Monday, December 26, 2016

Vision Statements & Life Verses

Having a vision statement is extremely important for any corporation. A vision statement is akin to a dart board; it gives you a place to aim for. Regardless of your mood, your health, or your financial status, a vision statement keeps you on course. When your energy is low you still take strides toward your goal, even if merely lethargic strides. When you're wired and at high-octane energy, you can channel that energy into staying on course, rather than shooting off in a million directions. (I'm looking at YOU, DenĂ©e.)

A vision statement is concise. My church's is one of my favorites, "To model the Book of Acts church." With this dart board, we sit in staff meetings making sure our creative juices are channeled into accomplishing this goal. If we feel like the church needs a party, we say, "Good! But how will this party hit our goal of modeling the Book of Acts church?" The answer is to take the party out of our beautiful, air-conditioned dining room or gym, and party in a community that needs to know what salvation is, what joy looks like, and where they can find it for themselves! So, we have block parties! If we're having a dinner fund raiser, we give free meals to all attending guests that day so they can have the opportunity to get to know fellowship, and learn of Christ through our love for each other. When we live by a vision statement, we can accomplish so much more than living by the seat-of-our-pants.

I have a personal vision statement, "Live in the reality of hope, faith, & love."

I have found that when life feels overwhelming, if I channel my energies into this behavior of trusting God, everything (and I do mean everything) works out for my good! It doesn't mean I get everything I want, but it does mean that when I feel incredibly sad and despondent I behave as if everything were PERFECT. Because, in fact, IT IS PERFECT! His plan for me is perfect. He has good intentions for me. No matter what I feel, or what I see, His plan for me is perfect! So I live in the reality (not the emotion) of hope, faith, & love. This vision statement makes me behave on a reality which requires that I hope when I'd rather give in to the call of the darkness to crawl in a hole and shrivel up. This vision statement calls me to walk by FAITH, not by sight. And lastly, this vision statement requires that I pinpoint love in my life. It requires me to ensure that I'm giving it. And that even though it may not be coming from sources I'd prefer, I am a recipient of love. My personal vision statement makes all the difference in the world for me. 

Another habit of mine is that of having personal Life Verses. Obviously, the Bible is for every human on earth. But over time I've collected verses that I incorporate into my daily life. Also, over time I've retired some passages even as I adopted new ones. Every morning at 9:00am, my phone alerts me that it's time to read my life verses. Sometimes I read them silently, sometimes I read them aloud to myself, and other times I have Siri read them to me. Whatever the format, I ingest the verses each and every day. I like the privacy of the verses, so I will not share them in this blog (except one) but I will tell you about them.

One passage is a series of blessings.
One is a cry to God to hear and protect me.
Another is one of rejoicing and praise.
But the Big Daddy of them all is Ezekiel 17:22-24.

Ezekiel17 was the first Life Verse I adopted. Or rather, it adopted me. It consumed me. I'd never had a scripture overtake me as that one did. It described me perfectly; a cut down tree. And it described in detail what I wanted fulfilled in my life. I wanted to grow again. I wanted to be fruitful. I wanted to be strong enough to house "birds of every sort."

Now, four years later, I can tell you that this has literally (slowly & gradually) been exactly what God has done in me! It's been miraculous, to say the least. Not only is the verse prophecy for me, but it's also a reminder that I can't allow myself to get haughty of the things He has done in me. For He is the God who makes "the green tree whither," just as He can "make the short tree grow tall." I know that my present state of growth and health is directly related to these scriptures administering health into my life. 

As you prepare your goals for accomplishment in 2017, I encourage you to begin to create your life's vision statement. But don't stop there; keep your eyes pealed for "your personal" life verses. All of this will take time, especially your search for life verses. And like me, you'll likely retire some from your regime even as you discover new ones. 

The Word of God is life and strength even to our physical selves. Embrace it, love it, and make a habit of SPEAKING it into your atmosphere every day. 

Special thanks to Angel Craig & Morgan Richardson for editing this piece. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

How to Wait

Isaiah 40:31
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; [and] they shall walk, and not faint.

I admit that I always (always, always, always) interpreted this verse to mean that "wait" meant to behave as a restaurant staffer, "waiting tables." Therefore, my strength would be renewed by being busy. While I'm unopposed to making oneself useful during our waiting periods, that is NOT what this verse means. 

This verse is requiring something of far more effort than the usual service of ministry. This verse is directing us to do more than just keep busy about our lives while a situation unfolds. For in actuality, "wait," means, "TO HOPE."

It doesn't matter if you spend every waking moment in ministerial duties, and then dream of ministry after you go to sleep. How much you work does not renew your strength. In fact, it can often deplete you so thoroughly you haven't the energy or ability to actually do what the Word is instructing; HOPE.

I've experienced giving so much of my energy and virtue in ministry that I lay in bed at night HOPELESS. Besides a lack of discipline on my part, the enemy's mental attack in these moments of physical exhaustion is severe. Those in ministry (even ministry outside the church, in volunteer situations, occupations of service) know there is overwhelming joy in serving. We could even call it a "high," akin to a drug hit. It feels empowering to serve. When we are in a season of pain or sorrow, serving is often the ONLY relief we get. So, of course we would like to interpret this verse to mean that when we "wait" on the Lord (aka: minister or serve) we renew our strength, but in fact the thrill we experience is a high, a mere hit-in-the-moment. Perhaps even designed by God to be a sort of "pain pill."

However, waiting on the Lord is more like a Gym experience, rather than a drug experience. A person can pop a pill and feel empowered even though they're a weakling. A gym experience often leaves one's muscles a little shaky due  to the duress endured in the training process. The Gym-guy may feel more exhausted and depleted, but he's actually building strength. He'll be better off, not only the next time he's in the gym, but the mind thinks more clearly after a gym experience, the digestion works better, healing is released into other areas of the body not even in the targeted muscles after a work out. Likewise, hope's gym-experience is unpleasant in the moment, but the results are benefits beyond the intended or targeted area.

The Drug-guy feels powerful, but is actually depleting what little strength he has while feeling like the Incredible Hulk.

We do not work in our fields of ministry in efforts to win brownie-points with God, as if working more and harder in ministry is a get-out-of-jail-free card. We work in our ministries because it's our gifting and calling, and because it's our offering of sacrifice. Being in various fields of service is our gift to others. It's a beautiful benefit that the tasks also happen to inspire and motivate us to keep breathing one more day. While "waiting on the Lord" may involve being busy about our Father's work, it is not what this verse is asking for. 

When we reach a desert or valley circumstance of life, where the joy is gone, the confusion is abundant, the pain is severe, the last thing we have by nature is hope. As children, hope comes very easily and naturally to us. But through life's busyness, and hard knocks, our hope wanes. 

Perhaps a good comparison to how hope works in us is Melatonin. Our brains easily and abundantly produce melatonin in our youth, but as we age it isn't naturally reproduced and we need to take a supplement to help us sleep. This is of course also true of skin tightness, muscle tone, eyesight, hearing, and so forth. Somehow in the course of our lives hope reproduces on its own less and less. And when we hit a tragedy where we lose so much, we do not naturally get over it as we once did. In our youthful vibrancy it was easier to get up and get to seeking the next good thing. But this ability depletes and we get sick and tired of losing a good thing we were settled with, a good thing we enjoyed ownership of. When it's taken from us we can't see WHY we'd want to go seek yet another good thing, because, of course, there's a risk that it too will be taken!

Not only does Hope seem non-existent, the very idea of hoping for something feels very painful. We can't tell what to hope for, or why to hope for it.

And yet, "waiting (hoping) upon the Lord" is what renews our strength, causes us to mount up on wings as eagles; Hope.

Hope makes it possible for us to run without getting weary. Hope, not busyness, causes us to walk, even through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. This is God's long term plan and purpose for our Gym seasons; to strengthen us.

Psalm 27:14 hammers like a marching drumbeat in my chest, "Wait (HOPE, EXPECT) I say, on the LORD!"

It's not an easy request. 
Tears are shed when you hope. 
Instead of a high you can feel shaky and vulnerable. 

But Hope is a powerful muscle to build. For Hope powers Faith. Faith makes ANYTHING possible.

So, while you offer your sacrifice of ministry, while you endure hardness like a soldier, while you pay your bills, and are faithful to the routines; HOPE in the Lord. 

Here are some "booster shots" of scripture to encourage you to HOPE:
(Don't forget to translate the word "wait" as "hope," because that is what it means!)
Genesis 49:18 (KJV) 18 I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.

Psalm 25:3 (KJV) 3 Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.

Psalm 25:5 (KJV) 5 Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Psalm 25:21 (KJV) 21 Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee.

Psalm 37:9 (KJV) 9 For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.

Psalm 37:34 (KJV) 34 Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.

Psalm 39:7 (KJV) 7 And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.

Psalm 40:1 (KJV) 1 [[To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.]] I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.

Psalm 52:9 (KJV) 9 I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.

Psalm 130:5 (KJV) 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.

Proverbs 20:22 (KJV) 22 Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Soul Winning Beyond Acts 2:38

"If someone asks about your hope, be ready to explain it in a gentle and respectful way."

1 Peter 3:15-16

[abridged]


In my youth I had hope without realizing it as it was part of the personality tool kit I was born with. This beautiful hope was further strengthened by my safe upbringing. People were attracted to my hope and lust for life, but when they'd ask me about it I didn't know how to answer them. I had no explanation for my radiant life outside of telling them about the power of the Holy Ghost. While that's the complete bottom-line answer, it wasn't necessarily the most enticing of answers.


In my adult years I experienced the natural knocks and bangs of life. In the process of being shifted around, and knocked about I lost that all-purpose, perfect little tool called, "hope." I found myself utterly hopeless. I saw no reason to raise my kids when I could point to several other people in their lives that I felt could do a better job than I could. I saw no reason to work in my calling of worship leading because singers are a dime-a-dozen. I saw no reason to write because I'm an uneducated wannabe. I saw no reason to fellowship with friends because either I would end up dragging them down with my life-reality, or I was too weak to help them carry their burdens. I was truly hopeless. I asked God many times a day (for many years) to take my life. Proverbs 13:12 talks about how a lack of hope makes the heart sick. Boy, he wasn't kidding. Out of the heart come the issues (the flow) of life. A sick heart infected with hopelessness affects the whole body.


But, "when the desire cometh," Proverbs goes on to read, "it is a tree of life." Whereas its true that obtaining what we hope for is a really great feeling, DESIRE itself is a tree of life! I've experienced the difference in receiving what I wanted, and desiring something. While receiving is a win indeed, the thrill of that newness fades and I'm back to needing another "fix." But DESIRE wakes me up every day with anticipation. If my mood is down, or if I'm ill, or if I'm weighed down with present reality-of-life, DESIRE makes me get dressed, go for a run, breathe deep and chill, read a book to pass the time. DESIRE for certain things (not exclusively material possessions, sometimes it's a desire for situations, relationships, accomplishments) is a tree with roots of stability.  Hope deferred makes the heart so sick, in turn the whole of life is sick. But DESIRE is a tree that produces fruit. A special fruit called, "LIFE!"


I started looking for my hope tool because it was becoming obvious that God was ignoring my plea for The Next Life. He was definitely hearing me pray, clearly. Because he was  answering all of the other prayers I'd pray. He was just stubbornly refusing to answer "that" prayer. 


After some books (and prayer asking God to help me want to live) I began some deliberate outward behaviors in efforts to trigger inward desires. I called these exercises my "happy habits." Every hour (my phone alerts were set) I'd stand from my seating (usually at a desk) and I'd stretch, or do some push-ups (uh-hem. I closed my office door as I didn't want to intimidate my fellow workers with my great might.) I'd smile-for-no-reason (Yes. I just smiled into empty space) And I would speak aloud something I was thankful for. It took about a year, but I started to feel a difference.


It's been about two and a half years now, but I definitely have hope! I must be honest with you, sometimes the desire hurts. Wanting what seems impossible aches to my bones. But, I'm aware that these aches are growing pains, whereas my old ache was due to hope being deferred. 


But here's the really cool part about my present state of hope; I'm a better witness for Christ now. 


NOW when people are attracted to me I am ready to give them a more thorough answer. I'm able to guide them to the source of my tree of life; Christ. 


Christ's love for me enables me to trust that goodness is in store for me.  When I'm in a blue mood it doesn't feel like the end of the world because I know He's going to work things out for my good.  He has my best interests at heart. He has plans for me that have a beautiful outcome.


Soul winners need more than that perfect and beautiful Acts 2:38 experience. Souls winner need to exhibit HOPE in our hopeless world. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Get Back Up

I remember when knockdowns and setbacks were a mere annoyance, as simple to remedy as a pesky bug buzzing around. It was laughable to think that getting back up would be hard! Getting back up required no forethought, no energy, no emotion. I just popped right back up as if I were still a kid on the trampoline in my backyard, propelled to soar to tree limbs with such little energy.
Not so now.

I'm not sure if it's physical age, or the depth of devastation, or why it's different now. But it is different now. 

Every.
Single.
Day.

Each day I plan how to live victoriously in that day. Each day I PURPOSEFULLY live happily. Each day I have to get back up.

When this new method of living was my reality I was so angry at God for not taking me out of this earth to Heaven. If "to live is Christ, to die is GAIN," then what kind of cruelty kept me here? Give me my "gain," for goodness sake! Every plane takeoff where I was on board I'd send texts of love, forgiveness, and mercy before we had to power down our phones. THAT'S how confident I was that God was going to answer my prayer and take me to The Other Side. In the old days I prayed safety and protection over the plane and flight, but I stopped doing that since it seemed like a quick and easy way for God to answer my prayer. I didn't talk about this line of thinking to anybody because I wasn't trying to be dramatic and get attention. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to pay attention to me. I wanted to be left alone to die. But neither God nor man were in sync with me on this one.

"To live is Christ."
I've always seen this activity of living-is-Christ as being very jubilant, therefore very fluid, natural, and easy. But that was from my perspective of youth and fairy tales. What about Christ's life was easy? From his first year of life the government was hunting him down to kill him. While travel is sometimes fun when you're headed to Disney World, a road trip in the dead of night because you're being hunted down certainly turns up the volume on the phrase, "Are we there yet?"

Living-is-Christ puts us in a position to participate in the miraculous, to have power over death, hell, and the grave, and to be surrounded by followers. And as long as these people and situations are helping us accomplish our goals these moments are ecstatic. But let us not forget that Christ was run out of town, was continually in one argument or another with the religious, was rarely with his family, was a 24/7 teacher. Not to mention the final hours of his life; the excruciating crucifixion. 

Dying is gain because it puts us across the finish line. Dying with a clean conscience toward God is gain because we've run a good race and we've finished  our course. But LIVING is necessary to accomplish the victory of death. 

There is no victory in hiding in a hole waiting for death. The will of God is that we get out of the hole and LIVE as Christ did. It is the will of God that we have HOPE. It is the will of God that we experience JOY. It is the will of God that we produce all of the fruit of the Spirit. We are cheating God if we do not get back up and strive to fulfill His will of pursuing these things. 

Why does he ask this of us? So that we are a testimony of His strength and involvement in our lives. If after our devastation we live in a hole we are telling the world around us that God is a liar. Holed-up behavior is exhibiting that God is nowhere to be found, that there is no hope, no joy, nothing to rise again for. 

Christ got back up after his devastation. He got back up because there was more to do. You need to get back up yourself because there is more to do! To die will NOT be "gain" if you do not do the will of God and LIVE AGAIN. 

I personally have chosen four verses that I read EVERY morning. I have alerts set up on my phone to smile EVERY hour. I have a life vision that pops up on my phone EVERY morning; To live in the reality of Faith, Hope, & Love.

My feelings tell me every day that life is not worth living. My logic shows me every day that I should not expect my hopes to come to pass. My present shows me every day that after all these years I STILL have not obtained the desires of my heart. 

BUT GOD'S WORD TELLS ME TO NOT BE DICTATED BY THESE THINGS.

I'm suppose to walk by faith, not by sight.

That's why I fight each and every day to get back up again. I smile because the REALITY of life is not what I feel, or see, or think. The REALITY is what I can't see: Faith, Hope, and Love. Christ is not my Fairy Godmother, giving me my whims. He sees the end from the beginning and He's going to give me the desires of my heart based on all He knows of what's to unfold. His top priority as my Father is to protect and defend me. If I'm allowing him to protect me from my desires that will hurt me, everything will work out for my good! If I live every day angry at Him for "making" me live... well, how sad and unproductive is THAT!

Whatever has knocked you for a loop, has left you flat on your back... I'm truly sorry you've gone through those things. But, get back up. It may feel like "fake it 'till you make it," but in fact it's "FAITH it 'till you make it."

Proverbs 24:16 (KJV)
For a just [man] falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Those Pesky Little Foxes

I have experienced the legitimate, bonefide excuses for sadness... Death, handicapped child, betrayal, broken relationship, emergency surgery, and beyond. But, right in this moment I admit I feel terrible for being weak dealing with tiny matters.

I'm not homeless. In fact, I'm writing this from my favorite rocking chair on my porch in the most picturesque part of Florida. I've been the queen of this house for over twenty years. Meanwhile, I have dear friends, acquaintances, and strangers in Louisiana who are utterly (suddenly) homeless due to last week's flooding. 

I live in a town of less than three thousand, and though we have race issues to work out, we don't have anything like the pain and destruction happening in Milwaukee, or some of the bigger cities experiencing such hate and hostility.

I am healthy and strong, full of vitality. I'm able to take care of myself, my kids, and my possessions. Unlike some of my friends who are dealing with incredible pain and weaknesses due to life-threatening illnesses. 

So, right at this moment I do not have a leviathan of trouble smashing my life. Right now, I'm dealing with a bunch of little foxes.

We read about the danger of "little foxes" in Solomon's Song, chapter two, verse fifteen. It is clear the speaker is speaking symbolically, saying, "Let us catch the little foxes that spoil the vine."

The "little foxes" are emblems of that which would damage their love relationship. The idea is that their relationship is like a fruitful vineyard and the little foxes will damage the vineyard unless they are stopped and caught.

Life is full of little foxes. They could be named Bills, or Political Opinions, or Growing ToDo List, or Kids Drum Lesson, or I'm Not Pretty, or [Insert Yours Here]. These little foxes can come upon your life that is fruitful, productive, contributing to your community. They buzz about like mosquitos distracting you from the confidence of knowing you are indeed fruitful. These little foxes begin to devour your harvest. Little foxes are not to be tolerated. 

There is a cure and elimination for little foxes; "Us."

"Let US catch the foxes..."

You need a partner to catch the little foxes. The foxes are not willing recipients to the idea that they can't have the fruit of your life. They are fast, quick-tempered, and can be quite painful! But they're NOT to be tolerated. If you're married, perhaps your spouse will help you round up, and cast out the little foxes from your vineyard. Married or not, sometimes a spouse doesn't see the need to prioritize ridding one's life of little foxes. Perhaps they're too frazzled with their own foxes to be a help to you. (Though I believe some spiritual counsel would help each spouse see how to help each other in this task. Que sera sera.) It's good to know the church has prayer partners and counsellors to help you catch the little foxes. 

Catching the little foxes sometimes means literally casting out unnecessary tasks from your ToDo list. If you've overpacked your list you're shooting your success in the foot. If your appearance is causing you distress then you're focusing too much on superficial matters and you need to move your focus to production and creativity. (Don't forget, not even the models look like what you're seeing online, or in magazines. We literally CAN'T compete with photoshop. Period.) Whatever things are causing you anxiety, you need to reevaluate their priority. 

I remember being incredibly stressed to the point that it shook my self-confidence and creative abilities over my laundry. I felt like such a loser, even though I was writing for thousands, singing to thousands, fulfilling life-goals in spades. Because I had laundry on my couch I felt a total unproductive, lazy loser! Then it dawned on me that my eleven and thirteen year old kids could do their own laundry! I also took it off my list that the clothes had to be folded. (I know. I just sent a thousand Personality A's to the floor with that concept.) But reprioritizimg laundry, and making the task doable made a HUGE difference in the production of my life's vine. I caught that fox and expelled him from my vineyard! 

Never forget, that whether or not you have a spouse who will help you catch the little foxes, or whether friends can or can't help you does not lessen your ability to partner with someone to eliminate the little foxes; Jesus is a ready (and most powerful) help in your efforts to eliminate the little foxes. 

Do not think your little fox problem is too insignificant for His Majesty. He delights in being asked to help you eliminate the little foxes.

You can do this! 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Remembering Where To Cast

I think I might have the world's worst memory. I can't even remember the lyrics to my own songs that I've written! Of course, being in a congregation that posts the words overhead to better help the congregation engage in singing hasn't helped reinforce memorization. When I need to remember something about music I contact my friends Angel Craig and Lisa Plappert. When I need to remember something about my childhood, I contact Shawn Hughes. When I need to remember something about church business, past, present, or future, I contact Donald Currie. These people have impeccable memories! Thank goodness I have them in my life, or I'd be sunk! 

There is at least one area of failed remembrance that I've found most humans match me in, we forget where to cast our cares. We instinctually cast our burdens on the one we sense is closest to us. While that should be God, just as the posted lyrics have weakened my memorization ability, humans that we've been blessed with sometimes cause us to not allow Christ to be as near as he's suppose to be. These humans meant to be a blessing in life, be they a spouse, or roommate, a friend, or family, end up a source of pain simply because we're trying to use them in ways they weren't meant to be used. 

In general, women tend to deal more with anxieties than men. It's not that women have more to carry than a man, it's that women are more likely to multitask, giving them the ability to fester in their worries while juggling typical, daily stressors. Men tend to do ONE thing at a time, therefore they worry, but when they have to be at work, they are more inclined to shelve their worry until they're free to think about it again. This isn't healthy for any of us, male or female. While we may become more and more skilled at shelving an anxiety, the anxiety is still there, unresolved, just waiting.

Women tend to want the help of other humans to fix their anxiety. Men tend to want to fix the matter themselves. Yet again, either way is not the purest solution. I can't reveal the reasoning of frustration in men's behavior, but as a woman I can easily say that women stack more anxiety on themselves when they encounter the consistent inability of friends and family to listen or fix. Women get angry (or depressed, or resentful, or any other number of negative reactions) when someone listens but doesn't fix their problem. Men compound the issue by deciding to avoid even listening because they know they won't be allowed to fix it in the end. 

Spouses stew in resentment. 
Friends ignore each other. 
Peers become critical from their determined distances. 

All along the fix doesn't have flesh and blood. The cure can't be seen by the naked eye. The relief we crave comes from turning our attention away from flawed humanity and fixing our eyes on Jesus. 

Jesus said for us to cast our anxieties on Him.

If we see prayer as an unemotional religious ritual, then of course we won't remember to cast our cares on him. If prayer is a duty rather than a fellowship, then we have put a hole in our boat before setting sail and will experience the panic of drowning in the weight of life.

We may reach out to a fellow passenger in our storms of life, but we can't become filled with bitterness when they themselves can't help us. After all, they are merely passengers in the storm as well! But the Master of the winds and waves lives above the sickening storm. He alone can rescue us. 

We must be thankful for and gain health from the friends around us, but we must prioritize the fellowship of Christ. His ear is the only perfect listener, & His hand is the only perfect fixer.

Remember where to cast your cares. 
Cast your worries and anxieties on Christ. He's a miracle worker! 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Not In THIS House

Since the dawn of house building and socialization there has been a child come home from their friend's house and attempt something they'd seen there, but had never experienced at their home. When their parent corrects their behavior the child laments, "That's what they do at my friend's house!" And the parents always reply, "Well, that's not how we do things in THIS house."

Happens
In
Every
Single
Household.

My dad has a heightened sense of smell. When we came home from anybody's house, he would welcome us home, then add, "Go change. You don't smell like us."

He wasn't declaring that we smelled bad. We just didn't smell "like us."

There is a reason for this insistence of compliance to house rules. Some parents do not fully comprehend why, they simply have an instinct to preserve and protect the behaviors and rituals of THIS house. But the reasons for this instinct are very important to the health & wellbeing of the family.

Firstly, there are moral codes and laws that each head of household has the right to expect and uphold. "Within the refuge and sanctity of THIS house we follow faith, we don't kill, steal, lie, abuse, gossip, allow racism..." The list goes on.

Beyond moral codes, there are preferences that each household requires differently than others. Things like cleanliness, organization, scents, nutritional adherence...

Then outside the home there are further expectations, such as presentation of appearance, gaming as a family, vacations, defending each other, cheering each other...

Every parent faces the test of their child attempting to blur the lines of what is acceptable in their home. The wise parent keeps those lines in neon-clarity. They do so because there is an ambiance of peace and joy to protect. The rest of the world is chaotic in their lack of law and discipline. The world-at-large will lie on you, betray you, mock you. From the child's experiences in elementary school to the parents' experiences in the workplace, the world causes us to be ever in our guard.

But our HOME is our refuge. We're suppose to walk through the door of our house and be able to let our guard down. From what the eye sees, to what the nose smells, to what the ears hear... There should be an ambiance wherein our soul finds rest.

When anyone in that household begins to threaten the flow of peace within that space, everything of life becomes imbalanced. When parents fight in the home it affects the child's abilities in school, even though that building is far removed from the house. When a child sneaks, or lies in the home it affects the parents' in their workplace. It is a constant effort, and a worthy effort, to keep the ambiance of "THIS house" at peak performance. 

With that established, let me give you a further insight; the congregation you were born-again into is your spiritual family, and it too has its own needs, unique from every other congregation around you.

I've seen parents ignorant of this fact reap great upset in their homes. They've not put two-and-two together that because of the seeds-of-upset they sowed within the "house" of their church, they are reaping upset within their home.

The ambiance of your congregation is what it is because the overseer and protector of that flock has established what is best for that particular body of believers. Adherence to those codes gets the family to specific goals. Attempting to live outside those codes hinders the ability to reach those goals, it causes division in the family. That pastor is forced to rise in defense of the vision God has ordained and say, "Not in THIS house."

Grown adults act like fourteen year olds sneaking about on the very edge of disobedience without blatantly disobeying. It's immaturity and ludicrous. In their role as parent they KNOW their child is headed toward dangerous territory in that kind of behavior, but in their role as a church member they don't see themselves as behaving JUST AS DANGEROUSLY. God help the people who require the pastor to RAGE in the pulpit in order for them to get in sync with the church-family. No pastor wants to do so, just as no loving parent wants to. As the scripture commands, we should be making our Pastor's job enjoyable! For us to cause him grief is unprofitable for US. 

It's further frustrating when a church member looks at other congregations and feels cheated that there are differences. This is nothing short of a child coming home saying, "THEY get to..." 

So what.
That's not what we do in THIS house.

Child of God (my spiritual sibling) let us be ever diligent to keep THIS house in peak performance by having the same rule, and minding the same things. Let's be mature enough to understand that their house has different goals and visions because God ordained they go about their business their way. Just like the differing household rules doesn't make one family better or worse than the other, differing church codes do not make one congregation better than the other. It simply means each "household" is different

I'll give one last comparison in my quest for the wisdom and insight to accomplish unity.

When my baby sister was a teenager she attempted to run away from home. In God's mercy all of the well-laid plans were foiled. But we experienced the worst of helplessness; the one we loved so passionately, had every right to have and keep in our lives was in the power of another. 

There's not a parent that I am acquainted with who excuses kidnapping or running away. Even among divorced parents, they fight tooth-and-toenail, loss-of-limb to retain the right to share life and love with their child. It is the height of heartbreak to lose a child to another human. Merely sitting here typing about this loss causes my heart to race and my hands to tremble. 

As a Pastor's child I can tell you that this is what a pastor and his family endures every time someone leaves the congregation. There is no sleep, no laughter, no peace... Of course, because we're dealing with adults in spiritual matters it cannot be handled as a physical parent handles a physical kidnapping or runaway. It's painful to the core. 

But the heartache of the pastor (and indeed the spiritual siblings) is no less poignant than if your child were kidnapped or ran away.

We must stay in sync and in love with the family God puts us in. If any sibling needs to change homes, it must be done in the right spirit, with the purest of motives, in sync and agreement with the pastor. Just as a wise parent knows if/when a child in the home needs to move on, the Shepherd does too. As a Pastor's child I've witnessed many exoduses. It's blatant which of my spiritual siblings "ran away," and which ones moved honorably. It's obvious which left with the arm-twisting of the prodigal, and which left as Jesus sent his disciples out. Don't be like a foster child, hopping from family to family. People can't develop a thriving root system in that way. 

In THIS house there are rules, and they are for the health and well-being of THIS family fulfilling THESE goals. 

Don't forget, whatsoever a man soweth THAT shall he also reap.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pick Your Grove

We do not get to choose our DNA. Our parents are who they are whether we like their life, or not. Even those who have been adopted; those kids didn't choose adoptive parents anymore than they chose their birth parents. We can't choose our cousins. We can't choose our siblings. We can't choose our aunts or uncles. We can attempt to sculpt our bodies, but we can't choose our body shape. We can't choose our skin pigment. We can choose our behavior and attitude, but we can't choose our personality. We can't choose our height. In these we are stuck, stuck, stuck.

There are so many things about the person in our skin that we have absolutely no control over. But there is something we have control over; which grove we live in. 

Natural trees have no choice where they're planted. They are utterly dependent on the farmer to know what ground and air is best suited for their successful growth and reproduction. But spiritual trees are almost exclusively their own farmer.

We are spiritual trees. We decide where we are planted. God only plants us with our permission. Even in His Supreme status, in this He chooses the role of assistant. He turns all power of choice over to us. I've seen many, many tree plantings in my time of living for God. I've seen when people realize for the first time that God is loving and generous, and has our best interests at heart. In relief they joyfully surrender all to Him, and in doing so they give him permission to plant them wherever He sees best. But over time I've seen some gradually stop seeking His sky for His rain of growth. In their stagnant state (brought about by their detachment from Him) they become dissatisfied with where He planted them, and they start looking for another habitat, hoping to respark their growth. 

I've seen other trees be given marching orders. God himself says to move from the place He personally planted them. God sends trees on an Abrahamic journey, a walk of faith into new territory. Lest we think this is some magical key to happiness, let me warn you with this insight; I've never seen a tree in this situation be glad about this move. When trees are transplanting from church to church, ministry to ministry, job to job, happy and psyched about the transitions, that is a carnal move, not a God-ordained move. Trees to whom The Spirit is being called to move generally have the wisdom to loath the prospect. They're like Christ, both led and driven into the new place.

Whether we transplant because God pushed us, or because we're carnally seeking greener pastures, when we replant ourselves we replant with other trees. We try to seek out our kind. But in our uprooting we can't be sure what we're getting ourselves into. I've never seen a tree eat another tree's fruit. So, while an orange tree may find a grove of orange trees and determine, "We're all orange trees! This is the perfect place for me!" You don't know if those oranges are good or bad fruit, sweet and nutritious, or bitter and poisonous.

How can you tell a Good Fruit tree from a Bad Fruit tree when you're not partaking of the fruit? 

Answer: You can tell by who the tree attracts.

If you find yourself in a position to need to choose a grove, choose a grove that attracts the pure in heart. The pure in heart will not settle for bitter fruit. They bring their children to good fruit. They offer their spouses good fruit. They present to their friends good fruit. And these people WORK to access the good fruit. They may have to pay a price to enter the grove. They may have to ask the grove keeper's permission to pick the fruit. They may have to travel far to be a recipient of the good fruit. Those who want the best know there's a price to pay to have it. And you'll know a Good Fruit tree by the caretaker. How involved is God in the daily care of that grove? Good Fruit trees relentlessly ask The Master to prune, fertilize, water, and weed. The more involved the tree asks The Master to be, the sweeter the fruit will be. 

On the other side of the spectrum is bad fruit. These groves are left unattended. While there may be an owner of the grove, it's not worth the investment of hiring workers to keep the area weed free. It's not worth the cost of pesticides to keep the place pest free. Besides, these Bad Fruit trees reject all intervention anyway. It's on the backside of nowhere, out of sight, out of mind. Therefore nobody has to pay to access that fruit. Bitter Fruit groves attract the derelict, the thief, the irresponsible. Bad Fruit trees attract lazy people who are unwilling to pay for Good Fruit, therefore they must take Bad Fruit. Also, as mentioned before, Bad Fruit trees have very little aptitude to surrender to The Master, if at all. They refuse pruning, they do not seek care, they don't want anyone caring about the weeds surrounding and the bugs invading. Their "Keep Out" signs are posted for the eyes of The Master.

Don't be deceived into having pity on these Bad Fruit trees. They KNOW they're producing bitter fruit, and they refuse to put themselves in any situation to change that outcome. There is a way to alter one's fruit production from bitter to sweet. It's by a process called grafting. Only The Master can do the grafting. A Bitter Fruit tree must surrender to God who will uproot and replant the tree in the best environment for the tree. Then he grafts a part of himself into the tree. If that tree will remain, it will begin to produce the sweetest of fruit. But if that tree is arrogant and prideful, they will not surrender to this process. They remain a Bad Fruit tree and your folly to help is more prideful than helpful. These, "I can help" attempts are truly all about "Me, Myself, and I." 

"I'm the one with insight to help."
"I'm more loving than others."
"I'm going to prove my power."

I point this out because I've seen trees in transit see a grove of bitter trees and feel an undeserved pity. I've seen well-intentioned (howbeit uncounseled) trees believe the Bitter Fruit tree "need" their presence and sympathy. They plant themselves among the Bad Fruit trees, then are forced to endure what The Master never intended them to endure. They reap the hazards of being with trees visited only by thieves who rape and pillage their branches with no thought of care or another season's reproduction. 

Meanwhile, Good Fruit trees are enjoying the joy and laughter of those whom they are generously supplying with Good Fruit. Aware that The Master is purposefully cultivating the ability to reproduce more Good Fruit again the next season. 

You get to choose which grove you plant yourself in. 

Surround yourself with good-tree folks to keep from eating bitter fruit behavior.

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.”
Luke 6:43 NIV

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Bystander's Promise

Each day I try to hand-write a scripture of promise and hope for my life. I find the fluid cursive is soothing, and the precision of copy helps me internalize the verse better. It's a practice I've come to love. I choose the verses through prayer and current situation. Typically I'll have a single word that rolls over and over in my mind after prayer. I'll use a concordance to look up verses with that word. I'll read the various verses, and when I hit "it," I just know it. It's like a gear that clicks into place. 

Yesterday's word was, "confirm."
This was the Word of hope and promise:
Psalm 68:9 (KJV)
Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary.

Today's word was a phrase, "see me." As KJV would have it, "seest me."
Genesis 16:13 (KJV)
And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?

It fit my situation perfectly. And I'm sure many others. 

Hagar was a slave. And while she may have had life better than most slaves, being in such a wealthy household, she was nevertheless still merely a slave. She had no rights, no options, no hope of marriage, at least not without her master arranging a marriage. And such a marriage would more firmly ensconce her into her life as a bond woman. She worked hard. She was respected for her work insomuch that she wasn't relegated to behind the scenes hard labor, but she was the mistress's servant. She had to smell good, look good, present herself well. All while carrying out a wide range of duties. As private servant to her mistress, she was likely a manger among the other slaves, in top rank to better serve Sarah. 

Hagar was just a bystander to Abram's and Sarai's turmoil. They desperately wanted a son, and outside of possibly overhearing their conversations while she cleared their table, or handing her mistress a tissue as she sorrowed over her childless plight, Hagar had nothing to do with this matter. She may have felt compassion. She may have leant an ear. But even if she could do something about it, it wasn't her place to be involved in the situation. 

But then... She was! 

It wasn't her fault that Sarai lost hope. It wasn't of her decision that Abram allowed his wife to concoct an unholy plan. While the decision wasn't hers due to her slave status, it did typically work out to bring improvement to the surrogate-slave's lifestyle. So, perhaps she grasped at the hope for a better future extended to her. 

But then it all went horribly wrong.

People that she'd trusted turned on her. Sarai physically BEAT her! Abram offered no shield. Pregnant Hagar ran away in efforts to try to get away from the nightmare the situation had turned into. 

Why was this happening to her? She was merely an unwilling bystander. She was a slave without ability to own so much as a tent. She had no family. She had no rights. She didn't even have a god. 

And yet, God visited this woman with a promise that He would protect her. He promised her the same promise he'd given Abram, that she'd have MANY children. He gave her hope and a future. The catch was that she needed to go back and wait it all out. 

I have been the surprised recipient of someone's bad mood. I've felt the rejection of someone's need to be alone. I have heard the snickers of callous jokes. And while none of these encounters are as traumatic as Hagar's forced pregnancy, they have left me feeling alone and hopeless. 

But, just as with Hagar, though I was merely a bystander who felt someone else's backlash, and though I had no rights or ability to help myself, God met me there. God promised me, "I see your pain. I happen to be a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief." And the God of glory ministered to me. My God promises me that the current pain is not the end of the road. He assures me that despite the present confusion there is a bright future ahead. But I have to chill out and wait it out. 

And this goes for you to. You may be a bystander who gets the bad end of their bad day. And it can leave you feeling utterly alone. But you're not alone. God is just a prayer away. He will minister to you, rejuvenate you, and put you back on your path to purpose. 

He is a God that sees you. Just don't do anything rash. Wait it out and watch God bless you in the end. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Owner's Manual

One of my greatest weaknesses is the kitchen. I'm not meaning I have a weakness to resisting foods of the kitchen. I mean I commit consistent folly in the preparation of foods in the kitchen. I have four recipes that are edible. One of those four is scrambled eggs.

The end.
That's the end of my kitchen abilities. 

Once I made lasagna from scratch. I did purchase the pasta, but the tomato sauce was purely concocted in my own kitchen. I was so excited and proud of this dish. I lovingly layered the cheeses & sauces, and with a flush of pride and a domestic-diva flourish I offered it to my family. And guests. (An unplanned addition to dinner.) Everyone served themselves via my informal hostessing style. As I cut into my own square of the dish, nestled in the middle of my plate, it seemed something was wrong. It took me a second of chewing to realize what it was.

THERE WAS NO PASTA IN THE DISH! 
Not a single layer of lasagna between the layers of tomato sauce and cheese. I had boiled the pasta, strained it, then left it sitting in the strainer on the counter. I brought the bowl of now congealed pasta to the table and we all self-served weird blobs of sticky dough on top of our sauce/cheese squares. 

I've never made the dish again. 

Whether we do things right and in order determines the definition of the thing. My dish did not turn out to be "lasagna." It was edible, tasty even, but it was not lasagna.

Our lives require that we properly build them, or else we find ourselves alive, but not living. Everybody dies, but not everyone lives. To truly live we must follow the guidebook. I dislike when parents say that babies do not come with an instruction manual. Yes, they do. It's called The Holy Bible.

We have ruined society by arrogantly believing we can build a successful life without referring to The Owner's Manual, which is the Word of God. God created humanity in His own image. The creator of a thing is the best person to have a conversation with about that thing. The creator knows every detail intimately. If you have questions, the creator has answers. As an Apple user I was bummed when Steve Jobs was no longer at the helm. It's not that I knew him personally and would therefore mourn his death. But I knew his passion for his creation kept the quality of my daily-used product (the one I read scripture from, write blogs on, make todo lists in, stay connected with friends and family by) at tip-top, well-running order. Comparisons can be equally made with the Keurig, America's new convenience machine. Truly, any creation you enjoy, the creator of that thing could tell you how to keep it humming like new. 

God is the creator of humanity. His ways are higher than our ways because He's the creator. He's not on a power trip. It's just a fact. Therefore, for our lives to be joyful, and abundant, and peaceful, healthy, and whole, we must follow the instructions of The Owner's Manual called, The Holy Bible.

Jesus gave us a story of two houses, one built on the rock, the other built on the sand. He told about a great storm that came and rained down on both houses. The house built on the sand, the one without a foundation, was destroyed. While the house built on a firm foundation stood the test. Jesus told us that this is how our lives are. We have a choice as to where we each build our lives, on The Rock, Christ Jesus. Or on the shifting sands of present culture. We each choose where we're going to build our lives. 

We must prioritize building our lives on God's Word, from the foundation, to the eaves. Every nail, every column, every detail of decor, each and every decision must mirror the Word of God.

Keep the Bible ever at the ready in your life. Even when you're not specifically looking for direction, read it every day. It's a living book and it will quietly hitch a ride in your mind until you do need it. And at that time it will pipe up and say, "Here's how you should handle this..." 

Psalm 119:105 (KJV)
Thy word [is] a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Matthew 7:24 (KJV)
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

Matthew 13:23 (KJV)
But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth [it]; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sacrifice: A Goal-Setters Nightmare

I love to set goals. I am a born procrastinator and slacker. If there's not a deadline attached to a goal, I'll never get it done. Even with a deadline I'm one of those who could wait until five minutes to the deadline to get it done. And with the adrenaline rush of deadline comes a burst of creativity that doesn't disappoint. But I hate this character flaw. 

Consequently, I've fallen head over heels in love with goal setting. Obviously, goals with a date. I am prayerful about my goal setting. It's not that I hear a reverberating voice from God telling me which goals to set. But I'm prayerful as I set goals. And so far, I've never had God tell me not to set a goal. All of the goals I set have to do with self-improvement, family unity and growth, and ministry. I've accomplished some things in my life that I'm very thankful to have been a part of due to my goal setting.

I've written and published an illustrated children's book. I've recorded many albums. I've written many songs. I've directed many church events that have greatly impacted people's lives. All of this because of my goal setting habit. 

But I've experienced, for the second time, God asking me to sacrifice a goal. These have been excruciatingly difficult. While I won't divulge my current sacrifice offering, I will tell you that the first He asked for was "my" Hadassah girls' conference. Hadassah was my pride and joy. I loved it so much. I fought Him over it. And after I killed the goals (past and present) on the altar of surrender I mourned their loss, just as one mourns the death of a loved one. I've struggled more with bitterness over the sacrifice of a goal than I ever have over the betrayal and rejection of a friend.

Those of us who are goal-setters understand the attachment to a goal that is formed. To accomplish a goal it is investigated and studied. The goal turns out to be full of unexpected mystery and intrigue. The goal must be woo'd like a lover. It is hoped for, prayed over, and chased. Sleep is lost in the pursuit. Tears are shed. Joy is felt. A relationship is formed with a goal. 

If the deadline draws near and the marriage of plan to accomplishment is not made, the idea isn't chucked. We simply set a new date and keep going. You no more give up on a goal than you'd give up on a prodigal child, or a lifelong friendship.

You just don't.

That God would ask me to sacrifice a goal was earth shattering and life halting. 

I admit that each of the goals God has asked for I've carried to the altar with a picture of Abraham and Issac in the back of my mind. I've laid my goals on the altar fully expecting a ram's bleat from the thicket to halt the proceedings. And when the angel of the Lord didn't stop my hand from plunging the dagger of death, I felt I had died as well.

The deaths of these goals altered huge chunks of my day. Hours that used to be spent on reaching these goals were suddenly vast spaces of empty time. The people I used to communicate with to reach the goals were suddenly no more in my text-feed. The thoughts that used to consume my downtime were suddenly useless thoughts. Indeed, they became painful thoughts. I had created a self-identity from the processes of these goals, and that identity was as deceased as the goals. 

This "death of self" is the point and the win, actually. For I can't walk in newness of life if I don't die to self. New birth is essential to bigger and better things. Our initial salvation new-birth experience isn't the only time death-to-birth is required. In fact, we're suppose to take up our cross daily. Paul said and exemplified, "I die daily." We die so we can be reborn!

I understand that just because we're pursuing goals doesn't mean we're not dying daily. In fact, in order to pursue goals we deny our flesh and kill our affections and lusts every day. But God sees when we've grown accustomed to the rigors of a certain discipline, and we are no longer affectively sacrificing to the death of self. We sometimes become accustomed to the hardships, and can not only survive, but build a tolerance. That does us no good. 

Anyway, I don't want self-identity. 
I want to be crucified so that Christ is alive in me. (Galatians 2:20)
I want a Christ-identity.
When people try to put their finger on what is different about me from the public at large, I want them to recognize Christ, not me. (Acts 4:13)

My goals have put me in positions to minister to a lot of people in one setting. I know God is not opposed to my goal setting. But I have learned that He may ask that I lay the prize, pick-of-the-litter goal on an altar of sacrifice and let it go. 

I hope and pray I have the faith and trust to do so every time. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

You Got Dis; Patience

I used to think that I had no patience because I felt so anxious while waiting for the conclusion of a matter. From prayers, to dinner, patience doesn't mean you feel good while you wait. It means you wait even though you really do not feel good.

The King James Version word for, "patience," is, "longsuffering." It's a more apt description of the process. 

Because we see people that we admire enduring difficult things with poise, we think that since we don't feel how that person looks that we don't have patience. But patience isn't indicated by how a person feels. Patience is simply put, not giving up.

When a person runs a marathon, it's possible that they need to walk a bit during that 26 mile run. They may limp a bit. They may crawl a bit. And for the rest of their life they can legitimately say that they "ran" that marathon. Why is that accepted in the running community when they literally did not run the full measure? Because they didn't quit! In the same way, you are exhibiting patience IF YOU DONT QUIT! 

Whatever you're enduring, whatever is causing you pain and suffering for a long time (ahem, "longsuffering") that suffering is not an indication that you "don't have patience." The pain means you're STILL IN THE RACE! 

STOP saying, "I have NO patience." Words are creation. In reality you simply are anxious, not impatient.

We can learn the discipline of biting our tongue in our anxiousness. Similar to ancient days, before anesthesia, they might give a hurting soldier a piece of leather and tell them to, "bite down on it," as the medical staff inflicted a needed pain to give the soldier an extension of life. When we feel that anxiousness and desperation we need to also, bite down on it; our tongue, that is. 

Scripture gives us instructions to help keep us in the race, enduring to the end.

Cast down imaginations.
Truly, this is our worst enemy. Satan doesn't need to do hardly any tempting because we conjur ourselves into failure. Our imaginations so rarely create hopeful scenarios. Our imaginations quickly leave us in a heap of failure. And crazily enough, these mythological ideas release real chemicals in our brains which continue into real depressive states! 

STOP IT! 
Bring (Force) every thought into the obedience of Christ. 
Christ is our way maker. God is the miracle worker who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all that we ask, or THINK. (Think: imagination.) He's NOT however, a genie. He's a Father who sees how the present difficulty is teaching us how to handle yet another situation later, which will require more strength than the current trial. Today's trial is merely building your stamina to handle the future's success.

Cast your care on Him.
Another word for, "care" is, "anxiety." We must find places to pray. We must duck into rooms to release the pent up anxiety. We must allow tears to come while at His feet. We must allow ourselves to moan in prayer. The scripture says that when we do this the spirit is asking God for what our soul needs, because our brain doesn't realize what we need. Praying in the Spirit does WONDERS for every aspect of our trials. 

Keep your eyes on the prize.
Christ was patient on the cross because he had his eye on the prize. He endured the cross. He despised the pain. But he was able to reach his success because he had a prize in mind. The relief and release is going to be a wonderful experience! Jesus has reward for his children who are longsuffering.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

6. Rising Above, Vacation Devotion

Genesis 8:1-5
Genesis 8:4 (KJV)
And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.

Life is tough. It's a challenge to get through the valleys and climb up the mountains. There are those who have chosen to live in the valleys, but the valleys represent death and depression. They're not meant to make habitable, they're meant to travel through.

After the flood had killed every living thing on the earth, can you imagine how horrific it must have been on Noah's descendants to travel? As they descended down Mount Ararat, not only did they endure the stress of relocation, but they would have come across more carcasses than would have been acceptable to ones psyche.

This is truly one of our lessons as we travel through our valleys. Not only are we enduring our own pain, but we are thrust into the valley where all we see is the pain of others. Being in the valley greatly magnifies sorrow. It magnifies death. While attempting to obey God's command to spread across the earth and multiply, we find ourselves thick in the mire of death, pain and suffering. Not just our own, but everyone's around us in the valley as well. And yet, we have a mandate, to get to the next mountaintop. God walks with us through the valley, but he gets very liberal with rewards once we make it to the mountain top.

These valleys, where every other traveler is also experiencing the death of something, are hopeless places.

WE MUST GET TO THE NEXT MOUNTAIN.

Great things happen at the tops of mountains! There is no success like making it to the top of a mountain. I've read books and watched documentaries of mountain climbers. Some of them are missing appendages due to a climb. Some have witnessed death on a climb. Their experiences are so horrific, besides being wary of heights, I'd be too scared of duplicating their losses to want to climb. But, not these! They are so obsessed with the glories of reaching the mountain tops that their bad experiences are in no way a deterrent. 

While you'll never find me purposefully climbing anything in the natural, but a rock wall. In the spirit I too will climb life's mountains, no matter the cost. I will because I MUST get through and out of those Valleys of the Shadow of Death. I must get out of the valley because God demands I reproduce more gifts, more ministries, more joys, more testimonies. I'm a MAJOR comfort-creature. I can't stand for anything to change. I'd rather curl up and die in the valley than journey to the next mountain. But, I am built for climbing. I'm lazy about it, but I'm good at it. 

I've been in many valleys in my travels to new mountains. I've discovered that many of my fellow travelers are stuck in the valleys because they can't climb. They're as ignorant of the spiritual climb as I am of the natural climb.

Due to my rock wall climbing I've had lessons on climbing. But I'm so forgetful, I have to have a new lesson every time! My daughter, who forgets nothing, has to stand by during my lesson. She literally mouths the words along with my instructor. She's even filled in holes the instructor missed!
I know I need a partner.
I know my partner asks, "Belay?"
I know that when I'm ready I say, "Belay on."
But I don't remember what "belay" even means. 
And from climb to climb I can't remember how to tie the rope around my harness.
[true story]

In the spirit there are those who haven't been able to wrap their minds around Hope, as I have. Hope is NECESSARY to climbing out of the valley. I "get" faith and praise as easily as my daughter "gets" the climbing instructor's info. Not everybody grasps faith and praise as easily as other journeyers.

But God will not leave those in the valley just because they don't "get" the traditional climbing methods. There's another way to the top of the mountain. It's no more pleasant than the climbing method. It's sometimes a longer route, therefore patience is a necessity. It's no less frightening. 

It's a flood. 

Don't assume God intends to drown you just because your life is experiencing a flood that is destroying all you know and love. The water is pelting you from above, the ground that once held your home is being broken up. The land where you once harvested life-giving fruit is now spewing uncontrolled fountains of water.

Fear not. 

The ark has been prepared for your safety. Stay in the church. Stay with the captain. Storms are NOT the time for jumping ship. Even, as in Paul's storm, when the ship itself broke apart, he stayed with a BROKEN ship.

The key to surviving this flood is to STAY WITH THE SHIP. 

God may send a raging flood to lift you to the mountaintops, rather than a traditional climb.

2 Corinthians 3:18 (KJV)
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Friday, May 20, 2016

2. Spiritual Carnality, Vacation Devotion

Genesis 6:
Genesis 6:22 (KJV)
Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.

I have friends who are both ministers in their church, and work a public job. It surprises me when they see their public work as less important than their ministry. I see BOTH vocations as ministry. I see the public job as God paying them to work in His harvest field. The duties of the church must be done as well. But that is a very closed-off role. 

The passion and drive to be full time in ministry is a noble one. It may even be of God, in order to keep us in both fields. If we didn't have the drive for ministry we'd surely give in to the exhaustion at the end of a workday. And it's likely that the blessings and favor of God would not be on our public job if we weren't giving so much to our ministerial job. Regardless, we do have that higher calling of ministry, so tired or not, we do our church "job" after our public one.

Our first leanings to "knowing" we're hearing God's voice is if the instruction is "spiritual." I mean, if the instruction is something like, "Pray," or "Fast," or even gifts of prophecy. But we should not discount that God has always worked through "carnal" means as well.

God gave Noah detailed instructions about a boat. A BOAT! What in the world is "spiritual" about a boat?! God didn't give him prayer guidelines. God didn't tell him how or why to fast. God didn't tell him to convince others to join him in salvation. He just told him how to do a very physical, natural thing.

I feel certain that he did, in fact, pray and preach. (The New Testament calls him a "preacher of righteousness.) But what God told him to do was a very flesh and blood, wood and tar thing. He was not alone, Paul and other New Testament ministers had bi-vocational ministries as well.

Don't quit your day job. God is using the bi-vocational minister more and more. 

Don't think that college is "not ministry." Don't assume that being a hostess in a restaurant, or a construction worker, or a lawyer, or whatever your non-ministry job may be, is "non-ministry." There is likely more ministry happening there than in the church.

There are some who will take on the church full-time. Their efforts to make sure their hands are "dirty" from working in the harvest is HUGE. When working full-time in the church, it's easy to spend weeks without bumping into a single person who needs Christ. (Or who realizes they need Christ.) Granted, having music, and the spoken Word polished and ready for saint and sinner in a church service is paramount. Being available to go pray when the sick call for an elder is integral. The mechanics of church administration is a full-time job. But full-time church work is not all it's cracked up to be.

Do not underestimate the importance of where God has you in bi-vocational ministry.

It's a very spiritual carnality.