Monday, March 26, 2012

Called, Equipped, and Ready to Serve

Yeah, right. When does that ever happen? It isn’t often that we feel called, equipped, and ready to serve all at the same time. The “stars” rarely align our desire, abilities, and free time. Even if you feel called, you may wonder when you’ll ever be able to fit one more thing into your already busy life. Perhaps you might have some spare time but be scared stiff  because you lack the knowledge of how to actually accomplish what you hear God asking.

It is important that we don’t rely solely on ourselves or our calendars to make the decisions as to how, who, what, where, and when we will serve. Of course personal discernment is a helpful tool in figuring out how best to love others. God gives each one of us specific passions and insight for particular types of ministry. It’s valuable to take a good hard look at our schedules and make healthy choices.

But I often wonder how many times we wait, dismiss, or don’t even investigate the possibility of service because we don’t feel called, equipped, and ready to serve all at once? At the risk of pushing ourselves beyond what is comfortable, we say “no.”  Sometimes “no” is absolutely right. At other times I think it hinders the work that God wants us to do in the world, our city, our church, our home, and in us. I’ve seen that what matters most in a great volunteer, parent, or spouse is a willing heart and an attitude of obedience to Christ.

Much of what I am called, equipped, and ready to do at NFC is encouraging people to try something outside of their comfort zone. I admit it...this ministry gets lonely and frustrating sometimes. Just because I am called, equipped, and ready to do the work doesn’t mean I always get it right.

I also have the sheer pleasure of watching what happens when people say “yes.” It’s in the “yes” that VBS, Girls and Boys Camp, Women’s Bible Fellowship, Tilikum day camp, Sunday school, Godly Play, K-2 and 3:4-5 Fun Night, 3M, and parenting small groups happen. It’s in the “yes” that you will have the honor and privilege of seeing God at work in the lives of those you serve. It’s in the “yes” that you will find God calling and equipping you. Choosing to be outside of the comfort zone is a sacrificial gift we give to others, ourselves, and most importantly to Christ. The benefits are eternal.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but it is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 2 Corinthians 9:12

March 2012 - From the Children and Families Newsletter that I put together each month. Not a typical blog post, but since my work/ministry is a big part of my life, I think it makes sense to include it here. I worked a long time on it...making sure this article said what I wanted in a way that spoke hope not condemnation, the truth without whining, conviction not guilt. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Take a Break

This past week the snow fell and my morning responsibilities fell away right along with every flake. As I laid in bed soaking up each delicious minute of a two hour late start for my girls I realized how deeply I needed a respite from the daily routine. Late start for our public schools = no WBF (Women's Bible Fellowship). WBF is a study group of about 40 women that I help facilitate September through May.  I look forward to what God brings though these amazing ordinary women. Every Thursday morning our church social hall is transformed into a sacred sanctuary where tears, laughter, song, and story flow freely. My responsibility level is quite high on Thursdays and I usually lean into this without hesitation. But as the snow blanketed the ground in glorious white, I felt as though God said, "I know you're tired, l've got it covered." So I snuggled with my daughters, found a work project I could do from the comfort of my bed, and let my mind delight in all that I was released from doing at church that morning.

Now it's spring break and for the past two days the sun has been shining and the daffodils are beginning to thaw. Yesterday I ran for 5 miles under blue sky with a gentle breeze. I went out to dinner with friends and wore sandals. My hope is set high for warmer temperatures and a change from the gray dreariness of our NW winter. I'm sensing the theme of a break from the routine.

Which brings me to the Parable of the Growing Seed, Mark 4:26-29.

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

This morning's message at church was titled "One Who Brings an Unstoppable Kingdom with Power." Whew, that's a mouthful...and a mindful. Gregg shared that Mark 4:26-29 was about hope. Jesus was in essence saying, "relax, don't worry, I've got it covered." In the parable, "A man" scatters the word and the kingdom of God is able to grow independently of our personal response but instead by the power of Christ. Jesus will be faithful to complete what he began. This breaks the routine of what we usually hear when it comes to the "Christian life." We often make The Story about our response instead of depending on kingdom power.

Verse 27 is my favorite: Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. If "he" in this verse is Jesus, does that mean the power of the kingdom is so great that even Jesus doesn't know how it works? Whoa...that's some mighty big power! Or perhaps "he" refers to you and me. If we have scattered faith in God's Word over our lives, then no matter what we do, we can be assured that even though we can't figure out how it happens, if we are patient and wait on God's timing, the kingdom will inevitably grow. As I read and reread the Parable of the Growing Seed I become more and more confused as to who I am in the story. Am I a man, the seed, or some soil? One thing remains clear in each scenario; God's power enables me to rely on him and take a break.

God's power can be frightening even when it is for our benefit. We rely on clocks, schedules, routines, and calendars to help us feel in control. We want to know when, where, and how things are going to happen. And here's a parable that flat out says, "He does not know how." Frightening goodness...yes please. My train of thought has brought me to the cross. To fully experience God's kingdom growing in my life I must be willing to live with the unknown. I can't comprehend the cross. How did one man, who was also God, die for the sins of all humankind? I can't imagine triumphing over death for all eternity. I can't grasp the concept of eternity. Although this possible train-wreck of a post has been about taking a break and letting God do his kingdom coming thing, I believe we do hold some responsibility in the kingdom. Or at least how we acknowledge, enjoy, and experience it. So whether the routine of daily life is disrupted by a snow storm, or spring break, as we approach holy week I'm delightfully frightened by the power of the cross. Am I willing to watch Jesus die to see him rise?

Sunday, March 18, 2012


The more I think about our society's' need for comfort all the time, I feel sick. I'm obsessed with our comfort-loving culture. I care more about my personal comfort level than anything or anyone. Yep, more than my husband, more than my kids, more than God. Ouch. Talk about an idol. Comfort is the biggest one I can think of in today's world.
Let me just lay out a few examples of  how I let the desire for comfort run my life:
  • I wake up in the nicest bed in the house. A tempur-pedic. We didn't buy our kids one or have a guest room with this kind of mattress. Nope, we spent money on the best for ourselves.
  • Complain that I have to wake up. Don't want to move from the comfort of my warm bed.
  • I open my eyes and check my iPhone. Time to see if anyone missed me or commented on MY stuff while I was sleeping. Making sure I'm "liked" or needed is one way I can feel comfortable about my value. 
  • Time to slip on that big comfy robe and slippers. Wouldn't want to feel a chill on my way to my bathroom, just 10 steps away from my cozy bed. 
  • Time for a HOT shower. Complain when the first few water droplets to hit my skin aren't up to temp.
  • Giant towel. 
  • Oh what to wear...choices, choices. Something warm and comfortable. 
  • Must dry hair and put on make-up. Don't like how cold and clammy I feel with wet hair. Make sure my face looks "cute." I don't want to go anywhere with just my natural God-given face. How uncomfortable it would feel to be out there without cosmetic enhancements. (exaggerating for effect...I actually don't wear make-up everyday. But the truth is I feel much better about myself when I have it on.)
  • Breakfast time, I need something warm and tasty. Hmm, must have coffee. I want my tummy to feel comfortable. 
  • Check phone...anyone "liked" anything yet? Make sure I have answered emails and am being relational. Staying connected make me feel comfortable. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to be the last to know something?
  • Time to drive to work. My office is only 2 miles down the street. But the nice mountain bike that we put all the bike bags on for me is so, well, you's a bike, not a nice warm van with a cup holder for my coffee and the radio that I love. Plus, my hair will look funny by the time I get to work if I put on that helmet. 
  • Arrive at work and complain about the 2 bags and cup of coffee that I'm carrying the 50 feet from my van to my desk. Oh so much to "haul." 
  • My office is too hot or too cold, but rarely if ever, just right.
  • I need to work over in the church building, but it's too cold. Guess, I'll just have to wait for another day. Don't want to be chilly.
  • I hear God asking me to work on a VBS, Girls Camp, or something else that seems too it for another day. 
  • Time to go home. Glad I can take the comfy van instead of that bike. Whew, now I don't have to leave the office 20 minutes earlier. Getting by with minutes to spare is so much easier than having to intentionally plan out my day.
  • Home sweet home. Time to eat. 3pm meal in front of the TV while sitting on a rocker/glider chair before a 5:30pm dinner. Lucky me, we have snacks, leftovers, and food bursting from the fridge, freezer, garage shelves, and cupboards. I've never known what it's like to not have food available.  
  • Time to make dinner. The hardest decision...what to make? So many choices.
  • Clean-up = kids/dishwasher. Minimal scouring of pots and pans for me. Yippee!
  • Laundry-throw it in the machines. Sure I have to fold and hang, but it sure beats the ole "plunge and scrub." Oh, and I almost forgot, I get to watch HGTV while folding laundry. Nothing like watching people searching for bigger and better houses while I toil away.
  • Should I go for a run tonight? Naah, too windy, too cold, too hot, too tired, too uncomfortable.
  • I need to work on some stuff in our office. "Alan can you move to the lap top, I want the big computer."
  • Time for jammies. Nothing better than curling up on my awesome bed with flannel pi's and that big fluffy robe. 
  • More TV, a bedtime snack, some reading, check Facebook, play my word games with friends...
  • Whew, that was one exhausting day. I think I should look at Pintrest for some ideas on how to make life better and more comfortable. 
And that is how it goes. I know there is much more to my life than these little moments of comfort-seeking. I'm not a lazy person. But the truth is that I'm addicted to comfort. I think we all are to some varying degree. We want to find the things/the circumstances in life that will make us the most comfortable most of the time. It's become a "right" to search for the highest level of comfort we can afford. Yet don't we see clearly that the times we grow our faith, deepen our compassion, and find ourselves most closely connected to Christ is when we lay down our big fat idol called comfort and seek our Savior?

I understand that one of the best tools we can put into action is gratitude. A grateful heart says, "thank you for the warm bed, thank you for the food, etc." I am totally sold on the power of living a life of gratitude. Unfortunately, I don't think it's enough. Because even when we say, "thank you," it doesn't always help us to not say, "more please." The cushyines level of our lives have made us soft. It's made us expect that we can and should have more. For example, just because I'm grateful for the hot shower today, doesn't mean I would accept a cold one tomorrow. No, my comfort (sin) nature will rise up and complain loudly if tomorrow's hot water supply doesn't match what I've experienced today. In fact, when I'm feeling really selfish, I'll even want to take a longer shower tomorrow. If seven minutes of hot water feels great today, wouldn't 8.5 minutes be even better?

I'm curious how you wrestle with the desire for comfort in your life. What are some things that you struggle with in our culture of comfort.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Embracing Release

In my circles there's a lot of talk these days about serious issues. The top two doozies these days are homosexuality and gender roles. A lot of these conversations boil down to trying to figure out who's in and who's out (pun sort of intended).

  • What is the correct, loving, and biblically accurate response to the gay community?
  • What kind of woman do I want to be/what is the Christian community expecting me to be?
  • Is it ok to be a stay-at-home mom and still want my husband to help do the dishes, parent the kids, and fold the laundry on a daily basis?
  • How should a lesbian be involved in the life of the church?
  • What does a "date-night" have to include?
  • Should I love or despise Proverbs 31?
  • Is it ok to be a woman and a pastor?
  • Can I simultaneously want to look good on the outside/feel good on the inside, but cringe at the thought of maximizing my beauty for my man?
  • Does love have limits - what did Jesus say?

I wish I had definitive, well thought out, well-researched answers for all of these questions. Take anyone of them and it's bound to either get you in trouble, snared in hypocrisy, or left feeling insane as you try and sort out facts from opinions. But wait, don't forget your own personal baggage, family of origin issues, and human brokenness. There are so many voices these days trying to come up with the "right" answers. And frankly it leaves me feeling flustered. One of the best/worst things about my personality is my ability to see things from different points of view. I'm reminded of that country song that says, "You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything." Is that what I am, a gutless, wishy-washy flip-flopper?

Last weekend I directed a Women's Retreat with the theme "Lay Down Your Burden." I think in light of the knot in my stomach it would be best to lay down the battle zone that seems to be going on in my head and heart. I pray that for now an acceptable answer to a lot of those tricky questions above is "I dunno." We might not be able to discern Truth here and now....but one glorious day it will be made clear. For all of us who claim to know God, to trust in Jesus Christ, and who seek the revelation of the Holy Spirit in our lives, may we embrace release.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Blogging In My Head

If I had time to put thoughts to paper... errr, screen I could of blogged a ton in the last month. My life has been a blur of "God moments." Many posts have been written and left untyped. It's been fun to see the connections between what I'm studying at Women's Bible Fellowship, reading in my Lent devotional, hearing during Sunday morning and Ash Wednesday services, in conversations with friends, connecting with others at the Justice conference/advocating for Compassion, leading a parenting group, exploring through pastoral team meeting spiritual practices, preparing for Women's Retreat, and observing in Leviticus and Numbers with my 15-year-old.

Themes of sacrifice, focusing on wholeness vs. happiness, and coming back to the center of faith have bombarded me daily. I'm so grateful for our God who makes himself known and available. I recognize that sometimes it takes effort on my part to settle down enough to hear his voice. At other times (like now) it's in the middle of my busyness where I see him everywhere. What brings me comfort and joy this season is not based on clear answers but rather His presence. I still don't know where I'm going or how I'm going to get there, but I do know God is going with me. Perhaps being able to have peace in that truth is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.

God loves to be creative. As a potter he sculpts us into the likeness of his Son Jesus Christ. He does not have us fit in a mold, but rather uses our "raw materials" to shape us into something unique and beautiful. As a weaver God takes the threads of our days and our inmost being and knits them together into a garment of praise. The questions I ask myself: Am I willing to let God be creative in my life? Is it ok if God creates something one day, then scraps it, and remakes it the next?

This Lenten season I've given up excuses. No longer will I hold off of letting God into each and every part of who I am, what I'm about, or where I hope to go. I will release my burdens to him. I'll walk into the wilderness, be tempted by confusion, and comforted by grace. I'm finding that the good life means more about wrapping my life around Christ than it does around my dreams. With childlike faith I'll put trust in the One who is infinitely wise, unconditionally loving, and abounding in hope.