he would have told us.” They didn’t realize that he already had.

He would have hoped that his torture would ultimately mean something to them. That they wouldn’t just catch the greater meaning of his death and resurrection, but that they would value it. In worshipping tears that shared his grief, here was a morsel of bread for a starving man, deprived of honor.

While modern Christians love to criticize the political and religious leaders’ rejection of Jesus, he faced his greatest betrayals among his friends, and from within his own home. His friends and family were the most offended by him, not the Religious or the Romans!

For a moment, allow yourself to imagine their disappointment, even contempt:

“How could this man who has the power to raise the dead even consider allowing himself to die? How can you think about leaving? We trusted in you! How could you betray us like this?”

We know that the vast majority of his disciples (except for select women and John) were entirely scattered. Can you feel the accusation in their choice of flight? “We didn’t sign up for this.”

According to the Gospel of John, the same woman who had once accused Jesus of betraying their relationship by allowing her brother to die was now weeping at his feet. Whether she knew or the Holy Spirit knew, this time the burden of performing a resurrection was not on Jesus, but on the Father he trusted.

And yet, in spite of family pressure, Jesus was willing to betray their preconceived ideas of how he would save them. He was willing to be tortured for true salvation. If he cared most about being understood, he could have responded to their faithlessness in plain language. And yet, wouldn’t they have tried to stop him? In silence, he simply did what the Father asked, trusting the Spirit’s work in them to make up the difference.

Following Mary of Bethany, we as Christians must reckon with the full extent of Christ’s torture. We cannot see his death as mere kindness or as forgiveness, but we MUST see it through the lens of cost!

I hear the Spirit of the Lord say, along Psalm 69, Psalm 51, and Psalm 49,

“Would you let my sacrifice matter? Would you let it define your WHOLE life?”

To truly honor Jesus, we as his Ekklesia must value his cost.

Our Right Response is Worship

We tell his story because we value the torture he endured and will not let his sacrifice for us go to waste. We resist the fear and comfort that would rush us away from his wounds. We resist the excessive, heavy dourness that would keep us bound by them. We know that only by understanding the full scope of his wounds can we recognize the full scope of our liberation.

We know that the only right response to his sacrifice is worship. We will continue to worship until we see him return in glory to reap the full measure of his inheritance.

We will worship until willing praise arises from every corner of Heaven and Earth,

Until even the demons are forced to acknowledge him as Lord,

Until such a deafening sound of praise in all octaves and frequencies that the New Heavens and New Earth are revealed under the weight of it,

Until the skies peel back and the mountains fall trembling and the Old order of doing things is changed in an instant by the King of Glory who has come down to receive his due;

Our only right response is to take our place in the chorus of his worshippers.

In the beginning was worship, before all creation,

And we will worship him eternally until the end:

He will hear all the nations worshipping in all languages as we go from Praise to Praise.

The Cost of Deifying Mary and Re-attributing Praise

As someone with Catholic ancestry, who has various Catholic friends, and who has worked in a Catholic education setting, I have learned so much from Catholics. My Catholic friends and family have taught me about God’s creativity, his sovereignty over our minds, his supernatural nature, and the various ways Catholic movements have stewarded the power of God. Today, I hope to raise an important topic that historically, has divided Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. My ultimate hope is that through conversations such as these, we as Christians across denominational lines can sharpen one other “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ“. Therefore, I hope that conversations such as this one will only strengthen the commitment that my Catholic brothers and sisters and I have to one another.

Despite the challenging nature of this topic and in spite of the risks that challenging conversations carry, I am writing today to discuss how the deification of Mary is linked to discrimination against women in leadership (misogyny) and patterns of sexual sin (perversion).

Throughout my years in conversation with Catholics, I have seen many people’s genuine devotion to the Virgin Mary. I know that many people are drawn to the Virgin Mary as a symbol of perseverance, nurturing solidarity, and purity. I believe that much of the esteem that Catholics have for Mary of Nazareth is reasonable, if you examine what we know of her story.

One of my favorite aspects of the story of Mary of Nazareth is that for all Christians, Mary pre-figures the Church. She is an example of unconditional surrender, who allows God to come very close and suffered the cost of Christ’s ministry alongside him. She saw Yahweh as her just, righteous, powerful Deliverer. She was willing to move where God told her to move. She allowed her heart to be moved for the sake of others. Ultimately, she put her hope in a future Deliverer who would restore the hope of her people and free them from oppression.

Check out this picture of a 19th Century Egyptian girl from Lehnert and Landrock, featured in the writing of Elizabeth Fletcher on this post

Unlike many Classical and Medieval paintings and Eastern Icons, Mary and her family members would have touched Christ’s skin. She would have cared for him while he remained helpless, as an example of how Christ entrusted his very life over to the Church. Secular historians can give us some sense of what her daily life would have been like, and illustrate some of the challenges she may have faced.

Prior to the year 1100, the Church would have rightly honored Mary’s sacrifices. Within Eastern Orthodox churches, that pattern of honor remains strong. However, around the year 1100, devotees began to introduce the belief that Mary was born, conceived, and lived until death without original sin and personal sin. This doctrine became known as “The Immaculate Conception of Mary,” initially introduced by a monk named Eadmer of Canterbury in England. This doctrine grew in popularity and scholarly debate throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. Much of the debate stemmed from the fact that within the cannon of scripture, it is one of just several doctrines of the Catholic Church that is entirely without scriptural evidence. Despite its initial controversy, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was re-popularized by the Marianists of the 18th century, and ratified as doctrine by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

For Protestant Christians, the belief that Mary could be without sin indicates that she would have been superhuman, similar if not co-equal with Christ. Indeed, there are factions of Catholics today who strongly believe and advocate to the Vatican that Mary is a “Co-Redemptrix”, along with Christ.

During the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas was initially strongly against the concept of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. According to Aquinas,

“If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never been stained with the contagion of original sin, this would have detracted from Christ’s dignity as the savior of all men.”

According to this article, Thomas recognized that if Mary were without sin, she would not need a Savior; the Bible would then be wrong in saying Jesus was the Savior of all men and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; there is none righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:23)

As Aquinas has identified, without needing a Savior and without needing the atonement of Christ, Mary cannot pre-figure the Church, who is dependent on God’s grace to be included in his redemption story.

Without her own sin, Mary cannot pre-figure the Church as a second Eve.

Without her own sin, Mary cannot pre-figure the Church that Christ entrusted with himself, in weakness.

In order to assign Mary a co-equal role with Christ, aspects of Yahweh’s perfect divinity would need to be shared among multiple lesser Gods (Christ, Mary, and potentially other holy figures). While dividing the deity of Yahweh between Christ and Mary may have been more attractive and familiar to converts from a polytheist culture, to incarnate God as less than the fullness of Yahweh would not be his true representation. We are told in Colossians 2:9-10, “in Christ all the fullness¬†of the Deity lives in bodily form,¬†and in Christ you have been brought to fullness”. Christ is “the head¬†over every power and authority“, and no other figures past or present (including members of the Cloud of Witnesses, ie Saints) have the power to bring us into the fullness of God.

Reasons Why People Create an Idol

I would like to suggest that by making Mary of Nazareth co-equal with Christ, Marianists have ultimately lost sight of her story and made her into an idol.

When someone creates an idol, they

  1. Remove an aspect of the character of God Almighty
  2. Re-apportion it to another deity or object
  3. Re-attribute their worship to that deity or object

In a modern context, idolatry can include elevating any person, substance, or vehicle of pleasure into God-like status. Check out this explaination of Idolatry from the Bible Project here.

One of the first examples of idolatry among the Israelites started not because they doubted the power or holiness of God, but because they were afraid of him. In Exodus 32, just as soon as Moses begins to descend Mount Sinai, the people panic. For 40 days, Moses had been on the mountain with the Lord, receiving the instructions that would form the law. Through the Law, God would introduce a higher standard so that they develop a desire for holiness which the Holy Spirit would then later empower them to attain through Jesus.

At this point, the people know that God had provided for their needs while in Egypt. But when God’s presence descended on Mount Sinai, they saw his raw power and authority, and were afraid.

“Mount Sinai was covered with smoke,¬†because the¬†Lord¬†descended on it in fire.¬†The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace,¬†and the whole mountain¬†trembled¬†violently.”

Exodus 19:18

In fear, the people respond to God’s power and authority by remaining at a distance. At this point, they seem to have forgotten that the same God of all power and authority was the one who provided for their every need while in the wilderness. While they are still relatively young in their relationship with the Lord, they don’t seem to have an interest in learning about his character more fully, and are content to leave the relationship building to Moses.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightening, the sounding of the ram’s horn, and the mountain enveloped in smoke, they trembled and stood at a distance. “Speak to us yourself and we will listen,” they said to Moses. “But do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”

“Do not be afraid,” Moses replied. “For God has come to test you, so that the fear of Him may be before you, to keep you from sinning.” And the people stood at a distance as Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.”

Exodus 20:18-20

This fearful decision to disengage from the fullness of God was then demonstrated when instead of worshipping God alone, as they had just agreed to do, the people melted the golden jewelry the Lord had won them into a Golden Calf. Moses descends the mountain into this scene of mixture and is understandably frustrated.

In spite of all that God had done to support them in their time of need, the people preferred a deity with less power and authority. Essentially, they wanted to reject God’s standards in order to create their own. And based on their desire for distance and their rejection of God’s standard, their decision to create an idol makes sense. Idols are always easier to please than the Living God, for:

“They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, and noses but cannot smell. They have hands but cannot feel, and feet but cannot walk, and throats but cannot make a sound. And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them.”

Psalm 115:5-8

Sadly, God does not interpret this rejection as a rejection of his rules, but of himself. God’s entire purpose in giving them his standard was to draw them into a covenant of intimacy and understanding his character. He ultimately offered them himself, as he later has done for all people through Jesus. Unlike any other people group during this time in history, he offered them an exclusive covenant to experientially know him.

The Lord is unlike any other, and his glory he will not share.

I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.

Isaiah 42:8

God will not tolerate our mixture indefinitely, and in choosing idolatry over intimacy with the Living God, people maintain him at a distance. Sadly, these patterns of distance from God can be learned subconsciously, and can be further exacerbated by negative experiences with authority figures (especially our fathers). Regardless of our denominations, the cultures of our families and organizations can prime us towards intimacy or distance with God.

Furthermore, within each century and location, there are cultural factors can make us uncomfortable with the full expression of who God is. Within 12 and 13th century Europe, cultural factors left room for people to misunderstand the character of God and dualistically create an idol that could house the aspects of his character that their worldview was lacking.

As I will address below, the decision to idolize Mary of Nazareth was a born out of a misogynistic context that gnostically misinterpreted sexual purity. I am writing today because the discrimination against women in leadership (misogyny) and patterns of sexual sin that the Catholic Church currently faces are tied to that initial 12th and 13th century context. The only way to fully resolve the gender and sexuality crises within the Catholic Church will be to re-attribute praise to solely the Holy Trinity.

How the European Culture of the 12th and 13th centuries left room to Idolize Mary of Nazareth

So what aspects of God’s character did the 12th and 13th century European world struggle to appreciate? What cultural factors could have contributed to the popularity of this belief system?

Confused Sexual Ethics and Theology

Within the first 500 years of Church history, sexual ethics (like purity, holiness, abstinence, virginity, and matrimony) were enormous topics that transformed their cultures of origin. While Christian sexual ethics provided some new opportunities and protection to women, minors, and slaves, the Medieval Western European understanding of sexual value and gender roles linked the theology of holiness to sexual purity to virginity in a way that continues today. Scholars in the Medieval period (~500-1500) reflected and expanded these themes, conflating bodily virginity and abstinence with purity of heart. And yet, this is a false understanding of purity. Instead of focusing solely on physical acts, Jesus focused on purity of heart in relation to sex by challenging us to revolutionize our internal senses of desire. Once we give access to the Holy Spirit to help us navigate our sexual desire and be internally accountable to him, by God’s strength a revolution of our physical behavior can follow. Instead, Medieval leaders focused on the body to an extreme. Instead of drawing us to true repentance and helping us celebrate the Lordship of Jesus, a combination of penitential codes and strict fasting rules based on the liturgical calendar distracted the church. While fasting can elevate your awareness of God and help you retrain your desire towards God, even Jesus said, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” creating structures of asceticism, that defined your purity of heart solely through your actions (as in, self denial), the European churches failed to teach and preach true purity of heart. By enshrining virginity and a man-made sense of purity (as “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God“), the church avoided dealing with more challenging internal issues.

Masculinity and Misunderstand of God’s Grace

In 12th and 13th century Medieval Europe, these ideas reached a tipping point. In the 1200s, Eadmer of Canterbury is the first person historians believe to have formally scribed the theory of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In his writing, Eadmer’s main idea was that Mary must have been without sin if she could be so close to God that she became pregnant. It appears that Medieval scholars assumed that in order to be favored by God, she must be superhuman. To Modern eyes, these scholars seem to have an under-realized understanding of God’s grace. Most modern readers would assert that God chose to love human beings in spite of their inherent weakness, and through the atonement and the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, make up the difference. Therefore, God (in theory) doesn’t necessarily choose Mary because she is without sin, but for his own rationale. It is possible that Mary did indeed have a high degree of purity of heart. And yet, we as the Church are a collective of people who like Mary, we were not chosen by God for our own personal merits. Every good gift we have comes from the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, and God’s power to overcome our weakness. Medieval authors struggled to understand grace, misinterpreted purity of heart, and overemphasized Mary’s initial virginity to create a deified version of Mary of Nazareth that they called The Virgin Mary.

Once again, unlike the idealized Virgin Mary, like the Church, Mary of Nazareth would have needed God’s help. She likely did have some degree of purity of heart, otherwise she would not have been so receptive to the angel’s instructions. As is widely believed by Christians and proclaimed by the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed, it is likely that she did indeed retain her physical virginity at the time she conceived Christ. However, Mary’s purity wasn’t defined by her physical state of virginity, and it wasn’t formed during her conception, her birth, or life. Mary’s purity was first developed in her heart, when she chose to trust Yahweh with her life, and then later, her son Jesus. Just like the rest of us, Mary’s only true justification came through her faith in God. While we do well to honor Mary, when it comes to worship, we should go to the one who she considered the source.

God’s Authority is Already Feminine (and Masculine)

Combined with sexism against women, gender roles that posited all formal authority as male, a confused understanding of purity of heart would have made Medieval authors struggle to make sense of God’s ambiguous nature as neither male nor female. While they honored Mary for the purity that their worldview prioritized, but did not recognize the co-existence of divinity that was simultaneously authoritative and female. Over time, they began to not just honor, but worship Mary for her informal leadership and the aspects of femininity that their understanding of God lacked. In a hierarchal society that associated masculinity with social distance and power, Mary was a more approachable intercessor and fountain of grace than Jesus. Without a fully formed understanding of grace, approaching Mary removed the dissonance of standing before a perfectly holy God. Instead of allowing God’s character to alter their understanding of gender and power, in their discomfort, leaders seem to have simply reallocated the “too feminine” aspects of God’s character to another deity. Their root sin was a rejection of God’s character.

By reallocating the femininity of God to Mary of Nazareth, leaders continued the trend within their established cultures of reduced the image bearing capacity of female parishioners and excluded them from formal leadership. Over time, choosing to appeal to Mary as an intermediary to the divine has continued to amplify this root sin of rejecting God’s character, continuing a trend of alienation from grace. It has made Catholics fearful of interfacing directly with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, instead preferring to interface with other figures (such as Saints, the Virgin Mary, Angels, and other heavenly host). Without an exclusive emphasis on fellowship with the Holy Trinity, who exclusively mediate grace, people then are left to seek other avenues of holiness. Since the Holy Spirit is what purifies our hearts, convicts us of sin, and reveals Jesus to us, there can be no grace, justification, or heart change through bypassing the Holy Trinity.

Resulting Distance from God

So what happens if we rely on any other source other than the Holy Trinity to be our sense of purity or our intermediary before God? Just as Mary images the Church, the polytheist worship of Mary and Jesus symbolizes a life only partially submitted the the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This would mean that the Church is her own savior, and isn’t dependent on grace. If the Church is free to worship herself, our split attention will form us to the conditions of the world, which is ruled by comfort.

Furthermore, ascribing away the Father’s nurturing qualities of God to Mary of Nazareth fuels gender divisions. Within the Catholic Church, lack of intimacy with the nurturing Father Heart of God and strong protective feminine aspects of his character keeps the denomination from seeing women as strong leaders. Like spiritual gifts, the roles that the Holy Spirit assigns us (apart from the protective, sacrificially loving role of headship in marriage) are genderless. This remind’s me of Leif Hetland’s preaching, in which he frequently says, “Men can be the Bride, Women can be sons.”

So far I’ve explained the links between deifying Mary, misunderstanding the feminine aspects of God’s divine nature, misunderstanding sexual purity, and sexism against women and women in leadership.

Healing from Generational Sexual Sin and Misogyny Today

How does all of this relate to healing from generational sexual sin (perversion) in the Church (including the Catholic Church)?

Before I answer this question, it’s important to explain the difference between healthy Christian sexuality and sexual perversion. Primarily, sexual perversion is a category of sin where sexual behavior cannot mirror the kind, safe, holy, willfully chosen, covenantal love of God. While God isn’t sexual, his love for humanity is the most creative, the most beautiful, the most holy, the most joyful, and the most satisfying of all loves. Healthy Christian sexuality does not mirror God’s sexuality, because in the bible, God doesn’t appear to have a human like sexuality. He is passionate, but we don’t know him to be sexual in a human sense. Instead, healthy Christian sexuality mirror God’s character: his creativity, beauty, holiness, joy, playfulness, satisfaction, and even holy-jealousy for his people. For this reason, Christians believe that sex should embody all these things.

Without understanding the safety of the father’s agape love on a personal level, without the guiding conviction of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, and without the power of the Holy Spirit to influence our desires, we struggle to love others well in any sense of the word. Since Christians believe that God designed humans to mirror him through Jesus on a personal, familial, and organizational level, when sex does not exemplify God’s character, Christians believe that the stewardship of sexuality can affect the spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing of individuals, families, and cultures. Due to the way God created sex to mirror his own character, Christians believe that goodness of sexual acts is defined by how closely they approximate God, not necessarily the person’s physical response. This is an important distinction because in unsafe situations, our bodies can respond to sexual stimuli regardless of if it is pleasurable. Even within an extremely safe, loving context, our bodies can fail to perform as we want them too or we may struggle to emotionally engage in way that makes sex pleasurable. Out of the outstanding teachers on Christian sexuality I have read, I would most recommend the work of Sheila Gregoire for people recovering from sexual abuse or struggling to have a good sex life within marriage.

Christians believe that God gave us the first human organization through the family (Adam, Eve, and their children). As a prototypal organization, the family has the power to influence other organizations. All humans have a desire to belong, and as organizations grow in health, they begin to take on aspects of the character of healthy families. God gave the nations a variety of different cultural understandings on how to be family. Each of these understandings is a gift to the Church to understand, to the best of our abilities how to adopt one another and be God’s family here on the earth. Check out what the Catholic Education Research Center has to say about the importance of family here.

Healing for Organizations

At their best, organizations that mirror God’s character will also mirror his healthy family dynamics and provide greater emotional wellbeing. Healthy family dynamics will include healthy gender roles, and a necessary sharing of responsibilities between men and women. A healthy organization will effect the friendships, co-working patterns, and even marriages that arise from an organization. Shared leadership between men and women is the strongest possible model for leadership of organizations: this is why God created marriage and created women as capable partners and helpmates. Adam isn’t meant to lead in isolation, but with women’s help. Furthermore, healthy gender roles can improve the emotional wellbeing of those in an organization. Having a robust internal understanding of your image bearing capacity as male and female provides people a deeper sense of emotional security that can result in a greater sense of latitude before God. In recognition of similarities and appreciation of differences, healthy gender roles generate the sanctified solidarity that the diverse Kingdom of God requires to function effectively.

Co-Reigning Leadership to Model the Masculinity and Femininity of God

Organizations must honor women by giving them opportunities to practice the gifts assigned to them by the Holy Spirit. Due to the design of the Adam and Eve family, without receiving the gifts of women, the Church cannot function at full capacity. Feel free to check out the work of my favorite theologian on the topic of organizations, the Church, family, women, and leadership, Marg Mowczko.

At their best, organizations that mirror God’s character will also mirror his character in the sexual relationships of their members. While sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations are an extreme reminder of the sexual perversion our cultures face, we in the Church must take responsibility for creating atmospheres where healthy sexuality can flourish. Due to the cumulative nature of sexual sin, we must also search ourselves to make sure that we are not hypocritically accusing others of sexual sin when we ourselves are in perversion. We know as Christians that rape incest, and sodomy are evil, and against God’s design for sex. We are rightly horrified at the way that church leaders have victimized children and other vulnerable people. We know that these sins cannot mirror the goodness of God’s character, because at their core, they are evil. While condemning evil can be valuable, we as Christians must allow God to help us address any sexual perversion in our own lives if we expect to have any transformation power (ie, healthy influence) for Church or society. Sexual purity starts with a pure heart.

Worship Jesus as the Only Path to Experientially Knowing the Holy Trinity

We must honestly ask for God’s help and face these (and other similar sins) if we want to create families and atmospheres where healthy sexuality and healthy gender roles can thrive. We need a revelation of the Father’s love and purity of heart if individuals, families, and organizations are going to heal from sexual perversion. That healing intimacy can only come through Jesus, as he is the only way to the Father.

When groups of people commit to drawing near to Jesus to receive his love and healing, we will see spiritual fatherlessness healed, sexual perversion turned to purity of heart and holiness, divorce rates decrease, healthy men and women in leadership, and Jesus exalted above every other name (including the Virgin Mary) as the solution.

So what now? Re-attributing Praise

What can people do when they realize that Jesus is the only source of healing and path to the Father? How can worshiping Jesus displace all other idols and lesser loves?

Jesus is the only path towards true healing, reconciliation, and deliverance. In order to be set free, we simply must reattribute all elements of God’s character back to the Trinity. This is true in navigating the worship of the Virgin Mary, but it is also true in encountering the deities (and idols) of our cultures (including in the West).

In Ancient Israel, the Israelites had a practice of religious rebuttal and story telling called polemics. Basically, they would re-ascribe the attributes of the deities in the cultures they bordered back to Yahweh, the Creator of All. When we worship Yahweh as Creator of all, idols and other gods are displaced.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.

Psalm 29:2

Re-Attributing Praise in Ancient Israel

The Ancient Israelites practiced re-ascribing the qualities of Egyptian and Mesopotamian God’s in their story-telling, and this story telling ultimately became the books of Genesis and Exodus. For a book that shows how Ancient Israelites modeled this practice of re-attributing the characteristics of lesser deities to God as Creator of all, I recommend Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament by John Currid.

As Jesus is God’s representative to gather his family from the nations, in the New Testament, the practice of polemics is expanded by offering the people a chance to come into relationship with the Son of God, Jesus Christ. An outstanding example of this approach is in Acts 17:16-32, where Paul asserts to the Athenians that the worship they offer at their temple to the “Unknown God” should actually be directed at Jesus.

Paul is thoughtful to acknowledge the people’s religious fervor and even quote one of their poets, to honor them and make himself reasonable. Paul is versed in Athenian culture enough to be capable of translating the gospel. This practice of translating the gospel through a lens or medium that the people can understand is called contextual theology. Contextual theology is an approach that has been the basis of authentic Christian evangelism since the times of Jesus. It stands opposed to domination, to systemic reforms that fail to engage the people’s emotions or rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ.

Historically, the church has relied too often on a mixture of Nationalism and religion to influence people groups. In mixture, the Church has worked not for freedom and to share the good news, but often for selfish ambition and greed. This kind of mixture of message (domination > salvation) and idolatry of intentions (money > Christ) is called syncretism. Instead of recognizing the impurity of greed and refocusing on simple worship of Christ, the Church has denied him through different conquests across continents, alienating people from the true gospel. A good book that explores the positive and negative history of the Church’s conduct with local cultures is Bullies and Saints by John Dickson.

How to Re-Attribute Praise Today: A Hypothetical Scenario from Latin America

In Latin America, the greed of the Church through the Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, Dutch, and other national governments used the gospel as a means of domination. Because the Church framed conversion as a means of externally submitting to governmental authority, the locals acted quite reasonably, and externally adopted the practices of Europe. Frequently, locals syncretized elements of Mesoamerican gods and goddesses with the gospel story as a means of preserving their culture and maintaining their worldview under oppression. Today, an example of syncretism could be aspects of Mesoamerican goddesses and the Virgin of Guadelupe as a symbol of perseverance, nurture, and strength in Mexican culture.

Despite the cultural assimilation normally employed under domination, the true gospel does not require people to shed their culture or worldview. After the first Gentile (non-Jewish) believers came to Jesus during Pentecost in Jerusalem, the elders of the church under Peter and Paul’s guidance gave them very minimal requirements of faith in Acts 15:24-29, and promised to simply send them skilled teachers. It is likely that these specific requirements were designed to distinguish the people from other local religious practices as a way of making them distinct.

When the people in Acts 15 experienced real conversion, they began a process of relating their worldview to the new things they had experienced about Jesus. In conversation with the teachers Paul and Peter sent them, the people themselves needed to lead this process of re-attribution. This meant choosing to reject the negative aspects of their previous deities (as a divorce), and re-attributing the positive aspects of their to Jesus Christ.

For example, let us pretend missionaries encountered the Mayans in the city of Cop√°n (modern day Western Honduras) between ~500-1000AD. At that time, the Mayans would have worshipped the maize god Hun Hunahpu, who they believed was responsible for the corn harvest, fertility, and the seasons.

An effective missionary would probably take time to understand what the people appreciated about Hun Hunahpu. Perhaps they felt that they had an advocate who cared about the wellbeing and growth of their families, fruitfulness of their land, who would protect them from natural disasters. However, like many Mayan deities, Hun Hunahpu probably wouldn’t have been considered very approachable, as he required blood sacrifice during individual, family, and regional rituals.

In this context, an effective missionary might first model a different faith by thanking Yahweh for creating all things, including the corn crop. By modeling a faith that trusts in Yahweh for provision and holistic wellness, God’s favor on that person’s life could attract some interest. Unlike Hun Hunahpu, a missionary might present Jesus as a god of mercy who himself was willing to suffer in our place. He or she might even acknowledge Yahweh as the “God of The Harvest”, a title from Matthew 9:38, acknowledging that the is also the God of all things. Because of the fruit of their land and the worldview that has formed around it, these people may even be uniquely positioned to understand evangelism. From a farming lens lens, God could even gift this people group with a special grace for leadership in evangelism (harvesting people), to bless and grow his International Bride.

A Prayer for Undivided Focus on Jesus

Jesus, we thank you that you are the only way to the Father.

Holy Trinity, make us aware of any sins or worship that draw our love away from you alone.

Help us to honor the many people who believe in different Gods, while still holding firm to what we have experienced and seen as true.

Jesus, come live even more powerfully in us so we can not just describe, but show them the way to the Father.

When the people challenge your Lordship, back us with miracles, signs, and wonders, so that they know you can be trusted.

Help us to keep our eyes simply on you and worship you above all.

Amen!

You Must Know the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Adoption

We have all been adopted.

At least, if you have chosen Jesus, you have been. You hungered after Jesus, you decided you wanted to be part of God’s family, and suddenly, you became a co-heir and a son.

Paul explains this truth and the mechanism behind it in Romans 8:15-17,

“For¬†you did not receive¬†the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of¬†adoption as sons, by whom we cry,¬†‚ÄúAbba! Father!‚Ä̬†16¬†The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,¬†17¬†and if children, then¬†heirs‚ÄĒheirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,¬†provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Romans 8:15-17

In this verse, Paul calls the Holy Spirit by a new title, “The Spirit of Adoption.”

Today, I’m writing this post because knowing The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Adoption is pivotal to working in Christian contexts outside of your own borders.

I say “borders” as an intentionally open ended concept. In the Bible, the Spirit of Adoption propelled the Apostles outside of their national contexts, outside of their families, outside of their personal preferences and comfort in general. Under the blueprint of the Holy Trinity, the Kingdom of God is international, familial, and challenging.

You don’t have to be adopted to know that family at its best is challenging. For that reason, the writers of the New Testament make sure that we realize it is not an option, but a command to love one another.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

John 15:12

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

1 John 4:11

The result of willfully choosing to love one another as family is extraordinary, something that only God can accomplish. Indeed, only by choosing to be “knit together in love” can we reach the full expression of God in Christ.

“For I want you to know¬†how great a¬†struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,¬†2¬†that¬†their hearts may be encouraged, being¬†knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of¬†God’s mystery, which is Christ,¬†3¬†in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Colossians 2:1-3

Experiencing the Spirit of Adoption

Permit me a little story telling to exemplify why knowing the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Adoption is so important. Our God used my family structure, supportive adults, and a variety of international experiences to magnify what I’m about to share.

My family has many textures. Due my parents’ divorce and remarriages, I learned about the Spirit of Adoption throughout my early years. From the ages of 6-14+, I had not just 2 parents, but 4 (counting step parents). I had not just siblings, but step siblings, step cousins, half siblings, and many nieces and nephews.

And the diversity of this flock of people was tremendous! My 4 authority figures alone seemed to embody every extreme:

  • Educationally, from GED (High school) to Doctorate level
  • Professionally, Blue Collar, White Collar, and in between
  • Politically, Liberal and Conservative
  • Ethnically, Italian American, Mexican American, White (Irish Catholic), and White (Germanic Protestant)
  • Regionally, from the American Southwest, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest
  • Recreationally, interested in Go carts, Bowling, Arcades, Fishing, Walks outdoors, Golf, Taking care of pets, Gardening, Beauty products, Shopping, Debate, Coaching, Volunteering, and Playing Sports as a family

It goes without saying that it would have certainly been easier to navigate just 2 authority figures than 4, but our God is creative, and no amount of challenge we experience is ever wasted. The Lord used the many adults in my life to teach me that families who choose one another in spite of diversity are strong.

And yet, the capacity of my family was painfully limited. In the midst of trauma and equally extreme circumstances, the Lord showed me as a child that he would always send people. Like many kids coping with trauma, I sought safe people. I remember specifically analyzing people’s character and integrity from as early as age 7, and deciding who was healthy. Over time, I was adopted by teachers, coaches, friends’ parents, friends, and many grandparent figures. Sometimes, I was rejected because of the ways that my trauma was visible. But more often that not, I was chosen. Over time, I learned that even if it takes a little digging, God puts the lonely in families. His design is for family, and he delights in it.

About 8 years ago, I encountered Jesus and got adopted into the most glorious family imaginable: The Family of God in his Church. While none of us has ever fully arrived, I have benefited from years of healing since those days. I know God as the most skilled Healer. One thing I didn’t expect in coming to faith in Jesus was that people would be even MORE interested in adopting me! In putting my faith in Jesus, I have more family than I’ve ever had in my life, and much greater amounts of commitment. When I once had to collect people out of necessity, now I can enjoy my extended family because I know that there is no family like the family of God.

One of the unexpected blessings of having been adopted by so many kinds of people is that each people group parents their kids in slightly different ways. As an adult, it’s become relatively easy for me to relate well to my elders because I had so many experiences where I needed to be corrected according to the culture of the person parenting me. Depending on the individual’s background, that correction could have been subtle or more obvious! Generally speaking, it was necessary.

A Family of Nations: Adoption and the Apostolic

In Isaiah 43:5-7, the Spirit of the Lord promises to establish his family by collecting faithful people from the nations, from all the ends of the earth.

Read Isaiah 43:5-7 here

In Galatians 3:29, Paul explains that by faith, we have been collected by Christ, reconciled back to God, and established firmly as heirs through the Spirit of Adoption.

So, how is all of this relevant for ministry?

Simply speaking, we all have to decide if we are willing to allow ourselves to be parented by the norms of another culture. Allowing yourself to be submitted to others’ leadership is a lot like accepting their parenting. Similarly, leading others is similar to parenting or other senior family roles. Paul discusses how Family of God dynamics are meant to function in 1 Timothy 5:1-2.

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

1 Timothy 5:1-2

Ultimately, you must decide to be led.

For most people, the most organic motivator for accepting others’ leadership is love. When people invest in our lives, we allow ourselves to honor them and we listen. This is what scriptures like 1 Corinthians 13 really illustrate, that all genuine surrender and obedience must first start through love. In the family of God, this means familial love.

When I was younger, my first very good friend taught me this lesson. She was uniquely positioned to call out my bad behavior and challenge me to be different. The love she had for me ultimately motivated me to learn Spanish, visit Chile, and recognize a calling to Latin America. For me, Latin America carries strong connections of adoption and organic friendship, because of her leadership.

You can read more about my experience of choosing and being chosen by the people of Latin America here.

Ultimately, I had to choose to allow myself to be led by her discernment and challenges.

Another memorable example of all this is the effect my Chinese sister-in-law has had on my life. Due to the significant age differences in my family, my brother met and married Lixin when I was somewhere between 12-14. He had always been drawn to Asia, and went there to teach English for several years. At the time, I remember tangibly deciding to make an effort to get to know her and try to be a bridge between her and the rest of the family. As a result, we have become pretty close. She acts in typical older sister fashion towards me (according to the norms of her culture): We have cooked together, she gives me unsolicited (lol) advice about when I should marry and have kids, she treats me to things when we are out together, and in turn, I pay it forward and treat my nephews. I went to China with her and my eldest nephew when he was just 5 and traveled through her hometown and the countryside for 2 months, all across Central, Southwest, and Southern China. We often talk about when we’ll go back and travel to other parts of Asia. Our sisterhood has been a source of life to me and an opportunity to model for my nephews that their family is united, from East to West. To me, returning to Asia carries a strong sense of family because of her leadership.

I could tell you about many other experiences of being parented by other cultures, when I sang in Gospel choir, learning from Asian American and Native American campus ministries in college, and experiences of travel. However, my main idea is that your success in ministry contexts outside of your own corresponds primarily to your teachability and willingness to be led (as family) through the loving lens of other another.

Belonging in New Contexts is Possible Through Adoption

In mid-February of this year, I had a dream that connected strongly to this concept. While the dream had some personal significance related to family reconciliation, there was a larger message inside it for the Church.

In the first part of the dream, I was meeting with my step mother. She was working to reconcile things with us personally. As she prepared to leave the room, she said, “If anyone has received the body and blood of Christ wants some of this cake, I’m putting it right here for you.” I took a big handful of the hummingbird cake, with cream cheese icing. And I thanked her for all she had done for me.

This dream was about the power of God to heal our families. In the second part of the dream, the Lord bridged the concept of family reconciliation to the international reconciliation of his church.

I saw a woman who had the same stature as my step mom. I was teaching others in this setting how to approach her. I asked my students, “What language is best to use?” According to the Lord, the answer was “It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity, personality, or other demographics are. Just use Jesus’ voice.” Speaking with Jesus’ voice was actually better than speaking her same language. Jesus was having us speak in a way that she specifically needed.

In this dream, the Father illustrates the importance of speaking with Jesus’ voice.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.¬†28¬†I give them eternal life, and¬†they will never perish, and¬†no one will snatch them out of my hand.¬†29¬†My Father,¬†who has given them to me,[a]¬†is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of¬†the Father’s hand.¬†30¬†I and the Father are one.‚ÄĚ

John 10:27-30

Do you know his voice? Would you recognize it? Do you know how to speak his words using his voice in a way they can be received? While cultural differences in the Body of Christ abound among cadence, delivery, and tone, you must speak in a way where the people can hear his voice.

It is this voice that allows us to be received, and allows other people to choose us. It is this voice that makes us seem reasonable and trustworthy, and can even provide a healthy sense of challenge. If we speak with his voice, other people will love him through us and adopt us. If we use his voice, we will likely be grafted into the people and the land, because they will make a place for us.

nThis sense of God “making a place” for you within a nation is still directly about the Spirit of Adoption. Paul describes the chosenness of the Gentiles in Romans 11:17-24 through metaphors of grafting vines and trees in agriculture. It is the same general principle at work of being chosen by a people who are not initially your own. Because of the authority that Jesus has to choose us, we ought to mutually chose one another.

Read Romans 11 here

In order to make strong partnerships in an international context, there must be this kind of intentional choosing that comes through love.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Ephesians 3:16-18

A Prayer to be Adopted to One Another

So Lord Jesus, give us the grace to choose other people as you have chosen us.

Help us to allow you to dwell in our hearts, so that being rooted and established in love, we may have power, along with all God’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is your love for us.

Help us grasp how great your love is for other people!

May our love not be limited by our national borders and may we speak with your voice.

Draw your children to the sound of your voice across all the nations and make us one family.

Help us choose one another so that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Amen!

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