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."


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.