Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Oh What a Character

characterBasic definition of character: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing”. But there are others and among those definitions is “an account of qualities or peculiarities of a person–“. In this election year and climate, character has been a constant topic of conversation, from good to bad, true or false, kind to selfish, dependable to undependable and so forth. We are all, looking outward, asking, “do we see fruit in the lives of the candidates that reflects their true nature, or their character?” But perhaps, it’s time to ask these same questions of ourselves. 

I have always maintained, put a microscope on someone and you’ll always find something, some tarnish or blotch, some surprise or another. Can I tolerate the same? Not hardly. So, who am I kidding? This public evaluation will probably be somewhat cursory at best.

So what is the question? How do I stack up to the “image” or character of God (as in Genesis 1:26, made in God’s image)? The list I was given only had 24, alphabetically, we only go through the letter “F.” I found another website that lists 49 character traits. My guess is that the list could go on and on and on.

Let me pick three then, that I can somewhat safely say I have demonstrated: endurance, initiative, and thoroughness. Notice: I had to go all over the alphabet list. Here’s what happens when I try to identify a positive character trait, I name one and the first thing that comes to mind is the time I didn’t reflect that very well. And then another and another. So, scratch that one. Oh, well, just look at the overall feature, my mind says, but still I can’t get past it, the murmur of “liar, liar.”

image-of-godI can claim these three just because they speak to the last two years of my life, reinventing myself as a widow, enduring the loss and the sorrow, initiating new routines and lifestyle (even selling and buying a house), and then tackling all the little jobs that are now all mine, working to make those efforts the best they can be. But have I embraced the Presence of God in the midst of these traits as I walked them out? Not as much as I should have. Much of these are part of my nature (my family background and the influence of my mother). I know that. And yet, I also know, then the gas ran out in my energy, God was there, filling up my tank. Things might have been easier had I used God’s gas all along. Hindsight reveals much.

But out of this list, what do I really need to develop? With a conscious choice, what can I put in front of myself, like a post-it, if necessary, and say to myself: go here first.

pooh-contentmentContentment. This is not about never trying or working toward a goal, but it is saying yes to now, today, this moment, this life.
Gratefulness. And so, along with contentment must come gratitude, for what has been given and what will be given.
Patience. With some hesitation I bring this forth. Everyone says, never ask for patience, for the circumstances that demand patience will come in a flood. But, honestly, hasn’t that already happened? And isn’t patience the sister of contentment and gratefulness? I think so.

Where do I see these traits practiced? Here’s the worst confession of all. I’m not sure I know people well enough to know if they are operating in these qualities day to day. I know the courage of several acquaintances who went through challenging cancer treatments, I saw in them these qualities wrapped inside the fight for life. What charges me up is their ability to be bold and yet patient at the same time, to be confident and yet grateful, to be determined and yet content with truth.

CGP are not passive at all. That’s the clue I have about them. They are conscious. They are a choice. They are a team. And I choose to be in. Some call this mindfulness and to some degree, awareness as well. Stay awake!

Value and Values

values-icebergIt’s an easy homework question this week, asking about our church’s values. Restore Church values are plastered all over the building in Havre de Grace, the collateral materials, and the website. There’s no doubts there, this part is important to the church’s DNA, the Code. But comparing those values with my own, is revelation of sorts.

1. We are faith-filled, big thinking, bold risk takers. This value is demonstrated in the church through the resolute faith of the leadership, trusting God for transformative power and miraculous answers to prayer; the vision for the future is big and beyond any one person’s ability or for that matter, even a group, to fulfill without divine inspiration and Presence. We walk on.

Me: I am a woman of faith, this I can say with confidence, throughout the challenges life has thrown my way. But am I looking back more than I am looking forward? That could be. I am, by nature, a “big” person. I mean, not tall or large, but when I express myself, it’s expansive. I tend to be too loud sometimes, and I tend to interrupt. I’m like a small volcano sometimes too. But do I think big for the future? I support the church in its future, but I have not found my own pattern within it, despite my service and participation. I’m not a complainer. I don’t kick against the goads. But do I take risks? Not so much. My joke has always been: planned spontaneity. I have taken some risks and they haven’t worked out, so I am, I confess, a little gun-shy.

2. We will do anything short of sin, to reach people who do not know Christ. The  church manifests this value through its commitment to reaching out to all people, with no judgment, and inviting them into the House. No one is asked to “clean up” before “showing up.” Therefore, we go out to the highways and byways, seeking those in need, seeking those who don’t know God, seeking those who have lost hope. Where? Events like egg hunts and movies in the park or military night out or single moms spa days.

Me: I am comfortable in my faith and in talking about my journey and my God. I am OK being myself in just about any environment. I believe in this open door policy. But I have not been as quick to open my own door. I’d like to move on that. Our current outreach events are good, they reach a lot of people, but I have not made time to work them like I did at the first. What happened there? I think it’s a bit like the tithe of money: if you don’t give it, then often the money is eaten up elsewhere. And perhaps it’s the same with time, if we withhold it from service, it is also consumed in the cares of the world.

3. grace-changes-everythingWe will lift up the grace and love of Jesus, rather than using our platform to judge and condemn. I mentioned this before, the church’s open door and open arms to all people. There may be people who walk into the House who are still struggling with deep sins or troubles, but the church is a hospital, not a country club. Grace is more powerful than anything else we can offer.

Me: I am much more open than I used to be. Somehow, in my many years of a Christ-centered life, I got the misconception that it was up to me to protect the Word (as though the Word could not stand on its own), and thereby add to it, more do’s and don’ts and can’ts and should nots etc. Such and such a group was sinning by choice and therefore, outside my world. I just can’t do that anymore. I let God do the judging and pray I can be an instrument of love and grace. Sometimes, it can be a fine line, I know and I don’t always walk it perfectly, but that’s fine too. Love wins.

4. We will love people when they least expect or deserve it. This is one of my favorite code/values of the church because it is our version of “random acts of kindness” and “paying it forward.” It’s being loving to the unloving. It’s touching the untouchables. Some of this looks like meals brought to an entire staff at a school or a basket of cheer to the fire station or police station, or just handing out “rah-rah” sports beads or glow sticks on the 4th. Simple stuff.

Me: I used to be better at this, like giving my entire block holiday cookies or gifting my staff. I like to giving little symbols of caring. I hope to re-connect to this part of myself and remember how to do it without a huge money investment. That I can’t do anymore.

body-of-christ35. We believe the church is the hope of the world. This has been a new thing for me, this love of the church itself (not a “single” church, but Church, as in Body of Christ). But the point is that this body of believers, operating in community and in love, has a chance to change the world — not by political railings but by humble service and prayer and faith.

Me: I have not loved the Church. I confess that. There have been so many believing people who have hurt me and judged me and, well, you all know that sad song. I need to do better here, finding a better connection between the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the People. And love them. Sometimes, I am ashamed of other believers (not so much in my local body), but in the bigger arena, those who play in politics particularly, who feel mandated to be the hope of the world through rhetoric alone.

6. We are united under one vision. This has been an important element of our local church that has caused some people to pack up and move along. That’s made me sad sometimes, and yet, I understand that there are expressions of the Presence in lots of different ways, from dark room theater style worship to glorious cathedrals and classical music. It’s not for everyone. I decided, from the beginning, to take this ride at Restore Church and although there have been things I didn’t particularly love to do, I wanted to see it through. And God has blessed this one vision.

Me: For many years, I prayed and prayed for an upbeat, spirit-filled, contemporary church in Havre de Grace. This church has been my answered prayer and I didn’t want to miss it. I’m in.

7. We are spiritual contributors, not spiritual consumers. This is an important difference that many people still don’t get. The idea here is that everyone who attends the church should be doing something. Church is not showing up at a Sunday morning service once a week anymore. Church is a living, breathing expression of our faith every day. Of course, if a person is hurting and lost, it will take more time to find a way into service. But people of faith, should be contributing from their storehouse of gifts.

Me: In some ways, I’m good here. But I confess, I’ve wanted to slide sometimes, to just show up, to just be a fly on the wall. But I know that’s not really me either. But I’m still not good at the balance, the family/work/church balance. So I do what I do best (talk) and a little teaching, and hopefully, a little more writing and administrating.

giving8. We will lead the way with irrational generosity. So, if you want to be in a church that is trying things and has a big vision, then you might as well get used to the idea that there will be financial expectations. But, with a heart. If we can’t give from the heart, willingly, then our giving will sour the well. If people want leaders to stop asking for money, then give generously and give a tithe, and the asking will stop because there will be enough.

Me: Not perfect in this area. I am nearly at the full tithe and give by automatic withdrawal. I don’t have to think about it. And that’s a good thing. But above the tithe, is not so easy. I’m feeling the pinch of a new lifestyle as a widow and retirement around the corner. It’s hard not to worry a little about resources. But God has been faithful.

simplicity9. We believe simplicity enables excellence. I’ll have to talk to my pastor about this one. It probably has to do with my mental model for simplicity vs. his model. I think this value/code is similar to the single vision, but I’m not really sure. Or maybe just the simple message: We exist so that people far from God will be raised to life in Christ.

Me: I am interested in simplifying my life. I have certainly had to downsize since leaving my big house. I have let go of a lot of “things.” But I don’t know that I have fully embraced the single vision for myself that is the church’s vision. In fact, I know I haven’t, because I just wrote about that last week. Here is the place, where it all comes screeching to a halt. I support the church’s vision, but I haven’t really made it my own yet. This is a matter for prayer.

10. We continually increase our capacity to expand by structuring our church for the next level. This is a leader thing, this idea of building the church’s infrastructure – not bricks and mortar, but people who can help make things happen.

Me: Not there yet. I’m not fighting the growth, not at all. But I have not found my place in the growth. Not yet.

This blog post was written in response to homework questions, but I challenge you, how do your personal values line up with your church or whatever group you consider to be your spiritual home.

Purposes and Plans

purposeI will never forget my mother saying to me one morning, not long after reaching her 90th birthday, I just don’t know what I should do with the rest of my life. At the time, she felt hardy and hopeful and she was ready to take on something new. This idea of seeking purpose and planning toward it, has been with us all for a long time. Self-help books abound, whether secular or faith-based, “What is your purpose? What is the point? What is God’s will for my life?”

For the past few months, I have been participating in a series of classes under the umbrella of the Hillsong Ministry School at Restore Church. The entire first semester was like a walk through the Bible, broad swaths of understanding and patterns. But this semester is turning inward. Who am I in relationship with God, with Christ, with the Church?

rich-young-rulerTwo weeks ago, after class, I actually went home deeply depressed. I was feeling overwhelmed with I was not. I had a sharp and somewhat uncomfortable epiphany in which I understood the plight of the “rich young ruler” [Mark 10:17-23]. Not because I am a woman of wealth, per se, but there are experiences I still want to have and things I want to do that are not wrapped inside the cocoon of the church. And so, like him, I hung my head a bit and walked away. I want to be an expression of God in every day life, there is no doubt about that. And my faith in God is steady and even deep, but I am feeling a push back within. (In a recent sermon, Jess talked about the way he had been limiting his exercise: “I’ll do anything, just don’t ask me to do cardio.” — so it is with me, I guess.)

But I am off the homework questions of what God’s purpose is for my life? The correct answer is that everyone’s love-the-lordpurpose is pretty much the same: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength, and your neighbor as yourself; AND, go into all the world and preach the gospel. . . ”  That has manifested as serving in the local church, adopting children, performing and speaking for about the things of God, and blogging my heart devotionally. Can I say that I have been called by God to these things? Not with confidence.

Some years ago, I spent a long time working through a study to help me articulate a personal mission. I still use it on my site: My personal mission is to inspire meaningful change, build faith in God, and connect people with resources that will make a difference in their lives. This sentence grounded me in my work at the library as well as my work in the church and my work in the arts.

I believe God has blessed my writing and indulges my desire to write both devotional and secular material. But I would also like to use my 30 plus years of marriage and faith to counsel others; is it too late to go in that direction? I don’t know. I want to simplify my life.

passionMy strengths are my passion for God, my enthusiasm for the things that resonate within me, my ability to speak in a group with confidence, my humor, my writing. My weaknesses are my losses – words don’t come as quickly as they di did before, I forget names and faces, my memories are no longer crystal clear. I am a bit adrift since Mike’s death and although I soldier on, I am a bit unhinged for he grounded me. I scatter my energy across an array of interests. For those who know the Enneagram, I am a true seven.

I am pretty capable with technology, although I am losing ground as “virtual reality” becomes more pervasive and I never really did much gaming. It’s not that I didn’t really like it, I was afraid of becoming addicted to it for I do have an addictive personality (which I learned the hard way back in the day before my faith in Christ cut me loose — I don’t test God in this anymore).

I’m not as good of a listener as I should be. I tend to be a “fixer.”

Don’t want to ask others what they think my strengths are etc. I know what they will say. I’ve been around this bend too often. They see what I let them see. I don’t have many friends, but the few who are close are far. I am not perceived as needing any.

prayerMy spiritual goal is to become a more consistent woman of prayer, working toward achieving a 5% tithe of my waking time spent in direct conversation, contemplation, and reflection within 6 months from today. Some of the strategies I will use will be to plan for prayer each day and week. 5% of 16 hours is approximately 45-50 minutes a day. I will record my time and what I learn in whatever time I spend, whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour, but I will see an increase over the weeks. And out of that time in prayer, I expect to return to familiarity and intimacy. And from there, this idea of purpose will be grow more authentically.

victorian-writerMy life goal is still to write a book, no not just write it, but finish it (after all the re-writes) and get it published. And then another. And another. And quite honestly, to have success in this arena, I must give, at minimum, the same amount of time. Funny. I have a gut feeling that these two efforts were always joined at the hip. So be it.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lordtrust in him and he will do this . . . [Psalm 37:3-5, NIV]

 

Not Just Any Sacrifice

helping-othersTherefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2, NIV]

Me, my body, my person, a sacrifice, but not unto death, no, that’s a very different thing. In some ways, to sacrifice one’s life and to die for something is amazing and total renunciation, but let’s face it, once and done. Is that crass? I’m not trying to be, honestly, but I keep pondering this living sacrifice concept and I’m seeing a lot of time involved here and commitment and ongoing surrender in the midst of daily life. It’s re-framing everything. It’s a state of mind of “otherness” where God’s way, no matter how we might disagree or misunderstand or hedge, is to be submitted to completely. God is God all the time. And of course, then, it makes sense to call this one direction, worship. It’s total mindfulness, Presence, and prayer.

In our not so distant past, there were “people of the cloth” (clergy, nuns, priests, and so on), who entered their calling with these words emblazoned on their hearts. And although this may still be true, there is a new trend where people of all walks of life are being called into a more consuming surrender.

Am I there yet? Not even close.

I have had a few supernatural immersions into the heart of God. My most memorable was over 20 years ago, and yet it has stayed with me as a very sweet memory and experience. A friend once told me that God often gives us glimpses of the kingdom of God, that we might get a taste of heaven and “see” God. To make a long story much shorter, this was a time of intense study and fasting when I lived alone in a cabin in the woods for a short season. My heart was seeking the “secret place” and I found it. I was mesmerized. I experienced a peace that passes all understanding. I walked in trust. I entered into comprehension and walked in that peace for . . . wait for it . . . a week. Yah. Only a week.

So the question remains: Do I really hold back from God, this living sacrifice? I do. Even after all this time. Not in every area. I’m pretty good in the tithe area, at least for standard income and I do volunteer. But, am I so close to God that I check in before I fill in that calendar square? Not so much. They say one’s calendar reflects one’s sacrifices of time to who or whatever appears the most.

As a somewhat artistic type, there’s always a type of tension when it comes to dedicating one’s time to the traditional things of God. Let’s face it, everything I write isn’t straight-up Godly or spiritual, but the process itself, the flow of words from inspiration to thought to words on screen or paper, that process (especially when it’s flowing) feels Spirit touched. Or taking and processing photographs, or cooking a meal, or making something for someone else, or acting/directing; these all have moments of giving. I can remember back in my early years of faith when I so wanted to be “all in” for Jesus and a popular Christian teacher of the day pronounced my love and work in theater as unacceptable to God, in fact, he believed all performance was out since it was too close to edifying self instead of God. I was crushed. I avoided my love for doing theater for quite a while. But that wasn’t me either.

heart-rock-on-the-beachSo here’s where I have landed on this score. It’s probably not 100% right, if there is such a thing as a right/wrong in this discussion. I am more about my heart being surrendered to God. I am convinced that the more doors (particularly those secret ones) I open to the work of the Holy Spirit, the more my life will reflect Christ in me so that no matter what I do or where I am, I am in a state of service to God. And how do those doors open? Prayer, meditation, self-examination, and selfless serving (giving of time and energy). The church is the easiest place to serve but it’s not the only place (e.g. the mission field, the soup kitchen, hospitals, shelters, emergencies, etc.). Generally, it’s the church that creates opportunities to serve, that’s the point.

And because it’s directed outward, whatever it is, in the name of God, there is an element of worship present. But if our acts of service or whatever, lose the focus, it becomes self-serving.

Asking, Seeking, Knocking

askSo I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [Luke 11:9-10] 

I think I used to think of these three terms as sequential. But today, as I read this passage, I wonder if it’s not a reminder that any of these will work, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, it’s best to simply ask for for what is needed, but in other cases, I may need to go looking for the answer, and still another time may require me to face an obstacle with stubborn persistence.

Perhaps, if I thought about it, I would need to confess that I do a lot more asking than seeking or knocking. Asking is the drop back and punt position. I know I am not alone in that kind of prayer life, filling the space with ask after ask after ask.

But, when the answer is elusive, do I seek and search. Do I prowl the scriptures for an answer or a direction? Do I speak with others more knowledgeable than me? Do I go into my prayer closet with an open mind to hear something new?

And knocking, well, I’m quite sure that’s the last of my choices. I’ll simply cave in and say, this must not be for me. If it doesn’t come easily or right away, I don’t really persist like I could.

Just taking this time to study a bit through the Hillsong Ministry School, is a beginning of seeking; getting back into a small group; meeting with other widows through Modern Widows Club; reading and writing again. It’s a start.

My circumstances have made me somewhat weary, I know. It’s been a tough year and a half, so many changes and challenges. But moving to the next level means I must begin to work my spiritual muscles again, to get back to the “gym” of God.

 

 

 

 

 

Voice of the Shepherd

John 10:1-18
The popular metaphor of the shepherd, the gate, and the sheep: what does it speak to the believer, to the reader?

sheepIt’s a simple but powerful edict: listen, understand, and follow. It has three parts that work together as one. I must listen, to understand and I must understand, to follow, or at the least, to avoid following blindly. Jesus never asks us to follow blindly. Perhaps the way may appear dark and even fearsome, but God promises to go ahead of us, to lead, and therefore, we are asked to trust.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. [vs 3 & 4]

Note that we come out of the pen first and gather together and wait for the shepherd to finish the work of calling out his own, those that recognize the voice. Do I recognize the voice of Christ? It is a nagging question. And yet, I am still here. I am still a follower. I still trust God’s Presence. But I also know that I can hamper my own progress when I don’t “practice the presence” of God, when I don’t still my mind in meditation, when I don’t listen. It’s not that I will fall down or go over a cliff, but the way could be smoother if I would spend more time in prayer and stillness.

What do I know about the Shepherd or the sheep? The shepherd is different from the sheep. He knows the ways of sheep; he knows what sheep eat and need to survive; he knows how to protect them. He is an expert on sheep. But sheep still see the Shepherd as other. In fact, most sheep probably see other sheep as other. Sheep are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as they say. More facts about sheep: they have good hearing and are sensitive to noises, they have good peripheral vision, they have poor depth perception, they prefer light over dark places, they have an excellent sense of smell, they are “flock” animals and very gregarious, they do not do well separated from the flock, and sheep, by their nature, tend to follow a leader (whether a strong sheep or a shepherd).

Sheep need other sheep. Sheep need a Shepherd. I think I sometimes think I can go against this basic; I imagine I can go it alone or I imagine I don’t need that Shepherd. Experience has shown otherwise. But I can still stumble along.

Sheep do have long-term facial recognition. So, that means, they can know their Shepherd. But it takes time. And effort.

Intellectually, I know this metaphor can break down here and there. After all, the Christ Presence is ultimate patience. God in Christ is unrelenting in love. The question is whether I can be taught? What is the best way to learn from this face, this voice, this Shepherd?

Repetition of contact. Learn the commands, the basics. Listen. And be gregarious with other sheep. Sometimes, we may need to follow the flock who hear better than we do.

Why the Lord’s Prayer?

lords-prayer-lukeI don’t know. Just sayin’ and I really mean it. First of all, it’s slightly different in Matthew and Luke. And for so so many years, I was like the rest of the Western Christian world and was speaking it in King James English. For heaven’s sake, what is that all about? It renders the thing beautiful but archaic. It became a rote kind of thing with little understanding or meaning.

But then, for a long season, about a year and a half, I practiced a lay version of “Praying the Hours” and the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Gloria Patri and they always played a key part of those days. I became somewhat entranced by the power of the Lord’s Prayer and spoke it often and daily. Since that time, I have lost its potency, nor is it practiced much in my current church home.

So what is God saying to me today?

If it is true, as I understand it, that Luke’s version of the gospel was always geared to the non-Jewish believers. In essence, the same people we are trying to reach in our local church. Then we should be teaching them to pray this simple prayer:

Father, hallowed be your name (God – your name is holy and sacred)
Your kingdom come (Bring your domain to us, we surrender)
Give us each day our daily bread  (Feed us when we are hungry, just enough)
Forgive us our sins (Give us amnesty for our mistakes)
For we forgive everyone who sins against us (We understand we have to do the same for other people)
And lead us not into temptation (Block the way when we try to go down the wrong road.)
Amen. That’s it.

And there’s one other key here which I picked up during that year and a half. This prayer has always been and will always be a WE prayer, not an I prayer. When we prayer this prayer, we’re doing it together with a lot of other folks and we’re praying for them just like they are praying for us. This is a humanity prayer. Dogs don’t pray it and trees don’t pray it. Just us. Humans. And each and every human needs it. No strings attached.

I’m coming back to this prayer. You should too.

%d bloggers like this: