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.

Quick note…Aha!

Here’s a quick thought, which I’m sure I’ve said before, but think is so very important, if for no other reason than to remind myself of what I already know…

If you are a Christian, you have a new identity. The old has gone the new has come. You are a child of God, a co-heir with Christ, a member of Christ’s body, a living stone in the temple He is building, a temple for the Holy Spirit and a citizen of heaven. You are a new creation. 
Your identity is in Christ. You are hidden in Him; the life you live now is through Him. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit, awaiting the appearing of your Blessed Hope, Jesus. And when He appears, you will be like Him, for you will see Him as He really is. 
I might start shouting in a minute. This stuff is just too good…
But…and this is the “but” I have been working through and continue to do so…
In Christ, I do not cease being who I am. I don’t stop being a Black 40something single woman living in the Midwestern United States in the year 2015. These other identities don’t change – my relationship to them do. 
This is an aha moment, where things being to click and make a little bit of sense. I cannot erase my experiences, my identity or those things that make me who I am. I am these things because God determined the time, location and circumstances of my existence. In other words, none of these things are an accident. And God desires that I be them for His glory. 
So, the struggle in navigating how I live faithfully to God in the context of these things is a good thing, a healthy thing – as long as I keep my focus and foundation on the fact that my identity, worth and purpose are found in Christ, and nowhere else. This is where I stumble as I journey through. But I don’t know that I should expect to walk through this perfectly. As long as I keep walking, with my eyes fixed on Jesus, He catches me when I fall. 
Eureka!
I’m going to marinate on that for a bit…I’ll be back…

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…

All of life…

I am on a new quest right now. And it is filling me with a joy I have not felt in a long time. You can call it an epiphany of sorts. Like a part of me that is awakening again.

Yesterday I ran across an article in Relevant called “What Does It Actually Mean to Connect with God?” In it, the author laments that he always felt that somehow he was not “doing it right” because He didn’t “connect” the way others did, or “hear from God” like all his friends. But then he had a change of mind about the whole connecting with God thing and came to this conclusion:

“We have to get used to the idea that there are a million different ways to spend time with God, to hear His voice, to draw near to Him.”

This is the point at which I wanted to say “You had me at hello.” This particular author finds his place of connection in academics and research. When I read that I almost dropped out of my chair – SO DO I!! My inner geek did the happy dance at that moment. This got me thinking – how and when do I feel that connection? I suppose I never allowed myself to think about it. Quiet time? Getting up at the crack of dawn and yawning through a devotional (that’s how it would go for me; mornings are brutal for me most days). 

I refocused on the day at hand, with these thoughts in my mind. Later in the day, I walked into a co-worker’s office to discuss a work matter. The problem solved, our conversation moved to more personal things, and she began to share a concern. After I commented and comforted her in her concern, and she thanked me for making her feel better. And that feeling came over me. That goosebumps in my soul kind of feeling. My face got all tingly and I felt like I’m going to leap through the ceiling. That’s when I know I’m connecting with God – that’s it! That’s the feeling! And at moment I had my awesome “aha!” moment of the week: There’s more to this whole “connecting with God” thing than what I had allowed myself to consider. The message the author was trying to convey finally gelled in my heart. The traditional quiet time is not the only place this can happen. It happens – it can happen – in all of life, if we open ourselves up to the possibility.

And that leads me to my new quest. A quest to decompartmentalize my life. My life feels too fragmented: I have a compartment for work; one for family; one for ministry; one for “time connecting with God”. And most of the time I don’t feel very good at making that connection. That I would think this must happen because of some separate, spiritual practice, and no where else but that, betrays a misunderstanding of the whole concept. All of life is to be done “to the glory of God”. And even when I don’t feel that goosebumps in my soul feeling, I am still connecting with Him if my mind is set on seeking to bring glory to Him in all things. This is not to say that setting aside those times of concentrated worship, or reading, or praying is wrong – but it’s not the whole story. It is bigger, more comprehensive than that. 

As I continue to think through this, I am sensing a passion growing for helping people, and pursuing in my own life, what it means to become disciples of Jesus. Not just “believers”, or “adherers” to a particular set of doctrinal standards – but disciples. People who are journeying with Jesus and each other, and living in a constant state of learning. Now, I feel it is important to note that this necessitates that doctrine be important. We must be clear about the foundation upon which we are learning. I think the words “doctrine” and “theology” get a bad rap. They are not faith-stealers – when used for good, they are faith-builders. They are reinforcements of faith because they give it shape and context. Yes, doctrine is necessarily “exclusionary” (I think I just made up a word). You can’t believe one thing and its complete opposite are true at the same time. I am not ashamed to state emphatically that there are certain doctrines that are “givens” – things that you must believe to be Christian. This is true of any religion – why should Christianity be any different? But I think sometimes we – or, let me speak only for myself, I – try to make areas that are grey black and white and then wreak havoc and pain on those who disagree. 
But, I digress…the main point I want to drive at is that yes, we need to believe the right things about Jesus if we want to follow Him. Think of it like this: if I am building a friendship with someone, I will want to know that person better in order to relate to them. I have to learn things about them – their likes and dislikes, beliefs, talents, skills, etc. If I do not take the time to know these things, I cannot have a meaningful relationship with them. And this requires talking, listening. It also involves experiencing things with them, walking through problems, enjoying things with them. It is a holistic, all-person engagement with each other that makes the friendship meaningful. If my friend share with me that a certain action bothers them, but I proceed to do it anyway (and often), my tone-deafness to their feelings and/or beliefs will hurt the relationship and drive a wedge between us.

Although our relationship with Jesus is a completely different kind of relationship, it is a relationship nonetheless. And this same dynamic would hold true. We can’t have a meaningful relationship with Jesus if we don’t know who He is. And knowing who He is requires all those elements I listed above. Including talking, listening, reading. Yes, experience is part of it. But you have to explore who Jesus says He is – His own self-identity, what He likes, dislikes. You have to learn things about Him – know things about Him – if you want to know Him. We learn of Him primarily through His Word, His self-revelation to us. Doctrine/theology is man’s way of seeking to understand that revelation. And while relationship with Jesus is not just that, it cannot be less than that. 

So the drive, the desire is to make doctrine a bridge, not a wall. A pathway to greater intimacy with Jesus. We cannot disembody doctrine; it must become part of the DNA of life, the life-view if you will, that helps us know and relate to Jesus more – and more deeply. That is my quest. 
These are all preliminary, somewhat rambling thoughts. We’ll see where it leads…
More later…grace and peace…