“Can You Let Go of the Wheel?”

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

1st Corinthians 2:9

It’s that time of year again.  Numbers are crunching, spreadsheets are printing.  Budgets are due for approval.  Every year is the same thing.  For about 3 months I am covered (especially mentally) in reviewing the activities and expenses from last year, making adjustments for next year and hoping the money comes in to cover all my ministry expenses.  And I love it!

For those who know me personally, this is an odd statement.  The last thing in the world that I could ever be accused of is loving paperwork.  But it isn’t the paper that I love.  It is the sense of hope and excitement about what God is going to do in the year to come.  Every year I am asked to submit not only a budget, but a ministry plan for the following year.  I have always tried to map out every offering, event, or campaign at least a year in advance to make sure we have the resources to make it happen.  Church finances (for those of you that don’t know) are always 1/4 what you know, 1/4 what you guess, and 1/2 what you pray for.)

But the longer I do this job of helping people on their faith journey, the more I realize that my plans aren’t the ones that matter.  I have learned to let go of the wheel and let God do what He does best: surprise me.  He forms ministry where once there was none.  He brings people from places I have never heard of.  And He creates opportunity to share the gospel in the most unlikely places.

I am so excited with the anticipation of what God will do next, both in my church and in my life.  And I am so grateful for the opportunity to be witness to His wonders.  I have learned from experience that His plans are so much better than mine.  I cannot conceive of the blessings He wants to shower over the people in this community, through this body of believers.

God has a heart for families who are struggling.  He has a heart for those in need.  He has a heart for the lost.  And I am amazed and humbled year after year as He entrusts His resources to us to be used in ministering to those who need it.  I have seen Him do some wonderful things, miracles in fact, through the church universal.  And to be a part of His movement to touch the world is the most compelling reason I can think of for my own existence.  Because nothing that I can come up with on my own can even come close to what He has in mind.

Do you have that kind of excitement over what He is doing in your life?  Do you have a vision of that path He wants you to follow?  Friends, one of the best things that we can ever do is to surrender our plans in favor of His.  His love is extravagant and His grace is boundless.  Have the faith to receive what He has for you, and then share it with a world desperately in need of hope and encouragement.

There is a new year coming, for our families, our jobs, our finances, our health and our relationships with God.  Let go of the wheel and see what He will do for you and through you.

In the name of the Son I pray,

Amen

“Firsts”

“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:8

I was so excited yesterday to see my friend, Garry, be baptized.  I can’t think of anything that brings me greater joy than to see someone accept that gift of God and be given a chance to start over in this life.  I am thankful that I was there to celebrate with him.  I was also so very proud of him, because I know how hard it is as an adult to make that walk down the aisle.

As a person that met Jesus and was baptized as an adult, I will always remember the difficulty of making those choices.  And it isn’t because I had any reservations about Jesus, my problem was that I was worried about what all these “church people” would think of me.

I worried when I walked that aisle, “What will all these people think of me, not having done this before?”

I worried when I walked into my first small group, “What will all these people think of me, I don’t know where anything is in this book?”

I worried in worship, “What will all these people think of me, I don’t know any of the words to these songs?”

I worried in my first Bible study, “What will these people think of me, I don’t know how to pronounce any of these names?”

And the list of worries goes on and on.  I guess the only thing that kept me making those first steps was my desire to learn more about this Jesus and to experience these promises of His, promises of love, joy, and peace – things I desperately needed.  Things I needed to the point of not caring about the embarrassment any more.

But here I am, on the other side for almost 15 years after all those “firsts.”  And I can tell you that my worries were all completely unwarranted.  Nothing gives a Christian greater joy than to see another come to Christ.  Nothing gives a Christian greater joy than to see a brother or sister take the next step in his journey through joining a small group or study.  We don’t judge people for what they haven’t done in the past, we rejoice with each other for what is happening inside our hearts right now.  We encourage each other.  We work as hard as we can to make those “firsts” easy for each other, because we have all been there.

So, today, I encourage you.  If there are any of those “firsts” that are looming in front of you, be encouraged.  Know that, not only is there a loving church family that will walk with you, but your loving Father has already gone before you and paved the way.  Whatever it is, joining a small group, calling a pastor with a question, or the scariest of all, praying in front of a group – don’t let the enemy paralyze you with fear.  Don’t let him take the blessings of God from you.  Be courageous, take the first step.  If you can’t do it alone, ask a friend to go with you.  Any true Christian would be honored and overjoyed to walk with you.

Be Blessed my friends,

Faithful Father,

How wonderful you are to us who seek You.  Lord, You understand how scary it is to take any steps of faith.  And You are right there with us, encouraging and clearing the way for us.  How great is our God!  We thank You for these opportunities and we pray for the courage and the support to continue taking more steps in the direction that leads us straight to You.

In the name of our Redeemer we pray,

Amen

 

 

“Breathe…”

“When your heart is troubled, your body weary, or your mind consumed with dilemmas and uncertainty, your soul is longing for something more than checking another box off a list… He is calling us to find a new place of rest beyond our ability to create it.”

Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest –  Bonnie Gray

I have been working for several months on this idea of creating enough downtime in my life.  It has never been a part of my personality to just sit and do nothing.  But God has been calling me in this direction for quite a while.  It is almost as if I have been hearing Him say, “Come and sit with Me.  Find peace and find rest.”  And He has been reinforcing this call through others, who have spoken multiple times about experiencing the same need.

So when I saw this book being promoted, I thought this might make a great resource for a small group study.  I have the privilege of serving a church as the Small Groups Director, so I am always trying to let God lead me into the next step for our congregation’s spiritual journey.  I bought the book, and when I began reading it, I found that it was nothing like what I expected.  I expected a primer on how to build quiet time into your life.  But what I got was so much more powerful.

Although this is not a book I would recommend for small group study, I believe this is the most life transforming book I have read in years.  It has truly taken me to places I didn’t even know I needed to go.  But God did.  This study is far too intense for a normal small group.  But it is extremely valuable in helping anyone dealing with significant emotional trauma or those approaching breakdown status.

The book is written by Bonnie Gray, a professional Christian author and blogger.  It chronicles her journey back to health after having what I consider a nervous breakdown.  She discusses it in terms of a multi-year recovery from post traumatic stress disorder.  The kicker is, she didn’t know she even had any stress, and when she began to breakdown, she had no idea what was happening.  That is the scary part.

Bonnie is a working mom, with kids, husband, church, school, work, sports commitments…. just like me and every other woman I know.  She ran as hard as she could all the time (like us,) made sure everyone was taken care of (like us,) kept everyone’s schedule flowing (like us,) – and one day just found herself unable to get out of bed.  And such begins her story.

Now, Bonnie had some childhood issues that she never addressed as an adult – divorce, unstable home life and such.  And as she began to work her way out of this pit, she found that her perfectionism, her feelings of inadequacy, and fear of being abandoned had all driven her to the point of being completely wiped out.

I see a lot of myself in Bonnie.  As I read through this journey with her, I continue to understand more clearly why God put this book in front of me.  And I am thankful He did.  In His grace, He has been leading me for over a year into a place of rest, a place of renewal – a place where I am not evaluated on my productivity.  He is leading me to an understanding that I am loved just because I am.

Coming into this new place is hard.  It is so different from the ingrained instincts that have always pushed me to do more.  I have had to learn to say “no.”  And people don’t always like that.  I have had to learn to not fill up every minute of my day, and to leave some whitespace – those spaces where relationships are formed and strengthened, with God and people.

I cannot determine where I am in the journey, since I have never traveled this road before.  But I can tell you this: I am spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically much more healthy that I was a year ago.  Joy is beginning to radiate out of my soul.  And I can finally rest.

Thank God for leading me down the paths that draw me into this lifestyle of whitespace.  And I thank Him for continuing to provide the people and resources that keep me moving.  Amen.

 

If you would like to look at the book, or purchase it, just click on the link below to be transferred to Amazon.com.

Be Blessed friends.

http://astore.amazon.com/libecrosuni0a-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=2

An Adult Lullaby…

“In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.” – Psalm 4:8

 

I woke up this morning refreshed and rested and in the most wonderful mood.  I know the crisp air and cooler temperatures were wonderful, but I have to give most of the credit to a good night’s sleep.  8 1/2 hours.  Can you imagine??  I couldn’t for a long time.

For many years, 8 1/2 hours was a distant dream, much like a vacation.  It is not that I wanted to operate on 6 hours per night.  It was just that life got in the way.  And for a long time, even when I did fall asleep, I would wake up exhausted like I hadn’t been to bed at all.  My doctor said it was stress.

You know, there are so many health problems that occur when we don’t get enough restorative sleep.  There is weight gain, diabetes, adrenal dysfunction, all kinds of negative effects.  The Center for Disease Control did a study last year on the health problems caused in this county by lack of sleep.  They categorized it at epidemic proportions.  Over 50 million Americans have health related problems due to insufficient sleep patterns.

So, what is our problem?  Why is it so hard to lie down and close our eyes?  Many folks are hooked on electronics, which include tv, we just stay up surfing the web, checking out Facebook, or even working because our laptops are so accessible.  Those issues are easily remedied – Just stop.  Leave those things in another room.  Make your bedroom an electronics free zone.  Trust that whatever you are looking at will be there tomorrow.  And there is always a new round of Candy Crush to be had.  So just bless yourself enough to let it go.  Problem solved.

But what about the rest of us?  Those of us who are trying desperately to sleep, but having it evade us night after night?  The biggest problem for the rest of us is that our minds can’t turn off.  We are overrun by worries, anxieties, and problems.  And they always seem bigger at night don’t they friends?

I am no physician, and if you are experiencing insomnia and other sleep disorders, I encourage you to seek professional help.  Because the longer we try to get along in this manner, the worse things get.  We become irritable, depressed, unable to think clearly, ineffective at the smallest tasks.  By allowing our sleeplessness to continue we put our relationships, our jobs, and our physical health at risk.  The stresses that we endure during these periods are incredibly taxing on us, and recovery is a long hard process.  This type of problem is not so easily fixed.

As I said, I am no doctor, but I do have one piece of advice.  Consider the line from Psalm 4 above.  This is a great promise of God.  He says that He will take care of everything while we sleep, so we can have peace.  I know when we are worried or distressed that is easier said than done.  However,  I have learned that if I repeat this line over and over as I settle down each night, soon it becomes part of my thought pattern.  After a while I can believe it.  And believing in the promises, and trusting our heavenly Father to follow through can bring us immense peace.  I encourage you to try it.  Repeat it over and again to yourself, until it begins to overflow your consciousness.  And hopefully, you will wake up in the morning with a praise in your heart for the One who holds us in His right hand.

Heavenly Father,

We thank You that You have never left us nor forsaken us.  Lord, the fears and anxieties of this world threaten to overtake us.  They come at us all day from all directions.  We praise You, for You are our fortress and our shield.  In You we can find rest beside peaceful streams.  Help us to believe, Lord.  Help us each one to hold on to Your promises and be blessed by them.

In the name of the Good Shepherd we pray,

Amen

 

http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/

“I’m Glad That Is Settled…”

“After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us.  I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.  It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.  The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.  For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.” – 1st Corinthians 3:5-9

I am sitting here today thanking God that I am so non-essential at my workplace.  I know that sounds strange.  But here is the deal.  I work for a church.  And, unfortunately, in many cases I have seen ministry heads build empires around their own self-importance.  I have seen many, both inside church and outside, work for their own glory instead of God’s.  I have seen religious institutions built with no thought to the lost, or the needy – only to the appearance of the structure.

One of my greatest fears is that, one day, I will lose sight of my calling and make it all about me.  My biggest enemy is pride, and always will be.  And, if I am not intentional every day in my prayer life, I could easily fall into that trap.  I could find myself tossing aside the guidance of the Spirit and moving in my own direction.  And while I could probably still be pretty efficient at my job, I never want to explain that situation to God when I meet Him face-o-face.  There is always a reckoning for self-promoters.

So, as I look around my church today, I am relieved.  I am expendable.  Nothing absolutely depends on me.  If I were not here tomorrow, church would go on.  Everything essential would get done.  Because we are the body of Christ together.  And while everyone has a part to play, we work collectively.  I see staff members and volunteers of great quality – all working together.  I see people being fulfilled in their service to the kingdom in a myriad of ways.  I see servants’ hearts aplenty here.  And the Spirit of God is at work among us.

And I am relieved.  As much as sometimes we want to be “in charge,”  it is a heavy burden to carry all by yourself.  If you always feel as if everything depends on you, the weight of such an attitude can over come you.  And what if you make a mistake?  I don’t know about your world, but in the world I used to live in, making a mistake was like death.  Mistakes made you worthless and unnecessary.  I lived in a world that didn’t know anything about grace.

So I am thankful for where I work and for the realization that it doesn’t all depend on me.  I have a very small part to play here.  With God’s grace, I will do it well.  But if I don’t, then God will raise someone else up to serve His purposes.  It is nice to rely on His sufficiency rather than my own.

But the best part of all is that I get to witness all the magnificent things God is doing through our whole congregation.  And instead of being results driven, I can now be free to be relationship driven, and grace driven, and joy driven.  I am at peace, regardless of what happens today or tomorrow.  And this is a wonderful place to be.

Glory to God in the highest, for He holds us all in His victorious right hand.

“God’s Cathedral…”

“You will never know your true self, or the God who created you, unless you become comfortable in the silence.”  – Thomas Merton, trappist monk

 

Silence.  It is an awful thing to those of us accustomed to living in this noisy world.  Silence is unsettling.  It is unnerving if experienced for too long.  That is why it is such a powerful deterrent in the prison systems.  Solitary confinement is a most dreaded consequence for most inmates because of the complete isolation experienced.  It will drive you mad and cause your soul to grieve.

Why is that?  Why do we fear the quiet?  Is it because we will feel alone?  Is it because we will be forced to look inside ourselves and maybe confront some issues that are otherwise avoidable in our over-stimulated and overly busy lives?  Or is it that we fear coming face-to-face with God?  Maybe we intrinsically know that God is found in the silence.  And maybe we don’t want to go there because we fear what He might have to say to us.

Cultivating silence in my life has been a two-year challenge for me.  It is a spiritual discipline that I first learned about at the Academy of Spiritual Formation.  I had always regarded the disciplines as something you “do,” things such as bible study, prayer, fasting.  However, the discipline of silence, is something you “be.”

Silence is allowing your soul to rest in the presence of God.  And to quote one of my favorite authors, brother Thomas, we have to begin thinking of silence “not as an absence of something, but as the presence of God.”  That is why the quote above is so profound to me.  I finally understand that silence is the only way that I can truly listen to God, attention undivided, and hear what He has to say to me.  How will I know His thoughts toward me, or His love for me, or His plans for me – unless I listen?

I have some issues that I have been trying to figure out for a while now.  Yesterday, instead of “working on them,” I was led by a friend to get up and just walk outside for a while.  My church has a prayer labyrinth build in a wooded area of our campus.  I wandered out there and, surrounded by the trees in God’s great cathedral, I just stayed.  I didn’t pray.  I didn’t think. I just listened.

I listened to the birds, and to the wind, and to nothing.  It was so peaceful.  All my worries just melted away, and I rested in God’s presence.  After an hour or so, I wandered back into my office.  I still didn’t have any answers, but I was so much calmer.  And I was so much more joyful.  I was reminded that I am His child, and all His plans will be revealed to me in His time.  So I can leave all the stress and worry behind.

Do you have that place in which, not only your surroundings, but your mind can be silent?  Do you make time in your busy life to slow down and just “be?”  Silence is the hardest discipline I have ever had.  But it is the most invaluable as well.  I don’t know how I could make it without that experience (often.)  It renews my soul and quiets my mind.  It energizes and relaxes me all at the same time.

My prayer for each one of you is that you would find the benefits of solitude and silence.  That you would allow God’s Spirit to seep into your soul and heal all damaged places from the inside out.  That you would find peace that surpasses all understanding.

Amen