Month: January 2016

God is Working

The forecast was for possible snow. Maybe up to an inch, probably less. No one was forecasting travel issues, but with Snowmageddon of 2014  still fresh enough on everyone’s mind, no one in the South would be taking any chances.

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Highway 280 in Birmingham, Alabama on January 28, 2014
She knew, as a home health professional, the smart thing to do that day would be to see the patients who lived out the farthest first, and work her way back to the ones closer to home, the opposite of her normal path. She made the calls to her patients, informing them of the altered schedule. She worked quickly through the day to avoid being on the road when the bad weather hit.

The last patient of the day, which would have been her first on any other day, didn’t seem quite like usual. They seemed nervous, edgy. There was nothing really specific she could find wrong during her assessment, but something was off. She felt it. She made the decision to call for an ambulance. She tried to contact the patient’s daughter, but could not reach her. Instead, she packed a bag with a few things for the patient, helped them get a coat on, and waited for help to arrive.

A few days later, she got a call from her patient. As it turned out, they had been having a heart attack and was told if they had been alone at home at the time, would have died there. The patient was overwhelmed with gratitude.

I heard this story and it confirmed something once again for me.

God is working on a solution to our problem before we even know there is a problem.

No one knew that this home health professional would arrange to see the patient at a different time that day because of the snow threat, but God knew. No one knew that the patient would suffer a heart attack that day. No one, but God.

Can I go so far as to say that God sent that snow threat in order to make sure that woman would get the help she needed when she needed it? Maybe that’s going too far… who knows?

Sometimes we read Romans 8:28 and it sounds like a platitude. It sounds like something that might be true for others, but we don’t always believe it for ourselves… especially if we are in the midst of trouble, and the ground beneath us begins to shift.

A few years ago, I was going through a time when I wasn’t too sure that Romans 8:28 really applied to me. I felt a lot like the Israelites must have felt in their 400 years of captivity before Moses showed up to take them to freedom. During that time, my husband bought me a sign that said,

“Good Morning. This is God. I will be handling all of your problems today.”

In time, my Moses did come. I was able to finally see what God had been doing all along to meet my need, and He rescued me. But I still hold on to that sign. I read it every day to remind me that Romans 8:28 was, indeed, written for me. th.jpg

God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. He is the master Weaver, and when we can’t see a way, He is busy weaving the strands of our goofed up lives into a world class tapestry. It’s all quite remarkable.

 

 

 

Hunker Down

Sometimes I do a word or term search in the Bible. Websites like biblegateway.com make that really easy. Today I did a search for the word, “hunker”. It’s not in there. Not at all. Not even once. I think that’s a shame. Hunker is a great word, and when you pair it with the word, down, you’ve good a world class phrase.

Hunker down.

People may not use that phrase much if they aren’t from the south, but it’s a great phrase if you are preparing to face a storm. Every weatherman I’ve heard cover a tornado event uses the phrase. It’s also often used by the military. If they find themselves under attack, with no way out to safety, they hunker down where they are and wait for help to arrive.

th.jpgIf you look up the meaning, you will find that to hunker down means to hide, find refuge, or take shelter. Now that is mentioned in the Bible. In Psalm 91, David says,

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

I fully believe that if David had known about hunkering down, he would have used it when he wrote that psalm. Can’t you picture someone hunkering down in the shadow of the Almighty? I absolutely love the picture that comes to my mind.

When the world gives us a sucker punch to the throat, we need to hunker down. When we aren’t too sure what God is up to in our lives and we just don’t see what’s going on, we need to hunker down. When we feel attacks coming on every front, we need to hunker down.

Our lives take unexpected twists and turns. We take hits we didn’t see coming. We suffer losses for which we were not prepared. These things happen to all of us. What if our first reaction was not panic?

What if our first reaction was to rest in the shadow of the Almighty? What if we run to Him and allow Him to be our refuge and fortress? What if when we don’t know what God is doing, we just hunker down and wait Him out?


God is at work on a solution before we ever knew there was going to be a problem, working on our behalf, and bringing glory to His name from the midst of our mess.


 

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.” Proverbs 18:10.

There is protection in the name of the Lord. There is peace in the name of the Lord. There is healing in the name of the Lord.

It’s a really good place to hunker down.

Sitting on the Inside

Submit. It’s a hard word. It’s not hard to spell or understand. It’s hard to do.

It’s not one of my “try not to ever say” words like “scab” or “puss”. I shudder just typing those two words. Ick. It’s not a  four letter word of a different kind… it’s just a hard word.

The Bible uses that word kind of a lot, though. It’s an important word for believers.

“Submit yourselves, one to another, out of reverence to Christ.”

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands.” (groan)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,and he will make your paths straight.”

“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.”

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority…”

It is not in our nature as humans to submit, but the sad truth is that the scriptures just don’t ever talk about followers of Christ being overbearing, rude, or insisting on having their own way. In God’s universe, there is order. There is a chain of command, so to speak, and so many times, we want to usurp that chain. We’d rather be the authority than be under it.

Submitting to authority serves no purpose other than to bring us into right relationship with the Father. It is through following the example of Christ that we find our place in the universe. Christ was a servant leader. He fully submitted himself to the Father… He, who is equal to the Father, IS the Father, humbled Himself in submission. He is our example.

Submitting ourselves to the will of the Father is no easy thing. I often know what I want or what I want to do. I have my own mind, after all. Submission is an acquired ability. Early on, I learned to submit to my parents. My derrière suffered if I chose otherwise. So I learned… eventually. Then I learned to submit to my teachers, then my employers, and then to my husband. I submit to church leaders and to governmental authorities, too.

It seems that everywhere I turn, I am submitting to someone.

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Submission is a heart issue. I might submit to authority with my actions, but not always with my heart. I recently heard someone say that “She was sitting on the outside, but she was standing on the inside.” So many times, that’s still me. I know in my head to whom I am supposed to submit, but sometimes my heart’s just not in it.

Often, we see submission as punishment. But submission is protection. When I submit myself to authority, I am blessed. I am protected. I learn to bend my will, my sinful will, to the will of another. Ultimately, the goal is that I naturally, and without hesitation, submit my will to the will of the Father.

As a follower of Christ, it is not a loving or attractive action to insist on my own way. I have to loosen my grasp on what I think is best, and trust the God given authority in my life. Ultimately, I submit myself to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He knows all and sees all. I don’t, and I can’t.

So even when I can’t see it myself, I need to learn to sit on the inside, too.

 

The 80’s Matchy Matchy Curse

I was a child of the eighties. The eighties was an awesome decade. The word, awesome, actually came from the eighties, I think. I still believe the best music of all time is eighties music. My favorite XM Radio station is the one that plays only eighties music. Almost without fail, I can sing along to every song. I can’t seem to remember where I put my phone or my keys, but those awesome lyrics, I remember.

Fashion in the eighties was something else. It was BIG. It was BOLD. The bigger the shoulder pads, the better. The bigger the hair, the better, too. The money we girls and rock band members collectively dropped on Aqua Net hairspray could probably settle the national debt today. I remember owning painters pants in every color. Oh, color! The eighties were all about fierce color. And it was about color coordination!

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One of the things I took with me from the eighties, along with all the lyrics to every Top 40 hit ever written back then, is the Matchy Matchy Curse. Everything in the eighties had to match. My blue, yellow, and red top with the huge shoulder pads had to be paired with my blue painter’s pants that matched my blue earrings. The yellow in my sweater had to match the yellow of the bow in my hair. And the whole outfit was not complete until I put on my red Jellies shoes. I was stylin’ back then, let me tell you.

Matchy Matchy is no longer a thing. It hasn’t been for quite some time, and yet I just cannot bring myself to let it go. This, even after becoming a student of the TLC show, “What Not to Wear”, where Clinton and Stacey always said, “It doesn’t have to match, it just has to GO.” And I could see it. I really could, but when it came to putting that rule into practice for my own wardrobe, I couldn’t do it. I have to match. It’s a curse.

I suppose I could suffer from worse curses. At least I was able to let go of my Aqua Net.

In the world of things that really matter, there are worse things than a compulsion to match our outfits that we cannot leave behind. You don’t have to be a child of the eighties to hold onto things that make no sense. What are you holding onto that is holding you back? What disparaging statement did someone say to you once upon a time that you cannot help but hear again and again in your mind and causes you to doubt your worth?

You do the things you have always done because you have always done them, but you haven’t considered making a change that could benefit you because you… just… can’t. Maybe you have an idea about God that you learned years ago that keeps you from fully embracing Him and trusting Him enough to step into your destiny.

The decisions you have made in your life have brought you to where you are right now. But what if there is more for you? What if the only thing standing in the way of the wonderful plan God has for your life is… you? It’s time to let go of some stuff. It’s time to stop believing what the world says about who you are and start believing what God says about who you are.

And in case you don’t know what He says about who you are… here you go.

You are the called, anointed, chosen, loved, wise, adored, rescued, healed, included, encouraged, appointed, empowered, prepared, courageous, equipped, gifted, and beautiful Daughter of the Most High King.

That’s the line that needs to play again and again in your mind. Why? Because it’s the truth, and there is nothing that woman can’t do!

Mega Churches: Are they God’s Plan for the Church?

“I don’t think mega churches are God’s plan for the church.” Said a prominent denominational leader in a mainstream denomination that I won’t mention…

As an “all in”, no holds barred, member of one of America’s largest mega churches, I would take offense at that statement. I would, except I am working on not taking offense at stupid comments like that. If we die daily to self then dead people are hard to offend, right?

Anyway. Kids, we don’t say stupid. Instead, we say “uninformed” or “ignorant”.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most people who have this view of really, really large churches are not a part of one. I understand. I wasn’t always a part of one either. And I might have been a little suspicious myself before … back when I was uninformed or ignorant. In my journey through life, I have been a part of lots of churches. One as small as fifty… actually fifty would have been a super good Sunday for that church, others with hundreds or a few thousand. Currently, my family serves in a church that has somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 weekly attenders.

I know. It’s kind of mind blowing. That’s really a lot of people. We get it. Trust me. You try parking in that parking lot. Actually, we don’t park that many people in one place at one time. But still, parking is a challenge. Everything is a challenge with a church the size of ours. We love it. It’s nuts.

But does anyone think that any pastor of any church anywhere ever says he wants to pastor a church of that size when he starts out? Let me tell you. NO. He doesn’t. Of course, all pastors want a “good” number of people to show up. They want to “grow” a church to a number that is representative of the work the Lord is doing in the hearts and lives of those close by. But what happens when the work the Lord is doing is really big? Like REALLY big?

I can assure you it is not the pastor’s plan, so it MUST be God’s!

What happens when you follow the Lord’s leadership, humble yourself to His plan, risk it all for the glory of the King, and the people come? And they keep coming… and coming… and coming? And they come to the point that you can no longer comfortably, or uncomfortably, fit them all? At what point does a church decide to turn people away?

How would you like to be on THAT ministry team?

th.jpg“I’m sorry ma’am, sir, but we just don’t have room for you in our church. Here’s a directory of other churches in town that still have room.”

That’s not what you do when you pray and ask the Lord to send the people to you, and He actually does. Nope. You figure it out.

I understand the suspicions surrounding larger churches. People doubt the sincerity of the leadership. It’s all about money or numbers. It has to be. There’s no way God could be doing something this big. No. Way. How insulting that must be to a God who made the infinite universe.

Large churches suffer the same failures that small churches do. Have there been leaders in mega churches that went astray morally or theologically? Absolutely. Just like there have been leaders in all sizes of churches who have gone astray. God will not be mocked for long, no matter what the size of the church. Pastors and teachers of the gospel are held to a higher standard than the rest of us. Their actions will be theirs to account for one day.

The larger your flock, the higher the accountability. Do you think anyone signs up for that?

Critics of really large churches might forget about Pentecost. Remember when the Bible says 3,000 people were saved in one day? God is quite famous for doing big things, and he is always on the alert, looking for people who are totally devoted to Him. It is through those people that He can accomplish great things.

Churches of all sizes have value. One might “prefer” a smaller one with not so many pesky people, but we should go where God calls us. It is completely out of line to say that it is not God’s plan for churches to be so big. What if that’s wrong and it is in His plan? Saying that something is not of God when it is, in my mind, is akin to blasphemy.

I’m up to my eyeballs in the humongous church where I serve and my husband and son are on staff. It’s as authentic a place to serve God as I have ever seen. I have better, closer, stronger relationships in this place than I have had in lots of other places that were much smaller. I have grown more spiritually in the last five years since coming to this place than I had the previous forty-five, and I’m not the only one.

Just ask the other 29,999 folks with whom I go to church.

“I’m not a practicing Christian.”

 

th.jpg“Why are you smiling?” My son asked me.

“Because there is no such thing as a non-practicing Christian.”

My son was in the throes of telling me about a conversation he had overheard, where a guy had said he was not a practicing Christian. I couldn’t help smiling. I’ve heard it before.

Here in the south, it is quite likely that they were brought up going to church, hearing about Jesus. It’s a cultural norm that, for some, holds little real meaning in their lives. It’s one of the dangers of a churched culture, where going to church is an obligation rather than a precious freedom, privilege, or source of strength.

They probably know something of the stories told within the Bible, but as they grew up, they veered away from the truths they learned from the Sunday school teachers of their childhood. They begin to wonder if there isn’t more to it, and instead of pressing in, they drift away.

By referring to themselves as a “non- practicing Christian”, I imagine this person has some Catholic influence in their lives. The phrase “non-practicing Catholic” actually is a thing. This just means that while a person identifies with the Catholic Church, they don’t do the things that most Catholics do. They don’t attend Mass, or go to confession. They don’t partake in the sacraments of the church, and maybe they incorporate things into their lives that the Vatican disavows. But if you ask them about their religious affiliation, they still claim Catholicism.

The Bible is clear on the subject of a non-practicing Christian, however. According to scripture, you are either following Christ or you are not. Christianity doesn’t have a place for fence sitters. If you’ve got one foot in the world, then you might as well pull that other foot over the fence, too.

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It was Jesus who said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Matthew 12:30.

2 Corinthians, Chapter 6, says that there is no fellowship between light and dark. The letter to the church in Laodicea in Revelation scolds them for being fence sitters. Be in or be out, it says, but there can be no fence sitting in the Kingdom of God.

My son told me this non-practicing Christian said that rather than be fully devoted to Christ, he has decided instead to just be a good person. He is intentional about doing good deeds, volunteering, and giving back to the community. He is hoping that he has enough good deeds racked up by the time he dies that when he gets to his day of judgement the scales will tip in his favor.

The truth is, when you play that hunger game, those odds are never in your favor. Scripture tells us that no one is good. There is none righteous, no not one. (Romans 3:10)We all fall short of the measure required of us. (Romans 3:23) There are not enough good deeds for us to do that will justify us in the sight of a holy God. In His great love for us, God made a way for us to be with him. (John 3:16) Jesus, the one perfect Son, was sacrificed to pay our debts.

God does not desire that anyone go to hell. (2 Peter 3:9) Jesus, God the Son, paid the bill for our transgressions with the sacrifice of his own life. The sinless One took on the sins of all. If we spend eternity apart from God, it is because, as my pastor says, we choose to pay our own bill… forever.

Let’s say you eat out at a restaurant. A really nice one. You spend hours gorging on the finest foods. So the bill comes and, even though you saved up money, there is no way what you have is enough to pay your enormous bill.

But alas! Someone has taken pity and settled it for you! It’s done! You owe nothing!

But no. You cannot accept this gift so freely given. Who would sacrifice themselves in that way for you? Do they understand what a glutton you have been? So you reject the gift and stay to pay your own bill by working to make restitution for your gluttony… forever.

Who would do that? Well, far too many, I am afraid.

If good deeds don’t satisfy our bill, does this absolve us from doing them? Nope. But it changes the reason we do them. The Bible tells us that these good things we do are not supposed to point to what a good person we are, but to what a good God He is! (Matthew 5:6)

While there is no such thing as a “Non-practicing Christian”, there is such a thing as a practicing one. I’m going to keep practicing until I get it right, how about you? I’m going to be forever grateful for His sacrifice to satisfy my bill, and I’m going to try hard to point attention to His goodness, His faithfulness, and His love.

Let’s go in with both feet.

Isolation: an Enemy of Ministry

I never wanted to be a Pastor’s wife. I didn’t. I intentionally didn’t date the ministry students at Samford University when I was a nursing student there. And I held out, too, right up to my last semester.

So I married a minister. How bad could it be?

I can remember my mom saying once that the hardest people to be married to were doctors and pastors. I’m not sure how she knew this, seeing as my dad was a businessman, but that’s what she said. Imagine her joy when I told her I was going to marry a pastor.

I’d like to say that her worries over me were unfounded, and to some degree they were. There have been hard times, for sure, really hard times, but I love my life.

So when my husband left the role of pastor behind, I was very sad. Partially because I thought he was a fantastic speaker and teacher, and partly because I didn’t know where that left me. And everyone knows it’s really about me. I suffered a huge identity crisis back then, but God had called Matthew to do something different and fabulous in ministry, so we did. And it has been. Different and fabulous, I mean.

I’ve never been a particularly “normal” ministry wife. I was intentional about that. I loved serving God, and His people, but I refused to be forced into any kind of stereotypical role. My greatest calling as a ministry wife was to support and love my husband. What most people failed to see was that while other people could rock babies in the nursery, or serve food to the needy, no one else could love their pastor in the way that I could.

No one else could, or at least they better not, lay awake with him into the wee hours of the night searching for answers and direction for the church he was called to lead. There are no holidays or vacations from being the pastor’s wife. They don’t serve just on Sundays, the Pastor, yes, but his wife- no. (That’s a little joke.)

When it seemed like the whole church, and maybe the whole world, was against him, I was the one to pick up the pompoms and cheer him on. I continued to believe in him when everyone else had their doubts. I made room for his failures while others expected perfection. That was my job, and I was good at it.

But now what he does these days is less about us serving together and more about him doing his thing, and me doing mine. We are blessed to serve in a life giving church that makes room for ministers to be, well, people. Yet sometimes I see ministry families in other places and I remember the days of isolation and loneliness.

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I remember having to put on a smile when it felt like your world was falling apart. I remember trying to live on a salary that the church had decided was enough, but in reality, was not.

I remember the criticisms that came of the person you loved so much, and having to squelch the impulse to run those mudslinging naysayers over in the church parking lot. The struggle was real. The pressure to present your children as perfect angels was real, too. You might be able to imagine the admonitions my young children got on the way to church each week! They hadn’t even done anything yet, and already they were in trouble for it. Sigh.

Over the years, I have had more than a few pastors ask me to invest in their spouses. I am a safe place, I guess. I know stuff that would curl your eyelids, and it will go with me to the grave. Everyone needs a safe place to be honest and transparent. Ministers and their families love the church, but most churches don’t create a safe place for ministry families to be real about their problems so they isolate themselves.

Without a safe place to live and breathe and just be honest about things, sometimes serious things happen. Only no one knows they are happening because isolated people keep their stuff to themselves. So by the time it worsens to the point that they can no longer conceal it, the situation is so bad that it has catastrophic results for the pastor and the church.

Isolation is bad for everyone.

We all need relationships where we can be honest about what’s going on at home, in our hearts, and in our lives. The Apostle Paul claimed to be the “chief of sinners” even though he wasn’t. That would be me, or you, or most any of us who struggle with our sinful natures.

Pastors and their families struggle sometimes, and many of them feel isolated. To all of you who serve the Lord in vocational ministry, God bless you. Please step out of your isolation and reach out to someone. You need that safe place. Find someone that can handle your stuff and love on you.

And frankly, that’s good advice for all of us.