Construction Zone

Even those on a Trek to the Manger can expect to encounter a Construction Zone now and then…

I know all about Construction Zones. As the wife of a road builder, I have been to and through all sorts of highway and bridge Construction Zones over the years.

I know the difference between concrete and cement, and I can tell whether a road has been paved in concrete or bituminous asphalt.

I’ve seen road surfaces being milled and bridge decks being poured.

I recognize a core sample when I see one and I know that when testing with a nuclear density machine, you’re supposed to wear a radiation-detection badge (I know, because a few of those have ended up in the laundry by mistake).

I’ve seen roads and bridges in various stages of a contract, and when it comes to Construction Zones, well… you might say I know just enough to be dangerous.

In Bible study today we agreed that our group gatherings look pretty much like a Construction Zone. In various stages of construction, each one of us is a distinctly unfinished project (some of us might even say we’re a real piece of work).

Some of us are entering uncharted territory. The road God is building in us doesn’t even exist yet! We might be able to see the bright paint sprays of the utility companies who have marked what’s hidden underground, but where we’re going, there have been no roads before.

Some of us are freshly graded earth, ready for the Paver to make us into a usable roadway.

Some of us are being resurfaced – getting a face-lift, you might say – because the years have left their mark, but there is so much more life left for us to live.

Some of us are all rebar and concrete forms – not looking so much like a road just yet, but being equipped with a solid foundation so that when the deck is poured, we’ll be able to handle any load God might bring our way.

Some of us are being signed and striped. We’re looking pretty darn good, but there are directions we still need and pavement markings that we require in order to continue safely down the road God has put us on.

The thing about Construction Zones is that, with very few exceptions, no one likes them.

Seriously.

It’s messy. It’s bumpy. And it’s really, really slow.

I suppose those doing the work itself would disagree, but for those who just want to pass on through, Construction Zones stink.

This is not unlike what happens in our Bible study group, or in any group of those whose lives are perpetually under construction. With very few exceptions, watching the construction of others is like driving through the Zone…

It’s messy. It’s bumpy. And it’s really, really slow!

Sometimes we get impatient and take a detour, to avoid the construction (and those being constructed) altogether.

Sometimes we wait for what seems like forever in order to move past the Zone that others are in, because when one life gets messy in a community of believers, everyone feels it.

Sometimes the Construction Zones of others keep us from doing things we want to do, on a timeline of our own choosing. This can frustrate, anger and disappoint us, no matter how understanding we try to be.

Today, try to think about those whose work is the Construction Zone… What they do while we’re feeling inconvenienced is to create something new.

Something better. Something more efficient. Something safe.

God Himself is in the Construction Zones of our lives, making something better. Something more beautiful. Something He can use. Something others need.

Yes, the Zone irritates those who navigate it during construction, but for those who are hands-on in the mess, the progress being made is measurable and significant.

We are becoming more and more like Jesus with every pass of the Paver, with every passing day.

No matter how you feel about what God is constructing in and around you, rest assured – the finished product will be well worth the wait.

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Acknowledgements

I rarely read the Acknowledgments.

You know – those pages at the beginning of the book.

When I open a new book, I’m hankering for a quick-connect to the content I was sold on when I made the purchase. The author’s personal relationships don’t generally figure into my decision to read, so I am apt to flip pages until I land at chapter one. That’s just how I tend to roll.

Until yesterday.

Sitting around the table on the first day of a new small group study season, I broke my own previously unspoken rule as together, we read the Acknowledgements.

What followed was an outpouring of the most beautiful stories about people whose lives have forever influenced our own – a veritable mosaic of faces and names and memories – accompanied by laughter and smiles. And tears.

Our Acknowledgements.

Friend, you are here! What I mean is, today you are breathing and moving, expending energy and employing God-given gifts as you do the business of your normal, everyday…

And there are people who helped you get here. People you may not have acknowledged.

You don’t have to be an author to have your own Acknowledgements page! There are men and women and children and grandchildren who have surrounded and cared for, encouraged and challenged you, ensuring that you would be here – wherever that is and whatever that means to you – today.

You didn’t get here on your own, no matter how incredible you are!

So pop a piece of paper into the typewriter (LOL) or pull out your smartphone and make a list. Call it Acknowledgements.

Call it cultivation of a thankful heart.

Call it curation of a precious collection.

Call it whatever you want, but don’t keep it to yourself. And don’t hide it at the end of your story – in an appendix your readers may or may not see when your final chapter ends (seriously – who actually reads as the credits roll?).

There’s a reason those pages come before chapter one!

So, before you turn another page, stop and acknowledge those in your cloud – that great cloud of witnesses whose love and faith in you have brought you here. Today.

The (lesser-known) Spiritual Discipline of Defragmentation

Defragmentation

Defragmentation (Photo credit: jmehre)

Along with a dozen beautiful believers-under-construction, I am re-reading the classic ‘Celebration of Discipline‘ by Richard Foster. Clearly an oxymoron to the spiritually faint of heart, Foster makes a strong case for placing the words ‘Celebration’ and ‘Discipline’ into the same sentence. Week after week my small group of women comes together to wrestle with the possibility that the result of a disciplined life might really be something worth celebrating.

According to Foster, “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.”

He goes on to say that “By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s means of grace.” It is in the act of laying bare our wounded hearts that God’s best work begins and we find ourselves on the path to reconstruction and restoration. “We must always remember,” says Foster, “that the path does not produce the change; it only puts us in the place where change can occur. This is the way of disciplined grace.”

This is also the way, by the way, of the lesser-known Spiritual Discipline of Defragmentation.

You’ve probably heard of the classic Disciplines – things like prayer, study, service and worship. Words that have in many circles become so churchified that they have essentially lost their meaning and, consequently, their practice has ebbed as well. Perhaps it’s time for a more culturally relevant illustration in making a case for the benefit of focusing our attention more purposefully on God.

According to Beth Bartlett at eHow.com:

Defragmentation, also known as defragging, is a process that takes all the file fragments scattered across a computer’s hard drive and rejoins the multiple pieces of each file into one area. This can speed up your computer, save you time and extend the life of your hard drive. Defragging can be a lengthy process, but it is an essential part of regular computer maintenance.

The definition begs the question: does this sound like you? Does your inner-life contain fragments of thoughts, memories, ideas, plans, lists, activities and schedules? Are your relationships and priorities scattered across your mind and heart in the form of pieces – a little bit here, a little bit there?

One predictable side effect of life is fragmentation, and women know as well as anyone what years of multi-tasking can do to the most well-intentioned follower of Christ.

We know we need to change. We feel the need to change. We really WANT to change! But until we let go of our desire to CONTROL the change we need the most, we haven’t got a chance.

Enter… the Spiritual Discipline of Defragmentation.

You may have taken your computer through the process of defragging, so let’s start there – with what we know. To defrag your system, you access your computer’s control panel and select the ‘defragment your computer‘ option. There’s a great visual provided by most computers when you opt to ‘analyze’ your computer before defragging. After a few minutes, your computer will show you what your hard drive looks like – in full color – with bits and pieces here and there throughout the drive.

Disorganized. Inefficient. Hard to navigate. Time consuming. So you take the next step and you click ‘defragment‘ and the magical process begins. You sit there. Watching. Waiting. Knowing that good work is being done. Knowing that this is out of your control now. The computer is doing its work and soon a new picture will display, with bits and pieces that have been rearranged and put back together in a way that makes much more sense and much better use of your system.

Wow! What an amazing tool!

In the spiritual life, your head and your heart are your operating system – your ‘hard drive’ in techie terms. The Spiritual Discipline of Defragmentation requires that you open up your control panel and give that control to the Operator – the One who knows how you run best. The One who created you! Let Him show you how the bits and pieces of your life are scattered and disorganized. Allow Him to analyze your true state and to make His case for the defragmentation of YOU!

The next step is actually your FINAL step, and that is to make the click. Choose to begin the process. Put yourself on the path where real change can occur. Opt for the system tool that will result in a healthier you. It’s true that Spiritual Defragmentation can be a lengthy process, but it is an essential part of regular spiritual maintenance.

YOU choose to undergo Defragmentation by giving God access to every last bit of you through focused, quiet time – but the work isn’t actually yours. You sit there. Watching. Waiting. Knowing that good work is being done. Knowing that this is out of your control now. God Himself is doing His work and soon a new image will be displayed in you, with bits and pieces that have been rearranged and put back together in such a way that YOU look more like JESUS.

Wow! What an amazing God!

the SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? Bible Study

The study translation Bible 2009

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been around the block.

When it comes to studying the Bible, I’ve made my way through this method and that format, using these tools and those materials. I’ve studied with the help of this translation and that paraphrase. I’ve considered his detailed commentary and her in-depth workbook

After all, if you’re like me and you take God’s Word seriously, you’ll go around the block again and again for even a GLIMPSE of His truth in those sacred pages.

I’m beginning to wonder, though, if all of our methods for studying and approaching the scriptures can’t be summed up in two painfully simple (but potentially loaded) questions:

SO WHAT?

NOW WHAT?

SO WHAT? I’ve just read this story in the Bible – SO WHAT? What’s the big deal? What difference does it make? Why does it matter that Jesus said this (or that David did that)? Seriously – what’s the big whoop?

How many times have you read a biblical text and failed to think about the reason those words were written? How often do you open and close your Bible without pausing to consider why that passage on this day?

‘SO WHAT?’ is an invitation to dig down to the crux of the matter, to the root of the text, deep into the heart of a God whose words are important enough to have endured thousands of years in order to be spoken into your life today. It may not be the most scholarly approach to the study of God’s words, but ‘SO WHAT?’ cuts through the Christian-ese and pretense to usher you into an honest assessment of the impact of scripture on a very real YOU in a very real world. If we cannot figure out the ‘SO WHAT?’ there is simply no point in moving forward to the ‘NOW WHAT?’

Yet it is the ‘NOW WHAT?’ that separates the spiritual tweens from the wise and devoted gray-hairs in the Kingdom of God! It’s the discipline of asking God to move you from the classroom of Bible study into the internship of “doing the Word” (James 1:22) that determines whether your efforts at learning will ultimately bear fruit or die fruitless – its growth tragically stunted inside of your head.

NOW WHAT? Asks the question that the faint of heart will avoid at all costs.

NOW WHAT? Forces the hand to be played and the play to be made.

NOW WHAT? Puts skin on the bones of a passive faith, bringing Jesus to life again and again in our love-starved, faith-starved world.

NOW WHAT?’ is the question that burns Spirit-fire within the believer whose curiosity cannot be quenched. For if we faithfully ask the question, we have no choice but to join the Author in His work as it is being written on the pages of the lives all around us.

To ask ‘NOW WHAT?’ is to drink deeply of the living water offered by the Savior, and then to take buckets of that very same Water to dehydrated souls, wherever they live.

No study of the Bible is complete without the ‘NOW WHAT?’

Because the Word of God is not passive, but ALIVE with the power of the resurrected Christ! ACTIVE with the movement of the living Spirit of God!

The SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? Bible Study will cramp your style, make you look like a fool, get underneath your skin and make you squirm.

Doesn’t that sound GREAT?! I’m in!

Now what?

from WOE to WHOA!

whoa

whoa (Photo credit: stgermh)

Isaiah had a vision.

His vision was of God, in heaven, seated on His throne in unimaginable glory (not to mention the angel-seraphs, whose voices raised in worship to this majestic God literally shook the foundations of the temple where Isaiah stood).

In the Bible, where this vision is recorded, we’re told that Isaiah’s first response to this holy eye-full isn’t what we might have expected. He doesn’t look around and say ‘how cool is THAT?!’ He isn’t in awe of the beauty of heaven or of the powerful six-winged seraphs. Isaiah’s first words in response to what he is seeing are these:

Woe to me!

Man sees the living God in all of His splendor, and his first response is WOE?!

I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5

Isaiah’s words make me wonder what we’re doing when we paint a picture of God as the mighty, all-approachable One. Are we faithfully interpreting God’s Word when we effectively humanize the Father of the Trinity, whose presence is heralded in heaven by the thunderous voices of creatures who shake the foundations of heaven and draw smoke at the sound of their praise?

What if we need to experience WOE in the presence of God, like Isaiah did, before we can be cleansed from our sinfulness and called to a life of ministry among people whose lips and lives are tainted by evil and colored by the world?

Maybe this is why we’re skeptical about those who preach a faith that is reminiscent of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – all ‘awesome’ and ‘righteous’ and ‘DUDE!’ from the word ‘Go!’

I wonder if this is what the church leaders of old were thinking when they designed worship, placing a time of confession early in the service, before the proclamation of the Word?

Perhaps they learned, as Isaiah had, that WOE comes before WHOA in a life that has truly seen the One, True God.

Of course God is WHOA! Amazing! Magnificent! Holy! But until I am WOE, humble, aware of my sinfulness in the presence of God, I’m not in a position to experience His WHOA in life-altering ways.

May your experience of God begin at WOE and emerge as WHOA!

In God’s perfect timing.

With God’s perfect blessing.

Not skipping the hard stuff, but living it out in faithful ways by the power of the God who sits on His throne, exalted in glory.

And by the LOVE of that powerful God for YOU.

 

PINK Tuesday

Field of Women MCG 2010 Melbourne

Image by Combined Media via Flickr

Every Tuesday morning, armed with my Bible and a bag of powerful, freshly ground coffee, I make my way to the church. Only, I don’t really think of it as going to ‘church’ – it’s more like going home.

I never dread Tuesday mornings. On the contrary, Tuesday is my favorite day of the week! As they begin to trickle in, I find myself celebrating each unique arrival – grandmas (with attitude), mothers (with the uncanny ability to go from side-splitting laughter to rivers of tears in 20 seconds flat), sisters (who struggle to ‘become’ in light of family baggage), daughters (in every stage of growing up, from blaming to embracing), and wives (with hang-ups, headaches and heartbreaks, even in the best of marriages).

Each woman who walks through that door brings with her a history, a heart-felt need, and a HOPE. As we fill our cups and settle in to our seats, we ‘arrive’ at that place where who we are is all we need to be.

Nothing more.

The thing that happens each Tuesday is that the stuff of life (good, bad and ugly) intersects with the Way, the Truth and the Life, resulting in moments of clarity where what is happening in our very raw, very real lives somehow makes sense in light of the Word. As Beth Moore says, it’s where our reality and our theology collide.

That’s what happens for me on Tuesdays. If only for a few, brief, glorious moments, my life makes sense. I get it.

And I’m no longer satisfied with keeping this phenomenon to myself! For this reason, Pink Shoes Ministries is thrilled to invite ALL of you to join me (and my soul sisters) for PINK Tuesday!

WHERE?    Here, at:  https://pinkshoesministries.wordpress.com

WHEN?      Every Tuesday

WHAT IS IT?     A forum for women to connect the dots between a reality made up of tough issues, difficult choices and painful circumstances with the theology of a living, loving, ACTIVE God who is present in the midst of our complex (and often messy) lives.

WHY DO IT?     Why be a part of PINK Tuesday? So that the God of HOPE can fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him (Romans 15:13) AND so that you can have a place to relate your stories and struggles with those of other real women who are seeking what you are seeking – a moment of clarity. Where life just makes sense.

After all, THIS is what Pink Shoes Ministries is all about! Being real (unique) expressions of God’s TRUTH in a world that has been duped by too many counterfeits too many times.

Want to make it REAL?      Join us on PINK Tuesday!

Want to make it COUNT?      Check in on PINK Tuesday!

Ready to LET IT SHINE?      Then let it begin.

Here.

On PINK Tuesday.

Coming to a computer screen near you on Tuesday, January 25, 2011.

HIJACKED by the SPIRIT

Just a few of the Tuesday girls!

There goes another Tuesday morning Bible study…

13 women armed with coffee cups (correction: 12 coffee cups, one tea cup) and Bibles were once again hijacked by the Holy Spirit.

This phenomenon, happening with increasing frequency, takes the entire circle of women in my living room on one WILD ride through a full range of emotions and subjects and stories that would make the faint of heart… well, FAINT.

Don’t get me wrong! We come into each session with a shared objective – to cover the assigned material of our current study – but as the conversation begins and the very real needs of the group emerge, our agenda is often hijacked for a GREATER ONE.

Sometimes there are CONFLICTS that need to be resolved, or at least understood so that we can move on (strained relationships with difficult family members; run-ins with people who try to derail our attempts at loving those on the fringes; threats made by our own selfish nature that are at war with the Spirit of generosity God wants to fill us with).

Sometimes there is COMFORT that needs to be shared (when we’re losing our homes to the bank; losing our kids to addictions; losing our minds to menopause; losing our loved ones to cancer; losing our focus to the mind-numbing busy-ness and noise of the world around us).

Sometimes there is COMMUNITY that needs to be built (reminders that we’re NOT ALONE, that we are part of something greater than our own tightly wound bundle of nerves & needs; opportunities to realize that we have something the others NEED and that we can’t be faithful AND continue to keep it to ourselves!)

This week’s hijacking was marked by TEARS, answered (and unanswered) QUESTIONS, hysterical GIGGLING and moments of awkward SILENCE. Climbing off of the ride and into the study at hand, we realized almost simultaneously that what we had already experienced/wrestled with/discussed WAS the topic of this week’s chapter.

The “lesson” had begun – it just looked so much like our real lives that we hadn’t even noticed.

Romans chapter 12 begins with these words:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” (the Message)

God’s plan is likely NOT going to look like what YOU have in mind for today, and trading in your ordinary life for a God-crafted one probably isn’t for the faint of heart…

It’s RISKY!

It’s CHALLENGING!

It’s even a bit UNNERVING!

But go ahead – give up your NORMAL for His distinctively COUNTER-CULTURAL and make like a Girl Scout (be PREPARED)!

A Spiritual hijacking is coming your way, and it has YOUR NAME written all over it.

 

Special thanks to Barbie, a Tuesday morning gem, who used this phrase to describe our women’s group to a friend.