Learning To See It For What It Is

I am often struck by how many people I know who have a bad taste in their mouth about Christians and the church. How sad. I used to wonder how so many people could be missing out on the great blessings that come with church membership. After all I was there ALL THE TIME. In addition to regular Sunday worship we were involved in children’s ministry, small groups, VBS planning, prayer meetings, missions lunches, and any other event that happened to pop up on the church schedule. There was so much involvement within the church we hardly had time to involve ourselves outside the church. The tragic part is that we didn’t really mind. It was convenient for my husband and I to show up on Sunday and clock in. We were proving to ourselves and our friends that we were good people, which at the time was very important to us. Plus it allowed us to be connected with people who thought just like us while preventing us from having to deal with people who were not lat all like us (incidentally, I am ashamed to admit that this was also important to me).  At that time I would have told you that I could be content to maintaining that easy, cheesy spiritual existence forever. 

 

That said, I was none the wiser until my husband and I had some serious real world problems come up that shook our little insulated church existence. I talked a little bit about this in a previous post so I’m not going to go into it. But we did realize through the experience that, despite our frequent church attendance, we were spiritually bankrupt. We had been so busy “doing church” that we missed God. Then I realized, this is it. This is what people are taking about when they told me they didn’t see any value in attending church. I was finally seeing for what it is. How sad indeed.

 

As my husband and I began to work through our stuff we started to really examine our relationships with each other and with God. After a while we began to improve our relationship and started to connect spiritually in ways we had never experienced before. As our faith grew our miracle of reconciliation grew too (Matthew 9:29). After a while we made the difficult decision to look for a new church. One where we would be able to continue our spiritual growth with people who were NOT like us/ In fact we wanted to be with people who were as screwed up as we now realized we were. We wanted a place were people understood that they didn’t have it all together, where we didn’t have to pretend we had it all together, and where people longed to bring new members into the group…new members who also didn’t have it together. 

 

When we started to look for a new church we had a lot of long talks about what we were really looking for. What we new we wanted is perfectly described in Matthew 10: 5 – 27. When Jesus sent out the twelve he commanded them to: seek out lost sheep, proclaim the message, heal the sick, raise the dead (spiritually or otherwise), cleanse the unclean, take action against evil, act fearlessly in faith, and take rest within the relationships that they develop. That is what we wanted! We wanted to make our home with others who believed in looking out rather than looking in. We needed to connect with others interested in developing deep relationships, relationships that we could count on when we needed an extra tunic. Most importantly a we wanted to find a place where the truths that are whispered by the still small voice of our Father are proclaimed from the rooftops…as in outside, where other people can hear.

 

So, here’s a quick shout out. If you are looking for Matthew 10 kind of place in the Detroit area check out The Woods (http://www.wwnazarene.org/). We’re glad to call it home. 

 

As a closing thought, I was really called into account reading Matthew 9:37 “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” There is a lot to harvest both within and outside of our church walls and I feel compassionate about it. I realized in reading today’s scriptures and doing some self reflection in preparation for this post that the pendulum may have swung the other way. I was doing too much church stuff in the wrong place, but now I’m not really doing enough kingdom stuff at the right place. In other words, I think I’m being prepared to go into the harvest. Hmmm, should be interesting.

 


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Sacrificing my Herd of Pigs

IMG_7671wicThe very handsome guy in the picture above is my 7 year old son Jacob. He is an amazing kid! He loves to go to church, and not just for the video games that he gets to play after the children’s service. He says he loves the God songs best. I melt every time I see him raise his little arms in worship. 

 

One Sunday as we were leaving church I noticed that Jacob was being unusually quiet (he talks ALL THE TIME). When we got to the car I asked him what was up and he told me he was feeling sad because he didn’t have any more money for the shoe. What the heck? As it turns out the children’s worship class had been taking an offering every Sunday to support world missions and at each service the children put their offering in some sort of shoe (I’m assuming that the shoe has something to do with clothing people?) I had no idea they were giving to missions and I also had no idea that every Sunday my little guy was taking a coin out of his little piggy bank and giving it as his offering when he went to church. He had given it all away and was sad because he had no more to give. And, yes I cried (his dad did too.)

 

Remember the part where Jesus was talking about receiving the kingdom like a little child? Yea, this is what he was talking about.

 

Jacob does not get his propensity for sacrificial giving from me and I have a lot to learn from him. It is often difficult for me to give sacrificially and when I do it is often with a sigh while thinking about what could have been (mani/pedi, new shoes, have the deck fixed, new shoes.) With this in mind Matthew 8:28-34 really stuck with me today. 

 

In this passage Jesus meets up with two demon possessed men who are so violent and offensive no one could go near them. These guys were clearly living on the fringes of society. The demons, afraid of Jesus’ power begged him to cast them into a heard of pigs that were feeding near by. When they were cast into the pigs the men were healed of their affliction and the entire heard of demonic pigs drown themselves in the lake. The men attending the pigs told of Jesus miracle (in Mark’s retelling he indicates that they reported “all about the swine”) and the ENTIRE town showed up and pleaded with Jesus to leave their land. Craziness.

 

My study bible suggests that the crowd of people weren’t really upset about the demonic men, they were unhappy because they lost a few hundred pigs. Makes sense. It’s often all about the money isn’t it? In this case even if the people were glad that the resident derelicts were now clothed, in their right minds, and no longer acting violently against them they were very unhappy that it had to happen at their expense. 

 

Before I cast stones at these towns people I have to really examine myself. If Jesus showed up at my house tomorrow and said ”Look Nicole, I need to take all of your family’s wages for an entire year so I can bless and restore two homeless, drug addicted, spiritually possessed men at the Rescue Mission” would I be ok with it? That is essentially what Jesus did when he cast the demons into the herd and they were destroyed. The truth is I would be thrilled that the men received healing but I don’t know if I’d be thrilled about it happening on what I consider “my dime”. 

 

So, my question for myself today is when will I really, truly begin to see my dime as God’s dime? His to give and His to ask me to give. I want to be strong enough in spirit to follow God’s command to surrender our herd of pigs to Him and His kingdom work. I want to celebrate the life giving, life restoring miracles of Jesus even if it costs me every pig that we own. I long for child like faith, faith like my son’s. I want to be able to hold my empty piggy bank and be sad, not because I have nothing, but because I have nothing left to give.

 

On this topic, if you haven’t read Francis Chan’s book ‘Crazy Love’ you should check it out. It will move you. Here’s the amazon link: http://tiny.cc/ugYuS

 

One more thing… Jacob, mommy loves you and is very, very, very proud of you! 

 

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Keeping it Real

Matthew 5 and 6 are some serious verses. It’s hard to pick out one tiny section to blog about when you have almost all of the Sermon on the Mount to consider. Matthew chapter 6:5,6 really stood out to me and made me think of an old Dave Chappelle sketch called “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong.” I’m not going to get into the content of the sketch but I will site a few passages from the Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) before I dive into Matthew:

 

Keeping it Real: to not inhibit yourself or pretend to be something you are not; not only tell the truth, but specifically get to the point of the actual matter at hand, rather than beating around the bush.

 

When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong: In the act of Keeping it Real, the outcome is unexpected and usually has a negative affect on the individual who decided to keep it real; a situation where a person decides to act on impulse or acts uninhibited by social mores or norms (i.e. “keeping it real”) which usually leads to adverse and often times unexpected results.

Now, let me share about a time when keeping it real went wrong and why I think Jesus wants the church to take a good look at corporate prayer.

 

Some time ago we belonged to a bible study group that subscribed to the typical evangelical bible study format, pot lock fellowship, scripture reading, prayer requests and prayer time. We had been meeting with this groups for several months and had become good friends with the group members. Every other week when we got together we would close out our meeting by sharing prayer needs and praying aloud for one another. So far so good right?

 

Well, after many months together I continued to be struck by the fact that our prayer time was really pretty shallow despite the fact we had developed some pretty solid relationships. Each meeting we would pray about other folks “real” issues; the woman at the job who needs Jesus, a family member who is getting a divorce, a wayward child. But when it came to ourselves and sharing our own vulnerabilities we resorted to the safe prayers: travel mercies, a project deadline at work, God’s direction on wether so and so should sell his boat (you’ve been there, you know the drill.) During this time my husband and I had some serious personal stuff going on and we would drive home talking about how we wished we could share it with the group but it didn’t quite feel safe. One night we decided that the next week we would share our hearts concern and ask our friends to pray for our need. And that? Is when keeping it real went wrong.

 

It was like dropping a bomb. We were the church group who allegedly had it all together and here we were trying to keep it real. We went against the group’s social mores and actually shared a serious need. Needless to say not everyone knew what to do with that. In the groups defense, once jaws were picked up off the floor they did rally behind. I wish I could say that our sharing brought on a new era in vulnerability that took our group’s prayer time deeper but the reality is “real” was a little too real and we ended up finding a new group (in a new church incidentally.)

 

I’m sad to say that I think many, many church groups are places where keeping it real would most likely go wrong. While Jesus is referring to individuals in vv. 5 and 6 I think you can expand the application to include corporate prayer as well. When we pray together we should not pray like the hypocrites, offering shallow snippets that hardly resemble the “real” stuff of our lives. Or worse yet, prayers that are nothing more then thinly veiled gossip about things like a friend’s straying husband (V. 5). When we come together we should be “real” as we talk to God and each other, as friends, not trying to impress with long, drawn out haughty prayers (v. 5). And finally when we pray together we should challenge each other with truth and love to go into the secret places of ourselves and share our most vulnerable concerns with each other trusting that the church will respond with genuineness and grace knowing that when we keep it real it won’t go wrong.

(PET PEEVE ALERT: I should note that this group prayer thing is a personal pet peeve of mine. So, if I have made anyone feel a little twinge re: their small group prayer life…Hey, I’m just keeping it real!)

One more post-note. Like I said before, how do you gloss over the Sermon on the Mount in one pass? Matthew Paul Turner has a great book called ‘Relearning Jesus’ about reconnection with Jesus through revisiting the Beatitudes. Here’s the Amazon link: http://tiny.cc/JImbX 

Also, if your small group is having a hard time “keeping it real”, or worse yet has had “keeping it real go wrong”, check out Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend’s fantastic book ‘Making Small Groups Work’. It’s a great resource for “real” small group leaders. Here’s the Amazon link: http://micurl.com/ysncxp

 

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Is He Enough for Me

I am a wired girl. I love my technology and aspire to be a tech-nerd when I grow up. During most waking hours I have one or more of the following items going; email (both work and personal), BlackBerry, laptop, Facebook, Twitter, iPod, this blog,  TV, DVR, phone, text…you get the picture. I love people and I love being connected to people. A lot.

 

Over Christmas we went on a family vacation and I forced myself to turn off everything but the cell phone for a week. I worked through the typical stages of the withdrawal process and was able to relax and keep my focus on my family. When I got back that Monday I had 287 emails (actual number) in my inbox so evidently I’m not the only one who likes to be connected.

 

With my obsessive need for all of my fun little tech bits in mind one verse from today’s chapters really drew me in: 

 

Matthew 4:2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

 

Can you imagine what it would do for us spiritually if we were to unplug for forty days and forty night and withdraw, alone, to a quite place. How would we change if we were hidden away with God and His word, with out distraction for 40 days allowing Him in to meet both our physical and spiritual needs? 

 

My bet is that we would experience the kind of spiritual transformation that would give us the freedom to: trust God with out physical needs and circumstances (v. 4); surrender ourselves to Him with blind faith – the kind of faith that does not rely on tests, bribes or bargains (v. 7); and to submit our wills and ambitions to Him acknowledging Him as God over every aspect of our life (v. 10).

We have already determined that I can not fast on the world for forty days (Read post dated 05/01/09 for more on my shameful American Idol addiction). Which begs the question: is Jesus enough for me? 

 

Most days he is but there are days when I feel like I need more of something…mostly more of Him. Today I am praying that I will know that He is more than enough for me and that I will trust Him to provide every need. I will look for opportunities to leave my ‘stuff’ behind and go into a secret place, alone with God, so I can can my fill of the the one, true connection that I really need.

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Charting the Course

I do not travel well, especially by car. I like to get where I need to be fast and with out much inconvenience. My husband marvels at how far I can drive with out taking a break and has learned over the years to avoid large amounts of coffee before any trip with me because I am almost guaranteed NOT to stop. 

 

When I was a kid we would do lots of summer road trips to what I believed were far off places. Places like Traverse City, Evanston and Morton’s Gap, Kentucky. One of my favorite things to do on those trips, long before Garmin had been invented, was to track our route on a AAA Trip-Tic. I loved the Trip-Tic. I knew that every time I had to turn the page we were a little bit closer to getting there. I always insisted on holding the trip map and on being the page turner (thus proving that I have always been an impatient little control freak.) Even now I prefer a road atlas to any GPS system because holding the trip map equals control for me, it’s about being able to chart my own course and measure my progress.

 

With that in mind a few verses stood out to me from today’s readings. 

 

Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and Matthew 2:9,10 9 After they had heard the King, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star they were overjoyed.

In these verses we have a group of guys, most likely astrologers, who dropped all they were doing to follow what amounts to a hunch that the new, glaringly bright star in the West signified the birth of a king. Can you imagine leaving everything you own to go on a two year journey through the desert in the hope that what you are seeing is the sign you have been waiting for? 

 

These men were experts on the night sky and probably had more maps and charts than I could count. My bet is that had they needed to get to Jerusalem they could have found it with the materials they already had on hand. After all charting the sky was part of their life’s work. Yet God gave them a sign that the time had come to start their journey. And even though they had enough maps to manage their own trip God continued to provide a star to chart their course, track their progress, and mark their destination. Despite two years of changing, seasonal constellations, the star that God provided to shine light on them remained consistent and steady in the evening sky guiding them and they watched it overjoyed. 

 

I have a lot of charts and maps in my life. There are a lot of things on hand, that I have created for my own use as I try control my journey and chart my own course. Yet God continues to offer a consistent sign to remind me that the trip has already been planned for me, all I need to do is put down my own maps and follow it. Every night, through out all the seasons and changes of my life, my light steadily shines for me and when I see it I am overjoyed.

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Death to Self

Grinch heart

 

 

If I was to devise an instrument that could measure my commitment and dedication to Christ I imagine it being something like the measuring device in ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas.’ Remember the scene at the end of the film strip (yes, I’m that old) where the Grinch realizes the true meaning of Christmas and experiences a spiritual transformation that grows his heart so much he breaks the measuring tool? 

 

If I were to measure my commitment and dedication today it would look more like the heart in the illustration above. Want to know how I know? Allow me to share a transcript from an actual conversation I had with my friend Kate this week:

 

ME: I heard about a cool David Nasser study called ‘Call to Die’. I’m kind of interested in doing it.

KATE: Really what’s it about?

ME: Dying to self. He asks you to fast on the world and feast on Christ for 40 days.

KATE: So he wants you to not watch TV and stuff?

ME: Yeah, so I don’t think I can start it until this season of American Idol is over.

 

True story…really. While this is not my proudest moment it is certainly one of my truest. With that story in mind Mark 15:40, 41 really stood out to me in today’s readings. 40 Some women were watching form a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for His needs. Many other women who had come up with Him to Jerusalem were also there. 

 

When I read the Gospels I always admire the Disciples commitment to Jesus’ calling. They dropped everything, left everything, sacrificed everything to follow the Son of Man. They became His friends and confidants and were given full, front row access to the most amazing events in all of history. How cool. I would love to be a companion to Him; to travel with Him; to discuss culture, news and scripture with Him; break bread with Him; pray with Him. I think that if I was offered this (emphasis on this) unprecedented opportunity I would drop everything to accompany Him on His journey. 

 

Now, what if I were offered the opportunity that was given to the women mentioned in verses 40 and 41. Their deal was ‘Leave everything and follow me as I preach though out all of Galilee watching from afar while being completely dedicated to my service, caring for the needs of me and my Disciples, for as long as it takes’. This doesn’t sound like much fun but these women had an extraordinary measure of commitment and dedication. They knew that they owed all they had to the one who healed them and were willing to humbly serve Him and take advantage of any opportunity to be near Him. 

 

The commitment and dedication that these women had for Jesus would certainly bust my Heart-O-Meter. Unlike me, they took the Call to Die challenge despite what was going on in their world.  Full disclosure: I am not ready to do the ‘Call to Die’ study (yet) American Idol or not. But I am ready to begin praying for Him to remove my commitment to self and replace it with a call to death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Legendary Devotion

We don’t entertain at our home a lot but when we do it is typically something that we plan somewhat carefully. My husband and I consider what activities our guests enjoy, what foods and drinks they like, if we should lock up our dogs. We want our friends to enjoy their time with us and know that we have taken the time to prepare some ‘extra amenities’ (like the nice, non-cartoon themed bathroom towels) for them. 

 

Imagine if Jesus was coming over to hang out and have a meal. I would hope that we would do more than our customary clean sweep of the house (or at lest the visible parts of the house) and breaking out of the nice serving platters. But what would we really do to honor the King of Kings if he were in our home?

 

In Mark 14:3-9 Jesus visits Mary, Martha and Lazarus in their home and shares a meal with His friends. During the meal Mary walked into the room carrying a jar of expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with it as a sign of honor. While some of the dinner guests scoffed that she was squandering such an expensive item, Mary poured the perfume over His head in an act of devotion. 

 

What would I do to show my devotion to the one I call God? Would I think that offering Jesus the ‘extra amenities’ of my life is a sufficient honor…the fancy hand soaps perhaps? Or would I offer a sacrificial act of worship and devotion to honor him in my presence? If I’m being honest on most days I offer Him the hand soaps – just enough to show that I am going a little bit above my own expectation but not enough to truly show my devotion.

 

Mark 14:9 is the verse that really spoke to me in this passage. “Truly I say to you, where ever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will be spoken of in memory of her.” I long to be so devoted to Jesus that my acts of love would make history in all the world for all generations! I pray that I will be forgiven for foolishly offering Jesus only the extra amenities of my life. I pray that I will daily honor Him with sacrificial acts of devotion and worship and that His spirit will work in me to transform my small acts of worship into heart felt legendary acts of devotion that truly honor my God. 

 

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