What love is this?

Church-going folks talk a lot about the love of Christ. But, really…What love is this? Is it like when we really “love” a book, movie, or a new pair of shoes? Or is it like how I (most of the time) love my family and close friends?

The love of Christ far exceeds our temporal infatuations. It certainly surpasses our capacity to love those closest to us. Left to our ourselves, we are incapable of the kind of love Jesus offers…

  • Love that sacrifices. Ephesians 5:2 says that Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice for God.
  • Love that heals. Matthew 9:35 speaks of Jesus traveling through all the cities and villages, healing every disease and every affliction.
  • Love that renews. Christ himself was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father so that we, too, might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
  • Love that beckons. John writes in the tenth chapter of his gospel about Jesus as the Shepherd who calls his sheep and leads them out.

It is truly amazing–a miracle!–that the love of Christ dwells in us who believe, and nothing can separate us from that love. We have Christ’s capacity to sacrifice, to heal, to renew, and to beckon…just as Christ did. Left to ourselves, we are incapable of that kind of love. But, thanks be to God, he did not leave us to ourselves!

Simply put, when we allow Christ to have his way in us, we sacrifice for one another. We truly see each other’s pain and heartache. We take the time and make the effort to pray regularly for one another, watching to see the healing come because we are agents of that healing. And a holy transformation takes place as we are renewed day by day, as we grow into the beautiful body of Christ.

That beauty, that Christlikeness, that unbelievable love of Christ that shines through us as we are transformed into his likeness is a light that attracts like no other. It beckons people to come and taste and see that the Lord is good, and that his incomparable love can dwell in them, too. They, too, can be healed and transformed as they join a family whose love isn’t fickle or shallow.

I encourage you to push the pause button on your day and engage in a little reflection. Where are you allowing the love of Christ to have its way in you? Love that sacrifices brings healing and renewal, and beckons others to do the same.

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(This is the third of three related posts. You can read the first post here, and the second here. I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences!)

Martha on Steroids

Earlier this year, I had an epiphany: size matters. In response, I began working on making changes to our ministry processes and structures to bring them into alignment with the size of our congregation. Some changes have been relatively easy to implement and others are posing a bigger challenge. Take leadership for example. My leadership.

I’ve been pretty busy trying to manage ministry. There’s been a lot to do this fall–inviting new volunteer ministers onto teams, training, procuring supplies and equipment, coordinating schedules to avoid overloading families, breathing life back into an all-but-dead critical ministry area–all while trying to develop a strategic plan for developing team ministry in a manner consistent with our church size and growth. Remember the biblical story of Martha and Mary? That was me–Martha…on steroids! Then came the crushing blow: my senior pastor and partner in ministry pointed out that I was over-functioning.

Epic fail.

OK, I suppose that’s a little dramatic. It wasn’t really a crushing blow, nor an epic fail. But it was the truth. I had embodied the antithesis of an equipping leader.

Time to take a step back, breathe deep, and re-evaluate. Rather than list all the “could haves” and “should haves,” I am focusing on two simple steps to finding my way back to equipping equilibrium:

Step 1: Practice Weekly Sabbath

For pastors, Sunday is a work day. Yes, it is ministry; but it’s work. It’s our responsibility to see that “church” happens. I am bi-vocational and work a part-time job during the week. I’m also a homemaker. Not surprisingly, I was working in one role or the other seven days a week. Not all day every day, but there wasn’t a day set aside to simply be with God. I would snatch an hour here, a half-day there. Nothing consistent. Nothing like sabbath rest in the company of Jesus.

Beginning this month, you won’t find me at the computer or in the office on Mondays. My senior pastor is holding meclosed on mondays accountable to not even think about anything having to do with our parish on Mondays. (He absolutely wins the Pastor of the Year Award!) Monday is my sabbath. It’s not my “day off,” a day to catch up on housecleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, or anything else on my to-do list. It’s a day for life-giving rest and refreshment.

I spent the first couple of Mondays at my sewing machine doing what I love. (I needed to decompress.) Last week I resolved to practice Morning, Noon, and Evening Prayer of the Daily Office each Monday. (That will take a bit more discipline!) Today I scheduled a day away at my favorite retreat house for an upcoming Monday. (I’ll be Mary on steroids that day as I sit in the porch swing with my Bible and journal in hand, listening for the Voice I know and love!)

If you are a pastor or a ministry leader and you don’t have a sabbath day of rest, you need one. Make it happen. What’s more, as a leader, you have a responsibility to not only set the example for those you are leading, but to exhort them to make sabbath-keeping a priority for their life as well.

Next post…

Step 2: Invest in Potential Leaders

Lessons from the beach…a reminder for leaders

Tropical Storm Debby

I recently returned from a few days on Florida’s Gulf Coast, vacationing with my family. We arrived to a wet welcome from tropical storm Debby, which did a lot to dampen our vacation spirit (pun certainly intended!). We had dreamed for weeks of fun activities and long walks on the beach…but for the first three days, we were barely able to stand on the beach, much less walk on it. The wind howled, the surf pounded, and the rain pelted the windows. We heard that roads were closed and, since we were not familiar with the area, we were unwilling to venture out. I couldn’t help but wonder if our vacation would be ruined, and I found myself asking God what he might have to teach me in this.

As if the storm wasn’t enough of a spoiler, I also had laryngitis. Talking over the noise of the wind and surf was impossible. Since I was forced to be quiet, I found myself really listening to the conversations going on around me without thinking of what I would say as soon as I had a chance. Sitting on our balcony during a break in the rain, I listened to a bird singing the most beautiful song–even as she hung on for dear life in the top of a palm tree being whipped by the wind. It’s really amazing what I hear when I can’t talk!

Once the weather broke, we had a list of things to do and places to see. Two precious days were lost to the storm and we were anxious to make up for lost time. God had another idea. Between the posted speed limits of 25 to 35 mph and the detours imposed by high water, we had no choice but to meander along the beach roads, taking little detours here and there. We missed many of the activities on our list, but I observed some beautiful artwork on the outside walls of hotels and condos, noticed some funny  mailboxes belonging to equally unusual beach cottages, and was blessed by the local folks standing near those closed sections of road to help tourists like us find a way around. It’s amazing the interesting sights I can see and the kindnesses I can appreciate when I slow down, take my time, and just meander.

I’ve returned from a few vacations energized by sightseeing and fun activities packed into every day, only to find the energy fizzle quickly. Not this time. God used the first couple of rain-soaked days to slow me down. I intended to hit the ground running, but what I really needed was just the opposite…to slow down, unwind, relax, get calm and quiet.

There’s something about spending a week in unfamiliar surroundings that changed me. My attention was somehow sharpened and I became more receptive… more aware of what was going on around me and how I perceived it. It was refreshing! I have come home with renewed energy for life and mission.

After the storm

So, how’s your energy these days? Does life and mission feel dull and draining?When is the last time you stopped talking, stopped doing, and just relaxed? In our ridiculously fast-paced culture, time out for rest is not a luxury… it’s a necessity. Think about it: How often do you have to recharge your phone or your laptop? What happens when you think you don’t have time to plug them into the charger? Uh-huh… so take some time and recharge YOU!