HOT Christians

country girlsI recently heard a sermon on HOT Christians. Seth’s home church was having its 40th anniversary, so we drove out to his hometown to visit and celebrate with them.

It was a half-day event, starting with an hour long dissertation on the history of the church, followed by a short break for socializing; then the hour long sermon, which was capped off with a potluck-style lunch.

When the pastor of forty years began his sermon, he stated that we all need to strive to be HOT Christians. I promptly leaned over to Seth and whispered with a smirk and a wink, “Well! Guess I’m good.” He sniggered.

The pastor continued, “To be a HOT Christian, we must first be Humble…”

“Ha!” Seth burst out. Elderly patrons turned and scowled as Seth and I silently shook from laughter. Every time we tried to stop, we’d glance at each other and start laughing again. We finally calmed down by the time the pastor finished talking about being Objective and moved on to being Teachable.

At a church boasting such a classic potluck luncheon (complete with potato salad and fruit jello), I should have known the sermon would be an acrostic.

Authentically “HOT” Aurora

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Life is Lived in the Grey

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I started going grey at 22. I remember standing in the bathroom of my college’s volleyball colosseum and cringing at the strands of metallic white hair I saw peeking through the rest of my dark brown locks. For years I plucked the hairs or just let them grow out, but this year – once I turned 30 – I decided to finally take action.

That first week I turned 30, I quit my corporate job, took off for four days to drive alone through the hill country, and scheduled an appointment with a new hairdresser to dye my hair for the first time ever. Anyone who didn’t know me would think I was going through a mid-life crisis, but Ashley and others knew the changes were a long time in coming.

The Colorist was a nice woman in her fifties – nice but not warm. Tall and slender with angular features and jet black hair, she came off as astute and knowledgeable as she talked me through my options. I’d planned on dying my hair outright, but once she understood that my priorities were hiding the grey and having low maintenance, she suggested highlights instead.

“Highlights will camouflage the grey hairs,” she explained to me, “though they will still be there. If you completely dye your hair, you’ll have to come in to have the roots touched up twice as often.”

“Okay, that makes sense. Thanks.” After her education, I decided to have highlights done, but I emphasized that I wanted them to look natural. “I don’t want big, chunky highlights.”

“Alright, I’ll give you more of a natural, sun-kissed look,” she agreed. She went to work, and in the meantime, I looked around her salon station, noting the trophies lined the counter. She was good at her job and had been at it for decades. The Colorist told me that working on “virgin hair” was her favorite, so getting to do my highlights was a special treat. We made some small talk, but not much, and when she was finished, she sent me off to have my hair blow-dried by a male hairdresser named Jonny.

Jonny was channeling Adam Lambert, circa 2009, complete with shaggy black hair, dark eyeliner and multiple rings on each hand. He seemed nice but frazzled, having misplaced his hairdryer. I thought that was odd, since he was a hairdresser junior enough that his primary job was blow-drying the hair of other hairstylists’ clients.

Once Jonny found his hairdryer,  he went to work on different sections of my hair, moving through them slowly – and then stopping completely when the back end of his newly-found hairdryer started to smoke. He turned it off and on, shaking it and then shaking his head in frustration. He turned it back on and continued to dry my hair, keeping a wary eye on his questionable equipment.

Having finally found his groove, Jonny started to make small talk with me. He asked if I was married, and when I told him I was dating Seth, he asked how we met. I told Jonny about church and meeting while teaching Sunday school.

Ever since starting to date Seth, I’ve had an easy gateway into talking with people about faith. Nobody wants to talk about God, but everybody wants to talk about my love life. Since Seth and I met at church, I can pretty easily bridge that gap into the typically taboo topic of faith.

Sure enough, Jonny latched on to the topic. “Wow. That is just the perfect story, isn’t it?” He was genuinely enthralled. “How cute is that?! You two are just perfect. She teaches girls Sunday school; he teaches boys Sunday school… It’s like a movie!”

Jonny and I got to talking more in depth, and I thanked God that I didn’t have anywhere to be. Every time we talked about something that really interested him, Jonny would turn off his blowdryer so that he could better hear me and make sure I heard his response in turn. As a result, it took him TWO HOURS to dry my hair. I was in the salon for three hours total – a trip that normally takes me less than half that time! But it was worth it.

Jonny obviously felt comfortable with me, because he asked me a lot of good questions about God and what I believe. “You’re supposed to love God with all that you are, right?” He asked. When I nodded, he went on, “But if you marry Seth, you seem like the kind of girl who would also want to give her husband 100%. I know you’re going to be a great wife. You are so pure and kind-hearted. But how can you, as a good Christian, give both God and your husband 100%?”

“That’s such a great question, Jonny. I’m glad you asked me.” I paused, trying to think how best to respond. “Jesus said that anything we do for others, we are doing for Him. When we love and serve other people, we are loving and serving God. God wants me to love my husband well, and – if I were to marry Seth – loving Seth would be a way of loving God. So the two aren’t mutually exclusive; they support one another.”

“Huh. I didn’t know that. I give food to homeless people all the time,” he told me, and I could tell he really wanted me to think he was a good person. “So am I doing that for God? Does that count?”

I smiled. At first, Jonny had been intentionally pushing my buttons, trying to see how judgmentally I’d respond when he flippantly told me about waking up next to his girlfriend or how cool it was to get to cut her hair when they showered together. But when I looked past those comments and just focused on the heart of the conversation, he started to open up more.

“That’s so great – I love that you have such a giving heart. I believe God gave you that generosity because the world desperately needs people like you. And it’s wonderful that you are helping the homeless. But God says that anything we do apart from Him is fruitless, so I’d say it comes back to motives. When you feed the homeless, are you doing it because you want to feel good about yourself or because you want to glorify God and do His work?”

Thinking about James 3, I added, “I think what you are doing is great, and you should keep doing it, but to go to heaven, we have to be in a right relationship with God, and to receive rewards in heaven for what we’ve done, we have to check our motives and abide in God.”

Jonny nodded thoughtfully. “Okay. That’s good. Maybe I can change my mindset and motives.” He finished up drying my hair and asked delicately, “Um, when you had your hair cut last, did you by chance come in on a Saturday?”

I blinked, surprised. “Yes. Why?”

“Well… sometimes our hairdressers are rushed on Saturdays, and it looks like some of your layering is off. Did you have it cut here?”

I nodded, and Jonny continued, “Then I should see a certain technique.”

He lifted the ends of my hair with a comb, shaking his head. Then he glanced around furtively. “I’ll fix it for you. No charge.” He smiled at me. “I like you.”

I smiled back. “Thanks, Jonny. I like you, too.”

Authentically Aurora

Receiving Dividends (Part 2)

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It was nearly 3:30AM by the time I finally got back to bed after intervening with the taxi driver and security guard. I’d told the taxi driver I was a Christian and that’s why I’d stepped in to help. The security guard had shaken my hand and asked for my unit number for his report.

I couldn’t sleep when I got back to my apartment; I was full of energy and adrenaline. So I started writing a note to the drunk guy in unit 71 who started the whole ordeal. I was upset at first – he was at a men’s club, which repulses me, and he came home drunk, which is irritating. He was so far gone he didn’t understand that he needed to pay the taxi driver for his fare.

But as I started writing, God changed my heart, and the letter in Part 1 is the result. I slipped on my white sandals and walked down to his unit where I shoved the folded up letter in the crease of the door. As I wiggled the paper to make sure it was secure, I heard footsteps coming slowly down the hallway. They weren’t the shuffling footsteps of someone groggily getting home late. They were slow and deliberate; it was surely the security guard.

Not sure if he’d reprimand me for leaving a note, I turned the opposite direction to avoid making eye contact, leaving my note to unit 71 still visible in the door. Safely back at my apartment, I threw off my shoes and collapsed into bed. A few minutes later, I heard a scratching at my door, but I was so exhausted that I just rolled over and figured it was fine. I’d triple-checked that my door was dead-bolted.

When I woke up hours later, I did my usual morning routine before I happened to walk by my front door and saw a piece of yellow, ruled paper sticking out. Snapping it up, I felt somewhat apprehensive. Was it from the drunk tenant or the security guard? Was it a thank you or an angry rant?

I unfolded the paper and read:

“I would like to say thank you again for being Spirit led and for being such a great neighbor. You truly are a beautiful person inside and out, and I speak eternal blessings over you and your house now and forevermore. You are a true example of Christian Love. If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to call me. Grace and peace -“

He signed his name and left his phone number, along with his title: “Security”. It turns out I wasn’t the only Christian being Spirit led last night. And we are better together than we are alone.

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ… We have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit… Yes, there are many parts, but only one body… Some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary… We carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.” -1 Corinthians 12

Authentically Aurora

Stop Claiming Promises God Never Made

Jer.29.11.jpgChristians. Church people. Jesus followers. Please stop claiming promises that God never made to you!

Many of us have gotten in the very bad habit of telling ourselves that because God CAN do something, He WILL do that thing if we pray and ask for it. This is a lie. Yes, God is omniscient and omnipotent, but just because He has the power to do something does not mean that He will.

Just because God can heal your illness does not mean that he will do so. God may be brought more glory through your sickness than your healing, and you may become a more sanctified version of yourself by walking through prolonged illness. Have we forgotten that God cares more about the state of our eternal souls than our temporal, physical bodies?

Just because He can bring your future husband into your life this very week does not mean that He will. Your future husband may not be ready for marriage, and you may not be, either. It’s possible that it is for your greater good (and God’s greater glory) for you to continue waiting. Have we forgotten that God’s ways are higher than ours? He sees the bigger picture and has our best in mind.

Monday night was my first evening of Women’s Discipleship at my church. I love my church – the pastor, the worship band, the kids’ ministry… we have great people and sweet, Spirit-filled time together on Sundays. But I tend not to be a fan of women’s ministry events because they tend to be such Estrogen-Fests. And an Estrogen-Fest it was.

Once we made it through the touchy-feely, emotion-packed first lesson, the twenty or so women in our group partnered off for a time of prayer. I ended up coupled with Kristie, the leader of not only our small group but Women’s Discipleship as a whole at our church. Unsure what to expect from her, I was stunned when she shared her prayer request:

“Will you pray for an increase in the measure of my faith? That I would not just believe that God can do anything but that He will? I want to pray and believe He will do what I have asked of Him. When I ask Him to provide a job for my mom, I want to believe that He will and not just that He can.”

Although I wanted to be kind and encouraging to Kristie, I disagreed with the premise of her prayer request at a theological level. And she is the head of our women’s ministry. She is the one who is teaching over sixty women at our church for the next eight months. And I am concerned that she is going to spread her unfounded doctrine and poor theology.

Disturbed, I simply prayed for an increase in the amount of Kristie’s faith. After all, that part was biblical. Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2), and it is certainly acceptable to pray for God to increase our faith (Mark 9:24). But I have noticed that in our church – and Kristie’s request aligned with this – several individuals in leadership skew toward a level of “charismatic” that is not biblically sound. And I was about to be faced with another example.

As soon as Kristie and I had finished praying, one of the women in our group announced that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s a pretty young thing – late 30s I would guess – and asked for prayers of healing. I was getting ready to pray that, if God willed it, He would heal her completely, but before I could start, Evangeline – the head of our prayer ministry at our church – jumped up and declared in a loud, authoritative voice, “Girl, we are not just going to ask God to heal you. We are CLAIMING healing over you. We believe not just that God can heal you, but that He WILL. We declare it! We speak healing over you!”

Eyes wide, I silently prayed for God’s will to be done. Whether He wanted to heal her or not, I prayed for peace and supernatural joy regardless of her circumstances. And then I went home and prayed for our church. Because our leadership has got it wrong.

These women in Discipleship are supposed to be older, wiser women who are meant to mentor the younger women in their faith. But they are clearly tossed around by their emotions and not grounded in the truth. God is not a genie, granting every wish of people who pray to Him. He is not a puppet god who moves in whichever way we want if we pull the right string. They need to stop claiming promises that God never made to them. Stop telling people they will be healed if they just pray hard enough and believe God is going to do it.

God’s ways are higher than ours (Isa. 55:8-9). Many are the plans in the heart of a man, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Prov. 19:21). Yes, if we pray anything in God’s will, we have what we have asked of him, but let us not forget the “in His will” (1 John 5:14). Sometimes God says no, and it’s not because of a lack of faith on the part of the supplicant. Have we forgotten that Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done”? (Matt. 6:10) Have we forgotten the example of Jesus at Gethsemane?! Pretty sure Jesus had the faith to move mountains, and he still received a “no” from the Father.

Sometimes we do not receive what we desire because we do not ask (James 4:3), so by all means, ASK! But remember that God is not obligated to respond with “Yes”. And He is worthy of our praise no matter what He answers.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are Your ways higher than ours. 

Authentically Aurora

In Favor of Teaching

those-who-can-do-supercommittee-quoteThe blogosphere tends to be a very supportive place, but in the real world, I get a lot of confused looks or straight-up negativity when people find out that I’m looking into becoming a teacher.

Since I have an engineering degree and successful career therein, people cannot understand why I would leave a cushy, corporate job for the world of education. They have preconceived expectations of my career path based on my background and cannot fathom why I would voluntarily leave a comfortable job in favor of teaching.

Many people subscribe to the old adage “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”, and teachers tend to be compensated accordingly. But not all compensation is financial. And after seven years in corporate America, I submit to you that a more accurate idiom is: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, form a supercommittee.”

I am still volunteering to teach Sunday school a few times a month at my church, and I was recently asked to become an elementary school Team Leader, meaning I will not only continue teaching but also take on more of an administrative, leadership role coordinating the other volunteers. Although it can be stressful at times, teaching these sweet kids at church remains one of my highlights each week.

Last Sunday, we talked about the Creation account – how God created not only the earth but also plants and animals; man and woman. When Mia, one of my 2nd grade girls, heard this story (for possibly the first time), she looked down at her arms and stroked her tanned forearm with a tentative finger, whispering out loud in wonderment, “I’m made from clay?”

We talked more about the creation of Adam and Eve; then Mia asked me privately, “Miss Aurora, is Jesus God?” After hearing about God the Father creating the universe and everything in it, she was confused about the role of Jesus in relation to the Father. The Trinity is a difficult concept even for mature Christians, so I pointed to Mia’s water bottle in an effort to give her a practical, visual explanation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

ozarka6ozMia and I removed the lid of her water bottle, exploring the three parts comprising the water bottle: the bottle itself, the cap and the water within the bottle. All three are separate, but they come together to create the water bottle, just as the Trinity is One God, Three Persons.

A few minutes after my explanation, the girls were working on a craft activity when another girl – Lillian – asked about Jesus. All on her own, Mia picked up her water bottle and explained the Trinity to Lillian just as I had explained it to her minutes earlier! My heart swelled within me to see little Mia teaching Lillian about God. I got to see the exponential effect of Matthew 28:19 lived out right in front of me over the course of mere minutes.

Near the end of our time together, Mia had another question for me. “Miss Aurora, is God invisible?”

I answered her, “Right now He is, but someday we’ll see Him.”

Mia pointed to the purple mat we were sitting on. “Is God sitting right here?” I explained Matthew 18:20 to her and suggested that we could pray and ask God to be with us.

I went on to share with Mia that sometimes – especially if I’m sad – I ask God to sit with me and hold my hand.

Mia’s big brown us looked up at me, and she blinked innocently. “Does He say yes?”

“Yes,” I told her with a hug and a smile. “He always says yes.”

Authentically Aurora

Jesuspicious

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You never know who may be looking at how you live your life.

When I was a little girl, my best friend Sara lived in the cul-de-sac across from ours. Sara was a bossy, unkind girl, and she inherited her temperament from her high-strung mother. While I was busy learning a lot about patience and sharing during my friendship with Sara, Sara’s mom was evidently learning a lot from observing my mom.

A few years ago, decades after Sara and her family moved away to another city, Sara’s mother called my mom to let her know she had become a Christian. “So many of the other PTA moms tried to shove religion down my throat, but you quietly displayed the love of Jesus to me day in and day out. You are the reason I sought out God and eventually became a Christian. Thank you.” Until that point, my mom never knew the impact she’d had on Sara’s family. She was just loving Jesus and letting the love overflow. So often, that is all that is asked of us; that is all that is needed.

When I was in college, I was in a swing dancing society. A tall Chinese boy named Yun was a frequent dance partner of mine, but we didn’t talk much during our dances (because we were so out of breath from the fast tempo songs!). Yun and I both moved to the same city after college, and I see him from time to time when I visit the swing dancing group here. We are amiable, but I would call him more of an acquaintance than a friend.

Despite our perceived distance from my perspective, two weeks ago, I received an unexpected Facebook message from Yun. It was only one sentence, with no introduction or explanation. “What are the minimum requirements, in your mind, to be a Christian?”

I was completely taken aback but also really glad he felt comfortable reaching out to me with his question. I wrote back that I could answer over Facebook messenger, but I suggested we go out for coffee instead. Yun agreed.

We met a few days later, and Yun gave me the background for his question. He grew up in an atheist family in China, but after his father’s death several years ago and his grandmother’s latest bout of cancer, his mother encouraged Yun to settle down with a nice Christian girl. Yun’s mother is still an atheist living in China, but she thinks American Christian girls make good wives. She told Yun they will be kind, loving and faithful wives because they believe they are accountable to a Higher Power.

Yun has tried dating some nice, Christian girls, but he told me with frustration that none of them will date him unless he becomes a Christian, too. “I know that’s an ulterior motive… will God be mad at me if I become a Christian with impure motives? It’s hard being an atheist bachelor in the Bible Belt of America.”

I smiled thoughtfully at Yun. I appreciated his authenticity. “I think all of us have impure motives at some time, but God’s greatest desire is for you to know Him, so if He uses your desire to be married as a way to draw you to Himself, so be it. I think the fact that you’re asking if God would be bothered by it says a lot. I believe our desire to please God does in fact please Him.”

So Yun pulled out his iPad, where he’d developed a list of questions to ask me. Is baptism necessary for salvation? Do I have to be “good enough” to be a Christian? Why did Jesus have to die? Do I have to believe that Jesus was the Son of God? What if I want to believe but I can’t seem to muster up the faith in myself? Do you believe creation was literally seven days, or is that figurative? What do you think about the Big Bang Theory? Why is there suffering in this world if God is good, loving and all-powerful? Is going to church necessary?

The questions went on and on, and for hours I answered them as best I could, giving Yun passages of the Bible to read on his own so that he could search the Scriptures for himself. We talked a lot about Romans 6 and why someone who truly believes in Jesus’ deity, death and resurrection will live differently than before they believed.

In the end, Yun decided he wasn’t quite ready to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on his behalf yet, but he told me, “I want to believe. I want to become a Christian. I just need to think about it some more first. It’s not a decision I take lightly.”

I’m thankful Yun appreciates the weight of his decision. And I made sure he knows he can come back to me any time with more thoughts or inquiries. It was refreshing to talk about the hard questions of faith with someone who was genuinely seeking answers and not just looking for an argument.

Please pray for Yun, and if you are someone who is curious about my answers to any of the questions Yun raised, please feel free to comment or send me a private message!

Authentically Aurora

Words of Knowledge

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Moms know things. Not only do they know that your dreaded history test is next Friday (because they talked to the other moms at soccer practice) and that you’ve been swapping your turkey sandwich with Sarah for her PB&J (because your lunch box smells like peanut butter every day), but they also intuitively know things. My mom knew the day I got my first kiss because she could sense it when I walked in the door.

But my dad had a different kind of knowledge. He knew things he had no reason to know. He was given knowledge about things that he had no way of simply intuiting or deducing. For instance, he woke up one morning and told my mom to turn on the TV because a plane had just flown into the side of a mountain (this was pre-9/11). Sure enough, the news channels had just picked up a story about a plane crashing into the side of a mountain.

Stories like this permeate my childhood, such that I grew up thinking every dad had a superpower of just knowing things. So it freaked me out when I got older and realized what a rare gift my dad had. And it freaked me out even more when I started showing signs of the same.

A couple of years ago, my friend Jill had her first child, and although she and her husband revealed the baby’s name to no one else, God revealed to me two weeks before his birth that the baby’s name would be Elijah. When the name came into my mind, it wasn’t just a good guess. It wasn’t something I’d intuited from something Jill told me. It was a supernatural revelation, and I was so sure of the knowledge – had such a deep-seated certainty of its validity – that when Jill texted me she was going into labor, I wrote back, “Say hi to baby Elijah for me!” She was stunned. And so was I. But God still speaks.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a conference room with about sixty colleagues, participating in a “get to know you” session with senior leadership. The facilitator of the meeting was asking each leader a personal question, like “What is your favorite movie?” or “What book are you reading right now?”

When time came for the last leader in the row to respond, the facilitator asked, “What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?”

And boom. Into my brain popped the knowledge of what he was going to say. It wasn’t just a good guess. I knew that I knew the exact words that were about to come out of his mouth. So I leaned over to Bethany and whispered, “He’s about to say, ‘Getting married to my wife.'”

Bethany laughed, thinking I was being funny, but as the leader echoed my words into the microphone – “Getting married to my wife.” – Bethany’s eyebrows shot up, and her head snapped to me, eyes wide.

As more of these instances have occurred in my life, I’ve often asked why. Why reveal this knowledge to me? My dad knowing about the plane didn’t change anything. It didn’t save lives. Knowing Elijah’s name didn’t enact anything in his life. Same with this leader’s response to a seemingly pointless networking question.

So what is the purpose of such revelation? I have determined that it is God’s way of growing my faith. It’s so hard for a control freak like me to relinquish my plans to God and genuinely believe His ways are better than mine (what pride!). These revelations remind me of God’s omniscience, that He still speaks, and that I can know His plans and hear His voice if I but listen.

Authentically Aurora