Friday, August 24, 2012

Stuck Thinking 2

You're working your way up that wall climbing out of your rut and you've hit a spot that just seems impossible to get past. You've lost your momentum, and you just don't seem to be moving at all. You're frustrated. You're discouraged. You're tired. You're stuck. And while you're stuck, you're thinking, "I'm stuck."

You're only stuck if that's as far inward as that thought goes. So let's say it stops there where your progress seems to have stopped. The thought from that point can remain at being stuck, but it's not likely to for long. If you don't move your thoughts along and get on your way, eventually your mental focus starts to slip from ahead back into "rut mode". You were looking ahead and looking up, at the end of the climb or at the next hand-hold a few feet above, but now you find yourself staring only at that knot in the rope where your hands are now. You are aware of the fact that you aren't going anywhere. You are thinking of how rough it is to keep trying, having to push yourself forward, pull yourself up, keep going, no breaks, and how you are fighting against odds here. You aren't a super athlete, by the way, no spiritual Olympian, just you.

Beware! you are in danger of forming a new rut or falling back into the old one. The next thoughts to drive up as you are stuck there have momentum of their own and might be of a few varieties, the first being that you figure you might spin your wheels there for a while, just for a little break. After all, you've gotten here, you deserve a little slack, right? And that might be alright, as long as you don't let your motor die or turn it off yourself. You're idling, not parking, and do NOT shift into neutral!

Another thought that might occur is reversal and is likely to be fatal: "Why did I try to climb up here in the first place?" This thought can be weighty if you slide on board as it has many companions and moves quickly through smooth connections. For example: "What made me think I could do this?" leads to: "I should have known I couldn't succeed." leads to: "I just can't do it." and then: "I give up." These are all justified by: "I'm just not strong/smart/good... enough." And who can really expect that much of you?

God! God expects that much of you. But never without His help. Your main contribution to the climb is your trust in Him to get you to the top. And somewhere in your life, there is always an outlet for you to build a support system to hold you up when you're afraid something will knock you down. God has you secured, and He has put others out there for you to connect with, to join hands. If you trust God to provide the muscle to get it done and have the patience to let Him guide your progress, you will succeed.

Say a prayer. Remind yourself of the success you already have. Thank God for what you've achieved so far. Give Him praise for being the awesome God He is and for the amazing things He has done. Take the focus off of you and what you can do, and put it on what God can do. God loves you, and He'll get you safely where you need to go.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Tapestry

I was just thinking on how confusing life gets; how when a person tries to make sense of mind- and heart-twisting events, it's easy to get lost in the muddle of humanness and see only randomness and chaos. I'm reminded of how hard it is to separate the self from the situations and untangle when the mental, emotional, and physical get wound up.

When people try to portray God in a way they can understand and relate to, God is often described as a creative artist. I've heard of God equated to a puppeteer, an architecht, a potter, and a weaver, to give a short list. God as a weaver brings to mind beautiful expanses of bright-colored cloth decorated with intricate designs and complicated patterns, and what we are most likely to picture is the finished side. But every tapestry, rug, or embroidered work, however simple or complex, humble or extravagant, has both a finished and a working side. The side that gets the most acclaim is naturally the finished side, and the working side the most criticism.

The working side is usually not as pretty as the finished: it tends to look more messy, and we are less proud of it because it doesn't look as nice. But the working side gets more of the attention of the artist during the weaving or the sewing. That's where mistakes are worked out and stray ends worked in. Transitions in design, pattern, and color are all worked in on the working side so that the finished project looks seemless and smooth from the finished side.

A few women in my family have been that type of true master whose projects often could be accidentally flipped over and no one would notice the difference. Their handiwork evoked both admiration and envy, but the method of the craft has been passed down through the generations by practiced hands that took lifetimes to learn. For each, their first creations were both simple and messy. Excellence came with practice, and I know of no one who has ever created a perfect work.

Human life is much the same, especially when we think of ourselves as the craftsmen. We tend to be clumsy and our designs crudely worked. Those of us who study under the Master Weaver Christ will learn best over time to create designs we are proud of. And our lives are ultimately woven together not by our own efforts, but by God, who sees the whole design in its completion as well as the value and beauty of our personal experiences and our individual designs.

Another thought to leave you with is that no work can be completed entirely from the working side. It must be turned over from time to time, with the final product in mind, to mark the progress, check its quality, and to simply be admired.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Things Your Therapist Didn't Tell You

You've had a really bad day, and you're ready to strangle whoever comes across your path. And that is primarily because you can't strangle the person who ticked you off in the first place (your first issue there being that you'd have to get rid of the body). You fume all the way home. You fume at home. You go to bed fuming. Instead of spending the night in an aggravated fitful insomnia and waking with a headache in the a.m. (whether from lack of sleep or your ill-advised remedies), I suggest you stop at the party store on the way home.

I do not recommened alcohol or crepe paper streamers. Go buy a big box of those little bottles of bubbles they hand out at weddings. (uh, what?) That's what I said, you need a whole buch or those small sized bottles of bubble liquid. When you get home, crash on the bed with a bottle of bubbles in hand and blow bubbles until the bottle is empty.

This works wonders for a sour attitude, and is especially cool if you have a ceiling fan and can find the updraft. With skill you can actually catch a bubble on the wand and use it to blow a whole new batch without dipping it again. Using your creativity, you could easily spend an hour and more finding ways of steering bubbles around the room, keeping them from popping, or aiming them at various targets.

If you could seek them into the office, It might not hurt to keep a bottle or two hidden in your desk, just in case. Every time you take a breath, say a prayer; breathe out slowly; and let your tension, frustration, and anger float away and disappear in dozens of tiny spheres of soap.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

In the Bad

It is hard to focus on God at times, but God never stops focusing on His creation. Even though life may seem unforgiving, and we might feel like giving up, it is God who sustains us gives us strength to see it through. He shines His light down on souls in darkness. Jesus did not come to save the wealthy and the righteous, but the poor of spirit and weak of heart.

In our hardest times, we wonder how it is that misfortune has to happen to us. Earth is not Heaven. If earth were like heaven, we would not appreciate the blessings we have for what they really mean to us. We would take them for granted. It would be easy to forget all that we have, our gifts, our strengths, our very lives are from God, and it is by His will that we live to greet each day. We might feel no remorse for our sins, feel no need for atonement, feel no drive to improve ourselves. These things are important to remember when mere existence seems unbearable.

Adam and Eve were sent out of the garden for disobeying before they truly understood the difference between right and wrong. Now we do know the difference, and there is no excuse for us not to strive to better ourselves and overcome temptation to sin. We are sinners all, and even though we be righteous, we are not blameless.

God tests us and our convictions as we go through hardships. Even when our hardships are resulted from our sin, God is there with us to carry us through. We simply have to put our trust in Him. Will you pass the test or give up on the problem?

How often do you stop and wonder why? Why does he have a better job? Why can she afford a new car? Why are their children so healthy? Why not me? These are questions we all ask God and ourselves. this is where we can pull a lesson from the book of Job.

Job was a wealthy man, a righteous man with boundless faith. All his possessions were destroyed, his children killed and his body overcome with illness. This was all the work of the devil, and Job did ask God why. In the end it was his devotion and faith in God that redeemed him and brought him out of his misery.

If Job can do it so can you. Even his faith wavered, but he found it in himself to stay strong in his adversity. It is not always an easy thing to do, but in every travesty you overcome, you will find that it brings you closer to God.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Stuck Thinking

Oftentimes, we get stuck in our thinking about who we are. Our thinking, our perceptions of ourselves develop over time, and whether inflated or self-deprecating we usually don't think about how we think. It starts, sometimes, with a habit or as one. We may have factors we consider as "defining" characteristics, and most of us would say there are at least a few we would like to change.

And there is where we get hung up. Change. If we are sunk deep enough in our ways we may come up against a wall that says, "You Can't Change. Change is impossible." Case in point: New Year's resolutions. We start out with a great aim at the thing we want to be but quickly become discouraged or tired at the effort we must maintain, when we discover that change isn't as easy as declaring the intent to do so. Then the next thought comes, "It's not worth it. I can't do it. I can't change."

And it is the truth in a way: we can't change the essential things of ourselves, but we can BE changed - and for the better - with the help, the intervention of God. He enables us to change: we grow and mature over time physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually; he even built it right in to our DNA. In many ways, we can't help but be changed. The little things around us shape us daily, perhaps without us even being aware of it. And of course the major life events are called "life-changing" for a reason.

Small change or big change, positive change comes from Him. Because we are human, we are imperfect, and God is the One who perfects us. But we still have a committment to make to the contract. We have the responsibility to respond - to want to get out of our rut enough to climb up - and to dedicate ourselves to success. The climb may look difficult and the wall steep, but there is help and reassurance.

The first step is to change our thinking. That itself, might be the hardest climb. Stuck thinking is the suction that pulls us back,  the oil or mud that makes the wheels spin in place or sink deeper. Release from stuck thinking is the traction and the leverage we need to start moving. That means letting go of our self-pity, cutting the ropes of doubt and discouragement, and grabbing the line of renewal and hanging on for dear life. Then we start to move.

We can't allow ourselves to lose focus either. When the road forward gets more difficult and we feel the stress of maintaining faith and confidence in ourselves, our focus can get blurry or clouded again. We are vulnerable. We need God. "But He said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness." (2Cor 12:9) When that stuck thinking creeps in, check your mental and spiritual gear, know they are sound and reinforce them. Weariness can camouflage stuck thinking and make it seem realistic. It is not. Constant, conscious, diligent effort allows us to make steady progress forward, even when it is slow. And progress is the only way to prevent decline.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Don't Look Back. Just Walk

Every person has a life walk that they must travel. Some do so with joy, some with fear, some with anticipation, some with dread, some with thanksgiving, some with despair. There are endless ways to describe the attitudes we take on as we continue daily. Regardless of how our attitudes change or why, the most significant change is when the life walk becomes the faith walk.

When your walk becomes one of faith, you realize you never walk alone; you never face the road without support. The walk becomes easier, not because there are less traps and pitfalls, but because Christ is there to pick you up and steer you in the right direction again. When I look back on the road I've come down to this point, I see pot holes and bumps and ruts, and I see that, even though I had Christ's support the whole way, I steered myself into those holes and ruts when I could have avoided them.

But if I only look back, I risk being decieved into thinking that what was then determines who I am and limits what I can be. I risk falling back into the rut I climbed out of. I miss the point of how far I've come. I miss the progress to be made ahead and lose focus on the end goal of being perfected in Christ. If that happens, it's a short drop to thinking I can't be perfected by Christ. But "all things are possible with God." Mark 10:27b "Nothing is impossible with God." Luke 1:37

Your walk forward is a daily progression toward the ideal person you can be. Never forget where you came from, but also remember the life you left behind has to be left behind. Never dwell on who you were; it's just a step away from being that person stuck again and dwelling on who you (think) you are. Remeber how far you've come; step forward, and thank God. Look ahead. See the Sonrise. Chin up! It's time to move on.

(Still in progress.)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

You Might Be a Pharisee if...

You claim to have a heart only for God, but what pours from your lips is hate.
You say you rejoice in the Lord, but your conversation rejoices in the failings of those you oppose.
You proclaim your vocation to work for the kingdom of heaven, but your efforts are directed to the institutions of men.
You declare your call to share the Word of God, but your words speak only of the world.
Instead of preaching the forgiveness of Christ, you pour out your own condemnation.
Though you have heard, "Yield unto Caesar what is Caesar's," you carry an angry fear that your money will be taken away.
Though you heard, "Surely as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me," you deny your compassion to others.
You expect to be spared, yet you judge.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Prayer Stop

Pray without ceasing 1Thessalonians 5:17

I've added a new page called Prayer Stop entirely devoted to prayer where I will post prayers of my own creation and maybe a few well documented exceptions from other sources. The link is in the column to the right. I'm hoping it will be mobile friendly and that I will have a few words to say more often.
So let's get praying...A quick word to God can make all the difference in your day. A time in your schedule can make a difference in your life. Take the time to put more into your prayer than the words your read or say. Stop, close your eyes and open up your heart. Surely the Lord shall come in, and you shall feel peace.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

God Forgive Us All

For our hesitation,
For our lack of faith,
For our lack of trust,
God, forgive us all.

For our blindness,
For our apathy,
For our silence,
God, forgive us all.

For our judging,
For our predjudice,
For our intolerance,
God, forgive us all.

For our greed,
For our stubborness,
For our pride,
God, forgive us all.

Lord, Let us not be focused on worldly agendas.
Let us not find excuses to justify ourselves and others.
Let us see evil and sin for what it is and not mask it with redirection
   or deny it by pointing blame at others.
Open our eyes and ears to see the world as you see it.
Open our minds to new concepts we may have been unwilling to learn.
Break open our hearts to recieve the Truth.

For all that we have done
and all that we have left undone,
God, forgive us all.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Faith Doesn't Make Sense

The argument of a "logical" atheist:
How do you know there is a god? You can't prove he exists. You can't see him. Your bible is legend not historical fact. You can't prove it either. Miracles are coincidence and hocus-pocus. Your faith makes no sense.
I could argue that many things in the Bible do have corroborating evidense to support them, but that is not my point. Faith doesn't have to make sense.  Faith is believing in and trusting what you can't see and can't prove. It's not about logic or reason. Faith in God is not a rational response. It is knowing what doesn't come from knowledge; it is based on truth not facts. It can not be made to make sense to a world desperate to define itself for itself in rational terms it can calculate and understand.
None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. -- 1 Corinthians 2:8, 14 (NIV)
Another thing to remember about faith is that we are assured in every exhortation in both Old and New testaments that there will be those who will not accept it. "First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires." 2 Peter 3:3 (NIV)
We can do nothing for them but to keep trusting, keep hoping, keep believing.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Walking among the Pharisees

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
  Luke 18:9-14
   To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went upto the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men -- robbers, evil doers, adulterers -- or even this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
   "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
   "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (NIV)

Many of us do not realize that we are the Phaisees of this story not the humble sinner. We look down on another's sin, but do we recognize our own? I have problems with that. I catch myself doing the things I don't like all the time. If I had to live up to my own standards without fail Whoa Boy! would I be in trouble. Luckily we are all forgiven in Christ of all our sins. We can know that and feel massive relief. I do, and it makes me want to sing. A lot of things make me want to sing. I spontaneously burst out into song, but there again I could just be one of those annoying, happy Christians. Probably so. (He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today...)

Christ has removed our guilt, but the important thing, I think, to truly being washed clean, is repentence -- feeling bad that we commited sins in the first place, acknowledging them and asking forgiveness. It is not required for salvation that we recognize every sin individually, but Jesus calls for repentance and warns against self righteousness.

Paul's words, speaking as a sinner forgiven and grateful: 1 Corinthians 4:4-5
   My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will recieve his praise from God. (NIV)

Paul did write in the same letter not to associate with the believer who sins greatly (Paul lists some examples). This is to correct the one who has sinned, but he does not mention the everyday sins we humans can't seem to avoid. Or even of the ones we could avoid but don't -- like skipping church to play golf, or pouting because this friend has an AWESOME pair of shoes and we want them, too. If removal from the church were required for all sins, there would be no church. (Just a lot of people with awesome shoes and nine on Sunday tee times who see no reason to repent because they figure they're lost anyway.)

And then the sinner repents and stops committing the condemning sin. He is to be received again with love and forgiveness. His actions have been neither condoned nor overlooked nor has the sinner repentant been ostracized to the point that he has lost his faith.

2 Corinthians 2:6-8
   The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead,you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. (NIV)

We are all sinners, regardless of how bad we think our sins are. We are all forgiven and can rejoice. (Insert loud chorus of Jesus is a rock, and he rolls my blues away! Bop shoo bop a shoo bop WHOO!) But we are also still flawed and human living in a very human world. We can not escape the nature with which we were born, but with utter dependence on the Holy Spirit for help we can move beyond it to a closer relationship with God, who makes us perfect. But Christ has admonished us not to think ourselves perfect on our own nor that we are qualified to judge others.

Jesus' words: Luke 6:37
   Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. (NIV)

Following this previous reassurance is the passage about first removing the plank from your own eye before helping your brother to remove the speck from his own. I would think a plank in my eye might hit my brother in the head. The Whack! (and following exclamation I will represent here with Ouch! That hurt!) would justify him in not wanting my help thank you very much.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Stretching Our Faith Muscle

Faith can be considered a weak thing unless it is tested. Think of it as a muscle. It gains strength only when pushed by exercise. The harder and more regular the exercise the stronger our muscles become. As humans, people are weak in themselves. It's easy to take God's favor for granted, to get used to it and lose some of that consciousness of the excellent provisions God provides for our care. We can forget sometimes that we are God's lilies and become thorns without realizing it.

The true strength of one's faith can not be seen in the contented status quo. Faith is tested and tried through hardship. It is easy to give thanks and praise for the many good things we have when life is stable and our circumstances pleasant, but during hardship we often focus entirely on the immediate difficulty, losing the ability to look at the broader perspective and see the present more as Christ might see it. Without hardship, we would not get to see the glory of God in enduring or overcoming adversity. Difficulty allows us to see how powerful God truly is.

When we persevere in difficult times, keeping a positive attitude and remembering to give God the credit and our gratitude for bringing us through it, we achieve victory. In 1709 John Wesley's father Samuel called all the neighbors together as his family's house was burning to the ground to say a grateful prayer that all the family made it out alive. When I stop to appreciate what I haven't suffered, the sufferings I do face lose their sting. The exercise can put an abrupt end to a bad attitude. Even the small irritations could be blessings in disguise.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Glimpses of the Divine

I preached a sermon on 19 February 2010, Transfiguration Sunday. Here is a written version of the message summarized (this is not the preached sermon word for word):

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is the Sunday we remember Jesus on the mountain revealing His glory to Peter, James and John. The story of the Transfiguration is found in all three synoptic gospels. The one I used here is from Luke 9:28-36.

Jesus' Transfiguration is a glimpse of God peeking out. John Wesley describes the transformation as divine rays "darting out." Jesus' earthly form was only a veil over the divine, and Peter, james and John were blessed with a vision of the glory of Christ behind the veil. It was a glimpse of what would come -- one they never expected to see.

There are, in fact, a few points we can take away from thier experience. The first is blunt: if we take God for granted, He becomes ordinary. To the disciples, God was a distant being. They knew Jesus. He was a miraculous man, who did miraculous things, but as amazed as they were, they got used to it. Jesus became normal.

We see a modern-day example of this in an experiment conducted by the Washington Post in which Joshua Bell, a world class violinist played 45 minutes in a D.C. metrostation to rush-hour traffic. He was largely disregarded, and this premier musician, who had sold out a Boston concert with an average ticket price of $100, had collected a mere $32 in the violin case he uses to carry the $3.5 million instrument he used in this experiment.

The same thing that happened to him often happens between us an God. Jesus was an ordinary guy for all anyone could tell by just looking at Him. His appearance was, perhaps, unimpressive, but His appearance was not important. His power was in His words. Then Jesus took Peter, John, and James aside and they saw Him transformed from the form of a servant to the image of God in glory with Moses and Elijah beside Him and God's voice coming from a cloud all attesting to the authority and divinity of Jesus as the Christ.

God can be shocking. I imagine Peter's internal monologue was something akin to, "Wow, I didn't see that coming!" The experience was completely unexpected even though he had already declared his belief in Jesus as the Christ. We declare our faith every Sunday in the mystery and miracle of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Maybe we don't understand it. Maybe we take it for granted. Maybe we just don't think about God being mixed in with the everyday. We don't expect to see Him there. So sometimes, when we get too comfortable with God, He comes up behind us and hits us in the head with Glory (WHACK!). Our response, like Peter's, is often, "Wow, I didn't see that coming." Peter's audible response was less than profound, but he was human; and as humans we don't often know what to say to God. But  God knows what we need and when we need it.

Sometimes the moments we are closest to God are the ones when we are quiet apart. When we can be away from distraction, make God our priority, and turn all our focus to Him -- like here with the three disciples. Their experience was special, and it is one we might have ourselves, if we are open to it. In quiet moments, Christ shines in our hearts. We are illuminated from within, when we make ourselves open to Christ's grace. It is a radience we can feel.

But the God experience is both personal and corporate. We don't just experience connection with God in a booth off by ourselves. Christ said, "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12) not "Iam the light of individuals only." We need Christ's community, our church family. For John Wesley, religion was social. His transformative moment came diring a worship service. Christ also said, "Let your light shine before men." (Matt 5:16) The Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations. We do that by taking the God-shine in our hearts and sharing it with others.

The Transfiguration is our "wow" moment when we get a glimpse that reminds us that there is more to this than what we think we know and perceive. Christ came back down from the mountain because the job wasn't done yet. There was more to do before Jesus' ministry could be complete. When we reach Transfiguration Sunday we are at a transition. It is the last Sunday before Lent -- a season of somber, sober preparation as we move from Christ's ministry into His journey to the Cross. We are reminded to trust God because God has it all in hand. Over the next six Sundays we can look back to this glimpse of glory as a reminder of Christ's divinity. We can expect that divinity to return and know that it will never fall short.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sharing our Journey with Others

I have a theory about why people get annoyed when confronted with witness, and I don't mean the knocking on the door at dinnertime witness or the condescending, hell-fire and brimstone, or judgment and condemnation witnesses. I mean when you're chatting companionably and turn the conversation with a, "Come to church with me," or a, "Bible study was great. You should come," or a plain, "Let me tell you what God means to  me." The thing that turns a non-believer off may actually be that the Christian across from them is so stinking happy! For instance, one might say: "Even when they're unhappy, they start spouting faith and find something happy about it. I mean, gosh, it's annoying already. Don't you guys ever get tired of being happy?"

The truth is, yes, faith and trust can wear a person out when things get tough. Contentment is a hard thing to maintain in light of life's wild turns. But we shouldn't let the things we don't have let us take our minds off of what we do have, and first and foremost we have Christ and Christ's forgiveness - His promise of new life. But here's the kicker: Christ is the Master in the relationship. We have to submit to and serve Him before we can call ourselves children of God, be adopted into His household, sit at His banquet, and share in His inheritance.

There is where many balk. Example: How can those Christians be so happy when they're shouting, "We serve you, oh, Master!" Wasn't the "happy slave" myth debunked with the rest of that idiocy after the American Civil War? It seems rather oxy-"moron"-ic.

Let's take a line from the United Methodist communion liturgy and give it a second look. It says in part: "delivered us from slavery to sin and death." That one tripped me up until my English major mind broke the sentence up and reconstructed it. Christ did not deliver us into the hands of sin and death, but rescued us from being slaves of sin and death. The next section says: "and made with us a new covenant." He didn't just set us loose and say, "Be on your way." He provides for us, cares for us, and nurtures us as children in our fledgling faith. Our servanthood in Christ is like being released from a life-long death sentence every single day all day long. Who wouldn't be happy? I feel like singing!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Another Step Forward

Yesterday, I took one more step on the road to life-long servitude, and I AM LOVING IT!

Yesterday evening, I moved into another step of the candidacy process (#2 of abt 2mill) for ordination as a deacon in the United Methodist Church. The Staff-Parish Relations Committee at my church (University UMC) has voted to recommend me to the district, and I am a "Beginning" Candidate now. What that means is I can now officially go to the District Superintendent to request that I be assigned a mentor to help guide me through the process and that I have paperwork - a small trickle now compared to the increasing flow and eventual deluge I will face later on. But that is later.

In the meantime, I'm waiting on confirmation of acceptance from Candler Theological at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. I feel so positive about that I may sound overconfident, but I have had moments of sheer joy and or utter peace that make me sure I have aimed in the direction God chose and can not miss this target. I trust, and I feel secure. (UPDATE: No, I did not get accepted to Candler, But I haven't lost that trust and joy in this path. I realize I was being overconfident and really narrow in my focus.)

I started the application process at Asbury seminary as well, but did not prioritize it because Candler felt so certain. Asbury is in Wilmore, Ky just outside of Lexington. It seems a nice school, and comes well recommended. The people there have been very friendly and helpful. They are the incredibly strong second choice. Either way, I'm very excited. (UPDATE: Asbury has been sending me things two and three times a week to help me along with my application and remind me what's next on their calendar. I realize that the peace and joy I feel are not in picking a specific school but from following Christ and trusting in God to get me where I'm supposed to be.)

By the end of the year, I expect the church's charge conference will put the next step of my candidacy to a vote. After that, I can go before the dCOM with more paperwork - several different forms and essays and 14 copies of each. That is still later, though not as much later as the final result. Ordination could be 4-6 (or more) years later, but in the end, I could actually be wearing a stole for special occasions. I will, of course be wearing blue-jeans and boots every day because with God's work, only the getting dirty can wash your heart truly clean. (I came up with that all by myself) GOD IS SO WORTH IT!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Walking the Road of Faith

I'm where I've longed to be spiritually for most of my life. I'm filled with self-contentment, excitement and downright joy. I've come to this place because I have no guarantee but trust in God that the journey I am embarking on is even possible. My husband and I have made the choice to move ourselves and our kids away from family and familiar places to follow the feeling that this is where God wants us to go. The only certainty we have is that we know God will get us there and will see us through. We don't know how. We just trust that the pieces will fall in line instead of falling through.

Trust can a big issue for people. It's hard just to step out in faith, but a leap of faith can be almost impossible. Almost, but before we dig in our heels and refuse to move for the sake of stone-cold fear, let us consider a few who did not, and history has been forever changed. In fact we owe our lives to their faith. For example: God said to Abraham, "Pack up everything you have, your entire household and everyone in it and go far away to live in a place you know nothing about." God said to Moses,"Go back to Egypt, and tell pharoh, 'I'll just take my people and go now.'" The Lord said to Gideon, "Go attack the Midianites with only Three hundred men." A couple thousand years later, God said to a young, unmarried girl, "I'm going to cause you to have a baby." He said to Joseph, "Go ahead and marry her," and later, "Pack up and move to Egypt." He said to Paul, "Go and teach the Good News. You owe me one."

None of these people would have been considered remarkable in their time or ours until they trusted God and did what He commanded. (I don't see anything in there where it says, "God said, 'Please do this ofr me. I'd be so grateful.'") They were all regular people until God chose them for His work. They weren't kings. They didn't work miraculous wonders until they worked for God. But they had to trust God to do it. They had to give Him control, and then give Him the glory.

Now God is calling us -- you and I, our neighbors, our families, our friends -- to walk down a new road. We may be leaving a lot behind, like the places we've always called home, the jobs that pay the bills, or a network of familiar names and faces. The location might not have even changed, but the choice was to live a different way, let something go, do something new and do it for God.  We may be walking the road without our friends. We may be leaving family. Maybe those friends or family are already gone. Whatever the road or wherever we go, we never walk alone. Even when no one else is there, God walks by our side.

Back to my husband and I. The choice sounds crazy because it's so different and so far away. We have our kids to consider, five of us altogether to uproot.  It seems rash to chase a dream when you aren't twenty anymore, you have a family, and you expect to have established something in your life. By now, you've either followed those dreams or packed them away in favor of reality. But when God calls, you're dreaming if you think you can turn Him away. I've learned that God can turn anyone around and can wait anybody out. Keep in mind that He's got all the time in the universe.
The steps He is asking you to take on the path He sets may seem big or difficult, but all it takes is a trusting heart. All you may need to do is change the way you look at things, how you determine what makes something easy or hard, plausible or possible. I'm following a path into service, and I know this path is where I need to be. I know because I trust Him, and I'm willing to let Him lead.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Toil Road

We call ourselves blessed when we have money, fame, success. But when we can hold on in trials we are blessed, too. The trial itself is the blessing, in a way: it gives us the chance to show ourselves how strong we truly are. When we persevere, we have proof that we can face adversity and win. We are blessed to live and have an opportunity to test ourselves and our faith. If faith were easy, how could it be made strong? It would blow over at the slightest wind. If a back is not tested by labor, can it expect to support another's weight when that other's cross is too much for one to lift? Can we expect it to be willing to lend aid, or will one say, "Carry your own burdens."?
We can miss the benefit of trial even more easily than we miss the blessings we have while enduring it. In the midst of trouble, we focus on the difficulty rather than the gifts we have. We think of ourselves as weighed down but take for granted what lifts us up. We should not be so concerned with the the difficulty that we miss the difference between ourselves and those with far less but who sing louder praise with greater joy. They have come through hardship not singing in spite of it but because of it.