My All-In Strawberry Patch: Risk and Relationships

Two years ago I planted a plot of strawberry plants.

I had dreams of juicy red fruit growing organically in my backyard, picked by my minions – er, children – and overflowing bowls of pretty red jewels set out on my table for guests to enjoy.

I asked a friend to come over and dig up the soil. I had my husband line the plot with two by fours. I tended and watered and weeded.

If I had a nickel for every time someone stopped to tell me how hard strawberries were to grow, how the effort wasn’t worth it, I could have paid for a much nicer plot.

I just smiled and nodded and shoved the words deep down inside.

What I should have told them was:

“I’m not growing strawberries. I’m growing commitment.”

Let me explain.

I had thought about growing strawberries for years. Friends grew strawberries and would leave little boxes on our counter. I looked at other local’s raised beds and wanted some for myself. But then I would almost instantly think, “Well, who knows how long we’ll be here.”

Here is where ministry life enters in. It can be weird. Change and calls can enter at any time and plans have to remain flexible. Hearts have to remain flexible. That’s hard for someone like me who is whole-heartedly in, and easily whole-heartedly disappointed.

But you know what…

Life is weird. Change can happen anytime, anywhere, in any profession, in any relationships.

I realized that I was saving half of my heart for what might be. Keeping it safe, committing only pieces of myself so that I wouldn’t have to hurt, to say goodbye. At some point I realized that I was robbing myself of real relationships for what might be, even what would be. I was giving half-heartedly of who I was and expecting whole-hearts back.

Friendships need to be made, and wholeheartedness is not really an option, in life or in ministry.

And so I planted a strawberry patch.

I planted something large, that would take effort, and that I might have to walk away from.

It was beautiful. And it grew 14 strawberries.

Look at this bounty –

ūüėČ

Then, God called us away.

He called us to something new; to plant somewhere else. Oh goodness, it was hard. And every day I fight to be all-in here as well. Questions assail:

Will they like me?

Will they want me?

When will they get tired of me?

I know it’s not about me, but I have to be real. Relationships are hard and hard work and sometimes it seems that finding other people who want to be all-in are scarce.

Because of Christ, we can do it anyway.

Give your whole heart.

Plant something.

Start something.

No matter what tomorrow brings, no matter the response, grow love, and grow commitment to that love.

Christ stands as a constant reminder of the all-in love that our Father gives to us. He gave His whole heart, knowing what would come eventually, knowing that He would have to say goodbye, but trusting the Plan.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:32-5:2)

All-in, my friends. All-in.

Ask questions, ask questions, and ask more questions: Lessons learned from Cross Cultural Ministry

Cultures different from our own can be intimidating.

People from different cultural perspectives may think differently from us, act differently from us, and even value different things than we do.

But goodness God does beautiful things to each of us, and our relationships when we step outside of our own culture for a moment and enter into another.

Missionaries Christel Neuendorf and Rachel Jaseph join  me in conversation to talk about lessons learned from cross cultural ministry.

I sat down and expected a discussion of language and communication struggles, learning where to go, and what to do in a new land, instead my heart and mind were opened to the reality that

culture is across the globe, but also right outside my door.

I think the lessons in today’s podcast will serve us all well, not only for ministry and knowing our neighbors outside of the United States, but for the work we have to do with meeting our neighbors everywhere.

A few of my favorite lessons you’ll hear include:

When in doubt, ask questions.

Often we think of poverty in financial terms, but there is also the reality of poverty of community.

Relationships first. Always.

When not in doubt, ask questions.

Be present with the people God puts in front of you.

Get out, go into your community and find out more, learn more, grow more.

Ask more questions.

Written in Iron Ink: Cross Cultural Ministry –

You can find Rachel and Christel and more information about their ministry at the following links:

https://www.lcms.org/neuendorf

https://www.facebook.com/sendjamesandchristel/

Freedom in Love: People and all their opinions

People are difficult.

They have a lot of opinions.

Frankly, I am difficult. I have a lot of opinions.

I like dark roast coffee, thick and rich. I like it so dark and thick that a guy in our first congregation told me that my coffee had hair on it.

I think conversation is more important than time. I’ll choose talking over getting a move on every time and it drives people batty.

I don’t like words like conservative or liberal, traditional or contemporary, confessional or progressive. What do they mean? Very different things to different people, and so I find them troublesome and confusing, and they unintentionally create unnecessary assumptions.

See, I have a lot of opinions.

Paul feels like a brother to me, because he is a man of opinions too. And he’s not afraid to share them. He began Galatians 5:2 yesterday with “I, Paul…”

I like that he doesn’t hide behind another source, but is willing to take the heat for his thoughts, even when he is proclaiming the Gospel. “I’m saying this…not someone else, not the elders, not Peter, but I, Paul.” This is wise and we can learn from Paul in this. Why?

Because opinions were made for relationships, and more than that, relationships were made for love.

In our section from Galatians today you can hear and almost feel the affection of Paul jumping off the page. Don’t get me wrong. He’s pretty hot tempered. He’s pretty opinionated. He’s got some stuff to share, some Truth to dispense. But he begins with love, ends with love, and there’s a whole lot of it in between. Please read Galatians 5:6-15. Note anything that sounds like love to you, whether a word, desire, or tone:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13¬†For you were called to freedom, brothers.¬†Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love¬†serve one another.¬†14¬†For¬†the whole law is fulfilled in one word:¬†‚ÄúYou shall love your neighbor as yourself.‚Ä̬†15¬†But if you¬†bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

These are some of my favorite words from Paul, mostly because of the great vulnerability you find in his heart for the people.

“None of it counts, but Jesus…but faith in Love!”

“You were doing so well…what the heck happened?”

“I have confidence that you’ll see Truth here, because I know you all. I know your heart for Christ.”

It’s a segment that lends itself to paraphrase because you have been there. You have sat with someone who you want to convince so deeply of Christ and His great love, of His Truth working in love, that your heart is breaking. It’s easy to sit with Paul as he writes to the Galatians and understand his zeal, but don’t miss his love and enduring affection. It’s the suck-your-breath-in emotion, of longing for something better for someone, of not only sharing an opinion, yes, but hurting because they hurt, so much so that you can feel it in your chest.

This is the best place to be to share an opinion. Should we share the Word with people every day and every way? Yes! But the rubber hits the road and we can be heard in relationship with someone that began at one point, shared a lot of love in the middle, and is open to the Truth because of all the love passing back and forth.

The Greek root word for emasculate in Galatians 5:12 is¬†apokopt√≥, meaning to smite, cut off, mutilate, or emasculate. Translators choose emasculate here because Paul is a wordsmith of great cleverness. This feels tongue in cheek to me, and so while you may not have noticed or set it aside as a point of affection earlier, hear it now. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Paul is joking, because he’s so fired up, but certainly we can classify it as tongue-in-cheek. Paul is proclaiming that the Judaizers, the false brothers that trouble the Galatians so, would do to themselves the very thing and more that they so strongly insist from the Galatians, whom Paul loves.

It reminds me of my mom, when I would share my high school woes. “They should just go catch a duck!” she would say, or something else odd like that. Bottom line, I understood the point – they are trying to catch something, or someone rather, and you don’t need to be it. It was kitchy and thoughtful and always made me laugh, which was half the point.

Paul’s message is similar- don’t let them catch you. They don’t value you. God values you and He gave you freedom.

Love looks like freedom.

I don’t say that lightly. You can’t run around and proclaim freedom on the street corner (well, you can, but it just may not be very effective) because there is not relationship. Proclaiming love and freedom outside of relationship says, “Do whatever you want! Be whatever you want! No worries! Sin away!”

Love in relationship says, “Ack. This is unsettling you. Do you see how it’s hurting you? I want more for you.” (Galatians 5:12)

That is an opinion that can be heard. That speaks with purpose. That showers love.

As Paul tells the Galatians, we remind ourselves, “Use your freedom wisely.” (Galatians 5:13) Aka love, love, and love some more, always in Christ.

Sometimes, church bodies like to bite and devour one another, mine included. Opinions, because they are connected to the Word of God, and they value the Word of God, get louder and more aggressive all the time.

Your church body may seem similar. It’s been going on since Paul was a pastor. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Paul’s wisdom still holds true:

May love consume our zeal.

May it come at the beginning, at the end, and be found flowing like mad in the middle. May all our opinions be spoken and grounded in a love that carried a cross, walked out of a tomb, and ascended so the Spirit could move in us, bring freedom to us continually, every day.

Brothers and sisters, drink dark roast coffee or light roast, be on time or five minutes late, share the Word in season and out of season in its most unadulterated form, but do so in love, always, always in His love.


Discussion questions:

What strong opinions do you have on silly or big things?

What difference do you see in the way we share our opinions online or in other public ways versus sharing in relationship and conversation? What good do you see in either? What difficulty?

How does love change zeal? Where have you seen this done well?