Friday, July 30, 2010

I love you anyway...that's just one word too many.

I overheard the toddler telling the teenager just the other day, 'Clean your room. You've got a lot of stuff in the floor, and Jesus wants you to clean your room!'

Now I know I've told the teenager to clean her room at least once daily since way before the toddler came to realize she had feet...much less know anything about Jesus...but what struck me as odd was her choice to use Jesus instead of me as the authoritative figure to challenge her sister.

Don't get me wrong. That's exactly the way it should be. We should worry about keeping our Savior happy with our thoughts and actions far before anyone else. What struck me as odd was she had both seen and been victim to the consequences of not listening at my hand, not that of Jesus. Granted, the two sisters are disciplined in much different manners when the situation dictates, but she still knew that her sister keeping her room clean was akin to her keeping her toys picked up when not playing with them...or not jumping on the furniture...or not messing with the different devices in the entertainment center...or not, get the point! When she messes up, mommy and daddy aren't happy, so Jesus must not be happy too.

I hold my kids to high expectations and subscribe to the 'Do Hard Things' philosophy in life. Good grades are expected just as good manners are too. God must come first in every situation. Attitude and effort are not things you sell short. The end doesn't justify the means because there are always a number of right and wrong ways to get to the end. Compromise and morals are very dangerous words to use together in a sentence much less in practice.

Both of my girls (and I'm sure number 3) are strong willed almost to the point of stubbornness. I would say it drives me absolutely nuts, but my wife is often there to remind me exactly where the trait comes from in them...with a mirror. That fact causes me a lot of anxiety because I know the trials and troubles caused in my own life by it. So I pray...

Prayer has been woven throughout our blogs this week and was mentioned in each post. Important? More like essential if you expect to succeed as a parent. Our relationships at home are based on a model of the most holy order. Inevitably, you are going to be heart broken if you have children. Deal with it. God graciously loves us in spite.

Now let me get all James Lehman on you. Consistency is the key when dealing with your kids at whatever age. We have the ultimate example of that fact in our Heavenly Father who gave us life, gave us His expectations in a written Word, gave us promises He will fulfill, and set us on our way to serve His Kingdom.

That my friends hasn't changed since life was first breathed into dust.

Love your kids with all your heart by showing them the ways of the Lord...He comes first, then your spouse, and they are firmly next through thick and thin. Always give honor to your own parents, so they see your example. I believe God intends family to be an eternal thing because He dedicates so much of His word to the subject matter. You won't find a specific doctrine or Scripture that confirms my belief, but I must not be alone in feeling that way...

...because Satan sure spends a lot of effort on evil ways to break our families apart.

May God bless you and your family this weekend. I encourage you to spend time with your family this weekend in a House of the Lord and lift your praises up to Him together. Nothing could do more to draw you closer to one another.

Ephesians 6:1-4
1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2"Honor your father and mother"—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3"that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." 4Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What if you do theRight things but don't appear to have the Right Results?

You know those sharp looking articles that you find that tell you stuff such as the 7 steps to becoming a strong spiritual leader in the home? Well, this post isn't one of those..

While I find talking about spiritual leadership fascinating, I find providing it in the home challenging

I really appreciate what Joyce had to say about how you must start by leading yourself. If I don't have a vital, intimate, connection with, and commitment to, God - then how I can I spiritually lead my family? I adored what David said about knowing the dreams of those you're leading, and having an investment in seeing them fulfill their dreams. Constantly seeking how God can use you to help them accomplish their dreams. Good stuff.

I struggle.

If you would have asked me about this topic three years ago I would have had a whole lot to say. That was when my oldest son was finishing up his first year at West Point (the college he'd dreamed of attending), my youngest son was exceptionally interested in spiritual matters, and both my youngest and middle sons were getting top grades, excelling in sports, and consistent in their personal times in the Word and church attendance. Yes, in those days I would have thought I knew how to make things happen.

Since that time I've continued to do that which I knew to do: have a vital & growing personal relationship with God that included reaching out to others on an ongoing basis, have family dinners together, have prayer and praise be as natural to our home as breathing oxygen, encourage my children in their areas of giftedness, fervently pray on a regular basis with my husband for our children. But, now things are different.

My two younger sons aren't thinking I'm too great; in fact, they're thinking I'm rather terrible. Some of this is due to my allowing them to experience the natural consequences of some poor choices on their parts. Because a big part of my goals in parenting is to develop independent, competent in daily life, Christ centered, adults - I can't cushion their blows. Sometimes they've got to learn the hard way, from life consequences, why I've always told them to do, or refrain from, certain things. Some of this may also simply be part of the whole "teenage angst" thing - they don't feel so great and don't really know why, so it must be mom's fault. Some of this may do to that whole individuation process - them become separate, independent, adults. Some of this may be due to my own mistakes, sins, and poor choices. Whatever the cause, I question how I can be much of a leader to two young men who don't think much of me, who certainly wouldn't follow me anywhere that they didn't have to.

So - what's God teaching me about leadership in the home?

I guess that can be summarized by saying that I'm learning how live dependent on Him when I'm doing all I know to do, but am not right at this moment seeing the results that I think I should.

The Holy Spirit has encouraged my heart countless times with the words from Galatians 6:8-10 (MSG):

7-8 Don't be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he'll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God's Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

9-10 So let's not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don't give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

I'm grateful that when it's all said and done, what is expected of me is obedience to what I know to do and then to trust God with the results.

What about you, what's God been teaching you about spiritual leadership in the home?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Supertastic Leadership

I have learned more about God since becoming a Dad.  I have come to understand how He can love me even when I am at my absolute worst or most rebellious.  I understand the need for Grace and how it should never be earned, but given freely.  The love I have for my kids cannot even compare to the Love that God has for each one of His kids.

 Every night, each one of prays for all the moms and dads, all the grandmas and grandpas and all of our family and friends.  With the blended family and the competitiveness between Naomi and Logan, we had to group all those outside of our house together just so prayers wouldn't last 2 hours. After each individual prayers for the groups, one at a time, we will lay hands on each other and pray that Jesus would bless each Supertastic.

Jensen, the youngest Supertastic at 18 month old, has recently begun 'joining' us in prayers. When each one of will begin laying hands on the rest of the family, he will put his hands upon his head.  Pretty amusing and pretty cool that Jensen is growing up in a house of prayer.

Now I could wind up this entry about leadership with a verse (Proverbs 22.6)and how important it is we are aware of all the eyes upon us.  But I wanna go a little deeper.

See, even before Jensen began 'praying' with us, he was already intimating my leadership. One day when I got home from work, Nikki told me how Jensen was stomping around the living room with a scowl, an angry tone barking "NOW" while jabbing his little index finger at Nikki, Naomi and Logan.  Both older kids agreed, "He looks like Daddy!"A couple of days later I got to witness Jensen's 'outrage'. I gotta admit it was pretty funny, but even more convicting.

Is this what Jensen saw more of out of me? Is that what my family saw me as?  An angry, demanding Dad, that could only get his point across through fear or intimidation?  Is this what my kids are gonna remember the most about? 

So I will conclude with two verses.  Two verses that can instantly lead to confession to my Dad in Heaven about the kind of Dad I wanna be.  The kind of Dad I am supposed to be.

The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him.
Psalm 20.7

Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children.
Proverbs 17.6

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lead on your knees...

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. I was really upset with myself for missing last week. I almost never forget anything – so I thought wow – I’m really stressed or busy or something. I completely forgot about filling my day last week.

I apologized to my fellow bloggers. They graciously understood. However, I was also disappointed because I actually thought I had something to say about leadership. I’ve been reading all sorts of books on leadership. I spent 8 days living in a dorm on campus to complete a course in Intra-personal Leadership as part of my doctoral program. Leadership was something I have been living with now for weeks.

Had I blogged last week, I would have told you that all leadership begins with leadership of yourself. That’s a pretty big statement. I think leading ourselves is the hardest thing to do. It’s easier to lead others. However, if you don’t know where you going, you’ll be like the blind-man who leads everyone into the ditch.

I’ve been told I am a natural leader. I think that’s true but I’ve had the hardest time leading myself. That’s changing and that’s good. But what about leadership with children at home? Is that any different than any other type of leadership?

I think it is. The stakes are huge. You’ve brought children into the world, or you’ve agreed to raise them as part of your family – their future is in your hands. Truth be told, most of us fail in at least parts of this responsibility. I often wonder why God gives us such an awesome serious responsibility knowing that we’ll probably screw up at least part of it.

I’ve raised 8 wonderful children. With each one of them, I can think of things I did right and things I didn’t do so well.  I tend to think of those things I didn’t do so well the most. Every time they have a trial or a mishap, they make bad decisions or go the wrong way in life, I wonder. Was it my fault? What if I had done this better or that better?

If I were to give anyone advice, at this point in my life, about parenting and leadership in your home it would be to pray, pray, pray and pray some more. You are going to screw up. You are going to do the very best you can and you’re still going to have moments that looking back, you’ll wish you did better.

Yes, pray for God to make you a better parent. That’s always very helpful and needful. I prayed a lot when mine were growing up and now I wonder if it was enough. But the prayer is more for you. It is so you can receive grace, the grace to go on and keep doing the best you can even when your best isn’t enough. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who's Your Daddy?

My house is filled with kid art. We have a curio cabinet of collectibles, and some of them are handmade by my children. There is a plaster tiger, a ceramic bell, a clay dog with a bowl, and plaster of paris pig.

I really do have talented kids!

This week the Kingdom faithful are going to write about what it's like to lead a family. Last week we blogged about church leadership, and this week we're encouraging you to "try this at home!"

Erin, my 19-year-old was telling the youth group leader about me. And she told my daughter that she wanted to meet me. Wow, that's strange, what could she have said to to elicit that response?

My 22-year-old, Zöe tells her friends I'm a sick guitarist. And I might be - you decide.

My little one, Charlotte is just 6. She will say "that's my dad," if she even remembers to say that much.

It's an interesting topic for a guy who has been divorced. That alone caused a lot of damage to my older kids, and doesn't make it easy for the little one either. All that is another long blog.

My job is to be the head of the house as Christ is to the church. There are lots of teachings about that - but I am to simply lay down my life for them. Their needs come first, and mine come last. That is the position of a Christian leader.

As the leader, I need to look at how I lead them. I can only lead by example - and well - I am not always the best example.

I have tried to make the dinner table an altar (Duet 6). It is place to talk about our day with each other, to have the cell phones shut off, and to skip the discipline that is so easy to turn on. I don't alway succeed, but we do pray together holding hands, we talk to each other, have worship music playing, and we stay until the end.

As a leader, I want my kids to succeed in their dreams. One daughter wanted to be a fashion designer, and I worked with her to find a college; she just graduated with honors. She hasn't found a job yet, but it is what she wanted to do. I have another that really wanted to be at hair school, she was going, but it doesn't seem to be for her. I am not mad about it. I think she could have stuck it out, but she has other plans.

My wife wants to live on a farm and take care of horses. We went looking for farms today. I want her to succeed.

That's really the job of being a leader in your home. You get to be a cheerleader for what everyone else wants to do. It makes me feel as if I have some success when those I love achieve their dreams and have a mountain top experience. (Yes, that us on top of Mt. Washington - 6,288 feet)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lead, follow or get out...the serving dishes?

The church could sure benefit from following the United States Marine Corps example when it comes to leadership...

Let's face it. Jesus was an awesome leader while He walked the Earth. As a matter of fact, He was the ultimate example, the perfect template for what leadership is all about. Of course, the same can be said about any number of other categories as well.

But that's not fair! Jesus is God! Omnipotent and omnipresent.

As Christians, we really struggle to follow the example of Jesus on practically everything. We try...some of us really, really hard...but keep coming up short time and time again. Get over it! You and I will never be Jesus. Not now, not later and not when we're called Home. There's only One...and we aren't Him.

While following the example of Christ might be too lofty an expectation for us, the altruistic nature of Jesus is most worthy of an admirable effort to mimic, plus maybe...just maybe...God gave the church a more obtainable example in 1775 called the Corps. That's right.
The United States Marine Corps. Keepers of the peace and protectors of all that is right and good on this third chunk of rock from the Sun.

Sure. I'm a little biased on the subject matter, but you go with what you know. I know in the USMC...leadership reigns supreme. It's embedded in all that you do. From the moment you step off that bus at a Recruit Depot, recruits are being sized up on leadership abilities. It goes without saying that officer candidates live, breath, eat and dream on matters of leadership. The Marines don't hold to the politically correct philosophy that leaders are made and not born. Are you kidding me! If you're not cut out to be a leader, you will not make it. Period. Trust me, the Corps has develop a number of innovative ways to find out if you've got it or not too.

So how can the church adopt some of the principles used by the Corps to develop and groom present day church leadership? For the sake of David Johndrow who apparently comprehends best with bullet-style presentation, I give you three examples (a la Matt at The Church of No People) the church should follow:

  1. Lessons from history are important. As a green Second Lieutenant freshly commissioned right out of college, experience was something I seriously lacked when I first donned the uniform. So the Corps sent me to Quantico , VA for six months to study tactics, strategies and lessons from battles as far back as biblical days. Pilots, lawyers, engineers, electronic warfare special and any other non-infantry related career field are all there along with the future infantry officers. Doesn't matter what you will ultimately do in the Corps, you will always first and foremost be an infantry leader of combat Marines, so you study history, take in the lessons of what has worked and what hasn't in the heat of battle. Knowledge is power, and power builds confidence. Leaders must be confident if nothing else..

    As Christians, we have the greatest source of human history at our disposal each and every day. The Holy Bible. All we need is right in there...the history of God's plan to grow His Kingdom and bring us Home when He so wills. You don't even have to sleep in the freezing cold, live in the wet and mud, or be away from you family to learn from leaders of the past. No, you can share the Bible's history with your family right in your own living room and help them be better leaders in the Kingdom too.

  2. Leadership is a responsibility of everyone. Since combat is an ever-changing and fluid environment, a Marine never knows when he might be called upon to exercise his leadership in a given situation. Pay grades E-1 (Private) to O-9 (General)...every Marine fills a position in the chain of command. Someone sits atop that pyramid and ultimately answers to the President, or Commander in Chief, a civilian. However, Generals don't fight door-to-door in the urban trenches where life and death are played out from moment to moment, day after day. At every step up and down the chain of command, decisions are being made constantly...important decisions....and in each case leadership is being exercised. Generals exercise big picture leadership, while Lieutenants are up close and personal with the Marines they are charged with leading. How do Privates demonstrate leadership? Quite following their orders to the best of their ability. The Marine Corps learned along time ago, if you can't follow orders..chance are you aren't going to be very good giving orders.

    The church is a complex dynamic comprised of many different parts...ergo the body metaphor commonly used. Yet each part that makes up that dynamic plays an important role. Hopefully that's the role so desired by God. When the time comes, each part will be called upon to execute their function, and thus by nature, assume a leadership role. Some parts are involved daily in decisions making and planning while others may only be called upon in a very specific manner...but you lead to be ready. Executing your role in the body to the very best of your ability is in fact...leadership.

  3. Leadership is most about serving others. Being in charge doesn't necessarily make someone a leader. To get others to follow you (especially in situations that could get them killed), first you must demonstrate a commitment to something greater than self. The unit, the command, the Corps, and the country's needs must be put ahead of your own. Marines will follow a good leader straight into the face of an enemy trying to desperately kill if they know that leader is willing to die right along side them. You can't effectively lead from the rear. Also, good leaders always put their Marines first. They make sure their Marines eat, rest, get mail or just about anything thing else before they do. Sure, rank has privileges...but that doesn't mean you have to use them. Service to God, country and Corps is an unofficial motto of every Marine. There's not a motto for service to self.

    It's not about me, it's about God. Those words flow easily from our lips as Christians, but what do our actions actually demonstrate? Being a part of the church...a part of the Kingdom...means dying to self daily according to Paul. That means as Christians, we must humble our self and accept that self-service is no good...then turn our self over to serving the Spirit as we are lead. If God truly comes first in the heart, the church would be filled with great leaders who understand their role and are ready to step up when called upon by the Spirit or by someone else lead by the Spirit. Great leadership is forged through a commitment to serve others above self, and never was there a better example of that than Jesus Christ.
I stand by the Corps' philosophy that leaders are born and not made, but with one slight modification. In the grandest scale of God's infinity...leaders in the Kingdom are made by being born...born again that is...and then following the example left by a risen Savior.

By the way, semper fidelis is Latin for always faithful...but that's another blog for another time.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Things aren't always as they appear

Although we all have our spheres of influence, I'm not so sure that leadership is for everyone.

When it comes to life in the church, 1 Corinthians 12 compares the church to a body, and the ministry gifts God gives to function in the church, to body parts. When you look at those descriptions, all gifts are needed, worthy and valuable - but not all are leadership gifts. We also have the truth presented repeatedly in scripture (Luke 12:40-52, Matthew 25:13-30, 1 Timothy 3:1-12) that we are responsible for what we are given; so, when we are given more responsibility, we are judged at a higher standard, more is expected from us.

But if we are meant to be leaders, then we are meant to be great leaders. What makes a leader great doesn't change according to circumstances. Be it in the work place, family, church, wherever - the same principles of truth work in all settings.

I've long been captivated by what Jesus said makes men great; especially what was recorded in Matthew 20:25-28 (NLT):

25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I'm not sure if it was the teaching of the church that I grew up in, general Christian culture, or just my natural bent toward sin; but somehow I grew up with what I now see as "false humility". The characteristics of "false humility" are: Thinking myself to be less than everyone else, assuming that nothing I do is ever done good enough, assuming that if I'm truly humble I must always engage in those tasks that I've defined as the "lowliest" of tasks, never allowing others to do for me or compliment me in any way, basically having a worm in the dirt attitude. One of the biggest problems with "false humility" is that the focus is on myself. By contrast what I have come to see as true humility can be seen in these types of characteristics: Truth based, Christ centered, focused on how God can use me in the lives of others without concern for my position (be it at the front or the end of the line), focused on letting God show me how to develop those talents and gifts He's given me, knowledge that through Him I can do any and everything that He has set for me to accomplish.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, my "false humility" made me an ineffective leader; in my family, the workplace, and the church. I assumed that what Jesus was saying in Matthew 20:25-28 meant that I needed to act like a door mat, take most tasks upon myself (at a minimum those least desirable tasks), set out to please everyone, and never be anything but kind- which translated into non-confrontational and unclear. I was unclear because I didn't think it was "right" to tell others when they were doing something wrong, or to require specific performance of others (somehow in my messed up thinking I thought that would be the lording over people Jesus spoke about in Matthew 20:25). The results were that I didn't know how to manage my home, was frustrated in my relationships with my husband and children, failed to have my subordinates at work produce at high levels and provide high quality care, had frustrated subordinates at work (even though they may or may not have realized it, my poor leadership impacted the facility negatively), was only partially effective in ministry.

Interestingly enough, God taught me extensively about my false humility and how to lead greatly through an unsaved man who chose to mentor me in the work setting. It just went to show me that even the unsaved are blessed on this earth when they employ God's principles, and that God can use whomever He chooses to use.

To prevent myself from producing the never ending post here,I'll just share about three of the things that I learned with regard to Leadership:

* It's never about me. Once I step into the leadership position, is HAS to be about the people God's entrusted to me. Be those my children, employees, or other women and girls at church. My place is not to be focused, directly or indirectly, on getting my needs met or ego filled. How I feel, or if I find someone's personally appealing/like-able/easy to get along with, or if I'm being treated unfairly, does not matter. I am to be about praying for, and being keyed-into, those who are entrusted to me. What are their needs? What are their dreams and ambitions? What can I do to facilitate the growth of their gifts, talents, skills and abilities? How can God use me to help them produce and perform in ways they never dreamed possible? I am not able to do this if I do not make time to rest in God and take care of myself; my needs will just be too great to be able to focus on the people entrusted to me. For it to be all about those entrusted to me as a leader (read: mother, boss, women's ministry leader, youth minister, etc.), I've got to make chunks of time to be in the Word, in prayer, silent before God, to let Him meet the deepest needs of my heart. Things also work best when I get enough sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition.

* In order to lead I've got to know where we're going. I've got to look to God and let Him given me the vision and direction. Receiving on that level from God requires a time investment, and a commitment to keep seeking until I have the vision.

* God has given me certain positions, talents and gifts, and training to be utilized. I need to invest my time in those activities that perhaps only I can do. During a women's ministry leadership training recently I found it interesting that in my small group we all admitted that it was easy for us to just do the work, but that's not always where our time was meant to be spent. Often we need to step back and let others accomplish tasks with the gifts and talents they were given to do those very things, while we engage in training and building up others to lead. That was always especially difficult for me in the work place; to be candid, as an administrator it was easy to look like such a hero if I actually went and got the floor buffer and was out buffing the floors, or dealing with difficult patients, or handling the petty cash. But then what were my janitors, nurses, or office staff doing? And how did that allow me to pray about, network, and constantly be seeking new lines of revenue to sustain the enterprise so that we all could keep our jobs? Did it allow me to take time and invest in the facility's department directors and help them become more effective? Or did it just make me look like one of the bunch, and be popular? Being liked is not the goal; being obedient to God's calling and having Him produce results through me is what I want to be about.

What about you, how has God changed the way you look at leadership? What's He taught you about leadership? How has God taught you about leadership?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Church Needs a Mask

Maybe it might not be me that touches a million people, maybe I will touch that one that will touch a million.
Charles "Mask" Lewis

Charles Lewis, aka, Mask had a vision that I think some in the church could learn from. He had a vision, he had goals, but his passion and dreams were greater than himself. His desire for success wasn't just for himself, it was to see mixed martial arts prosper as a sport and to help open doors for mma fighters. His vision, his passion was bigger than himself. He accepted the fact that he played a role in something greater than himself and success could not be measured by what he did or did not accomplish.

Whether it is an issue of pride or an issue of control, sometimes the church can get its focus off of the message and place it on the number of people hearing the message. The focus becomes on the service rather than serving. The focus is on the volume and performance of the message and not the message. The church wants to reach millions, the church wants to advance the Kingdom of God, but on its own terms. The focus is on the pulpit, on the title or the status and not on the message or the journey. Quickly, a "program" or group is disbanded because of the lack of numbers or "results" without consideration of what Holy Spirit may be doing.

I see it in individuals as well. People that want to share Jesus with millions but they don't want to share Jesus with their neighbor, coworker or the grocery store clerk they see throughout the week. The thinking is that their calling, their message, their Gifts are so amazing, so anointed, it must be shared with the world but the time can't be made to share with those around them. That person knows they are called to preach, but only from the pulpit and not at the workplace. They know they are an apostle, but they are only willing to be sent out by the church leadership and not by Jesus. They know they are to be a pastor, but don't feel qualified unless they have the title before their name.

Too many times believers base their success upon the immediate results and forget what Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 4:5. Too many times believers are not willing to concede their own vision for Holy Spirit's vision. Too many times people are not willing to accept where Jesus has placed them in the Church. While some are trying to reach the world for Jesus, they overlook the people Jesus has brought into their lives for His purpose. The person that may get overlooked by someone focused upon their own "ministry" could be the one to reach millions.

The gifts and the calling are irrevocable and God will use anyone and wants to see everyone saved. It is possible for us to limit God by limiting how He can use us for His good work. It is possible to limit the work Christ can do, by limiting how, when and where we are willing to serve Him. We have to be willing to be used by Jesus according to His will, wanting others to succeed in their ministry.

When it comes to the Kingdom of God, does it really matter who delivers the Good Word or how the Gospel is preached? Does it matter what title we have, where we minister or who we minister to as long as Jesus is glorified?

It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:7-9

Monday, July 19, 2010

At the Head of the Pack - Well, for 12 Laps

In the late 70's I raced motorcycles. That's my 1977 Honda 750/4 Super Sport. It was fast, really fast. At Louden track in New Hampshire, I drew poll position, and for 12 laps I was in the lead.

This week your Kingdom Bloggers are going to write about leadership - the Christian kind. As always, you never know what you are going to get until Cradic winds it up on Friday.

On the 13th lap I was passed by the number one rider in the US. I passed him on the back straight away going into a a downhill hairpin turn. I didn't make the corner and hit the hay bails and tires at somewhere in the vicinity of 80 mph.

I wasn't the leader anymore. I didn't even finish the race.

Church leadership is very different. It is not about being first, but about being last. Matthew 20:16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

I read this and I wonder how even something as small as a "Reserved for Pastor" sign can show up right at the door - sometimes closer than the handicapped space. Just a pet peeve... I know that real shepherds lead their flock from the back, caring for their safety and feeding. I guess the Larry King preachers need to have some sort of fanfare and popularity. It seems like it comes at a price to the church. I don't know, it is confusing to me.

Now that I'm done ranting, I will personalize this. I once received a prophecy in which God called me a "reluctant leader." For many years I struggled with what leadership really was - I still do. I used to co-lead a "Divorced and Widowed" group at church. I had no idea that the church considered this leadership - so I never even gave a thought to going to the leadership retreat. The Sunday after the retreat, the pastor asked me how come I wasn't there. Hunh? I had no idea I was considered a leader. I was just doing something that I felt the Lord wanted me to do. I didn't even have my name printed on the bulletin!

I have played on worship teams since the early 80's. I never led - actually, I have never been asked what songs I would like to do. It's funny how leadership can work in the church.

Me, I am more of a Gideon - a bit of a coward. I don't have a lot of faith or confidence when it comes to knowing what to do, or how things should go. There are better teachers, preachers, speakers, husbands, fathers, guitarists, and writers than David Johndrow. It is funny, in the same prophecy I received about being a reluctant leader, God also said that I would "write, write write."

There was a book by John Maxwell that a lot of folks read about 8 or 9 years ago. It seemed to be a "leadership manual" for a lot of church folks. And he makes some good points about effective leaders. Some would say that leaders are born, and others feel that they are made or can be trained. That may be true at work, but I disagree that is how it works in the church.

True church leaders are called and they act serving others. They can work in a team without being the boss. Like pushing a bus full of believers. That's the leadership I think is most biblical.

Being called by God is far more important than us pushing ahead with our natural talents. Certainly God can use our natural talents, but those are not spiritual gifts. In my case, God chose to use some of the things that I am not good at. I failed reading and/or English 9 out of 12 years. In college I received one of my lowest marks in English. God took a guy afraid to fly and sent him to South America and Scandinavia as a missionary. I don't believe that He is looking for talent.

I still don't really know what a leader is - it doesn't seem to be related to position, or title. I suppose just because we can get some folks to follow us could be a sign. Maybe real leadership is ministering God's heart, but anyone could do that, right? I still ponder what really makes a spiritual leader. The following verse is as far as I've gotten in my 30 year study.

2 Corinthians 12:10b For when I am weak, then I am strong.

How about you, are you weak? Do you believe that God can use it?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Be fruitful and multiply...but stick to one fruit please.

I love sex!

So stop the presses...right? No, a man declaring he loves sex is not exactly breaking news. But the fact of the matter is making the same enthusiastic proclamation with the addition of the words with my wife at the end creates a number of typical, although different, reactions from most people.

First, the socially conservative types (read Christians) squirm just a bit with discomfort because such things are just not declared in front of others. It's very unbecoming and impious...somehow. Let's ignore the facts already stated this week God create Adam and Eve as companions (including sexually), and He created all that is involved in the science we know as biology. God made us sexual beings. Deal with it and embrace the fact.

The second reaction usually involves repulsion on a different level....a much more secular level. It's just not chic or provocative enough to publicly proclaim such monogamously insinuating things. After all, the lure of the forbidden or the challenge of the chase drives these people. Sex isn't just function of reproduction or expression of intimacy...heavens no! Sex is erotically playful and most interesting when not caged in the confinements of civil union and certainly no place for religion. Don't you remember the great rebellion from sexual repression in the '60's?

Next comes the skeptic. Sure, you love sex with your wife now...but what about 10 years from now? 25 years? You've got your priorities all wrong if you're enjoying sex with your wife and telling people about it. Either that...or you're lying! You're trying to present your marriage as the perfect union and one-up everyone else. No way anyone having great sex with their wife is talking about way. You're hiding something. I don't know exactly what...but something. You call yourself a Christian! Hypocrite is what you are!

Pervert! I'll bet you're one of those internet porn junkies! You've got sex on the brain. I see you on your little phone. Bet you're checking out or some other sick website just planning on taking out your sexual frustrations on your poor, faithfully loyal wife. You make me sick! She'll get tired of your abuse and put a bullet in you one day. Just wait and see. Janie's got a gun you know...

Six words. Just six words can create a firestorm of reaction or repulsion. But why and why especially among Christians? God is the author of sex, and He even defines some specifics about the act of sex in His Word. Song of Solomon? Now there's an erotic story if ever there's been one right in our own Bible. Granted, I've never compared my beautiful wife's hair to that of a goat, but hey...those were different times and a different culture!

I'm convinced God wants His children to be happy, and there's tons of evidence to support my hypothesis. Sex is just one of those many reasons, as long as, the primary focus is always on Him and not on the flesh itself. Yet somehow, our society has managed to dilute the most intimate act possible between a husband and wife, an act of complete submission and delightful ecstasy, by shifting the focus away from being a wonderful gift from God to a celebration of temporary self-indulgence and evolutionary luck of the draw exemplified by the popular motto if it feels good do it.

I love sex with my wife, and I thank God for that! But, I'd still thank God just as exuberantly for my wife if sex wasn't part of the deal...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It doesn't have to be Either - Or

One of the things that drives me nuts about America Christian culture is our weird attitudes toward sex!

On the one hand you've got the world thinking everything is about sex. Look at how so many women dress or just look at most advertisements. A favorite Christian teacher had me really laughing as she related how she was shopping at a drug store with her 2 young adult daughters recently and when they got up to the counter to make their purchases she saw that they were selling "sexy mints". To the complete chagrin of her daughters, she starting asking the clerk what made these mints sexy and how could one mint be more sexy than the other? The poor clerk simply admitted that she didn't know. The woman's daughters dragged her from the store before she could really start preaching!

On the other hand you've got Christians being strangely silent for the most part on the topic of sex. Occasionally you'll hear that sex belongs in marriage. But somehow the Western Christian church has managed to give off the vibe that sex not exactly "right". I think it may be a case of the proverbial throwing out the baby with the bathwater; the thought process going something along the lines of - since the world over emphasizes and misuses sex, it must therefor be wrong.

But how on earth could sex be wrong?

God created sex just like He created everything else. Are mountains wrong? Is fruit wrong? Is oxygen wrong?

I actually think the enemy has lied to the Western church about sex so that we'd remain silent concerning it and there by jeopardize our marriages. Because let's be candid, there's nothing more nourishing to a marriage than a flourishing sex life.

But can't we love God, be modest people, have appropriate boundaries, refrain from sharing too personal of details, and still have a great sex life in our marriages?!

I believe that we can. What about you?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Two Anniversaries

On August 24, 2007, Nikki and I got on our knees before God and each other and dedicated our love for Him and each other.  We didn't take it lightly, and we had refrained from sex while dating because we both had been a part of relationships that had started out with sex or were based upon sex. And those were all failures.  We knowingly and willingly allowed sin into a relationship.  Or we had begun a relationship with sex and selfishness and instant gratification and shallowness and stupidity and......

On September 21, 2007, Nikki and I stood before a Justice of Peace so our marriage would be recognized by the state of Iowa and my employer. Nikki took Logan as her son and I took Naomi as my daughter. A mere formality, but it was still cool to include both kids.  It was definitely a Jesus thing, because both Naomi and Logan were supposed to be with their bio parents that weekend.  Nikki and I had known we were gonna get married.  When her employer dropped Nikki's health insurance coverage, we pushed the date up and dropped the notion of an all out wedding.

What is kinda ironic is if I woulda had a gay lover named Nick, I coulda added him to my health insurance coverage no problem. But since I was dating a woman, a very wonderful woman, I could not put her on my coverage. In the eyes of Jesus, Nikki and I were already married. Its just that the state of Iowa and my employer didn't recognize us as husband and wife. And most importantly, Nikki and I recognized the importance of honoring Jesus in our relationship and asking Him to be a part of our lives before we became one.

But if you don't have enough self-control, then go ahead and get married. After all, it is better to marry than to burn with desire.
1 Corinthians 7.9

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It Started in the Garden

Faith and sex huh? When I first heard the topic I though oh, okay, that’s great! Now when it is time to sit and write the blog, I’m thinking maybe it wasn’t so great after all. David did a great and cautious job yesterday. Caution is always a good thing the first part of the week with a topic like this. Since I am the first female to share on this topic, caution probably would be good for me too. We’ll see when I get to the end of this how well I do with that. Candor is pretty much my style so we’ll see????

I’m old. I’m well churched. I’ve been in church all my life. I like to joke that I cut my teeth on Pentecostal pews. I don’t know if there were teeth marks there, but you get the idea. My mother was quite Puritanical in her views on sex – in fact, she’d probably have been a Shaker if she could – you know the ones that preached abstinence and preached themselves out of this world with no reproduction?

The first intersection of sex and faith came at church camp. NO I wasn’t in the bushes making out with one of the boys. Three of us in the room were having a conversation about sex. Given my mother’s views on sex, I knew about it, but firmly maintained that “Christians don’t do such a thing. God gives them their babies." I guess I thought every child born to a Christian was an immaculate conception. One of the older wiser girls – I think she was about 16 took me aside and clarified things for me.

David’s right, we don’t hear much about sex in church. We’ve left sex education to the public schools. We fight to keep our children from hearing such things. Okay, I agree, sex education has gone too far in many ways – I heard the other day that some school was going to do sex education in Kindergarten. The point isn’t that the schools do it; I think the point is more that we are not doing our jobs to give a godly perspective of sex. As David says, sex is for marriage. It's also basic to our humanity to desire sex and have it.

I’ve seen a lot of interesting interpretations on scripture as well. Take the interesting book of Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon). In the late 70’s there was a book, a sex manual to compete with the burgeoning market of sex manuals, Solomon on Sex. It had some rather interesting ideas. Christian couples flocked to their local Christian bookstore for this one. Finally a way to find out more about sex while still being spiritual!

Another interpretation of Song of Songs is that it is an allegory of Christ and His church. In certain circles of church this is really popular. I don’t disagree with this interpretation – I’ve preached it myself! However, a preacher who was well known for preaching this topic once said to me, Joyce, the young really like all that talk of kissing so it’s a good topic. I wasn’t sure that was a good way to put it. I think he sold a lot of books that way.

Most of the time, the church just buries its head in the sand when it comes to sex. We five Kingdom Bloggers that God put together to talk about things with candor, honesty and with the Kingdom of God in mind, seem to be the ones to start this conversation. Let’s face it, people have sex. Christian people and non-Christian people – it has been that way since Adam knew Eve and it isn’t going to change. The Bible is pretty direct about sex. Why aren’t we?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stuff Christian Don't Like to Talk About - Yes, That!

There are lots of "rules" in the Bible pertaining to sex. There, I said it: sex. One of the body's strongest natural desires is that for reproduction. We call it: making love, sex, "that" and a few other things. Along with our desire to stay alive, and eat, it is up there at the top of the list.The Bible doesn't make too many distinctions about eating - it's not like  we put it off until some day in the future.I don't believe it says anything about keeping our desire to stay alive in check - so what's the deal with sex?

This week the topic is sex and faith - thanks Tracy - I haven't been this uncomfortable around church folks for a long time!

I have heard a little teaching about sex in the church. Wait 'til you're married, and don't have it with yourself. Now that I have passed that one - I think I am done.

All kidding aside, there has been little good teaching in the church regarding sex. It more often falls on the list of don'ts unless you are married. Occasionally someone will give a few reasons why not, and the purpose of reproduction is clouded by "the enjoyment of sex, and "it's my body" and other Hollywood type pressure - as if they've got it all together!

Look, sex is great and it feels good - and it gets all mixed up with love, and feelings and stuff like that. As Christians we do not rely on feelings to know how to act. I never really understood that like I do now. Feelings aren't facts. In truth, abstinence protects us from STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Even if those weren't consequences, it still would be against the "rules" unless you are married - but how to we connect with God, and enjoy something which is so obviously abused.

The truth is that sex, is, and should be part of the marriage experience. It is designed to be one facet of marital intimacy - the other two emotional and spiritual. And truthfully, it doesn't fit well in other places.

I was on vacation last week, and there was a 6-year-old flipping out at pool-side. My older girls both said they were never having kids after witnessing the event. I was thinking the same thing, but it's too late for that. So I wished children on them to the extent at which they have cost me discomfort as a parent. Somehow, the world seems to leave sex disconnected from reproduction. It appears to be one place we get into trouble.

The good marriage, is like a good church. You feel safe in being vulnerable, and transparent.

There are all sorts of issues with sex outside of marriage that are damaging to both parties. These are covered in Galatians 5, in the 10 commandments, and may other places in the Bible.

For me, I am very glad that I am married and don't have to manage my desires.

How about you, is the Bible realistic about sex, and how do you manage?

Friday, July 9, 2010

John Lennon just plagiarized Paul...the Apostle not the Beatle.

My post today is really just a reflection of the post from my fellow Kingdom Bloggers this week. I've very much enjoyed what each has said this week and taken time to reflect how their message applies in my own life.

Tracy's passage from Galatians 5:22-23 is one of my personal favorites. Living in the Spirit not only bears the fruit God expects from our itself tends to become a lot less burdensome when we experience and strive to multiply the 9 attributes the Apostle Paul discusses as a result.

When David Johndrow picked freedom and fruits of the Spirits in back-to-back weeks as our subject matters, it was as if Galatians Chapter 5 was on his heart. Paul tells the Galatians that through Christ they are free (from Mosaic law?). He then goes on to warn them not to use their freedom to indulge their sinful nature but to serve one another in love. Next, he echoes one of the two greatest commandments as taught by Jesus by summing the entire law into one your neighbor as yourself.

Love, love, love...dump-ty, love, love...all you need is love, love. Love is all you need.

Outside of the Holy Bible, no where is it stated better than the classic Beatles' song. First fruit of living in the Spirit listed by Paul in His letter to the Corinthians list love, faith and hope as spiritual being the greater of the three. The same Epistle also tells never fails.

It should be quite obvious to the Christian that love is a fruit of most value to God. He demonstrates by example with the mercy and grace He bestows upon us. Jesus lived in flesh and walked among us 2000 years ago preaching and exhibiting love to a world that didn't love Him back...and in His last act of love, He looked to God and begged forgiveness for the very ones that tortured and killed Him.

I could go on and on with numerous examples that we all know by heart as Christians. That is why it is so difficultly hard for me to understand people claiming to love God doing this...

Apparently, the folks at Westboro Church don't read the same Bible I do because that looks more like bitterweed than fruit.

God love 'em...and I will sure try hard.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fruit is a product of relationship

How many times have you heard someone tell you that they think that at the end of their life they will have some kind of experience where God will stand at the entrance of heaven with a great big scale and put all their life actions on either the good or bad side of the scale and the side to which the scale tips determines their eternal destiny? I know I've heard various renditions of this thought more times than I can count.

I'm so grateful for what I see when I read Ephesians 2:4-10 (NIV):

4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

When I read this I realize that God has done everything for me. He saved me, brought me into relationship with Himself, just because He chose to love me. He gave me the faith to believe in Him.

I've found in my life that the more I come to understand and believe this truth, in the deepest parts of my heart, the more I want to get closer to God. The more I long for the His Word, delight in praising and thanking Him, desire to linger in His presence. The more I stay connected to Him, the more I open up avenues for His Spirit to work in my life. The more He works in my life, the more I become others focused, not in the sense of judging them, but in the sense of wanting to let God use me in their lives to bless them.

I find it interesting that in verse 9 of the Bible passage above it says that God did all that He did because He has a purpose for the lives of each of His followers, a purpose for us to do good. In Galatians 5 it talks about the freedom we can experience in Christ and how our natural, sinful, nature is at odds with the work of God's spirit in us. In Galatians 5:22-23 it even describes what the product, or fruit, of God's spirit working in us will look like:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

We absolutely don't come into relationship with God because of any good actions on our part. We can spend eternity with God simply because of His gift of faith in His son who died on our behalf. Yet, as I come into relationship with God He does change me. he does produce these 9 things described above. As Joyce pointed out earlier this week, the process by which God works is not always one that we would naturally think of as pleasurable. Just as pruning rose bushes allows them to produce more roses, so God's pruning in my life allows me to produce more fruit.

What are some ways God's worked in your life to make you fruitful?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Farmer Dave

"Satan can duplicate the Gifts of Holy Spirit but he cannot duplicate the Fruit of Holy Spirit."-Craig Bex

For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
Mark 13.22

And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.
2 Corinthians 11.14-15

It seems to me that there are more people in the church today that are trying to 'prove' false christs than trying to prove the Love of Christ.  That people are trying to root out the tares (Matthew 13.36-43) instead of taking care of the wheat. I gotta admit that there have been times in the past where I thought it was my 'mission' to set straight theologies that I didn't agree with.  Sometimes, I was subtle, taking the Rabbi approach of answering a question with a question.  Other times, I was as subtle as a punch in the throat.  Because of my arrogance and lack of  Love, in most instances the only person 'convinced' was myself.

The true value of my works aint gonna be revealed until the Day when they are thrown into the fire. (1 Corinthians 3.12-13)  It is then that my real motivation will be seen, by everyone.  I am convinced that there will be works that I have 'successfully' completed that will burn as straw because I know that my motivation wasn't outta love.  I am also convinced that I will see some of my 'failures' reveal silver or gold because I was obedient and served Jesus outta Love, even though things didn't turn out the way I thought they should have.

As I step out into what Jesus is leading next in my life, it is so important to have my 'ministry', my focus,  where it needs to be.  Ministry aint about blog entries, the Gifts, results or me.  Ministry is about  me cultivating and giving away the Fruit of the Spirit. Ministry for me is being the best farmer I can be.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sucker Shoots

I preached a really good sermon one time. It started out as a communion teaching. Never satisfied with the typical teaching on communion, I launched off into a metaphor of baking bread. Since there are two elements involved in communion, I thought this was a good place to start. I went on and on about the process of baking bread. I talked about how God brings all the ingredients together. I talked about how there are times for the yeast to ferment. That involves waiting. I talked about the mixing and the kneading. I shared that we don't like the kneading or pounding. Nevertheless it is part of the process.

I compared the bread to us as the body of Christ and how God is forming us into a unified whole. I got off into holiness and wholeness. I was on a roll. Then came the fruit and nuts. Have you ever noticed who when God is forming His people into a body, the body to be broken for the world how he always seems to have to add those fruits and nuts.

You know who they are. You have them in your church. If you don't go to church, you know them in your fellowship groups. They are found where ever Christians gather. Maybe you are one? I have been thought of as the fruit or nut in a church.

I have been telling a story on another blog about the healing of our son. It was one of those fruits that was being kneaded into a body of believers who had faith for healing. You can read about it here.

Finally, all the ingredients in the bread get thrown into the fiery furnace. Have you ever noticed that when it comes to growth and usefulness in the Kingdom of God, the Bible always uses a metaphor of a painful process. There's the potter's wheel. At first you think you are on a good ride at the carnival but then starts the pounding and the stripping away. Then just when you think your ready to get off, the Potter will pound you down again because He won't let even that one imperfection stay if you are going to be useful.

Or there is the pruning metaphor, God the ever perfect gardener, prunes away until you feel like you have nothing left. I heard a woman last week talk about sucker shoots on her tomato places. If you are going to have the good fruit of tomatoes, off come the sucker shoots. I had to laugh. I thought how like God. Sometimes you think - oh look at my new spiritual growth. Then He comes along and says sucker shoots as He pinches it off.

If we are going to be fruitful we have to go through the process. If we are going to be the body of Christ, we have to be kneaded and baked. It's not fun. But it is necessary to be fruitful. How is God making you more fruitful?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Working at the Fruit Stand - What God Won't Ask

Christians enjoy talking about fruit like they are spiritual vegans!  Some Christians use the word "good person" like God is Santa Clause checking his list to see who's naughty and or nice. Various emotional muggings take place in churches where there are guilt trips, redemptive works, or required religious ceremonies for salvation.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

This week your dynamic Kingdom Bloggers are going to be writing about faith, works and the fruit of the Spirit.

True freedom is in salvation through Jesus Christ. I suppose that it is easy to lay back once we have our ticket to paradise. Many do. Others seem to grasp grace as a license to do whatever they want to. Like the spoiled child with diplomatic immunity, they feel as if they can disregard the laws of the "land." And then there are others that feel obligated to follow certain rules and traditions while their heart is far from God.

It's easy to think that maybe we should do something to earn God's love. I have heard lots of folks that feel as if the church will fall down when they show up. As if any of us could get clean enough or be presentable to God on our own.

Without faith, it is impossible to please God.

Galatians 5:19-25 talks about what is the fruit of salvation. The analogy of fruit simply means that it is something that grows from the plants DNA. It is the natural process by which many plants show their beauty, and provide food for many. That is the true nature of God.

When I was in the Caribbean, I had a taxi driver stop to let me pick an avocado. I have never had a tastier one. If we look around us, it is easy to see others who may have more anointing, or gifting in their lives than we do. I am not talking about talent or charisma, but the ability to see Jesus as we observe their lives. This is fruit. What do others see when they observe our lives?

This is a hard topic to give a testimony about. If I toot my own horn about how much fruit my walk with Jesus shows, than I am being not so humble. I did receive this email that other day - see how you measure up to the fruit of the Kingdom. Truthfully, I didn't do so good.

What God Won't Ask
By: Author Unknown

God won't ask what kind of car you drove.
He will ask how many people you took places they needed to go..

God won't ask the square footage of your home.
He will ask how many people you took into your home.

God won't ask how many fancy clothes you had in your closet.
He will ask how many of those clothes you gave away to Salvation Army.

God won't ask what social class you were in.
He will ask if you preferred others over yourself..

God won't ask how many material possessions you had.
He will ask whether those material possessions dictated your life.

God won't ask what your highest salary was.
He will ask if you trampled over any people to obtain that salary.

God won't ask how much overtime you worked.
He will ask did you work overtime for your family.

God won't ask how many promotions you received.
He will ask what you did to promote others.

God won't ask what your job title was.
He will ask did you perform your job to the best of your ability.

God won't ask how many promotions you took to chase the dollar bill.
He will ask how many promotions you refused to advance your family's quality of life.

God won't ask how many times you didn't run around around on your spouse.
He will ask how many times you did.

God won't ask how many degrees you have.
He will ask how many people you thanked for getting those degrees.

God won't ask what your parents did to help you.
He will ask what you did to help your parents.

God won't ask what you did to help yourself.
He will ask what you did to help others.

God won't ask how many friends you had.
He will ask how many people you were a friend to.

God won't ask what you did to protect your rights.
He will ask what you did to protect the rights of others.

God won't ask what neighborhood you lived in.
He will ask what other neighborhoods you visited.

God won't ask how many times you told the truth.
He will ask how many times you told a lie.

God won't ask about the color of your skin.
He will ask about the color of your heart.

God won't ask how many times your deeds matched your words.
He will ask how many times they didn't.

God ordinarily will not show you His will in order for you to consider it.
He will show you His will when He knows you are willing to do it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

People volunteer for the dumbest things...including Hell.

Some people wonder what it must be like to have freedom taken away. That's all they can do is wonder. These people are the ones who often joke about the confining conditions of being married or having young kids. Also coming from this group are the ones who think people in jail have it too easy. Being incarcerated in this country is an easy way out, and that's why the returning rate for convicts is close to 70 percent.

Some people flippantly say things like 'What would I ever do without my cell phone?' or 'I'd die without the internet!' Also coming from this group are the people who are absolutely lost when the power goes off at their house for a few hours during 'prime time.' They wander through the house looking for candles and flipping light switches as they move from room to room in a futile gesture of habit.

Some people have never known a life of even slight inconveniences like living in the outdoors with no indoor plumbing, being thousands of miles from loved ones with no idea what is happening with them and no means of contacting them, or spending hour after hour in solitude filled with deep longing for genuine companionship on any level.

There are two classes of people who understand all of these things all too intimately, and both are completely by choice. Those who are in our armed forces make sacrifices most people could never relate to or even imagine. Often living with the constant stress of looming dangers, the men and women of our armed forces know inconvenience. Eat what you're given, wear what you're issued, and sleep when you can. It's a life that at times is fast and hard yet swallowed by what seems like endlessly hours of waiting...anticipating.

The other class are our convicts. Walled off from society for a gambit of reasons and intentions too vast to comprehend. Isolated and completely at the mercy of a bureaucratic system bloated with incompetence and apathy. Eat what you're given, wear what you're issued, and sleep until your brain is nothing but a mushy goo. Rehabilitation is just a fancy governmental scapegoat word destined to fail for the vast majority because it can't account for, or help alter, desires of the heart. Only God can do that...and our government is far from God and picking up speed.

Veterans and inmates are two classes of our society that appreciate freedom like no other. Both understand and revel in the smallest things in daily life most take completely for granted. Neither class is made up entirely of the stereotypical traits commonly attributed to their respective populations. Jails are full of good people and military ranks are scattered with bad apples. We tend to paint with broad strokes in our society. Just ask anyone who regularly attends church services who are often pelted unfairly with the hypocrite stones.

Personal freedom is, however, a very tangible commodity and today, more than ever, a true paid at a price. But having the knowledge that we are free from a finite existence or even worse the infinity of damnation...that truly defines what it is to be free. Breathing the air in that place is most sweet and fills the soul with joy and peace. It's a freedom that can also be known to the veteran as well as the inmate...or by any other grouping or classification we choose to create as human beings.

I will celebrate my freedom this weekend with fireworks, grilled foods and a parade. My heart will swell with pride at being a citizen in the greatest nation on our planet. I will salute our service men and women and pray for our inmates because I know the sacrifices both face. I know because I've been both. While I'm proud of one and humiliated by the other...I'm much wiser for both.

Having said that and fully knowing the sacrifice implied, I would rather spend the rest of my natural life locked in the deepest, darkest hole ever found and still have my personal relationship with Christ than spend a single minute without the freedom He gives me and walk around completely unencumbered.

That is what I am most thankful for this holiday weekend...well, and every other day of the year for that matter.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope

With 4th of July celebrations just a few days away, many of us find ourselves thinking about Freedom. That's why we're talking about Freedom this week at Kingdom Bloggers. David had asked me to also share my testimony this week.

I think one of the biggest ways that being a Christian has made me free is that even in the midst of difficult circumstances, I can experience peace and joy. Part of Freedom in Christ for me is the fact that God takes circumstances that look like ruination, and instead brings about redemption. God turns the effects from those difficult events into something good in my life.

Like most people, I haven't had a perfect life.

I was the third of three daughters, born to my poor father who knew exceptionally little about females. Both of my older sisters were huge handfuls, causing lots of intense problems all the time for my parents. Without even thinking about it, my solution was to be the perfect child, the one who would not add any more pain to my parents' full plates and who would never cause problems. One of the lies of my childhood was that in my own mind, it was somehow up to me to make things right. What I became was invisible. Those feelings of needing to be good enough to make things right, and of being invisible, have been repeat themes in my life.

I’ve often thought about the fact that the Bible is quite clear that when we accept Christ we are new creations, but my experience and observations are that while we have new spirits, we still have the same soul. If my favorite color was green before I accepted Christ, it still is after. If I had emotional baggage before I accepted Christ, usually that baggage doesn’t just disappear after I accept Christ.

The difference after a person accepts Christ is that now the person don’t have to deal with that baggage alone. I can look back at my life and see how God chose to work in my life through His Holy Spirit within me, through the Bible, through people, and through experiences to bring healing, wholeness and even freedom in my life. But that freedom did not come over night, it’s been a process.

I’ve also come to believe that God never wastes any experiences. I’m not saying by any means that everything that happens is His will, because both other people and myself can choose to disobey Him and hurt others, the world is imperfect and bad stuff does happen. But I am saying that God even uses bad events to bring about good things in our lives.

Although growing up in a chaotic household where I felt invisible wasn’t exactly fun, I know God has used it to make me the person I am today. Perhaps because of my very need to be perfect and not a bother; I was often forgotten. My mother even forgot to pick me up from school several times throughout my elementary school years. But I’ve noticed that very experience has made me someone who notices people. If I’ve met you even one time, I’ll remember you. God has used me repeatedly in my adult life to minister to the hearts of people, to have God make people feel loved and valuable through me.

One of the good things about my early years was that my family regularly attended church. I never doubted the existence of the God they taught me about at church; for me He was a fact of life. As I aged, my understanding of God increased. By the time I was in 5th grade I came to understand that I was not perfect (even though I tried really hard), that I sinned, and that my sin separated me from God. I realized that sin requires a payment and that either I could pay for it myself or accept Jesus' death on the cross as payment for my sin. So I chose to accept Jesus' payment and to commit to living my life following after Him.

Another one of the blessings God brought into my life was a group called Campus Crusade for Christ. By the time I was a teen I was having ambivalent feelings about church. I was frequently enthralled by the Sunday morning sermons, and adored getting to sing with others of like faith, but did not particularly enjoy the youth group. It seemed to me that the kids in the youth group were no more interested in spiritual things than their secular counterparts at my local high school. So I felt alone in my faith, that there wasn’t anyone I could talk with when I was excited about something God had shown me in the Word or a struggle I was encountering. But then one day this nice girl who I kind of knew at school invited me to a Bible study at some people’s house who I did not know. In fact, she invited me several times when I did not attend in response to the first invitation. But I’ll never forget that day when I finally did go in response to her sweet invitations. Talk about the blessings of God – I was ecstatic to find other teen agers who loved Jesus, who delighted in the Bible, and who wanted to hang out and share about their faith. I remember feeling like I didn’t want that evening to end, like I’d finally come home.

That particular Bible Study was put on through Campus Crusade for Christ. As I sought out more activities that they sponsored locally, and began attending them, I encountered a woman in her late 20s named Linda. Looking back on it I can see how God used Linda to supply some of what I didn’t receive at home. Linda really saw me, to Linda I was not invisible. She invested in me and helped me begin to see that I was a person of value to God, she helped me learn how to share the gospel and be used by God to bring others come into His Kingdom, how to share a 3-minute version of my testimony in public gatherings, how to plan outreach events, how to lead Bible studies, and how to invest into others as she was investing in me.

By the time I graduated high school I wanted to do more for God. I wanted to separate for God, to be holy and His so He could use me. So I decided to go to a Christian college. The president of the college I chose is a renowned Christian. I’ve seen God bless His preaching to bring many into the Kingdom. He is brilliant when it comes to Bible exegesis. But, still, to this day, when I listen to this man preach, I don’t feel like he really likes me or other sinners. I never feel good enough around people like him. To me it feels like the love is missing. I do not say this to be critical of the man, but more to underscore how this type of Christian culture fit right into my sick need to be perfect. I’d managed, out of all the fine Christian higher learning institutions, to pick one of them that fit me in a bad way. I could continue to pursue an unrealistic goal of perfection and continue to never feel good enough. I could continue to feel like I could never get it right.

One of the memories from that Christian college that really stands out, was when I had to go before a review board. The review board was comprised of students but sponsored and attended by a specific faculty member. The reason I had to go before that board was because I kept missing the night time curfew. I felt like there I was not measuring up, and for some reason that I failed to understand at the time, I also felt angry. As an adult looking back at the whole thing, I just feel sad. Sad and concerned; concerned that the faculty advisor would let things go how they did. No one ever cared enough to try to find out why I kept missing curfew. When I tried to explain, they brushed my explanations aside and told me that following rules that were set by those in authority honored God. As an adult, I can see how the reason why I kept missing curfew was totally important. I missed curfew because of my work schedule and transportation problems. Even though I was a scholarship student, and my parents helped out, like many college students I still needed to work part time. The closest job I could find to campus was at a fast food restaurant where I had the late shift and closed at night. That job still would have allowed me to make the curfew except that, since there were not any buses locally at that time of night, I had to walk the few miles back to campus housing. As an adult I’m horrified to think of an 18 year old woman walking alone in that area at that time of night. I’m appalled that none of those other Christian students on that review board offered to help me; to work with me to allow me to pay them and they provide me with a ride back to campus so that I could not only make the curfew but remain safe. Unfortunately, none of that happened. Instead I got off with a warning that I must come into compliance with the rules. Yet God used that experience in my life to put a fire within me to be merciful, to always realize that things may not be as they appear.

After a couple of years I left that Christian college and finished up my degree at a University of California. I enjoyed my time there, but I still lived a life of striving. I still never felt good enough. I still felt like it was up to me to be the fixer.

I fixed myself into and out of an alcoholic marriage. My first husband loved God and wanted to be a pastor, but never really put corresponding action to those desires. He started drinking again and things went from what I’d call “normal dysfunctional” to chaos as the drinking continued. All my efforts to control his drinking were useless. We were blessed with a son but that only seemed to intensify his drinking. We split up. I did start attending Al-Anon during this time and began to see the roots of my sick perfectionism and began to deal with my need to control. But I was lonely, and couldn’t seem to connect with God to fill my loneliness. My second husband was in a Bible study group that I attended at church. He seemed the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. He showered me with attention and it felt great. I just couldn’t get enough. Here was someone to whom I was not invisible. Even when we sinned and got pregnant outside of marriage, he stepped up to the plate and persuaded me to marry him. I thought I’d finally got it right.

Until after 2 years of marriage and 2 more sons. As the years passed by the stress of day to day living hit. As he got to really know the real me and was not at all happy with anything I did. He constantly told me how I didn’t measure up and I constantly believed him. I just kept trying and trying to be good enough and never made it. He was on his second extramarital affair before I finally caught on to what was happening. But, being the product of my background, I felt like it was all my fault. So my response was to work even harder at trying to be a good wife; I thought that if I could just get it right he would love me. I never got it “right”. He left me for the other woman. Or perhaps he just left me because it wasn’t working for him; that’s the reason he gave.

I was devastated. I’d failed twice at marriage!! Not only was I not perfect, but I wasn’t even in the ball park of OK. To say I was discouraged at this point in my life would be an understatement of extreme proportions. As I look back on this time in my life I’m reminded of the beginning of Jesus’ sermon on the mount that’s recorded in Matthew 5:3 (MSG):

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

Because I couldn’t pretend any longer that I could fix the world and make everything right, because the illusion of my control was finally shattered, I finally let go. I stopped trying to control everything simply because I was out of ideas as to how. I reached out to God as never before because there was no where else that I knew to turn.

Then God worked. He blessed me with my job coming to me and offering significantly more money to move. He supplied my sons and I a great place to live. He got my sons into really good schools in our new area. He gave us a church where the boys would be blessed and taught and where I eventually made some of the best friends of my life. He met our financial needs time after time during the next few years. He grew my skills and self confidence through my job. He showered a peace on me through all the tough times during those years, that went beyond anything I could ever imagine.

After several years, God even surprised me by bringing me a man who loved Him and was capable of loving me. I’d assumed that it was definitely a two strikes and you’re out kind of situation. But there was God taking the pieces of my life that I’d messed up, and building them into something good.

After re-marriage we moved. Once again I had to make new friends, start working at a new location. The company I’d worked for during the past 9 years even let me go. But, because of all that I’d seen God bring me through in the past, even though I was hurt and bewildered, I knew I could count on Him. I’ve experienced more of God’s mercy, grace, and love than ever before in my life.

As I’ve stopped trying to be good enough, and just received His mercy and forgiveness for my sin, my inadequacy, I’ve become free. Free of the burden of doing things right all the time. Free to just focus on doing the next thing God puts in front of me through the power of His Spirit.

What about you, what’s God set you free from?