Demi Lovato – "Anyone" – A Modern-Day Psalm of Lament

January and February have proven to be a very active season for politics, cinema, sports, and music. We kicked off the year with the Golden Globes, the Grammys, and the Oscars. Not to mention the Superbowl Half-Time show. As always, these gatherings contain very emotionally charged moments, speeches, and performances. They spark a litany of both support and dissent from people on Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. We co-sign celebrities who align with our interests. We cancel those who do not. In the midst of celebration, our sinister and skeptical nature seeps through the cracks. The brokenness of our humanity cries out in lament. 

Anyone: A Modern-Day Psalm of Lament

As the centerpiece of all of these events, we saw Demi Lovato take center stage in the middle of the Grammys. For the first time since her overdose in 2018, she breaks her silence with a song. As my friend called it: “a modern-day psalm of lament.”

Barely able to find her voice in the first moments, as her cry cracks through her voice, she pauses and restarts the song – revealing the depths of meaning in her psalm. The audience with a pregnant silence anticipating what her new psalm will reveal. 

In the opening stanza of Anyone, Demi cries: 

“I tried to talk to my piano

I tried to talk to my guitar

Talk to my imagination

Confided into alcohol

I tried and tried and tried some more

Told secrets ’til my voice was sore

Tired of empty conversation

‘Cause no one hears me anymore”

We hear the lament in Demi’s voice. She cries out, but no one hears her. She is forsaken. Not unlike the lamentation of King David in Psalm 22, which Jesus himself quotes on the cross:

“My God, my God, why have forsaken me? 

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, 

And by night, but I find no rest.”

We – like Demi, David, and Jesus – have all experienced moments of lament. Moments where the weight of brokenness, cries out and we wonder: 

“Anyone, please send me anyone

Lord, is there anyone?

I need someone, oh

Anyone, please send me anyone

Lord, is there anyone?

I need someone” 

Demi wrote and recorded this modern-day psalm of lament just 4 days before her drug overdose. She shares in an interview with Zane Lowe, that as she listens back, she hears her cry for help and wonders why no one thought this person needs help. She tells Zane: “The lyrics were so far deep in my soul – asking for help – that you can feel that when you listen to it.” 

In many ways, Anyone, and Demi’s performance in the middle of all of these awards ceremonies and performances over the past several weeks, is a prophetic lamentation of the cry of our humanity. 

Perhaps this psalm is your cry or perhaps it is the cry of someone in your life who wants anyone to hear them, to see them, to know them. Will we listen? Are we 4 days from our own drug overdoses? From trying to fix our brokenness with experiences, relationships, substances? 

The deep divisiveness of our current cultural moment reveals we are not okay. But we – as followers of Christ – are also failing to hear the cry. The lament of a culture crying out for anyone to hear them. Could we be the ears of Christ? 

Incarnational Listening in the Way of Christ

For the past several months, I’ve been fleshing out descriptions of spiritual practices for our church family to focus on in this season of our journey. One of those spiritual practices is the practice of Incarnational Listening. The way that I’ve described incarnational listening is listening beyond the surface to what God may be saying. God is still speaking, if we will have ears hear. God’s primary way of communication is through words – in the beginning was the word, God spoke and it was, Jesus is the “word made flesh”. The word was incarnated. God is always speaking, if we will have ears to hear. 

While I won’t go into all of the specific ways to practice incarnational listening here, what is important for us as students of Rabbi Jesus is to learn the way that Jesus listened. He listened to people, he listened to culture, he listened to the times, he listened between the lines of what people said. He listened, so that he could speak into what he heard. He listened, so that he could speak life, hope, peace, unity, liberation, and love into those who wondered “does anyone hear me?” 

The way Jesus listened was incarnational, because by listening beyond the surface his responses would embody the Kingdom of God in personal, physical, and prophetic ways. As Jesus listened, he could tailor his message to meet the needs of people and to invite them into God’s family in ways that were contextual for them. 

His model of incarnational listening is an important practice for us to cultivate as students and co-laborers with Jesus. Perhaps now more than ever. As we cry out, as our culture cries out, as our friends cry out, as our family members cry out: “Anyone, please send me anyone, Lord, is there anyone? I need someone.”

The Lord wants to send you. 

To the forsaken. 

To the broken. 

To the vagabonds. 

To the sleepwalkers. 

To the hopeless. 

Will you have ears to hear?

May We Be The “Anyone” Who The Lord Sends 

At the end of her interview with Zane, Demi shares that part of her recovery was returning to a church community. She acknowledges that she didn’t always feel welcome, because people were judgmental of her. But that one night she went with her friend a Bible study and she says:

“I heard God clearer than I had heard him in a long time. I tried to seek God through other experiences – whether other relationships or substances. I had to realize that the God that I’m seeking, the God that I love, and the God that I want to be my God is available 24/7, always at an arm’s length, and constantly with me. Feeling that shift. I feel safer and renewed.” 

Will you have ears to hear?

The first time I heard Demi’s performance, I was gutted inside. Her words landed in a place in my soul that understood her psalm of lament. Of moments when I needed anyone to hear and I felt like no one heard. When I, like Demi, could say: “I feel stupid when I pray. So, why am I praying anyway? If nobody’s listening.”

As I listened and have relistened to Demi’s performance and to Anyone, I cannot help but hear my own journey through the dark nights of the soul and the prophetic lament of others who we see everyday crying out for help and for hope. 

Will we have ears to heart? 

Will we listen to the cries? 

Will we respond with a message of hope?

Will we be the “anyone” the Lord is sending to those who just need anyone?

Let’s walk together.

Pa’lante,

sg

What Star Wars Teaches Us About Our Spiritual Journey

“A thousand generations live in you now. But this is your fight.” – Luke Skywalker to Rey

You are not alone on your spiritual journey.

I finally went to see the end of this Star Wars saga. Whether you like Star Wars or not, we can all agree that these iconic films reflect a story that resonates with all of us. All of us long to understand who we are and to be part of a purpose larger than ourselves. 

No spoilers here, especially because this quote was in the trailer. There’s a moment when Luke Skywalker (the O.G. Jedi from the originals) says to Rey: 

“A thousand generations live in you now. But this is your fight.”

To appreciate the depth of this moment in the film, you really need to see it, but as I watched, I began thinking of when the writer of Hebrews says: 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The Bible uses the imagery of family to express to us our relationship to God, to Jesus, to one another. Family, in light of the ancient cultural context of the Bible, came with promises, purposes, and provisions that ran through generations. There were roles and responsibilities among families. Names were important in families. The bondedness of a family ran deep.

In our current cultural context, it may be a little challenging for us to fully grasp the depth of “family”. Maybe for you, your best expression of “family” is “broken,” “complicated,” or “distant.” Maybe your view of “family” doesn’t look like 2 parents, 2 kids, and a dog. But maybe it does. Maybe your expression of “family” is “safe,” “home,” or “supportive.”

Wherever you find yourself, our current cultural context makes it challenging for us to understand the depth of bondedness for “family” in ancient culture. 

Jesus takes the depth of “family” to even deeper levels. For Jesus “family” meant communion and solidarity that was stronger than human DNA and blood. For Jesus, the mediator of the family of God, becoming family members makes us part of an eternal lineage, with all of its beautiful promises, purposes, and provisions. Followers of Christ become tethered to a spiritual family in the past, present, and future. You are not alone on your spiritual journey. 

Our Past Family

When the writer of Hebrews encourages us about the “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us, they are talking about the family of God that we’re part of. You may realize that on an intellectual level. But think about this for a moment: Moses is your tio, Joshua is your cousin, Esther is your grandmother, Thomas is your other cousin, and Mary is your tia. 

These people aren’t just random stories about random people. They’re stories about our family. And think about the abuelitas and tias that have gone before you who have extended la bendicion to you. 

Our roots in God’s family run so much deeper than we realize on a daily basis.

When Rey – the last Jedi – is told by Luke, who isn’t related to her by blood – that one thousand generations of Jedis are in her, she becomes tethered to a greater family. If you’ve seen the other movies in this part of the Star Wars saga you know that a big question for Rey is “who is she”? Rey feels abandonment by her family, yet in this moment, she becomes part of a greater family. 

That’s what happens to us. Regardless of our experience with family, when we step into the family of God, we become part of a greater family. In this family, we carry thousands of generations within us. In this family, we have promises, purposes, and provisions. Like Rey, we have a fight to fight. In the words of Hebrews, we have a race to run. We have the model of Jesus to frame our journey forward. We are not alone. You are not alone in your spiritual journey. 

  • Who are the people in the Bible who I identify most with and why? How can their stories support my spiritual journey? 
  • Who are the people in my family who I most identify with and why? How can their stories support my spiritual journey? 

Our Present Family 

One of the big themes in the movie is how the Force brings together unlikely partners to carry forward the story of Jedis and the Resistance. Rey’s journey towards facing the fight wasn’t an isolated one. Neither is yours. 

Your spiritual journey is unique to you, but it is not an isolated journey. We are on a caravan together. As you grow, I grow, and we grow. 

“There is no way than an individual can be formed in the image of Christ for others without the nurture of the body of Christ, and there is no way that the community of faith can be the body of Christ if it does not nurture the individual members towards wholeness in Christ.” – M. Robert Mulholland An Invitation to Journey

I was listening to a conversation at my local coffeeshop and one of the people said: “I’m just doing my own thing when it comes to church and my relationship with God.” Maybe you’ve said this at one point. I hear this all the time. “I’m doing my own thing.” “My relationship with God is personal.” None of these are wrong. But they will not develop a holistic spirituality. You will find yourself imbalanced in your journey as you walk towards wholeness. 

In our very socially isolated context, being part of God’s family – growing and walking with others in solidarity – may be one of the most radical and disruptive decisions we make. And it will be the decision that transforms you the most. I understand that we have church on-demand via YouTube and Facebook. You can get a good sermon, a good worship set, and good inspiration for your week, by attending church through a screen. I listen to and watch several sermons a week and listen to Spotify daily. But the present family of God, who you walk this journey with, determines whether you can fight the fight. Whether you can finish the race. 

Rey could not fight the Empire on her own. Neither can we. You weren’t meant to be alone on your spiritual journey.  

  • Are you committed to a regular rhythm of gathering with God’s family? If not, what keeps you from that regular rhythm? 
  • Who are the people in your life who are growing and walking in solidarity with you? 

Our Future Family

When we discover that we are not alone on our spiritual journey and we weren’t meant to be alone, we begin walking in purpose. We begin to realize that our journey is not about us. We see how the race is a marathon. God is a God of generations. One generation passing the baton to the next. 

If Rey carries one thousand Jedi generations in her, then those generations don’t die with her. They live on through her. She fights the Empire with her past and present family, so that her future family can have a fighting chance. 

The same is true for us. As members of God’s family, we carry the stories and the victories inside of us, so that they can pass on our future family. We carry the promises, purposes, and provisions, so that they won’t stop with us. 

I learned recently from a friend that because women are born with the amount of eggs that they will have for their lives, the baby inside a pregnant mother holds the eggs of her child. Meaning that mother, daughter, and granddaughter (3 generations) all live within a pregnant mother. This explains why our generational trauma can be traced back what our grandmothers were experiencing. And it also paints a beautiful picture of how biologically life is carried from one generation to the next. 

Our biology reflects our spirituality. You hold worlds inside of you. Worlds waiting to be born. God’s future family carried on through your spiritual journey. 

  • Why does it matter that you carry generations inside of you? 
  • Who is someone younger than you that needs you to run your race? 

“A thousand generations live in you now. But this is your fight.”

You are not alone on your spiritual journey.

Let’s walk together!

Pa’lante,

sg

How has Jesus formed you this year?

We are all learners. 

As we scroll through social media, as we listen to podcasts, as we watch YouTube videos, or sit in trainings at work, we are learning. 

This is in essence what a disciple is: someone who is learning from someone else. 

  • Maybe you’re a disciple of Instagram? 
  • Maybe you’re a disciple of NPR?
  • Maybe you’re a disciple of AOC or Cardi B? 
  • Maybe you’re a disciple of your boss? 

We are being formed by people and things that are discipling us.

Our character and quality is being shaped as we are discipled. 

Who or what is discipling you? 

You will seek after what is discipling you. 

  • You buy their latest books. 
  • You watch their latest YouTube videos.
  • You follow their latest trends. 

This isn’t inherently a bad thing. 

But it can become a problematic thing if we are seeking after empty things. 

The Prophet Jeremiah says it this way: 

“[they] went after worthlessness, and became worthless.”

We take on the quality of what we seek after. The Prophet cautions us about seeking after worthlessness. Worthlessness i.e. emptiness or that which does not sustain. 

If who or what we seek after is consuming us and not sustaining us, then we evaluate: who or what is discipling me? 

The Prophet Jeremiah continues: 

“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry?

    Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?

But you say, ‘I can’t help it.

    I’m addicted to alien gods. I can’t quit.’

Our pursuit of worthlessness, can lead us to become addicted to it. 

Have you had to take a “social media fast” because you sensed you were becoming addicted to it? 

The Prophet Poet Allen Ginsburg illustrates this problematic pursuit of seeking after worthlessness: 

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.”

When emptiness disciples us, we become empty. 

We are far removed from the full, whole, and alive selves that God designed us to become. Our character and quality are gutted. We are not formed into our fullest God-designed selves.

Which bring us to the question…

How do I make sure that I’m being formed into my fullest self? 

As image bearers of God, we are our fullest selves when we look like Jesus. 

“as he is so also are we in this world” – 1 John 4:17b

As I seek to be a faithful disciple of Rabbi Jesus, there are 3 important ways that Jesus has been forming me into my fullest self that may also help you be formed into your fullest self. 

1. Allow Scripture to shape the script of your life

A Jewish Rabbi once said:

“You cannot be a disciple of Jesus unless you’re reading your Rabbi once a week.”

Just as we seek after the latest books, YouTube videos, and trends of the others who are discipling us, we ought to seek after our Rabbi Jesus. We ought to know his words and to embody his ways. As we read the Scripture, we trace his path through the gospel narratives and we are formed into his likeness. 

As I follow Jesus footprints through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Lord rewires many of the false constructs and paradigms I’ve prescribed to and brings me into new life.  

How does the Scripture shape the script of your life? 

2. Create moments of silence and solitude to hear God’s voice

God will not compete with your noise. Yet, God longs to speak to you in the stillness. I have a friend who says:

“God’s voice is silence.” 

We live in such a noisy, hurried culture. Both when we’re with people and when we’re not with people. I live alone and I often have Netflix on in the background, just so the silence won’t sound so deafening at times. But I’m learning the sweet taste of silence and solitude. Knowing that God never imposes upon me, but longs to speak, if I’ll give space to listen. 

I’ve sat silently with the Lord many times and found myself weeping as the Lord speaks directly into my soul’s needs. With a voice that is beyond words, the Lord is forming me. Transforming me. Shaping me into the image of Jesus for the sake of the world around me. 

How can you make space to hear God’s voice?

3. Devote yourself to people who shape you around the good news

One of my friends recently painted a beautiful picture of true Christ-centered relationships. She shared that there ought to be an accountability we are held to living into the gospel in our lives. As we are being shaped personally, we are also being shaped communally. Jesus is Lord of me and Jesus is Lord of us. 

Our most precious “resource” is time. I lived my entire 20s filling every moment up with something to do. Usually work-related. I knew a lot of people, spent a lot of time around people, was discipled by a lot people, but wasn’t shaped around the good news by all those people. 

“God is working in the entire cosmos, but the clustered, covenanted, and committed people of God are his primary plan for expressing Jesus’ prayer, ‘may God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” – Dan White Jr. 

We are shaped by the people we are “clustered, covenanted, and committed” to and shaped for the greatest mission of all time: God’s will on earth as in heaven. If we want to do God’s will, we need to be devoted to the people of God. 

Who are the people you are devoted to that are shaping you around the good news? 

We are just 7 weeks away from the end of the decade and from the beginning of a new decade. No doubt you have learned a lot this year. No doubt your character and quality has been formed this year. My prayer for you, even as you read this, is that you’ve been a learner with Rabbi Jesus. But if you haven’t, there is still an opportunity to become a learner of Jesus, to receive by faith through grace the gift of salvation and the invitation to become a disciple. Receive him now. Rabbi Jesus formes us into our fullest selves – the image of God for the sake of the world. 

  • How has Jesus formed you this year? 
  • How might he be inviting you to be formed in 2020? 

Together, let’s live alive,

sg

How do I live alive?

Many Christians will believe in Christ. Few Christians will become like Christ. 

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Paul’s Letter to the Church Community at Philippi

Kenosis : A process of being emptied of one’s personal will to become entirely receptive to God’s will.

The way of Jesus is counterintuitive and contradictory to our culture norms. It’s this counterintuitive and contradictory way that we need in our world now more than ever. This is the way to live alive.  

Jesus demonstrates the fullness of love and life by hanging on a cross. 

A cross: a structure of pain and humiliation

Jesus hung. Emptied. Poured out. 

Jesus models a revolutionary pathway towards alive living. The deep, life-giving transformation that we are all seeking. 

We have been colonized into pathways of living that are fast and furious. Consumerism tells us that life is about accumulation. Success tells us the higher we climb, the greater we become. 

But in a moment, we could lose everything we’ve gained.  

In a moment, we could fall off the ladder of success that we climbed. 

“What good would it do you to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” – Jesus

Jesus doesn’t climb ladders. Jesus doesn’t accumulate wealth and power. He takes the form of a servant. Jesus – the servant king – came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life for us to find our lives. 

As Christ followers, we believe in this Jesus. The Jesus who descended, who emptied himself, passed through the penalty of sins – death, and resurrected to life, so that we could be resurrected to life. This is the gospel truth we cling to as Christians. This is the sacrificial love that we proclaim. The death walk of Jesus. 

Yet we struggle to become like Christ in the process of kenosis

We struggle to follow Jesus’s model of alive living. 

We lose ourselves, the real us, to accumulation of power and wealth. 

Let’s be clear…

Kenosis is not pain for the sake of pain. 

Pain on its own does not produce transformation.

We see in our lives and the lives of those around us. 

Pain can produce more pain. Pain can produce anger, rage, discontent, bitterness, control, passive-aggression, not-so-passive aggression, and on and on. 

But what if Jesus’s example of being emptied, so that he could emerge in the fullness of glory, is a pathway towards living alive? 

What if what’s so revolutionary about Jesus is that he empathizes with our human condition of pain and personally demonstrated a way towards living alive through the pain? 

What if becoming like Christ in kenosis is the pathway towards the lives we were designed to live? 

It’s when we become like Christ in kenosis, where we face ourselves in the darkest depths. Where we have an opportunity to be refined by the fire. Where the gold in us is separated from the impure dross. Our self-serving, self-dependent, self-gratifying ways are purged in the descent. Our false selves are stripped away. We are detoxed from the colonization of our fast and furious culture. We are truly made new. Not by means of self-help, but through self-sacrifice.

We are already bearing crosses. Becoming like Christ in kenosis empowers us to bear our crosses, so that the pain of our crosses don’t destroy us. When we follow Jesus’s way of bearing a cross, the pain doesn’t produce pain. The pain transforms us to live alive. 

When we hear Jesus invite the disciples to “deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow him”, that invitation sounds terrifying to us. It’s too much, we think. We look at the pain and humiliation that Jesus endured on the cross and we twist kenosis into something masochistic and abusive. What kind of Savior would ask me to endure such hardship. Any twisting of this invitation to true discipleship is not the pathway Jesus is offering. 

Jesus is not inviting us to live some alternate reality of our lives – sequestered, secluded, and separated from our life. Jesus does not condemn our lives as bad or good. 

On the contrary, Jesus wants to make us new, so that we can live our lives to the fullest. He gives us a pathway to live alive in the life He’s given us. Jesus longs for us to live alive in every corner of creation. Jesus wants you to carry your stories of love and life into your families, your offices, your neighborhoods, your gyms, your schools, and every place you live life.

The true invitation is to deny our false selves, take up the crosses we already have, and follow Jesus in being emptied of our personal will, so that we can be filled with the will of God. A greater will. A will for us to experience life and life abundantly and share that life with others. A life that is not fast and furious, but whole and purposeful. 

Yes – Jesus’s invitation is a radical reordering and reorientation of our lives. We are asked to live with the Lord reigning over every part of our lives. But it’s a pathway to alive living. It’s a counterintuitive and contradictory pathway far greater than the empty ways our culture offers us, because it’s true transformation. 

The way of Jesus is a new way to be human. 

I don’t want to just believe in Jesus. 

I want to become like Jesus. 

I want to become Christ in kenosis

Being emptied of all that is false in me and saying as Christ said during his most painful moment in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion: 

“Not my will, Father, but Your will be done.” 

May we boldly follow Jesus’s pathway towards alive living.

May we be transformed into portals of love and life for others to discover life and life abundantly.

“All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.” – Paul’s Letter to the Church Community at Philippi

Together, let’s live well,

sg

When Pigs Die

Every day for the past 5 weeks, I’ve been getting to know a madman. 

That’s right – a madman. 

I’ve been meditating about an encounter that Jesus and his followers had with a madman. 

The encounter begins with Jesus inviting his followers to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. During his three years of public ministry, Jesus’s teachings and healings are a training ground for his faithful followers who will become trailblazers of the Jesus Movement. The disciples are in the School of Transformation with Jesus. 

So, when Jesus says to his disciples: “Let’s go to the other side”, I get the sense that Jesus is inviting the disciple to the other sides of themselves. To the madness within themselves. 

The invitation is the same for us who follow Jesus: “Let’s go to the other side.” 

One intriguing act happens that is a crucial part of transformation. 

Liberation for the madman comes when the pigs die. Jesus sends the demons – that once raged inside of him – into a herd of pigs. The demons lead the pigs over a cliff into the sea and they’re gone. 

What do the pigs have to do with us? 

Why did the pigs have to die? 

Wrestling with the pigs has confronted me and transforming me on the slow process toward living well.

So, if you’re someone who is open to a little confrontation as a means of transformation read on…

To understand the pigs, we need to understand a little bit of context. 

Pigs were considered unclean for Jewish culture. The presence of pigs means we are not in a Jewish community. This also means that it would have been scandalous for Jesus and his followers to be anywhere near the unclean pigs. 

Because this is not a Jewish community, the pigs were the number one source of income for this community. They were a commodity and had great value. 

What do the pigs have to do with us? 

The pigs were what the people valued. What they were attached to. The stuff of their lives. The pigs provided for them. Protected them. Preserved them. 

We may not have physical pigs in our lives, but we all have pigs. Pigs are the things that provide for, protect, and preserve us. Our family and friends, money, status, titles, houses, cars, phones, businesses, privilege, education, and countless other valuable commodities. The pigs are our attachments.  

What has confronted me about these pigs is how I’ve depended on my pigs more than on my God. 

How I’ve depended on my money (and my ability to make money) to provide for myself and others.

How I’ve depended on my titles – as a lawyer, as a pastor, as a friend – to protect me. 

How I’ve depended on my relationships to preserve me and my sense of worth. 

The first time we hear the instruction to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength” comes directly after we are told: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” 

God, speaking to a Israelite community, invites them to a monotheistic faith and dependence that was radical for them. They had a polytheistic worldview with demi-gods for every sphere of their lives. For the economy, for politics, for family, for fertility, for war, for everything. They could not make it through the day without intersecting with a different god for every sphere of life. For each god they engaged in a host of practices to show their faith and dependence on those gods for provision, protection, and preservation. 

To say that the Lord is one and to love the Lord with every sphere of their lives was a radical reorientation. Now, every sphere of their lives was reoriented around the Lord. 

We may not live in ancient Israelite culture, but we certainly have demi-gods for every sphere of our lives. They may not look like carved lifeless statutes, but anything we put our faith in and depend on more than God for provision, protection, and preservation is a demi-god. 

We all have pigs. The pigs in and of themselves are not inherently bad. Putting our faith in and dependence on them more than God is contra to our lives as followers of Christ. 

Why did the pigs have to die? 

The picture of these pigs dying confronts me, because darkness and brokenness that rages inside of me can only truly be liberated when the pigs die. 

This is the good news of the gospel: when I encounter Jesus the darkness and brokenness that tried to kill me, could not destroy me. Jesus cares so deeply about me that my demons won’t be able to kill me. But they will kill the things that I’ve tried to depend on more than God. 

I am learning what it means to seek first the kingdom of God – the reigning of God – in my life. 

I am learning what it means to reorder and reorient my life around Jesus and not around my pigs.

I’m learning that the darkness and brokenness among those who profess to be followers of Jesus is rooted in the veneer of monotheism. 

You and I proclaim that Jesus is Lord, yet we live polytheistic lives – depending on our pigs for our provision, protection, and preservation. We sing songs on Sunday about Jesus being our defender and our portion, but our actions betray us.

We construct our own protections and close off the messy parts of our lives guarding against raw conversations with God and our family in Christ. We carry – with closed fists – the money we earn to ensure our own provision leaving no room for generosity towards God and others. We cling to statuses and titles to preserve our place in society at the expense of a true devotion to the mission and body of Christ. Our faith is in God and all the other gods we depend on for living. 

But if this encounter teaches us anything, it’s that liberation comes when pigs die. When the attachments of our lives are crucified, we resurrect to a new life in Christ. We are set free from the demi-gods that we have relied on for our provision, protection, and preservation. Now, Jesus is enough. 

In my new life in Christ, every sphere of my life is reordered and reoriented around Jesus as Lord. My new self is putting off the old self and seeking to faithfully follow Jesus’s ways, words, and will. I am free to live the abundant life I was designed to live. 

This is where transformation happens. 

Liberation comes when pigs die. 

Three Practices to Reorder and Reorient Your Life Around Jesus

(These are the action steps that the Holy Spirit has been revealing to me in my process of transformation)

  1. Surrender your time : For me, this has looked a Sabbath. A full 24-hour block to experience rest and the presence of God. It’s teaching me to make adjustments to my weekly schedule and tasks, so that I can walk freely into this space with God. 
    • What do you do with your time?
    • What does that reveal about your priorities?
    • How might God be inviting you to reorder and reorient your time around the Lord? 
  2. Surrender your talentFor me, this has looked like using my unique package of skills and strengths as an attorney for church planting and for serving those around me.
    • What are your skills and strengths?
    • How can you use them “on mission” for Christ? Among your spheres of influence? Among your church family?
    • How might God be inviting you to reorder and reorient your talents around the Lord? 
  3. Surrender your treasures : For me, this has been the hardest one in this season. We are in the beginnings of church planting and my salary is not fixed. But every dollar is a blessing from God. So, whether it’s a little or a lot, I must faithfully follow God’s instruction to tithe 10% of everything. Trusting that 90% blessed by God is greater than 100% not blessed. It also means giving offering weekly and finding other opportunities to give generously. 
    • What is your relationship with your finances?
    • If you’re a follower of Christ, are you tithing to your church family and/or another church family who is blessing you?
    • How might God be inviting you to reorder and reorient your treasures around the Lord? 

 Allowing my pigs to die is hard work. 

But keeping them alive will keep me from living well, because I’ll live divided instead of whole. I’ll live proclaiming Jesus as Lord on Sundays and my bank account as Lord on Mondays. 

Liberation comes when pigs die. 

Together, let’s live well,

sg

We Are Not Okay

We have an epidemic of people who are not well. 

I am. You are. We are not okay.

A little over a year ago, I had the biggest leadership fail of my life. 

For years, I’ve been leading teams and working alongside people with a commitment to building people up into the fullest expression of themselves. 

But one day, I walked into a room full of people I cared about deeply and tore them down. I demeaned them. I made them feel worthless. I spoke at them from a place of pain that had nothing to do with them. I was not well. Something in me broke. 

Even in my apology, I apologized for the wrong things. I still spoke from my brokenness. The internal bleeding from my wounds now bled all over them. Inflicted wounds onto them. Hurt them. 

We have an epidemic of people who are not well.

This sentence woke me in the middle of the night several weeks ago and has continued to whisper to my soul. 

I wasn’t sure if it was the first sentence for my next book, my next sermon, or my next conversation. It may still be all of those things. I’m still wrestling with it.

But the sentence won’t stop. 

The shootings in El Paso and Dayton. 

The border crisis. 

The corruption in Puerto Rico. 

The president. 

The squad. 

The couple next to me in the coffeeshop. 

The toxic thought patterns on loop in my mind. 

The whisper repeats: We have an epidemic of people who are not well. 

We are emotionally unhealthy. Mentally unhealthy. Spiritually unhealthy. Physically unhealthy. Every dimension of our humanity is unhealthy.  

We are bleeding all over each other. Our wounds are inflicting wounds on others. The carnage is multiplying.

What will it take to stop the bleeding? 

In 2007, during undergrad at the University of Central Florida, when I was introduced to an Orlando-based organization at a Switchfoot concert called “To Write Love on Her Arms”. They are a movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. The founder, Jamie Tworkowski, got on stage and told the story of a friend struggling with depression and suicidal ideation. Then he quoted Donald Miller, saying:

“We’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding.”

It’s been about 12 years since I heard that quote, but as I’ve been hearing the whispers of this sentence on repeat, I’ve been reminded of that quote. Of our call. That instead of inflicting wounds, we are called to hold our hands to wounds. 

How can we hold our hands to the wounds without first dressing and addressing our own wounds? Our own pain? Our own brokenness? Our own evil? 

I am still a work in progress. Dressing and addressing wounds is hard, slow, and scary work. 

Shortly after my leadership fail, the turning point for me to begin the work happened one day when I was complaining to a friend. She interrupted me and said: “Sarah, you don’t sound like you are living the abundant life that Jesus came to offer you.” 

Her words stopped me. Stunned me. Stirred me. 

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – Jesus

Speaking to the Pharisees (the leaders and teachers of the Jewish law) and his followers, Jesus compares himself to a shepherd and the gate of the sheep pen to help them understand the freedom and fullness of life he came to offer. Jesus contrasts that freedom and fullness with the life the thief offers. A life that is deceptively and sneakily taken. A life that is massacred into pieces like an animal about to be sacrificed. A life that is cut-off from its source. 

Jesus wanted them to know the distinctiveness of being part of God’s family: We are offered a life of intentionality and purpose where we are sustained and thriving in every dimension of our humanity. The evil that separated us from fully living is redeemed through Jesus who reconciles and restores us to wholeness. 

Even though I’m part of God’s family, I was not living into the distinctiveness of God’s family. I was not living abundantly. I was living asleep. My life wasn’t truly me. My life was in pieces. My life was cut-off from its source. I was going through the motions. Trying to numb the pain inside me. Until the wound cracked wide open. Internally bleeding all over me. Bleeding all over others. 

It’s taken me a year to cultivate a greater self-awareness about my pain and brokenness that led me to bleed and inflict wounds on others. The work is not done yet, but I’m living into the wholeness that Jesus came to give me. 

My journey has taught me that I’m not the only person in God’s family who was living asleep. In fact, I’ve come to believe that the reason Jesus speaks this message to the Pharisees and his followers was because they were not living in freedom and fullness. 

Could the same be said of the people in our churches today? 

That followers of Jesus are not living in freedom and fullness? 

That leaders and pastors in our churches are not living in freedom and fullness? 

We have an epidemic of people who are not well. 

The epidemic is in our churches. 

Could it be that the Church is causing the bleeding, instead of stopping the bleeding? 

That we are inflicting more wounds because we are not dressing and addressing our wounds? 

That rather than being beacons of light, love, and life, we are part of the pain, evil, and darkness?

My friend and I were talking about the brokenness of the political and legal systems. As an attorney, I am more convinced than ever that these systems are broken. That the whole system is broken. While we talked, I shared that the reason I shifted from lawyering to pastoring is because the people who create the systems are broken. People – me, you, us – we are the root causes of the brokenness we see in the world. I made the shift from lawyering to pastoring, so that I could be part of the healing work in people’s lives. 

As a Christ-follower and as a Pastor (learning how to transition from a youth pastor to a lead pastor), I’m more aware than I ever that the Church has failed. We have failed to edify, encourage, and equip people to live into the freedom and fullness that Jesus came to offer us. Majoring on the minors. Being known for what we’re against, instead of what we’re for. Hiding in our church buildings like ivory towers that people fear entering because we shame and guilt trip people through behavior modification tactics. Editing out the things in God’s word that are inconvenient and uncomfortable for us. Watering down what it means to be set apart and to be transformed into the image of Christ for the sake of the world. Failing to teach the full gospel, including the realities of sin, evil, and darkness. 

What will it take to stop the bleeding? 

For followers of Christ to follow Christ. 

I know this may sound like a simple answer, but if we truly fix our focus on following Christ, we will come alive. We will find the path to live well in wholeness for purpose. 

There’s a moment when John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, witnesses an interaction between Jesus and a man who has been invalid for 38 years. Jesus is entering Jerusalem for one of the yearly Jewish celebrations. He enters through one of the gates of the city where there was a pool surrounded by multitudes of people with a range of diseases and sicknesses. Legend has it that an angel of the Lord would stir the waters and the first ones to reach the pool would be healed. So, the multitudes of sick people laid around this pool waiting for something to happen. Jesus sees the man who had been laying on a mat for 38 years – unable to move. 

Jesus asks the man:

Do you truly long to become whole? 

The man begins to make excuses about what’s keeping him from reaching the pool – from receiving the healing from the waters. 

Jesus says: Get up, take up your mat, and walk. 

In an instant, the man does something he didn’t realize he could do, but Jesus knew. Jesus knew the potential for the man to be healed from the disease. 

Jesus calls him to do something he didn’t know he could do. 

We have an epidemic of people who are not well. 

The epidemic is in our churches. 

But if we truly long to become whole – to come alive and live well in wholeness for purpose – there is light for our darkness. There’s opportunity for healing. Jesus still sees our potential. Jesus still heals. The wounds in his hands heal our wounds – they stop our bleeding.

As we dress and address our wounds, we become the hands that hold the wounds of the world. We can stop the bleeding. We can offer the healing for the epidemic: Jesus. It’s always been Jesus, it will always be Jesus. Jesus is our path to wholeness and purpose. 

Here’s a starting place towards dressing and addressing our wounds

Take 10-15 minutes to write and doodle your response to the following questions: 

  • Do you truly long to become whole? 
  • Why do you truly long to become whole? 
  • What will wholeness look like for you? 

The path to wholeness and purpose, begins with having a clear sense of our “why”? Healing takes time. Understanding why we want to heal anchors us for the journey ahead. 

Together, let’s live well!

sg

“There’s a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”Rachel Held Evans

Setting a Sustainable Pace for the Rest of 2019

July is an odd month.

The 1st week of July ought to be a national holiday. 

The 2nd week of July feels like starting the year over again and relearning how to do life. 

Then we settle in. We find a pace for the remainder of the summer. 

If we’re honest…for the remainder of the year. August and September sneak up on us and then it’s go, go, go until the holidays. 

The odd pace of July can trip us up for the rest of the year if we don’t seize the opportunity for a reset. 

How do we set a sustainable pace towards living well? 

A couple of weeks ago a friend asked me if I could run 5 miles. I’m a pretty casual 5K runner. 3 miles gives me a good opportunity to listen to a podcast, to disconnect from the world for 30ish minutes, and jump back into my day with fresh energies. 

But for some reason when my friend asked me this, it made me think: “Can I run 5 miles?” What changes do I need to make to my running flow to make this happen? 

The first day I tried, I ran 4.7 miles. Then, on July 4th, I did a CrossFit workout (my first one ever!) that was mostly running, but had other movements mixed in throughout the workout.

After that workout, I realized if I mixed certain movements into my running flow, then I could develop a sustainable pace towards this new goal I had of running 5 miles. 

In the 3 times I’ve run since that workout, I’ve included circuit movements into my running flow, and my pace towards 5 miles has been more sustainable. 

Small resets can set sustainable paces. 

Here are 3 small resets you can do this month to set a sustainable pace for the rest of the year.  (And during any moments when you need to reset to set yourself up for living well.)

  1. Reset your vision 
  2. Reset your mindset 
  3. Reset your values

1. Reset your vision 

Vision sets us on the journey towards who we are becoming and where we long to be. Clarity keeps us from wandering aimlessly and keeps us towards growing meaningfully. 

  • What is your overall life vision? 
  • How did you want to make moves towards that vision this year? 
  • What areas are you thriving in? What areas are you neglecting? 
  • In the areas that you’re neglecting, what specific small moves would you like to make before the end of the year?

Micro-movements are still movements. 

If you started the year saying: “I want to go to the gym 3-4 times a week”, but you only go one time a week (maybe), you may need a reset on this vision. 

Instead of being disappointed in yourself and not making steps towards your vision, think about the small moves you CAN make. A small reset can go a long way when it’s done towards an aim. 

2. Reset your mindset

We get a beautiful opportunity in July to realize that maybe the pace we originally set for ourselves was too fast. Instead of feeling guilty for moving slower than you wanted to move, seize the moment for a shift. 

  • When you first started the year, how did you see the opportunities in front of you? 
  • How do you see them now? 
  • What would it look like to reset your mindset, so that your perspective is not limiting, but expanding and making space for the months ahead?

Remember, micro-movements are still movements.

Even if your perspectives about your circumstances and situations feel bleak, the year isn’t over, you still have time. Shift your perspective. See things differently. Flip it around. Make space for the possibilities. 

3. Reset your values

Our values are the guiding principles that direct us. We all go through moments when our actions don’t align with our values. This is why we need a value reset every so often. A reset will ensure we’re being guided by our principles. 

  • What are your 5-6 core values? 
  • Reflecting on your current season, what one value do you need to guide you most? 
  • What will that value look like in practice? 

Last time: Micro-movements are still movements.

Practicing our values is hard work. Focusing on one value – the value that adds the most value to your pace right now – will guide your steps more intentionally.

In my new book, Color Me Yellow, section one focuses on uncovering our voices. I guide you through 3 foundational aspects of uncovering your values, mindset, and vision. Each chapter has exercises to help you towards clarifying these foundational aspects of yourself. 

Without clarity about our values, mindset, and vision, we will find it challenging to find ourselves. And find it challenging to set sustainable paces in our lives, so that we can live well. 

I’d love to be on the journey with you towards living well and clarifying these foundational aspects of yourself, so get your exclusive signed copy of Color Me Yellow today. 

Adelante, 

sg

Why do I feel tense?

I never get headaches. I knew that last week when I had a headache that lasted 5 days, something was wrong.

Medication didn’t work.

Meditation didn’t work.

I don’t know how to cope with headaches, since I never get them. So, I went down the google rabbit hole. I learned all about tension headaches and where we hold tension in our bodies.

I stumbled upon this article: 9 Types of Muscle Tension Caused by Trapped Emotions

I was shocked and saddened to read this statistic in the article: “According to a study conducted in 2012, 25.3 million Americans (11.2%) suffer from chronic pain every day and 17.6% suffer from severe levels of pain.”

The author of the article shares:

“Your body is the most honest and obvious way to access trapped feelings and even traumatic memories. No matter how much you try to ignore, intellectualize or suppress how you feel, your body knows the truth.”

I know that the body keeps score.

I’m constantly telling people that the tension is not an invitation to be tense, but an invitation to be tenacious.

  • Why do I feel tense?
  • What is my body keep score of currently?
  • How can I be tenacious through the tension?

I’ll ask you the same questions:

  • Why do you feel tense? 
  • What is your body keeping score of today?
  • How can you be tenacious through the tension today?

I won’t pretend to have learned all the answers last week and as helpful as google is, it doesn’t have all of the answers either.

Here’s what helped relieve my pain…

Laying on the floor foam rolling with a friend.

IMG_5540“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.” Bessel van der Kolk in his book,  The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

My friend Sandy is a super-shero wife and mom, brilliant engineer, owner and coach of a CrossFit gym, and my friend of 10 years. (And this only scratches the surface.) (Also, this picture is from 2015. We’ve been laying on the floor together for a long time!)

After struggling with the headache for 5 days, she stopped everything and said: “Come on, we’re foam rolling.”  We laid on the floor of the gym and talked me through each part of our bodies and the tension we hold in those parts.

She said, “When you feel a place that is particular tense, hang out there and feel the pressure from the foam roller until the muscle starts to relax”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past few days: hang out in the spot where it feels tense. Press into the tension.

When your body is carrying “trapped feelings and even traumatic events”, it can be tempting to want to quickly move on from that spot. But if we don’t hang out and feel the pressure counteracting the pain, we won’t feel the tension release.

How can we be tenacious in the tension?

Find someone who stops everything to lay on the floor and foam roll with you.

“No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love”Bessel van der Kolk

A friend’s love is like a foam roller. They hang out in the spot where you feel tense until the pain releases, so that you can be tenacious in the tension. 

  • Who lays on the floor and foam rolls with you?
  • Who hears you, sees you, and holds you until the pain releases?

In the tension together,

sg

3 Obstacles To Uncovering Your Voice

And How to Turn Those Obstacles Into Opportunities

Finding our voice is first about uncovering what’s inside. It’s about uncovering those essential pigments that when, added together, reflect our God-design.

But what happens obstacles become barriers to us uncovering our true voices?

I asked some friends recently: What’s one challenging part of uncovering your true voice?

Their responses fall into one of these 3 obstacles.

1. Halting the Noise

We live in a very noisey culture.

Sometimes I wonder if everyone is talking, but no one is saying anything, because we’re just parrots of other people.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn

This is true for our voices too. The voices of the people around you can inadvertently (or not so inadvertently) become your voice if you aren’t mindful.

2. Hearing the Doubts

This is the most challenging obstacle for me.

The doubts lead to questions like:

  • Is this really my true voice?
  • Can I trust this voice that I think I’ve found?
  • What if I speak and it’s all wrong?

3. Hating the Process

Uncovering your true voice is hard. My friend shared: “Not many people start a project that they know in advance is going to be hard. Takes discipline and motivation!”

But there’s hope friends…

Here’s how we turn these obstacles into opportunities:

1. Expose the Noise

Expose the noise for what it is: noise.

Don’t just let it overwhelm you so much that your only response is to halt it, because you haven’t learned how to handle it.

One of the questions I ask in Color Me Yellow is: What makes you tick and what ticks you off?

Start there.

When you’re hearing the noise of people around you, of the media, or even the noise in your head, ask yourself:

  • Does this make me tick aka is this something that resonates? OR
  • Does this tick me off aka is this something that makes me feel not quite right?

2. Engage the Doubts

Doubts stall us. When we’re stalled, we stop uncovering our true voice.

Engage the doubts. If you question the voice that you’ve uncovered, test it out with someone.

The worst thing that will happen is you will sound ridiculous. But then, you’ll learn from sounding ridiculous.

“Speak even if your voice shakes” – Maggie Kuhn

When we engage the doubts by testing them, we dismantle the power of the doubts over us.

3. Enjoy the Process

You have been transformed, you are being transformed, and you will be transformed.

If we leave our ongoing transformation unattended, we can become someone who we weren’t designed to be.

Build in rhythms to enjoy the process.

Tip: These rhythms don’t need to be hours long. Start with 5 minutes of reflecting on who you are and who you’re becoming.

Here are some of my of my go-tos:

  • Journaling
  • Sitting quietly
  • Going for a walk

Find something enjoyable to you.

Don’t leave who you were designed to become go unattended, because the process seems hard.

As you build the rhythm little by little, the process becomes enjoyable.

In the tension, together,

sg

How “On the Basis of Sex” & the Women’s March Inspired Me About the Future of the Church

“On the Basis of Sex”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I know this case disrupted our lives.

Jane Ginsburg: Who is it for if not for me?

If you have not seen “On the Basis of Sex”, then you need to see if before it leaves theaters. The movie chronicles the story of Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the early years of her career as an attorney. 

During a turning point in the movie, Ruth experiences a setback in the gender discrimination case she’s trying to bring before an appeals court. This case, if they won on appeal, would change the future of gender equality in the US. 

She’s given everything to and for this case. The whole family is involved, including her daughter, Jane. Ruth wants to give up and she apologizes to her daughter for the case disrupting their lives. 

Then Jane says a powerful statement: “Who is it for if not for me?” 

This becomes a turning point for Ruth – both for her relationship with her daughter and for the tenacity with which she holds on to her vision for gender equality. 

Ruth understood something about being tenacious in the tension: 

  1. It’s not about you
  2. It’s about those who come after you

The way the movie portrayed Ruth’s story and her relationship with her daughter, Jane, highlighted the impact our influence can have on those who come after us. Their story reminds us that our devotion to something greater than ourselves can leave an indelible legacy.

The Boston Women’s March

On January 19, I went to the Boston Women’s March. We stood outside in the 30-degree for 4 1/2 hours listening to speaker after speaker encourage us about gender equality and equity. We came together in solidarity for the stories about where we’ve been and where we have the potential to go. 

What marked me more than the speakers were the young folks surrounding me. These young folks came from a range of lived experiences and identities and they came together to acknowledge and advocate. 

Our young people are growing up in a culture where it’s normal for them to go to rallies and rallies. They understand how to navigate conversations about buzzwords that the corporate world is trying to figure out: diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our young people don’t need to figure these words out, because these aren’t words to them, this is their lived experience.

I had the honor of being there with two young Latina women who are hermanitas for me. As I talked with them, I realized the great potential they have to lead not only the future of this generation, but also the future of the Church. 

They understand what Jane Ginsburg understood and communicated to her mom: “Who is it for if not for me?”

They understand that devotion to something greater than ourselves can leave an indelible legacy. 

Millennials, Generation Z, and The Future of the Church

We live in increasingly complex times. As a leader in the Church I’ve watched as we’ve become increasingly insulated as the complexity has disrupted us. I’ve watched as we’ve let go of navigating the complexities – out of fear and out of a lack of clarity.

We stood by and watched the exodus of countless Millennials, because we stopped being tenacious in the tension.

Now, Generation Z, is growing up with advocacy across a range of issues  (many that are and will be disruptive) woven into their lived experiences. 

  • How will we, the body of Christ, respond? 
  • What will our tenacity in the tension look like as we lean towards the vision of loving God and loving others as we love ourselves? 
  • How will we recapture the beauty that the good news of Christ isn’t for us to hoard, but to share with others? 
  • How will we share the full good news of Christ to and for those who come after us? 
  • How can we embrace young folks and empower them to lead alongside us as we build the future of the Church? 
  • How can we listen and learn from their lived experiences as well as disciple them to live out a vibrant faith as followers of Christ? 

8 lessons “On the Basis of Sex”  and the Boston Women’s March taught me about building the future of the Church:

  1. Listen and learn together
  2. Walk alongside others
  3. Make room for wrestling together
  4. Talk about the full gospel because it’s STILL powerful
  5. Prepare to run the long race, because this isn’t a sprint
  6. Devoting time is the gamechanger 
  7. Deconstructing is important, but leads to hopelessness
  8. Create safe spaces to reconstruct the deconstructed pieces of faith 

In the tension together, 

sg