Monday, August 31, 2009

A Spiritual Shipwreck

I am giving you these instructions, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies made earlier about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, having faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith...” (1 Timothy 1:18 & 19, NRSV).

A shipwreck in the faith…been there and have a closet full of t-shirts to prove it. These are not my proud moments; and, unfortunately, they could be a segment from my 15 minutes of fame. These are the memorable few because they were equivalent to a spiritual shipwreck…not a car accident, but a monumental shipwreck.

I can see myself in these verses. What Paul is warning Timothy against, is a road that I have walked. There is a pattern to it, and it begins with the intrinsic. What were you made for?

Paul is telling Timothy all of this so that he will stay on course. Paul would not have lasted a moment without commitment to his course. He was beaten, literally shipwrecked, stoned, and the list goes on. He knew his passion, his purpose, that for which he was made. Timothy knows this, too. Do you?

I have noticed that we might not know where we will end up in this Christian life but we know that God made us for something. We see it in our passions.

I heard a talk, once, by Bill Hybels. He said that everyone has a ministry (yes, you do). Ask yourself what really makes you passionate. When the topic is brought up, you come alive. Maybe it is even just something that you find yourself praying for more than others. You have one, just as Timothy was meant to spread the gospel. Don’t think of what you can do, think of what God wants you to do, passionately.

When you find this passion, this anointed purpose, sometimes you have to fight for it.

This phrase, “fight the good fight”, is serious business. Awkwardly, it could be said, “wage the good warfare”. Warfare is not choice. Warfare is being aware that there is a very real enemy who is out to destroy one thing, your purpose.

When we lose the will to fight, faith becomes a battlefield. I was reading some extra material when I went through Romans a few weeks ago. Based on the scripture, you can substitute the word faith, for trust.

There is a difference, to me, in saying, “I have faith” (ambiguous at times for me), rather than, “I trust you God”. I trust that God is who He says He is; I trust that He has a purpose for me; and, I trust that He has the power to make that happen because I cannot fight this enemy on my own.

If I no longer have trust, I no longer see that my purpose, in Christ, is significant to the kingdom. When we stop fighting we concede that we do not trust Him to accomplish His purpose. We no longer believe that He is powerful enough to work through us to His end.

Throughout this progression, there is that nagging…you know what I am talking about. All of us have felt that horrible sense that my prayers are not heard, that my actions are futile, and that my heart is heavy. This is the impending shipwreck.

Our conscience is what gives us self-awareness. Some could call it a function of the Spirit in our lives. It is what tells us to do this, and avoid that. When we cross it, these twinges are small, but they grow. They become endless nights, staring at the ceiling. Days feel like a brick sits on our hearts as it sluggishly pumps against this unwelcome weight.

I know you understand. We are careening to the coastline. We no longer have a course or the heart to find it. The closer we get to land, the less we trust that God is going to keep us from complete destruction. The battle seems to be over, as the open waters have been offered up to the enemy.

It started with that twinge. By rejecting our conscience, we end up shipwrecked. In retrospect, the shipwreck is never worth the distraction.

Our conscience is something that deserves a fight, because there is nothing that can offer freedom but this. That is why Paul bothers to plead with Timothy to stay on course. He is simply a young man with a purpose.

We are simply women with a purpose. Stay on track, trust God, and listen moment-to-moment to what you know is right and wrong. Be careful.

Do you have a passion, a purpose for ministry?

Are you fighting for it or against it?

Do you trust in God to accomplish His purpose in you?

How is your conscience at the end of the day?

Father, thank you for using us all for exactly your purpose. Instill in us a passion for your kingdom work, and give us the strength to fight. Let us trust completely in you, as you have proven yourself faithful and steadfast. Examine us and clear our conscience for your purpose.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Branded by Strength and Dignity

This year I have prayed for my husband and me to live beyond reproach, and not be mastered by anything of this world. It is a big prayer. I have found that God honors it. It is a prayer that has moved us through situations, which could have made us stumble during certain events in our marriage.

I am adding this verse from Thessalonians to my prayer, “…to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you,” (1 Thessalonians 4:11, NRSV). I am going to start praying that we will live quietly, minding our own beeswax, and being diligent to complete our kingdom work.

I have really been thinking about the living quietly part. What does it mean to live quietly? I am certain that when I Lost it Over the Dishwasher, I did not reflect quiet living.

I see the events of yesterday and today, as a second chance for that recent dishwasher post. I want to live quietly.

We have had a friend of ours doing some work at our house. It is so great to have talented friends. We were talking as he was going home to wife and baby, and I noticed that the house was getting a little warm.

Because of where I live, temperature is a primary factor in daily life. It is just hot here. There is no other way to put it. So, when it is 110+, and your house is getting warm, you start to ask yourself, “Why do I not believe in the expense of air conditioner maintenance?”

It was kind of like camp last night, as the house crept up the Fahrenheit scale. My husband grilled outside so we did not add degrees to our experience, only to his experience.

I called our new home warranty place and made the claim last night. This morning they told me that you are not allowed to make a claim in the first 30 days of your policy…fyi. So, I called the first person who could come out. I am expecting him any minute.

It was a warm night.

So, this morning we got up and walked directly to the coffee pot, as usual. We find that this moment can sort out all sorts of difficulties. Being awakened by our choice stimulus has a ritualistic bonding quality. One of us gets water, the other gets coffee. It wreaks of team work…marriage coffee.

So, we hit, “brew”, “on”…nothing.

The one thing to look forward to was gone. I can honestly say that my bible is a little blurry before my first cup, so it might have spiritual benefits. What would we do? We were facing spiritual crisis. We stood staring at the machine, like it was just being mean. We kept pushing “on”, as if one more time and we would bring it over to the light.

I think it hates us.

After my husband left for work, I was walking down the hall thinking of this recent string of events, all of them terribly interesting. I looked down to the floor counting the tumble weeds of dog hair that never cease to amaze me. I suddenly noticed that my pants were inside out. Well, that was it; I had no choice…hysterical laughter.

I realized then, that a crucial part of this living quietly is found in Proverbs 31. Verse 25 says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”

Sometimes when we face a string of “interestings”, we mark a day in history like my dishwasher day; but, sometimes, we realize that because it is a string, there could be one more…or two. Better get out the right clothes, branded by Strength and Dignity (What a great branding idea! And, no you cannot have it.).

So, we can get hot, and we can have a hateful coffee machine, we can even wear our clothes inside out, but are we doing it loudly or quietly? Do we have on the right clothes?

Are you facing a string of “interestings”? How are you doing it?

My prayer for you today, and for myself, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, NRSV, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” I think that we can get to strength and dignity from this.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Prayer/Bedroom Closet

I have a prayer closet.

It is actually my bedroom closet, which serves me perfectly well for the hanging of my clothes and a house for my shoes, but it has the ability to transform. I guess that it would be a dinner closet if I served food in it.

There is a history of “business” getting done in the prayer closet. It is not that I don’t pray every day, but sometimes we have to get “business” done. This is the searching; letting the Spirit open the gates where the wild animals live. I can’t give myself any excuses or benefits of the doubt in there. I am shown the root of my actions, patterns, fears. Roots can go deep.

This is the protocol. I shut the lights off before I get in (the switch is on the outside). Then I just sit down with my back to the door, in the dark. Then I wait.

I have learned about confession and forgiveness in this closet. I have experienced freedom from things that have shackled me, possibly for most of my life. I have fought for my beliefs. When I had no legs to stand on, my feet were found, standing on the Rock. In there, I have told God that I have no idea how to be a wife so many times, that I cannot count them. All these things have happened in my prayer closet.

The good thing about sitting in the closet, in the dark, with the door closed, is you will be alone. People don’t want to sit in any closet with you. They do not look for you there; and, all of those clothes buffer sound. You can speak as candidly and as loud as you want, who is going to stop you in your closet?

This morning I woke up at about 3:15. This seems to be a norm these days. It is the end of my first round of sleep. This morning it was helped by a sick dog. I was reading some blogs yesterday that talked about surrender and trust. So, I told God that I trust Him. I told Him that I surrender all of the crazy things that role through your mind at 3am.

It is funny that all day I can think, “I can”, but from about 3-4:30am, I am plagued with, “I can’t”. It makes for some good prayer time as I look at the ceiling, and then the right wall, and then the left wall, and then the ceiling.

This morning, while lying there, I knew that I was headed for the closet this morning. I won’t say that God didn’t believe that I trust Him, but I was having trouble believing it myself. That surprised me. I knew that I had business to be done.

After my husband went to work, I went in. There I sat. Waiting, and pouring every emotion out through my eyes. I always take a box of tissues. It is strangely cathartic.

Once again, I was taught a thing or two. Once again, I had to forgive and confess. Once again, I sat at the foot of the cross and saw what is real. I love the time in the closet.

Where is your “prayer closet”?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Influence of Conviction

Think about the fact that in Paul’s gospels, he calls the congregation to imitate him…

Brothers and sisters,  join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us (Philippians 3:17, NRSV).

This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate (2 Thessalonians 3:9, NRSV).

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1, NRSV).

Do you want for anyone to imitate you?

What a responsibility that is! Even on my best days, I would never say imitate me when I am at the grocery store, or when my dishwasher breaks, or even when I whisper in church. I could never be that bold. I long to be worthy of that, though.

I am not even sure my mentor would tell me to imitate her. She might say that I should imitate Christ, but she would not point that back at herself. I want to imitate her, though.

But, why imitate when it is such shaky ground?

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia (1Thessalonians 1:6 &7, NRSV).

Paul was an example so that we can be imitators. Ok, so he was not talking to us, but this is sitting in our hands in 2009, so I am thinking that he is supposed to be talking to me. I am supposed to be an imitator so that I can be an example to those who come behind me. This has been going on a long time.

Paul is explaining to the Thessalonians in chapter one that he has heard about them because their influence is like knocking over a row of dominos. It just keeps going and going, sweeping through Macedonia and Achaia, but not only there.

For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it (1 Thessalonians 1:8, NRSV).

They were so influential as a group that, one-by-one, they were putting Paul out of business. He was finding so many people who had heard the gospel from the Thessalonians that there was no need for him. Now, that is a tall order. (What does that phrase, “tall order” come from, anyway?)

Some of us struggle with influence. We struggle with the desire for it, or the need for distance from it. As believers we have the responsibility of influence. It is our job. In order to do it right, we have to find people to imitate, whether they call it that or not. We also have to take up the role of mentor, to serve as an example.

In most churches both of these roles are looked upon as a vial of poison that has just been broken on the floor. No one wants to touch it without a hazmat suit.

Notice that the Thessalonians’ example was really the influence of their conviction spreading across these lands. So, could my influence spread my conviction across the street? Could my influence spread my conviction down my block? Has it spread my conviction to my friends?

We influence people all the time, but do we use that influence wisely. Ideally, our influence is one that started with Paul. It is the story of millions of believers taking up the gospel by imitation and spreading it as an example to others. This is a string of conviction that first cried out as a voice in the desert. We are still a part of that influence.

Even though you might not think that your influence will strike the final blow, you are in a process that does not belong to you. God’s purpose will move without us. But, wouldn’t you like to be a part of that?

Where can you show more influence in your life?

Father, thank you for preserving the roots of your process. Make us a powerful part of your circle of influence. Let us serve a purpose in your kingdom, today.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sometimes, We Fall For a Shadow

There are so many things in our lives that vie for our attention. In my church I could do something every day of the week. There are ministries and gatherings that we promote, bringing people face-to-face with the Gospel in real ways. It is inspiring. In fact, we are taking a group to the Women of Faith Conference in October. I could not be more excited about this. We are going to have a sleepover!

I am so lucky to have been a part of vibrant ministries. I have also been a part of ministry for the sake of ministry. It feels different. We have all been there.

There are even some that have encouraged temporary seasons of growth for me, but could not be productive long-term. They offered guidelines and new rules geared toward making my behavior holier. Lots of these happened while I was in singles ministry. I will have to think about why there are so many rules, in print, for singles.

In retrospect, I can say the only practices that have any potential for holiness are wrapped up in the time that I spend living in Christ, every day. The first of this time is spent in His word and prayer. My verse this week is a refresher for me because it is only when I am devoted to prayer that I become different. I have to pray about praying…that is how much help I need! Out of that time comes everything else.

I am settling into Colossians today and remembering these times of forced obedience. They all point me to these verses,

All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence (Colossians 2:22 & 23, NRSV).

All of the rules in my life could not change me. They did nothing for my desires. They did nothing to check my indulgences. They structured me and set wobbly, beautiful fences around me. My intention was good, but I was accepting a regulation in place of relationship.

Sometimes with the purist of intention, we fall for a shadow.

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God (Colossians 2:16, NRSV).

The substance belongs to Christ…

sub•stance \ˈsəb-stən(t)s\ n

MW Collegiate Dict. (11th Ed.)

1 : essential nature : essence

2 : ultimate reality that underlies all outward manifestations and change

Christ = the substance, what is essential to us, the ultimate reality of our lives that underlies all outward manifestations and changes.

Everything that we create to draw closer to Him is simply a shadow.

This takes us to two places. We need to put our best efforts into these shadows because they reflect the substance of us and our churches. This will matter when we give our account.

Next, we need to remain in the source, in the substance itself to find out what is real and essential. I don’t know about you, but I can get off track so quickly. I have to constantly check to see if my flesh is playing tricks on me. The substance belongs to Christ, not to me or my shadows. That is real.

There is no ministry, no regulation and no self-abasement that could bring me closer to Christ than Himself. The ultimate reality already lives inside of me. Tapping into our substance has to be moment by moment, holding fast to Him. When we hold fast, these shadows of Him (ministries, relationships, homes) become more powerful. They look more like the substance…more like Jesus.

What if all of our shadows looked like this?

Father, thank you for giving us completely freedom from anything that could distract us from you. You are our substance, Father. Separate the shadows from reality and make us aware of what is real in our lives.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Lost It Over the Dishwasher

Colossians 4:5 &6, NRSV, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time.  6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.”

I have had the opportunity to live this verse out SO MANY times in my life. I find that my interaction with people acts as a spiritual gauge. Upon saying that, let me tell you the story of my dishwasher.

My dishwasher broke while I had company in June. So, at this point it is no biggie. I have a home warranty, so I call them up and let them do what they do. It took them two weeks to show up.

Still no big deal, because I have hand washed dishes before. The first guy (that’s right, the first one) showed up and diagnosed the problem. Two weeks later he came back with the part.

Still, with a smile on my face, I greet him and welcome him in. I am thrilled that I will have my normal hands back after all of this soap and water. Small problem, though, he misdiagnosed it. He came back the next week.

Still, I am confident, and I am elated by this time because there are clean dishes in my future with no effort on my part. Oops, wrong again, a week later he was back.

I am starting to catch on to the real problem, as I walked into the kitchen and found him reading the manual on the floor. He did not know what was wrong but was eliminating problems one visit at a time.

Come to find out, this is a “no-no” in the world of home warranties, especially when one is not reporting all of their visits. So, I got a new team next time that started the whole process again.

So, there I am, asking if they need water or anything else to begin this process. They say no, but assure me that the other guy was completely incompetent and I was in safe hands, which was completely uncomfortable. They came back the next week.

Well, by this particular visit my home warranty had expired and I was in the process of signing up with a new company. So, when they told me that they had misdiagnosed it and they were going to come back to fix it, my mouth lay slack jawed for a moment.

Oh…but when I found my tongue, I had plenty to say. I told them about my home warranty and how the company would probably not love this situation and why. I knew that I was saying a lot but I was getting to the bottom of this problem. Let’s face it, total strangers love that.

I did not realize that I had lost all of my saltiness until much later. I was the equivalent of a horrible meal in which people were fighting for the salt shaker in order to bring something from cardboard.

Well, apparently, the door became the proverbial salt shaker because one of the team members bolted towards it, in an unfriendly way. I didn’t even realize that I sounded like a jerk until he left. Don’t you have to be yelling to sound like a jerk? I was just really excited. In my mind, I felt slightly better because they were sharing a bit of the last two months with me.

Guess what? They didn’t care, which only made me say more.

Truth be told, I could have shut my mouth. I was not wise by berating everyone with my problem, and I wasted everyone’s time without changing anything.

This verse says something really profound. I need to practice being gracious, being salty. I have to do this so that I will develop patterns in the way that I communicate. A great place to start is right at home. Every home can benefit with a little sodium.

Instead of losing myself in a 30 minute house call, I could have responded like I had the other six times. I could have said that I would see them the next time. Apparently, it was just one too many visits for the connection between my brain and tongue to remain quiet.

It is stewardship of the mouth. We have to make sure that we are diligent in seeking control of our tongues. The absence of lingual stewardship can change our days faster than anything else. Once my speech is gracious, not just sometimes, I can be trusted in all situations.

I wonder if there are situations with which God cannot trust me, because of my tongue. I have to wonder considering that I lost over a dishwasher.

Do you struggle with stewardship of the mouth? How do you handle it?

Father, you have told us exactly what our tongues can do. Please make us aware that we need to be salty for your sake, to draw people to you. Let us be slow to speak in our homes and in the world.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Picture of Friendship

I was talking to a dear friend of mine last night, who was sharing a struggle with me. It was actually one that everyone finds him/herself in eventually…a one-sided relationship.

So, last night my friend was saying that it is hard to be the one who constantly puts it out there when no one meets you in the middle. These friendships could be defined by giving, whether it is emotional or material favors, large and small. These friends are happy to receive and probably assume closeness because of these gifts of friendship, but I bet these friends don’t understand what it looks like from where I sat.

I saw the emotion-filled face, distraught and refusing to give anymore. I saw the promise of building new friendships in which reciprocity would be a rule. It is hard to be the one who always casts the net of friendship into the water. It is hard to be the giver all of the time.

I just had to stop the conversation because it hit me. What does Jesus feel like?

Seeing my friend frustrated and distant because these people were too busy with their own lives to acknowledge kindnesses and genuine love, made me think how I must affect my Lord.

It brought me back to the verse that I blogged about, yesterday. Ephesians 5:10, NRSV, “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”

This is so simple and if you have genuine friendships, you know that this is the joy of it. Finding out how to please your friends is so rewarding, but it needs to go both ways.

This is no different in our relationship with the King, who chooses us and finds pleasure in relating to us. What an incredible gift, and yet, we often put our needs so high in the relationship that it becomes one-sided, changing its course.

Today I am thinking about my relationship with Jesus. I now have a wonderful picture of a heart that longs for relationship and the receiver who has an opportunity to acknowledge it and offer it back. Acknowledging, thanking, praising, talking, loving, and spending time can make all the difference in relationship. I want to know how to please Him.

Do you see balance in your relationships?

Father, thank you for extending relationship to me. Let me see truth today about myself. Let me see our relationship through your eyes, and make less of myself. Give me courage and strength to change.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rounding the Corners

The one thing that I can count on is that my life will always be turning a corner. Just when one thing is done, there is another decision to be made. These decisions take up too much room in my brain.

When I am rounding another one of these corners, I walk into my “time” with the Lord, distracted. The last one that we had was my husband’s job. These types of things put you on your knees…a lot.

We have had a new possibility brought to our plates. So, this morning I went into prayer time, distracted. I asked God to take away all of the world that was caking on my flesh, and just strip it away so I could be with Him, alone. I remained distracted, constantly coming back to my new corner to be rounded.

I read Philippians today, and I was brought to these three verses in prayer.

Ephesians (not Philippians) 5:8, NRSV, “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord”.

Philippians 3:12, NRSV, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own”.

Philippians 2:11, NRSV, “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling:…”

See, the common denominator?

They all tell me that the relationship is not one of resolution; not until I am dead, so I need to get this idea far from my mind. These verses tell me that God moves forward. He has the answers, but that doesn’t mean that I get to have them right now. I may not see the answers for days or months. I have been there. He is faithful.

I could yell and demand it from Him. I have been there, too. In the midst of my ranting and raving, tears and whimpers, I have found that the revelation of God is the sweetest part of the process.

The day before Dwight received his job offer, I was given this verse in prayer, Joshua 3:5, NRSV, “Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you’”. The next day, you can be sure that I knew the sovereignty of God.

That is why I put my trust in Him.

So, new goal…instead of getting crazy this time, I want to find what is pleasing to the Lord in this process. I want to press on instead of getting distracted by my distractions. I want to understand why I fear and tremble before the power of my God who is going to amaze my husband and I, once again. More than anything, I don’t want to miss one moment of watching Him work.

I want to be faithful in the process, like He promises to be.

Are you in a situation that requires your faithfulness?

Father, thank you for being faithfulness so that I can rely on yours. Bring us to the place of uncertainty with all of the confidence that resides in you. Let us understand the process of Christianity, and its importance in relationship.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Genuinely Fighting

I remember when my husband and I just got married, all those three years ago. I am not sure what we thought marriage would be like, but it was not. We have come to the consensus that it is better than we anticipated, yet, kind of like you thought you were joining the volleyball team and ending up in aquatic dancing. We could not have conceived of it, but love the water.

This is one of our pictures...aaahhhh!

That first year was marked with what we now consider a string of unnecessary battles. I have to giggle as I write this, as can everyone remembering their first year of marriage, I am sure.

My husband is an early riser, although we have kind of averaged it out now so that we both get up around 6:15. I was in grad school when we got married and so I stuck to no particular schedule. This meant that every morning, when he got up, he would make coffee and feed the dogs.

One day he told me the truth about how that made him feel. He did not want to always be the guy on dog duty first thing in the morning. We had four dogs at the time, so I can see his point. It would, also, be nice to see his wife over a cup of coffee, occasionally, instead of complaining about her miniscule share. To say the least, I was not interested in a discussion involving movement of my sleeping patterns.

So, I basically told him to deal with it. What a sweet girl, I was! I was ready to go toe-to-toe when my husband had put a perfect opportunity for servitude right in front of me. Now I see those as little love nuggets, they are the “gimmes” that speak to his heart. He drops them along the path, and I am considered above all wives when I swoop in and pick them up. At this point in my newlywed life, though, I still needed a translator.

Now we actually laugh at the fact that we would bother to argue over dog food and coffee, but at the time it felt really important. Don’t most of our battles feel really important in the moment?

My response to the situation in our home was not about waking up early or late, though. It was about my heart.

I did not really come to understand this until last year, although I had said it before then. The most obvious evidence of where I am spiritually is how I deal with relationships in my home. The interaction of home life is the litmus test of our heart. It tells us if our faith is genuine, if it permeates our flesh.

1 Corinthians 11:19, “Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.”

It is interesting that factions are independent of peacemakers. Being a peacemaker does not mean that you will not experience discord or factions. One of the greatest points of growth in a home comes from disagreement. A peacemaker focuses on what to do with this disagreement? How should it play out?

Some people will say that the home is the place where they see all of your lumps and bumps, and you don’t have to pretend to be good there. Absolutely, but I have found that I can’t excuse my relational laziness to my poor family because they have the curse of proximity. My husband does not deserve my apathy in return for his needs. I was the one who had to change.

Proverbs tells us that the home is the place to learn wisdom. It is the place to try on the Fruits while in disagreement, because it is safe. When these things are planted at home, we can handle the factions in the world or in the church because we have practiced. God has trained us up. Our hearts are trustworthy because they remember what to do.

Some of the most wonderful times in my marriage have come from sitting with my husband in the early morning, talking and praying over a hot cup of coffee. I can’t imagine not having that time with him. So, it is easy for me to say now, “You were right, babe!”

How do you handle factions in your homes? Any tips?

Father, thank you for allowing factions that bring us near to your Spirit. Bring us before you when we face these challenges, and train us how to disagree in a way that honors you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Am I Intentionally Exclusive?

I have worked with high school girls for the last couple of years. It was something that I promised would not happen in my lifetime, so it was bound to fall in my plate. I have found that as my immediate relevancy has grown with them, my cultural relevancy has fallen away.

Let me explain, when high school girls want you, they tend to want you now. As my life experience with them has grown, I understand that they are an immediate culture, living moment to moment, text to text. I am relevant to them in an immediate sort of way. I have no problem with that as long as it immediately stops at about 8:30pm.

The closer that I get to them and our lives intertwine, I realize that I am no longer aware of anything popular. It happened without my knowledge and I have very little emotional investment in this loss. They make me aware that I understand about 45% of all things that they talk about. So, my cultural relevance is completely gone, placing me in the best of over thirty communities, those who are no longer cool and no longer care.

The unintentional exclusion of these high school girls is fine with me because they are not telling me that I should be something that I am not. They are not assigning a value to themselves or me; their life experience is just completely different.

There are, however, lots of people in the world who are living exclusively, intentionally. They do so publically, for the intent purpose of assigning a value to themselves and me. Have you turned on the TV lately?

Celebrities, although not all of them, have the tendency to appear exclusive. They participate in campaigns intended to make you feel as though you are not complete, or beautiful, or thin, or cool enough. Their purpose is to alter the way that you think about yourself, and then alter your behavior to coincide with their choices.

We have all fallen for it at one time or another. When I was 18, I went to a cosmetic counter and a woman told me that I had to start using eye cream now or else I would look horrible in 15 years. There was the celebrity right there in the picture applying this eye cream and she looked perfect. So, of course, I did it. I have been using eye cream for 16 years, and I can say that I look exactly the same as other 34 year old women, and not any better.

People are constantly trying to gain influence with us. They will do it by buttering us up with compliments, or fear. How many times has someone flattered you into buying something that you hated when you got home?

Influence is a great thing, when the object is to accomplish good things. Mentoring is a wonderful way to influence others. My life has been changed because of my mentor for the better. BUT…influence can also be used to flatter you into an adult version of a pink polka-dot too too. Not good, my friends.

Paul talks about influence in Galatians. There are people that have come into the church and attempted to influence the gospel that Paul taught. They are emphasizing areas that take away from faith in Jesus, as the ONLY WAY to salvation. Pretty cut and dried in Paul’s eyes.

Galatians 4:17, “They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them”.

I started thinking about all of the ways that people do this. I was sitting next to a woman during Sunday School that said churches are excluding people through fear. I needed to think through this idea of church exclusion, because if this is true, Paul has already given us his thoughts on the matter.

What do we tell people who come to our churches on Sunday? Do we encourage the idea that we are an extraordinary homogenous unit that necessitates assimilation in order to get the whole experience of Jesus?

In our efforts to point people to Christ, do we point them to ‘our experience with Christ’, instead of Him?

When people finally look like they are ‘on board with our vision’, isn’t it easier to serve with them, rather than find new ways for everyone?

I know, it is mind-full, and you may have just been looking for an encouraging word, but, we are the hands and feet of Jesus. If we are sucking people into our churches in the hope that they will eventually end up looking like us that is an issue worth thought.

Why, you may ask?

Paul encouraged the church to recognize areas of exclusion in order to protect the gospel. The gospel of Paul, revealed to him by Jesus, is not an exclusive one. We have to make sure that our recruiting efforts never dilute Jesus by making much of our ministry. In the end we stand on the Gospel. We stand on the life of Christ.

Have you experienced this kind of exclusion in the church, or in online ministry?

Father, thank you for letting Paul pave the way for so many situations in the church. Show us where we are exclusive and open up the door for diverse ministry, in its place. Use us powerfully today for your Gospel.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Welcoming Weekend

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7, NRSV).

I was finishing off my week in Romans when I ran across this verse. I thought about where I have welcomed people into my life and home, lately. Then I walked past our guest room, which my nephew has called home for a few days.

I am an aunt with lots of boundaries, but as long as he keeps the clutter in his room, it is fair game. After all, he is on vacation…

This is what I saw.

I sort of stumbled when I looked in and saw the untidiness of it all. Then I thought, how do you welcome that?

That was when I realized that I have been welcomed with all of my untidiness, all of my baggage, all of my chaotic moments into a life in Christ. For one reason…God’s glory.

What does God’s glory include? Relationship.

So, I get more in return for the untidiness.

Seems like a fair trade, doesn’t it?

How are you planning to welcome people into relationship this weekend? How about the family?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

You Are a Perfect Measure

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness (Romans 12:3-8, NRSV).

I have read so many posts this week on finding your unique passion in ministry. Mostly they are about being your unique self in the blog world, at Tara’s View of the World, or Chatting at the Sky. There are some great things to think about when defining ministry.

I read this verse this morning and thought about it in light of our various talents in the community of non-virtual, Christian women.

I have strived to be many things in my life. I can be a great modeler. I can take on qualities of other people. So, if I see something spectacular, I want to be that…spectacular. What does that mean if there is more than one modeler in our churches? Not good, ladies, not good. From experience, we all fall.

We have a body of women right around us that look, smell, and talk differently. God tells me that each of our measures is equal in value when our purpose is lived out. That is right, when the purpose is lived out.

Let’s test the way that you use your measure. Let’s say that we are a quarter cup of sugar perfectly poured into a measuring cup, which is exactly what the recipe calls for. You can leave it in the cup, making the cake unsweet. We, as women, know that’s a bust, right? Or, we can pour our perfect quarter cup into the mix, with the other perfectly measured ingredients…result, perfect girl’s night.

The other approach would be tasting other confectionary goodies, and desiring to pour more sugar into the cake than it calls for, or less. Either leaves you with a less than perfect cake. What about those who are saving part of their sugar for another cake? This analogy could get confusing, but you get the idea.

I know a woman who can bring you a meal and clean your house in no time. She will talk to you and give wisdom. She is simply a pleasure. She told me the other day that sometimes she just feels like a housewife. What? My domestically perfect little friend? Honestly, I felt so great that someone like her can feel, well, like me…one of many. But when you put us together…we can do a whole event.

What I sometimes fail to see is that my sugar, my measure, is unique but not irreplaceable. Our thought should be for the value of the community cake, not the uniqueness of the measure. If everyone poured in their measure, we would rock! Instead, some do not feel empowered, some do not feel gifted, some do not feel adequate, and some just don’t want to bother. Some need to build relationship in Christ, first.

When we look at ourselves against the body, not spectacular individuals, we start to look more pertinent. We are intended for holistic community, in a framework. When one person is taken out of their context, they are no longer as effective.

I am struggling to evaluate this, too. How much is my exact measure and what do I do with it?

Only in a one-on-one relationship can we even ask those questions of Jesus. He places us in His community, which is where the spectacular can happen.

All of God’s people have dynamo acts to perform for Him. They could be to the children on your block, or children filling an arena. I often feel less than dynamo, but that is when I am told to sit in front of Jesus with sober judgment. I am listening with my heart to hear His direction. That is when I have to ask Him, “Am I using your measure to its potential?” Then I have to be willing to hear the answer.

How are you using your measure? I really want to know. Have you started pouring it?

Father, thank you for our measure. Show us how to use it to its potential, today. Make us stewards of your gifts and your community.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Prayers of a Five Year Old

Again, I have been entrusted with my nephew for a week. It is so interesting to go from no child to a thirteen year old. From the time he was little, I have felt that God could speak to me through his little words.

I just looked through an old journal this morning to find one such moment. Eight years ago, God changed my entire life. I was living in another state with a good job, and lots of prospects. One day, I hit bottom and everything changed.

John Stott writes in Basic Christianity, that intellectual prejudice and moral self-will are the two greatest hindrances to genuinely seeking God. Amen to that. Some people are even intellectually open enough to accept truth, but they do not have the self-will to implement moral change. I did not want moral change, until this one day.

I quit my job, broke my engagement, bought a house in another state and started packing boxes. That was it. I knew that God was promising me that if I had the courage to obey Him, He had plans for me. “The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame’” (Romans 10:11, NRSV). So, I went.

Right before I moved, I was feeling a little down so I called my sister. It was really to talk to my nephew. What cuter thing can you hear than the voice of a five year old? So, I told him that I was feeling a little lonely. He said, “Don’t be lonely because I will ask God to protect you”. He pulled the phone away from his ear and prayed, right there while I listened.

Of course, I was crying by now. He told me that God will be there, “so fast”. I asked him if God could come that fast, and he said, “God is fast, like Ravey (his favorite dog)”.

At this point my dog, Maggie, had to excuse herself outside. Ben said, “Maggie wants to go outside to make the snakes go somewhere else”. I said, “Oh, is she protecting me?” He said, “God is protecting you”.

At a time in my life when I was so confused, hurt, and hopeful, God sent my nephew’s little voice to me. God was there fast, and I was, indeed, being protected.

So this morning, when I walked into the hall and said, “I haven’t blogged, yet”, he told me what to write about…character; specifically, the self-destruction involved in greed.

I am trying to interpret his notes as best I can.

My dogs were stealing food from each other this morning which left one completely without breakfast. The one is Tess, the doggie in the picture. This happens often, actually. She is just not much of an eater, and even less of a defender. She takes after Dwight on the eating.

The others look at her and see that she has a bowl full of food and they do not. Then they wait for me to leave and one of them eats it all, while she stands staring at them. Pitiful sight, I know.

This exercise drives me bananas. In I go, yelling the name of one dog, or the other. I ask Tess why she is not eating her food, and why she is letting the others eat it. We repeat this every couple of days, just to keep me listening astutely to the pattern of jingling dog tags against the food bowls.

It seems fun until I charge in, I am sure. When one is greedy, everyone is left with nothing.

We can all learn from being greedy. We are the ones that suffer in the end. I can’t really say that Maggie was suffering much as she had her mid-morning snack, but…

I was greedy with my life. I felt that I had to protect myself from God’s change, and as a result everyone lost. I lost that time of relationship with God, and He lost because of my hardness.

The best way to explain it was self-hoarding. I was keeping my abandonment for the cause of my choosing, instead of the safest place in the world. I withheld for an invisible payoff. I had no idea how close I came to complete self-destruction.

I was praying about going into one more day with my nephew, this morning. The beauty about living in Jesus is the safety of giving it all away. I can recklessly show him love because my Father does it with me.

There will be no self-hoarding, and no self-protection, today. He will know the love of the Father through me. This is going to be a great day!

Is there someone in your life that needs to be loved recklessly today? Are you willing to do it?

Father, thank you for calling us out of our selfish state to give us the hope of eternal glory. Let us love like you have shown us. Put people on our heart who need us today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Have Self-Control...Really

I have self-control.

I HAVE self-control.


No matter how I say it, sometimes I wonder.

I sat with my mentor last week as she repeated, “You have self-control". I was talking to her about my unceasing tongue. I spend my days, largely, alone. When I get into public, I say so many more words than in private that I think I must be talking too much. I have reduced it to an issue of self-control, while others inform me that this might be my perception. I am on the fence.

This dangerous balancing act is due to the conversation in my head, of which I am most aware. I believe that if you can have two conversations, one out of your mouth and the other your inner voice saying, “Stop talking now”, that means that it is time to ‘shut the gate’ (my mouth).

When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them (Romans 2:14 & 15, NRSV).

These conflicting thoughts in my head can reflect the law that is written on my heart. It is the ‘law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’. I can’t think of anyone that I know who does not experience uncertainty in some life or spiritual matters. The good news is that we are normal.

Conflicting thoughts are evidence of our own conscience bearing witness to the Spirit intermingling with the world. We feel these twinges that make us so uncomfortable, but really we are on the right path. The trick is not pitch a tent in the land of conflicting thoughts.

Eventually, they bring us to the right decision by telling us to stop talking so much, or get out of a bad relationship, or don’t you dare touch that piece of cake. They can also tell us that our current path is worth sticking to, because it is a useful avenue for the Spirit.

This conflict, although Spiritually driven, can make us feel insecure. So, let’s remember what exactly lives inside of you and me.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you (Romans 8:9-11, NRSV).

We are no longer subject to this body because we are indwelled by the Spirit. This being the case, we have the exact same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead nested in this body. What a handy portable unit! I boast in my God for offering this Spirit to a motley crew like us.

Bear with me here, but I think that if I have the same power living in me that was present at the Resurrection of Jesus, I can probably manage to keep my mouth shut by yielding to the Spirit. I can probably shed ten pounds. I can probably serve at my church. There is no telling what I can accomplish.

How do I know it? Because…the bible tells me so,

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:22-24, NRSV).

Sometimes we assign certain created things power in our lives. It can be chocolate, servitude, shopping, or TV time, just to name a few. These are what hold some invisible power over us. Sometimes, the way that I feel becomes my reason for not accomplishing the basics. Things around me suffer because I don’t feel like it.

Believe me when I say that today’s words are for me. It is time that I declare victory over some things in my life. I am a child of the Most High, I am dead to the flesh (how I feel), I am alive through the Spirit of God that lives in me, and this Spirit bears fruit to believers. I qualify to be empowered and transformed by this Spirit, so today my life CAN be different.

Today I will do everything that I recognize is good for me, my home and the ones that I love because I have the Spirit who will give me strength. I will not eat dessert after every meal. I will love shamelessly, and I will put my heart in the way of strangers. Oh, and I will ‘shut the gate’, when I feel prompted.

Why? Because, I HAVE SELF-CONTROL!!!

What will you conquer today through the power of the Holy Spirit?

Father, thank you for your Spirit. Send it to empower us in ways that have defeated us before. Let us understand the very power that lives inside us.

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