Far Better Things

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It’s been a season of moving on for me lately. I left my job three weeks ago. I said goodbye to the people I worked with, and the place that had filled up so much of my time over the last several years. It was time, it was the right thing, but it was not easy.

Our family has served at a youth camp every summer for the last several summers. It’s been a great opportunity for us all to serve in one place together. The experiences and relationships we have made there are special and we will always remember them. But this was the last time for us. It was the last time for everyone. The owners of the camp have decided to let that particular venue go. It was one more thing, another group of people, to say goodbye to.

Change is hard. Letting go is hard, too. The disciples would agree. They had a good thing going with Jesus. They were ministering to large crowds, people were being healed, and they were turning religion on its ear. They were ready to follow Jesus all the way to an earthly throne. It was a sweet gig, really.

So when Jesus told them it was going to end… you can imagine that they were not completely on board. This wasn’t going to go down they way they had thought. Jesus was going away? Why? Things were just heating up. They were making some real progress. They had walked away from the life they had known, thrown down nets, left profitable practices, and now he was leaving?

But it was time. The plan was never for Jesus to stay. It had always been that he would go, tag out to the Holy Spirit, and let Him take it from there. Things were going to change for the disciples, and they were going to change in a big way.

They might have been doubtful, scared even, when Jesus broke the news to them in the Upper Room. But I bet if you could ask them now, they would tell you it was the very best thing that could have ever happened. They could have gone on living with Jesus, but had he not left them, sacrificed his life for them, made way for the Holy Spirit to fill them, they never would have known what it would feel like to truly know Jesus; to have his power alive inside them. The disciples went on to do some crazy and miraculous things after Jesus left them.

It’s hard for us to move on to new things. Especially if we aren’t completely sure what those new things will be. We want to cling to what we know, even if what we know isn’t really all that great. We’d rather hold on to familiar mediocrity than reach out for unfamiliar extraordinary. Why? Because we have fear and we have doubt. We don’t want to leave behind something we know for something that could be bad. (And yes, that statement is as pathetic as it sounds.)

Change is hard, but change is the only thing that ever moves us forward. 

I think CS Lewis put it pretty good when he said,

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

He was right. Lewis wasn’t proposing that life becomes some bed of roses as we move forward, but looking back over the whole of my life, his statement has been true.

So what’s the remedy?

Motion. Forward motion. Just take a step. Just one step. I know it’s hard. But I promise if you take that first, tentative step, you’ll see the ones that follow that one will be easier. Why? Because with each step, with each forward motion, your confidence in the plan, His plan, for your life will grow stronger. And yes, He has a plan, and it’s all coming along right on schedule.

So get moving. What are you waiting for?

Step By Single Step

I’m starting week two of a three week sabbatical. Half of the first week was convincing myself that I was really on a sabbatical. Still, it’s been great. I’ve had some time to think about all that God has done in me over the last several months. He’s been busy, and it hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns.

Last year about this time, I learned that the hospital I worked for was going to require that all it’s nursing staff begin wearing the same color scrubs. Up to that time, it was really a free for all in that department. It was a ridiculously long drawn out process of choosing the perfect color for the nurses. Molehill, once again became mountain. I was in pretty desperate need of new uniforms, but I was determined to wait until the mandatory color was announced before I ventured out to invest in more scrubs.

Navy. The color “they” chose six months later was navy. All that hoopla and suspense for navy. I was just happy for a decision. I could finally go out and get the uniforms I so badly needed. Only every time I started to buy some, I heard, “Don’t”.

“What? Why not? Lord, you know I need scrubs. Have you seen the worn out things I’ve been wearing? They’re embarrassing.”

“You don’t need them. Don’t buy them.”

So I didn’t buy scrubs. God knew what I did not. He knew that in six months I would no longer be wearing scrubs of any color. He knew that I would be entering into a great time of professional uncertainty, and He would be leading me away from what I had been doing for the last ten years.

Okay. I did buy one navy scrub top. But it was four dollars at a thrift shop and it was a really good brand and looked new. That’s what I told God there in the Goodwill store as he was telling me not to buy it. I bought it anyway. The few times I did wear it was a struggle. I knew I had been defiant in even buying it so I finally ended up just letting it hang in my closet. A symbol of my distrust.

I didn’t understand what God was doing. Didn’t he know how many years I had invested in my current position? All the time and money for certification in my field? Didn’t he know that I had become really good at my job? You see, I knew that him telling me not to buy navy scrubs meant he was getting ready to move me. I just had no idea where I was going.

Those six months were hard. I learned that it’s okay to not know what my next steps are. You see, I knew where I wasn’t supposed to stay, but not where I was supposed to go. I only had a part of the picture. So I learned how to press in and how to trust God more. I learned how to trade in my vision for my life for what he had planned for me… Sight unseen.

I learned how to walk through my situation as more of an observer rather than a participant. I wanted to watch and see what God was doing. As the security net beneath me continued to fall away, I could hold on knowing he would meet me at the right time, just in time.

I learned better how to not be afraid, and I saw the effect that had on the people around me. Acts 4:13 tells the account of Peter and John as they were threatened by religious leaders for healing a man in the name of Jesus. The courage they showed in the face of what would make most of us cry uncle, brought others to greater faith in Jesus. One guy sold property he owned and gave the apostles the money in support of them because of their courage.

Learning to trust God in uncertain times is a win, win. It not only grows your faith, but the faith of others around you. If we say to the world that we trust in a great God only to fall apart at the first sign of trouble, how great can our faith, or our God, really be?

And that’s just the beginning. I’m still taking this time in my life step by single step. I can’t see way out in front of me, but I am learning more and more how to trust the one who can. Proverbs 37:23 says that the Lord directs our steps and that he delights in them. I’m in good hands, and so are you.

Whose Team Are You On? And How Can They Tell?

I mentioned in my last post that I have now started going to the gym. I don’t think I’m going to have the time to write down all the potential blog posts that came to me from just the few gym visits I made so far. As I have looked around the large facility and watched all the people there, I’ve seen so many stories, so many metaphors… it is truly a blogger’s buffet.

I also mentioned in my last post that I observed an early morning basketball game at the gym. One of the things I wondered about the two teams was how in the heck they could tell which players were on which team? When I was growing up, it was shirts versus skins in pickup games like that one, but in that game, there was no such distinction. I was amazed that no one ever passed the ball to someone on the opposing team because they got confused. It was pretty impressive, actually.

My daughter, who was on the torture machine… er elliptical… next to me said that they probably all knew each other. It did look like they had played together before that morning, but still, even if they did know each other, how did they keep up with whom was on their team that morning? It was fascinating to me. Arguably, I am easily amused.

In the days of the early church, when Christians were being martyred simply for following Jesus, they came up with ways to become familiar to each other without being so blatant about it. This is a bit hard for American Christians to understand. We parade around with crosses around our necks, Christian t-shirts on our backs, fish stickers on our cars. We can indicate our affiliation with Jesus in these ways because we have no fear of being killed for doing those things. But the early Christians didn’t dare do that. If they wanted to survive to spread the good news of Jesus, they had to go incognito.

One way the early Christians were able to identify one another without personal risk, was by drawing an arc in the sand. If the other person the met was also a follower of Christ, they would draw another, opposing, arc in the sand to complete the figure of a fish… Jesus being the great fisher of men, you see.

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I pride myself of a couple of things. Stupid things really. I think I’m pretty good at telling where someone is from in the US, just by his or her accent. For example, most people outside the southern US don’t realize that there are very distinct accents from within the southern region. There are. Alabama is different from Georgia, which is different from Tennessee and Louisiana. And Florida? At some point in history, Florida fell down here from somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon line.

I also like to say that I can tell in which church tradition you came up. Give me just a little bit of time and I can tell you whether you grew up Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Catholic… whatever. Church traditions put their imprints on us.

Often times the only way we can tell if someone is playing on Jesus’ team is by what they wear. Most of us are too reluctant to talk openly about him. But here’s the truth about that. Maybe, like me, you grew up in a church tradition where you weren’t taught that it was okay to talk openly about your faith. You were taught that your faith is to be kept private. That’s just not what the Bible teaches. Wearing a cross around your neck, or a fish on your car, cannot replace declaring with your mouth that Jesus is the Savior of the world.

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The Apostle Paul, in the first chapter of Romans said,

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…”

What if Paul had been reluctant to speak of Jesus to the Romans (Gentiles)?

What if he had seen his faith as private?

Likely, the church would not exist today.

And what did Jesus say about our timid nature in sharing the good news to the world?

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38

If for absolutely no other reason, I’ll be sharing Jesus and proclaiming his Savior-ness until the day I die. Because on that day, I want Jesus to be unashamed of me! Don’t you?

Keeping your faith to yourself is a completely selfish act. Our discomfort in sharing the good new of Jesus to a dying world makes Satan’s job oh so much easier. No one should wonder, either by actions or words, whose team we are on. Go ahead wear your Christian gear, but don’t stop there. Get verbal about your faith. Be willing to risk rejection and ridicule. Jesus did. Let no one have to wonder whose team you’re on. After all, our team wins!

Life Lessons From the Gym

Saturday was the first official day of my twenty-one day sabbatical. I woke up bright and early to my husband pulling me by the feet out of bed. What in the world?

“It’s a new beginning,” he said. “Let’s go to the gym,” he said. As the morning fog began to lift from my brain, I vaguely remembered agreeing to this lunacy some time ago.

“But I don’t have anything to wear to the gym.” I whined.

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(Doesn’t that sound like a completely legitimate excuse to you?)

“Oh, I bet you can find something. It’s just the gym”

Standing now in front of the bathroom mirror, “But look at me. Do you really want to be seen in public with this?”

“Yes. Get dressed. Time to go.”

Well, I managed to find my only pair of gym shorts and an oversized t-shirt to wear to the gym at our local YMCA. I was definitely going to turn heads, and not particularly in a good way, either.

On arrival, I made a beeline to my workout machine of choice. The elliptical machine. It’s really a torture contraption, but I figure that if I’m going to do this thing, I want the most bang for my buck.

I had brought along my iPhone and my ear buds. No conversating for me at the gym. (Not that anyone would want to talk to me in my ridiculous “I never really exercise” outfit and obvious bed head.)

I set up my machine the best I could, and set my phone to play a John Ortberg podcast about putting margin in my life, and my first workout in forever was off and running. And by running, I mean not running, exactly. It was more of a canter. I need to ease into this exercise thing.

As I listened to how I need to allow more time in my schedule and learn to say no to things (like going to they gym, perhaps) I noticed a game of basketball in progress on the court next to the exercise room. I marveled at how those guys could be interested in playing a game of basketball at that early hour.

The guys playing were all fairly young adult black men who appeared to be no strangers to that court. They were getting their game on. There were more guys who wanted to play than spots available on the court, so there appeared to be an organization to the whole process of getting everyone their turn on the hardwood.

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As I exercised on my machine and listened to my podcast, I would intermittently watch the activity on the court. I couldn’t help noticing the skinny white kid who had appeared at one end of the court holding a basketball. After a minute, I could tell he very much wanted to play with the big dogs.

I laughed to myself and thought, “Fat chance, little man.” I knew there was no way he was going to get a spot on that court that morning. Occasionally, the game would take a time out and there would be a few moments of free space on the court. That little white dude would make his way tentatively on the court and begin to shoot baskets. He really wasn’t half bad, but he still didn’t get noticed by anyone but me.

After an hour on the machine, I was past done and really proud that I hadn’t injured myself or required the assistance of a paramedic. The skinny kid was still waiting on his turn to play when we left the gym.

I realized a truth there in the gym. We all want to be noticed. We want to be chosen. I felt bad for that little scrawny kid. What basketball skills he had were not enough to get him on a team. I couldn’t help being thankful that I didn’t have to be qualified to be chosen to play on God’s team. Now I know full well that was corny, but the metaphor works, so stick with me.

We are not in and of ourselves qualified to be on God’s team. Our pitiful little skills we may have do not make us a more desirable member. God doesn’t look at us and get all impressed by our mad skills and say, “Her! I want her!” No, the Bible says that while we were still losers he chose us. (That’s my interpretation. If you want to see the actual wording, check out Romans 5:8) In fact, we are just as pitiful in our own efforts as that skinny kid at the gym and still he says, “Her! I want her!”

We are qualified only because of Jesus and what he has done on our behalf. We get on the team because of Jesus alone, not because of anything impressive we have to offer.

I left the gym that first day with spaghetti for legs and gratefulness for my Savior… because, in truth, I am that kid. Without Jesus, I have nothing to offer. I have no reason to boast unless I boast in Him.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8

Do You Know My Name?

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name” Psalm 91:14

I am terrible with names. It’s shameful really. I can meet a new person, ask them their name, and seconds later it’s lost to me. There is nothing so sweet to the human ear than the sound of our own name. I know this, and yet I still can’t remember names. I am so bad at names myself, that if someone does remember mine, I elevate them to sainthood. I feel like kneeling on one knee in their presence and kissing their hand.

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I know why most of us forget names. It has to do with short term memory and being able to convert memories to long term storage. In all honesty, I learned all that while helping my oldest son pass a psychology exam in college. Forgive me. He needed the help, and he has no intention of studying psychology ever again. Sometimes mommas gotta do what mommas gotta do.

Name recognition is so important these days. In this world of instant access, the chance that someone can become an instant household name has pushed the fame envelope. With every new Facebook friend or Twitter follower we feel more and more valued. Someone else has wanted to connect with us. Someone else knows our name.

I’m guilty of this myself. My ego can get so big so quickly. I want you to read my blog. (So thank you for reading) I do mostly want you to read it to be encouraged, but if I am completely honest, just a little part of me wants you to know who I am. Why?

Because we have an innate desire to be known. We need people to get us, to know us, to recognize us. We need people to know our names because we need to be valued.

I have a friend who recently went through an experience where she was devalued. She had been a part of a large organization for nearly two decades. The CEO of the organization had been there as long, and had grown into that leadership position over a long period of time. My friend knew this person from way back, and had many interactions with him over the years. They were known to each other. Stepping off the elevator one day, my friend ran into the CEO who acknowledged her, but then asked her what her name was.

She was blown away, and frankly, insulted. But this CEO knew what many do not. He knew that if he pretended not to know her name, it devalued her. Due to a particular issue going on in the organization where they were on opposing sides, he needed her to feel devalued and belittled. He wanted her to feel unknown.

I can remember when we came to the church where we attend and serve; my kids were young tweens and teens. I knew it would be important for my kids that the youth pastor knew their names. The problem with that is that our church has as many as two thousand young people in attendance. It was ridiculous for me to expect that pastor to know my kid’s names. But I still asked God for that.

Never doubt God’s desire and ability to say yes. It would take me too long to tell you how our youth pastor came to know my kid’s names, but suffice it to say, God has his own way of doing things. Just a couple of months ago at our large monthly youth service, my second son was serving as a stage camera operator during the youth pastor’s message. The pastor needed my son to zoom in close and get a shot of what he was doing. He said, “Ryan, can you get a shot of this?” Not only does he know my son’s name, he recalled it in front of two thousand students. I couldn’t help laughing.

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We want to be known. We want people to know our names. We want recognition. But we are confused. Why do we desire fame? Why do we care if people recognize us? Where does it all end? How many Facebook friends are enough Facebook friends?

Here’s the truth about name recognition. The Creator of the Universe knows your name. He knows you. He doesn’t forget your name. He never has to ask again what your name is. He’s got it. It’s already in long term storage. Do we really need more fame than that? The very One who created the stars and set them into motion knows

who

you

are.

The desire we have to be known is so often misdirected. We should desire to know God and be known by him, and that alone should satisfy.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…” John 10

Friendships: A Reason, A Season, or A Lifetime

I love meeting new people. The opportunity that new relationships bring can be exciting. However, most people you meet don’t tend to hang around very long. Most people you meet have little if any lasting impact on your life. But every once in a while, someone you meet becomes a friend.

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I believe we were created for relationships. I believe God created mankind to be in relationship with him. He created Eve because Adam was having a hard time connecting relationally with the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. So our human relationships are important. I love my cats, but they are not really great conversationalists, and they have a hard time giving me sound advice.

As parents, we realize the importance of friendships in our children’s lives. I can remember when my best friend worried that her oldest child would not have any friends. He suffered a brain tumor as an infant and he faces struggles daily that you and I will never know. My friend understands the importance of relationships, and she worried that her boy might not have those because of his disability. (Well, God heard her pleas, and he had a plan for her son. God gave her son a full well of joy. He will soon turn eighteen, and that boy is a rock star. He is blessing to all who meet him and have the joy of having a conversation with him. I am blessed to call him my friend.)

Relationships matter, and I learned as a young adult that friendships are not all meant to last a lifetime. When you grow up in the same house, attend the same schools and church for your whole childhood, you might begin to think that everyone who is your friend, is intended to be your friend, for life.

But I have learned this important truth. People come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. The Bible tells us there is a purpose for every season under heaven. This is true of relationships, I believe.

I used to take it hard when friendships ended. I can remember as a young pastor’s wife learning the hard way that sometimes friendships end. Sometimes friendships are situational. My husband had taken a job as pastor in a church in North Carolina. It was a far cry from anything I had known in Alabama. One particular family really took us on and added us to their “family”. Right up until Matthew was no longer their pastor. When we felt the Lord leading us in a new ministry direction, they no longer had a desire to be in relationship with us. My heart was broken. My love for this family was not situational. I had no frame of reference for something like that.

I had to learn that some relationships are for a reason. I had moved away from my home and I needed a surrogate mother. This older woman had been that for me for the first couple of years I was away from my own mom.

Some relationships are for a season. When I think back to my childhood friends, I remember all the things we learned together about life. Most of these folks have moved on from my life, but the important life lessons we learned together are still a part of who I am. I could try to go back and renew some of those relationships, but many of them would not hold up today. We are not who we were then, but they were valuable people to me for that season of my life.

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Some relationships last a lifetime. The Bible tells us about a really great friendship that was had between Jonathan and David. These two young men made a connection early in their lives, and were committed to each other even after death. Their friendship was stronger than even their familial relationships. Sometimes we are blessed with those kinds of friendships. These are friends that stick around for a lifetime. Those are rare. I have only one friend who has stuck close to me longer than my husband. I don’t deserve her, I am not nearly as good a friend as she is, but I am blessed by her presence in my life. If you have a Jonathan and David kind of friendship with someone, you are blessed indeed.

It can be heartbreaking to move on from a friendship. We are hardwired to cling to relationships. I think it can be helpful as we move through life and journey through relationships, that we remember that sometimes relationships come along for a reason or a season. And rarely, you find that person who sticks with you to the end and beyond.

The Bible talks about a friend who sticks closer than a brother. I tell my kids that friends can come and go, but their brothers (or sister) are there to stay. I want my kids to be able to count their siblings as lifetime friends. God understands the closeness that can exist between siblings and he offers us an even closer one through Jesus. I can be a lousy friend at times. I can offend people with my forgetfulness or procrastination. But I cannot offend Jesus. He already knew my shortcomings when he chose me. There was nothing I could hide from him, to expose slowly as our friendship matured. He knew it all from the get go, and he chose me anyway. Nothing I can do, nothing I can say or be will make him stop being my friend.

I think it’s easier to walk through this life of mostly temporary relationships if we can count on that one permanent one. We all need one friend, which no matter the reason or season, will be with us for a lifetime and beyond. Thank you, Jesus, for being that kind of friend.