Saturday, April 13, 2013


I've been taking a lot of walks since last summer when I began this weight loss journey. It was on one of my first walks that I stumbled upon a beautiful plumeria tree at the far end of my neighborhood.

Passing that tree fast became one of my favorite parts of walking, even running when I tried. Not only was it beautiful to look at, but the fragrance was wonderful, often wafting toward me well before I came upon it on the nights with the soft summer breezes.

When I would try to run, the tree would be a marker for me, the place I always changed, slowed, my pace so I could breathe in the beauty.

Summer passed and fall came and the blossoms began to fall, fewer and fewer remained on the stems. Still the few blossoms that remained offered their sweet scent, and I always stopped to breathe it in. It was my favorite part of my walks.

As the winter approached my walks were no longer happening as frequently and several weeks went by when I had not visited my friend the tree. Then one cold, damp evening I say out toward the other end of my neighborhood. With anticipation I sniffed the air as I approached my favorite spot, but I smelled nothing in the air.

It was late in the evening and very dark, so I had to come right up upon the tree to see it. My heart sank when I did. Not only had every bloom fallen, but someone had come along and cut the tree back to a cluster of ugly bare stems. Though it was still planted firmly in the ground, it showed no signs of life and looked completely dead to me.

My heart ached.

"That's me," I thought. "I'm just like that tree."

I remember a summertime of life when I felt like I was doing things that mattered. There was a time of beauty, purpose, in ministry and in my talents and gifts. But slowly all the things that blossomed and bloomed fell away. Some were plucked, others just died and fell away, blossoms that were crushed underfoot. And any fragrance or beauty slowly disappeared to nothing.

I see myself the way I see the tree: barren, alive but showing no signs of life, no fruit, no beauty. And it feels hopeless. My heart grieves for the plant, and it grieves for the hopes I used to hold, and the dreams I once dared to dream.

At times I'm tempted to assign blame for my disappointment, in what feels like a miscarried dream-- one that died before it ever really came to life. But in my heart of hearts, I know the One who holds the power, and no matter how the cutting occurred, One has the authority to say yea or nay to its occurrence. Like the gardener who cut back the plumeria tree, I am kept by only One. He alone cut away the blossoms that once bloomed. He alone knows why, but whatever His reasons are, they are right. But that knowledge makes it no less painful.

We are several weeks into spring now, and my plumeria tree still isn't showing any sign of fruit. I've been hoping to come upon it and smell again the sweet fragrance of its blossoms. Each night my disappointment weighs heavier. There is nothing but the memory of those summer blooms, no sign they were ever there. If someone were to come upon this tree, they would never know it has once been beautiful and fruitful.

As I think about that, I see myself in the tree again. That plant was meant for another place, a different climate, tropical not the California desert. It makes me wonder how it ever bloomed, and causes my heart to fear that it may never bloom again. Maybe it looks dead because it's death it's moving toward.

Maybe the seasons of purpose-- fruitful, beautiful times-- are only past for me too.  Tonight as I was walking, I asked God "Is this all there is?"  I want to be content even if that's so, but I'm not. I still long to waft a sweet fragrance on a summer breeze, one that tells of fruit in my life. No one else who remembers the blossoms is even here to tell about them anymore. Honestly it makes me wonder if my own memories are real or imagined.

Spring is here-- a new season that brings warmth and hope, but the plumeria tree still stands in its own personal winter. Is it dying? I don't know. 

Am I?  I wonder that, but then I think to myself if I were perhaps then it wouldn't hurt so much. Perhaps then at least numbness might come, or memories of fruitful days might fade. How I long to forget. I would rather have never known than to have to keep on with the fear that none of it will ever be again, living instead with the confident fear that this is indeed all there is, all that's left.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Red Phone

I remember once when I heard the Lord "speak" very clearly to my heart. 

"Don't chase an experience." He said.

I was stagnate where I was, in my church, in my faith, even in my life.  And I was desperate-- desperate for Him.  And I wanted so much to hear from Him.  I wanted for a "red phone" call where the heavens would part, my face would be held in His hands and God would speak directly to me, about me, and open my eyes with understanding. 

Direct my path.

Affirm my faith.

Strengthen my confidence.

Just give me a hug from heaven.

Sometimes it happens.  Sometimes it happens without even asking.  But most of the time, it doesn't. 

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (v.11) 

Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. (v.12)

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (v.13)
Jeremiah 29:11-13

Sigh, I've heard that first verse a thousand times.  I've recited myself, sometimes with intensity into the mirror as I struggle with life, anxiety, and fear for my future.  Everybody stops at the end of verse 11.  But 12 is my favorite.  But 13 is the command.

...when you search for Me with all your heart.

Maybe that's the key to the red phone. 

Maybe that's why God told me not to seek an experience.

He wants me to seek Him.

With my whole heart...  my divided, broken, tempted human heart.

How Lord?

Show me.

When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
Psalm 27:8

God help me, that's my heart's desire.... Show me, tell me, please God...

call me on the red phone.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fellowship of broken people

I wonder what it was like for Jesus in the desert.  I know a lot of people hear or read about "The temptation of Christ," and they (as I have been) must be inclined to dismiss what His temptation was like.  I mean, after all, He was human but also divine.  Surely His strength to withstand temptation must have been far greater than mine, or yours, mere mortals with no divinity in ourselves.  So can He REALLY understand what we face when temptation comes upon us?  I mean, how could He?

I more and more all the time realize what a helpless sinner I am.  If I am completely honest, there is not a single temptation to sin that I have ever accomplished absolute victory over in my present existence.  Anger, pride, a judgmental spirit, gluttony, (other things I'm not willing to list publicly,) I may get better, I may get stronger, but I am never ever completely "cured."   And the enemy, in his prowling about, has studied me well and knows my weaknesses and what buttons to "push."  How can Jesus relate to that?

I'm almost ashamed to admit that my temptation level isn't nearly so high as it ought to be.  "Almost" because I know in my heart I am not alone in my struggle.  I strongly suspect most (if not all) of you reading this have at least heard themselves mutter at least once in their lives "I can't believe I did that AGAIN!"  It's human nature.  Sadly, the enemy doesn't have to push nearly as hard as I'd like to lead me to uneven ground where I am ready to stumble at any moment.  What does Jesus know about that?

If I wanted to shove you into a corner and you went easily, I wouldn't have to push very hard.  But if you didn't want to go where I was trying to put you, you would resist, and the more you didn't want to go, the harder you would resist and push back.  The harder you pushed back, the harder I would shove as well.  It would become a battle, and the reality is that's probably what Christ's temptation was like.  Unlike me, His resistance was powerful, so I'm certain the devil pushed a lot harder with Jesus than he has ever had to push with me.  That's how Jesus understands my temptations, because in reality, in his humanness He had to resist far greater temptation than I will ever likely have to face.   Jesus gets it.

"Yes, well, but He WAS GOD!  So surely He was better able to resist!" This could spiral quickly into circular logic. He was man; He was God. I am man, but I am NOT God.  Except...

Except that when Jesus went away He sent a helper.  In fact, before He left He said it was BETTER that He go away so the Helper could come.  The Jesus we could see departed so that Go's Holy Spirit could come and live inside us. 

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  1 John 4:4

I think it is exactly because Jesus does understand temptation, probably beyond what any of us will ever comprehend, He made a way to help us resist it. 

And yet... still I struggle--  old struggles, same struggles and even new struggles, or old struggles dressed up in new ways... but Jesus gets it.

So why do we as Christians so often have such a hard time admitting our struggles?  We all have them. But we get all caught up, hung up.  We try to hide our own, we judge or reject others in theirs?

I don't really know that I have an answer to the question (which now makes this blog a bit of a ramble) but it's something I wonder about.

Here are my thoughts....

IF we were more willing to be transparent, the enemy might lose a lot of his power over us.  He doesn't care for the light, prefers to work under the cover of darkness, and if we shine the light on our struggles with sin, it would loosen the enemy's grip.

IF we were more willing to be honest about how tough it can be to do the right thing, we might actually be able to connect with one another and help each other.  The words "I understand" and the phrase "I get it" are powerful tools in building bridges between people, bridges they can build together to get to a better place. Someone feels alone in their struggle with sin? If you or I understand them, share our own battles, they no longer feel so isolated, no longer hopeless and no longer live under the delusion that they're the only one.  That pushes the enemy back.

"The Church" is meant to be a body of believers who live in true fellowship with honest and open communication-- all of us walking out the walk of faith with bad days and good, difficult seasons and victorious ones. It's in understanding and empathy that we might actually be able to link arms and get through better together.  (And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25)

And consider this, how much more able might we be to reach and minister to and meet the lost if we were just a little more real about our own sins and struggles?  What if when an unbeliever walked into a church or a Christian circle (since most aren't inclined to walk into churches) they actually realized that we are not a people who "have it all together" and that we are not completed works, but what if we openly admitted we are nothing more than a fellowship of broken people-- a broken people who need Jesus. 

We need to remember that more.  We need Jesus.  Just as much as the sinner who so greatly offends us, in their actions or their politics or their entire belief system-- whatever it is that in them offends us, has the same solution as the depravity in who WE are... BROKEN PEOPLE. 

We need to let it go, stop living behind facades and getting hung up on image and perception.  Every Christian on the planet is in reality a member of the fellowship of broken people.  Maybe if we finally admitted it, other people who so desperately need Jesus just might want to join.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Lead in LOVE

I have learned far more about being a leader in the church by being badly led than I could have learned in a 1,000 hours of leadership training, or by attending all the symposiums and conferences I could afford.


Because I learned that what matters most is love.  I realize it should have been a given, after all, the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:13 "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."  And Jesus Himself said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself."

One of the most important things a leader needs to remember is those he/she is leading are ministry, not just part of their ministry.  I might even dare to say they are the FIRST part of any leader's ministry. The heart of a leader always needs to imitate Christ as the heart of shepherd.  The shepherd lovingly leads his/her sheep, standing out, yes, but wandering amidst their flock. 

I'm not just talking about a pastor.  However you are called to lead, you are called to shepherd - whether it's teaching Sunday school, leading a women's ministry or bible study, or even pastoring an entire church, all the people that are a part of the ministry are a part of your ministry.

I have learned quite a bit from good leading as well, I have a godly model in my past of a true leader.  She was the head of a women's ministry in which I was involved.  I watched her lovingly lead her "flock," which is where my first exposure to her was.  But part of her gift to lead was the ability to see strengths in others.  She saw a teacher in me, and she made me a part of her team.  I served under her, but I never ceased to be ministered to by her.  In fact, in some ways, her investment in me became greater.  She helped me to develop my own gifts and strengths and lovingly stretched me in my abilities and faith.  She still ministered to me along with the flog, praying with me or for me, teaching me, but as a part of her team, she took those things to a higher level, not a lower one.  She discipled me, instructed me in step by step aspects of growing in my gifts and faith.  She also held me, as a part of her ministry and team, to a higher standard and taught me to be responsible in how I led others.  She led me in love, and expected from me the same.  (Even this blog was birthed out of her influence in my life.)

I have at times failed in that, but it was in the years of being led badly (by other leaders, obviously) that I learned a lot.  You can never ever make a person feel like what they do doesn't matter.  You can never let them consider themselves easily replaced.  God doesn't see them that way, and neither should we.  However menial the task of service may seem, it is important to God, which is why the Bible tells us, "whatever we do" we should do it "as unto God."  It's easy when people may struggle in the seemingly menial tasks to let our frustrations bubble up and obscure our intention of valuing those we work with.  We must correct IN LOVE, lead IN LOVE and teach IN LOVE.  Yes we hold our "team members" accountable, but even that must be done IN LOVE.

People leave churches over being hurt by leadership - it isn't the peer groups that push people out of the church.  A conflict with a fellow "member" may push someone out of A church, but it is the offenses of leadership that push people out of THE church. It's those offenses that people don't come back from and cause them not only to turn their backs on the person in leadership, but also the church and even God Himself.

I know that's a heavy burden to bear, but "to whom much is given, much is required."  The Bible tells us "love covers a multitude of sins," and yes, we will all hurt and offend one another at times, even leaders-- but if people know you by your sincere love for them, then those sins can be overcome, and both people can even grow through the adversity.

It's not an easy task, loving people.  Let's be honest, people have issues!  But when we willingly take on the mantle of leadership within a church, we are in essence agreeing to take a role of representing Christ in that relationship.  Christ loves, and we are called to do the same.  And love requires a lot of us.

Patience, kindness, no envy or boasting, honoring others and looking out for them, not getting angry easily, forgetting mistakes, delighting in the good and true, protecting, trusting, hoping and persevering -- ALWAYS.  That's what we need to do to love, and love is what we need to do to lead.

People are far more important than tasks, and although excellence in effort is important, it won't mean a thing if people don't feel your love, both those who you are ministering to, and those you are ministering with!  If people sincerely believe you love them (and by the way, love is an action not an emotion) then they will be responsive both TO you and FOR you.  No one is willing to work harder than for someone who they truly believe cares for THEM for who they ARE and not for what they DO.

Stop and take an evaluation.  Chances are, you are leading someone in your life - your children, your wife, your co-workers, a Sunday school class... as Christians, anything we do should have an aspect of ministry to it, and therefore in some capacity you are leading.  Are you doing it in love?  If you're not, then get to work on that, because it is after all by your love that the Lord says people will know you belong to Him.