Tuesday, April 29, 2014

One Family

I've been reading Paul's letters to churches the last couple of months. When I got to Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus, I found that I was staying in chapter 3 for a while.

I've read this passage many times and in that familiarity I've often moved quite quickly through it. This time when I got to Ephesians 3, I slowed down. I read the chapter out loud a few times. And noticed some incredible things I've missed before in it.

Before you read the rest of this post, I want to encourage you to read Ephesians 3. In your Bible, or follow this link to it. Read it out loud and listen to the words if you can.

The things I noticed as I read are the topic of the next few posts here.

What I noticed when I read this isn't anything that hasn't been there all day long, but it is something God used to speak so clearly to me.

Paul begins this chapter talking about how God has now included the Gentiles along with the Jews in His way of salvation. He talks about how it is through the work of Christ on the cross that all are brought together in one family.

I've often struggled with getting through the first part of this chapter because it didn't seem to be the really important part of it all. But this time as I read the chapter all as one, I realized that these verses set the foundation for the rest of the chapter.

It is because we have been brought together as one family through Christ that anything that follows makes sense.

It was a radical shift in thinking for the day that Jews and Gentiles were both a part of God's chosen and holy people. That's one reason why Paul takes the time to focus on this. He knew that for his original audience it was important to begin here.

God showed me why it was important for me to begin here to as I carefully read each word this time. The starting place for everything that follows in this chapter is this understanding that we are one body as Christ followers. Christ's work brings us all together as one big family.

And within that big family, we have smaller groups that we in close relationship with. This forms the foundation of what Paul says in the rest of the chapter. And it's an important foundation, because we weren't meant to live this life as followers of Christ alone.

It's also because we're living in a community with one another that we can begin to understand other things we find in Scripture. They just wouldn't make sense if we lived this life alone.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Is Discipline Enough?

Pleasure . . .

We spend much of our life seeking it.

We'll spend our money and give our time easily toward those things that bring us pleasure.

We were made for it.

We look for pleasure in all kinds of things and people.

But do we look for pleasure in our relationship with God? Are there times we really enjoy in our walk with God?

Or is it all about discipline? All about the things you have to do?

If it's all about discipline, you won't last long at anything - much less anything in your walk with God. Discipline is often the place we start, and as I wrote in a recent post, it is a way to create space for God to work in our lives.

But if it never moves beyond discipline - beyond that thing you do because you should - it won't last. You may be able to sustain it for days, weeks, months, or even years in some cases, but eventually discipline will fail.

That's where pleasure comes in. We seek it in many areas of our lives, but often not in our walk with God. But our walk with God is a place where we have to learn to find pleasure.

As King David says in Psalm 37:4, we need to "take delight in the Lord." That doesn't sound lie something that comes with discipline alone to me. It sounds like something more.

God wants us to find pleasure in what comes from His, In Psalm 16, David writes this:

"You make known to me the path of life;
          you fill me with joy in your presence,
          with eternal pleasures at your right hand."
                     (Psalm 16:11)

David seemed pretty sure that pleasure was something God desired for him to have. And that same God wants us find our pleasure in our relationship with Him as well.

If we look at David's life we see a man who struggled with sin and who made some big mistakes, yet he continued to seek God. David learned to find pleasure in God - in his relationship with God. It is possible.

So, how do we find pleasure in God?

David's life shows us that we seek God to find it. We cry out to God in and every situation - the good and the bad. The book of Osalms is filled with examples of David doing this.

And we ask God to show us how to find pleasure in our relationship with Him. God answers prayers, so if we ask Him, He will show us.

Often the way to finding pleasure in our relationship with God begins with discipline. Discipline is good and necessary, but it must move beyond that for it to last.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Doubt in Writing

I don't often write about writing on here. That's not really the purpose behind this blog, but every once in a while the discussion in a writing group I'm part of prompts me to post something about writing here. Lately we've been discussing doubt and overcoming it in regards to our writing in that group. This post stems from that discussion.

It's inevitable that when you have somewhere you write for regularly, you will experience doubts.

Doubt that you anyone will actually care about what you write.

Doubt that people will actually read what you write.

Doubt that are any good at writing.

Doubt that you have anything of value to say.

Doubt that anyone would notice if you just simply disappeared.

And those doubts come even when you know you are supposed to write. Even when you can't not write. No writer, no matter why they write, is immune to doubt.

The difference between those who keep writing despite the doubt and those who give up at the first sign of doubt is what we do with the doubt. We have a choice when they come.

We can decide that the doubt means we weren't cut out to be a writer. And then we stop writing. Keeping our words and what we have to say inside forevermore.

Or we can choose to allow the doubt to push us to write more. We can take it as a sign that what we have to say is important. If it wasn't important, we wouldn't be worried about saying it.

 Sometimes, as writers we have things we feel like we need to say, but something is keeping us from being able to write them. And that something is doubt. I know I've had those times.

One of the clearest examples I have to share came a little over a year ago. I had something pressing I felt I should write, but every time I sat down tow rite it, I couldn't get any words onto the page. My doubt that I was actually the person to write it and share it kept the words from coming - kept me from writing anything at all, even other things. Ultimately, the doubt was fear of what others would think if I wrote it.

I finally got to the point where I knew I had to just write it. I went to my favourite writing place and sat down. I didn't worry about getting the words right. That can always be fixed later. I just started writing, as it came. It didn't make much sense at first, that came the more I wrote.

I've learned that sometimes when we're feeling doubt as a writer, we just need to sit down and write whatever we can. When we start, it may not make any sense at al. The important this is just to start writing. Leave the editing for later.

Once I finally got it written, I shared it and it has become my most popular blog post. To me, that's a sign that it definitely mattered that I wrote it. If it hadn't mattered if I wrote it, no one would have read it and I wouldn't have struggled to write it.

Doubt as a writer doesn't have to stop you from writing. It can be what pushes you to keep writing, because if you're supposed to write it's because what you have to say matters.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Worship as a Response

Worship seems to be one of those things we wither like or we don't like, at least when it comes to the small part of it that would be singing songs in church. And, at different times in my life, I have fallen on both sides of it - sometimes liking it, sometimes not.

I read a quote that reminds me of why we worship and I realized that in those times when I don't like it, it's often because I've lost the real reason behind our worship. I've begun to think it's about duty or trying to please God by doing the right things. It has become a "have to," not a "want to."

I'm reminded of the only way worship can really be a "want to."

"All worship is a response to a revelation - it's only when we breathe in more of the wonders of God that we can breathe out a fuller response to Him . . . the key to a life of passionate and powerful worship comes from seeing God." (Matt Redman)

In these words, Redman gets to the heart of where real worship flows from. Real worship of God comes as a response to what God has done in our lives - to meeting God and seeing Him for Who He really is. It's only then that we are really able to worship God.

Real worship is always a response to something. It's always a response to have met with God.

In 1 Samuel 6, we see a clear example of worship as a response to God. David is dancing his worship before God as the Ark is returned to Jerusalem. He knew God and had experienced God's power and protection in his life many times at this point. Because David knew God and had seen Him at work, his response was to worship God with complete abandon as the Ark was returned to its rightful place in the Temple of Jerusalem.

That is exactly the kind of worship, Redman is talking about in his quote. An example of what real worship is.

"All worship is a response to a revelation - it's only when we breathe in more of the wonders of God that we can breathe out a fuller response to Him . . . the key to a life of passionate and powerful worship comes from seeing God." (Matt Redman)

When was the last time you experienced worship like that in your life?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spiritual Discipline

Discipline . . usually that word has a negative connotation. We often see it as something that comes when we've done something wrong. Or we see it as something we don't have enough of when it comes to exercise or eating right or a multitude of other things.

We use it in reference to our spiritual lives to talk about things we know we should do. Spiritual disciplines are often seen as our list of "have to's" to be a Christian.

I recently read a quote from Henri Nouwen that challenged how I think about spiritual disciplines.

"In the spiritual life, the word means 'the effort to create some space in which God can act.' Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned on or counted on." (Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New)

To see it as an effort to create space in my life for God to act changes that. That makes it sounds more like something I want to do. I want God to work in my life.

And when I think about it, it becomes pretty clear that if I'm busy and always thinking about what I need to do next, there isn't room for God to speak to me or to work in my life. If I don't have time to slow down from everything else I'm doing, God doesn't have room to work.

That's where the things we often label as spiritual disciplines come in - having a quiet time. reading our Bibles, praying. These are things that create that "space in which God act." They cause us to stop running from one thing to the next, so that we can actually hear God.

These spiritual disciplines don't control how God works in our lives; they simply create the space for God to work.

I wonder if we need to change the way we evaluate for ourselves and ask others about their spiritual lives. What if, instead of asking how their quiet time is going, we began to ask how they were doing at creating space in their lives for God to act? What if we did the same for ourselves?

For me, it changes it from a feeling of "have to" to a "want to". What about for you?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Just the Beginning

I spent this weekend at an Encounter God retreat with my church. As I was talking with one of the other team members, I realized that it had been just over a year since I had gone to my first one as a participant. I've been reflecting on things that changed in my life since that time.

A year ago, when I walked into the room for the first session of that Encounter God retreat, I had no idea the journey I was beginning. And if someone had tried to tell me the changes that would be made in my life, I'm not sure I would have believed them. I probably would have laughed at the thought. Those were areas of my life where I was so used to how things were and they felt safe that way. I couldn't imagine anything else for my life.

The truth is that a year into this journey is only the beginning. The practices that I learned that weekend are still part of my everyday life - because as long as I'm on this earth I will have areas I struggle in. And places where I've been hurt that I need to allow God to heal. And truth I need to let God speak to me.

As I look back on this year, I seem amazing things God has done in my life as I have allowed Him to. Relationships restored and improved that I had all but given up on. People forgiven that I thought I would never be able to forgive. Wounds by other people healed that I was sure would never stop hurting. Freedom brought in areas where I didn't think it would ever be possible.

And those things are still happening. Even this past weekend as I was there to pray for others on this journey, God had work He wanted to do in my life. Truth He wanted to speak into lies I've believed for too long.

To be honest, that's one of the things I love about these weekends. No one of us can claim to be an expert in this who has nothing more to deal with. Whether someone walks in the door for the first time or for the tenth time, we still have areas where God is working in our lives. We still have areas we need to give to God. Because it's the journey that matters, not achieving some certain level or goal.

I can't imagine life the way I lived it before. I didn't realize the chains that were holding me down. Most of all, I didn't know there was an option for anything different. Now I can't imagine going back to what it was.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sharing our Brokenness

I just finished reading a book that challenged me a lot in how I live my life and how I see the people around me. Towards the end of his book God in the Alley: Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World, Greg Paul writes,

"I am more likely to have Jesus revealed to me and through me in weakness than in strength, sinfulness than in purity, or doubt than perfect faithfulness." (pg. 109)

I had to think for a bit when I first read that, but as I thought more about it, I realized just how true it is.

As we share our stories with one another the parts that connect are frequently not the parts where we had it all together. The parts where we see and share how Jesus worked in our lives are often the times when we needed Him to step in to heal us, to perform a miracle in the midst of hopelessness, to carry us through a hard time. In short, the times where God stepped into the midst of our brokenness.

In the midst of our brokenness is when Jesus is found. It's where he often meets us most profoundly, because He understands our brokenness. Jesus Himself was brokenness. Greg Paul puts it like this in his book,

"The surprise of brokenness is not just that the Almighty allowed himself to be broken, and that he invites me to touch him there in that brokenness. It's also that my own brokenness - that hidden, ugly, twisted stuff that I expected would disqualify me forever from his friendship, and that, if it were known, would torpedo all my other relationships too - is precisely the place where he desires to touch me, and it is the place where I am most able to truly connect with other people. My brokenness, then, turns out to be a place of meeting." (pg. 110)

The last sentence of the quote really stuck with me: "My brokenness, then, turns out to be a place of meeting." It's when we share the real stories of our lives - the mess, the pain that God has redeemed - that we are able to really connect with each other.

As long as we're trying to look like we have it all together and the people around us are doing the same thing, we'll never really connect. We'll always have relationships that stay at the surface level, nothing going deep. But, we were created for relationships that go deep. And that going deep comes from sharing our brokenness.

I can't think of a way to sum this all up without once again returning to Greg Paul's words in God in the Alley, as he says it better than I could:

"When I admit my brokenness and enter into more intimate relationships with God and his people, I am less inclined to judge others' brokenness. Instead, I can dignify it, recognizing and mourning the deep pain and alienation that is the inevitable result of being sinful people living in a sinful world but rejoicing also that we together in this, and that God is with us, meeting us at the very point of our need. Essentially, this is simply the practice of confession, and confession is truly good for the soul. It releases me from the pressure of having to pretend to be other than I am. And that honestly forbids me from requiring very much of others.

"When I see that my brokenness, once acknowledged, becomes a place of meeting and an opportunity to dignify rather than dismiss or degrade others, I also discover that my heart soars with the great hope that all my brokenness is ultimately redeemable in other ways as well. What God doesn't finally burn away, he will turn into gold and silver and precious stones. He will perfect me, too, through his suffering. My suffering, my brokenness, will ultimately be much more than merely a series of painful experiences and personal failing to be survived; by the alchemy of grace, God will transmute it all into something of eternal value and beauty.

"Suffering without meaning is the path to despair. Suffering with meaning is the trail to glory. And Jesus is the pioneer on that trail. There's no place we can go that he hasn't already been." (pg. 110-111)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Importance of Our Stories

I spent the weekend away at a retreat with a group of ladies from my church. I've grown to love these weekends and I make them a priority when they come up. There's just something about getting away from everyday life that is necessary sometimes. A chance to get away to laugh and learn and encourage each other without interruptions.

On Saturday afternoon a group of us went for a walk along the lake. Up in the mountains in the midst of God's amazing creation. We talked and laughed as we walked. So much beauty surrounding us.

Great conversation as we walked. Getting to know one another more. Sharing parts of our stories with each other. Sharing what God has done in us.

Driving to and from the retreat was more great conversation in the midst of God's beautiful creation. Share stories of God in our lives, with no interruptions.

On Sunday night, my weekend wrapped up by going to a baptism service at my church. More stories of people's journeys with God. More sharing hos God has worked.

Those stories Sunday night represented just a small number of the many stories of 25 years of ministry where we are located as a church. A fraction of the stories of God working in people, transforming them into His image.

As I reflect on this weekend, I'm reminded of the importance of our stories. Of the importance of sharing our story with others.

We were created with a place in God's larger story. Our story fits into the larger one where we all have a place. But we might miss how we fit if we never share our stories.

There is a reason why we want to go to things where we can hear the stories of God at work in the lives of other people. We were created to share our stories with each other.

Sometimes when we share our story with others or we listen to someone share their story with us, something makes sense for the first time. Something that hasn't made sense before suddenly comes clear. We can see why something happened or how God used it.

We sometimes forget the power of sharing our stories. But, when we are reminded of it, we need to start to share our stories again.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pursue a Dream

As I thought about what to post for this day, I found that I was going back and reading some things I had posted since I started this blog. Sometimes when things to write about don't seem to be coming, I find that old posts inspire me. What I found this time, is that one of the posts was the one I wanted to share today.

I originally posted this on November 19, 2011. It's about pursuing our dreams and the excuses we make for not doing so. But, the reality that we can make all the excuses we want, but we have to choose to pursue our dreams even though everything doesn't seem to be right for doing so.

So here's the post I wrote then. May it encourage and challenge you in pursuing your own dreams.


A couple of days ago, I read a quote that challenged me and made me think. It talked about putting dreams on hold when we have things to work on in our lives.

"One of the lessons I have learned in six and a half decades of life is that very few dreams should go on hold while you improve the shortcomings of your life. ... To be sure, there are times when you need to stop what you are doing and focus on conquering a flaw. But of you wait till all your shortcomings are remedied, you dreams will die. All our advances are with a limp.
If you wait till you are beyond criticism to pursue your dream, you will never do it. You won't marry or stay married. You won't decide to have children or raise them. You won't take your first job or keep it. You won't go into missions or stay there. ... Few things paralyze people more than their own imperfections. And there are always people around to remind you of your flaws and suggest you can't move forward until you're better." (John Piper, Bloodlines)

When I read that, it seemed like all my excuses for not pursuing my dreams were shot down in a couple of paragraphs. How often do we do exactly that? We have a list of things in our lives that we feel we have to fix before we can even begin to think about pursuing our dreams.

And the reality is that when we think that way, we often don't ever get around to pursuing our dreams. We just continue to have more things we need to work on. Or the time it takes us to feel like we have actually fixed anything is just long enough that we lose enough of the excitement for our dream that we don't follow through on pursuing it.

The sentence from the quote that seemed to jump off the page at me was: "All our advances are with a limp." There is incredible truth in that statement. We don't move forward in life perfectly. As we pursue our dreams, we will make mistakes and we discover things about ourselves that we need to change or "fix." We do move forward with a limp. The important thing is that we do move forward.

What are your dreams? Are you pursuing them? Why are you not pursuing them? What would it take for you to begin to pursue them?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Freedom? A Prison Cell? Or Both?

"Living free but from a prison cell"
(All You've Ever Wanted, Casting Crowns)

I haven't been able to get that line out my mind since the first time I heard the song.

"Living free but from a prison cell"

I think it's far more true than we would care to admit, even though, at first listen, it may not seem to make sense. But, if we think about it for a while, we can't help but see the reality of it.

God sets us free from the things that used to imprison us. He breaks the chains that held us down and opens the door of our prison. But, instead of getting up and walking out the open door, we stay in our prison cell. We're free, but we' staying in the prison cell.

It sounds ridiculous, but it's what we often do. And I can't help but wonder what God thinks when He watches us do this.

He loves us enough to pay the ultimate price for our freedom. I wonder if He looks at us with compassion, longing for us to walk out the open door. Longing for us to really live in the freedom He has brought in our lives.

Where has God brought freedom in your life?

Where has God opened the prison door for you?

How you walked through the open door to really live in the freedom God has brought? Or are you trying to live out the freedom within the confines of the prison cell, completely missing the open door?