the Call

Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, ca. 1944-1945

Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, ca. 1944-1945 (Photo credit: americanartmuseum)

 

“Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you.” The Spirit came into me as he spoke, and he set me on my feet. I listened carefully to his words. “Son of man,” he said, “I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for remember, they are rebels—at least they will know they have had a prophet among them.”
Ezekiel 2:1-5 (New Living Translation)

There is a big message in this small text…

When God asks something of us, He gives us the means to do it!

Our callings are not to show God – or anyone else, for that matter – how well we can come through for God, but to show others how well God can come through in us.

Ezekiel is asked to stand up, but God doesn’t wait for him to gather up the strength to do it on his own. Instead, God puts His Spirit into Ezekiel and that Spirit puts him on his feet!

As God speaks words of calling/sending/purpose over you and me, His Spirit inside of us is already equipping us to follow through! He is the momentum and energy needed for us to start down the dusty road of ministry, and He will be the One to keep us going when the going gets rough (and believe me, the going is going to get rough).

What this short text says to us is this:

God’s call on my life isn’t about me – it’s all about God.

God’s  STRENGTH.

God’s  PLAN.

God’s  POWER.

God’s call on the lives of His people doesn’t require us to be anything other than fully human. Our flaws, our weaknesses, even what we might call our failures, somehow become irrelevant when we are filled with His Spirit and set on our feet to answer His call.

In this prophecy and call on Ezekiel’s life, the phrase ‘son of man’ or ‘mortal’ is used 95 times. According to Wesley’s Notes, this was done intentionally to keep Ezekiel humble. After all, he was standing in the presence of the glory of God, experiencing fantastic revelations connected to the work God was preparing him to do. If that had been me, I admit that I could easily have been thinking – WOW! I must be pretty special for God to choose me to experience this!

But Ezekiel wasn’t chosen by God for this great calling because he was superhuman or something awfully special. Ezekiel wasn’t chosen by God in spite of his humanity; he was usable because of it.

And his success, according to God, wouldn’t be measured by whether or not Ezekiel got the Israelites to listen to him and change their ways, but simply by letting them know that a prophet had been there, among them.

And what is a prophet? Someone who is so filled with the Spirit of God that when he opens his mouth, God speaks. And when she reaches out to help others, God’s touch is felt.

Let’s go and be prophets today!

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Desensitized & Dangerous

After reading Trek to the Manger chapter 8, and after reading just about any newspaper in America, this post seems… timely. Because human lives matter.

An image of the Wii remote (with wrist strap) ...

Image via Wikipedia

I started thinking about the effects of video games on the way kids think as I listened to my son interact with the Wii one recent afternoon. Having always been particularly strict about what he can and cannot play, we have firmly planted our feet in conservative soil and allowed only E and E10+ games to be played in our home. After all, how controversial and damaging can a game that says ‘Lego’ on it be?

On this day, hearing the game-playing insults and animated threats as they spewed from my sweet 12 year old’s mouth, I was open-mouthed stunned. As I paid attention to his interactions with people over the next weeks, I was struck by the number of times this video game language spilled over into real-life conversations. Prompted by this realization, we began to make changes in our game playing and movie watching habits. To my great relief, good progress has been made, and yet I’m horrified at how easily such behaviors were able to take root and spring to life in our conscientious Christian home.

Many studies have been performed that point toward television and video games to explain the violent culture our children are immersing themselves in. While I realize it probably isn’t that simple, I was taken aback by this comparison made in Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s article, Trained to Kill:

“The result is a phenomenon that functions much like AIDS, which I call AVIDS–Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS has never killed anybody. It destroys your immune system, and then other diseases that shouldn’t kill you become fatal. Television violence by itself does not kill you. It destroys your violence immune system and conditions you to derive pleasure from violence. And once you are at close range with another human being, and it’s time for you to pull that trigger, Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome can destroy your midbrain resistance.” (Christianity Today, August 10, 1998)

If the violence that our children are exposed to on television and in video games is affecting their naturally adverse responses to acts of violence in real life… Houston – we’ve got a problem.

We’ve got a problem because, according to Grossman, the average preschooler in America watches 27 hours of television each week.

We’ve got a problem, because the average child gets more one-on-one communication from TV than from all her parents and teachers combined.

We’ve got a problem, because Americans spend over $100 million on toy guns every year (What Counts: The Complete Harper’s Index © 1991).

It’s easy to jump on the anti-tv bandwagon right about now, waging war on the producers and promoters of shows and games with inappropriate content for children, but it seems to me that this is an exercise in futility. An exercise in missing the point.

What is the point, you ask? To which I reply with these words of the Apostle Paul, as found in Ephesians 6:12:

“Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world.”

You and I are watching Paul’s words play out on the big screen of everyday life. Satan has effectively dulled our senses through the world’s use of violence and dehumanization, creating a world crawling with bullies and terrorists that can be found on every playground and in every community across the globe.

Does the enemy always use video games to tap into our violent responses? Of course not. But our enemy does generally choose the way of least resistance when it comes to weakening our resolve to value what God values; things like human life, relationship and love.

We’ve made it awfully easy for God’s enemy to have access to our children. It’s time we rise to the occasion and heed Paul’s teaching, putting all of that Armor to use on behalf of the Kingdom of God (Ephesians 6:13-18).

About the time my son was emerging from video game mentality, his school was visited by Stephen Nasser – a holocaust survivor. Parents were cautioned that his story may be graphic, and of course we had the opportunity to opt-out for our more sensitive children. We didn’t opt out.

On the day Mr. Nasser came, I picked my son up after school and proceeded to ask him a few questions about the talk. He wasn’t very forthcoming, seemed almost nonchalant about it, so I backed off and decided not to push for details. As the evening unfolded, we began to hear more and more about the stories and events that had played out in the concentration camps, as told by Mr. Nasser. We learned that some of the stories had been quite graphically painted by the words of this man who was the sole survivor of his family. We found out that some of the adults and students in the room had cried as the stories were told. And our son asked if we could buy Mr. Nasser’s book, My Brother’s Voice.

By bedtime that night, I could see just how much my son’s heart was wrenched by the horrifying stories this elderly man had told. These were real people. Real people who had been really wronged. Moms and Dads and brothers and sisters and grandparents whose lives meant less than nothing to an entire army of violent men.

So, we bought the book. My son finished reading it today. His heart will never be the same (and that is very, very good).

Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room last week, I watched a newscast about an anti-bullying program that is being tried out in at least one school setting in America. Perhaps more accurately described as a sensitizing program, they are attempting to help young children connect with their feelings of respect and empathy for human life by having each classroom ‘adopt’ a baby for the year.

Over the course of a school year, a young family will visit multiple times, each time creating an opportunity for the students to watch and interact with a baby and her family. The facilitator talks through what the baby is doing at each visit and how that makes the students feel.

At first, I admit it seemed rather corny to me. What I’m left with, however, after thinking it through, is the sense that this type of education just might work in light of the ways in which we desensitize our children by exposure to violence and the dehumanization of those who become targets of real-life brutality and aggression. Maybe we can sensitize our kids by exposing them to caring parents (even if those parents aren’t theirs) and innocent babies, allowing them to feel concern and maybe even feel protective of those who are unable to stand up for themselves in this world. At least it’s worth a try, right?

I’m not sure where we should go with this, but I’m sure that we should go somewhere.

Maybe we should champion the stories of those who have been bullied and wounded and all-but-destroyed by real-life violence (like Stephen Nasser).

Maybe we could work to create sensitization programs in our local schools, bringing the joy of life into the classroom for children whose lives are remarkably joy-less at home.

Maybe we can get creative in our own homes, finding ways to value our family’s time and resources outside of cable tv and the purchase of yet another video game.

Maybe we ought to do our homework and pray for Spirit eyes to see where God is already at work all around us, freeing the captives, fighting injustice and proclaiming the Good News to the poor and the blind and the outcast.

On our own, we might make a respectable dent in the lives of the desensitized and dangerous.

However, I’m much more interested in finding out what TWO (or more) can DO!

Will you join me?

To read Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman’s complete article, click here: http://www.killology.com/print/print_trainedtokill.htm

Leftovers

Leftovers salad

Leftovers

I walked away from the conversation with face still flushed, pulse still elevated, thoughts still racing.

Don’t get me wrong – it was a necessary conversation. One which I would have regretted not having, despite the intensity and confrontational nature of the thing. One which was brought on by something so deeply seated that I didn’t realize how strongly I felt until the words started flowing.

You recognize the feeling. You’ve had this conversation, too.

In the car, on the way home, I sorted through my thoughts about the matter…

  • What had been accomplished?
  • What had been resolved?
  • What had been aired and not settled, and can I be okay with that?
  • How had things been left, as we parted?
  • Is the relationship intact even if the differences remain?
  • Are there any leftovers?

You know, LEFTOVERS… Unsettled feelings. Unresolved issues that will resurface again. And again. Pin-pricks from words that were meant to be hurtful. Emotions still swirling, and the uncertainty as to where they will finally land.

Leftovers.

Like those leftovers you keep in your refrigerator; the remnant of a meal, perhaps a meal shared. Or a meal enjoyed. Or a functional meal – one that met your caloric needs without any extras or frills.

You see, the thing about leftovers is that they do serve a purpose, but it’s a limited purpose. A purpose with an expiration date. A purpose with a deadline. Leftovers are destined to be disposed of.

If the ‘meal’ is the conversation I had today, it was something I needed to eat. I will absorb that which my body needs to maintain health, to give me strength and to increase my energy to cover the output I will inevitably be required to produce. This ‘meal’ served its purpose, whether it was fun to eat or not. Maybe the company at the table wasn’t choice. Maybe the food didn’t taste quite like it should have. Maybe it wasn’t the most delicious feast I’ve ever consumed.

In the car, driving home, the meal is over. It’s time to decide what to do with the leftovers.

I might throw it all in the trash now – I’m not very good at using leftovers wisely (or it just wasn’t that good the first time).

I might save it all for later – it was more than I could digest in one sitting.

I might save just the parts I want more time with – the stuff worth chewing on again.

I might put it in the frig, which means I’ll have to reheat and revisit it sooner than if I place it in the freezer to preserve it longer; to extend its impact on me.

Regardless of the choice, the fact remains that leftovers go bad. Keeping them around too long results in things like ugly, smelly (greenish) growths or less than appetizing separation of ingredients. Consuming leftovers that have been left over too long can make you sick. Really sick. Even if they appear to be okay, your leftovers can make you miserable inside.

Holding onto leftovers which have passed their safe usage date is never a good thing. Even if you have no plans to reuse or rehash them, leaving them in the frig takes up space you could be using for the good stuff and might even taint the rest of what you plan to use for another meal, another day.

Why take the risk? Use your leftovers while they still have value and can still be put to good use! And remember – every leftover has a shelf-life. Some shorter, some longer than others, but no leftover is good for you forever. Pay attention to what you’re allowing to take up space in your frig. In your freezer. In your head. In your heart.

Eventually, all of our leftovers stink.

By the time I reached the driveway and found the key to my front door, I had settled on a few leftovers worth keeping. For awhile.

But I don’t intend to hold onto them too long. I don’t intend to wait until the leftover goes bad, gets rancid, grows fuzzy green hair and is transformed into something I don’t recognize. I will reheat them, chew on them, use them up and then dispose of my leftovers when their contribution to my life has been exhausted.

Trash the stuff that will only serve to make us sick and stain our Tupperware.

We’ll be healthier for it, my friends.

Cajon (new beginnings)

Cajon07052001

Cajon07052001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cajon is Spanish for box, and it’s also what I got for Christmas.

Not just a box, mind you, but a box-shaped drum. The mellow accompaniment of this cleverly designed instrument is remarkably well-matched to an acoustic set with guitar and piano. Unlike the potentially overpowering presence of a drum kit (think drum solo), the cajon is part of the ensemble – a voice in the choir, you might say. Seated upon this quirky box, I am discovering things about music (and myself) in ways I never have before.

For starters, music theory isn’t the same as playing the drum. I know a lot about music from jr. high band and years of piano and voice lessons, but this head knowledge did precious little for me the first time I sat down to play the cajon. I remember tapping out the rhythm of little x’s on a page, but mechanical is the word that comes to mind when I try to play those little x’s on my drum. I may be able to crank out an accurate rendition of little x’s in succession, but there is so much more to artistry than accuracy (can I get an Amen?).

Playing alone is not the same as playing with other instruments. My home-grown drum solos rock my little house, but when I’m playing along with others they just don’t sound the same. Maybe it’s because on my own, I set the beat. I choose the groove. And I give myself lots of grace because no one else is listening! As part of the band, I have to behave. I have to rock steady. When I let loose, I can’t leave my band members behind.

The real challenge for me, however, is playing the drum on songs that I have been singing for years. You would think that familiarity would make it easier, but it doesn’t. As soon as I start thinking the words or even picturing the lead sheet in my head, I lose the groove I’m in. It’s an entirely different experience to make music atop my cajon than from behind a microphone. Words don’t help – they complicate.

This has been so obvious that the musicians I worship with have started to tease me about my inability to walk and chew gum at the same time. For a master multi-tasker, this news is almost devastating! What do you mean I can’t sing and keep a beat?! But I can’t. And it’s blowing my mind.

The Apostle Paul says something in Romans 12:2 that makes some sense out of what I’m discovering with my drum.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (NLT)

I’m finding that when I try to think the way I’ve always thought about music – even when I try to put music theory into practice – all of my passion gets lost in the mechanics. My mind has been trained to think in words and notes, but for the cajon to do its work I have to follow and feel. I think this is what Paul is saying, too. It’s one thing to study and think and strive and try to do things God’s way, but it’s something else altogether when God takes hold of me and shifts my thinking – changes my mind!

This kind of transformation – the stuff of new beginnings – isn’t something we have to muddle mechanically through. I can’t make this transformation happen – I can’t force rhythm out of words – but the God who formed me can move me from theory into practice by changing the way that I think.

Kevin Costner’s character in the film Bull Durham is asked to coach and train a gifted young pitcher for a career in the majors. This easily distracted youngster has a crazy-powerful arm, but absolutely no focus. It seems that the harder he thinks about placing the ball, the more erratic his pitches become. What advice is he given by his appointed mentor?

“Don’t think – just throw.”

When he follows his instinct and lets the ball fly, it’s a beautiful thing! When I listen to the guitar and piano and allow my hands to join in with the rhythm I find there, well – I just might have a drumming career in my future. Don’t think, Brita – just go with the flow.

For a forty-something to take up something new isn’t always easy. Can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? You’re in good company! Embrace your awkward new beginnings, as messy as they may be!

Don’t force it – Just let it flow.

Yielded to the work of the Spirit and open to new ways of thinking, the rhythm that emerges will be worth the investment of your time, energy and mistakes.

Drum or no drum.

 

Expect MUCH? (a PINK Tuesday post)

advent

advent (Photo credit: Pleuntje)

With the season of Advent in full swing, the question that keeps surfacing for me is this: What am I expecting?

I’m afraid that many of us, if we’re honest, would answer that question like this:

  • I’m expecting to gain back the five pounds I lost last summer.
  • I’m expecting some tedious holiday gatherings that I’m too busy to really enjoy.
  • I’m expecting a monstrous Visa bill in January, once all of the holiday ‘cheer’ is over.

In other words, many of us aren’t expecting much from Christmas this year. It’s easy to fall into expectations built on Christmases past, and we’ve all experienced some whoppers, haven’t we? This season of comfort and joy is so often hijacked by stress and consumerism, to the detriment of those who really are seeking the Christ child – we just get distracted along the way. Caught up in these tangents, it’s easy to lower our expectations of Christmas to the standard being set by a commercially-driven world where the fondest memories we create are tied to how closely our shopping list matched the heart’s desire of our family and friends.

Psalm 31:24 might be just the cheer we need this season, in order to raise our expectations to the level of God’s great provision:

“Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon.” (The Message)

Expect God to get here soon? Really?! Is that what we are supposed to expect the next 21 days to deliver? Not presents? Not parties? Not a few days off from work? This isn’t at all what the world around us is expecting! From all evidence and signs, the world expects a potluck and a pile of toys for Christmas…

What would we DO if God were actually to arrive – and soon?!

In Ancient Rome it was customary for a young woman after marriage to wear a snug-fitting band of some rigid material – gold or brass – around her neck. Often nicely adorned, as jewelry, this necklace was both ornamental and diagnostic. Borne of an old wives’ tale, the understanding was that once pregnant, the necklace would become tight to the point of discomfort. Removing the necklace, then, was a tell-tale sign that she was expecting. It was her public birth announcement, you might say. A sign of her coming joy. An evidence of her new family’s ongoing journey of creation. An invitation for others to join her in anticipation of new life, which she expected to be here – soon.

Believers, it’s high time we remove our chokers and consider the ways that our lives are ‘showing’ the anticipated glory of God! Like an expectant mother, you and I are called into this season of Advent by God’s promise of new life, great light and a future full of hope!

Yes, things are bleak in the dark world around us. Yes, people are missing the point once again. Yes, expectations are low as we enter into another Christmas season.

But BE BRAVE!

BE STRONG!

DON’T GIVE UP!

EXPECT GOD TO GET HERE SOON!

What eager, young mommy-to-be tries to cover up her coming joy? Let it show – let HIM show!

Expect MUCH!

Growing Season

Tall pine trees at sunset cloudy skyI still remember the day I turned 20.

I can picture myself walking across campus at the University of Wyoming, having had to turn up my collar and zip my jacket to my chin in order to keep from shivering in the crisp autumn air.

It was all a sort of vivid reality check – a sensory assault, really. As if the realization that I wasn’t a teenager anymore wasn’t tangible enough, enter that cold north wind whose breath sent brittle leaves skipping across the pavement – a sort of prophetic song and dance to usher in the season’s first snowfall, which that year had to come in September.

I had been married for just over a month on the day that I turned 20. Maybe it was because I was in multiple poetry classes at the time, but I remember my thoughts unfolding in rhyme and cadence as I walked through that milestone morning of awakening.

It was the day that I grew up.

I don’t have a memory like this to accompany any other birthday (isn’t that strange?). Something changed in me on that day – I can’t explain it, I don’t understand it – but I remember it as if it happened yesterday, especially when the first hints of winter come around.

Years later, a thirty-something with life experience and a growing family to boot, I caught that same wind-of-change as I made my nightly rounds at the YMCA camp where I worked and lived. The chain on the old flagpole clanged loudly as I walked past, my feet clacking on the wooden boardwalk between the old camp buildings. The chill in my nostrils woke everything up inside of me, giving me the feeling that I was on the brink of something new and that everything was about to change… again.

A song came to mind on my walk that night – the lyrics and a YouTube link are here, for you to enjoy and consider today.

Maybe autumn-changing-into-winter doesn’t strike you as prime growing season, but I assure you it is. Or, it can be.

May the chill in the air awaken you to God’s new thing – and stir your soul to holiness.

Wind and Spirit, by Chris Rice

I hear a sound and turn to see a new direction on that rusty weather vane

Suddenly the dead brown leaves are stirred to scratch their circle dances down the lane

And now the sturdy oaks start clappin’ with the last few stubborn leaves that won’t let go

I can hear Old Glory snappin’ and her tattered rope now clangin’ against the pole

And my breath is snatched away and a chill runs up my spine

Feels like something’s on the way, so I look up to the sky, I look up to the sky

And from the corners of creation comes the Father’s holy breath

Ridin’ on a storm with tender fierceness, stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to holiness

I see the lifeless dust now resurrected, swirling up against my window pane

And carried ‘cross the distance come the long awaited fragrances of earth and rain

And out across the amber field the slender grasses bend and bow and kiss the ground

And in them I see the beauty of the souls who let the spirit lay them down

And it takes my breath away. and a tear comes to my eye

Feels like something’s on the way, so I look up to the sky, I look up to the sky

And from the corners of creation comes the Father’s holy breath

Ridin’ on a storm with tender fierceness, stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to holiness

And like a mighty wind blows with a force I cannot see, I will open wide my wings, I will open wide my wings, I will open wide my wings and let the spirit carry me

From the corners of creation comes the Father’s holy breath

Ridin’ on a storm with tender fierceness, stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to holiness

I hear a sound and turn to see a new direction on that rusty weather vane.

NEEDING… Gracefully (a PINK Tuesday post)

Vector image of two human figures with hands i...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s PINK Tuesday! Last week we explored, from a Christian perspective, ways in which our faith and resources might be given as gifts to those in need. We established the importance of BOUNDARIES, we discussed the temptation to buy into GUILT, we learned that it is our RESPONSIBILITY to know how God has shaped us to serve Him in this world, and we decided that God intends for us to SHARE THE JOY of service with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As surely as we need to know God’s instructions for how to HELP others, our circumstances necessitate an equally compelling need to know what God has to say about HOW we are to NEED.

  • How are we to BE in this world when we aren’t equipped with excess and overflow?
  • What do the Scriptures teach us regarding the role of the needy in this world?
  • Is it possible to be full of grace and full of need at the same time?

I don’t have all of the answers, but I invite YOU into the conversation because our answers to these questions matter in light of our citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

I’m aware that some of us are approaching this topic feeling as if it doesn’t really apply. Not to us personally, anyways. Never having felt the pangs of intense hunger or the bone-chill that comes from spending night after night on the ground, many of us have boiled this idea of NEED down to one that looks a bit like us / them. Before we can move fully into this discussion, we’ve got to hear God’s words from Revelation 3:17:

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

God proceeds to express His displeasure with our attitudes of entitlement, calling for repentance, because when we think we’ve got every worldly base covered, we are most assuredly wrong. Our earthly riches constitute exactly nothing of value in God’s economy, which is what Jesus talks about when He reminds us that our real treasure is stored in heaven. This reminder, then, is not to be taken lightly. WE ARE ALL IN NEED of what ONLY GOD CAN PROVIDE. We really are all in the very same boat.

That being said, let’s take a look at some of things we can learn about NEEDING WELL from the Word of God and the experiences of God’s people.

BE IN RELATIONSHIP  Much of the friction we feel when we’re in need of something that others might provide comes from our lack of connection with those who have the resources. In other words, when we ask for help from people we don’t know, they can have no idea who we are or whether our expressed need is genuine. What we become to them is a ‘case’, a ‘number’, or a ‘project’ for them to choose whether or not to participate in. IT SHOULDN’T BE THIS WAY, but you and I both know that even in Christian circles, help for the needy is much more likely to be given when the one in need is someone we already know.

Being in relationship with others should not, however, be a sort of bargaining chip that we use in order to get what we need from people. Being part of a church family or small study or fellowship group is part of God’s plan for His people! He calls us to yoke our lives together with His people in order for His Kingdom to be seen on this earth; and in order to participate in His Kingdom, we must be participating in Kingdom relationships like these. THIS is where God’s help most often comes from, as He teaches us to take care of one another, beginning with those who are closest to us in His family.

EXPRESS the NEED  Pride, fear of judgment, embarrassment and shame are tempting excuses for us to use when we’re in need. Excuses for not making our needs known among God’s people with whom we are in relationship. We are ALL called to be transparent in the family of God, making our needs known as well as making our overflow visible within the circles of our families and friends.

Beautiful children of God in our country fail every day to have their most basic needs met because they fear the judgment of their ‘Christian’ friends. What we’ve done to the church to keep our own needy from expressing their needs has got to break the heart of God. Still, when we are facing needs that overwhelm our own resources and ability to provide, we must get over ourselves enough to approach our brothers and sisters who can help. Our failure to let others know what we need frustrates God’s system of balancing need with plenty. We can’t expect to receive help from others when they don’t know what we need.

RESPECT BOUNDARIES  Last week on Pink Tuesday we dealt with the need for boundaries. As those in need, it is critical that we respect the boundaries of those from whom we seek help. No one person can provide for every single one of our needs, even if that would make our lives easier! We must be sensitive to what our helpers can and cannot do, and be willing to do the leg-work of putting together the right team of help in order to not cross the boundary lines of others.

To do this well requires that we do our homework! Some of our needs will be met most efficiently by utilizing help found in the community, or through organizations whose goal is to meet specific types of needs. Yes, it’s more work for us, but finding the right help from the best sources is our responsibility when we’re in need.

EXPRESS GRATITUDE  It may sound like a small thing, but saying ‘Thank You’ is never a waste of our time. Writing a card or an email of thanks to a friend or church family member who has come to our aid ought to be the NORM for all of us, not the exception. Just as helping others is a natural extension of our life in Christ, sharing our gratefulness ought to be a given as well. We may be called to help all people, but I guarantee that it’s a greater joy and feels like so much less work to help those who have a grateful heart.

BE DRAWN CLOSER TO GOD  God’s heart is clearly bent toward the poor, the suffering, the lonely and the outcast. Scripture repeats this theme over and over and OVER AGAIN! We are called, as believers, to champion the cause of the least of these, and when we find ourselves one of the least of these, we need to remember that in our need we find ourselves closer to the heart of God.

In this place of need that we find ourselves in, we become part of God’s work in the lives of His followers in a very specific way; we become part of the Great Opportunity given to the church. What the church will choose to do in light of the opportunity that our need presents is not up to us, but no matter how Christians respond to our need, rest assured that God’s response is ALWAYS love. He will ALWAYS draw nearer to us in our need.

LET’S REMEMBER OUR PLACE  We like to be all black and white about this subject of need, don’t we? We’re either RICH or NEEDY. One of the ‘Haves’ or the ‘Have-Nots.’  The truth is, though, that even in our times of greatest need, we still have something that is needed by others. God has gifted every single one of us with the ability to meet another’s need. Maybe not a financial need. Maybe not a need that requires an investment of time that we don’t have. But even in our times of need, we have something to give back to the Kingdom of God. Let’s not allow our need to create a mentality that says we have nothing of value to give. How many times have you heard missionaries say that they traveled across the world to meet some great need, yet they returned having received more from those they helped than they could possibly have given?

BE CONTENT  Finally, there’s this matter that Paul speaks of in Philippians chapter 4, about being content no matter the circumstance:

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:12-13)

Some of the most needy people you will meet aren’t even poor – they are actually rich, but they don’t know it because they aren’t content with what they have.

May we, as the family of Christ, be willing to let go of the value our society places on ‘keeping up with the Jones’s,’ choosing instead to be content with what we have. Knowing, as Paul reminds in Phil. 4:19, that “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Overwhelmed by NEED: Help Well

What’s a conscientious Christian to do in the midst of OVERWHELMING NEED? When the people whose lives intersect with ours have needs that threaten to consume the time/energy/generosity of everyone around them, how can we remain true to the call of Christ (and help them) without burning out or wanting to run away?

I suspect that no one is immune to the needs of others. We all live, work and interact with needy, hurting people who are looking for help, comfort and healing in a painfully broken world. Whether the need we bump into is rooted in economic factors, health and aging issues or situational agony, we as Christians sense a call to action that can leave us feeling confused, guilty and overwhelmed.

I have watched as groups work to respond to such overwhelming needs as families whose income has been affected due to job loss, aging adults whose independence is threatened by disease and mental decline, individuals whose personal trauma gets in the way of healthy interaction with others, and people who are ashamed of and feel stuck in their past history or uncomfortable present reality. Sometimes the needs presented by just one person in a group or family are so intense that the rest of us, caring and loving as we try to be, find our desire and ability to help that person dwindling to the point of inaction.

When it hurts us to help them, there has to be another way.

No matter if today finds you IN NEED or NEEDING TO HELP others, Paul speaks to your situation in 2 Corinthians chapter 8. Paul encourages us to remember that we are “shoulder to shoulder with [each other] all the way, [our] surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching [our] deficit.” In the end, says Paul, we come out even.

For today, we may be on the surplus side of life, so that our plenty can supply for our brothers and sisters in need. But the reality is that tomorrow may bring a shift of the scales, leaving us in need of what our brothers and sisters now have to give. We’re all in this together – some days we are able to GIVE, while other days are marked only by our desperate forms of NEED. Either way, God’s plan provides for balance, which means that we have to LEARN both how to HELP WELL (today’s topic) and NEED WELL (next week).

HELPING WELL

Do What You CAN! Paul encouraged the church at Corinth to commit to caring for the needy among them, but he added this critical point (a point the church today often misses):

“Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t.” (2 Cor. 8:11 The Message)

YOUR effectiveness in the lives of others can only be maximized by doing what you CAN in a given situation. The problem most of us end up facing is that we dive head-first into helping others, making commitments to them that we are not equipped to fulfill. Whether those commitments are of our TIME, MONEY, EXPERTISE or ENERGY, if we commit out of a passion to help no matter what, we are likely to drown in our own good intentions.

For believers to truly be effective in the lives of others, we must begin by knowing ourselves! It is our responsibility as members of the body of Christ to recognize our own spiritual gifts, talents and abilities. We MUST know what it is that we CAN GIVE before we stick out our neck to offer help that others so desperately need. There are many useful tools to help us find our ‘fit’ in the Kingdom work of God, including Spiritual Gifts Inventories (click below for more on this topic):

https://pinkshoesministries.wordpress.com/category/spiritual-gifts/

Pastor Rick Warren talks about the importance of knowing your SHAPE in order to actively participate with God in this world:

  • S piritual Gifts
  • H eart
  • A bilities
  • P ersonality
  • E xperiences

Check out Pastor Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, to find out more about your SHAPE for service to others! (If your small group is interested, Zondervan publishes a curriculum called “Doing Life Together” that digs into this and other topics from Warren’s book.)

OVERFLOW Another first-step for us in helping others is to seriously consider what our OVERFLOW is. In other words, what do you have an EXCESS of? Is it TIME, MONEY, SPACE in your home, ROOM in your heart? You can’t give what you don’t have! Knowing your overflow directly affects the ways you reach out to others by creating boundaries for you to work within (keeping you healthy and increasing the chances that you’ll have something left to give the NEXT person who reaches out to you for help).

TRIGGERS Some of us aren’t likely to reach out and help because we feel that what we have to give is too little. When presented with an enormous need, we shrink back because there is no way our resources could seemingly make a dent in that person’s situation. Or, so we think. God knew this would be an issue for us, so He addressed it early on, in the book of Deuteronomy:

“When you happen on someone who’s in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that GOD, your God, is giving you, don’t look the other way pretending you don’t see him. Don’t keep a tight grip on your purse. No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever and as much as he needs… Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers GOD, your God’s, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors.” (Deut. 15:7-8, 10-11 The Message)

What God is saying to us is that our actions toward helping those in need, however small, trigger something in HIM! A BLESSING! On everything you do! God chooses to multiply our every heart-felt effort to help, no matter how small it may seem on the surface. What a tragedy for all of us when believers withhold assistance because we’re afraid it won’t be enough. Let’s face it – it probably isn’t going to be enough! But God can bridge the gap between what we have and what they need, providing the difference in ways we can’t even imagine. Yet if we allow our stingy hearts their way, God’s blessing isn’t triggered. At least not by us.

Faithfully (& Firmly) DRAW BOUNDARIES It’s no secret that our health and well-being, both physically and spiritually, relies on boundaries. No one person, no matter how motivated or gifted, can be all things to all people! God knew this, and He explains it to us by providing the human body as an illustration to help us understand that we are each just a PART of what He can do in this world, or in the life of a struggling brother or sister. (Check out Paul’s description of the Body of Christ in I Corinthians chapter 12.) It’s almost impossible for us to draw healthy boundaries, however, until we understand our SHAPE for service – how we ‘fit’ into His Body on earth.

PAY ATTENTION Once we’re armed with the knowledge of our gifts and abilities, God will lead us into acting (or NOT acting) in specific ways on behalf of others. In order to follow His lead, believers must cultivate an ear for the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit. To effectively serve in the Kingdom of God, you and I must pay attention to the Spirit’s prompts – those which compel us to MOVE, and those which compel us to WAIT. Faithfully leaning into Scripture helps us to hear His voice, which in turn helps to shape the scope and sequence of our ministry toward others.

BEWARE of GUILT! Many of us wrestle with feelings of guilt when it comes to deciding who to help and how much help to give. How many times have you not done something that you thought you ‘should’ do, only to feel badly about it later? I’m here to tell you that GOD does not produce GUILT! There is nothing that I have found in God’s Word that says He will guilt you into doing what you cannot do, or that He will punish you with guilt in any circumstance.

Guilt is real don’t get me wrong but it doesn’t come from God. Don’t let your misunderstanding of guilt keep you from following God’s leading in your life. Trust Him to do the right thing by and in you and leave the rest in His hands.

SHARE the JOY! Helping to meet the needs of others is a REAL JOY for the people of God! Maybe you haven’t thought of it quite like this before, but when we try to do more than we’re equipped to follow through with, we rob others of the opportunity to join in God’s work, too. You might have a friend, for instance, who cannot drive and whose medical needs and physical limitations are intense and many. You have a car, and you have Tuesdays free. Do what you CAN for your friend on Tuesdays, and let others know what your friend needs the rest of the week. Together there’s a really good chance that your group can meet most of her needs, but in case there’s still a gap, be willing to suggest alternatives.

KNOW your community and its resources (or know someone else who does)! CONNECT your friend with services and organizations whose focus IS MEETING that very need! Spread the joy around, so that no one is burdened with work that was never theirs to do.

Next week on PINK Tuesday we’ll consider what it looks like to NEED WELL. I’ll see you back here on my absolutely, positively FAVORITE DAY of the week!

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!

Taking My Cues From Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne (Photo credit: Michael Heilemann)

These days, I’m thinking Jason Bourne.

Jason Bourne knows what it takes to really go ‘off the grid’ and disappear. This is something I’m interested in, because I do it so poorly. I try to set aside time to study and pray, and my best efforts are sabotaged time after time. So… I watch Jason, and I learn.

Jason Bourne knows that technology is almost never your friend. Technology has ways of giving others more access to you than you really want to give. If smashing your phone to pieces seems a bit extreme in an effort to gain a bit of ‘quiet time’, you’re not alone. Really – YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Jason Bourne’s enemies used nearly every form of techno-gadget to track him down – don’t you believe for a moment that God’s enemy won’t do the same. A telephone ringing, a computer alert sounding… anything to shift your focus from what really matters onto something that, well… really doesn’t.

You may never have had a day where going off the grid was a life-or-death decision, but if you had, you would most certainly have bought a box of hair color. Changed your look. Chopped off a few pieces of hair. Because if you want to fly beneath the radar of the enemy, you don’t want to advertise. You want to blend in. I learned this from Jason Bourne, so when I know that I need to be avoiding the enemy, I lay low. I don’t make plans. I stick close to home and I try not to stand out. I humble myself and I do what I have to do. It isn’t glamorous, but one day it just might save my life.

Jason Bourne knows how to run. He doesn’t let himself become a sitting duck – he keeps moving – always at least one step ahead of the enemy. Some of us are easy targets – we’re predictable. We panic. We freeze up instead of turning up the heat. Some of us would do well to follow the example of Jason Bourne, who knows when to walk away and clearly knows when to run.

Like it or not, Jason Bourne also knows how to fight. I don’t really think it’s his first instinct, but he won’t hesitate to let the enemy have it when it’s his life that’s at stake. Some of us have been avoiding the fight at all costs. Some of us would rather pretend there isn’t even an enemy. Not Jason. He knows he’s a target. He knows that the enemy will stop at nothing short of taking his life. He knows, so he fights when he has to so that he can stay free.

I have to wonder what my own life would look like if I were to take my spiritual cues from Jason Bourne?

  • It takes time and energy to go off-grid – and it’s worth the effort every time.
  • Don’t sell out to technology – use it, don’t let it use you.
  • Nothing good comes from trying to stand out – you’ll get further with fewer obstacles when you forego glamour and embrace the humble life.
  • Don’t become an easy target – run in a zigzag motion and keep ‘em guessing.
  • Choose your enemy wisely and fight with your life to stay free.

(closing credits theme music)