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Silent Saturday

It’s Saturday, the day after and the day before. The day smack dab in between His death and His resurrection.

And there’s silence.

We have accounts—vivid details, actually—about Jesus’ death and resurrection, but the day in between, nothing.

No details. No information.

Just silence.

And this causes me to contemplate, to imagine, to wonder.

It was Sabbath for the Jews, so they’d be at the temple. Typically, this is where Jesus would have been found, talking to the priests and leaders. Maybe he’d even be turning over some tables, expressing a bit of righteous anger. Remember?

But not this Saturday.

Instead, he was in a tomb. Not only silent, but silenced by death. No breath, no blood, no life.

All was silent.

Where might His followers have been? In hiding? Fearing for their lives, too? Trying to figure out what to do next?

How might they have been feeling? Scared? Confused? Grief-stricken? Disillusioned?

And what about Mary, his mother? Remember the young girl, only thirty-three years prior, who’d said to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”

I’m a mom, and I can’t begin to imagine my son dying, especially in such a horrific way. Much less watching it all, up close and personal, or observing those who were casting lots and hurling insults at my son, my beloved child.

If I were Mary on this day, my heart would be heavy, filled with grief. Maybe even anger. Then again, my heart might be numb.

Too much. Too soon. Too painful.

Might she have been questioning everything? The angel’s visit? Her response?

She knew a little, but no where near the entire story of her son’s existence. At this moment, and on this day, she was a mom. And her son was dead. The one she bore, the one she fed, the one she watched grow from a boy to a man had breathed his last breath.

And now what?

Only silence.

We commemorate Good Friday, the day of His death, and Easter Sunday, the day of his resurrection, but have we thoughtfully considered the significance of Saturday, the day in between?

What does this silence represent?

In life—well, at least in mine—there have been times when God has seemingly been silent. Sometimes, I have questioned whether or not He was there, or if He was listening.

But here lately, I’ve found solace and strength in the silence. For it’s been in silence that I’ve learned to hear, really hear, God’s still, small voice. But more than merely hearing it, I’ve learned to trust it, to expect it, and to heed it.

The time in between may be silent, but it is never wasted. Never, ever wasted.

For, you see, Sunday’s a comin’!

© 2019 JADA SWANSON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Gossip: What it is and what God’s Word says about it.

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If a person doesn’t admit they gossip, well then, they’re probably lying. 😂 No, really, gossip is masked as so many things, even trying to justify actions by saying it’s  merely “venting”. Sometimes, even masking it as a prayer request. (Help us, Jesus!)

Now, don’t get me wrong: we need trusted others to talk to about the nuts and bolts of life, people with whom we can share the good, the bad, and even the ugly. I have a small handful of these people in my life. They are my truth-tellers. But that’s just it: They love me enough to tell me the truth. These trusted ones will kick me in the pants and set me straight whenever I’m out of line. 

And speaking of lines, there’s a fine line—a very fine line—between sharing with a truth-teller for accountability and just flat-out gossiping. But the reality is however you package it or dress it up, gossiping is wrong, especially amongst brothers and sisters in Christ. 

So, what exactly is gossip? Well, gossip can be described and/or defined in many ways, but here are a few: 

RUMOR: any unverified information.

SLANDER: false or malicious information with the intent to harm.

GOSSIP: sensational talk passed on because of it’s “juicy” nature, whether true, rumor, or slander. 

Gossip is not a singular action. For you see, gossip is not gossip without someone to speak it and another to listen to it. As such, the person who listens to it is just as guilty as the one who is doing it. And lemme tell ya: gossip is serious business. It shuts down trust between people (friends, co-workers, family members, even Sunday-go-to-meetin’ Christians). Gossip is not just a bad habit; it is a prideful sin.

So what might the Bible have to say to us about it? Well, as it happens, I looked up a few passages: 

You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.—Exodus 23:1

If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless.—James 1:26

Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other. Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it.—James 4:11

Lying lips conceal hate, and those who spread slander are fools.—Proverbs 10:18

A slanderer walks around revealing secrets, but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.—Proverbs 11:13

Destructive people produce conflict; gossips alienate close friends.—Proverbs 16:28

Without wood a fire goes out; without gossips, conflict calms down.—Proverbs 26:20

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.—Ephesians 4:29

So what does one do? Well, as Christ-followers, we need to recognize that gossip is contrary to the Gospel; it doesn’t promote unity; and it must cease.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

IMG_0008.PNGIt’s easy to talk about what we are against, but what are we doing to stand up for what and who it is we say we believe? Are we caring for the orphan and the widow? The outcast and the stranger? The poor and disenfranchised? The unborn child in a mother’s womb? Or, for that matter, the woman who feels one option is her only option?

Can I share a little story?

There was a woman in her late 40s who gave birth to a child. This child was the youngest of ten kids, and the only one placed for adoption. When this woman found out she was pregnant, she told the man. He threatened her, telling her she had to either get an abortion or put the child up for adoption. If not, this man who happened to work in law enforcement said he’d put her or one of her older adult kids in jail (Abuse of power, much?) Oh, and would you believe she met this “gentleman” at church?!

With that one statement, he took her child away. With that one statement, he took her desire to live away. With that one statement, he took her voice away. Oh, and not long after losing her child, she actually lost her ability to speak. Her voice was completely gone, literally and figuratively.

Although not her choice, this woman did put the baby up for adoption. On the child’s first Sunday in her new home, she was taken to church. One of the first people to greet the child and family was a spinster church lady. The first words out of this woman’s mouth, spoken over this child, was, “Well, you know, if her mom was a prostitute, she’s going to grow up to do the same?” (Sometimes, it’s best not to say anything at all.)

Thankfully, those words didn’t hold power over that little baby. And that wasn’t the end of either one of their stories—the baby or the biological mother’s. Even still, neither was a narrative that was neat or tied up with a bow. In fact, chapters of that child’s story are still being written to this very day as the truth of her life’s beginning becomes known.

How do I know? Because that child was me.

Why am I sharing this? Because actions really do speak louder than words. To change what’s taking place in our country requires more than a simple post on social media. (Yes, I’m looking in the mirror as I type those words.) We have to step outside of our comfort zones, engage in discussion, get to know people—really know them—and put our words and beliefs into action. Taking seriously the responsibility to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to share His love with all.

Am I pro-life? Most definitely, from the cradle to the grave! Am I personally grateful to have been given the gift of life? Absolutely! But the more I discover the truth of my biological mother’s life and the details surrounding my conception, birth, and adoption, along with other women who’ve shared their stories with me, the more I realize those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers have so much work left to do….starting with our own hearts, our own perceptions, and our responses to the lost and the least.

It’s not enough to speak out against abortion…..it simply isn’t. What will we do to embody and actualize all that we say we believe about the dignity of human life, from the cradle to the grave?

Actions really do speak louder than words. What will each of us do today, and in the days to come, to tangibly and demonstratively share the love of Jesus to all with whom we come in contact?

Pray for Your Pastor

Lord, Thank You For My Pastor, Bill Carroll And His Wife Sue within Encouraging Quotes For Pastors

Today, would you pray for your pastor(s)?

Oftentimes, people ask me how they might best encourage their pastors. Although I can’t speak for every pastor (or pastor’s spouse), I can share what would most encourage me (and my pastor-husband agrees).

What is the one thing that would most encourage a pastor? PRAYER. Truly, as pastors, we need prayer (and so do our families).

Ministry isn’t a 9-5 job. It’s all-consuming, no matter how intentional one might be in establishing boundaries and practicing the spiritual disciplines. The weight of the responsibilities: spiritual, administrative, relational, etc.; the desire to shepherd, lead, and care for others; and the sincere love of the church is always on a pastor’s heart and mind.

As pastors, my husband and I are committed not to act as if we have it all together, because we don’t. We hold our marriage, family, ministries and pastoral callings close to our hearts. And we don’t take those relationships or responsibilities lightly.

We also realize that our battle isn’t merely against ‘flesh and blood’. There are battles for which we fight, but are unable to see with human eyes. For some, this may sound absolutely absurd, and I understand. But for those of you who know about that of which I speak, I am not hesitant to ask for prayer.

How can you encourage your pastors? I truly believe it’s through prayer. Might I suggest a few ways for you to pray for your pastor(s) and their family?

• Pray for their spiritual health that it might be authentic and ever-deepening. Not routine, formulaic, or mundane.

•Pray for an unwavering ability to distinguish and hear God’s still, small voice amongst the competing noise of life, in order to lead effectively, shepherd diligently, and love unconditionally.

•Pray for them to identify and regularly connect with someone who can be a “pastor to the pastor” in order to purposefully and intentionally care for their soul and spiritual needs. This may be a soul friend, a spiritual director, or even another pastor.

•Pray against discouragement and attacks. Pastoral ministry can be brutal, discouraging work. Daily, pastors walk alongside of the hurting in their congregation and community, doing their best to navigate horrific and hurtful situations – divorce, death, spiritual doubt and disillusionment, and so much more. In addition to congregational concerns, pastors also have to navigate difficult, real-life, personal situations in their own families.

•Pray for their health and for rest that is refreshing and restorative. Pray for times of recreation that will allow their ministry mind to be turned ‘off,’ so they can simply ‘be’ and not feel as if they always have to be ‘on’.

•Pray for them to develop authentic friendships with safe, trusted ones who will simply allow them to be a person, not always on-call as a pastor. To intentionally connect with others with whom they can be completely real and vulnerable—sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly without judgment or criticism.

•If married, pray for their marriage to be protected, nurtured, and strengthened. To have consistent date nights and meaningful conversations, void of discussing church, work, or the like.

•If they are parents, pray for their kids. To know and love Jesus. To have a true connection with Him as their personal Savior. To find their identity in Christ alone, not in their pastor-parents’ job(s) and, especially, not in other people’s (unrealistic) expectations. Pray for the children of pastors to be resilient and understanding, specifically when pastor-parents are unable to attend their activities due to the demands of ministry or when last-minute meetings and/or emergencies arise.

As a pastor, this is what would greatly encourage me. And I believe it might encourage your pastor, too.

How else might you pray for and/or encourage your pastor(s) and their family?

Daddy’s Tribute

 

 

 

This last time my daddy spoke to me was on Sunday, May 21st at 5:38AM. I remember this so clearly because my husband, Jon, had just finished up a missions trip to Asia, and he’d texted me even earlier that morning while he was in Hong Kong before flying home the next day. Consequently, I hadn’t fully fallen back to sleep. So, when my mom called to tell me that Daddy had an episode and that the Hospice nurse had been there, I was wide awake and intently listening.

I asked her to hold the phone to his ear, and I told him that I loved him and for him to go to Jesus when he was ready. As I paused to fight back tears, he said very slowly, with hardly a verbal sound, but more like a hushed grovel that required much effort, “I…….Am…….Dying!” See, my daddy and I have always been straight-shooters with one another. And I believe with all of my heart that he knew I needed to know and that he wanted to be the one to tell me.

As well, it’s not lost on me that he passed in the month I was born, or that I’m now the age he was (43) when they adopted me as a baby. He always said that I kept him young. Growing up, I hadn’t a clue that he was considered to be an ‘older parent’. In fact, it never even occurred to me until one day a dear friend from college said, “Do you realize your dad is as old my grandfather?” Honestly, I had never really thought about it, because he never acted like he was older than my friends’ dads.

Most of his life, he worked multiple jobs at once, including serving in ministry as a bi-vocational pastor. And he always kept up with me and all of my shenanigans and activities; attending every piano recital, orchestra performance, awards ceremony, and sporting event. No matter if I was playing second-base on the softball field, running up and down the basketball court, or simply cheerleading on the sidelines, he was always there. After I went away to college, even after I moved out of state, he continued to be there for me. Would you believe that one time he surprised me and showed up to my final concert in Kansas City, KS? My parents drove through the night from Louisiana to be there because I was moving to WA State right after, and they wanted to see me while I was still “in the area”. Those few hours were precious!

Although I always knew my daddy was a hard worker, I didn’t realize the sacrifices he made for me until I got older and matured a whole heck of a lot. For my dad, a typical day began at 4AM. He’d get up when it was still dark, so he could feed all the animals and milk the cows before heading to his ‘day job,’ which until I started high school was at a sawmill. To earn additional income for our family and to make it possible to attend all of my activities and events, he worked overtime every single Saturday, making sure to get off by 12 noon.

From an early age, my daddy taught me the importance of hard work and honoring one’s commitments. He instilled in me a desire for lifelong learning and standing up for personal convictions. He encouraged me to dream big dreams. Then, he did all he could to help me see those dreams become realities. From the time I was a little girl, he always told me that I could do anything that I set my mind to do. To this day, I still believe it. He taught me to be strong and independent, as well as soft-hearted and others-focused.

But most importantly, he modeled to me a genuine faith, and welcomed all of my questions and doubts that came with working out my own personal faith in Christ. He always reminded me to trust God in all things. And he told me it was okay to have doubts and questions. Questions didn’t mean I had a weak faith. He assured me that they were an opportunity to grow and deepen my faith. And he encouraged me to make sure that I was searching for the answers in the right places!

Speaking of church and faith and God, my daddy lived the ways of Jesus. Now, he’d be the first to tell you that he’s not perfect and that he has a stubborn streak. Or that our family has experienced our share of hardships and difficulties. Some of which we are still navigating. Still, through everything, he has never doubted Jesus, or His love. A few years ago, he told me that even though he was a pastor, he thought God had used him the most whenever he was working at the sawmill or when he was driving a log truck. He counseled people after work, performed weddings, officiated funerals, and was “Jesus with skin on” for many folks.

And from the time I was a little girl, my daddy told me I could do and be anything that God called me to do or be. And ya know what? I believed him! I think he saw something in me from an early age that took me a little longer to figure out: I was called to vocational ministry.

And for the last twenty years, he has prayed for me, encouraged me, and supported me in a multitude of ways in the various ministry positions where I’ve served. Even when I left a “sure thing” job, teaching at a university, to take a leap of faith into the unknown world of church planting, he didn’t think I was crazy. And five years ago, he made the long trip from Louisiana to Washington to stand right beside me at the service when I was ordained an elder in the Free Methodist denomination. I think that was one of the most special memories for both of us. My daddy was my biggest encourager, my strongest advocate, and my most faithful supporter.

Daddy and I, we always “got” each other. And he understood me like nobody else did. All of my life, he has been my sounding board. I’ve only known he had Alzheimer’s for about four years, if that. And one of the ways, I discovered something was ary was because he began passing the phone off quickly whenever I would call. Now, neither one of us are what you would call “phone people,” but we would talk to one another. I would call him about everything. Not because I wanted him to solve my problems, or tell me what to do. I simply processed life with him. So, not being able to talk to him, and process things with him these last few years has been torture.

Everything that I have read states that people in the end-stages of Alzheimer’s aren’t able to recognize their family members, and they can’t communicate/speak. And as hard as that is to comprehend, I prepared myself for it. But the very last time I saw him, which was in April, Daddy did recognize me. Maybe he didn’t recognize my face, but, perhaps , he recognized my voice? As soon as we got to my folks’ home, I laid down beside him in his bed and sang songs to him, quoted Scripture to him, and prayed for him. But he was also able to communicate with me.

And right before we got on the plane at DFW in Dallas to fly home, I called my parents to speak to him. Truth be told, I wanted to hear his voice just one last time, but I wasn’t really expecting him to be able to say anything. The week we had spent with him, he really was only saying one or two words over the course of an entire day. But during that brief phone conversation, he said to me, “Dada, love!” Although he had a hard time pronouncing the ‘J’ in my name, he knew who he was talking to!

Then, a few weeks before he passed, I received another gift! I heard his voice again, even though the words I heard were not what I wanted to hear. In those brief seconds on May 21st, he very clearly communicated to me by telling me that he was dying. Even my doctor was dumbfounded by all of this whenever I told her about it at my last appointment. She said medically-speaking, it was unbelievable that he recognized me or talked to me. And me? Well, I choose to believe it was God’s gifts of grace to me.

Even though I know that dying is a part of living, I never really imagined life without my daddy. This is going to be hard. My parents adopted me when I was only 22 hours old. Along the way, there have been many questions. Some questions have been answered; others haven’t been. What do know is this: I may not have had Vincent Briley Bown’s DNA, but I am most certainly his daughter. And he’s gonna be deeply and dearly missed. I love you, Daddy!

 

 

18 Things I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self

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Recently, I was asked by a dear friend from Colorado to contribute a few thoughts for a special scrapbook that she was creating for her soon-to-be 18-year-old daughter and recent high school graduate. I was deeply honored. I’ve known this delightful young woman since she was about five years old. And last summer, she served as an intern at our church in the Worship & Arts Ministries.

As I put pen to paper, I reflected upon what I wish I would have known when I was 18-years-old. Those things I wish someone would have told me in order to be better prepared to navigate this new journey called Adulthood. Now, there may be some points on this list for which you don’t agree, but that’s okay. Not to mention, I’m sure I missed a few things, here or there. What might you add to the list? 

18 Things I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self

(in no specific order)

1. Set various types of goals: personal, spiritual, vocational, financial, travel, educational. Make them manageable. But at the same time, a little hard work is good for you, too!

2. If you don’t take anything away from these ramblings, please be sure to really understand and embrace this reality: You are and always will be enough, and you are absolutely never too much.

3. Begin now to establish healthy habits in order to take care of the temple that God gave you to steward: drink lots of water, eat fruits and veggies, get outdoors and enjoy physical movement, and go to bed at a reasonable and consistent time.

4. There’s a great big world out there: Go discover it! Seriously, take every opportunity that you can to see the world that God designed, meet the people He created, listen to their stories, eat their food, and take in the beauty of it all. It’s absolutely glorious!

5. Self-care is not selfish. No matter what season or stage of life, this is important. Doesn’t matter if you are a college student, a young adult, newly married, first-time mom, or a senior citizen, prioritize self-care. Take time for yourself, take care of yourself, and don’t feel guilty about it. (Check out Renewed by Lucille Zimmerman.)

6. Be purposeful about finding mentors: faith mentors, relationship mentors, even vocational mentors. One bit of advice: don’t ask folks to be your mentor. Usually, they’ll say no, because it sounds like too much work and/or incredibly time-consuming. Consider inviting them out for coffee to ask three pointed and specific questions. You might pose questions about their business/work practices; their successes and/or failures; their most trusted relationship advice or parenting tips; or their personal faith and spiritual formation practices. Depending upon their desired presence in your life, there’s many ways to engage in this type of connection. Face-to-face coffee chats are ideal. Conversely, much of my mentoring has happened via email or over Skype chats. Be respectful of their time, but learn all you can from them!

7. Establish and maintain healthy personal boundaries in all areas of your life. Trust me, there most definitely will be times when others can’t/don’t/won’t understand or respect yours. No worries. They are your boundaries.  (There’s a great series of books by Henry Cloud & John Townsend on this very topic. Highly recommended reading.)

8. People over productivity. Period. People are always more important. Invest in what matters most.

9. Be an engaged listener. Actively listen to what people are saying. Not merely to respond with your own thoughts, ideas, or opinions, but to intentionally hear what they are sharing.

10. Don’t merely make God a priority, but realize that He is absolutely everything. Make Him the center of all that you do. And understand that your spiritual journey won’t look like anyone else’s. Intentionally practice various spiritual disciplines, not just reading the Bible and praying. Consider implementing times of silence and solitude into your life’s rhythms, as well as purposefully practicing Sabbath.

11. Don’t neglect friendships for dating relationships. No matter how much you love him or how amazing the dating relationship may be, make sure to maintain your friendships. Cultivating a tribe of female friends and creating time and space to engage and invest in those friendships is essential during every season and stage of your life.

12. Don’t allow various media outlets to determine your sense of style, beauty, or self-worth. Be the unique individual that God create you to be. Like wearing stripes with your polka dots? Well, then, go right ahead! Don’t allow a number on a scale to hold you hostage or determine your self-worth. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it’s reflected from the inside out.

13. Being married is not the ultimate goal for a Christian, male or female, following Jesus is. Pursue this relationship wholeheartedly and unapologetically. Unfortunately, the American church has not communicated an appropriate message regarding singleness. If many years down the road, you find yourself single, please understand there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are not less-than, or second-class. And if this has been or ever is communicated to you, it is a lie from the pit of Hell.

14. In the same light, if it is God’s plan for you to get married, pursue someone who loves God more than you, makes you laugh, encourages you to dream big dreams, and definitely someone who views marriage through the lens of partnership and values teamwork.

15. Be a lifelong learner. No matter how much you know, you don’t know as much as you think you do. There’s always more to learn.

16. Financially, always live below your means. Even if you can afford more, bigger, or better, always ere on the side of frugality and generosity. Personally, I like how John Wesley puts it, “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”

17. “NO” is a complete statement, a gracious response and a final answer. And it can be said without hesitation, explanation, or defensiveness–just a simple, “No.”

18. Learn from your mistakes, because there will be mistakes. Oftentimes, our greatest successes are borne out of our biggest failures. Don’t be afraid to try something new, to leap into the unknown. You don’t always have to have a plan. Take risks, even if they are more on the calculated side. But, mostly, enjoy life! 

God Bless America!

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During this time of year, it’s not uncommon to hear people say, “God Bless America”. Or we need God to bless America again! Especially after the events of the last few weeks, the use of this phrase has escalated. Yet, I wonder, do we really know what we are asking for when we say, “God Bless America”?

After traveling the world, I have met folks with little more than a shanty to live in, the clothes on their backs (and, perhaps, one additional outfit) to wear, and a meager ration of food to eat for their daily sustenance. I have looked into the faces of people who’ve experienced real persecution, yet whose countenance continued to radiate with joy. And whose lips continued to express sincere thanks and gratitude. Even with so very little, these people considered their lives blessed! Blessed, I tell you!

As a result, the word ‘blessed’ has taken on an entirely different meaning in my life. At least as compared to the typical American connotation of the word. Personally, I rarely use the word ‘blessed’ anymore. It’s depth of meaning resonates deeply within me, and I can no longer use the word flippantly. It’s one that I use sparingly, cautiously, and carefully.

So, you may be asking, “Well, do you or don’t you want God to bless America?” Well, I guess it all depends.

Please understand, I’m thankful to live in this great country. I’m proud to be an American. Yet, I wonder if we, Americans, specifically American Christians, realize how flippantly we use the word ‘bless’. Like the word ‘love,’ I fear it has lost its depth of meaning, and original intent.

You see, to me God’s blessing has little to do with material possessions, problem-free living, getting what you want, or even America, for that matter. To me, God’s blessing begins when His children, those of us who identify as Christ-Followers, fall to our knees in humility, pray, seek His face and turn from our wicked ways.

If we sincerely want God’s blessing, then, Christ-Followers, it’s got to be all about Him! Period! Worshipping the Almighty God, not idolizing the almighty dollar, the flag, patriotism, or even our own preferences. It’s got to be about following his ways, not ours. It’s got to be about living a life of faith, not fear. And our worship must be about Him, and Him alone. Sadly, I wonder if we’ve created idols for which we are unaware. Remember: Good is the enemy of the BEST.

If we want God’s blessing, then, it’s got to be all about the One who breathed all of this into existence. The One who sent His one and only Son to earth to take on the sins of the world, to die on a cross, so that our sins would be forgiven. This must be our singular focus.

So, if this is what you mean when you say, “God Bless America,” then, I’m all in.

What about you, Christ-Followers, are you really ready to receive God’s blessing? It may come in ways you don’t expect. Be revealed in ways you may not clearly see at first. Most likely, it will bring His children to point of significant surrender in order to experience His blessing in it’s fullness.

“…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

 

© 2010-2017 JADA SWANSON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED