Begin the Journey

God, I am angry with you.  You let me go through a horrific ordeal.  I prayed and prayed and prayed that the madness would stop.  Every morning, for years, I woke up wondering what evil would befall me.  There seemed to be no end to the torment.

People told me to find joy in the little things, but honestly, I couldn’t.  My whole world was crashing around me.  Everything I thought I knew was up for questioning.  Breathing became an act of my determination as my mind was willing to let the idea of living pass away.  I despaired of life.  I didn’t want to see the lovely anymore because I knew that all too soon it was passing away from me–out of reach.

God, it was horrible!  Were You not watching?  What were You thinking as I spiraled into a world of hopelessness and bewilderment?  Where were You?

I watched something happen though, that even now causes me to think.  I saw choices.  I saw human choices.  Those who could have helped stop the madness but chose not to.  Those who reached out for me to give me comfort and hope (even though I flatly rejected it), were many.  My rejections of hope’s offerings were choices.  My choices.

These thoughts bring me back to something I learned, “all men are given a gift of a free will to choose.”

But wait, I didn’t choose pain and suffering.  That was thrust upon me.  I didn’t ask to walk a long dark road with no end in sight.  That was not my choice!

Yet, even now, I am standing on the other side of that pain.  The long dark road gradually gave way to a light that warmed me back to life.  I am still alive.  I am still me, only much has been chipped away, and much is in need of rebuilding.  I’m still here–still here with choices to be made.

I read Your story about You and Job.  Job didn’t really seem to stand a chance.  But You said something that really got my attention.  You said to Satan,“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” (Job 2:3).  You spoke highly of Job.  You believed in Job.  You had faith in him even though he was going to struggle to have faith in himself.  Do you hold faith for us even when we give it up?

Later in that story, You ask Job a lot of questions.  You ask him if he knows how the foundations of the world were laid.  (You know, we are still arguing over that question today.  Our science books are riddled with theories.) You ask Job if he knows who gives the morning it’s orders as to when it should begin and when the day is over.  God, You might as well have been asking questions of astrophysics, or quantum order.  Fifty+ or so questions later about darkness, light, snow storehouses, seasons, animals, and life in general, you leave Job speechless. (Job 38-40)

Job just wanted to know what the heck happened to his family, and why was he being tormented so ruthlessly.  He did nothing to deserve it.  Why did You ask him all of those big questions?

Okay, so You are God and we are not.  Your ways are not our ways.  That becomes clear enough in life.  But why the riddles?

Wait a minute…in the glow of the light that warmed me back to life I see something…if I drop my angry accusations for a minute, I get a glimpse of something…

Job wanted to answers for his pain.  He, like me wants to make sense of it before he can fully grasp Your hand, God.  Are you saying something in all of Your questions?  Are you proving to Job and to me that there are millions of mysteries in the universe that I do not have conclusive answers for?  Are you exposing my lack of knowledge for what it really is?

For years (40) to be exact, I have laid my head on a pillow to sleep at night never worrying if the sun would forget to come up in the morning.  Never in my seasons of stress and anxiety has the culprit ever been my concern for where the raven would get its food, or if the stars would stay fixed in their place in the heavens.  I have “trusted” for all of these things.  Why did I trust?  Well, there was nothing I could do about these things.  (It would seem that You were taking care of all of this.)  They carried on without me (with a precise order, beauty, and rationality).

The truth is, if I want to admit it, You have ordered the universe with such beauty, design, purpose, and faithfulness that I cannot escape the fact that my whole being and sense of  “life” derives itself from the peace Your handiwork affords me.  Are You saying that I don’t have to have conclusive answers in order to grasp Your hand?  Are You showing me that You are trustworthy in all of these things that sustain my life, and can be trusted with this pain that feels life shattering?  Can You bring order and beauty out of this too?

I guess it comes back to choices.  I have free will to choose to trust You or to choose to fight You for the rest of my life.  I’m reminded  of the lyrics from the song Rich Mullins wrote:  “I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want, than to take what You give that I need.” (Hold Me Jesus)  I’m tired of fighting You, God.

What good will it do me to spend my life as Your judge?  What benefit is there in refusing to reach for You when You are the only hope there is in life? You are the only One who has promised that You will make all things new again.  Your plan doesn’t end with my pain, but continues with my redemption into eternity. (And not just mine, but the whole world).

Would You help me surrender?  Would You speak Your hope over me?  Would You hold me Jesus?

I become the product of my choices, but You redeem my choices and bring beauty from ashes.  Will You begin that work in me even now?

 

My thanks to Ravi Zacharias’ book “Cries of the Heart” for walking me through my pain in view of God’s goodness.  His chapters on the story of Job forever changed my view of God and helped me drop my defenses and let God into my wounded places.
Also my thanks to the late Rich Mullins whose words still challenge my heart, and draw me to God.

Have You Seen His Credentials?

wwwdrummondhouseplanscom-multigenerational-floor-plan-no-2278-mail-levelIf ever I am at a hotel with cable TV, it is my weakness to be watching the Home & Garden Channel, otherwise known as HGTV.  This was the case a few weeks ago when a friend and I took a trip to Sitka, Alaska to watch my husband and the other fishermen there during the short herring fishing season, scoop up the schools (of fish).  It really is an amazing sight to behold.  But when we were not hiking, photographing, eating or sightseeing, we would be back at the little house we rented, and I would turn on HGTV to see what the shows were about.  This is where my “aha” moment began.

It wasn’t long into the show “Property Brothers” that I found myself talking to the TV.  Much like a fan watching a sporting event, I could hear myself arguing with the people in the episode.  In this show, there are people who are looking for their dream house and the “Property Brothers” are there to help them find it.  Usually what the people want is out of their price range, so the Brothers, direct them to “fixer-upper” homes where the potential for renovation will give them what they are looking for.  This is when I get talking.

The prospective buyers walk through these sub-standard homes and begin complaining.  “This kitchen is hideous!” Or “I could never see myself in this house!”

I roll my eyes.  I’ve seen this show many times before, and the whole premise of this show is that these Property Brothers can turn a mess into a masterpiece in just a few days.  They are absolutely amazing!  Somehow the house-hunters in this show don’t acknowledge that fact. (It has to be in the script, that’s all I can conclude.)  The Brothers will say, “We can take out this wall here, and open this kitchen up to the east there, and make an island here….” and the House Hunter will reply with comments like “I’ve never taken down a wall before, and I can’t even imagine doing that.”  Or, “I don’t want a fixer-upper.  I don’t have any experience in renovating.”

“GAHHHH!!!”  I’m yelling at the TV now.  “Don’t you people ever watch this show?  Haven’t you seen what these guys can do?  Who asked you about your renovation experience anyway?  Have you seen the credentials these guys have?  Have you seen their work?  Don’t you know this show is all about them?”

The Brothers go back to their headquarters and design renovation plans for the three homes featured on the show then present them to the clients for them to choose which home and which renovation plan they would like to go for.  This is when the show gets good.

“O, Wow!!”  many of them will say.  “You can do this?”  “That doesn’t even look like the same house?”  “Are you kidding me?”

The choice is made, and the clients, although excited about their choices enter into the next phase–  nervous expectation.  Some of them hound the builders.  They come during the demolition and freak out over the mess. “You’re going to fix this aren’t you?” Some of them ask.  “This is never going to be finished.”  “I had a dream that you made this house an ugly freak show, and I just need to come and check on your work to see if my dream was true.” some have said.

This is where the Brothers have to send the clients away.  The clients have to be left “in the dark” so that the builders can complete their work without the interruptions, and so that there is a surprise in the final product for them to enjoy.

Here God starts speaking to me.  While I am yelling at the House Buyers and telling them to just shut their mouths and trust the Brothers, I realize that my life can be mirrored in this show.  With God as the Master Craftsman of my life, I can be found arguing with Him, freaking out at my circumstances, and re-iterating over and over to Him my lack of credentials to improve the mess I am in.  I question His motives, nervously check His work against my imaginations, and impatiently wait for something good to come of my trouble.  I get mad when He leaves me “in the dark”, and I don’t have the answers to all of my questions.  I am impatient.  I am afraid.  I am Cate.

Somewhere in my spirit I hear the Holy Spirit asking me, “Cate, have you seen His credentials?  Haven’t you watched this show before?  Don’t you know He brings beauty from ashes?  Who said the outcomes are up to you?  The Expert is in full control.”

Yeah, I’ve seen His credentials.  I’ve seen His splendor in the midnight sky.  I’ve given birth to four of His finest creations.  I’ve watched Him transform my life from bitterness and fear, to faith and trust, and I’ve watched Him transform the lives around me.  And I am reminded of this scripture from the Psalms:

Psalm 127:1

1 Unless the Lord builds the house,

the builders labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,

the guards stand watch in vain.

Yes, Lord.  You are to be trusted.  Yes, Lord you have my life in your hands.  Yes, Lord I put my faith in you.

As the show ends with amazed clients looking at the most beautiful home they have ever seen, I too, will stand in awe of God’s goodness when this life is over, and I get to see the plan He unfolded, and the miracles He performed to bring it about.  He can make a mess a masterpiece!

 

Click the link below to hear my song:

I Want To See You

Peace in the Calm, Peace in the Storm

If you have ever experienced what I am writing about, perhaps you will add your comments to what I say.  The feeling that inside of you is a time bomb ticking away– waiting to detonate.  You feel desperate, and unable to handle what life has thrown at you.

Some may call it a burden, or a heaviness, but I call it a need for prayer.  Like the feeling when you have held your breath for as long as you feel able as you are rushing your body to the surface of the water for the gasp you so intently need–that frantic, desperate search for the oxygen you are in short supply of.  You have crossed the line of needing advice, needing to “talk it out”, or even needing some fresh air and exercise.  None of these things seem even remotely capable of handling the desperate need in your heart for relief, for hope, for comfort.

It was how I felt 8 years ago, when the mammogram showed an unusual growth in my breast, and the surgeon warned me fiercely about letting too much time pass when weighing my options of biopsy or removal because if it was cancer, at my age, it would be the most rapidly spreading variety.

I needed time to think.  I needed time to find the right solution.  My time was ticking.

My desperation for help made me feel like stopping total strangers on the sidewalk and asking them to pray for me.  Every person who told me to “have a good day” I wanted to say “I want to, but I am scared!”

There is so much to consider when so much is at stake.  It’s why I don’t believe that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Sometimes life is unbearable.

What do you do when everything inside of you is imploding, and your world as you know it is crumbling?  What do you do with the fear that grips you and tells you that your future is grim?  You pray.

I’ve heard religious gurus say “If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will not find it anywhere.” But I disagree.  Peace can never be found inside yourself unless the Prince of Peace is ruling there.  Calm, on the other hand, that can be produced.   Calm is when things are not in a haphazard state of being.  Calm is not showing nervousness or feeling nervousness, anger or strong emotions.   I know what calm is and I can find that within myself on good days, with chocolate, and sunshine.  But peace? No, that is something supernatural. Philippians 4:7 says it this way:
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

Peace is the removal of fear and it’s threats.  Supernatural peace feels like your soul which has been cold and distant, now drawn  closer to a warm sunshine, melted, and warmed back to life.  Peace doesn’t need a sunny day, coffee, chocolate fondue, or good circumstances.  Peace surpasses understanding and can find you in the middle of your calm, and in the middle of your storm.  Peace comes from God alone when we pray.

I’ve experienced this peace.  Two days before my lumpectomy, that peace rolled in as a result of people praying for me.  The kind of peace that said “whatever happens, I’ll be okay,”  and gave me the ability to sleep at night.  I couldn’t find that peace on my own. I couldn’t manufacture that even if I were calm.  No, that peace surpassed my understanding.

Several weeks later, my biopsy results came back clear of cancer.  While I am so thrilled that I did not have breast cancer, I have to confess, that the peace God gave me then would have carried me through the fight if the biopsy results were different.  And you can be sure, I would live out my days then as I do now–in prayer.

Are you struggling for breath?  Is your world crashing around you?  Pray.  And I don’t mean toss out good “energy” or chant words to the universe.  I mean talk to God.  Ask God to meet you right where you are and give you peace.  Call a friend or pastor who knows God and ask them to pray for you too.  Prayer is only as powerful as the God it is directed to, and there is only One with power to heal, save, deliver, calm, restore, and give peace.  He is always listening.

 

 

 

Faith and Information

When I was in Bible school, I had a professor who recounted a story of a dream someone had that made an impact on him.  Consequently, all these years later, I have to say that it had a profound impact on me as well.  Here is the scene:

“The scene was the depths of hell.  With minimal light, a man could be seen rushing through the dark corridors of hell in frantic search of someone.  Amid the screams and cries for mercy, this man would plunge into the dark corners, grab a man from the shadows, pull him into whatever light he could find, and then throw him back into the shadows.  From cell to cell and dark shadow to dark corner, this man was reaching, grabbing, and searching.  The man who was having the dream and observing the behavior of the frantic man in hell, somehow asked the question, ‘who are you looking for?’  The man’s quick reply without pausing from his quest was this: ‘I am looking for the pastor who lied to me.'”

This scene can evoke a million questions which I will not address in this blog, as I want to focus on one:  “Are there consequences for what we believe or disbelieve?”

James 3:1

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

In this age of information with authors, televangelists, radio personalities, bloggers, and even spiritual gurus at the public gym, I find that information about spiritual and eternal things becomes passed around so casual as one exchanging recipes.  For much of the spiritual advice, I find there are no tangible or real consequences for belief or disbelief “just as long as you believe something.”  Some of my “Christian” Facebook friends subscribe to horoscope posts, and talk about their karma, while my non-Christian friends post scriptures like “Judge not lest you be judged.”

Everyone dipping into the belief systems of another, choosing the things they “like”, and calling it their beliefs, makes for a flavorful stew, but sadly, has little to do with truth. Truth by definition is exclusive.  If one thing is true, it has the ability to call other things false.  Through the lens of truth we are able to see the things that are counterfeit.  But it gets tricky when truth is extracted from context, mixed with myths, or taught only in part–leaving the consequences of belief or disbelief, obedience or disobedience out.

Here is some criteria I use when evaluating “spiritual truths” from authors and teachers who claim to be Christians:

1. If they have to discredit or re-make the Bible or Jesus, the Author of its message in order to make their truth work, they have walked away from the “truth” they espouse.

2 Timothy 4:1-4

4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

2. If there is a clear spiritual penalty for the disbelief of, or disobedience of a spiritual principle and they do not teach it, they are contributing to a dangerous lie.

3.  If their teaching pads their wallets by emptying yours, they are likely insincere in their care for you.

Matthew 10:8

8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

4.  If they say they love you, but do not attempt to turn you from a known path of spiritual destruction, then they are double-minded and unstable, and you are not the better for it.

James 5:19-20

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. 

5.  If they do not lead you to scripture in search of your answers, but opinions instead, they are their own religion, borrowing only in part from the faith they claim.

1 Timothy 1:3-7

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

6.  If their lifestyle and behavior, or the lifestyle and behavior they espouse wouldn’t look good on Jesus, then it likely isn’t the model for you.

Titus 1:16

16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

1 John 1:5-7

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

7.  If they deny that Jesus is God’s Son, the Christ, then they are liars according to 1 John 2:22-23

22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

There are consequences for beliefs, and consequences for disbelief.  The Bible couldn’t be any more clear on this.  So please, as much as you may read blogs or Christian books, or watch Christian television, please read that much more of God’s Word–the Bible. You and I need to have a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus.  Our lifestyles need to be lifestyles of repentance and humility before God and before one another.

 

40 Downloads of my brain

On the eve of my 40th Birthday…mist and water

In no particular order, here are 40 thoughts that have sparked within me and inspired a teaching, a song, or a blog.

  1.  Prayer is only as powerful as the god it is directed to.
  2.  No one is allowed the privilege of disbelief only. You must have a counter-belief in its place.
  3.  The most beneficial pain you can add to your life is the pain of conviction and the pain of growth.
  4. Knowing who the author of a piece of art is determines its value, and reconnects the art with its source. Have you considered your Designer?
  5. Jesus didn’t say, “Neither do I condemn you. Return to what you were doing.” With compassion He said: “Go and sin no more.”
  6. Freedom in Christ is victory over sin, not victory over your conscience. Keep your conscience.
  7. Love and grace are held within the disciplines of faithfulness and endurance. Jesus discipled because He Himself was disciplined.
  8. You can love others deeply, serve honestly, and give without regrets while still holding to your convictions and your character. Jesus did.
  9. He didn’t die to give us a 2000 year old story. He died to bring us back to life.
  10. God’s wisdom for me will always have my neighbor in mind.
  11. Grief is the process of letting go while reaching for something steadfast. Even if you free-fall, God is certain and His grasp is constant.
  12. We grieve the loss of life because life is sacred. We mourn the loss of innocence because there is such a thing.
  13. Sometimes mornings are like the pull-start of a lawnmower.
  14. Let your art be the free-est expression of a soul securely anchored.
  15. A healthy fear of loftiness will keep you off of pedestals.
  16. Condemnation will always say you are hopeless. Conviction will always say the supply of your help and hope are limitless.
  17. When beauty connects to the soul it is never lost.
  18. Be someone’s umbrella today, and paint for them a brighter sky.
  19. If you have lost your sense of awe, you have quite likely closed your eyes.
  20. Unforgiveness is a debt. If your debtor cannot repay the invoice you carry, the enemy will try to persuade you to pay it off yourself in pleasures “you deserve”.
  21. What God asks us to do, instead, is turn the bill over to Him and allow Him to meet our needs.
  22. If you won’t do it, you won’t become it.
  23. Everyone needs a Joshua and Caleb in their life, otherwise you will spend your years looking at giants, and living small.
  24. Sometimes the weight you are carrying is not about you, but about those coming after you. You carry the hope and the struggle, so that they will enjoy the Promised Land
  25. Sometimes miracles are found in the forward steps. So pray, and walk.
  26. Don’t give up ground or drop your authority where God has given you responsibility. Instead, fully vest yourself into that arena, and in time, pass it on as a rich inheritance.
  27. Faith is the place holder for what you cannot presently see, but are certain will buoy you up.
  28. And if ministry was all about the Sunday morning experience, the New Testament would have been a short collection of essays.
  29. If you have a long range goal or extensive assignment, partner with optimists. You will only survive a short walk with a pessimist.
  30. I can spend my life chasing fire, or live my life as an altar where it burns.
  31. I’ll never see it multiply if I never let Jesus take it, break it, and bless it.
  32. The desire I have for all of my kids to be together with me can only be a reflection of God’s desire for us, His children, to be with Him.
  33. They say I don’t need a god to smile. Considering the neurology, pathology, and physiology of just facial nerves, I conclude that I do.
  34. There is a lot to be said for silence.
  35. If you can’t be the tidal wave, be the ground swell.
  36. Find your voice and use it both for the glory of God, and to speak up for those that cannot speak.
  37. Grace gives us a fresh page to write our lives on.
  38. History records who you are, not who you want to be.
  39. Life does not wait for your perfect plan, your pay raise, your successful diet, your New Year’s Resolution, or your cure.  Life ticks away as moments…little gifts wrapped in a million packages.
  40. Nothing is lost in God’s hands, and nothing is wasted in His plans.

The Ministry Myths

It has taken me several years to finally figure it out, and honestly, I cannot exactly pinpoint where I allowed the myths to take hold in my heart, but I can trace its storyline through much of my frustration.  The myths begins like this:  “If God has called you to full-time ministry, you need to answer that call through church ministry or the foreign mission field.”  So, as a young person in pursuit of the call of God, I set my course to be trained to bring the gospel to foreign countries, and learned church ministry so that when I graduated from Bible School I could be hired by a good church and serve that ministry as my vocation for life.  The dream began to break down for me, however, when I didn’t get hired by churches to serve, but instead served on a volunteer basis.  I continued to have jobs that really weren’t “my true calling” because I needed to support myself to do the things I felt I was really “called to do.”

I began to despise my “other” jobs.  They were a waste of time and purpose in my eyes because they stood between me and what I felt I was really designed to do.  My frustrations thickened when I found I could not make enough money to break away and move to the mission field.  I only made enough money to pay my bills, and not enough to put away for a life in another country.

Every Sunday I would pine over the idea that one day, I would get the chance to do what all of those preachers, and leaders were doing, but that I was only participating in on an irregular basis.  I would think about what I would do differently and how my gifts and skills would be used.  As would seem reasonable, I came home each Sunday with complaints about how things were done, and how I would do them differently if I ever had a chance….

It doesn’t take long for the calling of God to become a “me” venture.  “I” will do things differently, “I” have ideas that will make a difference.  I just need to be hired, or supported, or funded, or sent.  Waiting, waiting, waiting…..  I am waiting for someone to recognize me and throw cash behind my dreams.  I am waiting for a ministry to say they cannot live without me and offer me a salary that will pay my bills and fund my visions while I work on staff.

So why does God’s calling lead me to such frustration?  After all, I am only trying to answer it as best as I know, and I don’t seem to be succeeding?  Here, in this angst, I found the myth.  The Holy Spirit began to untangle my thoughts and ideas and put his finger on the lies I swallowed, and let me tell you what they all were.

1.  Ministry is all about the Sunday morning experience

If this statement were true, the Bible would be a collection of short essays.  I was under the impression that ministry meant being on staff at a church and preparing all week for the big home run to be hit on Sunday morning.  Every day of the week led up to that one, and that was the day that really mattered.  That is what made it frustrating when  I didn’t get to be on the worship team for particular Sundays, and why I was upset to have to do “nursery care” on those really good Sunday mornings.  Nursery care isn’t my ministry.

2.  Ministry is only done in spiritually favorable places.

I believed that to really make an impact, you needed to be somewhere where people really like you and want to listen to you.  The mission field could provide that in certain countries, or the local church would be another great place for that.  That’s why I hated my jobs where there were angry people, addicted people, people with dysfunctional lives that I did not want to have to mingle with all day long.

3.  Ministry is having good programs and A-Z steps for helping people.

Oh, I studied the best programs.  I had stuff memorized for days that would really change my town if I could just be given a chance to implement them in a church.  I read, and read, and studied, and applied myself to learn.  Doggonit!!  Why aren’t I on staff somewhere?

Here is what I have learned through the Holy Spirit in my life since the day He pointed out the lies I believed:

1.  Ministry is not what you do, it is who you are.

Your whole life is ministry.  Every thing you learn, everything you apply yourself to do, and every moment you are breathing is an opportunity to be Jesus to someone.  It happens on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and even in months ending in “r”.

2.  Ministry happens wherever you are alive and breathing.

Whether or not the climate you are working in is spiritually “favorable”, your life is a ministry, and your ability to reach your co-workers, bosses, clients, and friends is a gift from God to you.  God placed you where you are on purpose, and He has invested in you to reach the whole world–even the ones you chat with in the break room.

God wastes nothing.  Your life, time and purpose are not being wasted if you are not on staff at a church or serving on a mission field.  If you are asking God to make you a ministry right where you are, you will find that He is in no short supply of how to help you reach out to your neighbors, friends, and communities with the love and grace of God.

3.  Ministry is loving people.

What does love look like?  Love isn’t just an emotion, or a sentimental thought, it is an embodied action.  It looks like Jesus.  Love looks like changing a flat tire for a neighbor, plowing a driveway, mowing a lawn, fixing a pipe.  Love looks like a mother loving on her children and her children’s friends, a care-giver to infants, or the elderly.  Love throws parties to celebrate others accomplishments, and remembers to praise people for jobs well done.  Love decorates, organizes, re-builds, schedules, and encourages.  Love does all of these things through people like you and me every day of the week.

Ministry is listening to the addict tell their 100th story of failure, and continuing to pray for them and assist their families.  Ministry is loving those babies in the nursery while the rest of the ministry teams are in the sanctuary.  Ministry is helping the single mom, or dad take care of their families, because you are their friend and you love them.

Ministry is showing up on time at your place of work and putting in the best efforts you have.  Ministry is loving your boss and co-workers, and finding opportunities to praise them and encourage them.

Whether or not you know a great program to help your neighbor, you are a conduit of grace, and possibly the only chance your neighbor has to see Jesus.photo(4)

Jesus didn’t teach the disciples to be priests in the temples of their day, instead He taught them what love looked like in the every day interaction with people.  He demonstrated His love for us in His actions that were not reserved for the one ministry day of the week.  He was found among the poor, destitute, alcoholics, prostitutes, fishermen, single parents, and tax collectors.  He made His whole life ministry to shame the lie that faith and love is only for those who attend weekly services.

I pray today as I type this that you would see your life as a gift from God to be infused with his grace, so that everywhere you walk today, and in every vocation you work in, you will be ministry to those around you.  May you and I make withdraws on the endless creativity, love and mercy of God and deposit those things into the communities where we live.  May you reject the ministry myths, and embrace the mercy of God for yourself and the people around you.  May ministry no longer be something you do, but something you are.

For Such a Time as This

I attended Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas where I earned an Associated Degree in Practical Theology, in 1995.  It was a two-year intensive course in Biblical studies, and ministry applications that was well stocked with teachers of the Word, and was frequented by many guest speakers who often spoke in one week segments.  After several weeks of being a student in this school, I couldn’t help but feel like a total failure as a follower of God in one aspect or another of my life.  I didn’t give enough, evangelize enough, pray enough, have enough devotional time, have enough fellowship time, and the list went on and on until….

Until the day I realized that God gifts everyone differently, and that people will teach out of their gifting, and be passionate about what they teach.  One week we would hear from the prayer warriors who encouraged us to spend  hours on our knees every day interceding for the world, and the following week we would hear from the street preacher who inspired us to give our lives standing on the corners of our hometowns preaching and bringing our neighbors to Christ.  Then there was that inspiring missionary who gave away something every day and traveled around the world with $.30 in his pocket, and let God meet his needs as he went.  Every speaker was inspiring!!

I wanted to be just like each teacher described their Christian walk.  I wanted to love early morning devotions, and live my life in the 10/40 window of the world where they needed Jesus most.  I wanted to preach on the streets, and live with nothing.  I thought that I had to be all of these things, and my heart was in torment because of my failure to become.

It took a while, but I eventually learned that the Holy Spirit works on us individually and that His blue-print for me might not look like my neighbors.  While I was striving to change my whole life in Bible School, He was working faithfully on my heart and motivations– changing one thing at a time from the inside out.  While I was struggling to pray for hours at a time, He was working on my feelings of failure, and need to perform.  When I panicked because I didn’t know to live on $.30 a day, He was teaching me what a good work ethic looked like in the jobs He provided for me.  When I struggled to be as good of a musician in the glow of so many talented and anointed musicians at my school, He taught me how to listen for His voice, and follow it.  All the while He was shaping my character and fashioning my heart.

Now I live in a world even more informational than than the two-year Bible School.  While I waited an entire week to hear a new teacher with a new subject matter, now, via the internet, I can listen to 1000 teachers today, if I had the time, teaching on multiple subjects.  I guarantee that by the end of the day I could feel like a complete failure as a person because I don’t possess their talents, gifting, or ability.  They would inspire me through the things God has gifted them in, and I would strive to attain their level of mastery…and probably crash.  So how do I proceed and grow?

First, I need to recognize that God has also invested gifts in me.  I need to recognize them and not compare them.

Secondly, I need to learn that gifts are gifts, and I cannot manipulate them, I can only grow in them.  Growth is daily, and involves disciplines as well as inspiration.

Thirdly, I need to be reminded not to panic when my gifts seem to “dry up” or go through a latent phase.  Sometimes I feel I am thriving in my gifts with more inspiration than I can contain.  Other times–sometimes months and years, I don’t feel like I have anything new to share or anything to offer.  When that happens, I learn to enjoy, learn and grow from the gifts of someone else God has put in my path.

God’s gifts to us are never revoked, but He does have every right to use them according to His purpose, even if that purpose causes me to feel “shelved”.  This is my opportunity to be a student, to dig deeper, to reach out to others around me and grow.

While I have an opportunity to be many things, I will be most satisfied keeping with God’s blueprint for me.  While I will be inspired by the person with different giftings than me, God is not asking me to become them.  Instead, he teaches me to take the inspiration and faith I glean from others and infuse the work that I do with it.  This is why I enjoy painters, photographers, jazz musicians, welders, machinists, chefs, landscapers, architects, preachers, teachers, and children.  All of them inspire me.

Sometimes, you have to “pass” on the pressure to become something you are not, but instead, take the passion of others “in” and let God ignite your life in the setting, culture, resources, and gifts He has given you.  By all means, stay inspired by others.  Celebrate the gifts God has put in other people, and keep growing.  Add disciplines to your life, and keep moving forward.  Above all, ask the Holy Spirit to empower your life so that when you use your gifts, God is seen and glorified.  This is what you were created for.  There is no better way to live!!  You have come into the Kingdom for such a time as this.**Esther 4:14The eight hour boat ride beginsPhoto Credit by Chuck Skeek.

My Purple Wall

It was 2009, and I was with a group of musicians, pastors, and authors traveling in Italy, ministering in churches and other venues in worship and music.  We took a day to sight-see and visit Pompeii, the ancient city near Naples that was completely buried in ash when the volcano, Mt. Vesuvius, blew in 79 A.D., burying both the landscape and the people.  The now excavated area reveals stories and wonder, tragedy and beauty. Pompeii left evidence of its spiritual climate and morality in its art and culture.  There were things to cringe at and things to enjoy.  Like many cultures before it, it had a story to tell.2004-01-04 13.36.11

We toured the ruins of homes, temples, courtyards, and gardens.  We visited the glass protected forms of people buried in ash, who became molded by the eruption into permanent statues that were hollowed as they decomposed.  It was both horrific, and sobering.  For me it was a lot to take in.2004-01-04 14.46.362004-01-04 13.46.19

After a few hours of hiking around and viewing the remains of this civilization, I rested my elbows on a stone wall overlooking  a garden area and began to process.  One of my team members came over to ask me what I was thinking, and the thoughts spilled out in a jumbled heap.  Those thoughts are what fuels this blog today and they begin like this:

I wonder if the woman who lived in this house ever thought that almost two thousand years later, another woman from the other side of the world would be standing in her house and looking at the painting on her wall?  When she or her husband decided on that color of red to create the decorative stamp-like trim around their ceiling, was it their favorite color?  Or the the most available color?  When they inlaid the mosaic patterns into the floors and doorsteps of their homes, did they ever imagine that Americans would be stepping on and around them in the year 2009?2004-01-04 13.47.15

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says:

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Because God has set eternity in my heart, and the realization that my actions affect the lives of others around me, my thoughts travel deeper than the colors on the wall.  I wrestle with the fact that everything I do is recorded in time.  Even if I never write it down, or photograph the moment,  it is made a permanent record that God alone controls, and can be excavated at any time when He is ready to reveal it.  Every action has a consequence.  Every action has an opportunity to be seen, and if not now, years down the road.  Like Pompeii, my life tells a story.  For those of you who read my blog “Time and Eternity” and possibly watched the video attached, you will see some of the reasons for the words I am typing.

There is no action that you or I perform that does not have an effect on another.  Even the color of our walls or the state of our spiritual lives will have an effect on someone–somewhere, somehow.  There are no “personal decisions” or “personal faiths” that affect only us, even though we make many decisions on our own with the convictions and understanding we currently possess.  Our actions constantly set something into motion.

We cannot reverse time, or take back things we have said or done.  We can repaint walls, or move to new cities, renovate homes, and demolish buildings, but the records of our actions remain unchangeable outside of the mercy of God and His ability to wipe away our sins.2004-01-04 13.00.17

I painted two walls in my house deep purple.  I like the color very much.  As I rolled the color on, I thought about Pompeii.  I thought about my choices, and their choices.  I pondered whether or not my home would ever be visited in the future by someone from another culture.  Would they see my purple wall and wonder why I chose that color, or why my home was laid out the way it was with a library in the dining room?  Would they find my photographs, or journals, and peer into my life?  What would they find?  What would they contemplate?wall

For many reasons God keeps a record of our lives and actions.  One thing I know is that because there is a historical record of lives lived before me, I have an opportunity to reflect on history, then consider my life, my actions, my future, and call out to God to direct my path and the paths of the ones He has entrusted to me.  History is another form of God’s grace extended to me.  As Edmund Burke said:  “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Today you and I have choices.  Choose well.  Choose with the input and wisdom of God.2004-01-04 13.49.42

My Deep Breath

Having a few physical complications from time to time give cause for me to take painkillers for relief.  Often, I ignore my condition as long as I can, and carry on.  Other times, my pain is brought to my attention by the way I am breathing…short, shallow and often.  Paying attention to the way I breathe is a clue to me about how my body is processing pain.

I have to admit that I love the feeling of the release from pain that is accompanied by a couple of “Aleve” tablets.  This is characterized by my lungs taking in a deep breath of air and exhaling slowly.  Sometimes, the big exhale is what alerts me to the fact that my body is relaxing and no longer talking about pain.

One of my favorite songs by Jonathan Stockstill, is a song called “I Need You”.  The song borrows it’s lyrics and themes from the scripture:

Acts 17:28

28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Worship and prayer are our deepest breaths.  When you find you are breathing quickly, and your heart is hurried and cannot be still, you need to worship.  When your pain is overwhelming you and your hope is waning, you need moments in the presence of God where your “time stands still” and you are receiving the strength, life and breath of the One who formed and fashioned you in His image.

Take a deep breath today of the presence of  God.  Come into His presence with worship, prayer, and thankfulness.  Tell Him “I Need You”, and then wait while He breathes into you the strength you need.  Listen as He sings your victory and your hope over you today. Let Him be your deep breath.

Steeping the Tea of Writing

The following is an article I wrote for Oikeo Music’s Spring issue of  “Christian Songwriter’s” Magazine.  To download a free PDF version of the magazine, visit www.oikeomusic.com  I hope you enjoy!!

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The tide is coming in as I sit on a large boulder not far from the water-line of the Kachemak Bay. The sky is a beautiful clear blue and the temperature is holding just above freezing. For now my fingers work and the ink in my pen is still a liquid…but I don’t know how much longer. This is my writing studio today.

I take in the view of the snow-capped mountains, and gentle surf, wipe my now dripping nose, and take mental pictures of the the landscape in front of me while my heart begins weaving stories.

Today I process the pain of a friendship, while I am praying for the courage to venture again. Scriptures are coming to mind about God who binds up the broken-hearted. 1Corinthians 13 flashes in my mind as well, with the emphasis being on the fact that “love always believes the best in people.” (v. 7) I talk to God about my fears and my pain.

I pause to throw the ball for my dog who faithfully retrieves it every time, although surrenders it reluctantly.

All of these things at once become threads in the weave of my heart and become the backdrop for my writing, and the metaphors of my story. Friendship, loyalty, beauty, wonder, and God’s Word are the constants. The tide that changes and the temperature that fluxes become the variables that give the story pattern and detail.

A mentor of mine, Billy Simon, gave me some advice years ago when I began songwriting that I still carry with me today. He said:

“The main thing is to be calm in your gift and know that no matter who hears what you create… that your gift matters and is pleasing to the one who gave it to you. No need to be overly anxious. Love life first then add some commentary. We song writers are not necessary in the whole scope. Only our message is. Sometimes our gift can be so exciting to us that we give it too much attention and time. Step out of your “write, write, write” stage and just write. Trees are vital for life on Earth. They’re beautiful and it’s nice to have some in your yard. But if you plant one everywhere you think one can grow, soon you will have nowhere to play kickball. Have peace that you are where God want s you to be, to affect the people He wants you to affect.”

As a songwriter, it is not imperative that I write everything that comes to my head. Some of my best writing has come after musing on things I have experienced, or, like tea, let the ideas steep for awhile until the story feels done. Taking life in and feeling it on every level possible, to me, seem to be the greatest tools of my writing. Not being afraid to feel, to hurt, to be cold, to be hungry, to be interrupted, and to be in solitude, give me opportunities to experience life in a new ways and then express them.
So I process my heart while I steep my ideas. I think about how friendship is always worth the risk of pain, because it warms the heart when the days are cold. I feel the cold air beginning to stiffen and sting my fingers. I wipe my running nose again. I shake my pen to get the ink flowing again, and I exhale with the contentment that when I wait patiently, God speaks to my heart and gives me a reason to write. That same God will also give me a platform to allow my musings to be heard when the timing is right.

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