Ministry

Run YOUR Race!

Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Wow! November is getting away from us SO quickly. I’m usually much better about posting regularly, especially during Adoption Awareness Month, which is one of my favorite times of the year. This November, I have a confession to make. I get kind of envious when I see mothers with new babies, or who are expecting, or who have adopted children, or who are fostering to adopt. With my youngest having just turned four years old last week, I feel like that phase of life is just slipping away.

And the further away from it we get as a family, and the closer we get to our arbitrary self-imposed adoptive-parent age limit of 40 years old (I will be 38 in February, can you believe it?!), the less likely it seems that we will end up pursuing adoption after all. Granted, we always say we’re open to burning bush moments and clear direction from God to the contrary, but for now, it seems unlikely.

Still, I STRONGLY support adoption. I think it is one of the most amazing and miraculous things you can do, and I believe that it offers such an indescribable blessing to everyone it touches. So I may ask God, Why not us? But as I read Hebrews 12:1-2, I hear God instructing me, “Run with endurance the race that is set before YOU…” While we ultimately all run a race designed to glorify God and advance his kingdom, we do not all run the exact same race, or the exact same route.

And, at this moment, the race set before me is not one that necessarily includes adoption (as sad as it is to admit). Instead, it includes being a wife and mother within a family of FOUR. It includes mentoring young women as they transition into the next stages of their lives. It includes praying for others at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It includes befriending the elderly, who have too often been neglected in this fast-paced world of ours. It includes teaching college students not just about subject matter, but about responsibility and character. It includes writing research papers that draw attention to important social issues of our day. And so many more things.

Your race may look very little (if at all) like mine, or like anyone else’s for that matter. But whatever it does look like, I would encourage you to embrace it and pursue it with diligence, as unto the Lord. And if YOUR race involves the joy and blessing of adoption, know that while I will feel a twinge of envy, I will also cheer you on, champion your cause, and do whatever I can to help you to run that race, and to run it well. You have my prayers and my admiration.

Run YOUR race!

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Star Wars and Heart Wars

1 Chronicles 17:1, 3-4

After David was settled in his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.”….
But that night the word of God came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David,
‘This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in.’”

Last week, in his God in the Movies sermon series, our pastor taught on the faith lessons to be gleaned from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now, you have to know that I am NOT a Star Wars fan. Every 10 years or so, I try again to watch A New Hope, but I fall asleep before they get out of the desert. I once tried to watch The Empire Strikes Back, but couldn’t manage to stay awake for more than about 20 minutes.

Even so, the spiritual significance of this new installment was not lost on me. Our pastor highlighted the main theme running through the film, namely that there was a generational handoff afoot. The old guard was giving way to the new, and there were tensions and sacrifices associated with this transition. He compared this transition to one depicted in 1 Timothy, wherein the Apostle Paul is handing the ministerial baton to Timothy, his understudy.

This epistle has at least three lessons to offer to both the old guard in the faith and the new. For the older generation, Paul sets the example of being willing to: (1) serve for as long as he lives, even if the capacity of that service may change; (2) serve with humility; and (3) provide wise counsel as a mentor. For the newer and younger members of the Body, Timothy sets the example of: (1) having a teachable spirit; (2) finding confidence in his calling rather than his experience; and (3) being willing to sacrifice his own desires for the sake of the greater good.

This handoff reminds me of another story in Scripture, one that is recounted in both 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17. In this story, David wants to build a temple for God. God has other plans, however. He intends for David’s son Solomon to build the temple. David sacrifices his desire in the interest of God’s. And sometimes we must follow in these same footsteps.

As I have reflected on last week’s sermon, and these passages, I can’t help but relate them to my own desire to adopt a child. I’ve had a heart for adoption for a long time, but have not received clear direction from God to go forward. Sadly, I have no Nathan in my life to speak directly on behalf of God. But something in Brady’s sermon did catch my attention. He said, in relation to Timothy’s calling, that our callings should be “affirmed by Godly leaders.” So I thought back. I’ve been talking about adoption for a long time, to pretty much anyone who would listen. But try as I may, I can’t think of anyone who has actually affirmed that desire as my calling. People listen, they promise to pray, they ask if we’ve come to any decisions, they have even pressured us to come to a decision (one way or the other). But if I’m being honest, that affirmation hasn’t come.

Lesson #3 from Timothy also caught my attention. God’s people must be willing to sacrifice their own desires for the sake of the greater good. It’s one thing to make sacrifices for things we desire—although certainly not easy. But it’s quite another to consider the bigger picture and the greater narrative, and to give up our own desires for the cause. And what if, for me, adoption is just that—a desire? What if it isn’t my calling after all?

What if I’m actually part of the old guard in this narrative? What if I’m meant to pass the baton to the newer and younger followers? What if my role now is to move on to a new stage in life, and to serve in any way that I can from that position? What if my job is to offer wise counsel to those who follow? What if I am called to mentor and disciple future leaders, investing in their spiritual growth? What if I am meant to shine God’s light in a classroom, rather than being confined to the walls of my home?

I have to tell you, I don’t have all the answers. But I’m willing to ask the questions, and I figure that must count for something, right?

Here’s to you, and your own search for meaning, purpose, and calling in this life.

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An Unlikely Enemy

Isaiah 55:8-9

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”

They say that the good is often the enemy of the best. It’s one of the truest statements ever made. I think it applies especially to God and to His plans for each of us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some ideas. I’ve got ideas about how I can serve God, and further the Kingdom, and bless all of humanity. Yeah, I’ve got some big ideas and some equally big plans. But wait—what’s that the Bible says in Proverbs 16:9? “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”

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But my plans are good! They’re noble, they’re selfless and sacrificial. And those things are true. But no matter how good my plans may be, they may not be BEST. God may have better plans than I do. Let’s face it, He undoubtedly does. So He’ll close some doors and open others. He’ll speak to me through other believers. He will give me a sense of peace, or perhaps a sense of unrest. And sometimes, some of our dreams have to die to make room for the dreams God has for us.

There’s a story I’ve heard several times, of a little girl with a fake pearl necklace that she adores and wears religiously. One night, her Dad asks, “Do you love me?” Her reply is, “Yes, of course I love you.” Dad’s reply? “Then will you give me your pearls?” Devastated, she replies, “Daddy, I do love you, but I can’t give you my pearls.” This exchange goes on for several nights, until the little girl finally answers, “Daddy, I do love you, and if you really want my pearls that badly, you can have them.” And once she hands them over through tears, the dad pulls out a beautiful string of REAL pearls, a gift he’s been waiting so long to give her. She’s finally willing to give up the good, in exchange for the best. The question is, am I? And are you?

Oh God, let us accept your best for us with open minds, open hands, and open hearts. Help us to believe the truth that your thoughts and your ways are so very much higher than ours; that you have plans to prosper us, to bring us a future and a hope; and that you are ready and waiting to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine. In the all-powerful name of Jesus, let it be so.  

Who I Am–Part V

Deuteronomy 6:5-9
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

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Sitting here reminiscing and trying to chronologize some of the exciting adventures I’ve had, I realize I’m at a loss. Case in point: I remember scuba diving in the Bahamas, but when exactly was that? Was it during my “two years of travel” (AKA my last two years in the Air Force)? Or was it after I got out? And if it was after, was it before or after my missions trip to New Zealand? It matters only in that the two trips are now indelibly intertwined on the outside of my left food. The tribal design featured in the above tattoo is a Maori symbol for “hammerhead shark.” If you look closely, you can kind of see the unique head shape of the shark. I was intrigued by both the design and its muse.

Now, I’ve been on a number of dives, in a number of places, and two or three of those dives were shark dives. But on none of them did I see a hammerhead. It’s on my bucket list, for sure. And just so I don’t forget, it’s right there on my foot.

I’ve always figured that God created hammerheads with such an odd head shape for some ingenious reason. Well apparently, the shape serves numerous purposes. According to Wikipedia, those include “sensory reception, maneuvering, and prey manipulation.” I wonder why this particular shark needed this particular shape? For its unique diet? Or its unique environment? I don’t know, but I know the one who does. But do you know what I just learned about hammerhead sharks? I learned (again, from Wikipedia) that hammerheads travel in schools—at least during the day. This also is unique among sharks. At night, they hunt alone.

As I reflect on that existence, I see distinct parallels between a school of hammerheads and the Body of Christ. I can see the need for community and corporate worship, along with the need for individual spiritual nourishment and rejuvenation. In our church bodies, we see a variety of passions, gifts, and abilities that allow us to function as a family of believers, and as a team of effective witnesses of and for the Gospel.

They allow us to serve one another when we’re in need, to comfort one another in times of pain and loss, and so much more. But we can’t serve these purposes and respond to our God-given callings if we don’t also seek Him in the quiet of our own hearts. These aren’t new truths to me, but the added significance and reminder provided by my tattoo is new. I don’t believe I will ever look at it in the same way again.

Abide

John 15:4-5
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine,
so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches;
he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Last weekend, I hopped between two different local sites for this year’s IF:Gathering. This worldwide livestream event allows women of God to gather, to find encouragement, and to be challenged to a deeper and closer—a more active—walk with Jesus. The premise? IF we believed that Jesus is real, IF we believed that God is who He says He is, IF we believed that the Bible is true, then what? What would that mean for our thoughts, words, actions, and relationships?

And each year, we come away with a token of God’s personal challenge to us. This year, we each received a domino, on which we were invited to write one word—one word representing something the Holy Spirit is calling us to “fall into” this year, in prayerful hope of an amazing chain reaction among God’s people across the globe.

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By the end of the weekend, my word was pretty clear: ABIDE. Abide in the Word, and in prayer, and in Christ’s presence. I can recall a time in my life when morning quiet time was a staple in my day. But then I let it slip for a bit. First it was because I was studying for comprehensive exams and writing a dissertation. Then it was because I was a new mom, sleep deprived and exhausted. Then it was because my second child came out with no intention of sleeping through the night—at least not until she was 18 months old. Then it was my part-time teaching job. Now the kids are 4 ½ and 3, and are still keeping us up at night, and my commitment to that quiet time is still sketchy.

I’ve made all kinds of excuses—being there for my kids is my calling in this season; my students are my mission field right now, and they take so much of my time and attention; my gift is encouragement, and so and so needs encouragement right now; there are only so many minutes in the day…blah, blah, blah. And truthfully, none of that has changed.

Still, the time has come to be more deliberate about spending time in the Word daily. After all, I spend so much time praying for direction, guidance, and clarity—but perhaps it’s in that abiding that God wants to speak the answers to those prayers.

How about you? What is God calling YOU to fall into during this season?

Not for Naught

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If you know me very well, you know that I blame a lot of things on “the fall,” as in the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. That’s because, quite frankly, the fall has had a LOT of consequences for our lives, our society, and our world. And sometimes we face things that just plain don’t have any other explanation. Pain and suffering often seem to fall into that category. I’m not sure that it’s pain and suffering themselves that we dread so much. Instead, I think that one of our biggest fears is that our pain will somehow be wasted. The apostle Paul knew that better than anyone. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote:

“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

Like Paul, I think that we long to identify a reason for the suffering we experience. We want to see it produce a testimony in our lives that others can see. We want it to display God’s glory. Some painful experiences seem to lend themselves better to these ends than others. But among those that don’t are chronic pain and illness. Incidentally, I learned just yesterday that September is Chronic Pain Awareness month. I’ll bet you didn’t know that either. It isn’t something that gets a lot of press. Why? Maybe it’s because many people who suffer from chronic pain and illness do so in relative silence and obscurity. Maybe it’s because these conditions often aren’t visible to the naked eye, and as such are in many ways forgettable.

Over the years, this has prompted me to wonder how God could possibly be glorified in this, how it could produce a testimony. Then I naturally conclude that my pain is pointless. But during a recent bout of self-pity, God interrupted me. Over several days, he brought to mind a number of friends and family members who are afflicted by chronic pain and illness. And I realized that, because of my own pain, I am in a unique (if unenviable) position to NOT forget those who might otherwise feel forgotten. Perhaps not the most exciting testimony, but likely a quite fulfilling ministry. After all, some 100,000 Americans experience chronic pain at any given time. It’s a fact of life in a fallen world. I’ve personally found that there is a good deal of peace in knowing that some good could come from my suffering, that it won’t be for naught. I hope that you will also find peace in that today. Whatever you may be going through, God has no intention of wasting your pain any more than he does mine.