The Secret To Living A Defiant Joy: An interview with Margaret Feinberg

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For any of you who have had a loved one struggle through cancer or maybe you yourself have been through it, one of the authors that I really enjoy reading, Margaret Feinberg, has been through a brutal fight with cancer and shares the unexpected lessons she discovered along the way in her new book and Bible study Fight Back With Joy.

It’s been inspiring to learn how Margaret has been practicing a defiant joy, and I and thought you might like to get an insider’s look, a sneak peek of the video and read an interview with Margaret.

Your newest book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy, was born out of your fight with a life-threatening illness. What was your difficult diagnosis, and what has your journey to health entailed?

 For the last 18 months, I’ve been battling breast cancer. Breast cancer isn’t just one disease represents thousands of different diseases with their varying components and factors. Being diagnosed under the age of 40 is significant. I’ve been through a brutal year of chemotherapy, radiation, and more surgeries than I can count or want to remember.

Why did you write Fight Back With Joy?

I studied joy for a year and was putting the finishing touches on book on joy—just two weeks from turning it into the publisher, when I received the diagnosis. I had been pursuing and activating joy in my life in the relatively good times, now I had to do it in the midst of darkness, depression, and torturous pain. Through the process, I’ve discovered the breadth, depth, and power of joy—that despite hundreds of sermons and many decades in the church—no one had told me of before.

In Fight Back With Joy book and Bible study, you really push the reader to reevaluate their definition of joy. Why do you think this is so important?

Much of the teaching I’ve heard on joy over the years is oversimplified. I remember those days in Sunday school learning that JOY is spelled Jesus, Others, Yourself. While that made perfect sense at 9 years old, I’ve seen how distorted that can become as an adult.

I see friends who love Jesus but spend so much time pouring into their kids, grandkids and others that their joy looks something like this: jOy.

Technically, it still spells joy, but more than anything, these men and women who are so exhausted, so empty, so running on fumes from pouring into others need to pause and take time to focus on themselves. Laying hold of joy right now will require them to reevaluate for a season and discover the joy that comes with JYo.

I also noticed how most of the definitions of joy define it more by what it isn’t than by what it is. I constantly heard that happiness is based on circumstance but joy is not dependent on circumstance.

Biblical expressions of joy turn out to be far different than what I had been taught. I am now convinced the writers of the Bible would say that, the reason we have joy is because we have great circumstances. If you are a child of God, you are drenched in the grace and mercy of God.

No matter what you’re facing: Your circumstances are better than you think.

If you’re not experiencing joy, perhaps it’s because your definition of joy is too narrow.

On a scale of 1-10, how hard was it for you to write this book and Bible study?

An eleven! This journey has been the most painful experience of my life. And, to share about it requires some vulnerability. Okay, a lot of vulnerability. And, that’s really, really hard. But I feel like I’m finally ready to share what God has stirred in my heart along the way because although cancer has been the most painful journey—it has also been the most joyful. And no one is more surprised than I am.

Pick up a copy of Fight Back With Joy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble today.

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1st Church of the Broken: Excerpt from the Intro

We often treat our churches like we would the place where we get our haircut or the restaurant that the service wasn’t that great. If we don’t like it, we leave, never look back and look for the next service, the next small group and the next worship experience. Let me be perfectly clear, you will never find that place if this is how you’ve done church up until this point. There are people at every church you will attend that have the potential to rub you the wrong way and say things that you don’t like. Welcome to humanity!

That being said, we as the church do have a responsibility to be like Jesus. John puts it this way: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” 1 John 2:6

This sentence comes from a letter that is written by John, a disciple/ follower of Jesus, but it is unclear exactly who the recipient of this letter would be. More than likely it was written to church leaders who were in Ephesus, which was the capital of the Roman province in Asia at the time. The people who were in the churches at the time were really struggling with who to follow. Some of the Christians were doing a good job of sticking to the things Jesus said to do. Others…not so much. There were followers who had decided that they needed to become Jewish first and then a Christian afterwards. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through right? First become this religion and then you can join our religion. I’m tired just typing that, so I’ll move on.

The next group just took the life of Jesus and added it to all of the other religions they had adopted. Many years ago my mom and step dad told me a story about a guy they met in a restaurant bar while they were waiting for their table. He had the Star of David hanging around his neck with the cross behind the star. Puzzled by the necklaces he was wearing, my mom asked about it. He politely answered, “The Star of David is because I am Jewish.” My mom then said “And the cross?” The man replied “Just in case I’m wrong!” Funny story but many of us do this with what we believe about Jesus. We just add it to the many beliefs we have “just in case we are wrong.” Ancient Christianity suffered from the same problem. They weren’t sure that this Christianity thing was going to take off so they added it to their current beliefs.

John writes this verse to make it clear. The essence to a strong connection with God is to hold unswervingly to the life of Jesus. That’s it! At the time this passage was written, walking was the primary means to get places. Walking meant that you were going from point A to point B. Progress was happening when you walked. To make progress in your life with God, you have to imitate Jesus’ life.

If this is true, why is it that most of us don’t look like Jesus. Please understand me, I’m talking about myself here as well as the whole of Christianity. Why don’t we look more like Jesus if we are “disciples” or “followers” of Him?

We are often identified as bigots, hate mongers and hypocrites. Something’s broken right? We need to fix this don’t we? What are our options you ask? That’s why I’m writing this book. Let’s go on this journey together. I think this is where we start. A life spent following Jesus might be identified as people that love others relentlessly. That’s why the premise of this book is this:

Relentlessly loving others in a world that tears them apart.

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New Year. New Goals.

First Church

Here we go people.  2015 is here.  Its time for New Year’s resolutions.  I know, I know.  You don’t do resolutions.  We gotta have goals though right?  As the old saying goes “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.” What goals are you setting for yourself in 2015?  One goal that I have for myself is to finish a project that I’ve been working on for a few months.  I’m writing a book.  I know, a real original goal.

For quite some time now I’ve had a some ideas that won’t let go of me.   For a long time I’ve pushed those ideas down mainly because I listened to the voices.  There should be no surprise that I, of all people, hear voices.  Let’s be honest though, we all do.  Its funny to me how the voices never tell you “Hey, you’re awesome.  You’re very good looking and really talented.  You can do anything you set your mind to.”  Instead the voices say things like “A book?  That’s silly.  Why would anyone want to read something you wrote?  That’s a complete waste of time.  By the way, you really need to work on your abs.”  That last one was a low blow voices.  Incidentally I truly believe that the “voices” are Satan’s attempt at sabotaging God’s will in our lives.  The Devil is a thief, an accuser and baits us into traps where he destroys us (John 10:10, Revelation 12:10, Matthew 4).  Are we going to stand for that?  No, I don’t think so.  Let’s ask God to annihilate those voices and give us power to move forward.

So here’s me, stickin’ it to the voices.  Here’s me ignoring my fears and kicking doubt in the teeth.  A proverbial stiff arm to the face of my charging inadequacies.  Hey voices, get ready for a flying dragon kick to your neck because I’m doing this thing.  I’ve already outlined the chapters, chosen some passages from the Bible that are giving me fuel, praying for God’s power and guidance and I’m doing this thing!  Heck, I’ve already written an intro and I’m wrapping up chapter one.  I’ve even chosen a title.  Ready for it?  “First Church of the Broken.”  Pretty snazzy right?  My premise?  “Relentlessly loving others in a world that tears them a part.”  I’m convinced that to be like Jesus we have to love others with a relentless kind of love.  That’s my premise, that’s my book and here we go!  Over the next few weeks I will be posting excerpts from it for you to take a look at.  Nerve racking?  Yup.  Scary?  Absolutely.  Is that going to stop me from doing it?  No way.  Voices, get ready for a trip to the ER.

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The Wedge in My Marriage

Driving Wedge

In my previous post, we talked about the struggle of taking care of your marriage when you have young kiddos.  It’s tough when you have rug rats and you want to have a great marriage.  Our view of what a great marriage looks like and our current reality don’t match up.  If you aren’t careful, there are some things that could drive a wedge in your marriage (Not to be confused with a “wedgie”.  Just not gonna cover that in this blog.  You’re on your own.) Jesus’ opinion about living a “One Life” kind of marriage, in part, is this…

Matthew 19:6 What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

So what are some things that can separate your “one life” kind of marriage?

  1. EXPECTATIONS –
    • What have you been doing??? Husband, you come home and the house is in disarray to say the least. There are toys all over the ground, there’s some spaghetti on the ceiling, one kid is wearing the other kids’ diaper on his head. Mass hysteria! At the same time, dinner isn’t ready. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Why isn’t dinner ready and what has she been doing all day other than NOT CLEANING OR COOKING???” But you can’t say it. You would be taking your life into your own hands.  However, in your soul you hang on to that and you resent it.  Sure, I realize that every family is different and these roles can be reversed but in my experience, I’ve encountered enough husband and wives to see this is a common scenario.
    • Channing Tatum – Ladies, you just finished watching any one of the 12 million Nicholas Sparks movies. You saw Channing Tatum without his shirt on and he was fixing a car while simultaneously listening and hanging onto every word the main character was saying. Wow, Sparks movies have a flare for capturing the everyday.  Flash forward to the next day. Your husband, with a beer gut/ one pack, comes home and starts dropping sublte hints about how unclean the house is and questions when dinner will be ready.  You are exhausted, hanging on by a thin thread and caring for the every need of your little one.  Where’s Channing?  Enter anger, frustration and resentment.
  2. SELFISHNESS –
    • Read My Mind – You have a list of needs that aren’t getting met and they are mounting everyday. Your tired of your spouse “not getting it”. Why won’t he say “I love you” or write poetry?
    • Fulfill My Fantasies - You expect her to look like she did when you were first dating and before kids. Pregnancy changes your body.  There are no two ways about it!  Your ideas of what the female body should look like, altered by movies & Victoria Secret advertisements, are a little different than your current reality.

 4. WANDERING HEART– Because of the former two points, you are dissatisfied at home. You start wondering “What would life be like if I weren’t stuck with this dope?”  or “What would life be like if someone actually laughed at my jokes and thought I was charming again.”  Maybe there is someone at work or in social settings that fits the bill.  Because I haven’t taken care of my selfishness or my unrealistic expectations, my heart and eyes have the tendency to wander.  What do we do about that?  Check out my next post to find out.

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A Word for Young Families: ImPERFECT

ImPERFECT

There’s a word for young families that are raising young kids and trying to take care of their marriage. You may think that that word is XANAX…or SURVIVAL but the word I’d like to offer young families is better than that and I hope a little freeing.

The word is…”IMPERFECT”. Here’s what I mean by that. First of all, don’t think of the word “SETTLING”. I’m not suggesting that in marriage that you get used to the idea that things suck now and life is just like that.

I’m suggesting that perfect is sometimes the enemy of enjoying life in the now.

So when I say life is imperfect, I’m not saying that you should just settle and accept a life that sucks. Quite the contrary. I’m telling you that God has a plan for your marriage but taking steps toward making it better might not look perfect but they will work.

The problem is that you think back to your marriage before kids and compare it to that. Or you see relationships on TV, movies or people that have the “perfect” marriage not knowing what happens behind the scenes. You see the perfect then you look at your IMPERFECT and you think something is missing or wrong.

To enjoy your marriage as a young couple, you have to embrace and enjoy the imperfect (Because that’s where life happens).  It starts by realizing that God has called you to “One Life” together.  Not two separate lives but a life where you love sacrificially, think the best of one another not the worst and get on the same page.

I’ll be back in a few days to take this one step further.  We’ll talk more then.

Matthew 19:4-6,“And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 

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3 Reasons Why Becoming a “None” Might Be a Good Choice for You

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I remember pretty vividly sitting on the floor, beside my grandmother’s bed in her house without a soul in the room…other than mine of course. I had my black NKJV Bible cracked open to 1 or 2nd Kings. I was reading about an epic battle that Israel was involved in. I remember closing the Bible in frustration. I recalled all of the Sunday school stories, the hokey Jesus movies, all of the pictures in my Bible of Bee Gee Jesus (white with long brown hair) laughing with the children and I was utterly confused. This same Jesus that I had been told to trust and love was also the God of war and anger.

At the moment I had closed that Bible, I had also closed the book on Christianity for a season. I had become, what experts now call, a “none”. “Nones” are individuals who check “none” in the religious affiliation category when filling out applications. This category of people is growing and becoming more common than not in our country. Some might be frightened by this trend but because I’m weird and a little optimistic, I think there are at least three reasons why becoming a “none” is a good thing.

1. RETHINK YOUR FAITH – I recently listened to a piece that NPR did on this very topic. Yes, I realize that listening to NPR classifies me as a commie to some of you but let’s try to look past that. They interviewed three twenty somethings about why they left the church. The majority of them were just tired of feeling like they couldn’t question their faith. God doesn’t call us to “blind” faith but one that is well thought out. Romans 12:2 tells us that we are to be “transformed” by “the renewing of our mind”. The reason we are to do that is so that we can discern what God’s will is.  God is a BIG God and can handle your questions.  Pray to Him in your confusion and lean on the fact that God may not fully answer your question but walk you through your doubt.  What will happen at the end of that is either you will decide this Christianity thing is not for you or it will strengthen your faith and what you believe about God.

2. STOP PLAYING GAMES – This leads me to my second point.  Giving “religion” the boot will allow you to stop playing games.  If you don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, don’t pretend that you do.  It doesn’t help you or anyone else.  It might also bring you to a place where after admitting that, God will reward your honesty with Him by working through your doubt.  Once you put something like that out on the table, you know what you are dealing with and can begin to find answers to some of the bigger questions you’ve chosen not to deal with for fear that it will classify you as “a bad Christian” or reveal something about yourself that you already knew “I don’t really believe this.”  God wants us to work out our salvation and to know why we believe what we believe. (Philippians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:15).

3. DO CHURCH DIFFERENTLY – Once we’ve made it through the above steps we can come to a place where we realize that we can’t operate in a scenario where it is “business as usual”.  Church (which really consists of Jesus followers not a building) becomes a safe environment where we can put doubt out on the table, stop playing games and then become a place where all of that is perfectly acceptable.  Peter had no qualms about shouting his wrong answers at the tops of his lungs in front of Jesus.  He was corrected time and time again and Jesus still used him in a BIG way to establish what we know as the church today.

Let’s be a group of people that excels at transparency and is okay with the tension of unanswered questions.  That is attractive to a group of people that are tired with “business as usual” religion.  People are leaving the church in droves because we have adopted a “because I said so” mentality.  Let’s be as comfortable with the tension as Jesus was and is.  It’s all He had to deal with in the disciples that He chose.  There was “doubting Thomas”, impetuous Peter and the traitor known as Judas (maybe we shouldn’t imitate this one).  Let’s be committed to doing church differently and reaching a group of people that are exasperated by religion.

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Not a Cat Person

CatPrincess

I would not consider myself a “cat person” and yet I have two cats, my family is currently Jonesing for a third.  I’m not sure how this happened.  Okay, I do remember.  When I married my beautiful wife, Jennifer, a cat came with the deal.  I happily accepted.  What I didn’t realize at the time is that “you can’t just have one cat”.  I guess its like Lays potato chips, the urge to get a second cat is so strong…there’s no fighting it.  Of course I’m not talking about my urge to get another cat, I’m talking about my family’s urge.  Then we got a second cat.  At least I got to name him.  The first one’s name was Maychen, which I think is a version of the German equivalent for “Little Girl”.  Since we already had a cat with a German Theologian’s name (Gresham Machen), I was given the honor to name the next cat (part of the deal).  So I went with Dietrich, in honor of the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I’m sure Bonhoeffer is throwing a party in heaven right now due to this great homage.  His place in history as someone with enough intestinal fortitude to stand up against Hitler is nothing in comparison to being named after an alley cat.  Too far?  I’ll continue.

Then something terrible happened, Maychen got very sick and passed into the feline great beyond.  Every parent knows that this place exists because that’s what we tell our children and of course we would never lie to them.  When that happened, now Dietrich was alone.  I’m sure you can fill in the blanks, you seem like a smart person.  So then we went to the kitty shelter, where the cream of the crop dwells.  The land of forgotten kitties.  Cats who have misbehaved so badly, now they are in cat juvy.  We then decided to find the cat that had the most energy out of any cat that was there.  The cat that was zigging and zagging and could go from one end of the building to the other without being spotted (save the calico blur).  We brought her home, after prying her from the curtains, and named her Chloe.  I think Chloe is greek for “I want to kill you”.  Our reasoning at the time was “We need a cat that can match the energy of our kids”.  How could that have backfired?  Again, you seem like a smart person.

Now we are pushing for a third.  I’m not sure if the reasoning now is “Let’s prepare Chloe for when our other cat dies of natural causes…after all, he weighs seventy pounds (not really…just seems like it).” or what.  But here I am, a dog person in a family of cat people.  I’ve told Jenn many times, “When I die, you will become the crazy cat lady.” She giggles in agreement.  If you have any recommendations for how a dog person can actually get a dog in the mix without going insane I would greatly appreciate it.

 

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