Unmet Expectation

Sometimes life isn’t what we expect. I had dreams as a child. I wanted to work at Sea World and be a marine biologist who got to work with Shamu and the dolphins (super glad I didn’t go that route). I had dreams as a teenager and as I moved into young adulthood. I dreamed of being a pilot and taking the Gospel into remote villages of South America or Africa. While that dream didn’t pan out either, for soooooo many reasons….one did. I became a mom.

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to have my own children, to teach them, to play with them, to love them. I was a nanny for a few years after college and absolutely loved it! We made tin foil rivers for ice cube boats, had backyard picnics, went to the park as often as we could, fed the ducks and geese with our leftover bread from lunch (don’t judge), caught leprechauns, and had movie days when they were under the weather.

Real life as a mom doesn’t exactly look like that. I mean…for me… Yeah, I see those moms on social media, on Pinterest. And there are SO many days that I compare myself to them and fall so, so short of what I see. But, for one, it isn’t real life. I don’t see the imperfect of their lives because social media allows us to filter all of that out. And, second, life looks different as an adult than it does through the eyes of a child. Being a mom seemed glamorous and fun.

The reality? There will always be dishes and laundry. It is literally never ending. In fact, there is a stack of clothes on the couch waiting to be folded and an ever growing pile of dishes next to the sink because I SERIOUSLY HATE DOING DISHES! Meals need planned, groceries need bought, the house won’t clean itself, appointments have to be made and canceled and rescheduled, and so. much. more.

Not my actual sink (mine is MUCH worse). Photo by Kelly Moon on Unsplash

21-year-old-me, newly married and hopefully expectant, expects today-me to also plan daily crafts (obviously found on Pinterest), cook organic food, make my own cleaners, create awesome memories that they will never forget, homeschool, volunteer on the PTA (for homeschool kids?!?), take them to sports, volunteer in a ministry, and a million things I’m sure I’m forgetting that I wanted to do…

And let’s be honest – on a good week – not all of that is possible! Or healthy! Why did I think it was?!?! But life threw me another curve ball called chronic illness. I have good days and I have bad. But those bad days mean that more has to be crammed into the good days. I barely have time to do the necessary things let alone all of the “extras.” I spent almost a full year in therapy dealing with this. And I came out on the other side with a much better grasp of reality. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. When I have a really great day, I trick myself into thinking that maybe, just maybe, I’m getting better and the next day, and the next, and the next will also be good.

But then something as simple as a blood draw cripples me to the couch. Yes, a blood draw. For a routine check-up. Well, it was a blood draw where I had to be poked 3 times because I have awful veins….but still only one or two vials. That was at 2pm….I wasn’t back to the land of the living until the next afternoon. And the world keeps turning. We still have to get homeschooling done, there is still laundry waiting to be washed, dried, or folded. And that insane pile of dishes isn’t going to wash itself.

Today we got a doozy of snow storm. At least a foot in daylight hours. Justin is away on a work trip. I talked to him about hiring someone to deal with the driveway, but we both thought I should try – after all, exercise is something I’m lacking and need to add to my wide-open schedule (ha!). So while the kids were out building snow forts and collecting icicles, I put on as many layers as possible and trudged out into the snow. An hour later I was 1/3 of the way done and could barely stand. I paid for it the rest of the day. We didn’t finish school and we had cereal and waffles for dinner because I was not going to cook.

As I looked outside at the sadly shoveled driveway (now covered with a new inch or two of snow) and watched my kids eat cereal while watching the 2nd movie of the day….I felt like a failure. Who am I kidding? I still feel like a failure. I still have to figure out how to get our driveway taken care of before tomorrow evening so Justin can even get into it, I have to catch up on school tomorrow, I still have dishes to wash and clothes to fold, and I can already tell my body won’t like me tomorrow. And in the back of my head all I can hear are the words to “Surface Pressure” from Encanto: “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.”

Worthless. I look back at the mom I thought I would be and the mom I actually am and I don’t measure up. At all. 18-year-old-Bri would be highly disappointed in me. For not pushing through. For not having it all together. For not having a spotless house. For not being able to shovel the driveway when my husband isn’t home. I am fragments of what I wanted to be.

Every day. Well, every bad day, I have to remind myself from one moment to the next, that my worth is not found in what I do. It isn’t found in footprint art that I’ve never done with my own kids, or in coming up with creative activities every day. It isn’t found in my physical ability to withstand a blood draw or a driveway shoveling. And, past-self, it isn’t found in your grades, accolades, or rewards…

My worth comes in the fact that I am loved by God. He created me, He formed me, He fashioned me, and He loves me more than I know. Everything that I struggle with on a daily basis is already on His heart. I am lovely, I am worthy, because He loves me. There is freedom in that. Freedom from disappointment and expectation.

I’m not writing this to say I have it figured out and the weight of expectation (from self and others) doesn’t bother me. I’m writing this to get out of a funk, to overcome the negative inner thoughts, and focus on the Truth. I’m writing this as a reminder that I am who God says I am. I am not defined by a diagnosis or bloodwork. I’m not defined by social media or Pinterest. And I am *not* defined by what’s checked off on my to-do list at the end of the day.

So tonight I will go to bed wrestling between the overwhelming freedom of Love that Christ has given me and the grief and disappointment of unmet expectations. But where do those thoughts come from? The enemy. For he has come to “steal, kill, and destroy.” He wants to steal my joy, kill my hope, and destroy any sense of freedom I have found. On many days, he wins. On occasion, he wins the battle, and I wallow in self-pity or self-hate. BUT, and this is the a BIG but – we already know, he already knows, that he is defeated in the end. He WILL NOT win the war.

So, friend, keep fighting with me. I’ll fight harder on your bad days and vice versa. Let’s stand strong, no matter what sort of battle we are facing. Know, KNOW, that you are loved, you are worthy, and you are never alone. Keep reminding others of that too. They need it.

I need it.

Victory is Sure

I found this poem in a keepsake box of mine, written by me. I felt like I should share it. I’m fairly sure it was written after a break up. BUT, there are definitely still things to be gleaned and applicable to my life today. How difficult is it to get our heart, mind, and soul to work as one? Especially in times of chaos. But I think that’s where true peace comes in. How do we bring our heart, mind, and soul together? By giving them over to the Prince of Peace – Jesus Christ. Which is much easier said then done. But every day I’m trying…

Blank pages fill to brim
As my emotion overflows again
All is well, nothing amiss
But I feel as though the world collapsed
Like nothing is sacred anymore
I give my heart away
Each time thinking it will be different
That Godly standards will be met
Foolish human error won't intervene
But letting my heart believe is a deceiving my mind
It knows better
It remembers the pain, the embarrassment
Its like a battle within my own being
Pulling one way, pushing the other
Spears and swords than bullets and bombs
Blood is shed
But victory is sure
I don't know which will take control
The heart?  The mind?
I hope the soul.

But maybe once I stop to rest
Give up my need to be the driver
Pull over, switch places, close my eyes
Then maybe, just maybe...peace will win
Sheaths and guns will disappear
A new victory will surface
Heart, mind, and soul will work as one
So I can fulfill my purpose...

After the Storm

Late summer may be my favorite time of the year.  The evenings start to cool off again and time seems to slow down just a bit, as if our little corner of the world is taking a big breath before jumping into the next chapter.  And I love the slow and steady rumble of a late summer storm – the kind that doesn’t make too much noise, but slowly rolls on through, enjoying a leisurely pace before disappearing for most of the fall and winter seasons.

Last night we had a storm roll through.  And it hit HARD…. for about five whole minutes.  I heard the thunder in the distance and then moments later, the down pour began.  What I thought was going to last awhile, passed in less time than it takes me to make coffee in the morning (who am I kidding? I don’t make coffee – Justin does.  I just drink what’s left in the pot).

But while the rain didn’t last long, the thunder and lightning lingered.  After dropping the kids off to spend the night with Mimi, Papa, and Gigi, I had the privilege of driving home on country roads at dusk.  I rolled my windows down and took a big breath.  The air was fresh, it smelled delicious, and it was crisp in my lungs.  The storm, though short, was cleansing.  And now, everything around was waking back up.  Crickets were chirping, the fog was slowly settling in the lower parts of the valleys, and the lightning was still showing off behind a few clouds in the distance.

Like the fog settling in the valley, truth slowly settled into my heart.  Storms come and go in this life.  Some are short and last moments.  Others last hours, or even days.  But all storms can be cleansing.

If we let them. 

I know how destructive storms can be.  I lived in Oklahoma for 5 years and I have seen with my own eyes the damage that even a “minor” tornado can have.  I have watched, helpless, from 1200 miles away, as my previous community has had to completely start over because entire city blocks have been flattened by a tornado whose intensity was stronger than anything the F-Scale has seen.

Storms can be absolutely devastating.

Storm, Thunder, Lightning, Destruction, Pain, Sorrow, Grief, Loss, Death, Failure, Cancer, Money Trouble, Financial, Turmoil, Fear, Promise, Hope

And this life throws plenty of storms our way.  Whether it comes in the shape of illness, or financial turmoil, or relationship upheaval….whatever the case…storms will always come.

Sometimes, we can predict when they come, what seasons will be more difficult or tiresome than others.  Other times, they pop up unexpectedly, and hit us by surprise, leaving us ravaged and unsure of our next steps.

Some storms are just rain storms that come and go without much notice, some are small storms that leave a lot of damage, others, like tornadoes or hurricanes, can last a long time and leave more damage than we think is repairable.

But a storm is always temporary.  And, if we give it a chance, every storm in our lives can be cleansing.  There are certain storms in our lives that will leave behind more damage than others.  Some storms will vastly altar the course of our lives – leaving us little or no opportunity to return to the way things were.  But if we lean into the Creator, if we lean into the One who made us, who cares for us, and loves us more than we could ever fathom – then, like the crickets outside my window, we too will be able to sing once the storm has blown through…even if we can still hear the rumble in the distance.

Storms make our roots grow deeper, grow stronger.  Storms wash away the dirt that has built up and nourish the earth around us.

We can either give up or allow the cleansing (though painful) process to happen.  Every storm is an opportunity.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like we are in a storm.  Discouragement has crept up on us in full force.  It isn’t a short burst, but it isn’t much of a tornado either.  The damage isn’t vast or even noticeable most days.  I feel like we are in the midst of a monsoon.  While there isn’t thunder booming or lightning flashing, the rain just

keeps

on

coming.

It is unending and relentless and I don’t feel like we’ve seen the sunshine in days, or weeks…  But we keep trudging forward, shoulder to the wind, clothes soaking wet.

And I’m just so tired.

But the rain will stop.  The clouds will part, the light will shine bright again.  And, if I let it, this storm will be a moment of cleansing.

After the storm, I’ll be able to shake off the dirt, wring out my clothes, and start fresh.

I’ll be able to breathe in the fresh, clean, crisp air and allow my heart to sing as His peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, gently settles into the crevices of my soul.

Because, at the end of the day, the sun is still shining.  Even when I can’t see it.  While the storm is loud and the sky is ominous, the sun is still there.  In the dead of night, the sun still shines!!  If I pay attention, sometimes I can even catch evidence of that…

Rainbow, Storm, Sunshine, Problems, Trials, God, Devotion, Cancer, Death, Financial Trouble, Unexpected, Loss, Grief, Abortion, Unplanned, Tension

He is still there.  He is still calling me forward, beckoning me to continue the mission He spoke years and years ago to the very first disciples.  He is using every drop of rain, every hail stone, every storm, for my good and for His glory.

Thanks You Lord, for the beauty within the storm.

There is Still a Remnant

This post is for the weary traveler who is burnt out and ready to give up.

This post is for the one who has walked away from the church because it doesn’t look anything like the Church we see in the Bible.

This post is for the discouraged who see churches torn apart by offense and petty differences.

This post is for the one who has given up hope in anyone ever actually getting it.

This post is for the person who desperately yearns to see the that the supernatural love for one another Jesus spoke about is actually possible.

This post is for you.  This post is for me.

Because a month from now, a week from now, or even tomorrow – I’ll see or hear (or do!) something that leaves me completely discouraged and wounded, wondering how we are ever supposed to move forward, or how God is ever going to be able to work through the mess His creation has…well…created…or struggle with why no one seems to get it.  And I’ll need to hear what God has  spoken into my heart today….again.

I always struggle with just how vulnerable and transparent I should be when I write.  I definitely feel a bit safer here, on the other side of the screen, unable to see your face as you read the words that have been tucked inside my head and heart, just dying to get out.  But, usually, they are words I don’t often speak out loud because I’m too afraid of the reactions, too afraid of what other people think, and too afraid I won’t be able to defend myself.  But, I’m trying to let go of my need to please everyone…so here it goes…

Before explaining how God has encouraged me, I think it’s necessary to share what I have been struggling with lately.

First, I feel stuck.  Stuck in the middle of two worlds.  You see, most of my liberal friends think I’m a crazy right-wing conservative and a significant portion of my conservative friends and family think I’m a liberal nut.  I don’t fit cleanly in either party.  And, for some, that means I must be less of a Christian and, if they don’t think that, they at least lose a bit (or a lot) of respect for me.

Sad

We have made Christianity something it was never meant to be – political.  There are countless arguments as to why you can’t be a _____(insert name of ANY political party here)_____ and still be a Christian.  I’ve heard it all.  Some things I agree with and others I don’t.  But that isn’t the point.  The point is love.

We should be able to look past our political differences, no matter how Biblically rooted our beliefs may be, and really truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ.  I shouldn’t feel “less” than within the church.  I should feel safe to discuss (rather than demand) my opinion without fear of losing respect.  God’s conviction, when needed, can work beautifully in an environment of love and respect.  Guilt, however, is a tool of the enemy and thrives in environments of pride, isolation, and lack of compassion.

God isn’t limited to one side or the other and desires that all may come to Him!  Are we coming alongside Him or pushing people away from Him?  At the end of the day, I would rather err on the side of love.  If I’m going to be wrong – may it be that I loved too much instead of too little.

Love, Politics, Church, Sacrifice, Jesus, Remnant

Aside from politics, there is SO much more that breaks my heart about the church.  And I’m struggling.  Offense has infested every corner of the Church – people don’t act the way others think they should, feelings are hurt…but instead of learning to love through the mess, as Jesus has exemplified and called us to, we opt to leave, to run away from the problem.  And it is destroying the church.

And what about the fact that there aren’t very many people actually being the Church?!?  Coming for an hour or two on Sunday isn’t exactly what Jesus called us to either.  We care more about hymnals and pew colors than actually making disciples.  If Jesus were to attend “church” today, I have a feeling he would be heartbroken or enraged…or probably both.

And it’s all so overwhelming.  When it piles up, the mountain of imperfections and struggle seems insurmountable.  How?!?  How do we become the Church that God wants us to be?  How do we actually impact the Kingdom with the structure that exists?  How can we instill passion in those that have, for so long, just gone through the  motions?  How do we learn to love in a supernatural, offenses-forgiven, politics-don’t-matter, kind of way?

And then I was reminded of Israel.  They didn’t get it.  Over and over again, they “got it” but, what seemed like moments later, they were worshipping idols and forgetting their covenant with God.  And time after time, exile after exile, God maintained a remnant.  A remnant, a small remaining quantity of His people.

But not for their sake…

For His.  After all, His name was on the line.  The world at that time KNEW that the Israelites were the people of God.  So, in order to bring glory to His name, God maintained a remnant and saved His people (Multiply, Francis Chan).

And then, thanks to choice words in a podcast, I was reminded that there is a remnant of His people today as well.  There is remnant of people who are able to love, live with, and respect both democrats and republicans (Gasp!).  There is a remnant of people who are erring on the side of love, who are loving without reservation or expectation, who are exemplifying irrational forgiveness and learning to overlook offense.  There is a remnant of people who are choosing to fight through the mess, love God’s people, and reach out to the broken and outcast in our society, no matter the cost.

And it isn’t that small of a remnant.  It’s widespread and growing and I’m so excited to see what God is doing in this generation. When I stop focusing on the negative, I see glimpses of this remnant in so many places and it is extraordinarily encouraging.

So my words of encouragement for you:

  • If you are frustrated with church, don’t give up.  Our battles is NOT against flesh and blood.
  • If you are battling offense, if someone has hurt you, be sure to handle it Biblically instead of just walking away (see Matthew 18).  Again, our battle is not against flesh and blood and when we don’t handle things according to God’s word, the enemy wins.  Period.
  • If you’re frustrated with leadership, offer grace.  Being in leadership in the American church today is one of the most difficult places to be.  Everyone expects perfection and everyone wants things their way.  Most pastors are following Jesus and leading you the best they know how.  Encourage them, they need it more than you know.  Offended??  See above.
  • If you are stuck in the middle of politics and feel alone – you’re not!  Don’t ever forget it.
  • If you don’t love your church, check your heart, “Our King, who allowed Himself to be tortured and killed for us, tells us to love one another in the same way.  Have you ever even considered loving a fellow Christian as sacrificially and selflessly as Christ loved you?  When was the last time you looked at a Christian brother or sister selflessly, wanting to bring him or her life no matter what the cost” (Francis Chan, Letters to the Church)?
  • If you are discouraged with no one getting it, soooo many people are.  Here’s a few of my go-to’s for genuine encouragement and inspiration:

The above list might not be your speed.  And, you know what, that’s perfectly okay.  Unity isn’t about us agreeing on everything (or even anything!).  I’m still going to love you at the end of the day even if you think Francis Chan is a heretic or that Rend Collective isn’t all that great.

Because the love of Christ supersedes all of that.

Keep looking for the remnant.  Let go of the negative.  Focus on the positive.  As I heard recently – it doesn’t matter if the cup is half full or half empty – there is still water in the cup!  There is still a remnant.  Go live like it.  Go love like it!

 

 

And Yet…

Lyrics break the silence as the day moves forward
“We will be the generation that learns how to love.”
And for a moment, I believe it
But I take a breath…                           and then I don’t

Because my thumb scrolls by thousands of words, hundreds of comments –
All fueled by hate, condemnation, and just
plain
old
mean

You see, it’s easy to love those we see as victims in the dark
But it’s hard, oh is it hard, to love those we don’t agree with, hard to love the person on the other side                                             of that opinion we are so sure is wrong.

And so we pick up sticks & stones and throw our words as hard as we can
Knowing that wounds from words
last longer than the broken bones of harmless stones

Yes, sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will…
words will break my spirit

Did we forget that there were generations before
that boldly marched for peace, not war
And yet…

And yet…

The war rages on

Instead of stooping down to help, we puff ourselves up with pride
Instead of entering into the mess, we pick sides
We set up camp, arm ourselves with justified hate, and just wait…

We wait like trolls beneath a bridge – all gruff and tough.
We’ve figured it out, we’ve got it right
And until you get it figured out….
You                                                                 
Shall                                               
Not                            
Pass!     

While we’re busy hurling stone-sized words across the great divide,
Arguing about who’s right and what’s best, who’s who and what’s next…

The people in the middle
of the war zone

are
losing
their
lives

Hate does not stop hate.  It just causes collateral damage.

Just STOP.

Stop hurling stones.
Stop flailing sticks.
Put your sword back in its sheath
And
Shut
Your
Mouth

Hate cannot stop hate

Only love can.

love, hate, sticks and stones, voyage, together, community, love first, war, peace

Grace, Mercy, & Sprinkles

Writing might be the last thing I should be doing right now (or maybe the first?).  My to-do list is growing by the minute.  And if I am writing, it should probably be an update on ministry stuff.  But it’s not.

Nope, I’m writing because God laid a word on my heart tonight and it keeps rolling around in my head.  It needs to come out.  So here it goes…

Grace and mercy.  Two small, simple words that are anything but easy.

Grace (n): free and unmerited favor

Mercy (n): compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm

Life with a toddler and a baby is…well…interesting.  After a relatively quiet afternoon full of time lost scheduling doctors appointments, I realized I was about 10 minutes late waking up our toddler.  Too much sleep after school and she struggles to go to bed.  So I wake her up, as usual, by picking her up with her stuffed animal and transferring her to the couch where I cover her with one of her favorite blankets and allow her to wake up slowly.  It usually works like a charm.  But not today.

Crying.  Just crying.  She’s hungry, her sock fell off, the blanket is folded funny…the list went on.  And no matter what, still crying.  I held her.  Still crying.  I was firm.  Still crying.

Baby wakes up.  Crying.  Not entirely unusual for him to wake this way, but his two top teeth are coming through and he immediately wanted his momma. So the crying was definitely worse than usual.

And in the middle of the chaos, Justin comes home.  Two kids crying.  Neither consolable.

As we prepared dinner, it didn’t get much better.  While trying to catch up on the day, we kept passing one child back and forth to keep him from crying and were constantly interrupted by the other with random bursts of tears.

Dinner came.  Hangry toddler was satisfied and much better.  No more crying.

But tears turned into misbehaviors.  Was it the crazy day at school (pajama party!!)?  Was it the exhaustion of mom & dad?  Was it that brother was getting more attention?  Or was it just typical toddler stuff?

It doesn’t matter.  Over and over again the wrong choice was made.  And then she asked for ice cream.

Snacks before bed time are not a normal thing (unless she’s at Mimi & Papa’s).  It is only on rare occasions that ice cream comes out before bed.

So, like any good parent…we bargained (ha!): “If you stop making bad choices, you can have ice cream.” She had 10 minutes.  Not completely unreasonable for a 4 year old.

She failed, miserably.  Just moments after being disciplined for shutting a door in her brother’s face, she asked for ice cream again.

“Have you been making good choices tonight?”

She carefully folded up her fingers, one at a time, “This many” as she tentatively held out 3.

“Have you made any bad choices tonight?”  She didn’t hesitate to unfold one more finger (ha!).

“When you make more bad choices than good choices what does that mean?”

“Good things can’t happen.”  (We’ve been talking a lot about actions and consequences lately.)

“That’s right,” Daddy said as he pulled her up into his lap.  He gently talked to her about what the consequences could have been for some of her choices, “But tonight, you can still have ice cream.  Not because you deserve it.  I’m showing you mercy.”

“And grace!,” I chimed in.

“Like Jesus…” she said as she toddled off to the kitchen with her Daddy (definite win).

A bit later she proudly carried a cup of ice cream out to me before she carried out her own.

As we sat together, Daddy walked out of the kitchen, sprinkles in hand, and added them to her ice cream (something unheard of in this house).  She was ecstatic!

Grace, Mercy, Word, God's Word, Daily Devotion, Father, Good Father, Love, Favor, Neighbor, Love Your Neighbor

I laughed and said, “Wow – grace and sprinkles!”

And those words wouldn’t quit bouncing around in my head.

Isn’t God just like that?  He gives us grace, mercy, and sprinkles!  If I had to count on my fingers the good choices I’ve made versus the bad ones…well, I would run out of fingers pretty quickly either way – but I don’t think the scales would tip in my favor.  I don’t deserve anything.  Not ice cream.  And certainly not bonus sprinkles!

But God, in His beautiful glory, wants to give me the world.  He wants to give me what I don’t deserve…and so much more.  Why?  Because He loves me!  Love changes everything.  God has given me unmerited favor.  And He is constantly walking out from the kitchen, sprinkles in hand, to shower extra undeserved blessings upon me.

Simply because He loves me.

So why, then, do I struggle so much with grace and mercy?  Why, when He has given me so much that I don’t deserve, do I struggle to do the same for others?

Grace and mercy are hard for us silly humans because we don’t love first.  When opportunities to show grace arise, we usually do one of two things:

  1. We just don’t offer it.  We walk away.  They dug their ditch, they can lay in it.  Or…
  2. We begrudgingly offer grace, simply because we’re supposed to.

But when grace isn’t rooted in love, it will often lead to resentment, which isn’t really grace or mercy after all…

Like a good father, we have to start with love.  We have to choose to see someone the way that God sees them.  In the words of Urban Rescue, “Your love is my kaleidoscope.”  His love changes everything.  It changes the way we see things.  It changes me.  It changes you.  It changes them.

Love first. Grace and mercy are much easier after that.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ll start dishing out sprinkles too!

grace, mercy, love, god, good father, father, god the father, undeserved, favor, human, resentment, hope, daddy

Family? Start Acting Like It!

Community.  It is the word that has driven my passion the past few years.

Community.  Each of us craves a sense of belonging – to be known and loved for who we are.

Community.  It’s what we were created for.  Literally.

So why is true, authentic community so hard to find?  Because community is hard work.  It’s extremely messy.  And sometimes it is easier to just….not.

Church, we are called to BE community, to be the example the rest of the world lives by.  If we get it right, it will be beautifully attractive.  After all, most people, especially millennials, are seeking a sense of authentic community.  The fields are ripe for harvest (John 4:35)!  Now is the time to be the community that Christ has called us to! Now is the time to be the community that the world needs.

We have to start getting this right!

When difficulties arise, when the messiness that comes with community starts to show, people walk away.  It is happening everywhere!  It is easier to leave than to work through the mess.  But here is the truth: people are imperfect!  You are not perfect.  I am not perfect.  ______(insert the name of anyone)________ is not perfect!  And when imperfect people come together, there are bound to be issues.  Sooner or later someone will get hurt, or offended, or left out.  Maybe not intentionally….but, because we are all imperfect, it happens!

These are the moments that can define who we are as a church, as a family.  These are the moments that make the difference.  We can be like the rest of the world and give up on “community” at that point.  We can walk away without handling the problem or issue biblically.  Or we can push through, work through as God’s Word dictates, and come out as a stronger community on the other side.

This is a soap box I have been standing on for awhile.  Recently, I was able to read the book, Accidental Pharisee by Larry Osborne (HIGHLY recommend).  It challenged me and made me reevaluate a lot of the ways I behave.  There is a section on Biblical unity where he put into words and images much better than I have tried to do on my own:

“Our biblical unity is a lot like the unity we experience in a family.  When my kids were young and crammed into the back seat of our car, they didn’t always get along very well.  At times they wanted to kill each other.  At times I thought they might.  But it didn’t matter.  As I reminded them, they were stuck with each other.  They had to learn to get along.  They were united by birth, not by choice.  And nothing was going to change that.

In the same way, if I’m saved and you’re saved (even if I think you barely snuck in), we’re family.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t like each other, if we vehemently disagree…  We’re stuck with each other.  We have to learn to get along.  We’re united by Jesus, not by choice.  And nothing is going to change that.

Our biblical unity is rooted solely in our relationship with Jesus…  It exists even when we wish it didn’t…

Unfortunately, when family members refuse to get along, it’s not just the squabbling siblings who suffer.  The whole family suffers.  It brings shame to the family name.  It dishonors the parents.  Think back to the last time you saw somebody else’s kids having a meltdown in the grocery aisle.  My bet is that you didn’t think too highly of the children – or the parents.  Even if your own kids have had their fair share of meltdowns in aisle 6, you probably walked away thankful that you weren’t part of that family.

The same thing happens in the spiritual realm.  When the world sees us loving and bearing with one another, like the sons and daughters of God that we are, they’re drawn toward us.  We gain credibility to speak into their lives.  It reflects well on our heavenly Father.  But when they see fisticuffs and shouting matches breaking out…they can’t help but wonder, ‘What kind of heavenly Father would have a family like that?’

It’s no wonder they’re not too interested in what we have to say about life, Jesus, or the salvation that we claim we have and that they so desperately need.”

When we choose to walk away instead of dealing with the hurt, the offense, or the problem – what does that do to the witness of the Church?  When we choose to speak poorly of the church, of the people, we left behind – what does that do the credibility of the Gospel?

It isn’t about being right or wrong.  It isn’t about you.  It isn’t about me.  It’s about family.  It’s about the Good News!

If we are truly a church family, if we are the family of God – then we had better start acting like it.  People are watching.  And their very lives depend on it!!

Family, Community, Offense, Hurt, Church, Witness

Constant Uncertainty

Have you ever noticed that when you truly start to follow the Lord that you are in a constant state of uncertainty?  Yes, He will give you moments of reassurance that you are on the right path.  But, more often than not, you cannot see the place your foot will fall as you take the next step.  While it is terrifying, this is exactly the place He wants us to be.  Because when we are uncertain, when we don’t know just what is going to happen, then we have to fully submit our lives to Him, fully depend on Him.

Whether it was two days, a month, or longer, the Israelites camped and did not set out as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle. But when it was lifted, they set out. They camped at the Lord’s command, and they set out at the Lord’s command. They carried out the Lord’s requirement according to His command through Moses.  – Numbers 9:22-23

The presence of God was visible in the midst of the Israelite camp.  During the day it was a cloud and at night, a pillar of fire.  And the entire journey, from Egypt to the Promised Land, was dependent upon His presence.  They did not move unless He did and they would rest as long as He did.  You see, “God chose to keep this people so dependent upon Himself, and so submissive to His own will, that He would not give them regular times of marching or resting; they were to do both when and where God saw best” (Adam Clarke).

So, we must do the same, move when God moves, and rest when He rests.  Camp, or rest, is necessary for a time.  But how often do we as individuals set up camp and forget what it means to journey, to follow?  We get comfortable where we are and we stay there.  Is this what happened to the Church?  Did God move and we remained at camp?  He promised to be with us always IF we were making disciples (see Matthew 28:19-20).  So if we are no longer making disciples (the Church IS dying across the nation…which means more are falling away than those being added), than is His presence still with us?  Corporately, I think God has moved on, and many (not all) churches are functioning without His presence.  Why?  Because we got too comfortable.  Packing up camp and marching forward is difficult.  The journey before us is unknown, trudging through the wilderness doesn’t sound like much fun.  It is easier to remain where we are than to face the journey ahead.

But it is when we keep His charge, as the Israelites did, that we find all we have been waiting for.  He is leading the journey.  And when we are following Him we have nothing to fear!  The journey may be difficult, we will most likely face our enemy along the way, and each step we take is forward into the unknown – but we can rest assured that He is with us because we are following His command.

On the other hand, there are times when we are ready to march forward and God has placed us in a season of resting, or waiting.  The Israelites were always ready to march because the presence of God (the cloud or the fire) could move at any moment.  In fact, “They probably wanted to move forward badly – they were headed to the promised land!”  But, if we believe, if we truly trust in Him, we cannot hurry.  There is not time lost when we are waiting on God’s time (Matthew Henry).

There are times that God knows we are weary, so He provides rest.  There are other times that He is aware of a challenging season ahead, so He gives us time beside still waters to refresh before we plunge into the difficult wilderness ahead.  And, still other times where He knows we aren’t prepared for what is ahead.  Those times are the most difficult, I believe.  He has trials in the waiting to prepare our hearts for what He has for us on the jouney.  Camp isn’t always easy.  But camp we must as we wait for Him to move.

Waiting, Camping, Wait, Camp, Rest, Journey, Adventure, Presence of God, God's Presence, Israel, Follow

The alternative is moving forward without Him.  Many times, it seems as if we are doing a good thing, it is a highly spiritual venture.  But if we move without Him, the blessing of that venture may never come.  After all, it isn’t very spiritual if God isn’t in it…

To move or to stay without the direction of God is defiance.  It is direct disobedience.  And, because of that, no matter how spiritual the endeavor may look, I am furthering the Dominion of Darkness when I am not keeping the Lord’s charge.

To end I would like to paraphrase a prayer from Matthew Henry:

Father, Your will be done; get rid of me and mine as You please; here I am, desirous to be found waiting on my God continually, to journey and rest at the commandment of the Lord.  What You will, and where You will, only let me be Yours…

 

 

 

When the Enemy Attacks

When we put our energy toward accomplishing the works of the Lord, the enemy does not like it.  He will do whatever he can to thwart our efforts and progress.  As Charles Stanley puts it in Church Awakening, “While Christ has promised to build up the church, the adversary is equally committed to tearing it down.”  And he will use people both outside of the church and inside of the church to make that happen.

Church, Enemy, Spiritual Warfare, Church Awakening, Charles Stanley, Build Up, Ephesians, Hard Times

At the beginning of chapter 4 of Nehemiah we see opposition come from outside the church.  At first, the opposition comes in the form of words, in mere insults: “They can’t do it.”  “It isn’t good enough.”  “It won’t work.”  “They will fail.”  Sound familiar?  These are simply words, but if they are received with the wrong attitude, they can be utterly destructive.  This kind of opposition casts doubt and makes you wonder if the task is even possible (and without God, it probably wouldn’t be…but that’s another post for another day).  It makes you question if God actually wants you to be doing this.  And it takes your focus off of His vision to the much smaller vision of man.  Words can be devastatingly destructive if we allow them to be.

Nehemiah didn’t let these words win; the building of the wall continued (vs. 7).  But their choice to continue working only made the enemy angry.  They then conspired to come against Nehemiah and his men in a physical manner – they were going to put a stop to the building one way or another.  In America, we don’t often see physical attacks such as the ones mentioned here, but the enemy still has ways, beyond words, to try and halt our work and progress.  Busyness would be the first way.  How many people within the church, how many Christians, are too busy to put their hands and feet to the tasks of our Lord?  Or what about money?  The budget doesn’t allow for such a vision… Or he keeps the few people who could finance the vision from “catching” the vision.

Which leads us to the idea that the enemy sometimes uses those inside the church to stop our progress.  He keeps us busy, keeps us from tithing, keeps us prideful…and mostly, he discourages.  In verse 10 we see, “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish; and we ourselves are unable to to rebuild the wall.”  How many times have you seen the strength of leaders fail?  How many times have you seen burn out happen?  How many times have you seen someone walk away because the struggle seemed insurmountable?  I myself have been guilty of thinking the task is too large, that there is too much rubbish standing in the way, we will never make it.  And when I allow those thoughts to invade my soul, I’m letting the enemy win.  When I allow those thoughts to influence my actions and/or the actions of those around me, I have become a tool in the enemy’s hand.

Nehemiah didn’t allow that to happen.  His response is a perfect model for how we should respond in the face of an enemy attack.  First, he prayed.  Or I should say, they prayed.  At this point, Nehemiah’s “I” became a “we” – the people were catching the zeal and passion for the Lord’s work that Nehemiah had from the start.  So when trouble threatened the horizon, they went to the Lord in prayer.  This should always be our first response.  No matter what the situation, finding ourselves on our knees is the best place to be.  It is only in prayer that we can prepare for battle.  It is only through prayer that we can dress ourselves in the armor of God and prepare for the spiritual battles that face us every single day, “for in every duty we must expect opposition from our spiritual enemies” (Wesley).

But that prayer means nothing if we don’t put our feet to our faith.  “Nehemiah was not the fanatic to blunder into the delusion that prayer was a substitute for duty…” for he knew that prayer with action is “the most effective defense measure” (Expositor’s).  He could have easily prayed for protection and continued on the way they had been – building the wall without any regard to the enemy.  But he took it one step further, Nehemiah prayed for protection and then prepared for battle.  Protection doesn’t mean that God will keep the battle from happening, but it does mean He will be there fighting right alongside you, strengthening your faith, bolstering your spirit, and so much more.  Protection means that we are never alone.

The second response that we see from Nehemiah is unity: “I said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another.  At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.  Our God will fight for us” (vs. 19-20).  Our best chance of success is to pull together as one when the enemy attacks.  Regardless of whether the attacks come from outside our walls or within – the answer is unity.  IF we are united THEN God will fight for us.

Unity is a form of anointing in the Lord’s book.   The 133rd Psalm is a  short one but the entire point is that unity = anointing: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!  It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes.  It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion.  For there the Lord has appointed the blessing – life forevermore.”

“The origin of anointing was from a practice of shepherds.  Lice and other insects would often get into the wool of sheep, and when they got near the sheep’s head, they could burrow into the sheep’s ears and kill the sheep.  So, ancient shepherds poured oil on the sheep’s head.  This made the wool slippery, making it impossible for insects to get near the sheep’s ear because the insects would slide off.  From this, anointing became symbolic of blessing, protection, and empowerment” (gotquestions.org).

Unity, Anointing, Forgiveness, Enemy, Nehemiah, Love, Abundance, Protection, Blessing, Empowerment

When we are united, it is then that God anoints us.  It is then that we receive blessing, protection, and empowerment.  But the significance doesn’t stop there.  First, and foremost, this isn’t speaking of outward unity, but rather, true unity, unity of the heart.  In order for us to be truly unified in that sense, there can be no unforgiveness or bitterness.  For if we do not forgive, the Lord will not forgive us, and we forfeit the blessing that unity brings (Matthew 6:14-15).  Aaron and his sons were not permitted to minister to the Lord or be in His presence without the anointing of the oil.  Without unity, without that anointing, we harm our relationship with the Lord.  When we ourselves are not forgiven, when we have not payed our debt, we cannot be in the presence of the Lord.  Sin cannot be in the presence of the Lord.  And if we can’t be in His presence, we certainly can’t do His work.

The oil of anointing held a very pleasant aroma.  It was made from olive oil, cinnamon, myrrh, cane, and cassia lignea (very similar to cinnamon) (Exodus 20:23-25).  When someone was anointed the aroma would have been very agreeable, attractive to others.  When we are truly and wholly united, only then will we be attractive to those outside of our walls.

This anointing we receive from the Lord when we are united is excessive as we can see in the 133rd Psalm.  The oil ran down Aaron’s beard and onto his robes.  Even today in the Middle East, oil for anointing is poured in such a way that it reaches every limb.  It’s an extravagant amount.  The dew of Herman mentioned in the Psalm is also mentioned because of it’s abundance – historical documents note that this dew, even in dry weather, was so abundant that tents were as wet as if it had rained at night (Clarke). God’s anointing – His blessing, His protection, His empowerment – is abundant when we are living in true, straight-to-the-heart unity!

When the enemy attacks, our response should be prayer with action and true unity.  If we do these things, there is much to come in return: protection, blessing, empowerment and more!  God is there!  He is always there!  He just wants us to acknowledge His presence, His power, and His purpose (unity, or true community).

When the enemy attacks, God will respond justly.  The question is, will you?

It Only Takes a Few…

In Nehemiah chapter 3 we get a piece by piece account of who helped to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.  It’s like reading the genealogies throughout Scripture – you read it to get through it and then move on to the next thing.  But even within those sections of Scripture, there is so much we can learn!  Overall, this chapter  teaches us that focus and diligence can make up for lack of numbers.

It only takes a few to make a difference.  If we learn nothing else from this short chapter, let it be this.  We must be willing to put our feet to our faith and step forward in service.  How many say, ‘Let’s do it!’ but then sit back and do nothing, “Let it never be said that we left that good work to be done to-morrow which we might as well have done today” (Henry).  Nehemiah didn’t hesitate.  He saw the need, knew what needed to be done to fix it, and with the help of others, accomplished the task.  It wasn’t because he was functioning on his own strength, but rather, “it sprang from prayer and faith” (Expositor’s).  If we are in prayer, seeking His will, devoted to His will, then why are we so hesitant?

The Expositor’s commentary goes into detail about how the execution of rebuilding the wall was almost socialistic in nature.  Everyone was united in civic duty for the common good.  First and foremost, I believe this unity begins with the family unit.  From there, it branches to the church.  The church should always be a unit, united for the common good, united to further the Kingdom of God – “to be a citizen of the ‘City of God’ is to be called out of the circle of the narrow, selfish interests into the large place where great, common duties and an all-comprehensive good of the whole body are set before us as the chief aims to be pursued” (Expositor’s).  This is what God intended!!  But so often we miss the mark on this.  Church becomes just another place where I get my way.  And if I don’t, I’m going to make a fuss about it, leave, or just stop being a part of anything.  Sometimes what is good for the whole body doesn’t look like what we think it should.  And sometimes it takes time to see that.  But if we are faithful and obedient to what God calls us, if we remain united, we will see the good, just as these men (and women) saw the completion of a wall that was previously left to become ruins.

Ruin, Small, Mustard Seed, Faith, Few, United, Church, Unity, Family, Focus, Nehemiah

In the grand scheme of things, the number of those that worked to complete the wall were very few.  The record barely takes up a full page in my Bible!  But, nonetheless, they set themselves to the task and completed the vision that God had cast.  This should give us hope!  For “If a small city could once take the unique position of Jerusalem, then why should not a small church now?  And if a little knot of earnest men within the city could be the nucleus of her character and the source of her influence, why should not quite a small group of earnest people give a character to their church, and through the church, work wonders in the world as the grain of mustard seed could move a mountain?” (Expositor’s).  There’s no waiting until your numbers grow.  There’s no waiting until we’re bigger.  There’s only now.  As a mustard seed faith can move mountains, so can a few, devoted and faithful, make a great difference for the kingdom of God!!

Mustard Seed, Faith, Difference, Change, Few, Small, Church, Kingdom

Reading through the names of those that helped to build the wall, there are a couple that significantly stick out.  In verse 20, it is noted that Baruch zealously repaired a section of the wall.  He is the only one that gets this descriptor.  His passion for the work was so evident and overflowing that Nehemiah couldn’t help but mention it!  But on the other hand, in verse 5 we see that the Tekoites made repairs.  However “their nobles did not support the work of their masters.”  While Nehemiah kept track of who did the work, he also noted who did not participate in the work of the Lord.  As life moves on, will you be remembered as a Baruch, zealously serving the Lord?  Or will you be remembered as the nobles of the Tekoites, not putting your hand to service because you don’t think it worthy or you don’t have the time or ______________ (insert excuse here)?

As for me, I will stay focused on the task(s) that God has called me to.  I will approach His vision and His work zealously.  I will not allow the lack of many to destroy the hope of the few.  I will commit to my family unit and, in turn, commit to my church unit, remaining faithful and obedient to the Lord’s will…even if it doesn’t go my way.  United we stand.  Divided we fall.

Will you stand with me?