Saturday, April 18, 2009

Beware of Religion

Clearly blogging is a passion for me. I've even had to face a little ridicule because of it. I know I do it a lot, but I cannot help myself. It's not only a passion, it's an act of obedience for me. Let me explain.

Almost two years ago now, my life shifted from a full-time stay at home mom back to a working mom. You see when my two youngest came only ten months apart I was very blessed to have my boss, also my my mom, allow me to take a very long leave of absence from the work place. I think she realized what a handful two babies would be, and knew such a precious handful didn't belong in the hands of anyone other than someone who loved them enough to make sure we all survived those crazy hairy days. Did I mention that long leave of absence was five years long, with pay? And even now back at work, I am blessed with a greater flexibility than most, and for that I am extremely grateful.

So, back to the obedience. At the time of my return to work my "service" in ministry was entwined completely in serving in our church's women's bible study. I served in several capacities, I acted as a greeter, ran the computer check in, served doing overheads for worship and the teachings, I facilitated a small group and I even got to teach on occasion. It was the place of service for me, and I loved it. When I had to return to work, I had to let it go.

I enjoy serving, especially among women. I love the process of sharing my heart and getting them to dig deeper. I enjoy the opportunity to teach, though I consider myself more of an "exhorter" than I do a meat and potatoes, verse by verse instructor of the Word. It's funny, a few of us were talking at a prayer meeting last night and I decided to coin the term "vegetable teacher" because my style isn't as in depth as some (meat) but it's also not just light fare (baby food, if you will.) I give good healthy word, but it's still easy to chew! I think we all need to aspire to be "meat eaters" and I am part of the transition process from the milk to the meat. (I have totally wandered off point here... where was I?) Oh yes, yes, I loved serving as part of the women's bible study team but I didn't get to do it anymore.

So I was really missing it, and in a lot of ways I suddenly felt very disconnected and somewhat out of place. I didn't know where I fit anymore. I had a long history of struggling with not feeling of value without service, I felt more connected to the Lord by what I did that by who I was, and after having been on a previous hiatus from service for other personal reasons, I was fighting hard not to fall back into the trap of thinking God was mad at me if I wasn't giving of my time in some capacity.

But almost a year went by without feeling like I had any clearly defined roll in ministry, I actually started to get depressed. Don't misunderstand me, I had times and personal opportunities that I got to have a divine appointment or would get to speak encouragement to someone or make myself available to someone in need, but something was lacking. I learned the value of being open and available, but I craved the consistency of having a place I could feel like I was being about the Father's business, kingdom business I tried to fill holes where I could, volunteered willingly where there were needs, but when it isn't in the place the Lord has geared you for, the sense of being ministry putty (just filling holes, not actually belonging there) gets challenging after enough time goes by. Please don't misunderstand, we should always support our church and be willing to be that putty when needed, but that place is a place meant for someone else, and we need to find the place meant for us, because each one of us does have one; and when we are where we belong, there is an energy and a fulfillment that overcomes the weariness and challenges that come from giving of yourself.

(Note to self, this post has gone in a completely different direction than I anticipated.)

So, back to how being here and blogging so much is actually an act of obedience. After more than nine months of sitting on the proverbial "bench" I found myself at our women's ministry retreat. I wasn't going to go, I didn't have the funds and I really didn't have the desire. I was kind of suffering a little from "sore thumb syndrome", I felt like I stuck out and I was feeling pretty sensitive. Maybe it's a woman thing. When we feel disconnected we conjure it up to be far worse in our minds, we take the sense of not belonging and it becomes a sense of not being welcome. It's all in our heads, but it bleeds into our hearts too, and that's when we go down that road that no woman wants to and no man can understand. I can hear Neal now, "Why do you let it bother you what people think so much?) So Women's Retreat? I wasn't interested.

Until I got the call. Someone told me I needed to go, and they were so sure of it they were going to pay for it. They handed me a check on a Wednesday night and told me to find a friend to room with because they really felt I was supposed to go. So I did, but it wasn't comfortable and it wasn't easy. My closest friend was going with someone else who had blessed her by paying her way, and I really didn't know the other lady and didn't want to suddenly infringe on their planned time. One of my roommates was a good friend but we had kind of been going through some stuff between us and it was challenging. The other friend who let me stay in her room was there teaching a class that weekend and had a lot on her plate. I had lost touch with most of the other ladies who were there and none of my other good friends were there that weekend. So I went, but I wasn't totally happy about it.

It was a bit of a roller coaster weekend. Both of my roommates weren't showing up till Saturday morning so Friday night I had the room to myself. It took everything I had in me not to just hide out in the room. (I'm telling you it's totally a girl thing... possible change in title?) But I didn't, I forced myself to get up and go downstairs. I was of course glad I did, the word was good, the worship uplifting, but I still felt out of place. The Lord did speak to me during the worship time. One upside that had come from my disconnection was I had created a really good habit of getting up each morning and reading the Word, journaling and praying. Every day at the same time, I got up before the kids and kept this time set apart. I was religious about it. I was actually a little pleased with myself about the new level of commitment I had in my changing life. So as I was there in worship when I heard the Lord's still small voice, I heard him very clearly.

"I don't want to be a habit."... OUCH!

It was a humbling moment. In one fell swoop the Lord popped my religious bubble and brought me to my spiritual knees. By no means am I saying a daily devotional time is wrong, but it had become wrong for me, the way I was doing it. It had become about the actions instead of the purpose. I walked away each day proud I had done it rather than having actually made a connection. It would be like if I put a dry erase board on my refrigerator and used it to communicate with my kids each morning. "Mom loves you, hope you have a good day, be careful, make good choices. You're precious to me." I could write it all down and the right sentiments would be there but if I didn't bother to connect with them and communicate with them beyond the words, what value would it really have? I had succumbed to "dry erase" devotional time. The right sentiment was there, but there was nothing lasting about it.

It was a starting point for a lot of things the Lord wanted to speak to me. The weekend was all over the place, from profound moments, to emotional highs, I even got my feelings really hurt, I felt humiliated, but through every experience the Lord was speaking, it was like He was handing me these golden nuggets and I really took them, and held on to them, appreciating their value and substance, and I have kept them with me ever since, they're in my spiritual backpack if you will, and when I waver I pull them out and I remember that changing weekend.

I learned a lot. I was really encouraged by this wonderful godly woman who taught on prayer. She shared how shocked she was when she'd been asked because she never thought of herself as disciplined in prayer, she wasn't a "prayer closet" type. But her husband had helped her to realize that she was one of those "pray without ceasing types" because she talked to the Lord all the time. I thought, "hey, me too!" It isn't formal or religious, but it surely is relational. It brought freedom to me.

I connected with women I didn't know well, hung out with people outside my small circle and I realized I could be more open, I could still make new friends. I got to love on one young woman who had been in in my group when Neal and I served in youth ministry before and I realized all those years before I had made a lasting impact on her life. That was pretty cool.

Even when I got my feelings hurt and felt humiliated, I realized I needed to know that stuff like that happens. Even godly people are going to hurt your feelings, even embarrass you, but you can (and should) choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. I found there is freedom in that. Forgiveness lets us both off the hook.

But despite all the affirmation and encouragement, even the victory of beginning to overlook an offense there was still a little sense of feeling lost, longing for a place, a position of service. (Old habits die hard you know.)

So the weekend brought me about to a quiet time alone with the Lord on the last day of the retreat. I was sitting and reading the word and journaling (in a very relational way) and pouring out my hearts desire but also surrendering my will and the box I wanted to fit the Lord's plan in. He had shown me through the weekend that I had made a difference in people's lives, and I could still make a difference in people's lives, and even if I was just ministering to or encouraging one single person, that it was enough. I knew that, I used to always say when I got the chance to teach, "If it ministers to just one person, it served it's purpose," but God had to remind me. Because it didn't just apply to teachings, but to me as a person.

I had to let go of my religious preconceived notions and just be open and willing to allow the Lord to use me, when and where and how He wanted to. And even if I only ministered to that single person, that was enough. That person mattered enough to the Lord to put me at the right place at the right time to fill a need, or encourage one of His kids, or to bring in one of the lost sheep. Jesus ministered that way. Sure he stood before the masses and gave the Sermon on the Mount, but he touched a single blind man, took the hand of one lame person and helped him up.

So as I sat there taking in the luster of all the nuggets that He had been speaking (and it goes beyond even what I have shared in this already long post) I heard Him whisper to me again. He said, "Write."

Write. So simple yet so profound. I have heard about the line in Chariots of Fire (I still want to see the movie for myself) where the main character says something to the effect of, "When I run, I feel the Lord's pleasure." And I understand that statement. Because sometimes when I write, I feel it too. I'm not being prideful, because what I am saying to you is that writing isn't something I do, it's a gift God has given me. It's not my talent, it's His endowment. I can write because He has enabled me to, and when I get to use the gift He has given me, it's fulfilling. And if only one person gets blessed or encouraged by my using it, then that's enough.

And He told me, there were no limits on it. I can do it anytime, anywhere, as inspiration strikes (which by the way the inspiration I had to write this post has been completely shelved, the title has been changed and God has taken me off on His own rabbit trail with this post!) So I started to write, and I asked God for wisdom and direction and it wasn't much later that a friend at church came up and told me she had been praying for me and felt led to encourage me to consider blogging. So out of that was born this blog, My Walk of Faith. Even the URL portrays an accurate perception of why I do it. Diana loves to write. Because God has put a desire in me to share it. I hope it blesses people, I want it to bless lots of people, but if only one, one is enough.

What about you? We all have spiritual gifts. My husband has the gift of worship, he loves to play his drums, and he loves to play them for people and help get them caught up in the Lord's presence. It's fulfilling. I'm watching my children, their gifts just emerging. Jake has this natural gift to lead, I know because I see people wanting to follow him. He enjoys it, having people around him, getting them involved in things. He thrives on it. Ethan and Victoria are still a little young, but there are glimpses, Ethan may be a prayer warrior in the making, I see glimpses of both my giftings and Neal's passed down to our daughter (she's really loud and got a lot to say and loves to sing worship...)

When we find what God has given us, and realize it's for a purpose greater than our own desires, it's empowering, exciting. And when we use it, we not only get to bless others, but we get blessed ourselves. It's really quite amazing. But the fulfillment comes when we take those gifts and surrender them all to the Lord, open and willing to allow Him to use them for His kingdom, His kids, His purpose. Sometimes it means leaving our religious preconceived notions and intentions by the way side, removing the dry erase board and being willing and open and saying, "Lord, I'm just here and ready."

From 1 Corinthians chapter 12...

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men...

...All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines...

...The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ...

...Now the body is not made up of one part but of many... ...But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be...

...Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it....

To read the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 12 you can click here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

The concept has been in the forefront of my mind this week, the weight of decisions, the importance of them. When I went looking for a picture to go along with this post, I thought this one was perfect. Decisions are so important, even ones that may seem minuscule in the moment of making them, their effect can be vast and long term. I loved this picture the moment that I saw it because it occurred to me the key ingredient that is lost in the process of most decisions, it's strategy. I looked up the meaning of it, strategy is defined as "a plan or method for achieving a specific goal." That's the problem, too many decisions are being made without any goal in mind.

It makes me think of a particular scripture in the King James version. Proverbs 29:18a says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish..."

I don't actually proclaim to be certain that this is the correct interpretation of the verse, but it is food for thought.

So, you might ask, what is it that has me thinking about the magnitude of decisions. Why I am I consumed with their power, what power am I actually contemplating that they have? I have a multitude of thoughts running through my head, so I'm just going to share a couple of them randomly.

Are people truly ignorant enough to believe that the decisions they make don't affect anyone but themselves? (Clearly they are.)

Why do the young and foolish have so much power and authority in the decision making process? (Case in point, 19-year old me, made decisions that nearly 40-year-old me still has to walk out.)

Okay, confession... that wasn't random at all. These are the thoughts that are consuming my mind lately.

Earlier this week there was a huge tragedy in my neck of the woods. There was a pitcher for the Angels, Nick Adenhart, who was killed in a car accident. Well, it's almost hard to call it an accident. This young upstart who was just 22-years-old, full of promise and potential was suddenly and tragically killed by a drunk driver. The drunk driver was also just 22, driving on a suspended license for a previous incident with alcohol. He ran a red light and killed three people, a fourth still hanging in the balance. Two young men, two very different stories.

I think about the two of them and it saddens me. Adenhart had vision, he carefully and strategically focused on a goal for his life and he was working hard towards it. He was just beginning to see his vision come to fruition. Then you have this other young man, who put no forethought in his decision. He got into a car and put himself and every other person on the road with him at risk without any consideration for possible consequences, and the worst case scenario came true. And although now charged with 3 counts of murder, he potentially faces a huge consequence for his actions, one could clearly make the argument that others by far have paid a much greater price for his lack of wisdom in the decision making process, obviously those who paid with their life and health, but also those who loved the ones that were lost. The apparent randomness is disheartening.

And for me, there lies a dilemma in thought. I don't actually believe that my sovereign God and randomness coexist well together, or actually at all. It sort of makes my brain hurt. I do know that God is the filter by which all thing that touch our lives comes through. I also know that fact can be cold comfort to those who are in the midst of grief and suffering, no matter how true it may be.

Consequences aren't always so dire. Sometimes they are just undesirable. That's the case of that 19-year-old I was speaking of. I imagine that's something that probably almost everyone considers. I look back at myself at that age and realize I did a lot of things that sort of backed me into some of the circumstances I find myself in now. Let me be clear here. I overwhelmingly love my life. I have a husband I adore, children who are precious to me, parents who have been beyond good to me and enabled me to be far more available to my children than most working moms, but there are areas of my life where I find myself "existing" rather than truly living my dreams because at 19 I was more interested in hanging out and going to the beach than I was in getting an education and broadening my horizon of opportunity. And it doesn't help that my husband and I pretty much chose that road together. He lives with the choice of a 15-year-old to drop out of high school and I live with the choice of a 19-year old to drop out of college.

That thought weighs on me these days also as I am the mother of a teenager, knowing my son is only years, theoretically moments, away from being in the same situation, making decisions now he will have to live out 25 year from now and beyond. Can I just say it? As smart as my Jacob is, he's not equipped to make those kinds of decisions... and yet the power is in his hands.

It takes me back to that scripture from Proverbs, but I'd like to share a different translation with you, along with the second half of the verse. This is from the New Century Version, a more literal and contemporary translation. It says, "Where there is no word from God, people are uncontrolled, but those who obey what they have been taught are happy."

Oddly, this translation offers me hope in what in some ways seems rather hopeless.

Someone told me that Nick Adenhart was a Christian. I don't actually know that for certain, but I do know his best friend on the team, Dustin Mosely, has repeatedly proclaimed Christ publicly. It makes me wonder if it couldn't be so. Perhaps his drive and purposefulness in the way he lived his life was birthed out of a personal faith in Jesus Christ. It is certainly feasible.

I also look back at 19-year-old me, and 15-year-old Neal, and I know for certain that we had no revelation in that season of our lives, because we had no relationship with Christ at that time. I look at my 15-year-old son and am thankful that that isn't the case for him. Although I see (at times profoundly) the typical youthful foolishness in him, I also know that he has a conviction outside of himself and knows he is not living his life for himself alone. He has a sense of accountability and responsibility to his Creator that I did not have at that age. I have hope that it will help guide him through his life, and that perhaps he will be more strategic in his decision making process in these most powerful days.

I also have other "situations" going on around me that have brought a lot of this to the forefront of my mind. I am praying daily as I watch people I love and care about making decisions under the deception that they won't have catastrophic effects on themselves and others around them. I find myself somehow caught in the crossfires of some of these situations knowing that even for me there has been a cost. In some of them even if the one wielding the power should turn back, in all likelihood what I have lost will remain so. And even though my greatest concern is for other innocents in the circumstance more than for myself, it doesn't change the fact that loss hurts, and grief remains.

Decisions, decisions. We make thousands of them a day, everything from what time to get out of bed, what to have for breakfast, to what I am going to do with the rest of my life. What to do if one has made life choices with less strategy than put into deciding over a cereal choice? Hmmm, another decision to be made. Too much thought could overwhelm you, not enough might send you further down a dark and directionless road.

Where is the hope? Alas, back to the second half of the verse... "but those who obey what they have been taught are happy."

Even as I consider choices poorly made, I can have hope that they will not have to bear the same weight as a poor choice. I can start from here, where I am now and make the decision to live my life in obedience, and the Lord will bring happiness into my circumstance.

Kingdom math, my favorite... godly teaching + obedience = happiness.

From this point forward, I can make the decision to find the revelation of God. Even the young man who cost the lives of three has this hope. He can make a change and a turning point to live for Christ, and potentially bring some good outof tragedy. I pray for him that he does. For me, God's guidance and direction and offer hope, that even as I walk out the decisions of that 19-year-old girl, there can be blessing in any missteps I made, even any foolishness I chose. (Romans 8:28, all things.)

This brings to my mind a favorite scripture of mine.

Psalms 37:23-24 says, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand."

That's me. I'm the "good man." Not in the humanistic sense of a decent person by comparison, because that really doesn't apply. I know my righteousness is as filthy rags, but I have achieved my "goodness" through faith in Christ. And because I have invested my faith in Him, He has invested His goodness in me. (That's one of the best Kingdom Math solutions of all!) So because of that wonderful truth, I know that even those steps in my life that I feel like I backed into, or even stumbled into are all covered under His grace.

My apparent randomness is in line with His sovereign order. Though my decisions may have caused me to fall, I am caught and not landing on my face, utterly cast down, because all the while I am held onto by my Creator, who has given my life purpose and hope. I am protected, not only from my own decisions, but also from the decisions of others who can and do affect me.

Truly I need to stop here, because even as I begin to wrap my mind around His goodness and His grace, and the sovereignty behind the circumstance, the reality beyond apparent randomness, my brain starts to hurt again.

So I will close with this, an email that my mom sent me yesterday that sort of sums it up. It was a story of a very old retired pastor, some 96-years-old, who was asked to come and speak to a congregation. They asked him to share the most profound truth he had learned in all his years of serving the Lord. Very old, slowly moving, slowly speaking, he made his way before the congregation to impart the truth he believed to be the most definitive in all his days. This is what he shared.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. All little ones to Him belong, though they are weak, He is strong. Yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me, Yes Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Devotional - Resurrection Sunday

From the Book of John Chapter 20:11-18 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said* to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her.

Total Perfection

No more sadness or tears, no more reason to cry.
Celebrate Life! Jesus Christ is alive!
Just as He'd promised, He rose the third day,
Proving Himself, the Life, the Truth and the Way!
All of God's promises can be counted as true,
Arise and shine, your joy may be made full!
Go out into the world, tell one and tell all,
Tell the truth of the day death took its fall.
Dance! Shout! Leap for joy! Forever live the King of kings!
Praise be to God! We have reason to sing!
Death has been beaten with the King's resurrection,
God's plan's been fulfilled in its total perfection!


Without Easter, Christmas wouldn't matter, this is truly the day of all days!

Happy Resurrection Sunday when all God's Word was accomplished and all His promises fulfilled. May you all know the fullness of the Savior's love today and always!

Happy Easter!