Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I Learned About Progressive Sanctification From Alcoholics Anonymous...(Sort-of)

The subject of this post is somewhat connected to the last...but from a different perspective. A couple of years ago I took a counseling class on "Addictive Behaviors in Family Systems." In it, I learned that many counselors believe that their job is not usually to take an "all or nothing" approach with those who come to them for help in overcoming an addiction (such as alcoholism). In fact, the client chooses for him-/herself what his/her goal will be...whether he/she wants to quit the behavior altogether, or just limit it in some way (how often, how much, etc.). The counselor, then, assists the client in reaching this goal.

How do I relate this concept to pastoral ministry? The correlation to pastoral counseling, especially in the area of addictions, seems obvious. But is it? Is it the pastor's duty to urge everyone to perfection immediately, or should some people be steered closer to Christ in incremental "stages"? (I've heard the idea that if the bar - of whatever expectation - is set high enough, people must continue to strive to reach it; however, if it is set too low, then they will feel no need to give it their best effort. I know many ministers feel compelled to take this approach to spirituality.) But, is a step in the right direction not a good thing? I think that, as ministers, sometimes we have misguided expectations of people...and even of ourselves.

Because the Bible affirms it, we believe that God sets free, heals and delivers people from all sorts of maladies. And most of us believe that He does so in two different ways: either immediately and once-for-all or, as we seem to witness more often, progressively ("God helps those who help themselves"). Perhaps this should inform the way we deal with people in our congregations and communities who desire to "do better" (whatever that may mean for them), but just can't seem to get it quite right.

If a person can take one successful step toward what we would consider "righteousness," then there's hope that he/she can eventually take another (ad infinitum), right? And besides...don't we take on Christ's righteousness and surrender our own at the moment of salvation, anyway? This, then, would seem to be the practical definition of progressive sanctification.

I came across a quote from Plato recently that seems to apply here quite nicely: "Never discourage anyone...who continually makes progress, no matter how slow." I can't recall an instance when Jesus did.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Overcoming Unfounded Condemnation

I'm reading a book for one of my classes right now...it's called Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, by Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima. It is definitely one of the best books I have ever read. I'm finishing up chapter 17 right now, which discusses the Scriptural description of grace that frees us from the expectations of others. One of the Scripture passages discussed in this chapter is one that I have been looking at quite frequently lately, and I have felt like there is something there that I'm just not getting. After reading this chapter...I get it!! (The passage is Colossians 2:16-23.)

As Christians, we believe that the God we believe in has revealed Himself personally in Jesus Christ. If we really believe this, then we must view our relationship with God in light of what Jesus taught about Him. And Jesus taught that in Him we have freedom to live in right relationship with God without worrying so much about unbearable expectations and legalistic demands that are not Scriptural, but are placed on us by others.

Read this verse in light of this freedom:
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Imagine that...living a holy life is not impossible and unbearable! Of course, the following comments from McIntosh and Rima should be kept in mind:

"Obviously there is a corresponding responsibility that comes with God's grace and freedom. We are not to exercise our freedom at the expense of another believer's spiritual well-being. We are not to use our liberty as a license to engage in unrestrained freedom that leads to sin. ...However, as long as we do not allow our exercise of freedom to lead to the violation of express scriptural prohibitions and principles or to cause the destructive offense of an immature believer, we are free to enjoy what God has provided."

I have spent pretty much my entire Christian experience in fear that I was falling short of God's and others' expectations of me...in fear that God was waiting anxiously to send me straight to hell because I just can't seem to attain human perfection.... And in this, I think another Scripture is applicable, once again, to show me that all these unfounded expectations are not to be a burden to me anymore:

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).

God, help me to live according to Your expectations, as expressly stated in Scripture, and as revealed to me by Your Holy Spirit...and no one else's. Help me to grasp what it is to really be free in You. Help me to be free from fear...of failure, of disappointing You, and of not being able to accomplish what You have set before me. Thank You so much for Your wondrous love and GRACE!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Surrender



I went out to Shoal Creek for a little while this afternoon, and I was the only one there! It was so peaceful...there was a backdrop of rich fall colors and a cool breeze! I love the constant, heavy sound the water makes as it dives over the rocks.


As I sat there on the rocks (enjoying my Americano from
Starbucks!), I couldn't help but think about worship. I've been in
a "poetic" mood the last couple of days, and I was composing a poem in my head. My intention was not to share it with anyone; I was simply inspired to worship God in a creative way as I beheld His majestic scene before me.


It reminded me of David. I wonder how many times he sat under a tree, looking out at his grazing sheep, and composed songs for his God, the thought never crossing his mind that anyone else would ever be privy to his intimate words of worship. He didn't write them in order to make a living. He didn't even write them with the hope that others could identify and worship along with him. He simply poured his innermost being out to God with the most lovely words (or, in some of the Psalms we now have, in bitter anguish!) he could think of. And he never needed a marketing manager for his music. God shared David's songs with the world.


To me, worship is kind-of like floating in that calm pool of water just below the waterfall. The powerful noise and rock-shaping force of the water offers a sense of shelter and security, while the cool water around me lifts the deep things within me to the surface. I simply lie there and rest, and allow God to see my true self as it skims along the top of the water above me. What a safe, comforting place it is!


A couple of songs that came to mind today: Lincoln Brewster's "Surrender," and an old church chorus:
"Would you be poured out like wine upon the altar for Me?
Would you be broken like bread to feed the hungry for Me?
Would you be so one with Me that I can do just as I will?
Would you be light and life and love, My Word fulfill?"


God, let my life be a pure drink offering to You, like the translucent, gleaming white of the waterfall as it jumps from the cliff and surrenders its all to You!



Thursday, August 12, 2010

It All Begins Again...!

Since August of 2002 I have been a full-time college student. I graduated with my bachelor's degree in May of 2007, but spent the next year completing the work for my internship and a couple final classes before enrolling in a graduate program in August of two-thousand-eight. While I was a student I ALWAYS had a job, and in fact, usually had more than one (for a few weeks in 2005 I actually had 5 jobs at one time!). I had no problem working full-time and being a full-time student. Until a couple of years ago. It culminated in me quitting my full-time editing job, which I loved and had worked at for 4 years, in April 2009. I thought it would help me focus better on the education I was beginning to neglect.

Last fall, while unemployed, I returned to my graduate studies...while dealing with several major family issues...and by the end of the semester, I had not completed a single one of my courses. I got 3 incompletes. (I finally finished them this summer.)

So basically, I have been unemployed (by choice) for a year and 4 months, and technically out of school since December. And I've been wondering the last little while...what in the world have I been doing? Why have I been so unsuccessful at everything lately? I haven't even had any motivation to blog, for goodness' sake! Why am I such a bum? After all, my recent laxity is quite uncharacteristic of me!

And I just ran across a blog post from earlier this week by one of my favorite authors. It's subject is burnout. It is quite an interesting article, though kind-of lengthy. If you want, you can read it here: http://karenhancock.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/burnout/. I'll quote the part that most struck me, though:

"Tonight in the next lesson of the Job series I am listening to, a message delivered in the mid-nineties, Pastor was talking of the man in Lamentations 3...one of many Jews enslaved by the Babylonians.

"'Why were the Children of God in slavery?' Pastor asked. Because they'd just experiened 490 years of prosperity during which God had instructed them to take every seventh year off from work 'to let the land rest.' The Sabbatical year.

"During that time they were to cease working and enjoy the blessings and prosperity the Lord had provided and also to realize that even when they were not 'working and hustling' God still provides. 'We tend to think we earned it. But then God puts us in a position where we can't earn anything and yet we still receive something.'

"They were to give themselves and the land rest. But they ignored that command and kept on working and hustling and trying to accumulate wealth. So Nebuchadnezzar came and took them away. And the land rested...for exactly the 70 years they had not given over to the Sabbatical."

I have worked hard and studied for the past 7 years. For many, many reasons, I felt I needed a break from work...and then I ended up taking somewhat of a respite from my studies as well. And I have not been able to wrap my mind around what has been going on that I shut down like I did.

Now I am ready to begin a new semester of studies...I am even planning to attempt to work full-time on two different degrees (my M.Div. and a second B.A., if everything falls into place), at two different schools, while working at least part-time at a job as well. It seems like the machinations of my life are just naturally starting back up again, and I can't help but wonder if this was just a year I really needed to take for rest?

In the blog I linked above, the author quotes some other writers who suggested a variety of reasons for burnout, and I do believe I may have been experiencing just that. But I'm ready to go again! I did think her reference to the Sabbatical year was interesting, though, in light of my experience. Maybe it's something we should still incorporate into our lives today, for our own sanity!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Divine Suffering: Consolation in Grief

I am in Ohio right now for my brother and sister's high school graduation, and for the last week I have been staying in my sister's room while she is housesitting with a friend somewhere else. My sister's room was my old room when I lived at home. It was the room wherein I grieved my brother's death 12 years ago. And it was the room that my sister laid in over this past year after numerous aggressive chemotherapy treatments, not knowing if she was going to live or die. This room has witnessed a lot of emotional pain and suffering.

I have a friend in Joplin named Millie. She is 96. Every so often she asks me what I think of death. She asks, "Do you think that, when we die, we go straight to heaven...or do you think we will be in a grave, waiting for whatever happens until heaven is a reality...?" I imagine if I were 96 I would want to know the answer to that question, too. And I believe that, as a minister, it is my duty and my privilege to share with Millie (and anyone else who wonders) my conviction of the hope that belongs to every person who knows Christ as Savior.

A few weeks ago in church, my pastor, Steve Finney, mentioned how we don't preach much about heaven anymore. He said that a couple decades ago, when someone would mention heaven, folks would get so excited they couldn't hardly remain in their seats! He's right. But now, we don't think about heaven, we don't teach on it, and we don't really see much need for its hope. And I believe it is because we have become complacent and "at home" in the world. But the fact remains that, biblically, eternal life in heaven with God - a.k.a. salvation - is the crux of our hope in Christ. It is why He came. We would never have needed saving if we had not disobeyed God and brought damnation to our own souls.

I have experienced grief. Every person alive has experienced grief and suffering...or will at some point. And so often people blame God for their pain. We accuse Him of injustice and stoicism. But if you think of it, what must God have felt on that fateful day in the Garden of Eden when humans partook of the forbidden fruit, knowingly bringing the curse of death upon themselves? I believe He grieved that day. Humans had no idea what death was. They had no idea the pain and suffering they would experience because of one stupid decision. But He did. And He hurt because of it. And that is why, on that day, He promised humanity that He would send them a Savior (see Genesis 3:15).

It is magnificent to think that, through all our sorrow, all our pain, all the uncertainty and angst we experience in this life, our hope is that God empathized with our situation and provided a peace, a sure end, an eternal rest for us to look forward to! He offers us comfort and provision and blessings in this life...but those temporary benefits of friendship with God are not the only things we have as Christians! Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."

When Millie asks me what she should expect when her time comes, I offer her the hope of Christ. That hope is this: Jesus Christ took upon Himself OUR sins - all of them - and all of their consequences ("For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" - Romans 6:23). He - the Source of Life itself - willingly LAID DOWN His own life and experienced death for us. And three days later He rose again. He DEFEATED death, hell and the grave. That means that, through faith in HIM, and in Him alone, we no longer have to face death, hell or the grave. They are completely "not applicable" to the Christian. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We do not have to face death. We do not have to fear hell. We do not have to lie hopelessly and helplessly in a grave. We close our eyes in this life and open them in the next. And all this because God felt our anguish - the anguish we brought upon ourselves - and LOVED us enough to redeem us.

"But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, [while we were busy blaming Him for our suffering and pain] Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Integrity

I walked into my general bishop's office today, and the first thing I saw was a motivational picture with the word "INTEGRITY" in big, bold letters. And tonight my friend Sherene spoke at a women's service at our church, and her main text was Matthew 22:14, which reads, "For many are called, but few are chosen." Around 3:00 this morning I was lying in bed, trying to sleep, and I was actually thinking about that very verse, not knowing Sherene was going to speak on it tonight. I think it has a lot to do with integrity.

I can't remember whether it was C. S. Lewis or A. W. Tozer (I think it was Tozer), but I read a statement by one of them a few years ago that has always stuck with me. He said we Christians tend to draw two vertical lines in front of us; one represents me, and one represents the world. And no matter how much the "world" line moves, as long as the "me" line stays so far away from the world, we think we are doing okay. The reasoning is like this, "Yes, I know I used to have higher standards, and before, I would never have done this...but look at them! At least I'm doing better than they are." But this is not how we should view our personal moral standard. We should never measure ourselves against the world, but always and only by the Word of God. The"me" line should never move.

People don't like conservativism. Even those who call themselves conservative don't like conservativism when it comes to Christianity. We hear a lot of sermons on the sufficiency of grace and the security of salvation...so when someone feels conviction for sin, we pat them on the back and tell them, "As long as you're trying, God understands. Don't beat yourself up." And to an extent, this is true. God's grace is sufficient, and our salvation is secure, and it is based on His grace and not our own feeble works...but He does expect something of us! He does describe a standard of conduct in Scripture that He expects us to live by! And the danger of our laxity is that after so long hearing "God understands," we quit trying to do better. The end result is that most "Christians" today do not live a life any different at all than anyone else in the world. They talk the same talk, go to the same places, value the same things...and they are offended by anyone who says Christianity should look different.

My friend Mark often says, "We reproduce what we are." So true. I read a book last week by Peter Scazzero called The Emotionally Healthy Church. In it he said that, looking back, he has no idea how he thought that someone as emotionally immature, with an equally immature marriage/family life as he had, could pastor and cultivate a church of spiritually mature people. just the same, if I want to pastor people who are spiritually healthy, people who have a high level of personal integrity - who live the same strong, devoted Christian life behind locked doors and drawn blinds as they do on Sunday morning while they clap their hands and sing Hillsong music, then I must be spiritually healthy and maintain a high level of integrity myself.

"Many are called, but few are chosen." A few chapters earlier, Matthew 7:13, 14 says, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." In verses 21-23 it goes on to say that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is going to heaven. The sad thing is, we who lead them will be held responsible for always telling them, "It's okay. God understands. Don't be too hard on yourself."

It is okay to make mistakes, as long as we get back up and try again. No human is perfect, and that is what grace is for. But to be a Christian is to turn from a previous life and enter a new one, one that is led by His Spirit and that brings Him glory. If our life does not look any different than it did before we "got saved," then chances are, we are still on the same broad path we were on before, and headed for destruction.

I do try to live a life of integrity, but there are areas I could improve on...areas where I could better practice what I preach. Though some would call my fears of being less-than-pleasing to God "irrational," I choose not to measure myself by their standards, but by the Word of God. It doesn't matter whether my entire congregation thinks I am the holiest saint that ever lived. If God sees me behaving differently when no one else is looking, that's all that matters. And if my life is off-kilter in one area, it will knock everything else off-balance, too, and there will be no hope that my ministry will bring forth truly good fruit. It will all be tainted.

As ministers we must strive for a higher level of integrity! If we have not this, then we will not have anything else successfully. I must do better.

Changes Coming Soon...

I'm going to be sprucing up my blog a bit...making it more thematic than just whatever I feel like writing about on a given day. It will probably be somewhat theological in nature...maybe leaning toward pastoral ministry/church planting. Tune in next time for more info!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Me, Being Open and Honest

Sometimes I feel like I am an elderly person, at the end of her life, looking back to when I was twenty-eight (my actual current age), and realizing the brevity of the years in-between. I am keenly aware lately of the fact that I will die someday, yet that truth seems surreal to me, like fiction.... And as I think about it (I can't seem to stop), I can't help but fear that when the end comes, the journey will not have been worth it. For all my yearning for solitude, I fear being alone. How is that possible when I'm surrounded by so many people?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Some Good Times With Mom and Dad

Today I want to share some happy memories of my parents.

First Dad. When I first got my driver's license, I worked at McDonald's in Carey (about a 20-minute or so drive from our house in Sycamore). Occasionally they would let me drive the van to work. They did not have insurance that would cover me as a driver, so Mom almost never let either my older brother or me drive, and when she did, she was extremely cautious and worried the whole time.

One day I decided to take the scenic route to work, and took some back roads that went past my Uncle jim and Aunt Betty's house in the country. So, even though there were no cars there and likely no one was home, I was so excited to be DRIVING past their house that I started honking and waving...and NOT taking my foot off the gas.... I forgot there was a sharp turn in front of their house...with a steep ditch and a field beyond....

Long story short, I left van tracks in the field. It was not my aunt and uncle's field. I got out of the field and made it to work, but CSI had recently become popular on television, and I was just sure the police were going to study the tracks in the field and trace the havoc back to me...and I would end up rotting in a jail cell...so I called home to fess up. And I specifically asked for Dad, because for some reason, he was less likely to kill me for what I'd done. And he took the news very well, and it was forever our little secret from Mom.

Another car story with Dad...when I first started driving with my permit, they had gotten me a $250 yellow '77 Chevette that barely qualified as a vehicle, and one day Dad rode with me while I drove it into Sycamore. And the hood came up and blocked my view as I drove down 67 from Belle Vernon. It never even crossed my mind to pull over, so I just stuck my head out my window to see and kept driving. Ever so patiently Dad looks over and says, "Umm...are you going to stop?" :D

And one more memory with Dad involved playing a friendly game of Euchre one night with Bobby and joe Turner at their house when I lived there. I forget exactly what we were talking about, but to illustrate whateve I was saying, I asked everyone, "Haven't you ever blown in a cat's ear?" And I took it for granted that they all had.... Dad looks over his hand of cards at me from across the table, cocks his eyebrow and says, "No, I can't say that I have...." And everyone laughed at me for a VERY LONG TIME.

Mom, on the other hand, was always cooking. It's what she did. And I don't care who you are, my mom cooks better than yours, I'm pretty sure of it. So what I remember about Mom was how we would always have TGIF and movie nights on Fridays with David and jesse and sometimes Holly (my Uncle Dave's kids), and Mom would always keep the popcorn coming.

And when I would spend the night at my cousin jessica's house, we would always call Mom and ask for recipes...like for french toast and fudge and stuff like that. And Mom would always make spaghetti for jess and send some home with her because she loved it and no one else at her house did.

And last Christmas (two thousand eight), Mom had printed out three recipes for me that I particularly wanted (caramel popcorn, buckeyes and pumpkin roll) and made two of them with me to demonstrate how it was done. (I often give her a hard time and accuse her of not teaching me how to cook, so I think that was her way of shutting me up!)

Occasionally Mom and I would slip out to a movie with no boys, too. Three movies I remember going to see with her are Dr. Giggles, Sister Act, and What Women Want (with Mel Gibson...oh yeah!).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Love

For the last week, I have been going through boxes...a lot of them...boxes of...stuff. It's stuff I've accumulated since I was 13 or 14 - school work, notes, pictures...folders, papers, notebooks...bills and junk mail...just a ton of stuff I either wanted to save for sentimental reasons, or stuff that got piled up and boxed up because I just didn't want to go through it at the time. This stuff has been moved with me from place to place, everywhere I've moved in the last 10 years. I thought it was time to go through it and get rid of it. I'm down to the last four boxes.

I found a little photo album my mom had put together for me of my high school graduation and party. There were pictures of my dad and my grandpa, both of whom are dead now. Dad wasn't smiling in any of the pictures...he just looked disinterested. That's how he looks in most pictures I have of him from special events and holidays from my and my siblings' childhood. It made me sad, and it brought back a lot of emotions and feelings I had forgotten about...feelings I've run from and tried to forget about since I moved out of my parents' home 10 years ago...feelings that have followed me and dwelt beneath the surface despite my best efforts to squash them into oblivion.

My high school graduation occurred at a very difficult time in my life - it was two years after my brother hung himself, and I was still going through a time of extreme grief and depression. My brother's death troubled me for reasons other than the obvious. I guess somewhere deep inside I knew he felt the same way I did.

Unloved.

In my teenage mind, I just could not comprehend why my brother had lived for 14 years, feeling unloved like I did, just to end his own life and that be it. It seemed sad and unjust to me. And yes, I did question God about it. A lot. Until He told me to stop. [I then stopped questioning and was able to go on with my life.]

Of course, I am no longer a teenager living with my unhappy parents, and my brother's death was almost 12 years ago. My relationship with my parents has greatly improved in the last few years. [Their own relationship, however, which was never a good one, devolved eventually into a divorce a couple years after I moved out.] And tonight I think I came to a realization.

It was never about me.

My parents loved me. They just didn't feel loved themselves, because of numerous circumstances and happenings, and so they weren't capable of expressing real love to anyone else.

Not only did/do my parents love me, but so many others have loved me...people who owe me nothing have loved me with the love of Christ, and it has made me into a completely different person. His love is true, and it is powerful, healing and transforming.

Every person on earth is important and is here for a reason. But some [many] people are so broken and damaged because they have never known the love of Christ...they have only known imperfect love from imperfect, damaged people...that they do not function anywhere near their full potential.

1 john 4:10-12 says, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." This tells me two things: 1) people experience the love of God through other people, and 2) if God's love is in us, then we must and will express it to other people.

God, help me to love other people perfectly, with Your love. Help me to see others as You see them. Help me to judge every person as equally deserving of Your love! Help me to love people in such a way that their true humanity is healed and restored...so they can in turn love others with that same redeeming love.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

An Ode to My Love! :-)

My amazement at the love of God is continually renewed! The Bible says that when we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us! It says that when we turn to Him, He will turn to us. And it is so true! I love it that if we have a question, or a need, or if we just want to be with Him, all we have to do is turn our eyes upon Him, and He faithfully answers, provides, and shows up! I love Him so much! He is changing me - and that is a good thing! What a wonderful Savior. I wish everyone could know this Best Friend of mine. He is nothing but Good.