Proverbs 4

coffee

Some mornings, I have much to say.  Other mornings, I have nothing to say but much to hear.  This morning, the Lord spoke to me through His Word…  a good chapter to meditate on…

Proverbs 4

1Listen, my sons, to the instruction of a father;

pay attention and gain understanding.

2For I give you sound teaching;

do not abandon my instruction.

3When I was a son to my father,

tender and the only child of my mother,

4he taught me and said,

“Let your heart lay hold of my words;

keep my commandments and you will live.

5Get wisdom, get understanding;

do not forget my words or turn from them.

6Do not forsake wisdom, and she will preserve you;

love her, and she will guard you.

7Wisdom is supreme; therefore acquire wisdom.

And whatever else you obtain, gain understanding.

8Prize her, and she will exalt you;

if you embrace her, she will honor you.

9She will set a garland of grace on your head;

she will present you with a crown of beauty.”

10Listen, my son, and receive my words,

and the years of your life will be many.

11I will guide you in the way of wisdom;

I will lead you on straight paths.

12When you walk, your steps will not be impeded;

when you run, you will not stumble.

13Hold on to instruction; do not let go.

Guard it, for it is your life.

14Do not set foot on the path of the wicked

or walk in the way of evil men.

15Avoid it; do not travel on it.

Turn from it and pass on by.

16For they cannot sleep

unless they do evil,

they are deprived of slumber

until they make someone fall,

17since they eat the bread of wickedness

and drink the wine of violence.

18The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,

shining brighter and brighter until midday.

19But the way of the wicked is like the darkest gloom;

they do not know what makes them stumble.

20My son, pay attention to my words;

incline your ear to my sayings.

21Do not lose sight of them;

keep them within your heart.

22For they are life to those who find them,

and health to the whole body.

23Guard your heart with all diligence,

for from it flow springs of life.

24Put away deception from your mouth;

keep your lips from perverse speech.

25Let your eyes look forward;

fix your gaze straight ahead.

26Make level pathsa for your feet,

and all your ways will be sure.

27Do not swerve to the right or to the left;

turn your feet away from evil.

Chronicling 40: Day 10 of 365

taste

I love food.  I love the presentation of food, the smell, the texture, and the taste.  I don’t mind getting my fingers dirty because of a great slab of ribs on my plate, nor do I mind using special tools to eat unconventional foods.  All of these senses coming together in an experience that is supposed to be satisfying and enjoyable.  In fact, I love food so much that I am willing to try just about anything once.

I have sat down to a plate of food that looked anything but appetizing and ended up having one of the best meals of my life.  In contrast, I’ve also been presented a plate of well crafted foods… artwork on a porcelain plate… and barely able to take a second bite.  There have been foods that smell amazing, but the flavor was lacking (my husband feels this way about coffee, it’s ok… I’ve forgiven him).

Here is the thing, because I have an openness toward trying different foods… cuts, cooking styles, seasonings, etc… I know GOOD food.  A few years ago, I was at a cookie exchange and two women were commenting on how they brought the exact same cookies and they tasted so differently.  They compared their recipes, nothing was amiss.  So, I sampled them both and replied:  “One of you used salted butter, the other used unsalted butter.  That is what made the difference.”  Sure enough, I was right.

I know that it is not just about the ingredients but also how we cook it, you can do everything right in the preparation but then flub it up in the execution.  It happens, to the best of us.  There have been a few meals over the last 20 years that I have tossed right into the trash, as we waited for the pizzas to arrive.

There are so many pieces of scripture that compare words to food, or eating food.

Matt 4:4 says that we can’t live on bread alone but the Word of God.  Jer 15:16 speaks of the joy of drinking in God’s Word.  1 Peter 2:2 compares the Word to milk.  Hebrews 5:12,15 compares it to solid food.  Psalm 113 calls it “honey in my mouth”.  Psalm 119:11 we read of storing up His word (akin to how we store up food).  We are told that it is good for us, nourishing to our bodies and souls, we are told to keep it on our lips, to consume it.

We are also warned to be careful about the words that come out of our own mouths.  How do you words taste when they come out of your mouth?  Are they bitter?  Does it sting or burn?  Are these words that destroy and divide, or tear down another?

Delivering bad news, it is so hard to do.  Yet, it amazes me how gentle we can be when pushed into that circumstance.  The words may be hard, but they are spoken with sweetness, compassion, and love.

We can also take harmful words and try to envelop them in words that sound sweet.  It may look good, it may sound good, but the words are bitter to the taste.  We know they are harmful words and we do everything we can to hide that fact.  This reveals so much about our intentions, of wanting to say something that isn’t beneficial but also trying to avoid ownership for those words.  When we encase them to make them appear harmless or sweet, good intentioned… we can then claim ignorance, blame misunderstanding, or even try to convince the recipient that it is their perception of our words that is off.

There are other times when our words sting, and we mean them to sting.  When we are purposefully lashing out at another person.  It’s that old cliche saying of “hurt people, hurt people”.  Whether it is spoken in revenge, anger, jealousy, etc… these words are sharp and there is no mixed message about it.

I’m sure we can all agree that these three points are obvious, we’ve all encountered them.  But recently, I was made aware of another example that wasn’t quite so obvious.

If we are called to use our words to build up, encourage, unify, strengthen, in love, for peace, etc… than any use of our words otherwise is counter to that call.

The enemy seeks to destroy, to discourage, to divide, to weaken, to hurt, to cause chaos, and confusion.  He is also a liar and manipulator, who can camouflage his plans to look and sound like a good idea or path.

Would God present you with an opportunity that would cause division among your friends?  Would He call you down a pathway that would become a stumbling block for your family?  Would He call us to a purpose that would intersect and cut off the work of another ministry or organization that He has ordained?

Sometimes these ideas and opportunities sound good, Kingdom worthy, and they may “feel right”.  These opportunities may not be bad, evil, or destructive.  In fact, they can even be a blessing to the community (God makes beauty out of ashes, and redeems all things to be used for His glory).

How much of this has to do with our own desires impacting our perception of truth and calling?  I remember reading something to the effect of “God will never give you another woman’s husband.”  This guy may be our knight in shining armor, and everything could feel so right… so much so that you could almost catch your self thanking God for bringing this man in to your life.  No matter how wonderful it feels, the truth is that God would never destroy one marriage or divide a family in order to bring you a husband.  That is a slap in the face to the very character of God displayed in the scriptures.

It would not be of God’s character to give you something that He intended for someone else.  We must be very careful not to credit God with orchestrating things in our lives that are actually of our own doing, our own desires, or that contradict who we know Him to be.

I believe one way to flesh these things out is to taste the words of your intentions.  Do they taste sweeter than honey or are they bitter.  Do they flow easy from your mouth, or do you struggle to speak?  Are your words working toward something or against someone? Are these words that are surrounded in peace or are they littered with chaos and confusion?  Are you confident in the calling or are you trying to convince yourself that you have been called?

If we are leaning in close to God, praying for clarity and discernment, then I believe the Holy Spirit is going to reveal the truth.  I believe that if you have to struggle and attempt to justify yourself, you will taste that those words are not good.  You will feel it in your heart, mind, soul, and even body that you are going in a direction that is not right. You will feel weighted and burdened in a very negative way, even if you can’t put your finger on exactly what it is that you feel so bad.

But, when you are in alignment with God’s calling on your life, you will feel freedom to move forward at His pace.  There will be excitement and you won’t need to justify it to anyone (including yourself) because you will know deeply that this is the way you should go, and you will walk in it confidently.  You will not be weighted down with burden, but soaring!

So taste those words that come out of your mouth.  Before you make that phone call, or send that email, or even schedule that face to face meeting…

Say it out loud.  Don’t embellish it with fancy explanations and trying to justify it.  Speak it in plain simple facts.  Then ask yourself, how would I feel if I was the one receiving this message.  Would I feel hurt or betrayed?  Would I feel attacked or discouraged?  Do these words sound divisive or damaging?  Do these words taste bitter, are they unsavory?  Would I not want to receive this message?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then pull back and pray over this situation.  Ask for His peace and clarity over your steps.  Remember He is not a God of chaos, disorder, or confusion.  He does not change His Word or character to bend to the will of one person, He is consistent and constant.  He will not give you peace over a decision or direction that He does not intend.

If the words are bitter, if the mind is clouded in confusion… do not rush into anything but the arms of God.

Facing Rejection

rejection

Rejection stings.  No one likes to be rejected.  In the age of social media the pain of rejection knows no bounds.  I was reading a post on a popular Christian magazine’s Facebook page this morning.  We would love to think that only someone who agrees with the magazine would be posting comments on their page, that was hardly the truth.  Most of the comments were negative, pot stirrers, people who were running in with a quick cut to the jugular and then disappearing into internet obscurity.

Before social media, there were definitely people who were like this.  Mean girls who would reject your offer of friendship and then talk about you behind your back.  Today, the negative comments are thrown right in your face. You know every word they say about you.

Before social media,  you could plan a party and excitement would roll in as you received the phone calls of those who were RSVPing that they would be in attendance.  Now, you not only see the responses of those who have chosen not to attend but also what they chose to do with their time instead.  You feel rejected when a person would rather spend time at the beach than with you on your birthday.  You feel rejected when you see photos of your group of friends all having lunch together, and you were not invited.

Social media has even given rejection no accountability at all.  You can unfriend someone without having to tell them why the friendship is over.  A person can kick you out of a facebook group, without ever having to tell you what you did wrong.  You can be banned.  BANNED.  A term once applied to people who were bad news and thus banned from a certain store, restaurant, or event.  Now, any regular person can be banned from a group… for no reason at all, for no reason ever given.

And, the worst part about it…. you know that this has happened.  When you attempt to view their social media account.  Unfriended.  When you can’t even find the social media account. Banned.  You are left with unanswered questions… what did I do wrong?  I thought was being helpful?  Did someone misunderstand me?  Why didn’t they like me? 

It is easy to wallow in those questions, wondering why you have been rejected.  It some instances it can hurt as badly as someone rejecting you to your face, in other instances it may hurt worse because you don’t even know why and there is nothing you can do about it.

I learned a long time ago to stop running after those who can’t make time for you, and to focus on those who will.  We can too easily get wrapped up in being accepted by a particular person, group of friends, or even social media account… that we can forget about those who have always been by our side, supporting us, who have pursued us.

A new friend reminded me one day when I was lamenting over a rejections… “Gena, those are just not your people.”

So true.  Maybe it is the wisdom of age catching up with me, but I realize that I don’t have enough time or energy for those who are “not my people”.  And, I am learning to better recognize who truly are my people.  Who supports me.  Who can I trust.  Who allows me to be me vs. changing me to what they want me to be?  Who can allow me to grieve how I need to grieve?  Who treats me like an adult, a person, and not a project?  Who trusts that I am capable person vs. talking down to me like a child?

When you begin to set boundaries, identify who you want to bring into your circle… rejection begins to sting less.  I think, in part, because you stop inviting the pests into your sanctuary in the first place… and you are quick to get rid of the ones that slip by.

Caught

CAUGHT

“The Lord will be your confidence and keep your foot from being caught.” Proverbs 3:26

In the movies, during an action sequence, there is a go to moment that helps heighten the excitement.  The woman in high heels.  Running across train tracks… her heel gets caught.  Running along a pier… her heel gets caught between the planks.  Running across the street… caught in a manhole lid.  Running down the sidewalk… caught in a great or crack.

I’ve never been running for my life, but I have gotten my heel caught.  Once, at a bridal shower, my heel got caught multiple times.  At the hostess’ home there was a beautiful deck and my heel kept getting caught in between the wood planks.  The first time, I laughed it off.  The second time, I almost dropped my plate.  The third time, it brought me to a sudden stop and I almost created a three woman pile up.  I was embarrassed that I kept allowing this to happen.  I could have paid more attention where I stepped.

In life, there are a lot of times where I could stand to pay a bit more attention to what is happening around me.  Perhaps I could have been a bit wiser, or exercised a bit more caution.  I could have learned from my mistakes, instead of repeating them.  When others shared their wisdom with me, I could have heeded their warnings instead of digging in my heels and thinking I could do things my own way.

As a believer, I can learn a lot of practical wisdom in the pages of the Scriptures.  The more I commit myself to the Lord, dig into the Scriptures to understand His character, and dedicate myself to following His commands the more I walk in confidence, God Confidence.  I am confident in who He is, I am confident in His promises, I am confident in His direction.  When I am walking with God Confidence, I don’t have to worry about my heel getting caught.

Read twice, Reply once. Maybe. – #Write31Days

MBA

I am not a morning person.  Honestly, my brain can’t even engage in intelligent thought for a good two hours after I wake up.  To a certain degree, I’ve always been this way. But, when coupled with the brain fog of Hashimotos, it’s even a bigger issue.

About a year ago, I woke up… meandered around the house. Checked my email.  There was a notification that someone tweeted a response to an article I posted the previous day.  It was a question.  I quickly read it, answered it, and then in a matter of minutes… chaos.

The man had written the question in such a way that it was easy to misunderstand.  He was setting me up.  In my haste to answer, I fueled his fire.  I ended up at the receiving end of an onslaught of attack after attack.  As much as I can cast blame on the man for his purposeful attempt to discredit me and attack my character… I have culpability here.

I know that I shouldn’t answer questions like that so early in the morning.  I know that it takes time for my mind to engage.  I also know that it is important to really think about your responses before you put them out there.  I know that I should have reread the question, then replied… if at all.

I should have discerned what he was up to. If I had waited until I was fully awake, I would have caught on to his attempt to bait.

When ever we read something for the first time, we are tempted to respond.  I have found, and learned the hard way, that is better to take a step back first.  Re-read the comment, question, or even entire article.  Make sure you fully understand before you comment.

I have also learned that sometimes it is better to NOT comment.  I do not need to respond to every invitation to debate.  I don’t always need to share my two cents.

There is also a lesson in making sure that before you respond, you read the whole article or comment.  I’ve witness people respond to something they read in just the first few paragraphs, and had they read the whole thing they would have had a different opinion.

Be wise.

One last thing, from a life lesson a friend learned the hard way.  When you respost an article, if you do not make any comment with it… you are by default seen as agreeing with it.  That means do NOT repost something with the intention of reading it later. You may be inadvertently telling your circle that you agree with the contents.  You may be spreading false information before you had a chance to verify it.  If you are on FB, you can “save the post” and read it later without posting it to your wall/feed.  If it came via link on other social media, copy the link and email it to yourself.  You could save yourself a LOT of trouble.  My friend almost lost her job over it.

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.

We Need Roots to Grow, To Fruit.

Have you been there?  In the place where the Lord has given you a talent and calling, and yet you don’t ever seem to be able to actually USE it?  It can be a very confusing time, frustrating even.  Perhaps, however, our eyes have been to focused on the finish line that we neglected the process to get there.

I just finished reading Banning Liebscher’s book ROOTED, and I found myself taking my sweet time to get through his message.  Usually, I can finish a book of this size in a weekend.   This time, I would often set the book down for a few days to really think about the points Liebscher was making and looking at my own calling and periods of waiting on the Lord.

rooted

If you have any gardening experience you know the importance of a good root system.   Take a beautifully potted plant and pop it in the ground, and you’ll see the plant go into shock and die.  Why?  You didn’t take the time to tend to the roots before you planted it.  A seed dropped in good, fertile soil will produce strong plants in comparison to seeds careless scattered among the rocks. 

Banning Liebscher takes the time to set the context of his book into the Parable of the Soils, and then walks through the value of having solid roots in order that we may grow, and bear fruit.  Not just some fruit, but a lot of fruit.  Not just any fruit, but GOOD fruit.  Not just a temporary harvest, but a long and lasting life of fruit bearing.  But, in order to do this … we must have GOOD ROOTS.

Often when we are waiting for the Lord to reveal our calling or make a move, we feel like nothing is happening.  Yet, it is during this time when the Lord is working on our roots.  He has fashioned life around us, opportunities, and put people in place to create a fertile soil in which we can grow.  Then, like a good farmer, He tends to those seeds.  Weeds are pulled, water and nutrients are provided, and He carefully watches over for disease and pests.

Then after all of the work of preparing the soil, tending to the seeds, building up the roots, caring for the shoots… suddenly life bursts out of those gardens.  And it produces fruit, a lot of fruit. Good fruit.  If we want to produce a lot of good, long lasting, fruit… we have to start with our roots.  That means we dig into the Word, build our relationship with Christ, allow the Holy Spirit access to our lives to move it and shape it, and trust that the Lord’s plans will always be good.  We just need to trust in Him who we have faith in. 

If you are ready to start working on those roots, Liebscher’s book ROOTED is a great way to prepare the soil of your heart to receive, foster, and bear the fruit of God’s Word and Love.

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How Deep is Your Faith?

Some of you may recall that back in June I experienced quite a bit of delays trying to fly out to a conference in Indianapolis.  The benefit that came from those delays was the amount of time it gave me to dig into this book without many distractions.  I had no idea how much that reading was going to impact me while in a city far from my own, and would linger since returning home.

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In the beginning I thought this was going to be a book about deepening my faith.  In many ways I was right.    Exposing shallow faith, where law becomes an idol, and the wake we can leave behind when we are not walking in love and grace.  Recognizing that we have to do more than go through the motions, and that there will be times our faith will take out out of comfort zones into the deep end of the waters.  Pushing ourselves to a deeper understanding of the scriptures and what the Lord expects of us as a response to His Word.

What I didn’t expect to happen was the deeper convictions I was going to feel about how I interacted with this world.  Who was I serving?  How was I serving?  Was it easy, comfortable?  Did it require much of me?

I was great at serving those in my church, but what about the “least of these”?  What real needs have I been engaging?  Was I limiting the Gospel?  Was I limiting my service?  Was I talking a good talk but not walking along with it?  These questions were bouncing through my mind, as I sat in the airport… waiting.

Having a ministry position where I train other leaders, my biggest burden at that point was…

Am I training leaders who are going to go out and serve their people well … or are we just learning how to put on another successful event?  Are we playing ministry or living it?

Had I allowed the Gospel to be too small, was I not seeing the big picture?

This is where the book took me on a new journey about serving, loving, and living the Gospel out in real tangible ways.  Where it becomes more than talk.  Brandon Hatmaker’s words were reeling in my head, as I was walking back to my hotel after the conference let out for the evening.  It was late.  That is when Gregory made eye contact with me.

Gregory walked up to me, tears in his eyes. He was a homeless man, and he was hungry.  I don’t carry cash on me, but directly behind me was a restaurant.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was a better meal than a fast food place.   In Indianapolis, I met a man named Gregory who was from my home state.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath.  I wasn’t sure if I believed his story about being mugged and just needing a few dollars for some food.  It didn’t matter, I knew the man was hungry.

As we walked into the restaurant, Gregory was still crying.  He was sorry for bothering me.  He was sorry for asking. He was sorry for taking our time.  He asked for very little, but I told Gregory to order whatever he wanted.  He first asked for just a sandwich, but I told him to order more.  He gently asked my friend, “Do you think she’d let me have fries too?”.  She smiled and said absolutely, and immediately followed that up with inquiring what he wanted to drink.    In the end we had two sandwiches, french fries, and a large drink for Gregory.   He was grateful, his tears and slurs made him almost inaudible at times.

We prayed over Gregory before we left to return to our hotel.  It sounds like a beautiful moment, doesn’t?

What I neglected to share until this point, was the response of others.  The manager, saw Gregory walk in with us.  She approached us, looked right past my friend and I.  To Gregory, she spoke directly… “Looks like you convinced these nice ladies to buy you a meal.  You can wait here for it, but you can’t eat it outside.  You’ll need to take it and go.”

Her response was as if my friend and I were naive out of towners, taken advantage of by this con-man.  It was insulting to our intelligence and demeaning to Gregory.  He was now a paying customer, and should have been treated as such.  Gregory didn’t leave our thoughts for the rest of the trip, and quite often we prayed for him.  We didn’t see him again before it was time to leave.

Layovers and delays on my return flight home, I kept reading.  Over and over again, I found myself writing in the margins (next to a piece of text)…  Gregory.

From the book:

“It’s true that giving a sandwich to a homeless man on one day is not going to end hunger on the streets of your city.  But it will bless that man today.”

and in another passage:

“You see, after Jesus taught the most significant sermon in the history of time, Jesus didn’t make his way to the next sanctuary to meet  with the religious. He made his way to the next street corner to meet with the outcast. 

By meeting him in his greatest need, Jesus restored more than the man’s health; he restored his dignity. “

Gregory.

A Mile Wide opened my eyes to see so much more than how deep my own faith was, but my willingness to go the distance for my fellow man.  It changed my vision and scope of how ministry was supposed to look, and how I was going to change the way I approached our ministry work of training leaders.  It inspired me to a bigger Gospel.  A global Gospel.  A Gospel that feeds the man on the corner, that restores dignity, fights for justice, helps the Great Commission with feet on the ground.

Lord, I pray for Gregory tonight… where ever he lays his head.  I pray Lord, when I return to Indianapolis next year… I see his face again and we can break bread together.  Keep him safe, bring him to healing, and if I can’t see him again… let it be because he has returned to his family.  I pray for the hardened hearts that have forgotten that Gregory and those who are like him… are human beings made in your image.  Let us treat them as you would.  Amen.

Forgiveness & Reconciliation

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A few weeks ago, I was sitting through our weekly small group meeting.  We took a bold step and decided to tackle Authentic Intimacy’s Passion Pursuit.  Dr. Juli Slattery began to discuss the importance of forgiveness in healing and improving our marriages.  She also delved into the need to forgive past hurts in order to move forward.   Something she said jumped out at me:

The acknowledgement that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. 

As she waded through the waters of forgiveness, the words FREEDOM were key.  Forgiveness leads to freedom because what ever that wrong was, it no longer holds on to us.  However, reconciliation may not be possible.  Perhaps the other person hasn’t apologized, hasn’t repented because they do not believe they were wrong.  Or, perhaps they took ownership of their wrong doing but for your own safety you can not resume a reconciled relationship with the person.  In some instances the person may have died, moved away, etc and there isn’t a way to even reach out and start a reconciliation process.  However, we can still forgive them and more forward.  This forgiveness does not free them from the CONSEQUENCES of their actions, it does however free us from being held captive by that person or situation any longer.

I walked away that evening reflecting on several situations through the years that cause me distress.  I thought of the scriptures that call us to forgive and reconcile.  I felt like a failure in many ways because even despite my willingness to forgive, there were relationships that were not reconciled.  I had sold myself to believe that I couldn’t more forward until reconciliation had happened.   I resolved that those relationships wouldn’t necessarily reconcile to what they once were, but that to at least be on “civil terms” would be enough.  When that couldn’t happen, I felt like I failed.

Now, that burden was lifted.  I had permission to walk in that freedom of forgiveness, even I was walking alone and the other parties were not ready to join up yet.  Today, I watched a video from The Gospel Coalition on forgiveness without repentance.  One of the things I took away from the video is:

Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness from both sides.

It can’t be both sides saying they are sorry, and no one changes.

It can’t be a change of behavior by both sides, without anyone actually apologizing.

It can’t be an exchange of apologies, modified behaviors, when one or both don’t truly forgive.

Forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation may not come in that exact order & not all at one time.  It may be a process that can span days, months, or even years to complete.  Reconciliation may not even come this side of heaven. 

If we have chosen to forgive, and if we have identified our own mistakes and repented… we may have to be okay with reconciliation’s slow arrival.  If it even comes at all. 

For each of us lies the responsibility of our own actions.  Have we come to God and asked Him to reveal if we are part of the problem?  Is there more to this than being sinned against?  Are we too guilty of sinning against the other person?  If you have a trusted mentor, have you shared the situation with them and sought their counsel and guidance? 

Once you have taken an honest look at yourself, if there is a need for you to apologize then you are responsible for taking the step of repentance and seeking forgiveness.  Then you can also extend your forgiveness to the other person and work toward reconciliation, should both parties agree.  However, if you are truly the only one who was sinned against and the other person is unwilling to repent and ask for forgiveness… you can still choose to forgive as Christ has forgiven.

All of our sins are against a perfect God, who has done nothing wrong to us.  Yet He is able to forgive our sins and cast them to the oceans depths.  If the Lord can forgive me, how can I not forgive those who sin against me?  Reconciliation may not happen, but that doesn’t mean that forgiveness is impossible.

The scriptures state that as much as it is possible, and is up to me, to live at peace with everyone.  Reconciliation isn’t entirely up to me, it takes both parties to happen.  But forgiveness is a choice I can make to bring peace into my heart, life, and relationships.  Then we can lean into trusting the Lord to do the work in the other person, and if reconciliation is possible it will happen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

When we forgive, we can live in the freedom of Peace.  I choose Peace.