The Battle on Two Fronts

My husband and I went out for breakfast this morning to celebrate his birthday. As our slow_down_sign_reed_college_portland_oregon_2013conversation drifted to his recent retirement and the changes we are experiencing, he commented on how nice it is to be able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast on a weekday morning, having nothing he has to rush to do. As I thought about his comment, I became increasingly aware of my own state of being. I was revving up. We had finished our meal, and I was physically preparing to rush on to the next thing. Except, there wasn’t a “next thing.”

It seems to me that my body is hard-wired to rush. It’s not that I have a lot of nervous energy…I’m not a leg-jiggler or a foot-tapper. I don’t drum my fingers. I’m not even particularly energetic. But my body is always poised to move on to whatever is next on the to-do list.

As a wife and mother,  a homemaker, a businesswoman-turned-pastor, I have been busy the majority of my life. I learned early on that time management was essential to successfully juggling my varied roles and responsibilities. My days were for the most part carefully planned to maximize every minute so as to accomplish not only what I needed to get done, but also have time for what I wanted to do. It was not uncommon for me to pack more into a day than was feasible to do. I’ve conditioned myself to be productive, and to be productive requires being on the move.

My life has changed significantly in the last six months. I quit my marketplace job to spend more time in ministry. After two years of providing care for my mother, she suffered a stroke and died. Subsequent weeks were spent tying up the loose ends of her affairs. Then my husband retired, and the holidays were upon us. With the whirlwind of activity behind us, we are settling into a new routine, a slower pace. Time to relax over a leisurely meal, or go to a movie in the middle of the day. The problem is that my body doesn’t know how to do that. I feel as though I’m fighting a battle to make myself slow down. That’s the battle on the physical front.

But the battle is also being fought on another front, a spiritual front. All this busyness I’ve prided myself on over the years has also conditioned my spiritual self to stay on the move. I devoured books, yet couldn’t really tell you what I’d read. I would have a revelation from scripture, but wouldn’t remember it days later. Rather than take the time to process what I read and perceived, I was rushing ahead to the next spiritual thought or epiphany. Now I am learning how to sit quietly and listen–really listen–for the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Solitude is becoming something I desire regularly.

Equally important, I am learning to be still and truly listen to others. Just as I rushed physically from one thing to the next, I also rushed conversations. The temptation to think about how I wanted to respond or simply being impatient to move on to another topic meant that I often didn’t give attention to the other person’s words, much less to what might be hiding behind them.

I’m learning that it’s impossible to be attentive to the present moment when the body and the spirit are persistently rushing on to the next thing on the to-do list or on to the next thought. This business of slowing down is hard though! The battle against pushing forward, refusing to idolize both physical and spiritual busyness, is intense.

The lesson that needs to settle deep in my spirit is this: What’s next is not guaranteed. Only this moment is real. To rush past it is to lose the battle and forfeit the opportunity to experience God in the here and now. And so each evening I thank God for all the blessings of the day, the ones I caught and the ones I missed, asking him to reveal those overlooked blessings so that I may be consciously grateful for them, too. My prayer is that this tool–this examen at the end of the day–will help me win the battle of being fully present on both fronts, physically and spiritually. Amen and amen.

 

Sunday Commute

The Sunday morning commute has become one of the best prayer times of my week.

At the beginning of this year, our church moved from our suburban location–which was a two-minute drive from my home–to a soup kitchen downtown. Now it takes me 15-20 minutes to get to church, with several traffic lights between home and my destination. My husband will tell you that I will drive miles out of my way any day of the week to avoid sitting at traffic lights. But not on Sundays…not anymore. driving_praying

A few months ago I began thinking of the Sunday morning commute as a prime time for prayer.

I’m the associate pastor at my church, so you may think that it’s a given that I would be prayerful on Sunday mornings as I prepare for our worship service. Not necessarily! (If you are a pastor, perhaps you are smiling in agreement!) It’s far too easy for my mind to drift to whatever I need to do when I get to church, who I need to speak with, or anticipate where I might have to fill in for an absent volunteer minister. If I’m preaching, my tendency is to review and critique my sermon for the umpteenth time. When engaged in that line of thinking, I arrive at church wired and ready to get busy with work…not worship.

I spent ten years on staff at a church where I went to work on Sunday mornings. When I left, I was on the verge of burnout. I did not practice self-care. I allowed the demands of ministry to take precedence over my need to worship, to give God the honor and glory that is due him, and in turn to experience the satisfaction of doing what I was created to do: worship God.

Sundays are for worship, not work. Yes, I have responsibilities on Sunday mornings, but my first priority is to worship God. Praying through the drive to church makes all the difference in my ability to prioritize worship over work. Rather than focus on the to-do list, I…

  • acknowledge God’s faithfulness, thanking him for a new day, and for the privilege of living in a country where I can worship him freely
  • thank Jesus for enduring the cross so that I can live free
  • thank God for those he will bring through our church door who are searching
  • lift up all those who are preparing to come to church, asking God to remove any obstacles, and to pour out a spirit of cooperation on spouses and children
  • pray for those who are struggling with the temptation to stay home, to skip church this week, asking God to stir up a holy desire for worship and fellowship with their church family
  • ask the Holy Spirit to annoint the preaching pastor as he opens God’s word, and to stir our minds and hearts to belief and obedience
  • ask God to bless the volunteer ministers as they bless those whom they serve
  • and I pray that God will be blessed by the worship we bring.

What I’m amazed to find is that when the worship service begins, when the first note of the first song sounds, my heart and my mind sync with the Holy Spirit and worship overflows!

So, what do you do on your Sunday commute?

 

Don’t forget the blueberries!

In his book The Healing Reawakening, Francis MacNutt notes that people rarely come asking for the fruit of the Spirit. Rather, they come asking for the gifts of the Spirit. He writes–

…many people ask for us to pray for them to receive the charismatic gifts, such as, “Please pray for me to receive the gift of healing.” Relatively few ask for the fruits of the Spirit, saying something like, “I have trouble loving other people. Would you pray that I receive the gift of loving and caring?”

Francis MacNutt wrote about me. I have often asked for God to give me a particular spiritual gift. I rarely have intentionally asked for the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, I have joked for years about not asking for patience because the lessons to learn it are painful!

I am all about doing. I have long prided myself on keeping busy. I certainly identify with Martha in the biblical story of Mary and Martha found in Luke 10. I’ve read countless books and heard countless talks about the importance of being over doing, only to think to myself that if it weren’t for those of us who do, nothing would ever get done. (Seriously, there’s a certain amount of truth in that, right?!)

The point is not to separate the doing from the being. The point is that the gifts without the fruit lead to pride and self-aggrandizement. Asking for the gifts of the Spirit and not for the fruit of the Spirit is rooted in selfishness, even when it is born out of misunderstanding.

When I ask for the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control–I’m asking God to form in me particular qualities of character. That means it’s who I am all the time. When I ask for Spiritual gifts, I’m asking for something I can use, something I can do when and if I choose.

I often teach that ministry is not just what we do, but it is who we are. That’s only true when we pray for the fruit of the Spirit in conjunction with the gifts of the Spirit. When I have the character of Christ, the spiritual gifts become tools which I selflessly use to bless others. The fruit of the Spirit informs me how to use the gifts of the Spirit for God’s glory rather than my own.

No doubt about it, I need more fruit.

summer-fruit-bowl-02So, God, may I please have some raspberries…and strawberries…and peaches? Maybe a banana and some kiwi? And please don’t forget the blueberries. I need them all!

Clean Windows

I sit at my desk and gaze out the window at burnished gold and flaming orange leaves heralding autumn. It occurs to me how much I love clean windows! Earlier this morning I looked out through the accumulation of dirt and smudges on the glass and those same leaves looked dull, joyless. So I gathered up my cleaning supplies and got busy. Now, observed through my clean window, the world looks freshly washed.

Clean-WindowsI do love clean windows…but I hate washing them! I procrastinate and complain about this despised chore, no matter how delighted I am with the end result. I can’t afford to pay someone to wash my windows for me, so I’m stuck with doing it myself. Our windows are old, the kind that tilt in, and it requires strong hands to compress the frame in order to release the sash. Sometimes a window frame has become stiff with age and I struggle to get the sash free. When it suddenly pops out, there’s this little “pop” of relief within me…now I can get on with the washing.  Depending on the season, the sash may be stuck, not willing to budge no matter how much I push, pull, huff and puff. Those are the days when I’m so grateful for the help of my husband’s strong hands and arms. It’s good to have help when the work is hard!

Like looking through clean windows, I love seeing the heart of God clearly. Somehow the world seems freshly washed–and me along with it–when I observe the world around me with his heart. But, just like washing windows, seeing God’s heart clearly requires time and energy…and there are days when I just don’t want to invest in Bible study and prayer, no matter how delighted I will be with the end result. In a different sense, I can’t afford to pay someone to do that work for me (paying the preacher to preach the sermon doesn’t count!) This is work I must do myself.

Inevitably, there are days when the framework of my mind has become stiff with age, resistant to the pressure of  change. There are seasons when I feel the window of my soul has swollen shut with the cares of life and world, and it just won’t budge. In those times, it takes a strong hand to break those places free…tilting the sash of my soul inward so that God can penetrate my heart and mind. In those times I am grateful for the Spirit’s gift of a listening friend who encourages me until I feel the “pop”, or the one more learned than me who has generously written down the wisdom gleaned from their own study and prayer. Again, it’s good to have help when the work is hard!

When my view of life and world is dull and joyless, I know that I’m not seeing God’s heart clearly. I’ve allowed the dirt and smudges of procrastination and complaining to accumulate on the window of my soul. I realize that it’s time to gather up my cleaning supplies–prayer, Scripture, a good friend, the wisdom of a commentary–and get busy. The end result is like looking at the brilliant fall leaves through freshly washed windows…delightful!

How’s the view through your windows?

Vision without love is a…

pipedream

My friend Doug and his family have been searching for a church home. After visiting a particular church several times, they arranged a meeting with the pastor, thinking that they had finally found a place to belong. It didn’t take long for that thought to change, however.

As we chatted over a cup of coffee, Doug shared that his family has been searching for a while and had been excited at the prospect of settling down. The pastor’s teaching and preaching was sound and the congregation culturally diverse. It seemed like a good fit.

“What happened that changed your mind?” I asked.

“When we met with the pastor, he did all the talking. He never once asked what we thought we could contribute to the church, much less what we might need. He talked about his vision for his church. That was it. I felt like he was saying, ‘This is my vision; get on board with it.’ He simply had no interest in hearing about my desire for ministry or any needs I might have.”

What a sad end to what could have been a perfect match!

It’s so easy for a leader to get carried away sharing their vision for ministry. Most leaders are visionaries, and certainly there is a time and place for sharing vision–at a congregational meeting or a gathering of leaders. And, of course, with potential church members, who often want to know about the church’s “mission.” (Not that the church has a mission; the church is God’s mission…but that’s a topic for another conversation!)

However, no one likes to feel that they are simply a means to someone else’s end…a tool in someone else’s toolbox…an extension of another person. Each believer is uniquely gifted for ministry and, as a leader, it’s my privilege to help them discover their role in God’s kingdom, whether or not it fits in with our particular vision.

When I meet with newcomers to our church family, I make it a point to not only answer their questions about our church, but to ask about their needs and their interests. Only then am I able to serve them. Yes, I do share our vision for our church because I think it’s important that they know how we as a church participate with God in his mission. But God’s mission includes ministering to those he brings through our doors, recognizing their needs, calling forth the gifts of the Spirit that reside in each individual, guiding them into ministry either as a recipient or as a servant.

Valuing each person as a gifted individual whom God has equipped for ministry and helping each one discover their place and method of serving should be critical to every equipping leader’s vision for their church.

St. Paul–with the help of Eugene Peterson–says it much more eloquently:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.             -1 Corinthians 13:1-10 [The Message]

 

 

Back to the Basics: It’s All About Love

Trust me, this not a sappy Valentine’s Day post! Actually it’s somewhat of a response to my last post. To be honest, there was something about that post that felt a little off the mark. Not because I wrote anything untrue. Not because it was direct. No, there was just something missing…something very important. Motivation.

The danger of throwing out scripture verses out of context is that they can be misunderstood. One could interpret that post in light of the scriptures I employed as me contending that we should serve others out of a sense of obligation to Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth! Obligation has little to do with it. It’s really all about love.

Know that you are loved by God.

The first step in serving others is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves me, that I am his beloved child and that nothing can change that. I can do nothing to make him love me more or love me less. And because of God’s love for me, Christ gave up his life for me. Judging by my behavior, I wasn’t worth that. But God sees me differently, and loves me unconditionally.

Know what is an appropriate response to that love.

Because God loves me–because Christ gave up his life for me–I am motivated to respond. This is not a matter of somehow earning this love. It was already mine, long before I was aware of it! No, this is a visceral response to a love that I really can’t comprehend, but for which I am beyond grateful. I want to respond, I want to return at least a small measure of that love. Not out of obligation, but out of this deep fountain of gratitude that wells up within me. Anticipating this response, Jesus left instructions about how I might express my gratitude and my love for him.

Know how to love others.

Jesus simply said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) The way that Jesus loves me is that he gave up his life for me, and now walks with me every day. He points out the people he wants to serve through me. He provides everything I need to do what he asks me to do: the gift of the Holy Spirit, friends who have complimentary talents and abilities so that I do not serve alone, spiritual directors who are willing to share their God-given wisdom to encourage me to become more and more like Christ. All I need do is make myself available to him.proof

And that is what I do, as best as I am able. I make myself available to Jesus Christ. Not out of a sense of obligation. Not because I think I can somehow earn what has been freely given. Neither of these are adequate motivation to go the distance in the way that Jesus calls me to serve. No, what motivates me is love–God’s love for me, understanding the appropriate response, and loving others as Christ loved me.

Something old may just be something new!

I haven’t blogged in well over a month. I haven’t felt like I had anything new to say. Maybe I don’t. But in the past two weeks I’ve had two conversations with ministry leaders from two churches in two states, each of whom sharing with me something that set off my equipping alarm! I have been reminded that each person learns at their own speed, implementing what they can, when they can. In other words, when someone attends a training or reads a book or blog, there may be only one or two points that grab their attention and around which they take action.

Case in point: in the first conversation, the ministry leader shared that their church had enthusiastically encouraged gifts discovery, providing curriculum and a class for those who were interested in learning. Many of their members went through the class and were excited to learn their spiritual gift. However, there was no follow through. No follow up. No process for helping those folks find a serving opportunity that would utilize their gift in fruitful ministry.

This reminds me of the first Christmas we gave our son an electronic toy. He squealed with excitement when he opened his gift, then cried with equal fervor when it wouldn’t work because we had neglected to purchase the necessary batteries. I saw the same frustrated disappointment on the face of my grandson just a few weeks ago when, after gleefully ripping the wrapping paper off a Christmas present, he was told he couldn’t open the box to play with the toy because his momma was concerned that the small parts would be lost in all the empty boxes and wrapping paper. What’s the fun of opening a gift that you can’t use?

In the second conversation, a ministry leader shared that they had at one time offered a discovery process, but it had now been years since spiritual gifts was a topic of conversation around the church. New folks who had come since that time had not been provided an opportunity to discover their unique design for ministry, and those who had participated previously had not been encouraged to re-visit the process to see what new thing the Holy Spirit might be doing in their lives to birth new ministry.

In each of these cases, a discovery process was implemented–probably in response to a new idea gleaned from a book or a training–but the process was incomplete in the first instance, and relegated to a program (with a predictable end) in the second. I’ve no doubt that the intention of each of these ministry leaders was to encourage their congregation to serve, but they had only a partial understanding and implementation of what is necessary to equip their people for fruitful and fulfilling ministry.

These conversations lead me to believe that I may not have anything new to say, but the stuff I’ve said before bears repeating. With that said, I will focus the next few posts on casting the vision for what is necessary to create and sustain an equipping culture. For those of you who have heard it all before, I hope you will share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions to make that which is old (to you) into something new for others…and perhaps for yourself, too!

something old made new