Turning the Page / Stepping in

Turning the Page / Stepping in

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.




I feel great excitement as I sit here crafting and creating. For several years, I have felt an invitation to this, God’s invitation to write. If I am honest, fear has kept me from responding. But today is the day I step through the door. God has given me a voice: a voice to join conversations, a voice to start conversations, and a voice to help shape community and culture.

For many years, that voice lay hidden, walled in by fear, the fear of being hated, feared, or misunderstood. Fear that kept me invisible. Fear that kept me silent. That is part of my story and of the long arduous journey that brings me here today. I look forward to sharing more of it, past and present, with you as we journey together, through this page, toward Christ-likeness

Consolidating Platforms

The time has come to bring blogging together with  Connections from the Garden, my spiritual direction practice.  His Story, My Voice will now make  its home at https://cftg.life/blog-2/.  Thank you so much for supporting me.  I really appreciate your interest in my writing and would love to have you continue on this journey with me.  Here’s a link to my latest post: https://cftg.life/an-opinion-on-racism-through-personal-experience/

Finding Direction in A National Lockdown

How easily the currents of change and uncertainty sweep us away.  That is, if we are not securely anchored. This morning, day four of lockdown in South Africa, I reflected back over the past two weeks.  From the beginning, when we were first asked by the president to practice social distancing, I said that I wanted to enter into this season well. I defined that as trusting God and doing what I need to do each day.  Simple enough, and yet as I reflected, I felt a sense of frustration, as though time were somehow slipping away from me.

Where had I gone wrong?  I wasn’t trying to escape from isolation through hours of social media, and I didn’t try to drown my anxieties in a flood of binge watching on netflix.  On the other hand, my wife and I had been taking time each day to connect as we walked around our yard and prayed. We had also had some good family time, playing games, watching a movie and just hanging out around meals.  All good things. All part of what I feel this time is about for us as a family.  

So what’s the problem?  This morning, God reminded me of a passage that I had discovered almost a year ago while on a personal retreat.  I am chosen, delighted in and led by God. God also reminded me that His purposes do not change. Even when the World seems to be in chaos, God is redeeming for Himself a people restored to His image, revealing and representing Him in the world.  That will never change.  

As people involved in vocational ministry, we can get so wrapped up in the daily tasks of our vocation that we forget how our identity and our purpose actually fit into God’s mission.  Then, when circumstances change, we get swept away and no longer know where to focus. In reality, our identity and our purpose will never change. God created each one of us as individuals with personality, gifts, talents and experiences that shape us to fit uniquely into His work.  We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ, to do good works that He has prepared for us to walk into (Eph 2:10). So, in a season like this, what I do in a day might change, but my potential to be used by God in meaningful and fulfilling ways never will. Knowing that motivates and inspires me to think and pray seriously about what I do.  It also helps me to regain my focus. I don’t need to look for ways to keep busy. I need to look at how I can best make my unique self available to God in this unique situation.  

Here is a glimpse of what that process looks like for me:  

So, I exist to stoke the flames of spiritual transformation in the lives of leaders and communities.  I do that by coming alongside leaders, as a mentor, as a spiritual director, and as a companion on the journey.  I also do that by offering resources. Two realities strike me in this season of lockdown. 1) I have time to write and develop resources like never before and 2) There are leaders who desperately need a companion in this age of uncertainty.  This is where my uniqueness intersects the reality of God’s work around me. Therefore, I need to dedicate time to writing, and I need to open my virtual doors both to the leaders that I know and to those whom I have not yet met. (If you are a leader or know one, please check out my website cftg.life) I have thoughts about what that last part might look like, but the end results rest in God’s hands.  I am His instrument. He will use me if I make myself available.  

Faith, Love, and National Lock-downs

All seems right with the world as I gaze from my window across the vineyard and onto the mountains standing majestic in the distance.  All seems right with the world, except for the absence of cars on the normally busy road dividing the two landscapes.  

This is day one of a nationwide lockdown in South Africa.  Confirmed cases of Covid-19 have topped the 1000 mark, and the first two deaths have been reported. Though the virus respects no person, taking into account neither race nor socio-economic status, those distinctions seemed all too evident over the past few days.  In the townships, those who eat according to what they earn each day worry about the reality of starving because they cannot work. Others ask, “How can we wash our hands when we have no running water, and how can we stay in our homes when we have to use the public toilets down the street?”  Who has answers to these questions. Why is it only now, in the face of a pandemic, that anyone even really takes notice?    

This morning, Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:15 hit me hard:  “…having heard of your faith in the Lord….and your love for all the saints, [I] do not cease giving thanks for you.”  

When do we talk about the faith and the love of a local body of believers?  When do we give thanks for them? I am not accustomed to listening for such stories nor am I gifted in telling them.  And yet, for Paul, it seemed like the norm. “I too, having heard…” Others heard of their faith and love and so did he.  The Ephesian believers had a visible faith and love about which others talked. The expressions of that faith and love moved Paul to express gratitude to God.   

What does that even look like?  James tells us that faith expresses itself through our works.  Indeed, faith without works has no life in it. (James 2:26) The Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians 8:1-6, demonstrated their faith and love through sacrificial giving.   Paul told their story to the church in Corinth and of course, to us who read it today. But, where are our stories of faith and love? The goal, of course, is not to have others talk about us.  Yet, at the same time, the faith that James talks about overflows with love and motivates action. Others see that action and express gratitude to God. Do we, as a church, have that type of faith?  Do we tell the stories of those churches that do and give thanks to God for them?  

A judgemental attitude comes easily.  I can look at the world around me, especially in the light of lockdown, and conclude that the church has no faith and no love.  If it did, the world would be a better place. Somehow, that seems overly harsh. Still, do we invest more time into what happens on Sunday morning than we do into what happens during the rest of the week?  Are we so focused on the “church service” that we have forgotten that we are God’s workmanship created to serve outside in the world?  

We are salt and light.  We are the expression of God’s love to our neighbor and to the world around us.  Genuine faith is filled with love, is seen by others, and produces gratitude toward God.  How do we cultivate that kind of faith in our churches? How do we recognize the stories of those who have it and pass them on to others so that they too can join with us in giving thanks to God? 

COVID-19 and the Light of Glory

Three months have passed since my last post.  In that time, I have wrestled both with the time to write and the “what” to write.  This morning, I felt inspired as I reflected on last night’s speech by South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa.  He outlined measures that the South African government will take to combat the Coronavirus.  

In talking with others, I know there is much fear and anxiety as we watch the world, even our very lives, changing in very dramatic ways.  As Christians, we are invited to tread in a precarious space, one where we hold realities of the present in tension with hope for the future.   Romans 8:18-28 gives us great perspective. I share with you some of my reflections and invite you to spend time meditating on this encouraging passage.  

The earth, indeed all of creation, is less than it was meant to be.  It has been subjected to futility. It’s efforts cannot produce the desired or intended results.  It falls short of that for which it was made and of that which it was made to be because it is a slave to corruption.  But God will bring freedom even as God brings freedom to His children. When we are what we are meant to be, so will all of creation be restored and free.  What a glorious hope!

At the same time, there is a reality in our suffering.  The creation groans. We ourselves groan within. We groan because suffering is painful; and we long for something better, something yet to come.  The waiting is hard. The experience is hard. But, we are not without hope, and so, we persevere. We hang on to the promise, the promise of redemption, of glory yet to come.

This is the reality of our existence, the tension between the “now” and the “not yet.” We must learn to live at the center of these two opposites, pulled and held by both.  Like Moses standing on the mountain at the gate of the Promised Land, we see it, we smell it, we taste it, but we are not there yet. And so, we feel the heat of the desert and the dust caked upon our skin.  We know the dryness of thirst not yet quenched while we long for the drink that will satisfy our deepest desires. We see it. We smell it. We taste it from afar. But, we have not yet arrived. And so, we wait, not as the downcast and defeated.  We wait as those destined for victory, heads held high, step by step persevering, following the One who suffered and now sits in the glory of victory. Jesus overcame suffering, and so too, shall we! 

Glorious Gifts

I don’t believe in coincidence. This morning I watched as a Red-knobbed Coot ate lily pads on the pond. Yesterday, beautiful yellow and purple flowers decorated her breakfast table, but today, all that remained were the tasty green leaves. Later, as I continued my walk, I beheld the wonder of a mother springbok standing guard over her newborn, still wet and glistening from birth. The beauty, the wonder, the complexity, amazing works crafted by God’s hand.

After my walk, I meditated on my Scripture for the day, Psalm 104:

O Lord my God, You are very great; (1) The earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works.(13) He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,(14)
And vegetation for the labor of man,(14) O Lord, how many are Your works!(24)
In wisdom You have made them all;(24)
The earth is full of Your possessions. (24) I will sing to the Lord as long as I live (33)

For a moment, I was speechless. The words of the psalmist described the wonders I had seen on my walk and the incredible God who made them. It drew my heart to worship. But, isn’t that what God intended, that when we glimpse something in nature, we would be reminded of Him? All of God’s works give testimony to God’s greatness. Without speech, they tell of who God is. How much more then should we?

Take a moment to look out your window, or if you can, go for a walk. Pay attention to what God has made and allow it to move your heart in worship to the Creator.

The Opening

Writing has always held great significance for me. I found in it an expression of my true self, even when I had no other expression. I struggled to speak of deep thoughts and emotions. Often, I had no awareness of them locked away deep inside, far from the eyes and ears of the world. Instead, I made myself a chameleon, one who could become whatever I though others wanted me to be. I gave up myself and took the nature of a rock refusing to feel and unable to connect.

It does not surprise me then, that God has made writing an instrument of my healing and transformation. At university, when I was brand new in my faith, an English professor introduced our class to journaling. Instantly, it became the space where I met with God. All of my entries were prayers, conversations with the Father. There, I learned to be real with Him in a way that no other person had ever experienced with me. In that space, I also began, on occasion, to write poetry. Like a key in a lock, my poems unbolted a door leading to places I never knew, places much in need of God’s healing touch.

This past weekend, I wrote a poem, after quite a period of poetical silence. I found it refreshing and life giving, a much needed breath of air. I share it with you now, if for no other reason, to give courage to others in need of the the grace and the freedom to write and express themselves. For many years (And, even sometimes now) I lived with the lie that my writing had no value and must be sacrificed to “more important endeavors.” Don’t believe the lie. God values the gifts He has given and delights when ever we use them.

 Open closed eyes and see
Images penned by Spirit
Unbar doors long guarded
Set innocent prisoners free

There in the distance, look! Behold!
Long awaited tones give rise
Colors bright, shining brilliance
Remembrance of old stories told.

Awaken heart, my soul arise
Long anticipated day
Let drum beat, let trumpet sound
Enter with grace, God's promised prize

Here I sit, alive, awake
Let thoughts run hot the trails
Unbridled, run, let come what may
Give birth to joy. Let stillness break

There is a path, a trodden way
With stones beset in line
Pass tree, pass fount, pass tangled vine
Where sun casts down lights brilliant ray

And far beyond the branches twined
Past hanging shades of green
Ripples cross 'bove depths unseen
Flow waters deep, waves unrefined

But, One who sees and knows all things
Of me, this still be true
Though waves run deep and dark and blue
Even frees my heart, my soul to sing.

If We Really Knew Him

Growing up, I had a terrible fear of the dark. Back then, we lived in a very safe area. People often left their doors unlocked, even when they went out. In those days, you could leave a package on the seat of your friends unlocked car parked on main street. I don’t know what I feared- the boogie man, ghosts. It doesn’t really matter, I was deftly afraid of the dark. I remember all too frequently waking in the night with the dreaded realization that I needed to use the bathroom. My stomach would churn as I contemplated what that meant- leaving the safety of my bed with the sheet pulled up over my face. In a rush, I would jump out of bed and flick on the light. Flying across the hallway as quickly as my legs could carry my, I would reach for the bathroom light as I closed the door behind me. It did not matter what anyone said. I could not rationalize away my feelings. I had a fear of the dark, and to me, that fear was real.

Interestingly enough, there was one exception. I could go any where with my dad, even in the dark. I knew he would protect me. He was a big enough to handle anything that came our way. I believed that with all my heart, and it changed my perspective of the night, at least when I was with my dad.

But what do I do with my other fears, the ones that hold me back, that keep my from stepping out into new spaces or from reaching out to that person in need? Well, what if I really believed that there was someone bigger than me, someone strong and capable, who would go with me? What if I knew that that person held me in the palm of their hand, past, present and future? That some one is Jesus. He reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s. Angels bow before Him (Revelation 7:11) He has authority over every other authority (Ephesians 1:21). He has broken the power of sin and of death.(1 Corinthians 15:55-57) Nothing can stand before Him. This same Jesus loves me so much that He gave His very life for me. Raised to new life, He promises to never leave me. He will stay with me for ever (Hebrews 13:5) and no one can pry me from His hand (John 10:29).

What if I really believed that? What if I saw Jesus as He is, not as some baby in a manger? What if I allowed these truths to sink into my heart so deeply that they changed my perspective? What choices would I make? What barriers would I cross? Reflect on that today as you walk the road God has put before you and remember, you are not alone.

Digging Into Community III

Have you ever found your self singing a song that really resonates with you. Deep within your soul, it echoes a silent, reminder, “Someone else has been here. Someone understands.” Growing up, I made my anthem the old Simon and Garfunkel song, “I am a Rock”.

I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock
I am an island…………………

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

Though I did not understand it then, that song proclaimed the story of my young life, the story that I would live for some 40 odd years. Somehow I learned that connection with others meant danger and pain . The pain that I imagined seemed far worse than the pain of isolation which I experienced every day. Certainly, others had disappointed or hurt me in relationships. I remember in kindergarden learning that my best friend had moved away. That story repeated itself several times over the course of my school career. But, if I am honest, even before then, I had learned to isolate myself from the reality of loss. Or perhaps, I feared the possibility of being known and rejected. Either way, the walls I began to build kept me from developing connections that might be painfully severed. I spent time with people, but even then, I remained unknown and isolated.

It’s not supposed to be that way. Simon and Garfunkel were wrong. I need friendship. I need connection with others because God created me for that. God is love. We are made to love, but also to experience and to know love (1 Jn 4:7-14; 1 Co 13; Eph 3:14-19). So then, I am confronted with a choice, self-protection and isolation or trust and deep connection. I can do what ever I must to protect myself from the unknown possibilities of disappointment, betrayal, and pain. Or, I can trust God and open myself up to Him and to others. Not an easy choice. The world teaches us well the former. Who teaches us to trust and to open? Ironically, this task falls to community and demonstrates why we need one another. It’s true, in community, a place where we learn to connect deeply, we can hurt each other. But, in community, we can also find our greatest healing. Remember, God created us to experience love, but in isolation, surrounded by the walls of our own making, there is no love. Community helps us tear down the walls and experience God’s best intentions for us.

  • What stands out to you most?
  • What thoughts, feelings and desires does it stir in you?
  • Spend some time reflecting on the Scriptures listed. How do they impact your thoughts about community?

Digging Into Community II

We all long for a space to belong, a place to be known and to know others, a place that feels like home should feel.    I remember from my teen years, wishing for someone to see me and know me as I was, not the masks that I projected. Even in a group, I felt very much like the stranger standing on the porch, looking in the window.   I longed to be with those gathered around the fireplace enjoying the warmth of connection. At the same time, the thought of inviting others into my space frightened me. What if they didn’t like me? What if what they saw frightened them or drove them to hate me?  So, I built my walls. I built them high. I built them thick to keep myself hidden and safe.    

God gave us those desires to be known.  He created us for inclusion into His fellowship, for deep connection with Himself and with others.    Though we hide ourselves away, wearing masks and constructing walls, the longings will not subside. We may suppress them for a time, but in those quiet moments, in the stillness of the night, they reappear.  The truth is, we need each other, not just so we can feel warm and fuzzy, but so we can become the people God created us to be.  

In community, we encounter Christ in a way that no individual ever can (Mt 18:20).  In community, God reshapes us to the image of Christ as we live out the “one-anothers” of Scripture.  In community, we grow into the fullness of Christ and into His joy (Eph 4; Jn 17:11,13). We cannot do any of those alone with just our Bibles.  We need each other. We need authentic, committed relationships. We need community.  

  • Spend some time reflecting on Ephians 4:1-16.  
  • What is being described here?  
  • How does it sound?  
  • Talk with God about how you are responding to all of this (Your thoughts, feelings and desires)       

Breaking Into Community

I often think and read about community. I believe God made it part of His plan from the very beginning. He Himself is perfect community, Father, Son and Spirit living in authentic, loving relationship. United in purpose, each one contributed in creation.(Ge 1:1-3; Jn 1:1-2). God made people in His image (which includes making us relational beings as God is relational). Then, God invited us into the fellowship to be in relationship with God and in relationship with one another.

The problem is, in western culture, we have distorted the nature of community. Just like with most other things, we have made it “all about me.” How do I get my needs met? How do I keep myself safe? How do I make sure I feel warm and cozy. But for members of Christ’s community, it is never about “me.” Paul Exhorts us to, “Do nothing from selfishness….” and to “not look out merely for our own personal interests” (Php 2:3,4). Imagine if Jesus had adopted our mindset. Would He still have gone to the cross? “The fundamental threat to community is self-centerdness, but the vital builder of community is other-centeredness.” (Kenneth Boa- Conformed to His Image, pg 421)

Why does any of this matter? Apart from the fact that God designed it this way, community enables the fulfillment of ministry. “Ministry to the body of believers (edification) and to outsiders (evangelism) should flow out of the combination of being connected to God and connected to each other. Commitment to the person of God (Ro 12:1-2) displays itself in commitment to the purposes of God (Ro 12:3-8) and in commitment to the people of God (Ro 12:9-21) Outward ministry does not determine personal and corporate intimacy but should find its source in this intimacy with God and His people.” (Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image, pg 420)

Being self-centered in community moves us from our God given position as vital contributors within the body (1 Co 12:4-7). Instead, we become casual observers and leaches, drawing from others, but giving nothing in return. In that position, we shy away from all responsibility within the community. We easily point fingers, assigning blame for the ailments we see, all the while, ignoring that we too, by our lack of engagement, have helped to make the body sick. From the top of the head to the nail on the smallest toe, we need each other and what each one has to offer. In this position, running away also become easy. When things don’t go my way, when my needs are not being met, when I am no longer comfortable, I can simply walk away. I don’t believe that the community needs me as part of the solution. On the other hand, Romans 12:10 exhorts us to “Be devoted to one another.” Be loyal. Be faithful. Be true. Be steadfast. Be committed. Be dedicated. Strong words. God’s words, directed at citizens of the Kingdom, members of the Great Community.

As you read, what stood out to you?
What thoughts, questions, feelings and desires did it stir in you?
Talk with God about these things. What might He be saying to you?
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