Don’t Neglect the Bridges

Don't NeglectThe Bridges(1)

If you drive along the coastline, especially after a rather busy hurricane season, you will see docks that have been damaged by the storm or by time.  Keep driving that route and eventually some of the docks are repaired and yet others continue to fall apart.  I’ve never understood how someone would let their dock completely fall apart.  It seems easy enough to repair, and better to repair them fast before the damage grows.  There is one in particular that has been so forgotten about that the walkway is completely gone and the posts look like nothing more than stumps peeking over the water.

Why am I so bothered by these dilapidated docks?  Because they are bridges between the land and sea.  I can walk out to a depth that I couldn’t reach otherwise.  They allow me to take in the smell of the salt air, dip my toes in the water, gather with friends, or get into a boat and set sail.  Since I don’t live on the water, I have an outsiders perspective.  I don’t take the dock for granted, because I just know that if I could live there… I’d be out there every day.  I know this because I remember spending summers on a lake and doing just that.  In fact, any time I get a chance to walk a dock or boardwalk, I’ll take it.  There is such beauty to be found.

However, to the person that owns the property, there may be a difference of opinion.  Maybe they never cared about or used the dock in the first place.  Perhaps it came with the property, but since they didn’t own a boat and didn’t like to fish, the dock didn’t have much purpose or reason for them.  It could be that the cost of upkeep on the dock was just more than they could afford or not high on their priority list.   So the dock is left to rot, the bridge between land and see falls away.

If you spend any time speaking with me about ministries within the church, you will find that I often refer to them as bridges.  Ministries are the docks that are anchored to the church and reach out into the sea of our communities.  Our leaders, volunteers, and members can step out onto the dock and walk toward a sea where they can be fishers of men.  This bridge between church and community, is a pathway that connects the two in a very specific way.

Such ministries (or bridges) are recovery groups, youth groups, children’s ministries, food pantries, women’s ministries, and so on.   Imagine the church is a fortress on an island, a refuge from the storms in the world.  From this island fortress, are several docks that work as bridges to the sea of people who are in need of Christ, in need of a safe community.  There will be those who come running for help, hopping in boats and chartering their way to the docks, rushing in the doors.  But, what about the ones who are stranded on the distant shore?  They need someone who is willing to get in the boat and come for them.  What about the person who was tossed into the sea of circumstance, they can no longer see the shore and they are eyeing the horizon for something to grab onto?

There is a tension between those who are in the body and the leadership about “programs”.  A desire from the leadership to not have a church that is “program” driven, where the people come for the message and connect into small groups.  However, this concept really works best among those who already have a concept of what church is and how it works.  They know the protocol.  Visit the church.  Become a member.  Join a Small Group.  It doens’t work nearly as well for the person who comes from an unreached community, where the safe fortress looks overwhelming and intimidating. They are not ready to be swooped up by fishing nets and cast into the throws of the community.  Instead, they need a bridge to cross.

On the flip side, we can throw all of our money, time, and resources at programs just because that is what the people want.  That is not being a good steward.  What we need is balance between having the correct bridges that lead people in the right direction.  What good is a dock or a bridge that leads a person down a path that goes nowhere and serves no purpose?  Therefore, we can not afford to have programs for the sake of programs, to look busy, or meet every person’s request.  Instead, we have programs that serve as a bridge from the community to the church, and the church to the community.

Just as I am saddened to see broken down docks along the coastline, I am equally saddened to see the neglected bridges of the church.  Huge, beautiful buildings, where we under utilize the space that God has given us.  Rooms that are left to degrade because no one uses them, turned into storage, covered in dust.  Those are rooms that should be teeming with life.  Bible studies, men’s groups, women’s groups, support groups, etc.  What a terrible waste of the gift God has given us, a building, when we let it sit empty and unused. 

Then there are the leaders who have been given gifts and talents, but forgotten about and left to wane in the waters.  They feel the call to lead, they feel the need in the waters that surround them.  Instead of being bolstered up, they are forgotten about and discarded.  Eventually wearing down to a point where they are no longer of any use, given up to the sea.  Desperately wanting to reach those who are looking for a solid place to land, but lacking the support to do so.

We can not afford to neglect our bridges.

We can not afford to let our buildings go to waste, nor our leaders.  We are in a time where generations are falling away from the church.  It is a time where the “Dones” are leaving the church in mass exodus.  We are desperately seeking how to bring in new members and hold onto our existing ones, but relying on worshiptainment to be the answer.  And, completely unaware that as we throw our money and resources into the superficial draw, we are letting our bridges burn to the ground.  We create a single pathway into the door, and sadly it is only going to appeal to a certain type of person, with a certain type of need. 

When a church embraces the smaller ministries within it, seeing them for what they are… bridges to the community… then we create multiple pathways for different types of people, with different types of needs to cross. 

Today, we know that depression is on the rise.  People are reporting in startling numbers that they feel alone in this world, disconnected.  It seems so impossible, with social media and text messaging keeping us just a key stroke away.  Yet, the statistics support that despite our virtual connectedness… we feel alone, we feel lonely, we feel disconnected, and we desperately are seeking to fill that void.

The correct response for the church, in my opinion, is that we need to create more bridges that welcome in different people and meet their needs.  Which now, more than ever, includes a need of community and connection.  Stop neglecting the bridges and instead give them support, financial backing, and opportunity.  Use the buildings we have been blessed with, embrace the leaders that God has gifted with talents and placed in your pews.

Let’s face it, when it comes to Biblical knowledge, we have never had so many resources available to us.  I can sit in front of my computer at any time of day and queue up an infinite number of Pastors sermon’s to read or watch.  I can learn from the Pastor in my home town, and across the world.  I have unlimited access to praise and worship music, online lyrics to follow, and I can even pick and chose the rendition that I prefer.  I can customize my playlist to my hymnal preferences, contemporary leanings, or a peppering of the two.  Between printed books, ebooks, articles, and resources I can read the Bible, study it in depth, and find the answer to any question I have with just a few key strokes and Google.

However, what none of these things can provide for me is the community that comes with a congregational family.  A sense of belonging, community, and family.  A connection that has to be fostered beyond the Sunday morning “shake your neighbor’s hand”.  In the few minutes before and after service, I don’t have a chance to make real connections with people to turn a church building into my church home.  I need opportunities that allow me to get to know others better, and deeper.  Places where are not just learning together, but serving together. 

It is a hand and hand approach, ministries and the church.  So perhaps, it is time we take better care of them.

Chronicling 40: Day 4 of 365

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One of the things I have come to realize recently is how disconnected I am from my own community.  What I mean by that is my specific neighborhood and surrounding areas.  When we moved to our current city, we knew absolutely no one.  We had been given a few church recommendations, that just didn’t work for our family.  Through a chance encounter at a park, I met a woman who invited me to a local MOPS group.

We had only been living in the area a matter of months, when I found out I was going to have another baby.  Since pregnancies are not easy on me, I was home a lot.  Thus, I didn’t really connect to anyone in my immediate community.  By the time I met this mom, I had a brand new baby and was desperate to get out of the house and make new friends.  A MOPS group being hosted in a church would mean that I could build up a group of moms who shared the same values as I did.  I envisioned our children being friends, our husbands too.

The hitch in this plan is that the church was actually in a neighboring county, albeit close in proximity.  I didn’t think this would be a big deal.  Additionally, most of the moms in this group were just starting their families.  I entered in with our last child.  This created a gap in the ages of our children, to an extent.  Please understand these were just hitches in the plan, not any negativity about the group at all.  These are wonderful women, many I am still in touch with and see occasionally.

The problem came in as our lives began to change.  It was convenient to drive to the next county when none of us had kids in school or to find a park in the middle to meet at for lunch.  Once the kids began attending school, and time became more strained… the travel time was a little less convenient.  The kids were not as close as they once were, as my kids were attending school in a different county.  Once I was graduated out of MOPS, often the only time they would see each other was during Sunday services.  There was just a very natural parting.  It happens.  That is ok.

In the last year, I started to notice things.  I noticed how close the kids were who were in the same schools, the families were that lived in the same county.  We didn’t have that same closeness.  We lived just far enough away to make it difficult to have that same connection.  I realized, however, that I had done a really poor job of connecting into my local community once I was not part of the MOPS group.  Perhaps I thought that the weekly connection in the church would be enough to sustain?  Or, perhaps having three kids so apart in age, it was just difficult connecting into anyone school community because our time is so divided.  (We have had three kids in three schools for quite some time now).

I began to feel almost burdened by our lack of connection to our community.  This grew each month as my eyes opened wider.  I never run into anyone I know at the grocery store.  I don’t have a neighborhood friend that I can go walking with.  Swinging by for coffee takes effort and planning.  Going to meet up with others means that I also have to factor in my travel time, which usually means I must arrive late or leave early.  This was an environment I created for myself, and didn’t even realize it.

I’m not a total hermit in my own neighborhood.  I know some people by name, I can tell you who has lived here the longest, we wave at each other, have mailbox conversations, etc.   Still I long for a different kind of relationship with the people on my street.

Case in point… found out that a family who lives on my street and I were going to the same church.  Only found this out in the last month.  How crazy is that?

Ultimately all of this has had an effect on us as a family, and we have been trying to decide exactly what to do about this.  It’s been weighing on us for some time.  How do we connect locally?  How do we give our kids a change to build real friendships?  What can we change?

The first answer to this question, was probably the hardest to make… and one we have been struggling with for some time.  This was the decision to leave our church of eleven years, really the only one we have attended since moving here.  Our 3 children were baptized in this church.  We have invested so much service into this church.  We have made so many great connections, and have grown in this church.  To leave is an incredibly difficult decision, and yet one shrouded in such peace.

Right decisions are not always easy decisions.  Peace doesn’t always mean easy decisions, either.  It is peace in spite the sadness that affirms this is the right move for our family.

My husband and I were both experiencing this call to move from our church, yet we had not shared it with one another.  It was a thought rolling through our minds, but I suppose we were both uncertain of how the other would receive the idea.  Finally one night my husband started sharing with me, and I realized that we were of one mind.  I was feeling the same way, having the same thoughts, feeling the same call.

We spent several days talking over these feelings, just between the two of us.  This is a big decision for a couple to make, but even more so when there are kids involved.  How would they feel?  Then one day, coming home from school, we passed by a local church.  One of my children asked if we could visit that church.  That began the conversation with our kids about possibly changing church, and a surprise for us at how open they were to the idea.

I remember a few years back speaking to my Pastor’s wife about moving and how it impacts children.  She told me then that God has always taken care of her kids when they have moved.  I believe that to be true, and the Lord had already softened our kids hearts.  He was preparing us for the time the call to move would come, and I fully believe that is why everything unfolded the way it did.  When we were all ready, when the timing was right, He prompted the conversations to begin.

I am very excited about what is to come, and how we will begin to plug into our immediate community.  I’ve been taking the time to learn about my community demographics, connecting with ministries serving our community, learning about our local churches, and even reading up on how others have done the same thing.

If you have done anything to intentionally connect to your local community… I’d love to hear about it!  Comment with your ideas, suggestions, and experiences.

I’ve been looking at the “Teal Table Project” as one idea too.  If you have done this, I’d love to hear about how you got the ball rolling and how it has worked out for you.

This is my neighborhood.  These are the people of my neighborhood. It’s time we are apart of this neighborhood.

Lead Me…

MBA

This isn’t going to be long, or all that profound.  Just a reminder.

Leaders need to be led too.

Your leaders are spending a lot of time leading others, make sure that someone is leading them… pouring into your leaders, on a regular basis.

Your leaders are pitchers that fill up the empty cups they serve.  Empty cups can’t be filled by an empty pitcher.  Someone must pour fresh water into the pitcher, so that it can continue to serve.

What do you do, in your church or ministry, to fill up and refuel your leaders?

Why Do We Have to Choose

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Due to social media we have a window into the lives of everyone’s opinions about what happens in the world.  We learn about the issues that are the closest to their hearts, the social plights that burden them at night, where they lean politically, and even those little every day pet peeves.  Everyone we are connected to also learns these things about us.  It’s a constant flood of opinions, editorials, pleas for activism, calls for change, fundraising requests, petitions, and news shares that are peppered in among pictures of our kids, meals, and fun.

What I have also noticed is that there is a lot of assumptions being made.  It seems like every major issue is cut and dry.  You are either for it, or against it.  At times it also feels like if you choose to support one issue, then everyone assumes that is the only issue that matters to you.  As if we can’t feel just as passionate about a myriad of issues.  Why do we have to choose?  Does the Lord not give us eyes big enough to see the whole world?  Does He not give us a heart big enough to break for more than just one person or cause?

Then I think about how the Lord talks about the gifting of spiritual gifts, how everyone gets their own gifts at His discretion and each of us will use our gifts for different purposes under His direction.  If all of us were to hold the same issue dear to our hearts, say homelessness, then yes we could eradicate homelessness.  But what about addicts, those in prison, the foster system, those who are ill, the abused, and all of the other broken aspects of the world?  We can’t have a world full of doctors only, we need plumbers and electricians too.

I think it is reasonable to believe the the Lord will burden each of our hearts a bit differently, towards certain causes or people.  He disperses the burden so that we don’t forget about the widow when caring for the orphan, or forget the alien when we care for the invalid.  We need to be careful not to assume that just because the Lord has bent someone’s heart toward a specific cause that they don’t have a concern for others.

And, we should be grateful that the Lord has many workers to go out into the broken world.

Boxing In Spiritual Gifts

A few days ago, I was reading a post on Facebook from a fellow leader.  She was lamenting over the fact that she had just had a conversation with a person in the church about having an intentional relationship with their youth.  He was sharing ideas on how’d he would like to become active in their lives.

It was either in the midst of the conversation, or shortly there after, that this leader became aware of a need in the church.  A Sunday School teacher for the teens would not be able to make service, she thought of this man, and reached out to him to fill in.  He said no and she was disappointed in his response.  She continued her lamenting, pointing out that teens want to see they are valuable and people want to invest in them.  She was disappointed this man couldn’t see it.

It is easy to look at that situation and feel that there was a bit of hypocrisy on the part of the man.  One second he is talking about investing in the lives of the youth, but when an opportunity presented itself he found the exit as quickly as possible.  However, I saw something very different.  What I saw was a man who was willing to step in and share his gifts and talents with the youth, and instead was being funneled into serving in an area that is not his gifting.

I’ve seen this in the church before.  I’ve experienced it myself.

As a woman, and a mother, one of the very first places churches have wanted to put me to work as a volunteer is in the children’s ministry or VBS.  There is an assumption that because I am a woman and have children of my own, that this is where my gifting is.  Hardly.  Or, perhaps this just happens to be a space in the church where there is a need and I visibly have all the qualifications.  Either way, I can tell you that to date I have never had anyone in church leadership sit down with me and talk about my gifting and how to use it in the church.  Instead, I have waited until I saw a need that I felt I could fulfill.

My husband once volunteered at a church in our home town, reaching out to the Pastors to see where he could be of service.  They never accepted his offer, and to this day have no clue on how much a blessing my husband would have been.  Even being as involved in churches as I am, I’ve never witnessed leadership take an effort to get to know my husband and his gifting.  Oddly enough the one occasion that I can think of, where someone reached out to my husband for his assistance… my husband handed the phone to me because I was actually the one more qualified to answer.  Clearly despite being apart of that community for over ten years, they really didn’t know either of us.

The crazy thing is that we call ourselves “the body”, and scripture tells us that every person in the body is given Spiritual Gifts… to be used in accordance to God’s will.  Yet, by and large, we are consistently limiting the use of those gifts to the areas WE think they are best used.  Or, dismissing gifts we don’t see the need for and asking people to serve outside of their gifting to fill up the holes on our volunteer rosters.

Statistically we know that in most churches, 90% of the work is done by 10% of the people.  Some sites argue it’s more like 80% done by 20%, but the point stands.  In every church 80-90% of it’s members are not using their gifts in the church.  Yes, some have been called to use their gifts outside of the church through various ministries and organizations.  None the less, it’s crazy to think that the overwhelming majority of the body is atrophied.

In the human body, when a person is in a coma or paralyzed, the muscles atrophy.  Why?  Because they are not being used.  So, these muscles begin to deteriorate.  In nature, when an animal no longer needs certain aspects of their body, they evolve to future generations that don’t have those body parts.  It is why we have blind cave fish.  Since they have lived in caves so long, absent of the sun, they no longer need their vision due to swimming in complete darkness.

What I see in our churches today is a LOT of atrophy.  Parts of the body that are no longer working because they haven’t been used.   They become comfortable writing their tithing checks, dropping of donations for the local Christmas present drive… but that is about it.

We MUST become intentional with our members, helping them to identify what their spiritual gifts are.  However the work doesn’t end there.   Once we know what the gifts are, we can then figure out how these gifts can bless our church or community.  As leaders, however, we have to realize that we are not the ones who get to pick and choose the gift based on our own/organization needs.

We must stop boxing in the Spiritual Gifts,

labeling them according to what we think we need.

This is incredibly important, especially with our desire to engage the millennials into our church community.  Millennials desire to be a part of something, active participants.  The want to be a part of a church that isn’t just talking the talk, but walking the walk.  Which means our numbers grow and millennials begin to fill those pews… we MUST have opportunities for them to use their gifts.

There is no way we can accommodate all of these new volunteers if we expect to plug them into the same old volunteer roles.  What a prime time to expand our ministry offerings.

  1. Take the time to get to know your new members and their spiritual gifts.
  2. If they don’t know what their spiritual gifts area, help them figure it out through spiritual gifts testing.
  3. Talk to them about how they see themselves using their gift in the community or church.
  4. Build connections between members who share gifts, or organizations that you know could benefit from those gifts.
  5. Lessen the load on your paid staff by pairing them up with those who have gifts and talents that can be a blessing to them.

 

 

 

Marginalizing Spiritual Gifts – #Write31Days

MBA

We’ve been taught that good things come in small packages.   If your husband presents you with a small box on your birthday, instinctively you know that it contains a piece of jewelry.   We’ve learned that often the big boxes hold things like new bed sheets or a set of pots and pans.  Or, your favorite candy bar that has been repackaged into umpteen dozen boxes because someone believes he has a sense of humor.  Nonetheless, it is a conditioning that tells us that we can’t assume how good the gift is based on the size of the box.  A gift that looks professionally wrapped may contain your one hundredth neck tie.  The one still packaged in the shopping bag with the store logo on it, could be exactly what you’ve been wanting.

This is also how I see our spiritual gifts.  You can’t necessarily look at a person and determine what their spiritual gift is, or where they are destined to use it within the context of the church.

A man who looks raggedly dressed may actually have a gift of stewardship.  I think of a man who dressed modestly, people assumed he was poor, but upon his death it turned out he had several million dollars that were donated to organizations close to his heart.

The stoic looking man, who sits in the back of the church, may not say much.  Yet, when he prays the words are like a sweet offering to the Lord.  Full of sincerity and compassion, and a love of the Lord.  My Father in Law was like this.  He had a sense of humor, don’t get me wrong… but sometimes, he could be incredibly hard to have a conversation with.   Yet, when he would pray… he would weep through most of it.

That woman in the long flowing dress, you may not realize it but she has a degree in advertising design.  She is responsible for all of the materials the church mails out to the community, the signage in the church, etc.  She joyfully works on her off days on church campaigns.

As you walk down the hallways of your church building, beautiful paintings fill up the what would otherwise be blank walls.  There is an eighty year old woman, who has painted her entire life.  She blesses the church with her talent.

You just never know what the spiritual gifts are that lie under the surface of the people we see before us.  Yet, quite often… when it comes to areas of service like finances, construction, pastor searches, technology, et’al our church leaders look to the men in the body.   When they need more volunteers in the nursery, Sunday School teachers, meal ministry, holiday decorators, greeters, and VBS volunteers… they look to the women.  We have allowed ourselves to marginalize spiritual gifts by gender.  We assume based on what the package looks like, what type of gift is inside.

A friend of mine shared a scenario where a group of men and women from her church were invited to a dinner to kick off that years ministry work.  When they arrived they found the tables themed to different areas of services.  Name cards were placed at each table.  Someone in the leadership of the church had assigned all of these individuals to a ministry job in the church, without even discussing it with their volunteers.

This leader felt they could discern the individuals gifts and assign them tasks based on that discernment.  No spiritual gifts tests were administered.  No conversations happened between the leader and these various people to determine what gifts or interests they had for serving.  Even still, the people were just assigned the task without even being given an opportunity to say yes or no to the position.

When we make these assumptions we are really marginalizing the spiritual gifts based on our human perception or need.  We are too focused on filling holes in our volunteer needs than we are looking at the individual person’s gift and figuring out how to connect them to serving in the church.

Another way we can marginalize the gifts is when we allow ourselves to become hyper focused on our ministry goal.  It is almost as if we put on blinders and the only way we can see that goal being achieved is through the methods we are comfortable with, what fits in our box.  We can’t think outside of that box and any ideas that differ are cast aside.  We may even get defensive and think that anything outside of that box will take away from our vision or goal.  It too is cast aside.

If we are a body, made up of many parts, and each part having a job or purpose…

If we are all one in Christ, not Jew or Gentile, master or slave, man or woman…

If we all receive different gifts to be used for different purposes…

Then why do we hear of statistics that suggest that 80-90% of church needs are met by 10-15% of the body?  Why are more people not serving?  Why do we not have 100% of the needs being met by 100% of the body?

Because we are failing somewhere.

We are failing to recognize that spiritual gifts are not based on our genders.  We fail to see our men as capable nursery workers and children’s teachers.  We fail to see our women as capable administrative leaders, teachers, and staff members.  We fail to see past the specifics of our own vision to value the gifts and vision of others who are serving along with us.  It is almost as if we think the Lord is only capable of doing ONE thing, in ONE way, within our church or ministry walls.  As if multiple ministries can’t coexist and support each other.  We put all of our eggs into one basket.

We fail to put effort into connect with each of our members, helping them figure out what their spiritual gift is, and develop those gifts. We fail to give them a place to serve with their gift in our body or ministry.  Then, we wonder why our gifted people leave our church or move to another ministry to serve.

When we marginalize the people in our church, we are taking control of something instead of surrendering it to the Lord.

Sometimes we need the reminder that just because a ministry isn’t something we understand… or something that we personally need; doesn’t mean it is not valuable.

Sometimes we need the reminder that just because a person doesn’t show up in the exact package we expect… or doesn’t fit our defined roles; doesn’t mean they don’t have value to add.

Tend the Orchard – #Write31Days

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit,

showing yourselves to be my disciples.  John 15:8

Oh, to bear much fruit.  Good fruit.  This is a good thing for the body of believers.  In order to bear much fruit we need a few things to happen.

  • Seeds of the Word planted in good, fertile soil.
  • Daily exposure to the Son.
  • Nourishment through the Living Waters.

Our roots grow deep in the word, our tender shoots are fostered the God and the Pastors who lead the church we sit in from week to week.   We grow stronger, and then it is time for us to begin bearing good fruit, much fruit, and fruit that is long lasting.

Whether you are leading a church, a women’s ministry, or a small group… you will have an impact on how much fruit your members produce.

A careless orchardist will trim back the trees too far, which can limit their growth, limit their fruit, and even kill the tree.

A good orchardist will know how to trim to tree in a way that will encourage growth, foster repeated burst of fruit, and tend to the tree so that it continues to produce fruit for many years to come.

A few years ago, a woman I know approached a Pastor.  She had a gift and talent, and she wanted use it in her church.  He didn’t spend anytime talking with her about her offer, he responded swiftly:  “We don’t do that here. Thanks for offering.”

This past summer, I was speaking with a Pastor about the role of women’s ministry in the church.  As I shared my view on the need for women’s ministries to come up along side the Pastor’s vision, he placed his hand on my shoulder and said:  “What I want the women in my church to do, to help me the most, is to serve their husband and children well.”

A man I know spent years evangelizing on the streets of his city.  By the time he moved to a new city, he had gotten wrapped up in life, and a bit complacent.  After attending a men’s conference, he was convicted of his lukewarm Christianity and was ready to step back up to the plate.  He met with his new Pastor, confessed his complacency, and said he wanted to serve in the church.  The Pastor didn’t even take a moment to learn about this man’s background, but instead responded:  “No, brother.  Let us serve you.” 

I’ve listened to women share ideas at Women’s Ministry meetings only to have their suggestion dismissed for a myriad of reasons.  A leader who can’t see the value others can add to the ministry, looking for workers to do her bidding vs. Kingdom work.  Dismissing ideas without even listening to them in entirety.  Dismissing people who want to serve without knowing their background, credentials, or heart to serve.

In the last several years, I have spoken with many men and women who have stepped up to the plate to bear fruit, only to be trimmed back sometimes to the point of death of their dream or calling.  A person can only be rejected so many times before they stop offering.  A person can only be dismissed so many times before they stop feeling valuable.

The Bible tells us that every believe is given gifts, fruit bearing gifts.  These gifts will vary, and how they will be used will vary as well.  A leaders we have a responsibility to help those we lead identify their gift, develop that gift, and find a place to serve with that gift.

Not just some believers, but all believers.  That means when a Pastor looks over his podium to the 50 people or 5,000 people who are in his flock… each person has a gift to bear fruit.  If your body is not bearing fruit, it’s imperative to determine WHY.  If you are leading a Women’s Ministry of 15 women or 150 women, and your ladies are not bearing fruit, there must be a reason.

Before we look out to the faces we serve to place blame, we must examine ourselves as the leaders first.  Am I guilty of dismissing the gifts of service that have been offered to the ministry?  Am I guilty of dismissing people who have sought to step up to the plate and serve? Am I guilty of not recognizing the gifts in all of our members, helping to develop those gifts, and finding a place for those gifts to be used in our church or community?

A tree that has the gift of bearing fruit, can only bear good, plentiful, long lasting fruit if the conditions for this success are met.  If the Lord has planted a good seed in fertile soil, light from the Son, showers of Living Water… the roots will grow.  However, if that tree is continuously neglected by those charged to care for it and trimmed too far back, the fruit will be minimal … if any at all.

I Am Found – #Write31Days

comeout

Talk about being behind.  It’s been a whirl wind summer of discovery for me, deep thinking, faith changing… just a big summer.  I’ve been challenged a lot.  I’m seeing things a bit differently.  This study had a helping hand in opening my eyes to those around me.  It’s only a 6 week study, but one that I feel about 6 months overdue in sharing with you.  Ok, maybe not that long.

I was given the opportunity to get a sneak peek at I am Found, when Moody Publishers selected me to be a part of a launch team.  The study is now available for sale, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Is this you?

Do you long for connection, but surround yourself with walls and a closed heart?

Do you battle shame, but long to be known and deeply loved by God?  By others?

Are you hesitant to show others the real you?  Do you fear rejection?

Do you desire to just been SEEN?  Do you feel invisible to God?  Are you hiding by choice?

iamfound2

I remember walking up to the counter at my Publix Deli.  It was SWAMPED.  The line was long, patience was wearing thing, the employees were doing their best.  When my number was called, I began placing my order with the manners in which my grandmother instilled in me.  Yes ma’am.  No ma’am.  Thank you ma’am.  The woman who was serving me was worn out, you could see it in her face.  It was tired, stressed, and the line after me was growing.  When she handed me the last of my packages, I took a glimpse at her name tag.  I said “Thank you, Linda.  Have a blessed day”.

Immediately her eyes lit up, a smile appeared on her face, she relaxed just a bit.  She responded with the normal “You’re welcome” and tacked on a “have a great day too”.  Her attitude had shifted.  I believe it was because someone recognized her.  Yes, she may have been running my face through her memory trying to place me.  Do we go to church together?  Does she shop here often?   Or, perhaps it was just as simple as being noticed in the sea of the hustle and bustle, the chaos and stress.

I believe we all have a deep desire to be seen by God, by others.  We want to know that we are valued, wanted, desired.  We hope that others will recognize our gifts and talent, our hard work and dedication.  It isn’t even about having accolades tossed our way, being promoted and given a raise.  Sometimes it is literally just wanting to know that someone sees us.  Or, when we suffer that someone cares about us.

There are instances where we have created that environment because we have been shackled by guilt and carry the burden of shame.  We build up walls around us so no one sees the real us, yet at the same time we scream out for people to see the false us.  It’s almost like slight of hand.  Look at the fake me, the perfect me, who as it all together… so that you don’t see the flawed me, the imperfect me, who is barely keeping it together.

There are times we hide because we have been hurt by others.  Afraid to let people in, yet desperate to not walk through life alone.  We constantly push and pull people, in and out of our lives.

Playing hide and seek with God, or others, is no longer enough.  We want to be found.  Seen. Known.

The I am Found study by Laura Dingman is a personal journey through the scriptures, biblical truths about how God sees us and Jesus loves us.  Each week begins with a bible based teaching, followed by daily reflection, opportunities to journal your thoughts; as you explore your life.  Your shame, your identity, God’s affection, relating to Him and others, and so much more.

This is a great study for personal use, small group, or ladies study.

Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

Understanding is not Condoning

praytogetherRight now, there is a vein of pain in the United States.  Yes, the media (including social media) are quick to paint pictures without all of the facts.  Yes, there are some responses to what is happening in our country that are not RIGHT.   Yes, there are good cops out there who love and are committed to their communities.  Yes, there are people out there under the guise of “protestors” that are just trouble makers.  A predominant question I am seeing a lot of lately is about the protests that have become riots, coupled with looting.  It is a question of not understanding WHY communities are responding in such a radical… and violent way.  

Understanding what brings a group of people to this place is NOT condoning.  Understanding however does bring clarity, sympathy, and empathy.  Understanding can be the catalyst for change as more eyes open to what is happening around us.

I penned this on my Facebook page today:

If you have ever been so mad about something that you slammed a door & a picture fell off the wall and shattered…

If you have ever been so frustrated that you threw whatever was in your hand down hard on the table and it snapped in half…

If you have ever snapped back at a family member or raised your voice before you gave them a chance to speak…

If you have ever punished your child based on the evidence before you without giving them a chance to explain…

You have a FRACTION of the understanding needed to wrap your head around what is happening in Charlotte.

Sometimes it hurts… it hurts deep. It is raw and you just can’t control your actions. Right? No. Real? Yes. There are real people who are hurting right now, and it’s not because of one incident but the culmination of incidents. A boiling point.

Will there be opportunists who take advantage of this situation for their own gain? Who are not truly protesting or broken, but happy to take advantage of an opportunity to create mayhem … knowing with the # of people protesting they most likely won’t get caught? Of course.

We have a media who is happy to tell us about the long wrap sheets of these people who have been killed. Yet celebrates the accomplishments of guilty men who are let off with minimal to no consequence.

But you do have to scratch your head and wonder how in the world NY police took down the bombing suspect during a gun fight with a shot to the leg… and yet an unarmed man, walking away from the officers was such a threat that lethal force was required.

Just as much as scratching my head and wondering why a routine traffic stop has to take the life of one of our officers. Or, how the calculated attack on the Dallas officers occurred.

What this tells us is that there is still work to do. There are still strides to take forward. There is still hurt, pain, and marginalization. Just because we don’t see it here in our own lives or cities doesn’t mean it isn’t existing elsewhere.

As I have been listening to my fellow human beings talk about their experiences with racism… whether they are my grandmother’s generation or young kids… we can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. We can’t ignore it. Because, when we try to pretend or ignore… it impedes our ability to be honest and take the necessary steps to move forward.

We need to be the change.

 

Perhaps in God’s providence he is bringing forth an injustice to people whom he loves greatly that are being mistreated? He is exposing a bitter root that has gone deep and been ignored. Perhaps God is saying to his people STOP … LISTEN… and be my hands and feet. Stand up to injustice of all types. Maybe we are not in chaos and confusion, but instead the Lord is dropping the scales and opening our eyes to hurt, pain, and suffering of a group of people who are created in His image. Perhaps the Lord is calling us to STAND up for what is right, honorable, noble, and good. And in our stubbornness to see the sin before our eyes… we had to be shaken from our stupor.

Lord, I pray for our communities… the people who live in them and those who serve to protect them.  Let there peace and calm that comes, let real conversations happen that lead to healing and growth.  Let us more forward and not backward. Protect us from those who mean us harm.  Open our eyes to injustice.  Let us stand united, every color… civilians and officers… for good.  Amen.