“Which Is It?…”

Friends,

Over the weekend, consider this quote from Robert Benson in his book, “Between the Dreaming and the Coming True.”  It has led me down the path of soul searching for several months.  Let’s talk on Monday.

“Perhaps we are afraid that God no longer speaks to anyone much any more or that we can no longer recognize His voice.  Or it could be that we are afraid that God still does speak and that we will hear, and that the God of the publicans and sinners and scared and scurrilous will want to make something new of us as well.”  pg. 51.

“What Makes You Cry?”

“If you are given much, much will be required of you.” – Luke 12:48

Good morning friends.  I apologize if the content of this post makes you uncomfortable, however, it is weighing heavily on my heart today.

 

So I woke up yesterday morning really happy, with my blog post already in my head.  I merrily went about my morning, but when I opened my computer to begin writing, I saw something that crushed my soul.  I was out of sorts for most of yesterday trying to process it, which is why I didn’t write anything.  I just needed to spend some time in prayer.

An email had popped up from Soma, a ladies intimate apparel store.  And for some reason, I looked at it.  Instead of sale information or such, I was drawn to a campaign the corporation was running to collect undergarments for women in need across the country.  

I felt compelled to read the stories about some who have received these donations and I was so physically sickened by some of their stories I just had to sit down outside and get some air.  There were stories of women from all over who were victims of domestic abuse, those living in shelters, who had had their identities completely stripped away by the men in their lives.  

My heart began to cry as I read through story after story of women who were so thankful for these little gifts after years of battery and abuse.  I have never had such a strong reaction to another’s situation before.  Not to say that I am not compassionate, but things just normally don’t affect me that deeply.  And those feelings are still there today.  I can’t get these women off my mind.  And what’s more, there were even comments on the site from agencies right here in our hometown that are being helped by Soma.  Imagine hitting this close to home.  In fact, the collection point for our community is in a store 10 minutes from my house.  

The realities of the world began closing in on my little bubble.  Many laughingly refer to our neighborhood as a bubble, because we are so far removed from much of the world’s suffering here.  Myself for example, I have a husband that makes a huge effort everyday to make me feel good about myself.  He makes it a point to tell me I am beautiful and how much he loves me.  I can’t imagine living with someone everyday whose primary goal it was to hurt me and strip away my self-worth by whatever sadistic means they can dream up.  But sadly, that is the case for many that surround me.

I finally understand what I have been teaching all these years about callings and spiritual gifts.  When discerning where God is calling you to make a difference in the world, the author of our curriculum writes, ask yourself one question, “What Makes You Cry?”  

He asserts that when we find that one injustice, that one oppressed people, that one area of suffering that tears our hearts out and stays with us – then we have found our place of calling.  He also tells us that wherever we are led to tears, that God is already crying over the situation.  I never quite understood that statement until yesterday.

So what am I to do Lord?  You have placed this particular pain and burden on my heart.  You have given me resources of time, and opportunity to be of help to these women who have little or no hope.  But I don’t know where to start.  So please lead me to that place where I can do the most good for You.  Create a path in front of me that takes me to the people and places that I am to be a minister and witness.  Above all else, my King, keep my heart soft so that I might continually led by Your tears.

In the name of my Savior I pray,

Amen

If you would like to make a donation to this worthy cause, please visit:  www.soma.com

 

“In It For The Long Haul…”

Good Morning Friends.

I hope that you are all beginning a brand new week in the gracious presence of Christ.  We are re-visiting a conversation we began on Friday of last week.  Upon further study of the following quote from James Bryan Smith in his book, “The Good and Beautiful God,” I ask what it means to you.  

“The chief point is that there is only one thing that separates us from God, and it is not our sin. It is our self-righteousness. Our self-righteousness does not turn God from us, but us from God. It is my sin that moves me away from God, it is my refusal of grace, both for myself and for others.” (page 102; Kindle edition)

As for me, I have wrestled with it for a couple of years now, because this statement is not what I was taught when I first became a believer.

I first began attending church at the age of 31.  Up to that point, I had no experience with religion at all.  So unlike many of you (most likely) I am able to pinpoint where my beliefs originated.  I find that most folks that grew up in the church can tell me what they believe, but they can’t tell me why.  I figure this is because you have believed since early childhood and don’t remember where you learned it. (Good for you, by the way, to have grown up steeped in scripture – that is a true gift.)

So here it is.  My perception of this relationship between God and me developed from this narrative:  

God is perfect.  I am a sinner because I do bad things.  God can’t be in the presence of sin, so therefore I am cut off from Him.  Jesus took away my sin on the cross, and that is how I am reconciled to God and can be saved.

This view of God paints a very judgmental picture to an unbeliever.  It is condemning, and offers no chance of sanctifying grace.  But on the outset, this made sense to me because I knew I was a sinner.  I knew that I needed a Savior. So this belief became a part of my foundational narrative about God.

Now I see things a little differently.  After walking daily with Jesus for over a decade, I am more comfortable with Smith’s assertion.  Here is why.  

1.  Jesus (who is God incarnate) was neck-deep in sinners all his life – and appeared to love it. He was always seeking out those people who were sick or far from God in deed or attitude.  You know, those people who weren’t allowed to come to church because they weren’t good enough in the eyes of the religious folks.  According to scripture, Jesus spent far more time eating, drinking, and hanging out with sinners than He did with the church leaders.  

So, I don’t believe my daily sin (envy, gluttony, selfishness,  ignoring the needy, and all the other things I continue to do as a believer..) separates me from God.  I think those are things that draw Him closer to me.  He continues to chase after me, to reclaim my heart.  His Holy Spirit continues to engage me in conversation about my life and how I should strive to do better.  He is both a convicting presence, but also an encourager and sustainer for my efforts to live a more Christ-like life and to be reconciled with God.  

I do not believe that God turns His back on sinners like me, I believe He embraces us with overflowing measures of mercy and grace.  I believe He will always leave the 99 to chase after the 1 lost sheep (Luke 15:4.)

This is the foundation of our separation:

2.  It is not my sin that separates me from God.  It is my refusal to heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit that separates me from God.  The prideful side of me, the one that says “I am good enough because I am better than most…” that is my downfall.  How can someone help me if I refuse to listen to their advice?  How can I be saved if my pride won’t let me admit that I need saving?

3.  We are not separated from God because He is an angry God that wants nothing to do with sinful people.  We are separated from our loving Father because we don’t want to hear Him tell us where we are falling short.  We don’t want to submit ourselves  to His authority and to allow Him to change our hearts.  Our Father in heaven is our biggest fan.  He wants to see us do well and grow.  And He is in it for the long haul because He has promised to “never leave nor forsake us.” – Hebrews 13:5

This is my opinion, based upon my faith walk for the past few years.  Maybe it has not been your experience, and that is ok.  However, given this belief, how does that impact how I live?  How does that belief guide my decisions and my spiritual disciplines like worship, prayer and Bible Study?

Well, it is a lifelong relationship.  So I don’t have any quick answers.  But the first thing I have figured out is that our relationship will only grow as deep as my humility will let it.  If I am open to what God wants to do in my life, then I believe He will do amazing things with me.  However, there is a cost.  Sometimes those changes will have a sharp edge to them.  Sometimes, walls need to be broken.  And those things can be painful.    

So do I put aside my pride and learn what God wants to teach me?  Or do I deceive myself into thinking that I am perfectly ok just the way I am?  Through His grace, the choice is always 100% mine.

Prayer Bead Devotion: Less Hurry, More Peace

Many in our community have begun using Kristen’s prayer beads in their daily routine. I am sharing her thoughts on creating an “unhurried” life through her prayer bead devotions. Be at peace friends.

A bead 'n a prayer

Yesterday, I did something different. I got all of my Etsy prayer bead orders ready to ship, then dropped them off at the post office on the way to meet my son at the bus stop. So what, you say? What’s significant about that?

I fill Etsy orders several days each week. My usual tendency is to wait until about 3:30pm to begin filling them. Inevitably, I end up rushing around getting orders together, preparing them for shipping, printing out mailing labels, then making a mad dash to the post office. I generally arrive at 4:57pm, running the packages in just before the employees lock the doors. On the drive back home I try to catch my breath and decompress from the hurried state I’ve created over the past 1 1/2 hours.

Yesterday was different. Knowing that I would need to get various orders in the mail, I took time before…

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“What Exactly Is My Job?”

Many times I am asked what exactly my function is at our church.  This occurred last Wednesday night.  Upon hearing my answer, a lifelong United Methodist (I serve a Methodist Church) replied that he still did not understand as he had never heard of such a position.  So here it is:

My official title is “Director of Spiritual Formation.”  What does that mean?  Well, as of yet, I don’t actually have a written job description, but my calling is to help every person I meet to connect to God in a deeper and more meaningful way.  That is it. One sentence.  Pretty simple, right?  But he still did not understand.  This is a relatively new concept in the world of very static and well-defined positions in the Western Church.  So I explained that every person connects to God in a different way: some through Bible study, some through prayer, some through feeding the homeless, some through arc welding, some through running, some through building homes in Nicaragua, some through sitting by the lake and listening to the wind, and on and on and on…  

We are all made in the image of God to have deep communion with Him.  He exists in all creation, and my job is to help everyone that I can to figure out how best that happens for them.  I have the best job in the entire world, for nothing gives me greater joy than to see a person finally understanding how treasured they are by the Creator of the universe. 

Having said all that, my job is not a book salesman.  I just wanted to make that clear with this post.  I don’t make any money or receive benefit of any kind by selling anyone a book.  So when I recommend a book to read, know that it is just because it has meant something to me in my spiritual journey, and it might mean something to you.  So I want to make it as easy as I can for you to have access to it.

So, on to today’s reflection.

In the past 3 years, I have read and studied over 100 books on christian spirituality.  Some, I have been transformed by.  Some, I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on.  However, I  am a student of learning how God communicates with us, so I can pass those ideas on to you.  Maybe it is just what you are looking for.  Maybe not.  

The following is a quote from a book that has been a cornerstone for my own spiritual growth over the past few years.  It is written by James Bryan Smith, a United Methodist minister, in his book “The Good and Beautiful God.”  Consider the meaning of this statement:

“The chief point is that there is only one thing that separates us from God, and it is not our sin. It is our self-righteousness. Our self-righteousness does not turn God from us, but us from God. It is my sin that moves me away from God, it is my refusal of grace, both for myself and for others.” (page 102; Kindle edition)

I have wrestled with this statement for about 2 1/2 years.  And it has had a profound impact on my relationship with Jesus.  

I invite you to meditate on it over the weekend.  Think deeply about it.  Pray over it.  See what it says to you.  I can tell you that it is the exact opposite of what I had always believed about my relationship with God, and it has challenged me.  On Monday, I will share my conclusions (as of today.)  But I think it would be good for all of us to spend some time forming our own beliefs on this issue.  That is the heart of our personal growth; considering the critical issues for ourselves and not just accepting others’ opinions on a superficial level.

If you feel as if you would like to explore the book more deeply, you are welcomed to purchase it either in hard copy or kindle format from our Amazon Store:

http://astore.amazon.com/libecrosuni0a-20?node=2&page=2

Happy Friday Friends!

 

“At Levi’s house, many tax collectors and other sinners—Jews who did not keep the strict purity laws of the Jewish holy texts—were dining with Jesus and His disciples. Jesus had attracted such a large following that all kinds of people surrounded Him.  When the Pharisees’ scribes saw who shared the table with Jesus, they were quick to criticize:

Scribes (to His disciples): If your master is such a righteous person, then why does He eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners, the worst among us?

Jesus heard them.

Jesus (to the scribes): People who have their health don’t need to see a doctor. Only those who are sick do. I’m not here to call those already in good standing with God; I’m here to call sinners to turn back to Him.”

Mark 2: 15-17

“Boxes..”

My garage is filled with empty boxes.  And when I say filled, I mean, we can barely walk through a tiny path that I have carved from the staircase to our cars.  I am so embarrassed by the state of my garage that I no long let anyone enter it.  

Where did all these boxes come from?  Christmases, birthdays, amazon deliveries (more than you can imagine since Prime Pantry became available.)  There are so many that I am becoming suffocated.

Now, I know what you are thinking.  “Why don’t I just put them out by the curb so the trash truck can pick them up?”  A very fair question.  But there is something in my head (when I consider this action) that says, ” This isn’t important today.  I have more important things to worry about.” So I go on my merry way and attend to my more pressing matters.  And the mountain of cardboard grows.

I know there are some of you out there that are probably horrified by my attitude.  That is ok.  We all have our own way of doing things.  

But I do want to share with you my thoughts on a disease called perfectionism.  Because I believe it is very much a tool of the enemy that seeks to steal our joy.

I grew up in the home of a severe perfectionist.  Everything had to be just right, and there was only one way of doing things correctly – HERS.  I’m not saying that I wasn’t loved, because my parents loved me greatly.   But I don’t remember a lot of joy in my home.  You know the kind where you build a fort in the living room and have sword fights and campouts.  There was nothing like that in my childhood because that would have made a mess.  There was no finger painting or helping to cook pancakes on Saturday morning – because nothing could be allowed to disturb the perfection that was strictly maintained.  And there were certainly no playdates or afternoon adventures to the park.  Because laundry was always being done (with hours worth of ironing each week.)  God forbid any of us have a wrinkle in our shirt.

I think my boxes are suffocating, but try living like that for a few months.  I believe much is lost when we live this way.

My friends, perfectionism is a disease.  For some reason, some of us are so focused on the tiny details of life that we miss the beauty of it.  It sucks the joy out of every experience like a vacuum.  And it is particularly ferocious because it is an elusive goal.  No matter how hard we try, we can never reach it.  So we chase it with no end in sight, making ourselves miserable in the process.

Don’t take my word for it.  Let’s look at what Jesus has to say about it:

“Jesus continued from there toward Jerusalem and came to another village. Martha, a resident of that village, welcomed Jesus into her home.  Her sister, Mary, went and sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach.  Meanwhile Martha was anxious about all the hospitality arrangements.

Martha (interrupting Jesus): Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and help me.

Jesus:  Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her.”

Luke 10:38-41

Friends, there are big things in this life – relationships, family connections, conversations with friends.  These are the things that matter.  Please don’t let your need to be viewed as perfect take these blessings from you.  In the years to come, I hope my children can look back and remember home with warm memories and joy.  It is also my hope that friends can look back and remember that they always felt welcomed here, and not so much that my house was always sparkling.

We reap what we sow.  It is my goal in life to sow warmth and generosity into the lives of those around me.   And to protect folks from the bondage and desperation that perfectionism creates.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead me in that direction each day.  And maybe one day, He will provide me with a free day to clear out my garage.  But until then, I will focus on the people in front of me.

Amen 

 

“I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t Get Up!”

“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

 

I am carrying some heavy burdens today.  Three people that are very close to me are experiencing some very difficult challenges right now.  While none of the problems are related, they are each experiencing hardship and pain in different ways.  I am sure that I am just like all of you.  If there was anything I could do to change their situations I would.  But there isn’t.  So I am left hurting with them and wishing I could make it better.

It reminds of a story in the Gospel of Mark (Chapter 2.)  There were these men who had a friend that was very sick.  As they tried to come up with a way to help him, they determined the only thing they could do was to carry him to see Jesus.  Only, when they got there, it was so crowded that they couldn’t get in.  But they didn’t give up.  Since they couldn’t get through the door, they climbed up to the roof of the house and made their own door.  Then they lowered their friend through the hole down to Jesus. And a miracle occurred. 

Now those are true friends.  These guys had so much faith that they worked until they made a way for their friend, because he couldn’t do it for himself.  They were diligent.

Many times when dealing with crisis or long-term trials, we can become almost paralyzed ourselves.  Sometimes we are so consumed with our own pain that we are unable to pray or even ask for help.  Have you been in that place?  I certainly have.

It is in those times that we all need a good friend (or two) to carry us to Jesus.  We need those folks, who can’t change our circumstances, but can definitely keep us in prayer before the Lord and intercede for us.  Especially when we can’t quite get there ourselves.

Most of us are so resistant to asking others for help aren’t we?  We don’t want to admit that we can’t handle whatever it is on our own.  As a community of believers, we have to move past our pride on these issues friends.  Jesus said, “when two or more of us are gathered,” that He would hear our prayers and give us what we ask for.  There is so much power that we leave on the table because we are so worried about our appearance of self-sufficiency.

Let us all do ourselves and our friends a favor.  Take a good look at what is happening around us.  If we are in need of encouragement and prayer, we need to ask for it.  As well, if we see someone struggling, maybe we should just begin praying for them anyway, and then let them know that they aren’t alone.  I am sure we can all be someone’s mat bearer today.

May we learn to access the miraculous power of God and to release it into the daily lives of those around us.  And may His healing and restoring grace flow over us every one.

Amen