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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

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.


Reflection:
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?

The Question of Priorities

I awoke at 11:30pm after having gone to bed less than 2 hour earlier and struggled to get back to sleep. A thousands thoughts raced in my mind: the sermon I need to finish, the gift I need to buy, what words of encouragement I will speak at a 21st birthday party, what I will do with my son before he goes back to school. The list goes on. So much to do, so little time. Isn’t that what we say. But, is it true?

We live in a world geared toward productivity. Value comes not just from what we do, but how much we do. We often take pride in the fullness of our schedules and boast of how “busy we are”. Then, we lie awake at night worrying about things left undone or yet to be added to the list. We feel tired, in need of a break, yet we force ourselves to keep plodding ahead, three steps at a time. God says, “Be still and know….. We say, “Who has time to be still.”

Is this really the way it’s supposed to be? What if God, who knows me and who searches my heart, has a different vision for how life is meant to be lived? What if, in preparing works in advance that I might walk in them (Eph 2:10), He also prepared me. What if he gave me everything I needed, including time and capacity, to achieve those works (2 Co 9:8)? Then, somewhere there exists a disconnect between the way that I live and work and the way that God intends.

For the past few years, I have wrestled with this. I see it, but living the reality of it comes hard. Recently, I am realizing that a letting go must take place. I see how I have prioritized things that God values, but doesn’t necessarily place at the top of the list. I also see how God has priorities to which I rarely pay attention. Like, what if God values and prioritizes my presence more than the presentation of my content? What if the way that I am with people, even when I am teaching, is of greater value to God then how I present.

For a seminarian, saying that almost feels like heresy. But when I look at Jesus, I realize that His message flowed from His life and from His relationship with God. Jesus knew the Scriptures, so he must have spent time reading and studying and meditating. Jesus also spent lots of time listing to His Father. Out of these two places, His teaching flowed (Jn 12:49-50). In the Gospels, I have never seen Jesus agonizing over the perfect illustration. Nor have I seen him turn away someone in need because He was to busy doing God’s work, Yet, I dare say, I am guilty of both.

So, what if I have it wrong? What if my stress comes from agonizing and investing into things that do not accomplish the works God has set apart for me? What if my need is to let go of my world inspired priorities in order to embrace Gods? What if this paves the way to peace and true productivity as God defines it?

A Call to Pray

In a recent conversation with a friend, we both agreed. This has been a challenging and difficult year, an unexpected journey into unknown and uncomfortable spaces. For must of us, this kind of uncertainty causes great stress. Our vision clouds over forming a lens that projects most clearly the worse possibilities.

In this season, I am feeling an ever increasing need to sit at Jesus’ feet and seek His face. Reflecting on that, I was reminded of Mathew 26:39-42. In a season of great stress, Jesus withdrew to pray, and He called His disciples to watch and pray. Why? Not to remove the source of the stress nor to make the way clearer, but so they would not fall into temptation.

With that in mind, I am setting aside Thursday morning as a day of prayer and of seeking the Lord. In preparation of that time, I have been carving out time to worship and to examine my heart. I wrote a short reflection guide and will include a link. If its helpful for you, please use it as you have time. Or, you may want to carve some space for yourself over the next few days and work through each section.

Guide for worship, examination and conversation

Engaging the World

(Disclaimer: This is a new discipline for me, and I do not want to get bogged down by worrying about my grammar mistakes and poor spelling. Please bear with me, and eventually, I’ll get the editing straightened out. )

Not long ago I received some disturbing news from a friend. The kind of news that stops you cold and makes you ask, “What in the world is going on?” After my initial shock, I felt saddened and confused. Things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Just a few years ago, I would have filed my questions and my comments in a nice neat little box and stored them away deep with in my soul. It didn’t matter what event. My response to life: Keep it inside. Lay low. After all, I was invisible. I had no voice.

But, not this time. Now, I hear another voice that tells me I am made to embrace life and to engage people. Not to rush in and fix as though I have the answers, but to be present and available, a useful instrument in the hands of God. The work He has done in me, He has done for the sake of others.

Experience tells me that God’s hand works in this situation. He is on the move for His glory and for the good of His people. I do not know His intentions, how things will turn out, but He has invited me into the arena. I have no cause to hide, no reason to run away. I text. I call. I invite myself for coffee. Who knows what God will do. I must choose to offer myself, to God and to others. His Spirit lives within me (Ro 8:9). He works in me to will and to act according to His good pleasure(Php 2:13), to accomplish the works which He has prepared in advance for me (Eph 2:10)

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