Righteous Uprising Part Three

I used to live on a gerbil wheel.   Packing my days from early mornings, (I naturally wake up somewhere around 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.)  until late bedtimes, I left little time for rest and quiet.  Instead, I felt proud of how much I could accomplish in a day, a week, a month.  Unfortunately, I’d get commitments and tasks spinning so fast, I couldn’t keep up with the pace of my own life, at which point I’d tumble off the wheel entirely.

Usually, my off times included colds, flues and other sicknesses that come when we run down our immune systems due to stress, lack of sleep, poor food choices and the like.  I left people in the lurch consistently, scrambling to fill all the holes I left because of my sudden absence from everything.

I didn’t recognize this pattern in my life until God started confronting me about it one day during a long recovery from a surgery.  Finally, I used this time to reflect on my life, my choices and the speed I insisted on maintaining.  I noticed a repeating phrase in the gospels along the lines of “and he retreated to a quiet place alone,” referring to Jesus.

Hebrews 4, and its theme of “enter his rest,” became a plumb line.  My life then, fell very short.  I needed to learn how to live in a place of peace and rest while still doing the kingdom work God gave me to do, like Jesus.  We know that Jesus stewarded all his resources perfectly, but how?  How did Jesus balance rest and work?

In his book, “Sparkling Gems II,” Pastor Rick Renner states that if we add up all the events and passages of time mentioned in the gospels, we are only told what Jesus did for about 27 days of his three-year ministry.  This is why the apostle John said, “Jesus also did many other things.  If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”  John 21:25 NLT.

Jesus packed his days with ministry to people, yet he still found the time to be alone, rest and receive fresh anointing for the next thing.   He shares his secret with us in John 5:19. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself.  He does only what he sees the Father doing.”  In other words, Jesus worked where God made provision and prepared the way.

When we consider our energy use and what kind of accounting we want to give to the Lord, it’s easy to put ourselves on gerbil wheels.  That’s not God’s way.  A great perspective on how to find balance in energy stewardship is the business phrase, “Don’t work harder, work smarter.” For believers, “smarter,” means, do only what God gives you to do in the way He wants you to do it.

A story from Luke 5 shows us what that looks like in real time.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.’  ‘Master, ‘Simon replied, we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.’  And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.”

Did Simon and his crew work hard the night before? Yes.  Did it produce anything valuable?  No.   Did they work hard again when they followed Jesus’ instructions?  Yes.  Did it produce anything valuable?   Yes, and there’s the difference.  We can always find things to do that need do be done and make us feel important and productive. The secret is discerning the difference between good things and God things. I can, potentially, burn up all my energy doing a lot of stuff that makes me and others happy, happy, happy and entirely miss my God-given destiny.

If I want to see a righteous harvest and please God with my energy, I must choose to spend it only on those things God leads me to do.  There will still be lots of hard work, but instead of falling away in exhaustion with alarming regularity, I will work steadily.  God knows my limits and resources, and although he may push me out of comfort zones, he will never call me to do unfruitful work.  He will call me into rest throughout each day, if I listen.  He will do this for any believer.

Some of us head into Sundays, vacations and sabbaticals in such a state of weariness, we collapse once we get there.  That’s not God’s design.  We need to stop making busyness a badge of honor, as if constant movement and overly full schedules make us more acceptable to God.  Unfortunately, I think the reverse might be true.

I think it hurts God’s heart when I don’t take time to listen and discern his plans. He’s probably sad when I keep fishing on the wrong side of the boat and then sob because I can’t catch any fish. Additionally, I no longer possess the energy to do the stuff that matters to God.  Peter and his crew could have probably hauled in that big load of fish if they hadn’t exhausted themselves the night before. It might have been somewhat humiliating for these tough, seasoned fishermen to call in extra help.

Thank God for grace and many second chances. If, if only we could keep a firm grasp on the truth that God is always running team meetings with the latest info about where to fish, what lures to use, what time to go and everything else we need to know.  When we skip meetings and don’t take the time to listen quietly, we miss a lot of memos and changes.

How are you doing achieving the balance between God’s sabbath rest (which is not just for Sundays) and accomplishing the work he’s assigned to you?  Maybe you need to shut down a gerbil wheel in your life and become an active listener to be able to better manage your energy resources.  As Henry Blackaby says in his book Experiencing God, “Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t skip over the relationship to get to the activity.”

 

 

 

Righteous Uprising Part Two

“Nope. Can’t help. I’ve done my time at church.”  This rebuttal to my request for volunteer help, left me fumbling for words. I stumbled out something like, “Okay, well, I’ll be sure to take you off my call list for the future.”

For the next few minutes, I engaged in a conversation with the air spouting things like, “Done my time?  DONE MY TIME?  So, being involved in ministries is a prison sentence?” Worse yet, this wasn’t my first time to hear this reason for not serving.

Several folks patiently explained to me that people under age 50 should carry the load of volunteer church ministry.  Funny thing is, I received better responses from folks 65-70 and older who couldn’t necessarily get down on a floor with kids but eagerly served at funeral lunches, contributed baked goods, set up classrooms, washed nursery toys, folded bulletins, tended grounds, and performed many other necessary tasks, faithfully.  Their kids?  Not so much.

In America, we are witnessing the daily passing of the folks labeled “The Greatest Generation.”  These are fighters that survived the Great Depression and World War II and then created an epic boom in our nation’s economy and population.  The youngest age of this generation is currently 94 years old.  Back in my volunteer recruitment days, they were in their sixties and seventies.

This age group’s values merit a closer look from younger generations, specifically in the ways they contributed the valuable resource of time.  Hardships during their formative years, formed steadfast, self-sacrificing characters. It’s impossible to calculate the world-wide impact of those who left families, careers and homeland to serve and die in places as far-flung as the beaches of Normandy and the Japanese prison camps of the Philippines. Men and women on the Homefront, endured family separations, rationings and shortages. Many women left their homes and young children to take grueling jobs in factories producing military supplies, all for the greater cause. Ultimately, many families made the supreme sacrifice of losing their loved ones in battlefields abroad.

When World War II ended, these courageous people continued the same sacrificial mindset into their homes, workplaces, communities and their churches. Sometimes, I’ve shared volunteerism refusals that I’ve heard, with friends from my grandparent’s generation.  Their reactions are typically a head-shaking, incredulous disbelief.  You see, for them, serving was never about what was comfortable or fit into their schedule. For the “Greatest Generation,” it’s always been about finding significance through meeting other’s needs.  That sounds a lot like the kingdom of God to me.

Meanwhile, many people in my age range, the “Baby Boomers,” are still searching for significance in their lives. Sadder yet, many of us, in our attempts to provide better lives for our children, dubbed “The Millenials,” unintentionally communicated to them, that the world spins for their sole pleasure.  The result is that most church’s volunteer ministries are grossly understaffed.  Ask any pastor.  Here’s a few “reasons” for not serving, that came to me over the years, and not just by one or two folks, either.  You can’t make this stuff up.

“I’ve got (aerobics, pottery, knitting, photography) class on Wednesday nights.” 

“Our family spends the weekends traveling for (fill in band, soccer, etc.) and we just need to come to church and rest on Sundays. Well, Wednesday doesn’t work either cause the kids all have practices.” (or rehearsals or clubs, etc. etc.)

“Well, we like to go up to our cottage most weekends, May through October. When we do come to church, we just want to sit in the service and enjoy our church family.”

Now, hear my heart, none of these mentioned activities are evil, of themselves.  The activities are not to blame. We are the ones who rank them more highly than we ought. I am so proud of my parents putting up a boundary during my high school years that inspired other parents to follow suit. My brothers and I could be part of teams, clubs, plays, etc. if it didn’t interfere with our Wednesday and Sunday service attendance. The director of our high school plays changed rehearsal schedules when I, and other Christ-following friends, shared our parents’ boundaries with him.  We took a risk that could have knocked us out of something we really loved for something greater. It felt awkward and embarrassing at the time, but thank God, my parents placed high value on stewarding our time.  My brothers engaged in exhausting football and marching band practices and rehearsals but didn’t skip youth group or sleep in late on Sundays and miss Sunday school.

When did faithful ministry and church attendance fall so low on our priority lists, that we only serve when it fits around all our other pursuits?

If you’re squirming as you read, understand there’s no judgement coming from me.  I’m a strong believer in God’s sowing and reaping principles.  What you might be feeling, if this post is troubling you, is the Holy Spirit encouraging you to take a fresh look at your schedule and priorities.

The battle lines between good and evil are becoming starker as the day of Christ’s return approaches.  We are called to advance the kingdom, which takes time, quality time. To close, here’s another parable I’d like to share to help you understand Jesus’ perspective on our use of time.  It’s similar to the Parable of The Talents from last week, but in the Parable of The Minas, Jesus is speaking of time, not money.  Please notice that in the talent’s parable, the servants are given different amounts of money, representing the different skills, gifts and such God gives to each believer.

In the mina’s parable, each servant is given the same number of minas, to symbolize that we are all given the same number of hours in a day.  Note also how differently the servants are treated in the two parables.  With that in mind, I encourage you to read Luke 19: 12-26 with fresh eyes. Let the story marinate in your heart to give the Spirit an opportunity to speak to you through it.

For “The Greatest Generation,” their service to the kingdom wasn’t a convenient pleasure cruise. They weren’t afraid of weekly, nitty gritty work like changing diapers, pouring out hundreds of little communion cups, washing pots and pans after a church supper,  scrubbing windows and floors on congregational clean-up days and the like.  The difference is, between them and too many in younger generations,  their expectations were completely different. How about we stop trying to find ourselves and instead lose ourselves in service to others?  Luke 17:33

 

 

Righteous Uprising

I used to welcome destructive relationships into my life.  They ran perpendicular to God’s word and nature and deep down, I knew it.  Nevertheless, I invested myself in them heavily for years.  How is it that I could love God deeply, serve him wholeheartedly and still commit myself to things that served as opposition forces?

I’m not speaking about human friendships. The associations I refer to, turned out to be more destructive in my life than any person could be, even though, in and of themselves, they weren’t evil. (Well, a couple were!)  I squandered time, money and emotional energy on them consistently, resources God expected me to use for his kingdom. The King James Bible uses a strong term for them and calls these things “unfruitful works of darkness,” in Ephesians 5:11.  That sounds harsh, but I want you to consider this truth. Anything that nudges Christ out of the center of your life’s throne, by default becomes an opposing force towards God.  

“Whoa,” you say.  “Sorry, you got messed up in bad stuff, Sharon, but that doesn’t describe me.”  Oh? Are you sure? Developing affection for worldly pursuits can be a very subtle, gradual slide, especially if other believers are sliding with you.  Allow me to pose some questions, not to attack you but perhaps to awaken you.

For decades, I’ve listened to church folk (and myself) criticize and complain about the immoral behaviors of their societies.  Brothers and sisters, the decline of morality in any culture cannot be blamed on the unsaved.  Lost people will behave like their master.  The fault for moral decline lies entirely with the body of Christ inside any society.  We are called the salt and light.  So, let’s stop railing at the darkness for a moment and contemplate our own realities.  Please, read on and be open to the possibility that like me, your lifestyle and habits might need a good dose of righteous cleansing.

  1. Would you watch your current favorite shows with your Nana or your pastor on the couch? Would you be comfortable reading aloud to them from your current recreational reading books?   I used to read tons of horror books that would have scared the soup out of my grandma, and don’t get me started on the list of dark movies and shows I used to watch regularly.

 

  1. Does your checking account demonstrate faithful tithing to your local church? What about offerings for missionaries and folks in need? Here’s a nice piece of irony.  For a few months in seminary preparing for ministry, Ken and I decided we didn’t have enough income to tithe. We did, however, find money to eat out and go shopping.  Hmmmmm………

 

  1. How much time do you spend on your appearance each morning compared to the time you spend in Bible study and prayer? I shudder to think of how long it took me to structure my large 80’s hairdo’s back in the day. 

 

  1. How much time do you commit to your church home or a parachurch organization in volunteer ministry compared to the time you invest in social media, video games, vacations, concerts or other entertainment? I’ve met so many people that tell me they don’t have the time to commit to a volunteer ministry, yet they still find space in their schedule for hours of entertainment pursuits, pictures of which they proudly post on social media.

 

  1. Are the schedules in your home so full, that skipping church and sleeping in on Sunday mornings seems reasonable? This is a growing and disturbing phenomenon in the American church. When you’re on vacation on a Sunday, how do you honor God on his day? Whereas a generation ago there might have been too much legalism surrounding Sunday activities, I’m not so sure that we haven’t now overreacted and adopted the world’s mantra that “Sunday is Funday.”

 

  1. Do family events, athletic practices, business meetings and such, take a higher priority in your schedule then participation in a small group Bible study, youth group, or attendance at a midweek service or children’s program? Another disturbing trend in the American church is the notion that Sunday morning worship attendance alone, checks all the boxes for being an engaged member of a local body of Christ.

 

  1. Are your conversations with others wholesome and fruitful or are crude language, off-color stories, useless chatter, gossip or negativity a regular part of some of your relationships? How much would our words change if we understood the truth that God listens to his children intently, like every minute of every day? 

 

In the next few posts, I want to challenge you to examine how you are using every resource God’s entrusted to you. How much resource might we be unintentionally committing to “unfruitful deeds?”  Let me end this post with a familiar parable.  It’s long, but please read it with an open mind.  It puts a holy fear in me and I hope it does in you too.

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip.  He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.  He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last- dividing it in proportion to their abilities.  He then left on his trip.

The servant who received the five bags began to invest the money and earned five more.  The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more.  But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

After a long time, their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money.  The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’ The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful in handling this small amount so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’  The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate.  I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth.  Look, here is your money back.’  But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank?  At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’  Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver.  To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance.  But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.  Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”   Matthew 25 NLT

 

 

 

Appearances Matter- Part Three

The chaos I encountered on my first day, in one school, remains a vivid memory.  The previous teacher resigned in the middle of the semester for mysterious reasons. When I entered my new classroom, hours before my first class, I gasped..  Apparently, the two weeks between my initial interview and subsequent acceptance of the position, turned into anarchy for the school choirs, under various substitute teachers.

The spacious vocal music room, filled with possibilities two weeks prior, now looked like a set from “Girls Gone Wild.”  Empty fast food bags and wrappers, (some with food still in them) Slurpee cups, sheet music, candy wrappers, and crumpled schoolwork, decorated much of the floor.  Trash cans overflowed so someone made attempts to heap much of the garbage in several corners. It appeared even the custodians feared to enter the room.  Chairs were no longer in the neat rows they had been in when I’d toured the room with the principal.  There were a few in conversational groups, but many were turned upside down and some even stacked up by the windows in a manner that looked like students had been traversing in and out of the windows of the basement classroom.

The mess reached epic proportions in every part of the room, like the walk-in closet, I couldn’t step into, and the pillaging of the teacher’s desk, but I think you get the idea. The chaos, trash and signs of neglect everywhere ignited a righteous fire in me.  I strode to the custodial office and requested trash bags, a vacuum and various cleaning supplies from the supervisor.  He seemed surprised but complied.  I then made it clear, kindly, that I expected our trash cans emptied each night, and our room be given the same general cleaning as any other classroom in the building.

“Sure,” he said, overly casual. “As long as my crew doesn’t have to walk through those kids cast off cheeseburgers and burritos to do it. “

“Deal,” I said just as casually.

For the next two hours, I worked like a house afire to restore a semblance of order before my first class arrived.  I struggled not to laugh as each group of students entered and loud, hallway conversations dropped in mid-sentence as soon as they saw the room’s appearance.  Muttered cracks like “Dude, this one’s serious,” and general “Whoa’s” mixed with delighted smiles from students who probably didn’t enjoy watching their choir room turn into a landfill.

In time, I restored order to the room. I filled all the bulletin boards with posters and interesting musical stuff, (this hadn’t been done in many years), created spaces for small- group work, and did everything else within my power and budget to turn the choir room into an eye-pleasing place to come and make music.  I kept flowers or plants on my desk and always recognized every holiday with appropriate décor. Chore posters for each class rotated classroom maintenance, and I recruited several student librarians to corral all our music.

Of course, I climbed mountains discipline-wise also, for the first couple months or so, as law and order had long been absent from the choirs. Eventually, students started to make connections to order and beauty, in their music and their surroundings. This theme applied to everything that happened in my classroom.  Sometimes I’d catch glimpses of other teachers peeking on my classes, skeptical that the formerly wild mustangs now quietly worked on theory, sang their hearts out and ran their own sectionals effectively.

Chaos is not part of God’s original design for earth.  As soon as mankind sinned, Satan launched his assault of anarchy against all of God’s design.  We continue to live in a world that is on a course of steady disorder until Christ returns, and the new heavens and earth come to be.  As children of God, he commands us to imitate Christ, who brought peace into situations of pure bedlam.

For example, consider the demon-possessed folks mentioned in the gospels, who terrorized entire regions.  Can you imagine how life changed, not only for the demoniac, but for those who lived nearby? No longer did they fear their children might accidentally wander into a terrifying situation.   Their sleep was no longer disrupted by the howls and screams of the tormented.  With one act of power and compassion, Jesus changed the lives of many.  He brought peace into chaos.

Cleaning up my disastrous classroom seems small compared to setting someone free of demons, however, it is the important task God issued to me at that time.  By restoring order in my classroom, a chain of events occurred.  Students behaved better.  Focused students conquered their vocal music.  Choir concerts became a joy not just for the them but their family and friends also. Choir class became a bright spot in many student’s school days, especially for those who struggled academically.  Several students chose to attend college and obtain music degrees themselves.  I suspect they are out there somewhere, making music in orderly classrooms and changing lives.

Are you currently planted in a chaotic environment at work, school, home or elsewhere?  If not, God may present you with a situation that needs beauty and order restored to it.  I remember a mission trip where our team spent ten hours a day sorting through a warehouse of clothes donated to an inner-city ministry. They were simply chucked in giant piles in order of how they’d been donated.  That many hours in a metal pole barn in Mississippi, in August, without air conditioning, challenged us on many levels.  Still, we took great pride in sorting and organizing to such a degree that the ministry could distribute much-needed clothing to people living below the poverty line.

It’s so tempting to turn our backs on messes we didn’t create.  That’s not what Jesus did, though.  Look around your world a bit, in places where you possess influence or favor.  You could easily earn the right to share Christ with someone simply by cleaning something up.

 

Appearances Do Matter- Part Two

 

I chuckle still when I remember the day our next-door neighbor rapped on our fence and shouted, “Are you people ever going to pick up your leaves?”  Five maple trees in our yard dropped thousands of their colorful cast-offs until they were ankle deep on our front and back lawns.  Prevailing winds chronically blew the offenders into our neighbors’ yard, unheeded in the front, and right up over the fence in the back.

As new home-owners, Ken and I struggled to master the art of juggling ministry and friendships with household responsibilities.  Still in our twenties, we spent much of our free time hanging out with friends, playing touch football and softball, riding bikes, skiing, hitting the beach and such.  Yard work didn’t even rank in the top ten list of how we liked to spend our off time.

I cringe now, when I think of how infrequently we mowed that lawn, how deep the leaves became before we bothered to rake.  In general, we were “that” house in the neighborhood.  You know the one I mean.  The lawn is long, gone to seed and grows way out into the sidewalk.   The gardens might be a mixture of plants and weeds or only weeds.  Leaves are rarely raked, and snow is not cleared from the sidewalk.  There is a general look of neglect and untidiness around the house and yard.  If it’s located out in the country, there might be a rusting Chevy or a discarded Maytag in the yard.

Our relationship with the fence-rapping neighbor remained contentious the entire time we lived in that house.  Worse yet, Ken and I privately dubbed him a “fusspot,” dismissing his concerns as silly.  Isn’t that a lovely attitude for a child of God?  God placed us in that neighborhood for his purposes. We missed some of them. Many times, we entertained church folks in that house, but never built authentic relationships with a single neighbor, especially that man.  If we’d bothered to engage him in conversation, we could have gained knowledge and skills about caring for a home and yard and earned the opportunity to share Christ.  We were too busy being smart aleck 20- something’s.

I know many of you reading this live in condos and other situations where lawn care is irrelevant.  I’m asking you to reflect on your home in terms of the larger picture. Ask yourself these questions.  How does my dwelling place reflect the beauty of God?  Am I making the most of what God’s given me to steward in my home?  When people set foot on my property do they sense peace? Are their souls inspired by what they see?  Whether you live in a tiny dorm room or a five thousand square foot house, you are given the opportunity to display parts of God’s character in your surroundings.

People are attracted to beauty, whether they are believers or not. That’s the way God created us.  Countless times I’ve struck up conversations with a stranger on a beach because we are experiencing a sunset together both trying to get that perfect camera angle.  Shared wonder creates a bridge where conversations can start, and the seeds of friendship can be planted.  I remember when we lived in an apartment, and people initiated conversations about flowers with me simply because I set a pot of impatiens outside my door.

One of the most inspirational books, on the topic of creating beauty around you is “Hidden Art,” by Edith Schaeffer. The premise of her book is that our Creator designed us to create also.  Recognizing and highlighting the beauty within us and around us is part of our God-given nature and it will attract unbelievers to us just as it did to Jesus.

One of my favorite stories in her book tells of the days when she and her family lived in severely humble circumstances near railroad yards, in a small dwelling where most of their furniture consisted of cast-offs or homemade creations.  Despite meager circumstances, God put her eyes on homeless men who walked past regularly.  She and her two young children prepared simple trays of sandwiches, dressed up to look special with napkins and a few flowers, to leave outside for the passing men. They’d also slip in a little New Testament to feed souls along with stomachs.  Creating and sharing beauty does not require wads of money but simply a willingness of heart.

I heartily encourage you to buy the book yourself (very cheap at Amazon) and gain inspiration for your home or office or whatever real estate God’s entrusted to you. In the same way that our personal appearance should not be off-putting, (check out part one of this series) neither should the places we live, and work repel or frustrate people.  A chronically cluttered, dirty house and tattered yard do not tell the truth about who we are in Christ.  We are sons and daughters of THE King and therefore, we should leave a swathe of goodness and beauty behind us wherever we go.

Please, please, please, don’t take on condemnation if your home or yard or office are currently in rough shape, temporarily.  Many years ago, chronically ill with internal issues, dust bunnies and toddler crud took over my home.  When I finally went through surgery to correct the problem, a team of eight ladies from my church came to clean my house, for four hours.  Oh my.  The deep-down dirt probably shocked some of them, but they never said a word to me.  Sweet sisters. I felt such gratitude that they restored order and beauty to my home during a time when I could not do it myself.

You might be in a season right now that doesn’t provide time or energy to keep chaos at bay.  If this is but a season and not a lifestyle, I believe God pours grace on it.  However, if chaos is your norm, understand that those sorts of patterns do not flow from our Father.  He spoke order and beauty into chaos at the beginning of creation, and his nature remains unchanged. Since God the Spirit lives in us, shouldn’t our lives reflect our true identities?

 

 

 

 

Appearances DO Matter

I wish I didn’t possess a bionic nose.  Certain strong odors make my stomach flippy. In college, I belonged to a Bible study led by an all-out-for-Christ guy who was also handsome.  His passion for God inspired me, but his showers- optional approach to hygiene nearly laid me out, and not under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  It became awkward each week as people maneuvered themselves around the room so as not to sit right next to Lloyd. (Not his real name.)  Latecomers wound up on either side of him and you could see the suffering and resolution on their faces.  People rarely came late more than a couple times.

Lloyd could pray down heaven and dig into scripture in powerful ways, but here’s the thing.  I wonder how the unbelievers all around him responded to his hygiene habits?  Probably some took offense when they encountered him. Whereas all us sweet Christians lacked the spiritual guts to speak the truth in love to Lloyd, I doubt the unsaved held back their opinions.   I never did crack the code of why he didn’t just shower more often but I vividly remember people’s reaction to this godly brother.

For a few weeks I’d like to disrupt a common idea expressed in the body of Christ that comes out in phrases like this: “I don’t care what other people think of me, it only matters what God thinks.” Instead I want you to consider that, like all of God’s creation, we are living illustrations of his beauty and wonder.   My inspiration comes from a devotional by Pastor Rick Renner, in his book, “Sparkling Gems II.”  His verse is I Timothy 3:7. “Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.” (NLT) This is on Paul’s list of qualifications for church leaders, but Pastor Rick applies it to all believers.  I agree. Christians should be the most lovely, delightful people on earth, well-spoken of by those outside the family of God.

Hold on, you say, doesn’t Paul also warn us not to be people pleasers in Galatians 1:10? “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings or of God? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  Did Jesus live to please others?  No, yet people mobbed him wherever he traveled.  How did he manage to obey and please his father perfectly yet still command such a following?

I think many of Jesus’ qualities made people feel better, more hopeful and peaceful when they entered his orbit.  He listened to broken people, touched them and valued them.  I believe he spoke and behaved in such winsome, captivating ways, people gravitated towards him.

My old Bible study leader knew how to handle the Word well and enjoyed a powerful prayer life, yet he repelled people.  My point?  Appearances DO matter, whether it’s your personal appearance, your home and yard, office, work station, ministry area or any other arena where you are responsible for the way something comes across to other folk’s five senses, particularly unbelievers.

In this post I’d like to pitch a few ideas about our personal appearance.  If you love what God loves, you will care profoundly about lost people.  If so, according to Paul, in I Timothy, how unbelievers view us is so important, that he included it in the list of requirements for overseers and deacons.  The process of initiating conversations and building relationships with the unchurched is hamstrung if there is something about our appearance or hygiene that makes folks uncomfortable.  In simple terms, if you look, talk or act weird, it’s gonna be a lot harder to connect with the unchurched.

As children of The Original Designer, we reflect the beauty and order God established in original creation. I’m not advocating imbalance with too much time spent on clothes, hair, makeup, etc.  However, it’s clear by the crowds that pressed in on him every day, people wanted to hear, see and touch Jesus, much like we react today to movie stars, athletes or other famous people.

The funny thing is that Isaiah 53:2 tells us that Jesus didn’t look like a movie star.  “He has no stately form or majestic splendor that we would look at Him, nor handsome appearance that we would be attracted to Him.”  Jesus looked ordinary, but I believe his inside nature reflected on his exterior.  He looked approachable, welcoming. His physical presence invited people to come closer.

Here’s some ideas for your reflection.  Ask the Holy Spirit if there’s anything he’s putting his finger on, where you might need some improvement.

  • How do I sound?  Is your voice pleasant, with no gossip, whining or shrillness?  Are people hearing your voice too much because you dominate conversations?   Do you talk or laugh so loudly it makes others uncomfortable?  Don’t sound like Lucy begging Ricky to let her be in the show or that teacher you had who screeched at students to control her classroom.
  • How do I look? Are the clothes I wear neat and clean?  Do they fit me correctly?  Just a tip here, if you are struggling with your weight, wearing clothes that are too tight draws attention to that, not away from it. I’m going to meddle a little bit here and ask women to assess their clothing honestly for modesty purposes.  There are times when Christian men are forced to look away from a sister in Christ because necklines are too low, hems too high and clothes too tight. One can’t help but wonder what males without Christ are thinking in those circumstances. Finally, men and women, being grungy looking might be a tiny bit cool if you’re a college student pulling an all-nighter.  For the rest of us, it’s just tacky.
  • How do I smell? Please don’t be offended that I’ve included this in my list and consider these two points.  Some people are off-putting because they douse themselves in perfume or after-shave. Your nose will adapt to a scent you wear every day so be cautious not to keep increasing the amount you use.  Secondly, remember Lloyd.  I still run into church folk who need to become better friends with deodorants and showers.

Let’s be sure lost folk feel at ease around the way we present ourselves, physically. Consider the fact that it’s often the first thing they will know about us.  We want to earn the right to speak to them about the eternal stuff that matters the most.

 

Dust Off Your Faith

This is a reprint of a post from February I felt impressed by God to put up again to encourage folks not to “grow weary in doing good,” on their journey to destiny.

Are there unfulfilled dreams inside you?  Did you picture your life different from your current one?  Do you wonder why you possess certain skills and talents that go unused and unappreciated? I felt that way for years.

From earliest childhood, I forced my younger brothers to be “students” in my pretend classroom, with me as teacher. Through my school years and college, I dreamed of that only, to be a teacher.  My instructors and professors assured me I possessed the perfect skill set and personality to be an educator.  Score!

After graduating college, I married my husband, and we moved to the Chicago area for graduate school.  I thought that in a large metropolitan area, I’d choose my school system. Hah!  While I lived in the college bubble, the teaching world changed and a tsunami wave of college students with teaching degrees hit the job market.

Many school systems shifted to hiring exclusively from substitute teacher pools.  I couldn’t even get on a substitute list. Instead, I took a job as a music therapist and figured I’d begin my teaching career when we moved to our first ministry position.

I finally started my career as a high school teacher 20 some years later. The principal spoke frankly and indicated that I edged out other applicants because of the variety of my degrees but more importantly, I could start immediately.  The previous vocal music teacher left in the middle of the school year due to a nervous breakdown.  Not the auspicious beginning to my career as an educator that I imagined.

During those twenty years I worked other careers, I continued to dream of teaching.  Many times, I thought I’d never see that vision come to pass.  I questioned the skills, passion and calling God placed in me in the hard light of many closed doors.

It’s easy to lose faith in something we felt so sure God placed in our hearts when its fulfillment is deferred. God’s waiting room can be a place where we allow our dreams to die instead of entrusting them to His perfect timing.  A vision delayed often reflects God’s desire to prepare our character and skills for a specific assignment.  He also needs to prepare a situation and the people within it, to receive us.

Joseph’s promotion from boy dreamer to Egypt’s second in command wound its way through 14 years of slavery and prison. (Genesis 37-50) David’s waiting period between his teenaged anointing and throne, we approximate to be fifteen years. (I Samuel 16- 2 Samuel 10)

Far eclipsing Joseph and David, Bible historians estimate Noah worked on the Ark for about 100 years.  One of the highest callings ever placed on a life endured a century of mockery and derision from the inhabitants of a land where flooding rains never existed before.  Matthew 24:38-39 indicate the world’s inhabitants continued to eat, drink and be merry until the moment Noah entered the ark.

Scriptures recount Joseph’s and David’s discouragements during their waiting times.  Moses’ leadership calling became encrusted over with desert dust. In Acts 7 Stephen recounts that when Moses was 40 and chose to step away from privileged palace life he was “powerful in speech and action,” and thought that “his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them.”  40 years later, God miraculously inflames a desert bush to call 80-year-old Moses up for front line duty.  Our hero’s response is to protest that he is no one to whom Pharaoh or Israel will listen, and that he’s a lousy speaker.  What happened?  I think Moses may not have understood that his 40 years of obscurity as a priest in the Midian desert served as preparation for his ultimate destiny.   No judgements here because I’ve done the same exact thing with some of my dreams.

How do we hold on to our faith tenaciously when it comes to deferred dreams?  From man’s beginning, Satan continues to insinuate that humans can’t hear well from God.  Doubting the relationship between Shepherd and sheep can be one of the first casualties in God’s waiting rooms.  Bitterness and despair can erupt when others are promoted, and we continue to be overlooked.  Sometimes, like Moses, we just assume a calling never belonged to us in the first place.

Here’s a few ideas to help keep us in a state of readiness so that when He calls us up we are prepared for action.

  • Recognize waiting periods as your school of preparation and character development.

God kept Christ himself hidden away in a nothing little town for 30 years. During that time, Jesus became the exceptional human revealed in the Gospels.  God knows the demands that our destinies will place on our character and resources.  We don’t need any more public failures in the body of Christ where everyone discovers that a character couldn’t keep up with a calling.

  • Understand that God works to prepare situations and people to receive you.

God brought Jacob’s family and the entire nation of Egypt to places of desperation to enable them to receive Joseph’s leadership gladly.  I like to operate where I am celebrated, not tolerated, don’t you?  Give God time to create that environment for you.

  • Our current state is our proving ground for our coming promotion.

Joseph came to Pharaoh’s attention because he acted with kindness and wisdom in prison.  David fought many valiant battles and treated crazy King Saul with respect, which earned him the admiration of his people before he became their king. We might feel shelved, overlooked and left behind but God is watching carefully to see how we treat the people he sends our way and how we conduct ourselves outside of our dream lives. Be excruciatingly faithful with whatever He gives you to do right now.  Obey quickly when He gives direction.  God wants to be sure we won’t act like we’re too big for our britches when he does promote us.

  • Enjoy the life God gives you today.

You may be in a job, relationship, church, neighborhood or country that is far outside your dreams.  Some places are hard and unwelcoming like Moses’ desert.  Faith enables us to believe that our dreams are still in God’s hands for safe keeping.  All of God’s promises for grace, peace, joy and purpose are for us today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Wind and Fire

“You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning.”

“You can tell how popular a pastor is by who comes on Sunday night.”

“But, you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to the prayer meeting.”

These words echoed a private word which God spoke to Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, in New York City, several years ago.   In his book, “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” pastor Jim shares his story of the discouraging, early years of his church and how God led them to become the congregation they are today, known around the world.

Jim Cymbala’s story changed my prayer life.  A watershed moment occurred when I realized that I treated conversation with God like a garnish on the plate of my spiritual life.  How many of us are mucking about, wondering why we aren’t moving forward, seeing progress and victories, simply because we are slothful about prayer?

This is not a book about church growth. It’s the story of what happened to a group of believers when they prayed and asked God for “fresh wind and fresh fire.”  The principles and applications that pastor Jim shares apply to any believer who is discouraged in their pursuit of dreams and destiny, or just plain discouraged.

When Cymbala assumed the lead pastor role of the tiny church with less than 20 in attendance, they struggled to pay the mortgage for their building let alone pay a consistent salary to a pastor.  One Sunday evening after doing everything he knew to do to grow the church, Jim was so depressed, he couldn’t even preach.   The church limped along for a couple years until one day, ready to walk away from the ministry, God spoke plainly to pastor Jim that his best energies should be focused on their Tuesday night prayer meetings.

After pastor Jim shared this word with his congregation, a visiting minister stood up and affirmed the idea with the quote you see at the top.  The pastor and the church obeyed God’s directive and the rest is history with the congregation now numbering in the thousands, many of whom attend the Tuesday night prayer meetings.

Pastor Jim taught me that God will birth new ideas, solutions and strategies for our lives when we are in communion with him faithfully. He’ll show you the details of how to proceed when you earnestly seek Him every day. More than anyone else, he wants us to achieve all that he designed us to accomplish in this life, but, he is not obligated to bless ideas we pursue out of our own ambitions and desires.

My second book today is a fat devotional I willingly lug on vacations, to the beach, even sometimes out to breakfast with my husband.  It’s worth it!  “Sparkling Gems,” by Rick Renner, comes in two different volumes, each one providing 365 days of devotional study and prayers.  The “gems” are the revealed facets and colors that come from Pastor Rick  helping us understand the meaning of key Greek words and phrases within one or two verses each day.

I am continually astonished at how many Scripture passages I understood at a surface level only, by not knowing the original context and definition of important words.  Here’s one of my favorite excerpts from volume 2, July 12, in which Renner discusses Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”

“The phrase, ‘all things’ is from the Greek word panta, the word pan with ta attached.  The word pan is an all-encompassing word that includes everything and excludes nothing.  The little word ta, denotes even the smallest of things. So, when Paul uses the word panta, he is proclaiming that through Christ, he has the upper hand over everything with nothing excluded, including even the most minute details.”

Along with jewels like this, pastor Rick shares many stories from his remarkably interesting life.  As the pastor of a large church in Moscow, he’s endured unique trials and some crazy experiences.  For example, one involves the early days of their television broadcasts in Moscow.  A team member found the perfect bright light bulbs to try and create their first-ever television recording studio, no easy feat in the collapsed former Soviet Union.

After sitting in the makeshift studio for eight hours, Rick and his staff discovered that the bulbs were bulbs for sun lamps.  Pastor Renner not only endured severe sunburn but eye damage, which threatened to take his sight.  His story of fear and faith during the dark days of lying motionless, wrapped in compresses, not knowing if his sight would return, is remarkable in its honesty and encouragement.   Many other personal stories help me remember the truth nuggets found in various verses.

These two volumes are treasures that belong in any believer’s library.  I cycle back around to them several times a year when I’m in between other books or need a break from more intensive study. Over time, I’ve accumulated knowledge of important Greek words and ideas that help me understand the New Testament so much better than I ever did before.

I love great historical fiction or a captivating mystery, but I need to be careful that the time I devote to reading is balanced with books that challenge, provoke, teach and instruct in the ways of God, not just fun, recreational reading.  Don’t brag to me that you never watch TV if you’re plowing through an Amish Christian romance every few days without cracking open something with spiritual steak in it. There’s lots of great brain candy books out there that are wonderful to rest the mind and allow ourselves to be taken into different worlds and cultures, but, a steady diet of sugar isn’t good.  Okay, now I’ve gone from teaching to meddling, as my pastor says.  Til next time, read often, read well.

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff I Learned From Mentors

My extended family shared a collective gasp as my son-in- law to be announced, “Nah, I don’t like reading. Don’t really like books.”  Gathered for vacation, my extended family of teachers (several English majors), pastors, and book lovers in general, simply stared at him. We set our books in our laps or peered over the top of them, to contemplate the odd duck in our midst. My darling sister-in-law, a high school English teacher, graciously waded in.

“You just don’t like the books you’ve read so far, that’s all.  Let me suggest a few for you.”  She loaned him an enormously fat book, one of her favorites, and suggested he give it a whirl. Once he started reading, he couldn’t put it down and sought out it’s chubbier sequel as soon as he finished part one.   His Christmas lists from that point forth, always include a list of books he’d like to receive each year.

How does that story connect with mentoring?  To help you understand that books open doors of worlds and treasures of knowledge and experiences otherwise unavailable to you. For a Christ-follower, you can be discipled and encouraged in your spiritual walk by outstanding Christian authors whose books you are willing to read.  Over the summer, I want to share some of my favorite author/mentors who God used to teach, correct, inspire, comfort and spur me on.  Without the godly, wise influence of these brothers and sisters, my ability to walk out my faith daily might look very different.  I suspect I’d be a far more spiritually anemic version of myself.

If you don’t prioritize reading, I ask you to reconsider.  God chose to reveal Himself to us several ways, one of them his written word.  Clearly, He places value on that form of passing information.  When giants of the faith take the time to write down their experiences with God and their understanding of His ways, it’s silly not to take advantage.  We are given the privilege of knowing the trials and joys of people we will never meet and in the process, learn more about God and ourselves.  I love podcasts, radio and tv shows featuring great teachers and speakers but there’s something unique about reading words, highlighting passages then keeping the book nearby for future reference.

Most of the books I will share I believe to be must reads for any believer because they are foundational and profound.  Some are simply special and meaningful to me.  All are available on Amazon or Christian Book Distributors websites.  So, here we go.

Experiencing God,” by Henry Blackaby

Oh, how I wish someone put this book in my hands during my early ministry days. If you want to get the most out of it, use the accompanying workbook. The book is based around what Blackaby defines as the “Seven Realities.” They are:

  1. God is always at work around you.
  2. God pursues a continuing love relationship with you that is real and personal.
  3. God invites you to join Him in ­His work. (This is where many believers are missing the mark and instead expect God to join them in their work.)
  4. God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways.
  5. God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
  6. You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.
  7. You come to know God by experience as you obey Him, and He accomplishes His work through you.

So many believers, churches and Christian organizations, waste resources doing good, noble things, instead of the custom-made work God designed for them and is still calling them to do.  I count myself a former member of that group.  My approach to ministry used to be me expecting God to join me in my work, and of course, bless it.  Although my ministry ideas and methods originated in noble intentions, unfortunately they weren’t all God’s work, in His time and in His way.  Frankly, some of them he didn’t want me involved in at all.  I’ve wondered what opportunities I missed because I busied myself doing good works instead of God’s Work. His destiny for you is highly specific and unique.  This book will teach you how to discover what it is going forward.

“Heaven” by Randy Alcorn

If you’ve lost someone dear to you this book is a precious gem.  Pastor Alcorn’s premise is that the church is not receiving enough teaching about heaven, and that we also carry many misconceptions about its realities.  Every point he makes is firmly rooted in Scripture and I found myself saying over and over, “How did I not see this before?”  The book is chubby, filled with meat and lends itself very well to a group study or discussion. A children’s version is also available.

I read it in bits and pieces during the summer after my mother went to be with the Lord.  It comforts me continually to consider the life she is currently living in the present Heaven. Alcorn brings out a richness of detail about our future home which I missed before.  Additionally, he delves deeply into the Word concerning the new Heaven and Earth (different from the present heaven) where believers will rule and reign forever with Christ.

I find myself with a completely different mindset about my temporary, brief passage on the present Earth.  Whatever disappointments, sorrows and unfulfilled dreams may color this life, I am assured all will be sorted out perfectly in the life to come.  This part is only the beginning, and the challenge to live it well, continuously seeking to stay on God’s path for me, is my daily prayer.

 

If neither of these books appeal to you, stay tuned: there are lots more coming.  In the meantime, get on line or to a Christian bookstore and find something that speaks to where you are in this moment.  Let someone who’s been there ahead of you speak into your challenges and mentor you in your faith.

 

 

 

How to Find Your Open Doors

Baffled, I stared at 30 kindergarteners milling around my classroom.  For the second time, I said, “Okay, everyone, let’s sit down in a circle together.”  Six children sat near me, sort of circle-ish, although one sat behind me, for reasons known only to him.  A dozen students plopped down at various points in the room, not near me.  The rest continued to mingle and chatter.

Just as I feared I’d need to place each child, bodily, into a circle, another teacher walked by and heard my dilemma. “Need some help?” she offered with a smile.

“Yes, pleeeeeeeease.” Humbled, I welcomed her into the room.  I mean, good grief, my second day of teaching elementary music and I couldn’t even get 5-year olds into a circle!

“Most of them don’t know that command yet, so we use a few tricks of the trade.” With that, my rescuer grabbed some yarn from her classroom and came back to create a circle on the floor. She invited all the children to sit on the yarn.  The whole process took 3 minutes.  This experience became the first in a looooong list of reminders I accumulated that year, that God did not endow me with elementary teaching gifts.

When I returned to the teaching field, after a 20-some year absence, all doors remained closed except for the one above. I never aspired to educate young children. Truthfully, I endured my mornings with them during my student teaching semester. I much preferred my afternoons with high schoolers.  Even knowing this about myself, I decided that since this door opened, God must be on the other side.  I spent a tough year learning that every opportunity doesn’t come from our Father.

As we think about God’s will, and discovering our open doors, consider a few misguided folks from the Bible.  Abraham committed adultery with Hagar because of a crazy plan hatched by his barren wife, Sarah.  Must be okay if the wife says so, right?  Wrong.

In I Samuel 13, King Saul is nervous before a battle. The prophet, Samuel, is late to perform his priestly duties before Israel marches out.  As King Saul’s troops become restless, he interprets Samuel’s tardiness as an open door for him to make a sacrifice himself.  This act is in direct disobedience to God’s commands. The result is that God sets aside Saul as King of Israel, in favor of David, “a man after God’s own heart.”

Ponder Samson’s popularity and favor with Philistine women, ultimately leading to his torture, enslavement and death. What about Judas’ partnership and open door with the religious leaders who orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion? The entrance to that viper’s nest opened wide for the traitorous disciple.

Not every wrong door will lead us into profound sin, but at the least, they will waste our time and energies on pursuits and people that don’t line up with God’s destiny for us.

How do we avoid becoming entangled with opportunities that don’t originate with God? Here’s some filters that I use:

 

  • Don’t ignore a lack of peace or conversely, God’s distinct call for you.

I felt weird about committing myself to educate little kids, and I blew it off.  In general, the Holy Spirit doesn’t shout.  A quiet voice kept speaking, “This is not for you,” to me, but I ignored it because I wanted to do something.  It turned out to be something alright.

When God leads us somewhere, we wear the shoes of peace with confidence. There is blessing, provision and favor in the right place, even during persecution and personal attacks.  (Read Nehemiah’s story.)   We might feel anxiety, like Gideon, when He calls us to do works much greater than our imaginations, but that shouldn’t be a dominating sensation.  I like to think about it as a bride and groom preparing for their wedding.  They may feel nervous about the details coming together correctly, but that shouldn’t change their certainty that they belong together.

This last weekend I attended my first writer’s conference. I’m a newbie in that world and although the retreat, speakers and fellow learners were outstanding, my primary takeaway was this: “So, there’s a thousand things I need to know, and do, to be a successful writer.  I think I might know five and be doing three.”  I felt overwhelmed by the new language, social cues and sheer body of information.

Like Gideon, part of me started to say, “This must be a mistake.  There are thousands of people better skilled and equipped to write than me.”  As soon as I started to form those thoughts, God’s sweet voice said, “That may be true, but they don’t know your stories and hard-learned lessons.  I’ve got plans for you.”

 

  • Take note of God’s patterns in your life.

Look back over the times you’ve walked through doors that led you into relationships and circumstances clearly blessed by God.  What did that look like?  Everyone’s path will be unique, but if you look at several examples, you’ll see a pattern.  Consider how you arrived at places where you are celebrated, not just tolerated.

 

One of the major criteria for me, is obedience.  When I am in a mindset of “wherever you want me with whomever you want me, Lord,” is when I’ve entered those most meaningful experiences of my life.  This is not to say that I didn’t endure trials and hardships in those places and relationships, but God provided me with all the resources I needed to carry on and fulfill his purposes for me.

 

I met my husband Ken, shortly after I laid my dreams of marriage definitively on the altar of “not my will but yours, God.”  My favorite teaching job came to me when I laid those dreams back at the foot of the cross also.

God wants you to know his destiny for you, and all the open doors along the way.  Intimacy with him, submission to his methods and obedience to his instructions, are the best ways I’ve found my open doors and moved past the ones closed to me.