12×12 Challenge: Day 9 (January 3rd)

Day 9 begins with Romans 12 in the Tree of Life Bible: Click HERE to read!

Word(s) for Day 9: Zeal

Zeal is a great word – it even sounds active! Much of what Romans 12 is saying to us boils down to actively engaging in the Christian life. Are you energetic or obligated? How does your life score on the Zeal– o-meter? Go out and live it – today!

Prayer:

You inspire me to live my life with the pedal to the metal, Lord! Give me the strength to serve, rejoice, endure, persist and contribute to the life and well-being of others as I demonstrate Zeal for Your Word and Your ways in this world. Amen.

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Discover. Uncover. Recover. Spiritual Disciplines for the Expectant (Part Three)

Hope

Hope (Photo credit: bitzcelt)

God sure has His work cut out for Him this Christmas.

In keeping with our Advent theme of expectancy, what many of us are expecting from the Christ child and our annual celebration of His birth has changed over the past week. While we seek to DISCOVER Him in His Word and UNCOVER His Presence in our hearts, a growing number of us have another need – one which trumps the previous two…

a need to RECOVER.

The spiritual discipline of RECOVER requires that we look no further than the dictionary to aptly describe what our expectant hearts need most from Emmanuel today:

To get back: REGAIN

We desperately need what we had before last Friday; before the diagnosis; before the deployment; before tragedy struck and darkness hovered over the face of our deepest fears.

To bring back to normal position or condition: RESCUE

‘Normal’ is a relative term, isn’t it? We might even ask whether normal is a word we can entertain in a world such as the one in which we live. Perhaps what we need most is God’s reminder that He knows our condition. He sees our aberrations and infections and misfires. He knows that what we see and experience and read and watch each day is not His idea of normal. He knows that the most some of us are hoping for in the coming year is a new normal, since returning to an unbroken state in these broken lives we lead is impossible without a full-on invasion by the God of the Angel Armies.

But, WAIT! That’s what Christmas IS! The Baby in the manger came to be our life-line, our connection to Heaven. Our RESCUE.

To find or identify again

We discussed our great need to DISCOVER God when we began our series last week. It’s no secret that when tragedy strikes, people begin to look up and look around in search of meaning and hope. Our response to the struggles and challenges of life can take us down dark paths toward more difficulty and pain, or we can choose to seek out that which we have lost sight of. Through the tears and discomfort of knowing too much and seeing too much, we must discipline ourselves to look for the Light. Only by that Light do we stand a chance of finding what we’ve lost and in so doing, helping others to find it (Him), too.

REACH

I never thought about the word RECOVER meaning to REACH, and yet there it is – in black and white. In order to recover from tragedy and find what we have lost, we must REACH for the One Who has already reached out to us through the Presence of His Son in our dark world. If you can do nothing else to express what you find inside your head and heart today, do this one thing: reach for Him.

To save from loss and restore to usefulness

Ultimately, the work of the manger is a saving work. We have all experienced loss. In our hopelessness we know what it’s like to be rendered utterly useless. As we look forward to  reminders of God’s action on our behalf – as Christmas Eve approaches – may we be open to being saved. Rescued. Reached. Found. Restored.

Not just so that we can feel better.

Not only for the good of our own hearts and the lives of those we bump elbows with from day to day.

But so that we may be found useful in the ongoing RECOVERY work of the Kingdom of God. Agents of healing. Messengers of peace. Bringers of joy (and hugs and smiles). Sharers of tears.

Children of God.

Discover. Uncover. Recover. Spiritual Disciplines for the Expectant (Part Two)

ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG - A PROJECT OF THE MUSEUM O...

It’s got to be down there somewhere.

Your passion for living. Your energy for service. Your desire for the ways of The Lord. Your Christmas spirit. Buried, no doubt, under years of doing business-as-usual.

It’s a subtle shift – an almost imperceptible process – that takes a redeemed child of God from her baptismal waters to what ends up looking less like a river and more like a dried up wash in the Arizona desert. In July.

Years of stuffing the important so that we can deal with the seemingly urgent takes its toll on those of us who used to expect much from the coming of Emmanuel. Some of us truly need to find our focus and fix our eyes on Jesus, opening ourselves up to DISCOVERING God’s presence as we have never sensed Him before – that’s what we talked about last time. But others of us are yearning for something we know we already have, it’s just that its been covered by debris left over from the whirlwind of life. Unless we take disciplined measures to unearth what lies beneath, we will continue the frenzied living we’re accustomed to while our foundation gets piled over like an ancient archaeological dig (with khaki-clad university students standing by and armed with shovels).

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather do my own dig. That’s what the spiritual discipline of UNCOVER is – removing the layers to uncover the good stuff. And just like a successful dig for ancient finds, we must tread carefully so as not to damage our buried treasure.

It’s got to be down there somewhere!

Here are a few ways to begin –

UNCOVER.
We get busy and blast our way through the day as if armed with dynamite. Checking off the to-do list, shuttling children to school and high-tailing it to work (because we’re always running late). Can’t eat lunch – too busy. The only time we sit is in the car or on the couch as we doze off to the disturbingly consistent bad news on TV.

In order to UNCOVER the good stuff within, we’re going to need to schedule in some slow time. Time to ask ourselves some important, daily questions and then listen to our answers. You will need a minimum of 5 minutes near the end of the day – every day – to develop this questioning habit.

Find a quiet space (lock yourself in the bathroom if necessary).
Put these questions on your smartphone.
Read and answer each one. Journal your answers if you’re so inclined.

Daily Questions:

  1. What am I thankful for?
  2. What worked in my life today?
  3. What didn’t work today? (Relationships? Choices? Attitudes? Behaviors? Emotions?)
  4. Now that I have exposed these things to God, what comes next?
  5. Ask God to enter your life – such as it is right now – and make you better than you are.
  6. Resolve to respond to God by acting in obedience to His Spirit and His Word.

Anticipate breakthroughs and surprising discoveries as you begin your daily dig! If you would like more tools like this one, consider employing the ancient practice of Examen as you review and respond to each day.

God wants to pour on the blessings! The problem is, most of the time we treat God’s gifts like those Christmas presents that make us smile as we open them but are soon added to the pile, set upon a shelf, forgotten and collecting dust.

God’s gifts – the good stuff in our lives – aren’t just meant to be opened.
They’re meant to be used.

Take time in this busy season to UNCOVER the real present…

The PRESENCE of God in your everyday life.

Check in next week for Part Three. Until then…
Expect MUCH!

NEEDING… Gracefully (a PINK Tuesday post)

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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!

(holy) SPIT

A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him. Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly! Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more he told them not to, the more they spread the news. They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.” ” Mark 7:32-37 (NLT)

Really – if there’s an apt title for this message – it’s this: (holy) SPIT.

Does that offend you? Does it make you uncomfortable? Are you bristling or shifting in your seat right now? I wonder why we react in such a way when the thing that God does, according to the scriptures, is take the raw material of our lives and make it HOLY.

Like Jesus’ holy spit.

Let’s not waste our time here today, okay? Let’s not let some words go in one ear and out the other. And let’s not waste this perfectly wonderful object lesson – Jesus’ use of spit – when what God has to teach us is as close as the moisture in our mouths.

Four things stand out to me, about God, after reading this story of Jesus’ healing of the deaf mute…

God Says it, then He does it.

God does what He says – HIS WORD IS ACTION! Jesus SAID to the deaf mute ‘BE OPENED’ and it was SO. No empty promises. No passive, pious ‘I’ll pray for you’. Jesus literally puts His money WHERE HIS MOUTH IS, and the result is HEALING and RESTORATION! So much so that the people around Him say things like:

“He’s done it all – and done it well!” (NOT – “He says such nice things!” or “He’s so smart. He knows so much!”)

Scripture is jam-packed-FULL of ACTION WORDS when it comes to the promises of God. To ward off any doubt, let’s do a quick re-cap:

God made.

He defends, feeds, frees and gives.

He lifts up, loves and protects.

He takes the side of, upholds, watches over and sustains.

He listens to and lays hands on.

He casts out and makes short work of demons, illness and fear.

He SAYS it, and then He makes it SO. That’s the S.

People are His Plan!

Look around you. What do you see? WHO do you see? Do you SEE GOD? More likely than not, you only see PEOPLE. And people, WE are God’s PLAN of ACTION! When we read Isaiah 35:4 and hear the promise “GOD IS HERE!” we can’t help but look around…

And some of us, when we look around expecting to see God, are disappointed. All we see are a bunch of broken, messed up, unholy people with issues at least as great as our own. Let’s be honest – we’re not much to look at, even in our Sunday best, even on our very best day – are we?

But God’s Plan to ACT in this world doesn’t just ‘include’ us – it RELIES on us, too! Listen to James 2:14-17 (the Message):

“Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right WORDS but never DO anything? Does merely TALKING about our faith indicate that a person really HAS it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved, and (you) say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit! (I’ll pray for you!)” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup – where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-ACTS is outrageous NONSENSE?” [caps & emphasis mine]

It’s true that God is already working in the world all around us – after all, HE IS HERE! But He is calling you and me to JOIN HIM! To get in the game! To stop wasting time on our little, human projects and join Him in HIS Kingdom-work – work that CHANGES things and makes a LASTING impact on the world! God is calling you and me to ACTION that:

Defends, feeds, lifts up and upholds.

He’s calling us to sustain, watch over, free and protect.

God is looking for givers, lovers and those who will take the side of others who are otherwise alone.

Actions that, yes, HE IS ALREADY DOING and will continue to do – with or without our participation. But people, PEOPLE ARE HIS PLAN! That’s the P.

Incarnation

Incarnation is that churchified word that simply means God-lives-here. In Christian theology, we believe the incarnation to be the embodiment of God the Father in the human form of God the Son… Jesus. But it doesn’t stop there!

God’s Plan is People, and He has made it possible for you and me to BE the Incarnation of Jesus through His living and active Spirit! God moves in to you and me and we become people who embody IN THE FLESH the PERSON of God, the Holy Spirit! This includes His personality, His power and His priorities.

When our words are just words, they make little difference to others and we have little impact on the world. It’s like Psalm 146:3-4 says: ‘Mere humans don’t have what it takes – when they die, their projects die with them.’ It’s not just ANY act/action that God is after – His ‘capital P’ Plan isn’t to sit back and watch while we each make our own ‘little p’ plans! He knows that our actions, when done apart from His Word and His Spirit, are only temporary, weak, fruitless, even impotent acts that will be buried with us when this short life is through.

God is trying to tell us today that WITHOUT THE WORD, our words are as powerful as SPIT. Yuck. Gross.

Why else would the world look at Christians and Christianity with such skepticism and negativity? The world is watching us, and when they see mere humans operating without the Word and without the Spirit, what they see is the outrageous nonsense of God-talk without God-acts.

Jesus’ words to the deaf mute are a powerful reminder that we must remain open! The degree to which we are open to this mystery of Incarnation is the degree to which we participate in God’s Plan! But you and I know from painful trial and error that human effort isn’t enough to bring about the Incarnation – what we need is a:

Transfusion of grace from God!

I had some bloodwork done recently. Often when I have blood drawn, the phlebotomist has trouble finding a good vein (fortunately it only took one stick this time). But think about it… maybe the pricks and pokes you’re feeling in your life right now are the work of the Savior, who is set on finding a good vein in you so that He can begin the life-saving TRANSFUSION of grace and forgiveness that you so desperately need.

It is only by God’s free-flowing, undeserved grace that we can be filled with the living, active Word Himself – the Word that Speaks and makes it So – the S!

And only when we’ve been connected to that flow will we be able to live into God’s Plan as God’s People – His Plan to act in ways that will heal and restore and include all people – the P!

He knows that we can’t do it on our own – God knows our track record, both personally and corporately. He’s seen our attempts and He’s watched our failures. Only Jesus Christ, alive in us – the Incarnation – makes it possible for us to participate in God’s Plan – the I!

So, why are we willing to settle for knowing the ‘right words’ but failing to live them? That’s DEAD faith, people! And when we’re dying, what we need is something we can’t supply for ourselves: we need a TRANSFUSION of life-saving, life-giving proportions! To come ALIVE with Christ, we desperately need the GRACE of God, so…

Hang in there! Let him find a good vein! Transfusion – that’s the T!

And what we’re left with is SPIT.

Saliva. We’ve all got it, right? Basic, raw material.

Yet God can take the most raw material – the least spiritual offering we’ve got – and He can make it holy. Jesus proved it – with His spit.

It doesn’t take anything special on your part, because the power comes from the Spirit of God, ALIVE in His Word! And it is Spirit-infused actions that will change the world, no matter how small they may seem to you and me.

Let God take what little you have – even if all you have to give is the moisture in your mouth – and let Him make it a blessing to others!

Share some (holy) SPIT with the last, the lost and the least – the poor, the widow, the orphan, the grieving, the outsider, the alien, the stranger, the needy, the sick, the addict, that teenager… you can fill in the blanks. YOU KNOW THE WORDS.

Now LIVE THEM.

What I Believe (a PINK Tuesday post)

Jesus

Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I grow older in my faith, I find that there are fewer words to describe who God is – to me – and what He does in my life. I don’t mean that there aren’t words to express the truth about Him, only that I don’t actually need them. Does that make sense?

My experience with God in the past year has shifted from learning about Him and me moving toward Him to something much simpler and much more complex… just BEING together with God.

Where I used to think: what’s the right thing to do in this situation? Now… I just know.

Where I used to have to work and search God’s Word for an answer, somehow those answers come more often TO me – and not always from the pages of scripture! Sometimes God’s answers come from a conversation, or His instructions through an impression or sense of Him speaking to me. His comfort often comes by means of a changing situation, and His direction by simply waiting and watching for HIM to MOVE.

I’ve come to a place in my journey of faith where there seems to be one word that sums up all of my belief and understanding about God – His nature, His character, my relationship with Him, how He feels about me and what He wants to provide… ONE WORD!

PRESENCE.

What I mean by this is that I am never alone.

I don’t have to open a book or close my eyes or make confession or try really hard to clear my head and focus… because God’s presence isn’t dependent upon me at all.

He doesn’t need me to act in a certain way or say specific words or even pray in order to be who He IS – which is HERE! PRESENT.

You may have heard the catch-phrase from M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Sixth Sense – “I see dead people.” It’s as if I have been given spiritual eyes – not for glimpses of the deceased – but for actually seeing the living God all around me, every single day!

I guess “I see Jesus” IS my statement of faith! Because every day, I see Jesus alive. In all of YOU!

And here, inside of me.

Jesus’ disciples once asked Him why He told so many stories… His answer to them is confirmation to me that I am right where I belong on my faith journey today.

“The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again: Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing. The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won’t have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them. “But you have God-blessed eyes – eyes that see! And God-blessed ears – ears that hear!”     Matthew 13:10-16 (The Message)

May God bless your eyes and ears on this PINK Tuesday!

What’s YOUR Story? (a PINK Tuesday post)

In my world, this is Faith Statement season.

This means that, tomorrow evening, about 30 of us will gather to share with one another what we believe about God – and how that translates into real life, day in and day out.

Believers of all ages do this every year in my faith family, in conjunction with Confirmation Sunday. Before we expect our young students to share their statements of faith in front of 200+ church members, we get together and CELEBRATE the faith we ALL have! No matter how far along we are on this journey with Christ, we ALL have a story to tell!

The most beautiful part of this annual ‘event’ for me is the realization that we have more in common with one another than we could have known! After all, unless we take purposeful time to pen our thoughts and speak them aloud in the company of faith family, how would we know what God has done and is doing among us?!

I’m still working on my statement of faith for tomorrow night’s sharing, so today I’ll not waste your time with my words…

Instead, I challenge YOU to take time today to find words to express where you are in relationship to who God is! Here are the prompts that we use every year in this process:

  • Explain what you believe to be true about God – His nature and character.
  • Share what you believe YOUR RELATIONSHIP to/with God is (what you believe He thinks about you, has given you, wants to provide for you).
  • Give a personal reason or two (short story, life experience) for why you believe as you do.
  • Share a scripture verse or passage that you believe God is using in YOUR LIFE.

Go ahead – put it on paper! But don’t stop there – to do so would be missing half of the point. Share it with someone – or better yet, a few close friends or family members. Let God use this experience to illuminate connections and increase understanding in and among His people!

And if you need a friend to share with, well… there are LOTS of US here! Use the reply space below! Tell us YOUR story!

 

Empowered to CREATE (a PINK Tuesday post)

Dove of the Holy Spirit (ca. 1660, alabaster, ...

Dove of the Holy Spirit (ca. 1660, alabaster, Throne of St. Peter, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a doorstep conversation this morning with a repeat visitor from a local church. She remembered my name, and she remembered that my work includes Christian education. She didn’t come empty handed today – she came bearing a gift in the form of a book dedicated to refuting the claims of evolution. She told me that people sometimes call her crazy for believing in creation. She thought this book might be of help to me as I teach God’s Word and His ways.

She couldn’t have known that this week, in my world, the focus IS: CREATE.

I will look at the book she left for me – I’m always seeking God’s truth where it can be found – but I refuse to get caught up in defensive conversation about whose understanding of God’s work is more accurate. I’m much more interested in watching His work unfold… today.

THIS is the call of creation! To be aware of God’s ongoing handiwork and to be open to glimpses of His present activity in the people and the world around me.

And once I’m both aware and open, to choose to accept His holy invitation to join in creating a world that reflects His goodness, His glory and His constant efforts at restoring our brokenness through the real presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

You & I have been empowered by God to CREATE!

How we direct our creative energy says a lot about who we believe ourselves to BE and what we believe our God can DO.

Barefoot Ministries has created a beautiful curriculum called A World Unbroken. The faith family I live in has adopted this curriculum for the next seven weeks in an effort to find our place in God’s story – beginning at the beginning. Beginning with: CREATE.

Click here to learn more about our efforts to join in God’s continuing restoration-work: CREATE.

Literal 4 Lent: The Best Teaching Ever Heard

(Click here for the Literal 4 Lent home page)

Several years ago I attended Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Convention in the fall. I always LOVE YS events, and this one was no exception, with speakers like Andy Stanley and Louie Giglio on the main stage. I was especially eager to hear Shane Claiborne speak – his message the year before had seriously rocked my world, so I was hungry to hear what he would have to say this time, as thousands of youth workers gathered to be inspired.

Shane took the stage and proceeded to do a couple of carnival tricks, including fire-eating, which was weird but not altogether unexpected (have you ever seen Shane?). Then he took out his Bible and began to read from the Gospel of Matthew – the Sermon on the Mount.

He read chapter 5. And chapter 6. And chapter 7.

Not a short text, yet I was ready for what was coming next – Shane’s unique way of looking at scripture that would certainly lead me into new understandings and applications of the Word.

That’s not exactly what happened. As Shane read the final verses of Matthew ch. 7, he looked out at the crowd of eager listeners and prayed:

“God, give us the courage to live it.”

And he walked off the stage. Talk OVER. Total, stunned silence fell over the room.

From my journal, dated Nov. 16, 2007: “I admit to entertaining the question, ‘is this… IT?’ Yet even as I asked myself the question, I couldn’t believe I was asking myself if Jesus’ greatest sermon – in His own words – was ‘all’ that Shane was going to share… but I did think it.”

Sitting in the silent company of thousands whose mental gymnastics had to be similar to my own, I was MOVED from disappointment to the realization that this man, who clearly had the full attention of everyone in the room, had just leveraged his influence to lift up the words of Jesus as GOSPEL… TRUTH.

I was moved – to tears. “I am at once convicted and motivated; mortified and passionate; confused and crystal clear.”

The way this sermon of Jesus ends is the way I have chosen to begin the season of Lent, as it is ushered in today, on Ash Wednesday. Jesus makes it clear that His words are not just something to add to our collection of wise sayings, to be pulled out and comforted with in times of need. No, what Jesus says is something that I most desperately need to hear, and I suspect that you do, too.

“‘These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.’ When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying – quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.” Matthew 7:24-29 (The Message)

THIS was the BEST TEACHING they had ever heard. Because Jesus wasn’t just telling them what to do – He was showing them.

What if Jesus meant for us to do the same?

What if Jesus was serious when He said that the role of Bible study is to work the Word into the living of our lives?

What if He meant for us to take His teachings literally?

During this Lenten season that begins today and runs through Easter morning, I invite you to join me in asking, “What if?

Pink Shoes Ministries is going to experiment with being Literal 4 Lent.

Each week day during the 40 days of Lent we will be considering the literal application of the teachings of Jesus and their potential impact on our lives, our families, our churches and communities. We’ll take a daily look at the red letters in the Gospels, making the Word our primary text for this season of the church year – this Way of the Cross.

Each week day, here at Pink Shoes Ministries on wordpress.com, we will consider THE WORD (a teaching from Jesus’ ministry) and THE APP (how we might live it – today). On the weekends we will rest and consider the impact of this experiment in Kingdom living, taking note of what the Word has done as we gave it hands and feet and took it into our world.

What if people listened to what we have to say and responded, “It’s apparent that they are living everything they are saying – quite a contrast to the typical religious crowd.”

Let’s DO IT! Let’s pray for the boldness and the courage to LIVE the best teaching ever heard for the next 40 days – and see what happens!

It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. It’ll be counter-cultural, but it will also be counter to the passive Christianity that appears to have its roots somewhere other than in the teachings of Jesus the Christ.

I realize that we are all over the place when it comes to our interpretation of scripture, but won’t it be an unprecedented undertaking to be Literal 4 Lent?!

In November, 2007 as I sat silent in the crowd, this prayer rose in my heart. May it rise in your heart, too, as we follow Jesus into a life LIVED for the glory of God…

“I am eager for what YOU will do NEXT, God! Bring it. I am ready.

I am yours.”

Click to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.