Sunday, August 29, 2010

surrender all?

Have you ever stopped when you were singing along with a song on a CD you were listening to or in church and thought about the words you were just singing?

I was just listening to the song "Surrender" by Jeremy Camp when I did just that.

I was stopped by the line "I surrender to your throne." Ultimately that is my desire, but I started to wonder if that was something I alwasy meant when I sang that. Or was it just words to a song I was singing along to?

Lately, I have found myself pondering and reflecting more and more on what I sing when I am listening to music. Do I mean it? Or am I just singing it because it is part of the song? Basically, a heart check. Where is my heart in this moment?

Even though I may mean them in the moment, I know I may not always do a great job of living it out, but I do not think that is the biggest issue. The big deal is do I mean and desire what I am singing. Do I actually desire to be completely surrendered to God's throne? If I actually mean it and am seeking to live that way, then even though I may not do it perfectly all the time I can declare that to be my heart's desire. But, if I do not really desire to surrender completely to God's throne, do I really want to sing those words?

I wonder if I am the only one who thinks like this or if there are more that have had this thought process go through their heads at times.

Friday, August 20, 2010

instantaneous change or a process?

Well, I forgot to order decaf when I got a coffee a couple hours ago, which means I had caffeine way too late this evening and I have a feeling that I am going to be up late tonight. That means I have time to write about what I have been thinking about lately. I just hope that my fingers can keep up with my thoughts to get this written in a coherent fashion.

For the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about how we will hear something that challenges in our spiritual life and so we pray to God about it once - usually in some sort of a response to what we just heard. Then we get up and go on our way, only to find ourselves frustrated a few days, weeks, months down the road when we find ourselves still dealing with the same thing. "But I prayed about it back on . . ." is our usual response then - like praying about it once is all it takes to bring about change in our lives.

It is so easy to assume that any change that needs to happen in our lives can happen in one prayer and that God just does it all. I know I have done that many times. But, lately I am learning that it does not always, or even usually, work that way. More often then not, actually implementing what we were challenged to at the time takes far more time and effort then the prayer afterwards took. Most of the time change is not an instant thing; it is a process that we walk through, with victories and setbacks along the way.

Lately, I have been wondering if God has a method to it working that way. Well, I know He does, but I have been thinking more about it. I wonder if part of the reason most change in our lives is not instantaneous is because then we would have little need for relationship with God. We could just go to Him and ask for Him to change a certain part of us and that would be done. Then we would go on through life until the next thing and we would ask God again and the change would happen. And on and on the cycle would go.

Not really much of a way to build a relationship. But, if the change is a process, then we are in a position where we are needing to constantly turn to God for help because we need Him to be pushing us and providing us the strength to carry on when we cannot do it on our own strength. Change being process forces us to rely on God - forces us to build that relationship with Him.

I have heard many teachers and writers who I respect say things along the lines of "God is more interested in the relationship than in the end result." That is not to say that God does not care about us actually removing an area of sin from our lives or gaining victory over something. He does care about those things. But, it does mean that He puts a greater value on the relationship that grows from needing to return to Him daily for the strength to make those changes to find victory.

God desires relationship with us. When I stop and think about that - really think about it - it amazes me. Why would to Creator of the Universe care about me? Why would He desire to have a relationship with me? It seems absolutely absurd! Yet, He does. And sometimes that means the process of change in my life is slow and painful. But through that time my relationship grows deeper as I depend on Him for each new day.

The same is true for you. The Creator of the Universe cares about you! He desires a relationship with you! He wants to bring about change in your life, but He wants to build your relationship with Him through the process of that change.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

being present in what's happening now

I wonder how many people are like me in that they easily get lost in what has happened or in what may happen. We get so busy with thinking about those things that we completely forget about what is happening right now. I wonder if when we forget to really pay attention to what is happening now we miss so much of life.

I read a quote the other day that really got me started thinking about this.
Live. And Live Well. BREATHE. Breathe in and breath deeply. Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be Now. On a crystal clear, breezy 70 degree day, roll down the window and FEEL the wind against your skin. Feel the warmth of the sun. If you run, then allow those first few breaths on a coll Autumn day to FREEZE your lungs and do not be alarmed, be ALIVE. Get knee-deep in a novel and LOSE track of time. If you bike, pedal HARD ... and if you crash then crash well. Feel the SATISFACTION of a job well done - a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed. If you must wipe the snot from your 3-year old's nose, don't be disgusted if the Kleenex didn't catch it all ... because soon he'll be wiping his own. If you've recently experienced loss, then GRIEVE. And grieve well. At the table with family and friends, LAUGH. If you're eating and laughing at the same time, then might as well laugh until you puke. And if you eat, then SMELL. The aromas are not impediments to your day. Steak on the grill, coffee freshly ground, cookies in the oven. And TASTE. Taste every ounce of flavor. Taste every ounce of friendship. Taste very ounce of life. Because-it-is-most definitely-a-Gift.
Every example is about being here now - paying attention to what is going on in the moment. That is how God desires for us to live. He does not want us to get caught up in what happened or to be so caught up in what may come that we miss now.

Obviously, there are times when it is good to look back and see what we can learn from what we went through and how we handled it. And there are times when it is good to look to the future and where God may have us to go. But, we must be careful not to get caught up in either. There is too much that is happening now that we miss if we are focusing on the past or the future.

To close I will leave you with two questions that I was asking myself after I read this quote:
Am I present in what is happening now most of the time?
Am I more likely to get caught up in the past or the future?
Those questions challenged me to evaluate my own life. I hope they do the same for you.

young adults and the church

I was having a conversation the other day that got me thinking a lot about this question: Have we, the church, done young adults and youth a disservice in the way we have hired people to fill ministry positions rather than look for volunteers for some of them? However unintentional (and I do believe it was unintentional), I do believe that the church has done young adults a disservice in this. The current economic situation mean that just hiring someone to do everything is not the most cost-effective or financially responsible way to do things. But, it also requires a change in thinking for many people in terms of how monasteries within the church are run, and I would venture a guess that for many youth and young adults it is a change to something that is foreign to us.

Growing up in the church, I remember the day we hired our first youth pastor, our first childrens' pastor . . . those were big deals at the time, while now it seems like most churches of any size have these positions as paid staff. But, while I remember those days, it is a vague memory. I was young - young enough that it then became normal to me that those were paid positions within the church. Growing up there was always Sunday school, weekly kid's club, youth group events that were organized by church staff and then I showed up at - maybe with something I said I would help with (ie. concession, clean-up, etc.), but for the most part all I had to do was show up. As I grew older, this expanded into the area of young adults (18-30 something) ministry, as we now had a pastor who had that as his job, as well as having an assistant in the office. While we were given more opportunity to get involved in the planning of young adult events and in actually making them happen, ultimately there was still someone on the church staff who was paid to do that job.

Enter the last couple of years, and the change in things economically, which presented a challenge for many churches, as the number of staff they had it became no longer financially possible for them to employ. A change in thinking about how ministry is run is now required. For some people this is no problem, as they are returning to how church was done when they were growing up in the church - volunteers running most things with the pastors and church staff overseeing the various ministries. But, for youth and young adults, this a change of thinking to something we have barely, if ever, seen in how church operates. Some young adults may vaguely remember a time when there was not a pastor for every ministry, but they were definitely too young at that time to realize that it was volunteers who had run kid's programs before, or to grasp the significance of the change from volunteers to paid staff.

So now you have young adults who are used to having things delivered to them by church staff who are not being told that the church can no longer provide us with a young adult pastor and we have to figure out how to do it on our own. Okay, no big deal, we have been incredibly spoiled up to this point. The problem is now that we do not know how to make things happen on our own. We are so used to having someone do most of the work for us that we do not even know where to begin. And so the feeling of being un-valued and forgotten begins to take root. Since we are used to having a staff person(s) focusing just on us, we feel like by taking away that staff person(s) the church is saying to us that we no longer matter, that no one cares about us anymore.

This is where I believe there ends up being some serious miscommunication on both the part of young adults and church leadership. This miscommunication goes both ways. As young adults, instead of making our voice heard and asking for some help and guidance, we get hurt and we walk away from that particular church body - possibly even the universal church. As church leadership, who is often a generation or two older and remembers when everything was run by volunteers and the people who wanted something to happen were the ones who made it happen, there is an assumption made that young adults can just switch over to that way of doing things, with no realization that this is not a return to what it used to be for us, that this is a complete change in thinking and we need some help to make the change. The result of this miscommunication is a world of hurt and misunderstanding, while young adults continue to decide that they while they still want to call themselves followers of Christ - Christians - they have no use for the church and would rather go it alone. There is no blame to be placed here. It is a misunderstanding and miscommunication that goes both ways - neither side has necessarily done anything wrong, they are both operating out of their understanding of how church can and should work.

That story of what has happened above, I believe it is one that has played itself out many times in recent years. Some people know that is what has been going on; others do not know. Some young adults have found themselves caught in the middle of this. They have grown up in church and know that is has not always been the way they grew up with it being, but they have few memories of what it was like when everything was not done by paid staff. We are not willing to give up on the church, yet, but we are still struggling with the pain of all that transpired, because we too, feel that we have been thrown off the deep end not knowing how to swim and now we have to figure it out. But, we also have friends who have known nothing of before the church paid people to run every program who are deeply hurt and have walked away from the church and do not understand why we are hanging on. Some days, it would be so much easier to just walk away. But, we choose not to, because we know that we are the people who 20, 30, 40 years down the road will be the ones who have to make the same tough decisions that church leaders have made and are still making. We know that we need to take the opportunity we have to learn from those ahead of us, and so we hang on, despite the hurt we feel, despite the moments we feel that it would be easier to just walk away.

So I am left wondering, has the church done youth and young adults a disservice in the way we were brought up in church? I honestly think that the answer is yes. We are so used to paid staff to do everything that we expect it will always be that way. And when we lose that paid staff we take it personally.

I think the church is in a critical place right now. There is an entire generation that is in danger of walking away from the church for good. They still love Jesus and want to follow Him with their lives, but they have become disillusioned and they are hurt. Those young adults who are still hanging on need to speak up and make their voices heard. We need to explain our situation to others and ask for the help we need. But, we also need church leadership and older generations in the church to come alongside us and help us to learn this new way of doing church. We are willing to learn. We are willing to work. We are willing to be the ones who make it happen. But, right now we have no idea how to do that. We need some help. This is a change in thinking to something that is completely foreign to us. We are not reverting to the way it used to be; we are moving on to something new. We love change. We will embrace it. But we need others to come alongside us in the deep water we have just been thrown into and help us learn how to swim in it.

What has been done has been done. It is what it is. I do believe that it is time to move forward from here. But, it means that we need all generations in the church to work together to make sure no one is left out or feels like they are not valued. I believe that the church can come out stronger for this hard time, but it will not be easy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

when God calls, He equips

I was reading in Jeremiah the other day and I was struck by the conversation between God and Jeremiah in the opening verses of Jeremiah chapter 1. It just seemed so familiar a conversation - one that I have definitely had with God in my life, on more than one occasion. I would guess that this is a conversation many of us have had with God at some point in our lives.

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
            "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
                    before you were born I set you apart;
                    I appointed you as prophet to the nations."
"Ah, Sovereign Lord," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child."
But the LORD said to me, "Do not say 'I am only a child'. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the LORD.
Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today, I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."
-Jeremiah 1:4-10, NIV

In these verses, God is calling Jeremiah to be His prophet. Jeremiah does not feel qualified for the job and protests accordingly. Then we see God promising to lead Jeremiah and to provide him with the words he is to say.

When I read this I began to think about how often we have similar conversations with God. It may be about a major decision in life, such as our career, education. Or it may be about taking on a role in a ministry at church or volunteering somewhere that pushes us out of our comfort zone. Or it may be about stopping and offering help to the person we just passed on the street. It does not matter what it is about, I think we very often protest when God asks us to do something specific.

I know there have been times when God has asked me to do something and I have very quickly had a long list of reasons why I was not qualified or able to do what He was asking. It is pretty easy to come up with reasons why. Much like Jeremiah protesting that he was only a child and did not know how to speak, we have reasons we give to God about why we cannot do something.

But, I was struck by God's response to Jeremiah - and it is much the same response that He gives us when we protest about our inability to do something. God responds to Jeremiah by equipping to him to carry out the calling God has given him. God does the same thing for us. When He calls us to do something, He will provide what we need to do it if we follow in obedience - even if we have doubts about our ability.

We serve a God who is capable of doing anything - even what would be impossible for man - so I wonder why we so often determine that He cannot give us the ability to do what He calls us to do? Do we believe that God can equip others and not us? Do we believe that God only equips people for certain tasks? Do we believe God only equipped people to do things in Bible times?

The truth is that God will equip us to do what He asks of us. Even if it seems impossible for us to do on our own, if God has called us to do it we can step out in faith that He will enable us to do it! Is that not some pretty incredible truth to build a life on? If God calls us to do, He will make us able to do it - whatever that means we need. But, we have to step out in faith that He will.

when we walk through the dark

I was just listening to a CD from my time at Briercrest. It's probably one of my favourite CDs because it brings back memories of my time there. But, that's not the reason for this post.

I was stopped in the middle of what I was doing as I listened to one of the songs. The lyrics to the song just struck me. They so describe a journey many of us go through in life and one that is definitely familiar to me.

When I Walk Through the Dark
(Brad Guldemond)

When the pain seems like too much to take
When my heart can't stand another break
When the battle's wearing down on me
Stay by my side to comfort and guide me

When my feet don't know which step to take
When my heart's not sure which choice to make
When my eyes are blind to sights that lead
Help me to know You're right beside me

Hold my hand when I walk through the dark
Speak my name so I know where you are
With You close I will not wander far away
When I walk through the dark

When the clouds block out the light of day
When summer skies return to grey
When the rain pours down and I can't see
Stay by my side and come through this with me

Hold my hand when I walk through the dark
Speak my name so I know where you are
With You close I will not wander far away
When I walk through the dark

Cover me with Your love
I don't want to lose my way and give up all the good here for me
You have planned what's best for me
So I want to be faithful to You

You are here as I walk through the dark
And Your voice says, "Child, I know where you are"
With You close, I will follow the path You made
And walk on through the dark

Just a simple song declaring trust in God - even when things are dark. I don't know if you needed that reminder today, but I did.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

reflections of a journey of questions

This past week has found me a little bit reflective. I've been reflecting on the journey that began for me a couple of years ago now. The events that over the course of the next year or so shook my world - my nice, safe world where not too much that was of a world-shaking nature had happened.

My world was shaken when . . .
. . . On September 8, 2008 when I received a phone call saying that my mom and sister had been in a car accident that could have (should have) been really bad. They walked away, but it made me think about losing people close to me.
. . . On September 17, 2008 when I received a phone call saying that a friend of mine had lost her husband a couple of days before in a car accident . . . leaving her behind with a young child and pregnant with their second. It didn't seem fair then . . . why had my mom and sister walked away and he was killed?
. . . On August 2, 2009 when friends of mine lost their 2-1/2 year old little boy. This seemed like just the final straw. I really didn't understand how a loving God could allow all of this to happen.
. . . Somewhere in here, a girl whose family I know was diagnosed with cancer . . . again! Seriously, isn't once enough?

That series of events brought me to a place I wasn't really prepared to find myself. I was questioning God. I wasn't sure if I believed He was good. I wasn't sure if I believed He answered prayers for miracles. I wasn't sure if He actually had the power to perform miracles. I grew up in the church, I could give you all the "church answers" to those doubts without thinking twice. But, I wasn't sure that I really believed them. I mean, just because I had heard them all my life, didn't mean they were correct, right?

I don't really know much besides following God, so I kept crying out to God for answers, going to church, reading my Bible . . . basically doing all those things the "good Christians" do, all the while, keeping much of my struggle to myself. Except for to a few people, I really was too proud of who people thought I was to actually admit my struggles.

Since I was keeping it mostly to myself, imagine my dismay when an opportunity came up to be a part of a Bible study in September 2009 that was all about believing God - especially because I felt like God was telling me that this was what He wanted for me. I spent a couple of weeks arguing with God about this one. First off, I wasn't sure if I believed God at that point. Secondly, I hadn't really told many people about my struggle and I was pretty sure that if I did a Bible study like this one more people would find out. But, despite my objections, God won that argument (doesn't He always?), and on September 14, 2009 I found myself walking in to that Bible study (but not before trying to convince God that I wasn't going to go in the parking lot just a few minutes before).

That Bible study was probably the hardest one I have done. The entire Bible study from then until the end of November was about believing God is who He says He is, that He can do what He says He can do, that I am who He says I am, that I can do all things through Him, and that His Word is alive and active in me. Right from the first video session I knew that this wasn't going to be easy, but also that this was exactly where I needed to be at that point. There were many times when I was doing the homework during the week where my pen or the workbook was thrown across the room, or I just got up and walked away because I couldn't do anymore. It was getting at every question, every doubt I had at that point.

But, looking back, I'm glad that I pushed through it all and that I listened to God in the first place in signing up for that study. I was forced to face and really acknowledge my doubts, and to take them to God - kind of ironic that I ended up going to the very God that I was doubting with my doubts. My Bible study table was also full of ladies who, whether they knew it or not, were catalysts that God used to keep me going in this study and to come out the other side having grown closer to God and come to better understand the value of community and being honest about the struggles in life with one another. It was a journey that helped me begin to move beyond those doubts and back to really believing and trusting God. When the Bible study ended, I thought that part of my journey was over.

As I discovered in the beginning of January, it wasn't yet. I was sitting in the fourth night of five evening series on prayer at church. The speaker was talking about hindrances to prayer and mentioned doubt. Now, I had come to the point where I did believe (again) God was good and I did believe (again) that God heard and answered prayer. But, that night I realized I had still limited God to some degree in prayer. I would pray to Him for things (again), but I stopped short of the big things. I wouldn't pray for the things that seemed like really big miracles. I still didn't believe that He would/could do those things. That night was another challenge in this journey to learn how to trust God enough again to pray for what seemed like the really big things in life (ie. people would be healed, etc.).

Looking back now, a year since my friends' little boy died, I'm amazed at the journey this time has been. It's been hard. There have definitely been times when it seemed like it would be easier to just give up. But, in retrospect, I'm so glad that even in the midst of those doubts and struggles I was obedient to God's promptings in my life. I can't (and don't want to) imagine where I would be if I hadn't.

Honestly, this a journey I never expected to be sharing this way on my blog. There have been snippets of it in other blogs, but this is far more detail than I ever planned on putting out there. But, lately, I've been realizing that many times in my life the thing that has challenged and encouraged me the most has been the times when others have shared their stories with me. It seems like life as a follower of Christ is so much more real then and not such an impossibility. I share this, not to make myself sound great, but to hopefully encourage others.

I'm not sure this journey is completely over yet. I'm not sure it ever will be. Life on earth is filled with things that don't make sense, that don't seem fair, that cuse us to question. But, I know for next time, that when my world is shaken, there is only one safe place to turn . . . the arms of Jesus Christ. I may have questions. I may have doubts. But I can know that He will always be there. He may not give me the answers I want to all my questions, but He won't leave me to walk through it alone.