To be so bold…

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10 NIV)

I’ve read this verse many times. But during this last read through of the letter to the Galatians, this verse popped off the page of my Bible and smacked me across the face. I had to stop for a moment and think through what Paul was talking about, what he would be talking about, and why, seemingly out of the blue, this one verse seemed to be grabbing a hold of me with no plans to let go any time soon.

Just prior to this verse, Paul is discussing the reason for his writing to the Galatians, namely the fact that the church in Galatia was being influenced by a group called the Judaizers, who were teaching that Gentile believers had to obey the Law and become circumcised in order to be truly saved. In other words, they had to become “Jews” before they could become fully Christian. Paul called this “another Gospel” and strongly rejected this teaching (“let them be accursed” – that is about as strong as rejection as you can get!).

After making this declaration he writes the words I quoted above. I can imagine that speaking against this group of teachers and bringing curses on them was not going to win Paul any popularity points. But his devotion was to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not to the teachings of man. He was called to be faithful to God, not to the Judaizers, or even the Galatians for that matter. His single-minded focus on that one thing caused him to be bold in his assertion that this teaching and any other that goes against what Paul and the other apostles had taught from the beginning be soundly rejected.

Oh, how I long to be so bold.

True confession: I’m not always so bold.

Many times, I waver, hem and haw, or just plain keep my mouth shut out of fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being humiliated. Fear of being rejected. Not by God, but by man. By people. It seems that so many times I am good at dishing out the opinions and commentary, but I don’t really want to take it. I like being right too much to be told I’m not, even if it’s true. How prideful and short-sighted.

Much of the time I wonder if there is something wrong with me. That I am somehow not smart enough, not spiritual enough, or I don’t believe strongly enough. But the questions, all those pesky questions, never go away.

I want to know all the things. And by all the things, I mean ALL the things. But there is no possible way for me to know ALL the things. In order for that to be the case, I’d have to be God. But wait a minute – isn’t that what Satan wanted? Isn’t that what got him thrown down to earth? Isn’t that the line he used to tempt Eve – you will be “like God”, knowing ALL the things (my translation)? How did that work out for us? Not so well. Knowing all the things is not what it’s cracked up to be – and we don’t even know it all! But what we do know is enough to get us into a mess of trouble.

Everyone believes that their set of particulars are THE way to know all the things. Well, maybe not all of them, but all the things we can know. It’s amazing to me how many people I read are so fully convinced they are correct and others are wrong – where does one find such confidence? Half the time I am flailing in the water, crying out for Jesus to help me.

But I don’t want to be seen as uninformed, even though information comes at me far faster than I can ever hope to process it. I don’t want to seem flaky, even though half the time that’s exactly what I am. I want to continue on with the illusion that I can know all the things, even though deep down I know for certain I cannot. So, I sit silently in fear. Fear of what others will think of me, as if they are thinking of me in the first place (that pride thing again…I can’t get away from that pesky pest!).

I don’t know what I don’t know, but I do know this much:

I am saved only by God’s grace shown through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am not saved to simply sit in a safe little church house and receive my blessings.

My salvation redefines my identity.

My redefined identity changes my priorities.

There is no conflict between speaking of right belief and right practice. It is possible – and in my view important – to talk about both at the same time.

I can’t reconcile believing in Christ and not caring for and about the disenfranchised and oppressed. And by caring for and about, I mean doing something as the body of Christ to alleviate the suffering.

God is bigger and grander than our systematic formulations of Him. We should never stop seeking understanding, but we should also not depend solely on our intellect to acquire knowledge and understanding of God.

Emotional and intellectual faith can and should coexist – in the same person.

Ultimately, my primary desire should be to please God. If I am still trying to please people, I cannot be a servant of God…

Oh Father, help me to be so bold.

Quick thoughts: A note to self…

Instruction

Oh the myriad ways I toil as I seek to master the Word of God. How incredibly foolish to consider that I can even think I can “master” it.

It should be mastering me. Shaping me. Molding me. Changing me. So I say to myself…

Slow down.
Drink Deep.
Linger long.

Pay attention to the taste of it, the small, the texture.
Listen to its melody and note its cadence.
Sit and absorb like a sponge.
Attend to your thoughts, initial reactions,
confusion, delight, sorrow, joy, anger, fear.
Be present in them. Let yourself feel them.
You have permission to feel.
You have permission to emote.
You have permission to laugh. To cry. To yell.
You have permission to be silent.
You have permission to speak.

But you do not have permission to change what He has said.

Wrestle. Confess. Challenge.

But bow.

His Word is the final word.
Let it stand firm in Your heart.

Selah.

Unremarkable…but faithful

Waiting for the Harvest…by M. Lewis

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong[d] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and‘Let another take his office.’”

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. – Acts 1:15-26 ESV

I like Matthias. No, seriously, I do. The story of how Matthias came to be the apostle that replaced Judas Iscariot is one of my favorites in the book of Acts. It’s not a dramatic accounting – it is quite simple and straightforward. I think I like it because of what it lacks.

Matthias’ story lacks the flash and bang. There are no extraordinary works associated with Matthias. He was one of the 120 that gathered in Jerusalem, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit per Jesus’ instruction. We know he had been with them from the beginning, “beginning from the baptism of John until the day [Jesus] was taken up from [them]”. He was brought forth, along with Justus, to be a viable replacement because of his faithfulness during Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. This meant, that even after the crowds who were only following Jesus for the miracles and healings abandoned Him because His teaching became too challenging, Matthias stuck by Him, and followed Him – and was there to bear witness to the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead.

That’s all we know of him. If that is any indication of his life as an apostle, we can safely assume that he was faithful to Jesus to the end – and possibly died a martyr’s death because of that faithfulness. This is just conjecture; the biblical record doesn’t give us any of those details. And that’s why I like him. That’s why his story appeals to me so much.

This, of course does not detract from Paul, or James, or John or Barnabas, or Peter in any way. God called these men to specific roles in His grand redemption story, and they faithfully lived out those callings. Paul’s brilliant mind and passionate witness gave us a good majority of the New Testament writings; their devotion of these men and the story they handed down to us in the Holy Writ was by God’s design.

But take note: they were the exception, not the rule. Acts repeatedly speaks of the thousands that came to faith under the teaching and ministry of the apostles, Peter and Paul in particular. Do we know these thousands by name? Do we hear of their ministries and signs and wonders – of their best lives and radical sacrifices? We learn in Acts 2 and 4 that they lived quietly and respectfully among their fellow citizens; they held everything in common; they gave to those in their midst that had need; they gathered together for meals and the apostles’ teaching and the breaking of bread in communion. What about Matthias? What was his ministry like? What was his role? We don’t know, and won’t until Jesus comes back. But that does not make his place in the Kingdom any less important than Paul or Peter or John.

I’m not saying we all need to give our stuff away and join a commune – although, with the economy the way it is, that doesn’t sound too outlandish to me anymore! The point I am making here is that most of these believers – including Matthias – lived quiet, unremarkable, but faithful lives. Their lives were not flashy and dramatic.

Let’s fast forward to today. We too are disciples of Jesus, like our brothers and sisters in the First Century church. And there are those among us who are called to great things for God. God raises up men and women to be powerful witnesses for Him and reach masses with the good news. He calls men and women to sacrifice all to go and tell in other countries, sometimes even sacrificing their lives.

But…and this is HUGE…He does not call all of us in such a way. It could be just me, but when I became a believer and was absorbed into the Evangelical subculture, the subtle message that was given was that we all should be looking to do big things for God. And if we aren’t called to that ministry or this sacrifice, something was wrong with our faith. It was like there were two classes of Christians; first class Christians were those who were called to “full-time” or “vocational” ministry. If you just had a regular 9-5, you were second class. You weren’t spiritual enough. Pursuit of God meant pursuit of that big “thing”, whatever it was.

But maybe it’s just me. I’ve been known to be wrong (a lot! *wink*).

But maybe the vast majority of us are called to be like Matthias. Or any of the other thousands who placed faith in Jesus because of the apostles’ teaching. Maybe it’s not the type of “calling”, but your faithfulness in that calling. Perhaps pursuing God is more about being steadfast in the station of life you happen to be in – as a single man or woman in the work world, or a mom or dad, or astronaut…whatever it may be! Maybe being a disciple of Jesus is being kind and generous to all, even (or maybe especially) those who don’t deserve it. Loving our family (we have the crazy ones…or are the crazy ones – yes, those too), doing our job well, pouring into the lives of those that have been placed in your path day to day.

Maybe…

More later.

Until then…grace and peace…

The good thing about a bad day…

Foggy beginnings…by M. Lewis

Yesterday was not a good day. The non-stop activity of the last week caught up with me and my Fibromyalgia flared. So I stayed home from work and slept most of the day. Sounds like heaven, you say? Not so much…

One of the side effects of this condition is depression. It stinks to lay around and feel useless. And that’s what happened yesterday. I struggle with this regularly, and sometimes feel that all the progress I make is negated by one bad Fibro day. In a word – I hate it.

But feeling sorry for myself does not help. It only adds to the depression I already feel, which makes it more difficult to bounce back after a day like yesterday. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. I have lived with this for at least 11 years, probably more since it took a while to officially diagnose. But I still struggle. Most days I think: I am too young to feel this bad all the time. It shouldn’t be this way.

But that doesn’t change a thing.

So, I ask myself this: how then shall I live? The blessing about Fibromyalgia is that it is not degenerative. I won’t die from it, and it does not destroy the body. It just makes it flipping uncomfortable to live in my body! I am always in pain; my skin is super sensitive and will itch for no reason; I tire easily and can’t do as much as I’d like; I have to “pace myself” as they say, and if I don’t I pay for it with days like yesterday. Sometimes it mimics arthritis, and will flare when the weather changes, or a front moves through, with joint stiffness and widespread muscle pain. I am tired all the time, and when I am overly tired my cognitive function is impaired; it becomes difficult to concentrate, my short-term memory gets fuzzy, and my speech becomes disjointed.

Sometimes it feels like my body hates me.

And it is frustrating and annoying.

And what is the point? To learn patience? So far I’ve just learned how to be 20 shades of cranky. To grow in compassion? Sometimes it feels like all I’ve grown is a chip on my shoulder. And you’d think 11 years would be enough time to accept the reality and learn to work around it. But then I have one of those days, and all bets are off.

You may be wondering what this has to do with anything. I’m supposed to be writing about discipleship and pursuit. Where does this fit into that discussion?

Everywhere.

I am not sharing these things for sympathy or pep talks. Although I will admit: the pity party was in full swing last night! I realize that does not do me a bit of good. And I’m pretty much over those pithy (but true most of the time, darn it!) sayings about treasures in trials and so forth and so on. I’m kind of in the midst of the grit and grime of what Black folks call “real talk”. Because the truth of the matter is passion and pursuit are not on my mind a lot. It takes work for me to get there. And sometimes I just don’t.

And that’s okay. No, really – it is. And I’m repeating that for myself, because most of the time I don’t believe that. I feel like I should be able to do more, be more consistent, more focused…etc., etc., etc…and I tell God all about it – all the time – and ask why. And I don’t have an answer. So I keep asking.

And God keeps comforting. And reminding me of truth. And pushing and pulling at me, reminding me to stop being so hard on myself. And to trust Him. And in the midst of this, I realize: the lament, the crying out to Him in my frustration is my pursuit. Or at least a part of it.

One of the meanings of the word trust is “to confide in”. That I automatically run to God with my questions is a sign of that trust. That I do this even when answers do not come is a sign of passionate pursuit. Because I know – I know He can be trusted with it all. And even when I question Him or His ways, I still know in an indescribable way that it is okay. That there is a purpose, a plan, and that much of it is not about doing but being, and allowing Him to shape me through those things I don’t understand. In fact, I think the most important change and transformation happens in such places…

More later.
Until then…grace and peace…

Subject Change…sort of…

Tenderly…by M. Lewis

Warning: Subject change…although, the more I think about it, maybe not such a drastic one. The more I think about this, the more I see this fit into this whole theme of discipleship I have been considering.

I am pondering the word “pursue” and what it means to pursue God. This was the charge from my church’s team meeting this week. Of course, the first place I went to begin this journey was my trusty dictionary app. Man, I love that app! 🙂 
Anyway, I know it’s not the best “blogging etiquette” to quote the dictionary, but I’m just going to throw etiquette out the window and do it anyway! It lays the foundation for what I want to say, and helps me form a mental picture of what it means to pursue God. So, what does the dictionary say about the word “pursue”:

to follow close upon; go with; attend; to strive to gain; seek to attain or accomplish (an end, object,purpose, etc.);  to carry on or continue (a course of action, a train of thought, studies, etc.); to follow; to chase after someone or something 

Synonyms of note: go after, seek, attend, hound, hunt, persevere, persist, shadow, tail, track, give chase, run after, search for, search out

I think it is worth noting at the outset that we pursue God only because He has pursued us first. That must be the starting point. 1 John 4 says “We love because He first loved us”. God is the initiator – He is the pursuer and we are the pursued. But just like in any good relationship, mutual pursuit begins to take shape as experience and affection deepen. We begin to long for Him, to seek Him, first in response to His initiation; but then because He starts to become the ultimate object of our deepest desires and hopes as we discover how truly wonderful He is.

That sounds so mushy, doesn’t it? I don’t mean it to sound “romantic” – but I do mean for it to sound passionate. Because that is what pursuit is all about. Passion. If you are passionate about something (or someone), you will pursue that thing or that person. You will desire to know more, spend more time, more resources, more of yourself – all for the sake of that thing or that person. Should it not be so with God? He is, after all, the highest, purest, most majestic, most beautiful. He is above all; there is nothing higher than He.

This was the language of the psalmists, especially David. “Lord, I long for You…I desire You…I thirst for You…my soul pants for You” (Ps. 42, 63, 73, 84, 107, 119, 143). Nothing can satiate the appetite of our souls except God Himself. He is our supreme pursuit.

I used to think this could only be done in certain ways – darkened sanctuary, eyes closed, hands held high, singing glorious praise songs to our Lord. Or, in the quiet of the prayer closet, candle lit, head bowed (or better yet, on bended knee or prostrate) with tears streaming down my cheeks pouring down. I felt oddly inadequate – these moments do happen to me, when I am moved to tears, so awestruck I cannot utter a single word. Or my words come out in an unintelligible mess only God can understand (thank You, Holy Spirit) for all my sobbing. But this is not a daily occurrence – or even weekly occurrence.

Where does that pursuit happen for people like me? Where does God meet me, speak to my soul, lift my heart, put me to rest and make me feel secure in His arms?

When I am gazing at a beautiful sunset.

When I am walking through a complicated theological concept.

When I am reading, or writing about what I have read.

When I am talking to someone and I “happen” to say exactly what was needed in that moment.

In the assuring voice of a friend speaking life into a place in my life that only me and the Lord knew about.

When I am writing about Him, sharing what I have learned or experienced as I walk with Him.

In those moments, everyday, in a million different ways, God reaches down and touches my heart and soul in a way that only He knows is perfectly crafted for me. His deep knowing of me pulls me in and moves me follow. If I take the time to pay attention, I will sense His pursuit in every corner of my life. And His pursuit of me only causes me to want to pursue Him more. 

Full disclosure: there are times when I don’t feel the pursuit; where God seems distant or absent. Some have called this the “dark night of the soul”. I call it a desert. A dry, barren wasteland. The words above pour out of a heart that has been in this wasteland for at least eight years and is finally feeling the fresh water of God’s Spirit saturating me anew. So if it seems as though I am gushing (no pun intended…sorry!), it is because I am! He carried me through the desert and is now beginning to pull back the current to show me the reasons why. 
I am convinced the first reason was to demonstrate to me that this pursuit is going to look differently for everyone. There is no cookie cutter, 10-steps to pursuing God plan that fits everyone. And while there are spiritual disciplines that are beneficial for all believers, how we go about practicing those disciplines will look differently for each of us. 
I know this all circles back to discipleship…and at some point I will get to that. But I’ll leave it here for now and pick up my thoughts (wherever they happen to wander…wink) later.  
Until then,..grace and peace…

Living Discipleship

Yes, I have a new look. I hope you like it. I promise not to change it…too much!

So it seems that this theme of discipleship is all the rage. I have been reading from any sources about the need for discipleship.

The thought for today – living discipleship.

What do I mean by that? Let me share an example with you: I grew up in a Christian home. My dad was a deacon at our church, my mom a deaconess. One of the tasks of the deaconesses was the preparation and cleanup of communion every first Sunday. Since I was attached to mom’s hip as a young girl, I followed her everywhere, including to the kitchen to handle communion duty. And of course I’d be put to work, especially for the cleanup. This was before disposable communion cups, which meant cleaning all those little cups in soap and water and drying them before storing them for the next communion Sunday.

This may seem like a small thing. But it was of great significance, a significance I am only now beginning to truly appreciate. It wasn’t just the act of filling communion cups and bread trays, or cleaning them after the fact – it was the exposure to the lives of the women who engaged in the activity. Being present to watch and listen to these women talk about life, and faith, and God was life-shaping to me. And although I didn’t come to saving faith until later in life, those lessons were carried with me, in seed form, up until that moment God opened my eyes to the beauty of His saving love for me.

Discipleship is lived. Yes, it is taught, but in a very different way than simply opening a book, reading, answering a few questions, and then getting together once a week or so to talk about it with other Christians. Don’t get me wrong – these things are greatly important and should happen. But if that is all there is to our “discipleship”, I believe we are missing half of the story.

When I lived in Georgia, I met three women who still have a special place in my heart: Lisa, Denise and Wylene. Lisa was my first small group leader, and spending time with her – both in small group and just in life – was simply wonderful. Her love for God and for people was infectious. Denise was also in that small group and was Lisa’s leader apprentice when I first started in the group. When I felt God tapping on my heart to become a small group leader, I became Denise’s apprentice when she launched her group. Denise and I worked closely together to pray and plan for our group and love on the women who came. It was time cherished deep in my heart. And then there was Wylene. She and her husband Dennis were my surrogate parents while I was in Georgia. Being so far away from home, it was a welcome breath of fresh air to go over to their house on the weekends, just to sit and talk, learn how to cook – and just be.

Being a baby Christian at the time, God placed these women in life at a strategic moment of need. In that time, my deep hunger for the Word grew, as did my new found interest in theology. But more than anything else, the relationships I had with these precious sisters taught what all that stuff looks like in real life. The faith was fleshed out for me through being a part of their lives, not just in ministry service, but day to day.

That’s what I mean by “living discipleship”. In coming days I’ll try to put some theological and biblical meat on these bones. I’ll leave it there for now.

Here are a few links to some great articles I’ve read in the last few days. They have helped me greatly in putting words to my thoughts on this subject:

The Exchange: Chasing Community

The Exchange: Better Discipleship – 5 Broken Views of Discipleship and How to Fix Them

The Exchange: The Right Culture for Community

Precept Blog: Discipleship Is Not a Program; It’s a Process!

Grace and peace…

The highest honor…

Show me the way…by M. Lewis
I’ve been reading through the book of Acts, and I came across this verse: 

“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41 ESV)

Read that slowly…again…now, read it one more time. Just let it sink in for a moment. 
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read or heard this passage of Scripture. And never before have I been stopped in my tracks by this verse. I love how the Holy Spirit makes alive the Scripture and constantly exposes new facets of its beauty and truth.


The Back Story
The disciples had just been arrested for the second time for preaching the name of Jesus. At their first arrest, they were sternly warned “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” Peter and John would have none of that: “But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
This, their second arrest, was accompanied by a miraculous release from prison by an angel of the Lord (5:19-20). After being beaten and released, and warned again not to preach in the name of Jesus, we come to verse 41 – they walked away rejoicing for had just happened to them.

The Question
This begs the question – why would they rejoice? The verse answers that question for us immediately: for being “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” They were rejoicing in their persecution. I found myself instinctively turning to Matthew 5: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (vv. 11-12)

We are called to rejoice and be glad when we are mistreated for the name of Jesus. It is the highest honor to fellowship in the sufferings of Jesus. Our reward is great in heaven when we do. When we endure suffering and persecution for Christ, we are bearing witness to the surpassing greatness of our heavenly treasure in Him over against any worldly achievement or accolade. We are proclaiming that He is the greatest ambition of any human heart – that His glory is more important than our comfort, reputation, or success. We are confessing that His right to be glorified is greater than our rights, and that we will willingly lay down those rights for the sake of His glory if so called.

The Challenge
As I thought through this I began to wonder: Does my life reflect this? Would I, in the face of persecution, willingly lay down my rights, and even rejoice in the face of such humiliation?

I mean, this is the deal: I live in comfort and ease. America may be more hostile to the Gospel now than it was in the past, but for the most part, I am sheltered from serious persecution. I know nothing of the condition of so many of my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world that are closed to the Gospel. Where it is banned – where you can quite literally die for proclaiming the name of Jesus. So it is easy for me to say, from my place of comfort, that I would be willing to lay down my rights – my very life – for Jesus. But when the rubber meets the road – what will happen then?

I can’t remember where I read or heard this, but I’m quite sure it was John MacArthur who said it. He was talking about the young woman who was shot dead by the Columbine shooters after declaring that she was a Christian. The question was posed to him: Would you be able to do what she did? His response was remarkable: he admitted that he did not know in that moment; but he firmly believed that if God called him to such a sacrifice, God would also grace him to face it. In other words – God would equip him with the faith needed to stand if God called him. I would have to say that of myself as well.

So this has me wondering: Why does the church care so much that the world does not like us? Yes, there are plenty of ways in which we add insult to injury by being needlessly offensive. But, at bottom, we will not “fit in” to the world’s mold, and this should not be our goal. The goal should be to faithfully preach the Good News, to live like we believe it’s true, and to seek to bring honor to Christ.

This is getting longer than I expected, so I will have to continue this in the next post. This all has to do with that passion I spoke about last week: The passion for discipleship. What does it look like? How do we get right – and how do we get it wrong? To be continued…

Until then…grace and peace…