Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Spilled Coins (Part 2)

Well, this is the part of the lesson that is a bit harder for me to write because it is convicting on a very deep level. If you want the whole story of my encounter with a woman & her spilled coins, read yesterday's note.

Between writing the SaLT lesson, preparing for our SaLT meeting and listening to Chuck's sermon, I have spent hours in Mark 5 and the story of Jairus' daughter and the woman at the well this year. It has struck me over & over that Jesus, on His way to heal a little girl, stopped for one woman who touched Him, who needed Him, and who believed that He was the only answer to her lifelong problem. He could have kept walking. He could have allowed her to receive His power & be healed & left it at that. But He didn't. He stopped, sought her out, looked in her face, and blessed her. She was worth His time & His tenderness. She had value beyond her need for healing, and He took the time to reveal that to her. And it didn't detract from His mission at all. In fact, it added to it. To Jairus it looked like Jesus' delay meant there was no hope for his daughter, who died before they got to her. But it was perfect timing for Jesus, who raised her from the dead and gave her back to her parents. Right on time.

Jesus said in John 14:12, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." When He left us to go back to Heaven, he gave us the promised Holy Spirit, who in & through us would multiply the work that Jesus did, because there are many more of us than there was of Him. 1 John 2:6 says, "Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did." This is an expectation, not an option. If we are to be His hands & feet to the world, if we are to multiply His work here on earth, we MUST walk as He did.

Peter & John are a perfect example of this in Acts 3. They were on their way to worship and were stopped by the sight of a crippled man who was at the gate. This was not the first time they had seen this man. He was put there EVERY DAY to beg from those going in to the temple. But this day. This day Peter & John SAW him. It says in verse 4 that they "looked straight at him". Not only did they look at him, but Peter made him look at them. Eye contact is underrated in our society. It's uncomfortable & makes us see things we don't want to see. But it is oh, so important in seeing & communicating value to another human being. The man looked at them expecting them to give him money & move on. Instead, they offered him the love, forgiveness & healing of Jesus Christ. His hands & feet to this man. His hands & feet to the world. And their gift to this crippled beggar amazed & changed the lives of everyone who saw him walking, jumping & praising God. And then Peter & John gave credit where credit was due. This was not of them. This was of God. They were simply walking as Jesus did.

As I drove away from this woman & her coins, now safely back in the box ready to be turned into an adventure, I was struck with conviction. How many people do I pass by every day who have burdens much more pressing than some spilled coins? How many people do I rush past because I am in a hurry. Or worse, because I don't want to see them. I am selfish with my time. I don't always want to get dirty. But if I claim to live in Him, I MUST walk as Jesus did. I MUST look. I MUST see. I MUST act. I MUST give value to those who Christ loved so much He would die for them. And I MUST give Him all the glory, for they need to know. They need to know that all of their hope, all of their forgiveness, all of their eternity is wrapped up in this man, this Savior, Jesus Christ, who was never too busy, never unwilling, and never uncaring enough to refuse to see. And because His Spirit lives in me, I can see, too.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spilled Coins (Part 1)

Philippians 1:21-26; 2:14-16 says, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me...Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain."

I've often read these & other words of Paul as prideful boasting on his part, as if he were giving himself credit for the faith & walk of those whom the Lord had impacted through him. Although I know that that was not his intention, the wording he chose sure can look like it at times. But this week I had an experience with a stranger that made me look at Paul's heart in a new light.

I was on my way to lunch with a friend. I had to stop at Kroger to pick up a prescription which caused me to be running late. As I pulled away, I noticed a lady bent over on the sidewalk with a shoebox in a cart. This was odd, since they don't sell shoes at Kroger. After looking closer I could see that she was picking up coins. Thousands of coins that had spilled out of her broken box all over the sidewalk. I parked the van again & went to ask her if I could help her. Of course she said no, but I couldn't just leave her there with a pile of spilled coins and the small styrofoam cup that she was using to pick them up.

As we worked, we talked about saving coins. Since we were able to pay for almost our entire vacation last summer with coins, it was fun to hear about her plans. She & her husband were taking his daughter to New Orleans where he grew up for Mardi Gras. It would be her first time to experience part of her daddy's history. It didn't take long, but the few minutes we had were very enjoyable. And I even made it to lunch with 2 minutes to spare. I actually learned two very important lessons in that few minutes. I'll share the second one in a later post, since it was quite a bit more convicting & requires some more thought.

The first lesson is the one that made me think of Paul. He had the opportunity to travel all over the known world sharing the gospel of Christ with everyone he met. And he had the privilege of watching them come to a relationship with Jesus. But he didn't stop there. As you read about his travels and through the letters he wrote, you can see his heart for discipleship. He visited and spent time with those who were saved. He wrote letters to encourage, correct, rebuke & train them. He dedicated his life to seeing them grow in faith and learn how to walk in the Spirit and look like Christ. He took that privilege & responsibility seriously.

You see, those coins would have been picked up without my help. The woman would still have turned them in, gotten her cash & taken her family to New Orleans. Her step-daughter would still get to see this history that means so much to her dad. I was not necessary in the process. But, because in that moment the Lord opened my eyes, I get to be a small part of her story. People all around us are picking up the spilled coins of their lives. Sometimes they are muddy & hard to see. Sometimes they are shiny and just need to be put back in the box. Sometimes they have just spilled, and sometimes they are already partially picked up. Sometimes these people could pick them up on their own, and sometimes they have given up and are sitting next to the mess not knowing what to do next. And sometimes we get to be the one who comes along & helps them put them back in the box & turn them into the adventure of what God has next for them.

Paul got to do that all the time with people all over the world. He loved them. He loved reaching them & teaching them & serving them & seeing God do beautiful things in & through them. Those of us who minister to the hearts of others get to do the same thing. We get to see people grow in the Lord and watch God make beautiful, exciting things of their messes. And it is not only ok, it is necessary, to take this responsibility seriously and be grateful for the opportunities. God is going to work with or without us. The coins will get picked up. The adventures will happen. We get to choose whether we will be part of the story. Disciple-making is a privilege. And the more we get to be a part of it, the more we get to watch the Lord work, the more excited we will be, and the more we will want to be involved in His work. Like Paul.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's Not About Me (Part 2)

So, if you read yesterday's note, you got a peak into the yuck that the Lord is working on clearing out of my life right now. While that note wasn't easy to write, it was much easier than this one. You see, that was about what goes on inside of me when my focus is on me and not the Lord. This one is about what comes out of me when I do that, and that is much, much worse.

Most of you reading this already know that I went to Wisconsin & Minnesota for a while this summer and woke up to find my van submerged in a parking-lot-turned-lake one morning. The truth is, although it was not an easy situation, I was able to handle the loss of the van pretty well. I got a little sad & cried some when I cleaned it out, but that was normal grief over letting go of something that held 8+ years of memories for me & my family. That van had been all over the country & witnessed many miles of both laughter & tears. It was where I worshipped & prayed, and it was my escape when I just had to get away. It brought my kids to church & school & soccer practice & gymnastics & a million other activities. Letting go of that was hard, but I honestly never felt for a moment that God was not in control or that He wouldn't make it right.

The problem came in two very specific things that happened during that time. Since I had never been in a situation like that, I just wanted someone to tell me what to do. John, my new friend from Progressive, did that for me. He was very calm & told me very clearly what was my responsibility & what was theirs. This was good. I can follow directions. (Really, I can ;) ) Those directions, though, never took into account that the horrible apartment managers had a contract with an evil towing company who would take my van away before the insurance company could get there. I didn't have $280 to get it back, and they told me they wouldn't let Progressive have it, either. It all worked out, but that was one of my two break downs. The other happened when they called to tell me the settlement offer and that I only had 72 hours left with the rental car. Just enough time to get back to Tennessee, but not enough to look for another vehicle, which, by the way, they were not giving me enough money to come close to purchasing. Remember, I didn't have $280 to pay the towing company, let alone thousands of dollars to buy a new car. The Lord also worked that out, too, of course, but in my mind it was another area that I had messed up.

There are reasons that these two things hit me harder than anything else. They prey on my "tapes" that tell me that I am stupid, I screw everything up, I will never be good enough. And they attack the area of money, which is my one freak out area (well, that & crickets & trains, but that's another story).

On top of those two things, the kids were out of sorts because they were sad & confused & scared about the whole thing. And we had been on vacation, back to Jackson for four days & then headed north. They were exhausted. And they were behaving horribly. All of them. Which fed into my feelings of inadequacy & failure as a mother. So, you take those three things, and you have the recipe for a perfect storm. And storm is what I ended up with.

I started hearing everything that people said, specifically my mom & my sister, through the filter of the tapes in my head. They would say something simple, just making conversation about the kids or a picnic or a game or whatever, and I heard them saying that I was a failure, I don't do anything right, I'm not a good mom, everyone else is more fun for my kids than me. Did they say any of that? No. Did they mean anything close to it? Absolutely not. But I responded to them as if they did. I got snappy & defensive and hurt the feelings of people I love deeply. Thankfully, they accepted my apology & tried to understand where I was coming from, as wrong as my perspective & focus were.

So how does this fit into the "It's Not About Me" category? Well, I think that's pretty obvious. In the areas that I believed that God would take care of everything & make it right, I could smile & laugh, even in the midst of grief & sadness. In the areas where I was focused on me, the areas I always struggle with, there was no way that I could do anything right. And taking it out on the people around me just made that worse. When I, when anyone, reacts to who we are, or who we think we are, in the flesh, we hurt ourselves, other people, and the witness of Christ.

You may want to know why I have taken the time to write these two notes that allow you to see this ugly area of my heart where I have so much work to do. The reason is that I don't believe I am the only one who struggles with a focus problem. I'm not the only one who, when I take my focus off of the Lord and make life all about me, hurts people. So, I want to encourage you to recognize when your focus is wrong, admit it, ask forgiveness, and cooperate with the Lord in refocusing your heart, mind & spirit on Him. As much as we can hurt the cause of Christ in reacting out of wrong focus, we can help it by admitting our mistakes, asking forgiveness & working to make it right. Won't you join me in the process?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's Not About Me

I'm 37 years old, and I spent the first 34 years of my life trying to be who everyone wanted me to be. I tried to be extremely organized & focused on details, because that made me look responsible. I worked very hard at saying the right things, because that made me look smart. I feigned worry over natural disasters, world events, and tests or challenges that I faced, because if you don't worry, you don't care. Or so the world says. I pretended that I never got angry. That instead, I was just very sad when I or someone I cared about was hurt by another. That one I actually believed for a long time. Admitting you are angry when you have fought it for so long is not an easy task. And I pretended that nothing or nobody really mattered to me, somehow thinking that that would make it easier if I lost those things.

Sometime between my 33rd & 34th birthdays, something in me changed. The desire to become who God had created me to be, regardless of what other people thought, rose to the surface & began to boil. I admitted that I truly hate plans & routine & organization. I don't like lists or schedules. I like freedom & spontaneity & having the ability to change my mind. This took letting go of the need to look like I had it all together & could manage the world. I can't, and I have no desire to do so. I admitted that I worry very little about pretty much anything. This doesn't mean I don't care about things. It really doesn't. It just means that it's really ok to take things as they come & not have to be completely prepared or in control all the time. Needing to be in control removes the chance & change, and it bores me. I had to admit that I get angry at injustice. Really angry. And I had to learn to let go of anger over old offenses, forgive and move on, or that anger would continue to affect my relationships now & in the future. That was not easy to do, and is still something I have to consciously practice. But the most important change was admitting that there are people, places & things that matter to me. Deeply. And I have learned that losing those things doesn't hurt any more when you love passionately. The hurt of loss is the same, but the joy while you have that is infinitely greater when you allow yourself to love.

The lesson the Lord has been working on for a while now is that it is not all about me. Mostly that comes out in the fear of screwing everything up, not being liked or accepted, or never being good enough. Did you know that God can use Facebook to convict us and correct us and move us in the direction He wants us to go? Well, that's what He's been doing with me. You see, I will post a status about something that I think is funny, or ridiculous, or reveals something stupid I've done, or is meant to help friends who are struggling in certain areas, or whatever else. And then people will comment in ways that suggest that I am worried or hurt or frustrated or angry or whatever. The hair on my neck will rise, and I feel the need to defend myself. I want to scream, "Don't you know that this is an area that God has already changed in me?" "Will you never let me live changed?" "You have no idea who I really am, do you?" Notice a pattern? It's all about me. It's all about what I am afraid people do, or will, see in me because of these responses.

This week, God had enough of that attitude. You know what that's like-when God has had enough. The Holy Spirit begins to stir your heart, and you feel really uncomfortable. You can't remain the same, think the same, have the same attitude, and still be in obedience to the Lord. He expects something of you. And this week He revealed to me that the responses of others stem from the way they see the world. If they perceive worry, or anger, or frustration, or the need for control, or whatever, that is a heart issue for them. And as their friend, as someone who cares about their heart, my response should never be to react in anger or to defend myself. My response should be to pray for them. The flip side of that is also true. If they respond with words of encouragement, of joy, of confrontation when necessary, of humor, whatever, my response should be to thank the Lord, and them, for their friendship & their willingness to be used by Him in either uplifting or correcting me. You can see I need lots of correction at times. (Hopefully that is improving...)

Obviously I have not achieved the goal of living in all things like it is not about me. But He's working on that, and I intend to cooperate with the Spirit's leading. You now have permission to remind me when I forget :)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Things I Learned as a Church Visitor

This post has been rolling around my head for a week, and I thought I'd better actually write it down before going back to my church in the morning and forgetting everything I want to say. Last Sunday, Meg Rushing & I took Carol Headen to Nashville to catch her flight to Sydney, Australia, and then had what turned into 10 hours to kill before the Wright's got here from Albania. Lisa Rushing texted us on the way to Nashville & suggested that we try out CrossPoint Church, since they had a service at 1 PM. She & Wayne had visited there once & they thought we'd be fine in our shorts & t-shirts. After having served in the nursery the week before, I was excited about not having to miss a second week of church. Meg wanted to go, too, so we headed over there. After a small detour issue, we found the church & headed inside. I made a lot of observations and learned a few things.

First, if you have been a church employee or involved in church leadership for any length of time, you make a horrible church visitor. You start paying attention to things as soon as you get out of the car: Are the sidewalks clean? Is the landscaping attractive? (Ok, I didn't even look at that, but I had to throw it in for Chuck :) ) Where are the greeters stationed? Are they friendly? How do they do their jobs? What kind of coffee/fellowship area do they have? How do they promote their small groups? Do they make you want to get involved in a group? How do the church members act toward each other? Toward visitors? What's the make up of the worship team? How is the technical production? Do they take up an offering? How? How & when do they do announcements? What is their mission focus? Oh, and very importantly, where are the bathrooms? That, but the way, was the first & only question we actually asked. For the record, they were conveniently located next to the auditorium.

Needless to say, I found myself focused on a lot of details that a first time visitor may not care about, which meant that I needed to get refocused on worship. Once the music started, though, that didn't take long. The band was amazing, and, even though their service is broadcast on tv, or at least the internet (I'm not exactly sure which), it never felt like they were trying to draw attention to themselves. I felt drawn into worship in a way that I haven't experienced in a long time, even when there were no words being sung. For the first time in a long time I wasn't just waiting for the sermon to start, and actually found myself wanting the music to go a bit longer. Don't get me wrong, I love music, & worship that way on my own multiple times a day. It's just that my favorite part of corporate worship is almost always the sermon, and I get impatient to get to it. But I digress. During the music I learned that, even in a big church with a huge stage production, the tech team may still put the wrong words on the screen once (or maybe even three) times. That should be an encouragement to our tech team :)

Third, I realized that it's pretty fun to figure out that you are in a "cool people" church. See, when Lisa told us about Cross Point, I thought the name sounded familiar. Then the pastor came out carrying a round table. I knew right then this was Jon Acuff's church. He had just blogged the week before that, “They’ve got Pete Wilson behind the small round table.” I think Jon Acuff is one of the coolest people out there. When I realized I was at his church, I suddenly felt pretty cool myself :)

The fourth thing I learned was that relationships really do matter when it comes to truly hearing the Word from someone. Most of the time when I am at church, because of the relationship I have with the person coming out to give the message, I find myself immediately prepared to listen and receive whatever message they have to bring. Not that men are infallible & that we don't need to know the Word ourselves to be sure the message is true, but when you know & trust the heart of the messenger, it is easier to readily receive it. At this new church, I found myself sitting back for a few minutes, evaluating this man, his mannerisms & attitude, his connection with the audience, and his humility level before deciding that I could trust his message. While this may not necessarily be right, I think it's a somewhat natural response. I really liked the pastor a lot, and he caused me to think in a new way about the Beattitudes, which is a pretty common passage of scripture. My only disappointment was that it was so short. I had just gotten into the message and was excited for more, and it was over.

The last thing that I learned was that it really is good to go and visit a new church every once in a while, especially in a different city & setting. It gives you a fresh perspective on ministry, mission, & presentation. It gets you out of your box and gives you an opportunity to develop new ideas for your church & ministry. It also makes you thankful for the blessing you have in your friends & family at your home church. I never realized how much I KNOW about my church family that I cannot know in a different place. It was impossible to judge the friendliness of the church, because we had no idea who was a member & who was a visitor. As we looked around the auditorium, I did not know who to go to if I had a question about anything or who was connected to whom. I didn't know who was in a small group or who led them. I didn't have any idea who I would talk to if I wanted more information or would have wanted to be more involved. I didn't know anything about any of the people, their families, their struggles, their hurts or their joys. There was no one to check in with after church to see how they were doing or if they needed anything. There was no way of knowing who might make a good friend. Although there was a great sense of connection with the Lord during the service, there was a great disconnect with the people in the room. It was a lonely feeling, and it made me more aware of what visitors to our church must be feeling. I can go to church tomorrow with a renewed heart for helping to connect them to both God & other people. They need that. And last week I got a taste of just how much.

If you are ever in Nashville, I would highly recommend Cross Point Church. They have 5 services every Sunday, so you have no excuse. But I have to say that I am thankful that tomorrow morning I get to return to worship with my family at Northbrook, with my perspective slightly (and hopefully for the better) changed.

Monday, May 16, 2011

No Man Can Hinder Me

It's been quite a while since I've written, and I've realized something. It seems like I tend to write only when I have screwed up or learned a lesson about things in my life that need to change. At least I can say I have a teachable, moldable heart? That's a good thing, since I seem to make more mistakes than most. This post is no exception to the rule, I'll tell you that right now.

Our church is in the second quarter of the Big Story. For those of you who don't know what that is, we are all reading the entire Bible chronologically this year in order to see the big picture of the scriptures. In a way it's hard, because I like to take time to see the little details. On the other hand, though, it is really cool to sit back & see God's hand weaving His story of redemption from the very beginning. It has also been very exciting to see how the Lord has begun to open the eyes of individuals and show them how they fit into His story as well. There have been a lot of things that have hit me very personally through this process. The truth is, I haven't written at all this year because those things are a bit too personal to share. And some of them are even going to take quite a bit more thought & processing time.

There is one thing, though, that has hit me full force in the past few weeks. It is something that needs to be changed immediately. I am not what most people would call a people pleaser in the normal sense of the word. In fact, if I feel like there is something I HAVE to do in order to be accepted or liked, I generally intentionally avoid that thing. It's the, "I don't have to prove anything to you," kind of attitude that is not necessarily a good thing. That old chip on my shoulder that God will probably still be whittling away at when I show up at Heaven's gate. Sometimes He takes a big chunk out of it, and that's painful. Maybe one of these days I'll learn my lesson & just throw it away. But I digress...

The opposite of that kind of people pleasing is very true of me, though. If there are things inside of me-opinions, feelings, ideas, stories, etc.-that I know will result in rejection, I keep them inside. I'm not talking about mean, ugly hateful things that don't need to come out. I'm talking about good, Godly, God-given things that He put inside of me to make me who I am.

I'm not one to jump on the "book bandwagon". You know, when a book comes out that becomes a sudden hit and everyone wants to read it & follow it, and expects everyone else to do the same or be deemed not cool or not a good enough Christian. That is why this spring has been a weird time for me. A friend suggested the book, "Chasing the Wild Goose" by Mark Batterson. I have read it twice. This week I finished another of his books, "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day". When I had originally read the chapter headings of that one, I rejected it. I thought I was already willing to take any risk God asked me to take, so why read the book. Then, during the course of the Big Story, we read about Benaiah in the pit with the lion on a snowy day. So, I just had to go get that book :) As I read it I realized that if I say something that is totally innocent, yet someone takes offense, or if I share a dream or an idea and someone laughs, I will beat myself up for years and step back inside of myself again. I don't take risks with my heart, my dreams & my ideas because they might possibly offend someone or make them uncomfortable. I put the opinions of a few people ahead of the desire & leading of God. And that does not please the Lord. Not at all.

So many times my kids are part of what convicts me as well. Lynnea is in the gospel choir ather school. In almost every concert they sing the song, "No Man Can Hinder Me". This week I heard them sing it on Thursday & tonight. The Lord used that to show me the same lesson in a different way-I am allowing people to hinder me from the freedom of being who He created me to be and doing what He created me to do.

So here are some thoughts that are somewhat painful, but, if they helped me, they might help you, too.
-There are some people who will hold your past over your head until they die. They will never forgive you, and they will hear everything you say & see everything you do through the lens of who you used to be. There is nothing you can do about that. But their lack of forgiveness in no way hinders God from forgiving you.
-There are some groups that you will never be able to truly fit into because one or more of those people has something against you. This can be your past, but it can also be jealousy, bitterness, a rejection of your dream, or an inability to see potential in you. There is nothing you can do about that. But their rejection in no way hinders the value God sees in you, because He put it there.
-There are people who will laugh at your dreams & visions. They may be jealous because they don't have dreams of their own. They may not be able to see God in the vision, because He gave it to you, not them. The realization of your dream may affect their life in what they perceive as a negative way. There is nothing you can do about that. But their inability or unwillingness to support or encourage you can in no way hinder the Lord from fulfilling His desire & plan for your life. If He put it there, He will make it happen. His promises are not affected by the opinions of people.

There are so many things that can hold you back from your dreams, from taking a risk for the Lord. Most of those are things you can do nothing about. So, it really all comes down to focus. Who and what are you focusing on? If your spiritual & emotional focus is on the Lord, your heart is focused on seeking Him first, and your effort is focused on obeying Him fully, He will realize the dream He put in your heart and the purpose He has for your life. As Mark Batterson says, "God is much more concerned about getting you where He wants you to be than you are about getting where He wants you to go." (And yes, I am going to order his other two books, too :) ) If your focus, though, is on the pessimists, the naysayers, the intentionally hurtful & hateful, you will never accomplish anything. And if I never accomplish anything for God, it will be because I let a few people, who should never be given permission to speak into my life, turn my focus from the One who deserves it. I have spent too many years allowing that to happen, and I will not do it anymore. No man can hinder me!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

He Reveals His Thoughts to ME?

Kathy Troccoli is one of my favorite Christian women ever. She's one of those people I would love to have lunch with sometime just to soak up some of what she has learned in her walk with the Lord. My favorite song she sings is an old one, but it's one that I could sing in total truth. Well, if I could carry a tune in a bucket I could sing it, but you know what I mean. Anyway, it's called "Break My Heart", and the lyrics are as follows:

I've known laughter, days of fun,
Had many hours in the sun,
Been to many mountains, walked along the ocean shores.
I've seen rainbows fill the sky,
Counted stars on summer nights.
Oh, so many moments that have filled my soul with joy.

But, it's been the rain, i'ts been the storms
It's been the days when I've been worn
That I have found You, Lord,
That I have found You, Father.
It's in the pain that I have grown
Through all the sorrow I have known
But, if that's what it takes for You to lead me this far
Go ahead and break my heart.

I have felt the winter snow,
Seen the beauty of a rose,
Sat by many fires and enjoyed the warmth of friends.
I've known love and it's embrace,
Have felt the wind against my face,
Watched the moon at midnight shine upon a sleeping world.

I love this song because I literally have seen all of those places. I've experienced all of those things. And the Lord has shown Himself to me in all of them. But, as I look back over my life, I realize that it truly has been in the painful, doubt-filled, questioning times that I have grown the most. This is where I have learned to trust Him with what really matters, with what I don't understand, and with what rests in the deepest parts of me that no one else ever sees.

Tonight as I read in Amos, the Lord reminded me of a verse He had shown me a few years ago. Amos 4:13 says, "He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals His thoughts to man, He who turns the dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth-the Lord God Almighty is His name."

Wow! He who made all those places & things I have seen & experienced, who forms mountains, creates wind, keeps the world spinning and holds time in His hands actually cares enough to reveal His thoughts to man. To me. This is something that is so hard to wrap my brain around. I don't deserve anything He has given me. Even less do I deserve to be one with whom He would share his thoughts. But I am. And so are you.

In 2011 our church will be reading the Bible through chronologically together. This may seem like a daunting task, and it may be tempting, or even easy, to give up. After all, we are busy people. Surely God understands that, right? He couldn't possibly expect us to give up 20-30 minutes of TV, movies, internet, shopping, golfing, fishing, sports, a good novel, etc. each day to read a book that someone else will spoon feed us in an hour on Sunday morning, right? But wait. What if this isn't for His benefit? What if it is for ours? Think about what He could do in & through us if we really grasped and started living out His thoughts. The ones He has already revealed to us. What if we really, truly grasped what a privilege it is that He gave this Word to us? What would that do for our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, communities and our world? We hold in our hands the revealed Word of the Lord God Almighty! Do you get how huge this is? Will you commit to making reading it a priority in this next year? This is not just about gaining knowledge for knowledge's sake. It's about knowing Him better, His heart, His character & His will. Will you open your heart to allow it to change you from the inside out, to transform your thoughts, attitudes & actions, to make you more like Him, and to move you out into the world as a powerful force for His Kingdom? Grab a Bible, a notebook, a pen & a friend (for you will need help & encouragement to stay faithful) and dive headfirst into the revealed Word of the King of Kings.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Warming the Bench

Today was a really bad day. Not in what we did. Ian had a great interview in Memphis & will find out in a few days if he gets to go to Europe next summer. Lynnea had an all day basketball tournament, her first on the team, so we spent the rest of the day when we weren't in Memphis at their school. No, it was just an emotionally bad day. You know, most days it doesn't bother me so much that I don't fit. I've learned over the years to protect that part of my heart. But, today was hard. And I was crabby & didn't handle it well. But, as is so often the case, one of my children gave me an attitude adjustment without even realizing it.

Lynnea has never played basketball in her life, she's only in 6th grade, and she's very small for her age. She's a spitfire, though, and she made the middle school team. She's on the JV team, so for the tournament today, she spent 4 of the 5 games on the bench. She had a great attitude all day, did her best during the game the JV-ers played, and encouraged the rest of her teammates. After the tournament I drove her the 40 minutes to Humboldt for a birthday party. Throughout the day we had talked some, and as we drove I asked her again what kinds of things the coach told them after the games. They had lost all but one game, so their coach was understandably not very happy. Lynnea said that there were times where they had to go outside & run. All of them. Whether they had played that game or not. She accepted that without any complaints.

And then she began telling me what the coach had said. In Lynnea's words, it was things like: "She said we needed to pass the ball more." "We didn't play our positions." "We needed to stay between the other team & the basket better." And so on. Even though she had sat on the bench most of the time, she took ownership of everything the coach had said. She plans to work on every single thing in order to make her game & the team better.

As someone who spends most of my time sitting on the bench, I can & should learn a lot from my daughter's attitude. This bench-warming time is when I can learn from the good & bad things others do in the game, keep a steady intake of advice from the coach, and be thankful for & give my best effort when I'm allowed in the game, even if just for a few minutes. My life verse is Phil. 3:16- "But let us live up to what we have already attained." God doesn't expect me to do the things I haven't learned yet, but He does expect obedience in the things I do know. And as I learn more, I am expected to put those things into practice. As I continue to grow in my faith, my opportunities to get in the game will increase. Faithfulness in those things will result in even more playing time. It is extremely humbling that my 11 year old gets it, yet it's so hard for me to remember sometimes. I'm hopeful that one day I will consistently be a starting player, but in the meantime I pray that the Lord would continue to give me a humble, teachable, faithful heart to do my best in the waiting.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

10 People

Earlier this week my kids were having a conversation about the end of the world as we know it. I think maybe Mark let them watch too much of "The Colony". Anyway, their question was, if something happened & you were the last person on earth, what 10 people would you choose to have with you? The only rule was that they could not be in your family.

I started thinking about my answer to that question, and there were a few things that were very interesting to me. One was that I knew immediately where I would want to live if there were only me & ten other people left on earth. Not that that was surprising, but I realized that the where I want to be now has changed significantly from what it used to be. Now, knowing that I am supposed to be doing whatever I can to introduce people to Christ, and I have an assurance of where He most wants me invested in that, my "place" has changed from a couple of years ago. But, if that mission was removed because all the people were gone, I would live in my other favorite place. Not earth shattering, but interesting to me all the same.

Then I thought about how hard it actually was to think about not choosing family members. Obviously this is hard with immediate family, both sets of parents, and others that we are closest to. But it was also very hard to think about not choosing extended family, even those I don't have opportunity to have close relationships with right now. It hit me that this feeling is very similar to that of not wanting anyone I love to die without knowing Christ.

The third thing I noticed was that, considering the rule that I couldn't choose family members was in place, it was surprisingly easy to choose 10 people. In fact, it was probably less than 10 minutes before the decision was made. It made me realize the value of having those people in whose love I can trust and who I would want with me no matter what.

The most thought-provoking thing about the whole conversation was the answers the kids gave. While I was thinking through all of my relationships, they were naming off their 10 people. Ian & Lynnea both named a couple of friends. But the rest of their answers included the following: a farmer, a cook, a mechanic, a teacher, a gas manufacturer, a pilot, a pastor and a locksmith. So, I started wondering. When do we get to the point where our relationships are more important than having our needs met. Or, is there not a point when that happens, but rather, personalities who prefer one or the other. Or, are my kids better at knowing the wisest choices in a time of need than I am? What do you think? And how would you answer that question? Who would be your 10?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Fragrance of Christ

Recently I read a book that we are now just beginning in our ladies Bible study called "What's Your God Language?" It discusses 9 different spiritual temperaments, one of which is the Sensate, or someone who connects with God best through their senses. Before reading this book, I had never put much thought into how our senses are used for anything other than daily functioning.

As I have pondered this over the past few weeks, I have noticed afresh how many times things I see, hear, smell, touch & taste remind me of Albania. A building with an old door, a funny traffic moment, the scent of the fruit at the entrance of a store, the fabric of a pillow that feels like the couch where I sat to do my quiet time in "our" apartment, a small piece of grilled steak with a certain seasoning...and I could go on. There are so many times during a day that something grabs my attention and brings me back there again.

This morning as I drove to the church office, the exhaust of the truck in front of me transported me to a Tirana street, and also caused me to start thinking about how powerful our sense of smell can be.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 says, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?"

If the smells around us can so powerfully affect our senses, than the comparison of us to the fragrance of Christ is infinitely full of meaning. I want to live my life in such a way that those around me, whether briefly or in a close relationship, can smell Christ in me. If it is the fragrance of life to them, we can be an encouragement to each other. If it is the smell of death, may I be sensitive to their feelings and needs while standing strong on the truth of His character and purpose. I have no control over the response of others to Christ, but I do pray that whenever they respond to me, it is actually Christ in me that they are responding to. And I pray that my words and actions will be a fragrance and not a stench to my Lord or anyone else.