February 26, 2008

Just Say "Yes!"

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone and she (or he) said, “You, know, I wish I had more to do. I’m just not busy enough.” Can’t think of one? Me neither.

Face it, we’re busy. We’re on call, online, uplinking, uplifting, downloading, downsizing, multitasking and multiplying what seems like 24/7. We cram as much as we can into each day and still wish there were more hours to use.

So, what happens when that still small voice of God nudges you to do something more? To do something that adds to your already overflowing “to-do” list? That asks you to take a step into the unknown or unfamiliar?

If you’re like me, your natural response is probably to ignore the voice or to wonder in shock and indignation, “Me? Are you talking to me? Can’t you see I’m kind of busy here? Plus, God, in case you didn’t realize—I don’t have the tools for the job. You’ve seen my resume. I’m not qualified.”

But what if we say, “Yes! Yes, Lord, I will do it. I will follow your leading even though it’s not convenient or comfortable. I choose to trust you.”

This past weekend at the women’s conference at Woodside about seventy women, myself included, got to see what happens. Wow!

What started as an urging in one person, spread to the entire small group and soon they all said, “Yes! Let’s do something big for God. Let’s host a women’s conference.” Did they have prior experience with an event of this sort? No. Were any of them professional speakers? No. Were they bored and looking for more to do? No!

But they heard and believed that God called them to step outside of their hectic lives and comfort zones to “encourage one another and build each other up.” (1 Th 5:11) So this group of ordinary women planned, prayed and pulled together resources to make this idea come to life. And they asked others to join them. Sixteen other ordinary women put aside their busy schedules, stepped into an unfamiliar place and said, “Yes. I’ll lead a workshop on a topic I feel informed or passionate about.” Others said, “Yes, I’ll help where you need me.” Soon an idea became a conference. And a conference became an experience. And in the experience people saw Jesus—with a little skin on him.

Ordinary planners. Ordinary singers. Ordinary presenters. Ordinary women. All honoring an extraordinary God.

I was there and can testify that the day was amazing. Wow! Thank you Heartwarmers for saying Yes!” to God and leading us into deeper knowledge and love of Jesus by your powerful example.

Right now you may feel that still small voice urging you to do something—go on a mission trip, start a small group, volunteer at a shelter, tutor, evangelize, organize, speak, write, lead, whatever—but you don’t think you have the time or feel qualified. Remember, you’re in good company. The Bible and history is filled with ordinary men and women who thought, “Uh, God, I think you got the wrong person. I can’t do this.”

Maybe you can’t, but He can.

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13).

Trust Him. Say “Yes!”

February 21, 2008

And One For All — Part 2

Passion for anything, especially God, is wonderful, but it can also lead to singular thinking, inflexibility and a closed mind. Remember the 33,000 Christian denominations worldwide? My guess is there might be some inflexibility there.

I am a fairly opinionated person and I am passionate about my faith (i.e. I can become inflexible and closed-minded). I tend to have conversations with others who see God through the same lens I do. We worship similarly, think similarly, read the same kinds of books, etc. I am reaffirmed by these encounters and often find myself nodding in agreement. Based on my experiences and explorations I created a box (probably more of a fenced yard) to put God in. He fit nicely.

I know, as you do, that there are lots of other viewpoints among Christian churches, but we don’t go there. For the most part we stay in our comfort zones and keep God in the boxes we’ve put Him in.

But, what happens when we encounter someone who sees God differently than we do—quite a bit differently? And their God doesn’t fit into our box.

A while back, God brought some people into my life that challenged me on this very point. At first I respected the differences we had, mostly because we didn’t talk deeply about our faith. But once the conversations started and the seemingly great differences started to come to light, I was conflicted. I felt deep down that what I thought was right and what my friends thought was…well…wrong.

I felt this way for a long time, subtly trying to convince them of my points of view until eventually, God started to do a work on my heart. He let me see that He is WAY bigger than my ability to comprehend Him (and the box I put Him in).

A wise person told me that, like a diamond, God is multi-faceted. Through time different churches have focused on different facets of God (love, suffering, knowledge, relationship, etc.) Problems arise when we think the facets that we see are all of God.

Through his wise counsel and some painful lessons, God humbled my heart and opened my eyes to how awesome He really is. I saw that just because I thought one thing and my friend thought another didn’t mean I was right and she was wrong or vice verse. What mattered most wasn’t HOW we got there, but THAT we got there—to God through Jesus.

Unlocking my fenced yard and letting God out has been hard, but in the end it’s worth it because I want to know Him more than I want to be right (or comfortable).

God is truth and truth is hard. There will never come a time when someone says, “Aha! I got it! You all can stop searching, I figured out God.”

As Rob Bell says in his book, Velvet Elvis, “The Christian faith tradition is filled with change and growth and transformation. Jesus took part in this process by calling people to rethink faith and the Bible and hope and love and everything else, and by inviting them into the endless process of working out how to live as God created us to live. The challenge for Christians then is to live with great conviction, remaining open and flexible, aware that this life is not the last painting (of God).”

The Pharisees were passionate. They were confident, righteous and proud of their intimate knowledge of God. Yet when they encountered Jesus, they missed Him. He didn’t fit into the box that they created for God so they rejected the Truth when it stood right before them.

I know I don’t want to do the same thing!

February 19, 2008

All for One -- Part 1

Cat-lovers vs. Dog-lovers
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Pack vs. Da’ Bears
Ohio State vs. Michigan
Mac vs. PC
Republicans vs. Democrats
Mars vs. Venus
Early birds vs. Night owls
Punk vs. Disco
Down the shore vs. Up the mountains

When I was younger, my best friend (a cat lover) and I (a dog lover) would often argue which made superior pets: cats or dogs. No matter how many times we went round and round, we always ended up exactly where we started—each of us firmly entrenched in our original positions, wondering how the other could be so blind to what was so obvious. We felt sure that the other was…well…wrong.

Rivalries seem to be built into the fibers of our beings. We love what we love and we’re not shy to tell others about it. We proclaim our passions on our clothes, cars, houses, yards and children. And in this day and age of permanent self-expression—even tattooed on a limb or torso for all to see. And when “rivals” encounter one another, the exchange might be good-natured or perhaps a bit more passionate (picture the Linc at an Eagles-Cowboys game!). Either way, we can’t help feeling that our views are “correct” and the other person is…well…wrong.

This is all well and good except when we bring this singular thinking and passion into the Church. Maybe it’s because I am more aware of these things now than I used to be, but it seems like there is a good bit of us vs. them among believers.

Evangelical vs. mainline denominations
Catholic vs. Protestant
“Happy clappy” vs. “Bells and smells”
Charismatic vs. intellectual
Traditional vs. contemporary
Literal vs. metaphorical

Shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26b). What started out as one church, spreading like wildfire from city to city, has become thousands and thousands of denominations. A quick check on Wikipedia lists more denominations, branches and sects than I could count (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations). According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, within Christianity there are over 33,000 denominations worldwide. And over 6,000 in the United States alone. I’m no Bible scholar, but that’s a lot of denominations!

Each one exists because of disagreements or dissatisfaction with what existed. Sometimes branching off leads to further growth of the Church. Even Paul and Barnabas disagreed and parted ways, resulting in the Good News reaching places it might not have if they stayed together. Martin Luther started a revolution that brought the Bible to people in their own language and allowed people to connect with God in ways they hadn’t before.

But even Martin Luther probably never imagined over 6,000 Christian denominations in the U.S. alone?
Who is served by all of splintering? Us or God? Are we honoring Him or are we defining and thereby controlling God in a way that makes us comfortable? It certainly looks like a lot of believers think a lot of others are…well…wrong.

To be continued…

February 14, 2008

“You Complete Me.”

Such a simple word. Such a complex experience.

Contrary to the creators of Valentine’s Day, a dozen roses, a candlelit dinner or even diamond jewelry is not what love is about.

Human love is complex. And it means different things at different times with different people. We love our children in a different way than our spouse. And our spouse differently than our parents. And our parents differently than our friends.

Our society bombards us with simplistic, distorted images of love—romantic, parental and platonic. With no better model, we set these examples in our minds and compare our reality to them. But, something doesn’t add up. Instead of feeling “complete” we feel let down.

Our loved ones disappoint us. They hurt us. They reject us. They leave us. They forget our birthdays. They don’t respond the way we want them to. Our feelings get in the way. We think, “If he loved me, he would know better.” or “She wouldn’t do that if she loved me.”

Love can bring out the best in us, but it can also bring out the worst—our insecurities, jealousy, ego, need for control, past hurts, addictions and on and on. We unfairly expect the people who love us to make us whole, to validate us and to expertly navigate the complex inner workings of “us.” When they fail we feel betrayed. And often a dissonant duet of self-pity and self-righteousness crescendos in the background.

But, guess what? Our significant others, family and friends don’t do this because they don’t love us; they do it because they’re broken and imperfect too.

One of the most life-changing sentences I’ve ever read was the first line of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life—“It’s not about you.” (Really?! I kind of thought it was.)

This is so true when it comes to love. For contrary to what Hollywood (and society) tells us, there isn’t a man or woman on Earth who can “complete us.”

But there is One who can—Jesus.

He is our model of perfect love. When others let him down or treated him badly (and did they ever!), he didn’t get his feelings hurt, base his self-esteem on their behavior or harbor bitterness. He actually loved the offenders more. Even as He hung on the cross in anguish and betrayal, He said of his crucifiers, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

How could He do this? Because He knew who loved Him. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:10)

When we accept Jesus, God’s gift of love, an amazing thing happens—we’re set free to love others selflessly and sacrificially. It becomes less about us and more about Him. We find that true love begins where our feelings end. And we can let our loved ones off the hook for making us “better.”

For as we cherish the embrace of our Heavenly Father we whisper, “Abba, Father, you complete me.” And pretty soon, every day is Valentine’s Day.

February 11, 2008

Lost and Found

About three and a half weeks ago I lost my cell phone. Now to some people this would be a major catastrophe akin to global warming, but for me it wasn’t a huge deal. Why? First, because I use my cell phone for my convenience and not as a way to be accessible 24/7 (Shocking isn’t it?!). And second, I tend to “misplace” things—valuable things like my purse, my wallet…and my cell phone. But, sooner or later they eventually turn up. Often because said lost object was found and returned by a Good Samaritan. (Like the time someone turned in my wallet found in a shopping cart in the grocery store parking lot!) I am living proof that good, kind people are not the exception.

So, for me, “losing” my phone was SOP (standard operating procedure). I knew it would turn up eventually.

When I realized my phone was missing, I checked its most likely locations. No luck. I looked a little harder. Still no luck. About a week or so later, I extended the search. I checked the car (again), my purse (for the tenth time), coat pockets, the laundry, under my bed (although I did find a book I’ve been looking for!), counters, the laundry room, my desk. I even offered my kids reward money if they found it. Nothing! I reconstructed where I had been and called those places. Nope. No one found it. “Hmmm?” This was odd, even in my unusual world of misplaced objects. I just knew it had to be somewhere.

But after three weeks, the inconvenience of being without a phone finally got the better of me. Last Friday I broke down and ordered a new phone. Fortunately my contract was up and the phone was free*. In a few days a new, pink cell phone with all of the latest technology was promised to my doorstep.

Getting ready for church on Sunday, I put on my cute lime green suede blazer (one that I don’t wear very often). As soon as I took it off the hanger, I knew. “Aha! I found it!” I joyfully shouted. Yep, the cell phone was in the pocket of the blazer (although I never put things in the pocket of this jacket! And I don’t even remember wearing it!)

Patience it turns out would have been a virtue.

Isn’t finding God in our lives like that sometimes? We know He must be there, but we just can’t find Him. Our search is blocked by many things—our schedules, cynicism, intellect, suffering, doubts, fears and feelings. The brokenness we hold on to—even our own efforts. So we look for God in all of the likely places and He remains elusive. And sometimes we go our own way, looking for a replacement. Patience is hard.

But often when our hearts are still and our thoughts are elsewhere, God has a way of showing Himself to us in the most unlikely and unexpected places. And in this moment we joyfully shout, “Aha! I found Him!”

"Be still, and know that I am God…” --Psalms 46:10

*Note: Except for grace, nothing in life is really free. Especially “free” cell phones!
Note: In an amazing coincidence, above referenced cute, pink cell phone was delivered by FedEx exactly twelve minutes ago!

February 9, 2008

Just the Truth. Plain and Simple.

Wow! It’s day two of my life as a blogger. I was so excited that I tossed and turned all night long. After my tennis match today, I couldn’t wait to share my good news with my tennis friends at lunch. Jumping in at the slightest pause in the conversation, I announced, “Guess what, I have a blog!” Surprisingly they actually seemed interested as I shared a bit about it. They even asked questions. Then it hit me, wouldn’t this be a great way to share my story and in turn the Good News without being preachy or self-righteous (because I am definitely not a street corner evangelizer kind of person.)

My thoughts today focus on words. Big words. Words with lots of syllables. Words that “educated” Christians use like: justification, sanctification, redemption, exaltation, propitiation, anointing, predestination, condemnation, predetermination, dispensational, tribulation and on, and on.

I think that the average person (including many church-goers) don’t have the slightest idea what any of these words really mean. Sometimes it seems that all of these fancy word and phrases make Christianity a club with its own special language. And the more mature, spiritual, educated one claims to be, the more syllables pepper their conversations. I admit I am occasionally guilty of doing this as well. Honestly, I don’t think it’s deliberate, we just forget these aren’t familiar words.

But what impression does our puffed-up talk give non-believers, seekers and new believers? It seems pretty obvious that it’s off-putting and exclusive. My guess (because I spent way more of my life as a non-Christian than a Christian) is that it turns people off. It smacks of hypocrisy. And it makes people feel inadequate (even angry). Worst of all, it makes it seem like you need credentials and an education to become a “good” Christian.

Aren’t we commanded to reach out to everyone around us, not just those who talk and think like us?

Jesus certainly did this.

He didn’t get caught up in with His stature or intelligence. Time after time he reached out to those the educated “establishment” said were not worthy. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” When he preached and taught, He didn’t use fancy language. He spoke the truth, plain and simple. (Although, sometimes it was (and still is) hard to understand.)

We need to speak so everyone can hear Jesus.

So, I vow to follow Jesus’ lead and keep the syllables to a minimum. What a wonderful treasure chest of life-giving (and life-saving) words await. Words like grace, love, hope, joy, peace, faith, repent, healing, sin, mercy, forgiveness, eternity.

I can’t wait to get started!

February 7, 2008

God Doesn't Make Mistakes

Welcome to the first installment of my blog. I'm not sure where all of this will end up, but I think it will be an interesting journey.

Really, though, why am I doing this? That's a good question. I think it will be a testament of where I was and where God has brought me to.

For much of my adult life I felt alone and like an outsider. Sure, I looked OK on the outside, but inside I was lonely and closed-off. I was blessed with a wonderful husband, children and family, but outside that I didn't really feel like I belonged anywhere. I felt broken and defective. So many days I just went through the motions, hoping that the connections and acceptance I yearned for would come. But as the years passed it got worse instead of better. And brick by brick I built a wall around myself.

Then one day, about eight years ago, my doctor called to give me test results. "You have cancer," I heard her say. In the blink of an eye, life wouldn't be the same again.

At the time I wasn't a Christian. I was cynical and intellectual and I wasn't even sure how I felt about God (even though my family and I went to church occassionally.) But having cancer and facing the possibility of dying has a way of getting one's attention—and forcing you to see differently. Through it all, cards and prayers and the kindness of others kept me going. My grandmother sent me a card in which she simply wrote, "God's love is everywhere." I read it and cried because I could see it was true. Even in the midst of this scary, uncertain experience, God's love was there. The first few bricks of the fortress I'd built around myself had been removed. The softening had begun.

My cancer was cured surgically in a few months, but it would be several years before I let go of my hurt and my cynicism toward Christianity, and let God close to my heart. I knew that God wanted me to learn something from this experience. One thing came through loud and clear, my health is a gift! This knowledge led to quite an experience. (I'll share some of those adventures in future posts.)

My "spiritual journey," if it could even be called that, was a process of two steps forward, one step back that went on for years. Until one day, I was at a program at church for my kids. The feelings of loneliness were overwhelming. With no where else to turn, I sought out the pastor. He listened to me as I poured out my heart, my fears, my hurts. Things I never admitted out loud. And then he prayed for healing. He asked the Lord to show me His love and acceptance. I was broken and I admitted it. I asked Jesus to come into my life.

Guess what, He did! And He started to heal me.

Accepting that God did NOT make a mistake when he made me has been one of my biggest hurdles to overcome. And I admit that I still struggle at times, comparing my “insides” to other people’s “outsides.” But, I know that God didn’t make a mistake because God doesn’t make mistakes. My personality, talents, interests and experiences are just as God wants them to be—and he has a plan with my name on it.

You know what? I’m pretty certain that God has a plan that uniquely designed just for you, too.

So, this is a little insight into this journey that I’m on. I have seen God use and transform me in ways that awe and humble me. I’m writing this aren’t I?

Now there’s proof that an awesome God can use an ordinary girl like me.