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Archive for the ‘Reflecting God’s Word’ Category

Tonight a distant acquaintance decided to reflect on her perspective of me: “three years ago you were an untamed wild beast…now you’re reserved…you give off peace…I equate that with maturity, that I assume came from marriage.”

I was fuming. (Still fuming).

“Untamed wild beast.”

Dang.

She said it, then continued: “I keep thinking of negative words and I’m not trying to hurt you.”

I do not understand how those words could have been said from someone working really hard to say something not hurtful.

Nonetheless, I was fuming, not because her words poked at my ego, but because it countered my self-analysis through hardship.

She saw me as an “untamed wild beast” when I felt confident in my intimacy with God, in my living according to how He’s created me to be, and in my connecting with others in real, intentional ways.

I continued to experience cultures by visiting ethnic fairs all over the city.  I volunteered regularly with underprivileged youth. I connected daily in intimate, encouraging and challenging discussions with gals whom I knew and allowed to know me.  I mentored, and, I was mentored.  I was growing daily.  I was interceding daily.  I was in intentional solitude daily.  I liked who I was, because I knew who I was was operating as the person Christ was molding me to be.  I accessed spiritual gifts of discernment, mercy, and exhortation in regular communication and relating with God and others because I was sitting with and following the Lord’s direction.  I was watching sunsets, picnicking, journalling, and walking–worshipping and praying always.  My friendship and familial bond with God as Father came before any other, and I thanked Christ for His sacrifice by welcoming His Gift the Ambassador with eagerness and affection.

Since then, a LOT has happened.

My challenge to perspective is this: We oughta stop trying to make God and others in our own image.  We oughta stop measuring someone else’s maturity based on our own experience of maturity.  Reservedness may be a sign of maturity, but before you speak to someone make sure to be speaking in the Spirit, and to know what you’re saying because reservedness can also mean…

Broken down, isolated, defeated, lost, weary, insecure.

Reservedness can also be a personality trait of introversion.

I am not an introvert.  I used to regularly pursue solitude in which I’d expose myself before the Spirit.  Outside of intentional solitude, I sought out connection and relation to others.  I am–personality wise–extroverted.  I am–spiritual gift wise–called to connect with others through acts of mercy (counseling), to exhort others (encouraging and challenging communication), and to discern (to understand things at deeper levels in which the Spirit empowers intercession and sometimes action).

God has chosen these spiritual giftings to empower my personality makeup in order to effectively love His people.

For me, reservation should be an orange flag.  It hasn’t gotten to be a red flag but has switched between yellow and orange warning flags these last two years.

If this individual knew me, she’d be concerned rather than affirming this growth she’s seen in me.  If this individual knew me, she’d marvel at what God accomplished in my life when I was regularly connecting with others and with Him.  If this individual knew me, she’d break down with me, offering empathy and dedication to intercede on my behalf.

We all want to be known and loved.

Introverts may gain their energy from alone time, but all people are strengthened by the joining together of community….eventually.

I’ve hated this isolation.  I’ve hated being broken down.  I’ve hated not knowing where the voice of God has gone.  I absolutely hate that I identify somewhat with the stereotypical phrase “seminary is best pronounced cemetery.”

Please consider adding me to your prayer list for intercession.  I do not want to leave this place bitter, remembering it for experiences that wrecked my intimacy with God and my confidence in His call and purpose on my daily living.

I graduate in four weeks.  I’m not walking at graduation.  I’ve never been one for celebrating academics. Rather, I anticipate celebrating my first career placement that affirms my preparedness to finally experience my calling.  But mostly, really…I don’t care to capture memories of a place I feel forgotten, neglected, rejected, and alone.

Please hear me: this does not reflect my view–beliefs, thoughts, or feelings–of my husband and our intimacy.  My beloved works harder each day to affirm my knowness and loving place in his eyes.  What this has proven to me though is this: relating to God surpasses all other relations.  In our vows, we affirmed, “we will love God above other.” And now, as I experience the love of other and can’t tangibly grasp the love of God as I have previously in life, I keep grasping.  Marital love is amazing, but it can never substitute for nor stand alone from the love of God.

So please pray.  Pray for me and for others who you know who are struggling to recognize the expression of God’s love in their daily living.  Pray for those of us who have fallen out of the routine of pursuing spiritual disciplines.  Pray for those of us who neglect/reject the empowerment and direction of the Spirit in interactions with others.  Pray that our confidence in Christ’s faithfulness increases, renewing our confidence in being in God’s presence.

Please pray, because you’re not alone in this either.

Here is a song for us.  It’s been on my repeat list lately.

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Friday morning I awoke–one week to the day into a girls spring break adventure–with intense ear pain.  I’d no longer make my Sunday flight, and acted quickly to take the first Greyhound towards our current home.

The timing of the bus route forced Stephen to take a half-day at work in order to drive four and a half hours to meet me at the half-way point.  The alternative would have been an additional 9 1/2 hours of bus rides and bus station breaks.  His response to the options was a gracious “I would have driven all the way to Nashville to bring you home.”

One bus.  Four stops.  Both mine and my friends wish for the day were met: I had the morning hours without a seatmate and was able to finally sleep, and, the afternoon hours I conversed with a retired Army Colonel.

Nashville was the beginning of the route.  I thought I nearly missed my bus.  I had felt anxiety as I never had before to the point of forgetting the pain in my ear…for the time anyways.

8:20 am. As the sleepy crowd awaited our late boarding time, a young, disheveled mother used a loud voice and harsh language with her son and everyone around her who made the environment out of her control.  A spilled drink seemed as the end of the world.  Eight hours later it made much more sense, when her son asked me for a drink saying he hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day.  I was observing, and although his statement was not the complete truth, his mom struggled to supply her two kids and herself with one vending machine drink the entire ride.

“Family boarding” hollered the bus attendant.  The young, disheveled mom was grumbling about a man who passed her on his way to the bathroom.  She didn’t notice the attendant’s announcement.  “Family boarding,” she said again. Still no budge from the mom.

Just minutes before, her son looked to me and asked “Are we cutting you?” I responded after a slight giggle, “No you aren’t, that was a great question though.” 

One family boarded as they spoke in Swahili–a mom with her son and daughter.  “Family boarding,” and it seemed to be the last announcement before all others were invited onto the bus.  So I reached out to the boy, “Hey bud” which got his mom suspicious, so I pointed them (mom, son, and daughter) to family boarding.  They went.  My eyes and ears were curious and observant of this family.

On the bus, in my half sleep state, I overheard the son speaking to the other young boy on the bus, “Girls like guys who have muscles, who make them breakfast in bed, and who have money and nice cars.”  They also had a rap battle in which the boy rhymed about his experience being bullied in school, and played with the sister and her puppets.

I held onto that line for hours thinking “how can I communicate the deeper meaning of what girls like to these young boys?”

About every 20 minutes I’d hear “Aiden” and glance over to the young, disheveled mom glaring at her son.  It was one of those looks that communicates to every part of a person’s being, saying “you’re doing something wrong.  Knock it off before I have to do something more about it.”  Needless to say, I learned the boy’s name.

1:45 pm came along.  Stephen was on the road. I reboarded the bus, took my new seat–the row right in front of the two boys.  And then the new travelers boarded.  I heard a disgruntled “Sorry, there’s no more seats. I have to sit here” from the vet, as though I had rolled my eyes at him and said something mean.  Several minutes into the bus ride he changed his view of me, calling me “a good person” with my “heart in the right place.”

We’d spoken about his military experience, his divorce, his daughter’s divorce, what he does with his grandkids when he visits, about my husband’s military experience, about my degree, about his degree, about Stephen’s degree, about our desire to foster and foster-adopt, and then, Rodd had nothing more to say and we were quiet.

I started paying more attention to the kids behind me.  The brother and sister were bickering with each other and the girl was blaming the young boy for going back on his word.  And there was my opportunity.

I turned around and started in, “Hey Aiden…” We talked about being considerate and caring for others’ feelings, and, we talked about integrity and being the person you want to be and doing as you say, or as he reflected back “walking the talk.”

At this point, his mom heard his voice, “Aiden.”  Rodd butted it, “she’s okay, he’s not doing any harm.”  To which, she remarked, “you must be a school counselor for these boys not to be bothering you?”  I didn’t even have to reply, I stayed focus with Aiden, while Rodd gave her my qualifications–the ones he had just learned during our conversation.

Just a bit later, nine-year-old Aiden was charged with caring for his sister.  He remarked “She  cries, then she comes to me and she’s okay.”  He started in, hypothesizing: “is….being considerate?”  I took every opportunity to reinforce him in the final hour I sat on the bus with him.  Rodd helped me out some too.  Turns out Rodd and Aiden’s family are to live within miles of each other.

Aiden decided to dress me up like himself at one point.  I was completely turned towards him.  I asked if they were moving to Florida to get away from the bullying and physical abuse he experienced at his last school.  He shared about a car accident–the car flipped as if it were doing “cart wheels” he said.  He mentioned a name, so I inquired.  He then lipped “Mom’s girlfriend.”  I asked if he was embarrassed and if that’s why he didn’t say it out loud, he replied “the kids at school make fun of me for it, and the principal didn’t believe me.  That’s why he did what he did.”

This kid has a LOT of brains considering the lack of environment conducive of brain development.  As Rodd said, “he has a lot of potential to change” his family patterns.

Aiden inquired about my husband and I got to speak of how Stephen is considerate and full of integrity.  I was so grateful for Stephen’s willingness to come out of his way and get me to bring me home.

His act was selfless.  His love for me was backed by selfless action. 

My ask.  My ask was selfish.  Yes, I was indeed sick.  Yes, I love my husband and desired in the midst of sickness to be in no one else’s presence but his.  But the concept of selfishness here is the reminder that I love him sometimes (and more often than I’d like to admit) with an expectation of something in return. 

The crazy thing about love, that can’t (or I don’t think can) be communicated to a nine-year-old boy, is that we selflessly watch out for the needs of those we love by first and foremost being aware of our own selfish needs and seeing how those get fulfilled. 

Aiden taught the other boy: “Girls like guys who have muscles, who make them breakfast in bed, and who have money and nice cars.” It’s the message our society teaches.  He learned it from Fast and the Furious specifically.  Muscles speaks to physical health and confidence.  Making breakfast in bed speaks to the consideration and intentionality to serve another.  Money and nice cars speaks to security.  We all have the instinct to be secure, connected to others, and to be healthy.  It’s rather odd that the same thing can be said and share a message of ego and selfishness, and, the same thing can be said and share a meaning of meeting the needs of other.

There is so much more to love than the physiological needs when one spouse is sick.  So much more.  However, in the instance of being states apart and feeling stuck, all I knew was that I needed to find a way to be more comfortable and in the presence of the one person I was confidence would seek out my best interests, even when I can’t.

In our last minutes together, Aiden created a game for us “we’re going to go back and forth.  You go first, then I’ll go, then your turn again.”  At first, we answered “what would you do if you could do anything for one day and not get in trouble?”  Then, he began to inquire more deeply on some of our answers: “If I had a million dollars, would you take it from me?” After I gave him a reason I wouldn’t, he rephrased, “If I had 80 million dollars, I would give you 50, and keep the 30.  Do you think I should share it with people who disrespect my mom?”

He was speaking of his grandmother.  His grandmother and mother argue whenever they discuss the kids.  We discussed, briefly, about loving someone and wanting the best for them, and having a hard time when that doesn’t happen.

_________________________________________________________

Please pray with me for Aiden (9), Lilly (3), and their mother.  Also, for Amber who cracked her ribs in the car accident, and, their aunt who they are moving in with.  Pray for their new schools and the community who has the potential of supporting this young boys’ growth.   Please, along with me, keep confessing when we think too much of ourselves, and plead with God to continue the sanctification process in you as we each are molded more into the likeness of Christ as we care for others through His gracious love.  Although I do not believe he could manage 80 million dollars well today, this gracious kid can meet a lot of people’s needs for security, connection, and health in the future if he keeps growing with the support and encouragement of others.  Let us commit to the servanthood of being present and intentional with the people in front of us in all circumstances.

And Jesus, help us as we seek you along the way. Amen.

 

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It has been 5 years since I regularly photographed, edited, and ‘published’ landscapes and architectural beauties.  But I can very clearly recall thinking others were very regularly over-saturating and liberally moving the sharpness meter.  I looked at photos–and I can recall thinking this of my now-husbands’ iPhone photos and edits while we were dating–and saw ‘this person doesn’t think God did well enough, they need to make more of it.”  Blades of grass were over-defined, valleys were too bright, trees showed the details of way too many leaves visible to the naked eye.

I got glasses this week.  My dad is an optometrist (across the country) AND I finally got glasses…this week.  And I learned: “Everyone else didn’t have a fake perspective, my eyes were limited to see the wonders of God’s creation, captured in the photography of others.”  I had muted God’s wondrous touch for years.

Many of us, at this point, are aware–whether from sermons, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, other readings, The Shack, relational interactions and observations, or by other personal life experiences–that we regularly perceive God through our own life experiences.  Most times we hear it as: “It is difficult for someone to call God Abba if they have/had a bad, harmful, or abusive earthly dad.”  God isn’t only a judge and discipliner, yet, for someone with a strict, physically abusive, unfair, unjust father, who was possibly ‘the town drunk’ or the guy who appeared all together to the neighbors and then behind closed doors took his own life hurts out on his wife and/or children, the image of God as anything but an unloving, disciplining, enraged, wrathful God is difficult to trust.

So, how do we clean up our viewpoint to see clearly, through our own life experiences, at the same time, withholding from judging and perceiving life through the measurement (expectations) of others and God living up/down to our own experiences (comfort)? 

Depending on where you are, the same picture looks different.

Depending on your eye sight, you’ll see through other’s glasses with ease or perhaps a splitting head ache, and may see life clearly or it may appear murky.  Either way, for you, it is a different experience than it is for the person whose prescription you’ve just tried.  We look through life, differently.  Each of us through our own lenses.  All trying to see the same things.

I always seek to see the other, yet I always find one picture in this image.  Do you see both?

There is one thing to say about taking one another’s perspectives as we approach decision-making and conflict resolution in the best interest of a friendship, marriage, or something happening in society. But rather than follow that stream of thought, I want to focus on the ‘false self’ and ‘true self.’

In his fourth decade of life, Peter Scazzero figured out how to be emotionally aware before God.  His books, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality/ Leader/ Church (and Woman, written by his wife, Geri), all focus on the foundational understanding that we are formed by the expectations placed on us, that we become who others want us to be to benefit them, to benefit the family or community from their perspective, and to benefit ‘us’ from their perspective.   In essence, we allow man to mold and shape what God has created. 

Can you remind me who is the clay Maker AND clay Shaper?

“Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person” (Genesis 2:7).

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand” (Jeremiah 18:6).

I want to look into any picture or mirror at myself and to see that in what should be me, there is an authentic illustration of who God has created me, purposed me, and molded me to be in His presence for His glory.

Scazzero petitions that we must begin peeling back the layers, as if we were an onion, removing the masks of ‘false self’ built up by expectations, generational sins, and societal norms, and begin revealing the nature of who God intended for us to be.  Only from the core person are we truly effective for God’s work.

“I truly believe the greatest gift we can give the world is our true self living in loving union with God.” || Peter Scazzero

“You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver” that as a silversmith sees his own reflection in the material after working it, and refining it for some time, You will see Your reflection in me, in us (Psalm 66:10).  O God, I hope that I do not limit your desires of Kingdom work through me.  Might I be an open vessel, available, willing, and dedicated to Your good purposes.  Might I experience life as You have hoped for me, so that I may be able to reach the people You have molded me to be effective with in Your Kingdom work.  Disciples make disciples.  I must not be mute.  I must have joy in me to celebrate the advancement of Your Gospel news to all the world.  I must have peace in me to trust in Your faithfulness, Your presence, Your shelter.  Savior, I am clean, and I am clean because of You.  Thank You, Lord.  My life is better cared for in Your hands, I relinquish control, and I ask for discernment and resilience to withhold from the temptation that says ‘praise and criticism shape you.’  I know this to be true of the world, but You have promised me much greater than the world.  I have eternal life in and with YOU. There is no greater reward worthy of my service, worthy of my submission.  I live only by Your breath that is within me.  You have purposed me from the beginning, and I hope now, to be resilient to seek out, to discern, and to live according to Your good intentions for the life I have left before joining You in heaven.  And I ask this of You today: Continue to draw me closer to You.  That I may, in my love for You, grow in the discipline to read, to know, and to live from Your Word according to Scripture, the life of Jesus Christ, and the presence of Your Holy Spirit in me.   Thank You for such a follow-up gift, Lord Jesus, for sending Your Advocate upon Your departure, so that we may have life–without a moment apart from You. Amen.

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Last night, our pastor challenged us to learn to live wisely, to make the most out of every opportunity.

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart” (Colossians 4:2).

This morning, during the church service, I met my first opportunity since receiving the challenge.  Strange isn’t it? That sometimes our greatest opportunity to serve isn’t sitting in a chair at church absorbing the teachable moments of a sermon, or even, to be beside our brothers and sisters in a state of worship…

I have called you into relationship with me and to draw others into relationship with me, says the Lord.

My first opportunity? To calm a sister’s anxiety as she and her husband depart from our church, move to another state, and begin their search for a new church to claim home.

I never realized how clear of a process I have in searching out and claiming ‘this is right’ at a church–developed through my traveled friendships, years, states, and countries.

The framework.  Since the first week of dating, Stephen and I have used a triangle as our framework for our relationship and for everything that flows into, through, and out of our relationship.  The inner triangle symbolizes submit, surrender, together, and the outer triangle symbolizes the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In every decision we make, we check ourselves and one another:

  • Are we submitted to one another?
  • Are we submitted to Christ?
  • Are we surrendering our own will to the will of God?
  • Are we acting in the best interest of our togetherness?

Each of which requires us to die to self, believe that what God has for us is far better than what we could claim for ourselves, and lean into what He has together. From there, we are then able to elaborate in our discussion:

  • Are we favoring a Person, attribute, or characteristic of God and neglecting the whole being of God?
    • For instance, Stephen experiences Christ as His Teacher and example most.  Whereas, I experience God’s presence through the Holy Spirit most.  Our Spiritual giftings even support the development in us by studying Christ Jesus and by sitting with the Spirit of God.  But in making decisions, in pursuing ministry of any sort, we must be mindful of the growth we will pursue in honoring who God is in all 3 Persons and in what He does through the people around us?

Once the framework is set for making decisions, the discussion should be relevant to what honors God and relationship with Jesus and other, rather than meeting our own preferences.

We hear, or at least I’ve heard, a lot about the dangers of preferences in selecting churches.  This worry is twofold.  On one hand, God designed each of the 7 billion people walking on this earth with unique characteristics and desires.  We have God-given, God-honoring desires.  The second part is that our desires can be self-fulfilling desires in which we seek to act out our own will, not the will of God.

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

If we truly are surrendering what is in our interest and pursuing what is the will of God, AND we are truly submitting to Christ and our spouse, AND we are pursuing a common goal together, preferences should exist no more.  The desires relating to preaching, worship, fellowship, and all aspects of ‘church’ end up being about honoring God.  For different individuals and different couples, the answer to their search will be different.

Why? God has created and called each of us in unique ways to unique places, people, and opportunities.

Keeping the framework in mind and in remaining prayerful, consider these next steps…

  1. Reach out to pastors and church associations that have challenged you, grown you, and minister well to their direct and global communities.  Be bold enough to ask for help.  Allow others to guide your journey.
  2. Do the research.  Online we have access to sermons, connect opportunities, ministries and mission opportunities, missions and beliefs of the church.  Through your research, narrow down the list of possibilities to 5 churches.
  3. Listen, study, and pray. Allow the ministries to minister to you.  Begin to really recognize is this a church, a leader, a ministry that seems emotionally healthy or unhealthy?
    • Notice–in the sermon archive–how many church leaders preach throughout the year.  Is it the same man every week? If so, does he take a sabbatical and allow other leaders to rise up in shepherding and teaching the congregation?
      • Burnout is dangerous for leaders, the church who follow, and the community they minister to
    • Is Truth being preached?
      • We have capital T Truth and lower t truth.   Theology is the study of God.  God does not change; He remains the same.  Theology continues to take shape with numerous perspectives, helping us understand who God is in the vastness of His expression.  Theology should bring us to our knees in awe of who He is, not be a blade to dismember our brothers seeking after knowledge, awareness, and experience of God’s relation to them. We must be careful to enter a church examining the presentation and application of God’s Word by what is True rather than man’s opinion of truth.
      • The Gospel message–capital T Truth–should always be clear and preached often. If you are alarmed by how a church speaks about salvation matters, it probably isn’t the right church for you to grow or minister, but if the preacher simply has different opinions about what is not explicitly said in Scripture, there is room for compromise and discernment within the congregation.
      • Is the pastor speaking of his own accord or from God’s Word?  Are small groups a time of gossip, catching up, or is there also a deep reverence for growing in understanding and application of God’s Word?
    • Pray. Pray. And pray together.  Narrow your search to three.
  4. Attend.  I have a biased toward churches which utilize spiritual gift inventories in their Next Step meetings so that each member serving the congregation is in a position to strengthen the Body.  Again, if each of the 7 billion people on earth is unique, we have unique distributions of who God is and His abilities in each of us.  Still, it remains a bias.  The truth, and the areas to consider in your initial visiting a church are as follows…
    • How does the body function as a whole? 
      • Spiritual gifts. The Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another, the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.  The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.  He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have…But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11,18).
        • We have no need for a prophet to serve in a capacity where we would benefit most from someone whom the Spirit gifted the ability to give wise advice; likewise, we would not want to limit our church body from the urgent truths the prophet has been gifted to share.
        • Closer to home, it would seem as though my giftings of faith and intercession would provide the confidence of faith to pray for the supernatural to occur before my eyes when I pray, nonetheless, I do not have the gifting of miracles.  Others in my church serve us better in praying with belief in supernatural occurrences amidst our body.
        • Administrators are gifted with the ability to see needs and find resources to meet the needs.  Are they functioning to keep the church leaders from doing too much?
        • Are there intercessors praying that God would be revealed through the pastor’s message, that His healing would be made known in worship, and in fellowship, are His children delighting amidst God and His family?
        • Are there apostles and wise counsel overseeing the pastor (and other pastors)–is he held accountable to other church leaders?
        • Are their faithful givers in the church empowering ministry through their offerings?
        • There are twenty-five or so spiritual giftings divided into four categories-sign, communication, leadership, and practical– are they utilized in the functioning of the church body?
      • Family.
        • God calls us children. See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)
        • And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).
        • My dear brothers and sister (James 5:7,10,12,19)
        • Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (James 5:16)
        • As you look around and hear the conversations around you, are brothers and sisters amidst the body sharing life with one another, inviting one another to pray through their trials and celebrate in their victories?  Are the members real with one another and with depth?  Is it clear that Family gets messy, but that through the mess, they stick together?
    • What else to look for?
      • It may sound indecent but look for signs of vulnerability.
        • I don’t consider volume in worship or the knowledge of the pastor or the lifting of hands to be indicators of the health of a church.  All of those are conditions of thinking and behaving that can be practiced and ‘perfected’ to mask the real condition, but they can also be conditions of thinking or behavior surrendered and practiced to honor God.  There is little way to tell at first.
        • Rather, I look for such evidence of transparency amidst the congregation as an influx in the voice and tears–which indicate sincerity, as the expression of inner workings is visible to others in the church and may be an invitation for other to walk alongside, pray with, and celebrate individual deliverances.
        • Where is the pastor’s family? Church plants have a set of limitations, often requiring the pastor’s wife to be serving in children’s ministry, perhaps.  But if you’re visiting a prominent church, watch for the wife and the children.  Does she seem to have a voice in the relationship? Does he take the time to lead his family before he leads the church?  Do his kids seem to respect and know their father–an indication of his presence and intentionality with them in the home?
        • Diversity. Who is welcome at the church and who stays?  Consider ages, nationalities, genders, marital status, socio-economic status, any and all populations represented in the community the church serves.
  5. Remember to submit, surrender, together as you abide in God the Father, Christ Jesus His Son, and the Holy Spirit.
    • Don’t give up.  Remember God wants you in relationship with Him and with His children.  Remain persistent in the search, in the prayer, and in the commitment.
    • Pray and together discern what God has purposed each of you to do–the action involved in honoring God with your living.  Consider the purposes of each of the churches you’ve experienced and make the decision that best honors self, other, and God.
    • Practice allowing needs (what God asks you or your spouse to) to outweigh wants (preferences) in your decision making.  And consider, if the church doesn’t meet a need right now, “is God calling us to bear this burden and bring ____ to the church?”  If it isn’t an ask from God, it’ll most likely be a burden to heavy to bear without His strength, and a church to remove from your considerations.  If the answer is yes, include your inner circle in praying for humility and connection as you begin with the church, patience to see the ___ added into God’s workings of the church, strength to carry His ask of you, and to remain with hearts of joy and thankfulness for the opportunity to express His presence in you in such a way.
    • Invite your praying friends, family, and former church members to pray with you as you transition into a new body of Christ.  This should never be done alone–live as a child of God, along with your brothers and sisters.
  6. Commit, dive in, join the Family, and serve God and His people through your giftings.

I hope that the framework, steps, and tools prove to be helpful to you in your present and/or future ventures in seeking out a sanctuary where God plants you.  In all of your pursuits, may God be clear in allowing you the understanding to apply His Truth to the Way in which you go.  That none of us wander too long, for we truly find ourselves in community with others who know us and work to share God.

My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins (James 5:19-20).

And may we always live lives of love.

 

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Prayer of Acceptance
Gracious God,
I give thanks for the gift of your love and mercy which knows no end. I
give thanks for Jesus Christ who lived, died and rose again that I may know true life in his name. Today I confess my sins, all the actions, and attitudes that keep me from loving you and loving others.
Lord have mercy and forgive me for those things I have said and left unsaid.
Lord have mercy and forgive me for those things I have done and left undone.
In the knowledge of your mercy, I confess Jesus as the Lord of my life and my savior.
I turn my life over to You today.
Please make me a new creature through Your Holy Spirit and change my heart.
Help me walk in Your ways as You reveal yourself to me.
Thank You, Jesus, for dying for my sins.
I accept Your gift of salvation today and confess that You are Lord.
Amen

“Said and left unsaid…done and left undone…”

I have readily considered laziness a sin and its’ association with “left undone.”  I have also known cursing and pain-causing language to be sinful–“said.”  The “left unsaid” I’ve considered the times when I coward from what the Spirit asks of me to speak.  The “done,” I’ve considered the busyness that distracts me from what God asks of me, or actions that are defiant to Him.

Today I realize, sometimes God asks us to speak, to hold our tongue, to act, or to withhold from action and be still.  But the counter can also be said, sometimes the enemy asks us to speak, to hold our tongue, to act, or to withhold from action and be still.

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best, and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11)

We must learn to discern the voice which directs us–an awareness and ability that grows from knowing the love of God.

This lent I have devoted myself to the discipline of simplicity–offering myself, especially, in words said and unsaid as clay to be reformed by the touch of Christ’s redemption.

This past week was midterms.  In the past weeks, we have cared for friends who are mourning losses in their immediate families.   Last week, we met our month’s financial pot for the month.  This week finally seems to be the end of months-worth of frustration to change my name, join bank accounts, change health insurance plans, and meet many other adult-newly-married responsibility tasks.  And we have begun to truly shape one another as man and wife in discussing points of growth and affirming opportunities met in beautiful ways.  We’re being shaped in the tension for sure.  But I must also admit, there have been too many moments–lasting much more than one moment–where I spiral, allowing tasks to get the best of me.  I have been overwhelmed.

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.
Reinhold Niebuhr

Overwhelmed… Simplicity… These appear to be two sides of the same coin.  Makes sense that one who battles feelings of being overwhelmed would be challenged to stewardship and surrender in the act of simplicity before the Lord.  So here I am in the midst of remodeling.

You are sovereign Lord! And You will always be sovereign, Lord.  There will never be a time when You are not sovereign.  You are and will always be sovereign above all things.

Being overwhelmed means that the doing becomes unbearable.  There is too much to do, we simply cannot be.  Peter Scazzero challenges us to self-reflection, confession, and acceptance of the process of sanctification as he admits–to which I am also guilty (p.58):

We attach our wills to the belief that someting less than God will satisfy us.  We think if we just accomplish that one big goal, then we will really feel content and good about oursevles.  We will be ‘finished’ and able to rest.

It is out of being that our doing has purpose.  Being, then doing.  Being becomes doing.  In being with God, we are moved to action–doing for God–and not the other way around.

Overwhelmed is to be overpowered with an excessive amount of anything; overcome, especially with superior forces; destroyed; crushed; covered or buried beneath a mass of something as floodwaters, debris, or an avalanche; submerged; or, overthrown.

Ever felt overpowered by an excessive amount of responsibilities calling out for your attention–tasks that keep you from simply being, that beckon you to ‘finish’ before you can rest?

I sure have.  I know the tools that I teach others, yet, sometimes the tasks seem to be relentless prison guards.  Sometimes they even disguise themselves, claiming to be the very thing that would honor God, yet, in my obedience to the task, I find myself distant from and desperate for God.

“There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.” – Jesus Culture

God may challenge us, but He would NEVER lead a child to suffocate or drown on their own.  Separation from His children is NOT God’s desire.  Doing and being overwhelmed by the doings can lead to separation from God–where we are no longer attuned to His voice but are commanded by the perceived need to complete tasks.

“Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Jesus says, “You will be able to bear the load I have for you.”

God, I do not wish to drown.  I do not wish to suffocate.  If I am overthrown, may it be that I am overthrown by You–humbled by Your reign.  If I am overwhelmed, may it be by Your presence.  If I am overpowered, may it be by Your strength, Your power.  If I am submerged, may it be in Your Word, Your Truth.  God, I surrender.  I want to know You more. 

I know that when I am overwhelmed I have either consciously or unconsciously chosen to prioritize tasks, the doing, over my surrendered being with God.

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians2:12).

We can examine what is according to His good purpose by knowing God and knowing God’s Truth as it is written in Scripture.  Anything that is not according to God’s good purpose we can then distinguish as not from God working in us.  If it isn’t God who is working in us when we choose doing, who is it?

 God is not a god of confusion.  Who would want to inspire confusion in us? Satan and his army. Remember: God is omnipresent and can be with you wherever you are and with all people where they are.  Satan does not hold such power nor authority.

That means as we are made in God’s image, standing as God’s children we can choose to bow our knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and as we do, we submit ourselves to God, aligning our will with His, and surrender to God working in us “to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:9-12).

  • What does my life show? I do more than I be right now.
  • What do I desire? I desire to know God and to do only which pleases God.

My life does not show the desire of my heart… perhaps, then, it is not my heart that dictates my actions, but my mind…

“Take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Dr. Caroline Leaf discusses the neuropsychology behind taking every thought captive.  She suggests it takes 21 days to replace the thought.  Let us feed and be filled by Your Word, God. That we would have the strength to persevere, to endure as we begin this process of sanctification in our minds.  I hope to be able to discern, to choose ‘God work in me, so that You may do in me that which is according to Your good purpose’ over what seems convenient or stressful and needs relieving.  Remind me, God, that You are all I need.

 The process of renewing our minds:

For twenty-one days…

Admit: Acknowledge the toxic thought

Quit: Eliminate the toxic thought by focusing on the healthy replacement thought, denying the unhealthy habit

For the following forty-two days…

Beat: Stabilize the strength of a healthy replacement habit to beat and remove possibility of regrowth of the eliminated toxic thought

The result: The natural choice in our unconscious stems from our restructured healthy habit, NOT the toxic thought life that once was.

Steps to take with honest reflection…

  1. What do I prioritize?
  2. What does God prioritize?
  3. What keeps me from being with God (admit)?
  4. Sit with God and learn the surrender of those very things that keep us from Him (quit)
  5. Allow God to renew Your mind, that His Spirit may be known and adored by Your spirit–rejoicing always and praying without ceasing as you make choices to live a life of love–honoring God, self, and others (beat).

Let’s be the Bride of Christ–doing from our being.

God, I want to live an uncluttered life.  Simplify what is of me and what is of the enemy.  Rebuke his grasp.  Overwhelm me with Your presence that all else may fall to ruin.  You are all I need Lord.  I believe in Your renewing power.  Cleanse me, O God.  Make me more like You.  Might my image of You grow to be truer and truer each day I spend with You.  I love You, Jesus, Amen.

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Yesterday I sat in a group of empathic counselors, shared briefly of my seemingly incohesive self, was reminded that nerve endings regrow and then…an image.  My brain works best when memories are formed around images these days.

“Nerve endings grow back”, she said.  “Well…so do lizard tails,” I thought.  In all seriousness, though, God created a creature that we know as a reptile that although damaged, will once again be whole.  Right now, I’m a lizard.  I’m awaiting my brain functioning to rise, the dopamine from stress to decrease, and for life to make sense once more.  Well, that latter part I know will never truly happen on this side of heaven, but the point remains.

In these last 30 hours, I keep reminding myself, “I’m a lizard. My tail will grow back.  My brain will function once more.”

And then, in a moment of needed pause, I found myself worshipping out under the sunlight and there beneath my skirt was this: lizard-carcus

I thought little of it besides the coincidence of a lizard appearing without full life–dead rather than without a tail, but a lizard nonetheless. My husband saw differently and replied:

“you definitely don’t look like that. i’m certain the enemy is messing with you after you find some sweet resolve in that idea. you’re mocked for it. i hate that. you will get your tail back! you are a new creation! the old has gone, the new has come! || 2 corinthians 5:17”

That’s just like him! That stupid enemy, deceiving and mocking me, just as he does best.

So although I’m missing my tail, I have life, and the life I have is in Christ.

If you’re feeling like part of you is deception or malfunctioning right now, I’m with you, but still, there’s hope.  Even more than hope for the future, there are promises of the present nearness and tenderness or a merciful and powerful God.  So, let us sing:

“Holy Ghost,

Won’t You come closer to me?

Holy Ghost,

Won’t You come closer to me?

Holy Ghost,

Kiss my eyes, I want to see.


I’m in need of Your help,

In need of Your hand.

In need of Your love,

Father.

 …

Holy Ghost,

Won’t You come closer to me?

Holy Ghost,

Kiss my heart, I want to see

I really want to see

The way that You see.

Come closer to me.”

– Melissa Helser, “Come close”

 

Holy Ghost, I want to see my whole self as You see me. As You see Yourself in me. Amen.

 

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Crying and no tears fall.

Weeping and no puddle to show.

Merciful or merciless?

I can’t tell.

I want to know.

Where does this emotion come from?

No, that’s not the question. Where? That I know.

Where is the evidence of such emotion?

Numbness, leave.  You are not welcomed here.

Christ, I know You are near.

Spirit speak, I’m eager to hear.

Abba, Your embrace is my comfort.

Like Nehemiah, Lord, I too long to overcome.

“Overcoming opposition takes an overwhelming confidence in God’s word.”

A burial from responsibilities, I am unprepared for!

Why have I allowed the task to become my authority?

If I drown, might it be that I drown overwhelmed by Your goodness, Your kindness towards me in Christ today.

I know, I’m learning Your Word.

I’m applying, I’m praying Your Word.

May Yours be spoken from my lips,

even more than my own.

Your words have power;

mine are…expression.

Still, you listen.

In Your sanctuary, You are.

My cries reach Your ears;

Songs, too.

Hallelujah, for You are praiseworthy.

Your promises assure:

I am made in Your image.

You affectionately, delight in me.

You rejoice over me, singing joyful songs.

Again, I remind myself:

I am made in Your likeness

Molded by Your marvelous hands each day

In my waking, I work to glorify You

In my resting, I am renewed by You

My thoughts I hold captive,

I focus my thoughts, my actions on You and You alone.

You are in my social, my emotional, my mental, my physical, and my spiritual  expressions of life.

Each breath, and in every heartbeat,

I have purpose in You.

Fully to enjoy You, O God, is to glorify You.

If what I say reflects Your promises,

then what is said is true.

So, again, I ask:

Merciful or merciless?

You are merciful, O Lord,

and I reflect You.

Therefore, there is no possibility that this dry spell I feel is absent of You.

You care.

You show compassion.

You allow Your people to speak of our perceived needs.

You meet us right. where. we. are.

I am crying.

Jesus, You wept.

We express heart cries for salvation:

for the new birth of salvation;

for the renewal of salvation;

for all people, of all nations.

You long for salvation.

Man made intimate with You.

I am renewed.

Never abandoned, never alone.

Commune.

I shall commune with You,

with Your community.

A fountain of mourning.

A fountain of pleading.

A fountain of hoping.

A fountain of healing.

You are cleansing us with Your pure waters.

O LORD, still, I cry dry tears.

I am only human,

but You, You are blameless, flawless in every way.

Your fountain, O Lord, will never dry out.

We come, we come to drink of You.

We come, we come to feast of You.

You, O Lord, Jesus the Christ,

You are all we need.

Brethren, in these next moments, be still. Let God hear your praises.  Whether your expression is spontaneous or led, you are gathering with sisters and brothers in Christ around the globe who know intimacy with God produces joyous hearts that cannot contain the gratitude we have for Christ. Praise God, glory glory glory, hallelujah.

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