Kids and Grownup Church–They Belong, Too

Our family was far from perfect, but I’m thankful to have been born into it. I was a church kid, born to one of those families who believed in gathering for worship…and not just on rare occasions or when something else more interesting wasn’t going on. Whatever else they did or didn’t get right, my parents/grandparents raised us to be Christ-followers, within a larger group of other imperfect believers and families.  They modeled putting God first, in their tenacity to carve out Sunday for the Lord’s day (they definitely didn’t confuse us with on-again, off-again faithful attendance).  My parents didn’t fight with us or threaten to ground us on the issue…it was just our way of life, so since it was all we ever knew, we kids weren’t really exploring other options. If I may, I would like to just transparently share a little about kids and “grownup” church, and why I believe it’s important that kids experience more than just the nursery and the children’s program alone; we tend to try to keep it all so separate that our kids aren’t integrating into a grownup worship experience. So to keep babies from crying or parents from having to teach a wiggly child to behave for a little while and reverence God’s house, we just never bring them into where there’s grownup church going on.

Parents don’t seem as motivated as they once were with exposing their kids to a very spiritual encounter with God. So when it’s going to put any kind of kink in the routine, or if there’s an inconvenience of any kind; or if it’s not a service where there are kids’ activities running in tandem; or if church night clashes with other activities they like to participate in, the whole family just stays home. And our kids can develop a mindset that church has to be all about entertaining them–if there’s no cotton candy or egg hunt or pizza or face painting–it isn’t really worth the investment of their time. So as soon as they outgrow the games, they just stop coming, period. I grew up in a time when I wasn’t the excuse for my parents to stay home from church at night or during revival. Oh, there might be a sick day factored in there once in a while, but they never kept me out of evening worship services and said it was because I needed my sleep for school the next day. They had me there even when there wasn’t something special just for the little kids. Even if we should have to leave a little early (maybe we did…I don’t remember), they still brought me. Worship wasn’t the obligation we had to hurry and get over with just so we could rush out to go do what we would have rather been doing all along. I got to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of my church family from a young age, and you know…it was a healthy thing. So what was the benefit of my parents bringing me to grownup church, too, and not just kids church?

For starters, I learned a lot about Christians in the real world. I saw people who had to deal with some hard circumstances who didn’t give up. I saw others give up. I saw some quit and come back. I saw the saints and I saw the hypocrites. I saw church conflict, and when it was and wasn’t handled properly. I wasn’t shielded from any of it…and it taught me by example what to do and what not to do. I even saw sincere believers and family members whom I loved, who battled to the death with strongholds they wouldn’t break free from. I heard the way parents and grandparents prayed. I watched them forgive hard things. I saw them volunteer countless hours, hammer and saw, cook, serve, teach, sing, and just…be present.

And yeah, sometimes I got a little less sleep on a church night. It didn’t stunt my growth and I graduated in the top five of my class.

As a little girl, I fell asleep on the church pew and woke up in my own bed many a night. I got to stay back and see the things people miss who cut out early to catch their show on tv. I saw people get saved, get demons cast out, be healed, women shout their hairpins down. I remember watching my Grandma make homemade Communion bread, and I remember how that, as a small child, I knew it was serious that we not take the Lord’s bread and cup with unrepented sin or unforgiveness in our hearts. I took turns with all ages washing the saints’ feet (ladies in one room, fellas in another) in that old ceramic washpan, and sometimes the water got a little dirty in my little country church–and how that people often cried, rejoiced, forgave and made up with one another during that humble sacrament. I got baptized in a creek under an old bridge long before I attended a church that had a fiberglass baptistery. Sometimes I got taken to church when I had the sniffles or a cough…and when I did get sick (as kids will do), my parents didn’t hesitate to get me prayed for and even more importantly, they didn’t hesitate to lay hands on me and pray for me themselves. We had a special bottle of olive oil just for that purpose in our house! And they brought me to church…they didn’t just send me. I’m saying these things not to criticize or judge you if you’re a parent who’s raising your kids different from the way I was raised–but to encourage you to press in closer and let your kids have more than just a sterile, disconnected, indifferent, occasional relationship with the entire household of faith.

Don’t shrinkwrap your kids’ church experience in just the parts you think they should see. Please don’t opt to keep them home whenever the service isn’t tailored to their age group!  You’d be surprised at what a five-year old understands from a grownup preacher’s sermon, and what he or she picks up when it looks as if there’s absolutely no attention being paid at all. You’d be surprised at what your kids can come to understand about prayer, giving, serving, living with integrity, and sharing their faith.

Believe me when I tell you that world doesn’t dumb down what it shows kids now. Your elementary school kids have probably seen more on tv than you knew on your wedding night. Why, then, do we try to ration their experience of real faith in the lives of real people who need grace and redemption and patience with one another? Bring them to all the fun, memorable, age-appropriate stuff..they need that, too. But be thinking ahead to where you want them to be spiritually once they outgrow puppets and VBS.

Integrate them into a full, multigenerational worship experience. Let them know what it’s like to experience conviction, to get lost in worship, to pray in the altar for the Holy Spirit. Moreover, may they learn from watching how you worship and respond to the move of God, how you give, how you serve, how you interact with others in the church family, how you deal with hard times, and how you pray.  Please understand, I’m not undermining the value of children’s Christian education, at all.  I am grateful to be a member of a local church that has a phenomenal childrens program.  I’m just saying, your kids will learn more from watching your life than they ever could from just children’s church alone.  They need both.  They’re going to need to know how to bear up under persecution, how to live without compromising their moral ground, how to do spiritual warfare, and how to pray the prayer of faith when sickness, tragedy, or injustice happens. And make sure that, in spite of some occasional inconvenience, their opportunity to witness the church in all its organic guts and glory isn’t lost in just pacifying them with an electronic babysitter to keep them from being bored (yeah, they can make it for 90 minutes without the iPad and earbuds!).  It is, after all, us visiting God in His special place. He didn’t just leave us the key and tell us to lock up and turn off the lights when we’re done–He wants to come down among us. If we are excited about meeting Him there, and our kids catch the spirit of that excitement too, talk about some quality family time…

I was seven when I gave my heart to Jesus–and it was in a grownup revival service. I was ten when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit…at night, lingering long in the altar. In both situations, I was a child but yet I knew enough about the presence of God to experience hot tears flowing from a sincere heart who wanted to know Him. It changed my life. Regardless of what your denomination teaches about these things, I’m just sharing with you the precious experience I got to have as a child raised in a Pentecostal church. And just think…had my parents kept me at the house either of those nights, because I was young and because they wanted me in bed at a certain time, or because they reasoned that I would probably encounter Jesus sometime after I got a little older…I might never have made a decision for Christ that translated into a lifetime of rich, growing faith. It was just two church services on the timeline of my life; but oh, if I had missed them…

I’ve had my ups and downs spiritually, have made some good decisions and some unthinkably foolish ones; but I’m 52 and I’m still deeply, deeply in love with my Savior. This didn’t happen by accident. My parents steered me toward a relationship with God–very intentionally–and part of that involved raising me not just as an occasional visitor to His house, but a regular. It was all I ever knew. Sunday was His day, and very few times was it pre-empted for something else. And because I got to experience needing to exercise my faith, worshiping God in a setting of young and old, being encouraged to seek out my gifts and use them for His glory; and seeing the consequences of when things aren’t handled right by believers actually protected me. It kept me from becoming jaded from offenses and hurts and church splits and injustices–because unfortunately, those things happen. Your child needs to be conditioned to deal with the very things you wish they didn’t have to see.  I learned that men may fail you, mistreat you, withhold favor, betray you…but that God will not. Ever.

If you will live Jesus Christ before them, and be genuine in your faith, your kids will be ok even if they see others who don’t walk the walk. If you’ll value their spiritual growth as much as you value them making first string on the ball team, you are securing something even more important than whether they get skilled enough to win a sports scholarship and a free ride to college. Your kids need to be able to cope with life in a wicked, wicked world. They will worship somethingand if you don’t teach them and model before them how to put the Lord God first in their lives, you may lose them to the world system. If they see you indifferent about your commitment to Christ, don’t be surprised if they grow up completely detached from faith. It’s not going to be enough for your children to say, “Oh yeah…I believe there’s probably a God.” Or, “Hey, I might not be where I ought to be, but I still pray…sometimes”. The time to sell them on the value of that relationship is now, while they’re still impressionable. Your kids need Him for eternal life. They need Him, because drugs and alcohol and debauchery and pornography and crime and suicide are all waiting to grab hold of them.

Some of you prayed that God would bless you with children. Now that you have them, will you truly dedicate them to Him or will you instead teach them that life is all about what they can achieve and get and buy and own and collect and play? Will they encounter His presence or will their lives be all about getting numbed out by newest level of their favorite video game? Don’t raise them up not to know who their Father is, and don’t raise them not to know about a hell that’s to be shunned and heaven to be gained. it’s a matter of eternal life and death.

Being a church kid wasn’t–and isn’t–a bad thing to be. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

That’s all.

Unabridged Blessings

close up photography of four baseballs on green lawn grasses
Photo by Steshka Willems on Pexels.was com

A few years ago, it made the news when I some fellow caught a baseball at a big game, and he was giving it back to the player who knocked it out of the park—only, the gift tax on the market value of the baseball was so much that it would be impossible to keep it. I can’t remember all the details, but to me it was just so absurd that a tiny little leather ball could create so much of a conundrum.

If someone were to give me a big yacht, or a sprawling mansion, or for that matter, a pet giraffe, that person would be unthinkably generous. And while it sounds as if it would be nothing but a #blessing, in truth, the maintenance and upkeep of any of these things would be something that I could neither do myself nor afford to pay someone else to do.

You know, God, the supreme gift-giver, has something to say: “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.” (Prov. 10:22). Wow. A blessing that’s not pulling a ball and chain behind it of regret, error, buyer’s remorse, penalty, dread, fear, painful toil, fractured relationships, high maintenance, or strife. Yeah, that’s got my attention.

He’s also not toying with us here…not humoring us or trying to use psychology on us. He’s not baiting us with the carrot-and-stick approach. He’s initiating trust and patience while He teaches us perspective on what’s really good and what’s…meh…only good at first.

Could it be that, as we look to Him for provision and blessing and the fulfillment of dreams, He knows exactly how to bless us without those blessings becoming a burden to us instead? Pause and reflect! We can’t get those sorrow-free blessings by the strength of our own hand–so we learn to patiently anticipate and petition them from the One who knows exactly what will satisfy our deepest longings, without cheapening our relationship with Him or stunting our spiritual growth!

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy. There’s nothing wrong with a Christian or even a preacher (uh oh, some religious bristles just rose on a few people’s necks) being wealthy. I want to be. I want to have the means to do some generous, righteous, benevolent things I can’t do on a grand scale on my limited income. I want to be able to buy necessities like a new car without making the lenders…wealthy.

But, even as I pray daily for my needs (and a few wants) to be met, and as I look to a very generous but wise Father, I trust Him to bless me in ways that won’t be a curse as well as a blessing.  Yeah, who wouldn’t want to get behind the wheel of a Maserati on a stretch of highway with no state troopers, and open it up just to see what it had under the hood…smile…even a few state trooper friends would have to smile at this fantasy…but do I want the insurance payment, property taxes, extra security measures, and the sheer cost to service that baby? Nope. Do I envy or judge the person who has the means to own one? Absolutely not! 

Lord, I pray for myself and my friends reading this today. We all have needs and we all have wants and dreams. And we all have to find a balance between our focus on this life and the eternal life to come. I ask You to meet our needs. Lord, for some, that need might be extra food to last through to the next month. For others, it might be money for college. Or healing from cancer. I’m asking You, Papa, to then bless us with a blessing that makes rich and adds to sorrow with it.

Your blessings always go above and beyond, because that’s just who You are. That overflow is meant to be used for a worthy purpose. I pray that we will have more than enough to meet our basic needs and reasonable wants—and that when You do pour out Your blessing, we will have the good sense to manage it well. You are not a God of waste and ostentatiousness even though You own the cattle on a thousand hills!

Teach us to stop envying others and coveting what they have! Teach us to stop railing on others who do have wealth and talking about them for how they spend their money. Teach us to be better planners with what we have. Teach us to have neither a poverty mentality nor an obsession with material things. Teach us not to judge others by what they have or don’t have. Teach us not to use our lack or thrift or frugality or even our better management as some measure of being holier than someone who has more than we have! Ouch! Conversely, teach us not to look down on someone who has less than us, as if our prosperity is a measure of our level of holiness compared to his or hers. Help us throw away the measuring stick, period! Destroy that comparison mentality which stems from pride, period! And send us the blessing in the form You know we can handle, that accomplishes great deeds but doesn’t take our eyes off of You. We will not rob You of what belongs to You, either!

Over and over again, You warned the children of Israel not to forget You when at last the blessing of the Promised Land would come. Some of us prayed to have healthy children and got them, and now we don’t even teach them about You. Some of us have taken job promotions that keep us so busy, we never have time to worship You or pray or spend time with our families. Some of us have received miracles and extended lives and we went on our merry way and forgot to come back and thank You, just like the other nine lepers Jesus healed. Some of us prayed for talent and we have squandered it or used it in ways that bring You shame. Lord, in whatever ways we have failed You—in whatever ways we have forgotten You and where our blessings come from—we repent.

Build in us great character so that You can entrust great blessings in our hands! Cause us to be faithful over what we have now—in our time, talents, and treasure—so that we can handle promotions, divine favor, and blessings, without our increase becoming our downfall. Who we are with little is who we will be with much, just on a bigger scale. May we be wise, generous, and ethical in all our dealings whether seen or unseen! We will do the right thing. We will be the servant capable of ten talents instead of misusing the one. Bless us, Lord, but in proportion to our character, maturity, and our ability to use that blessing wisely and not recklessly.

We receive today those things from You which money can and cannot buy…and we will put nothing or no one else before You. So as Jabez prayed, bless us indeed, increase us, and keep Your hand on us that we might not cause (or incur) pain. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Matters of the Heart: Character

Good EggGod, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me.  Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares.  See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on,  and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways—the path that brings me back to you.  —Psalm 139:23-24  (The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.)

#Character issues disqualify us from promotion by God far more often than lack of talent, geographic advantage, education, or even resources. Can God trust me….you….us? God wants to use us to fulfill His purposes in the earth. Some of those purposes are big, some are small. In either case, we need to be reliable and trustworthy to the One who created us, just as much so as if He were calling on us to be the next Billy Graham! Even if we perceive ourselves as little fish in a big pond, our character still matters very much to God!

We can choose to be assets or liabilities. How? By honest self-examination and surrender to God. David did this. He invited the Lord to search him, to try his heart, to uncover any wickedness. We know David had a fall, from which he recovered…but his fall was not an ongoing character issue that became his identity. He remained humble and repentant before God, and God honored that. We need to ask ourselves, in the neighborhood, the church, our family, our school/workplace…what are we known for? The reputation that precedes us, yes, can be tarnished by the lies/misconception of others…but how often is the origin for our tarnished reputations our own words and actions (or inactions)? I don’t want people to say of me, “You’d better steer clear of Lisa…she will stab you in the back, she’s lazy and unreliable, you have to walk on eggshells around her because she’s so easily offended, you can’t believe a word she says, don’t say anything in front of her that you don’t want spread all over the place, she won’t finish what she starts…” On and on.

If in our dramatic laments about why things aren’t going right for us, it’s always the other person’s fault, it’s probably not.😉 If we hear rumors about ourselves that are unsavory, it’s a great time to evaluate what we need to change and then go to God for help. Those character flaws CAN be healed if we will own up to them and work on them. Left undealt with, we are driving through life with bad brakes and it eventually will catch up with us.

Lord, help us to be very honest with You and ourselves. You know our weaknesses and You also know our willfulness. Your strength is made perfect in our weakness when we lean on You to help us. Our will, however, is sure to get us in trouble if we rebel from aligning with Your will. Jesus, over and over, submitted His will to Yours; and He was the example for us to follow.

Reveal to us, Holy Spirit, when there is an ugly nature in us that needs dealt with. Whether it’s lust, infidelity, pride, unforgiveness, spite, cruelty, intimidation, prejudice, a lying spirit, dishonesty and cheating, a talebearer, a betrayer, a spirit of laziness, rebellion, hatred, insecurity, negativity, undisciplinedness, grumbling, jealousy, or fear—we lay our entire selves on the altar and ask You to sanctify us and purge us of anything unholy that would cull us from kingdom usability and trustworthiness. We renounce and reject any spirit that would attach itself to us and defile the pure gifts You have given us. We will not make excuses or blame others or be offended over Your attempts to prune away what disqualifies us. When we represent You in the earth, may we represent You well. Help us never to bring reproach on Your name, Your family, Your kingdom!

May it be said of us, even by those who don’t necessarily like our personality quirks or the way we look, “Blessed is he/she who comes in the name of the Lord!” Conform us to the image of Your Son. Fill us with a refreshing overflow that lifts the atmosphere in every room we enter. Make us fit for the kingdom—assets and not liabilities! And Lord, help us to reverse undesirable reputations whether or not we earned them. Make us willing to prove ourselves and to submit to those You would place in our lives as mentors and leaders. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

In Whose Shadow?

shadow-1-1545067
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will remain secure and rest in the shadow of the Almighty [whose power no enemy can withstand].”  (Psalm 91:1 AMP)
Do you have a parent, sibling, coworker, spouse, ministry constituent, or friend to whom you feel inferior? Does someone close to you in that way shine so brightly, so talented or gifted or just favored, that you feel there’s no room for you to ever excel and be lent credibility? You may feel like you’re in someone else’s shadow, but I encourage you today to choose WHOSE shadow you’re going to stand in. Choose to stand in God’s shadow. Learn to be at home in the shadow of the Almighty…you don’t have to stand in anyone else’s shadow, but you belong to Him and you need the rest and comfort and protection of His wings! That’s the only place where you won’t be plagued by the temptation and bondage that comes with comparison!
Stop comparing yourself to other people and viewing yourself as less-than (or for that matter, as more-than!). Stop buying into what other people have said or implied about you…a teacher or a parent or boss or someone who may have said, “Why can’t you be more like ____ (a sibling, a peer, or someone else who was/is used a measuring stick)?” You were not placed on this earth to fulfill His plan for their lives, but to fulfill the plan He tailor-made just for you. It is an insult to the power and imagination of our Creator, for us to try to make ourselves signed-and-numbered prints off of some priceless original. No, each of us is a priceless original, and He never runs out of creative power.
Be free from the spirit of comparison, from pride, from inferiority, from any other emotion or mindset that hinders you from living life to its fullest.
Lord, we cast down these crazy imaginations and “high, lofty things” that work overtime, which cause us pain and limitation whenever they run contrary to what Your Word and Your will for our lives has spoken. Forgive us for spending so much time looking at ourselves and comparing and lamenting and walking in fear. Fear tells us we will never be good enough because we cannot excel past certain other people. Fear tells us not to even try because we are doomed to failure. Your Word, however, says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
 
Forgive us as well for carelessly speaking damaging words over ourselves or others out of ignorance. We are not guiltless in the area of having made statements like “He/she sure is no ____” and compared one of Your precious originals to someone else we perceived to be be more skilled or talented or good in some way. You don’t create counterfeit, cheap knockoffs, and You don’t use a cookie cutter to mass produce lives void of authenticity. We are sorry for ever trying to establish the standards for excellence over ourselves or anyone else! We are not the Creator. We submit our words and actions to You again on the potter’s wheel and ask that You give us clean hearts that in turn compel clean words. We will resist the devil when he tries again to make us feel intimidated by the giftings and abilities of others, and if we resist–as often as necessary!–he will flee.  We forgive and release anyone who may ever have hurt us by comparisons, and we ask You to forgive them too, because they knew not what they were doing.
 
In order to stay in Your shadow and to dwell in the secret place, we have to be on the move, as well! You don’t stand in one place with your wing of protection stuck out for us to stand under. No, You are moving and working constantly—so our secret to staying in Your shadow is to move with You, to go where You go, to do what we see the Father do, to speak what we hear You say. What worked for Jesus works for us today–operating under the canopy of submission to You. We submit ourselves to You today and we will stay under Your protection, fulfilling every wonderful thing You have ordered for our lives! We are free from approval-seeking and self-exaltation and self-deprecation and any other tool the enemy would use to shift our eyes onto ourselves and off of You. Be glorified in us today, Father—all of it—You get all the glory and we will gladly stand in Your shadow, we pray in Jesus’ name!
#Psalm91 #2Corinthians10 #callthosethings

 

The Mandate of Teachability

teachable“For everyone who listens with an open heart will receive progressively more revelation until he has more than enough. But those who don’t listen with an open, teachable heart, even the understanding that they think they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 13:12 TPT*)

Are you still being taught, still learning, still seeking to know more tomorrow than you know today? The day you stop being #teachable is the day you begin to stagnate spiritually. We are all meant to be in a continual state of growth, right up until the day we go home to be with Jesus. To remain teachable, we have to deliberately push ourselves beyond those things we already know (and sometimes feel like we know it all! Yeah, I’ve been guilty of that a time or two myself!), and place ourselves in the hands of people who know more than we do. Being teachable requires a bit of humility–for when we think we have it all figured out, sometimes we begin to disdain those who are trying to teach us what we feel is old hat. We are so conditioned to wanting variety, variety, choices, choices, drop down menus, where we can skip the stuff that is boring and go on to what stimulates our curiosity and makes us feel good about ourselves.

I remember one time being with a friend, and we went to a church meeting with a special speaker. We rode together. She sat about 10 minutes into the meeting, long enough to find out that the teacher was going to teach on the subject of healthy marriages and being a godly wife. She leaned over and said to me, “Let’s go. This is of no benefit to me. I already know all this.” How sad that I followed her lead and left, even though I was the driver! My friend may not have felt she needed the help, but I needed (and still do!) all the help I can get!

“To learn the truth you must long to be teachable, or you can despise correction and remain ignorant.” (Proverbs 12:1 TPT*)

While we can learn a lot from our peers, and while we can be iron sharpening iron to one another, there’s only so much someone else on our same level can impart to us. It can be a hard hurdle to leap over because we want to be with the people we enjoy most and feel we have the most in common with. Sometimes we have to deliberately place ourselves outside that common area for a season so that we can be more open to the meatier part of spiritual maturity–those hard lessons that aren’t learned over coffee and a game of cornhole. Some of the most valuable elements of growth you will ever receive are waiting to be imparted from people who don’t fit your parameters–some (and likely, most) will be older…some may even be younger…some will be from a different walk of life and not always what you consider to be a level up from your own…some will be people you don’t consider to be particularly interesting to hang around. Sometimes God will even pair you with someone that you have to pursue, who doesn’t offer you any encouragement to pursue him or her–like Elijah with Elisha! We have many spiritual brothers and sisters but very few spiritual mothers and fathers—and those, friends, are who we need to seek out IF we want to grow. Enjoy spiritual sibling-ship (if there is such a word…lol), but pursue mentors and spiritual parents.

I am not in any way downplaying the importance of fellowship and small groups—if anything, we need to connect more and more as the days grow more wicked. I hope each of you reading this will find such a group of people and get plugged in. It’s much needed and it will bless you. However, it’s been said that if you are the smartest person in the room, you need to be looking for another room. You can still enjoy common union with the others, but I encourage you, find the people God wants to use to TEACH you and include them in your life. If everyone you’re close to and gleaning from is on the same level as you, who is going to be able to rally the others when discouragement or crisis comes to the whole tribe? Or, think of it another way…would you really want to be operated on by a med student who’s not actually certified yet; whose only instruction is being taught by fellow med students and a correspondence course? Yes, we are all still learning, no matter how many years we are into our Christian walk—even surgeons have to do continuing education—but we will never be qualified to teach others if we avoid being under the authority of someone who can correct us when we are wrong, and protect us from ourselves when we are full of zeal and less full of wisdom.

There are many things I wish I’d asked my parents and grandparents before they died, both about spiritual matters and life lessons. It was only after they were all gone that I began to think of certain pieces of information I would’ve liked to have passed down to me, and now they’re no longer here to give that information. We sometimes surmise that because the generation up from us isn’t tech savvy, or that they had limited opportunities, that they are no longer relevant to who we are today. We couldn’t be more wrong! These folks may not have had Google search or a college education, but they knew how to survive in hard times—from depressions to child rearing to staying put when commitment to a family or to a cause was hard or lackluster or less than what they hoped it would be.

Lord, crucify pride in our lives that would cause us to become root bound, pride which says to our teachers, “I don’t have to listen to you, I know all of that already!” Send people into our lives who can impart and equip us to be what might be the final generation–and if we aren’t, then we need to be able teachers of those who come after us. Help us, then, to be teachable. O God, help us to welcome correction and to welcome accountability instead of leaning to our own understanding. We cannot give what we have not yet received. With all of our getting, may we get wisdom and understanding. Help us not to avoid relationships with trusted mentors who can speak transparently into our lives. Place us in the position of being discipled, that we in turn might disciple others. Cause us to develop maturity and humility and receptiveness to a right word in a right season. Empower us, Holy Spirit. We pray in Jesus’ name…

*Scriptures quoted from The Passion Translation® of the Holy Bible, Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.

 

The Two-Sided Sickle

sickleFor the word of God is living and active and full of power [making it operative, energizing, and effective]. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as the division of the soul and spirit [the completeness of a person], and of both joints and marrow [the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and judging the very thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12 AMP

When I was a kid, my parents and grandparents lived side-by-side and the only fence we had was around the two properties.  It was wonderful to have a big, collective yard to play in, even though our neighborhood was laid out in a way to where most folks had a 40 ft section of land and no more.  Our ground was a little swampy because I’m told that at one time that’s exactly what it was–swamp property.  The dirt was rather dry on Grandpa’s side, but very rich on the left side of our house…so what little bit of gardening we were able to do between the two yards was sort of divided up by what grows best in each particular type of soil.  A topic perhaps for another post…

Anyway, for some reason this morning I’m remembering this old sickle in Grandpa’s tools, the one whose wooden handle left a big splinter in the palm of my hand before I reacted to his warning not to play with it.  (Love his heart, he used black electrical tape on everything else…how that handle escaped his attention I’ll never know.)  Grandpa’s warning came because he was worried about me chopping off my leg; but the splinter was lesson enough to keep my hands off it in the future.  Now, this sickle didn’t see much action because Grandpa’s primary use of it was to occasionally clear weeds that grew up outside our fence next to the railroad tracks, and to clear the green bean vines from our fence at the end of the last picking…maybe to chop down the fodder after the few times we grew a little corn.  The limited type of gardening we did really didn’t require a sickle for harvesting; so it wasn’t until later that I learned about a sickle’s role in gathering what is grown.  Interesting, that this rusty old gadget had two potential purposes (other than giving little girls splinters and giving her big brother a yellow jacket attack while he was cutting weeds once…another story):  weeding and harvesting.

We read in the Scriptures about the Word of God being a two-edged sword, and I’ve always imagined that as being useful for cutting on both the forward and the backward stroke.  No motion wasted!  Twice the result in half the time! Or, a dual-purpose weapon, of which there are many types of cutting instruments.  Some blades are smooth on one side and serrated on the other side for when a little systematic sawing is needed (ever run into an obstacle where persistent back-and-forth re-application of the Word was needed to cut yourself free from the choking vines of the enemy?).  Or, dare I suggest, the Word is also a sharp sickle that achieves two objectives:  clearing out the things on our soil that hinder growth, and gathering in the harvest from the seed we’ve sown.

You may, up until now, have only been using your “sickle” for part of its potential use. Perhaps you use it to weed out the hindrances, sins, and weights that block your blessing; but then you don’t actually use it to aggressively reap your harvest.  I know many people who are generous to sow and bless, but who feel guilty about being blessed in return.  So they grow a magnificent garden that is left to decay, whereas the fruit could be harvested and used to be an even greater blessing.  If you can’t feel good about receiving the blessing for yourself, don’t worry; it’s not all about you!  The blessing is needed in order to perpetuate more blessing for more people:  a testimony of God’s mercy and provision for those who are called by His name.  Stop leaving your harvest un-gathered!

Still others are using the Word to receive the harvest, but their harvest is puny because it has been choked out by the sins and weights that the sickle could have cleared from the ground before and during the growing season.  If you are sowing heavily but reaping sparingly (and I’m not only talking finances here…investing time, energy, passion, conviction, prayers, and love into people and worthwhile objectives while getting little in return), you may need to take that Word into the preventive and maintenance modes and start clearing the junk from your life.  Is there drama or disappointment or depression where there should be peace and prosperity and perpetuation of blessing on your children and grandchildren?  Do the work.  Don’t let the enemy succeed in choking out your blessing through hidden sin and unbridled carnality.  Whatever the reason your harvest is slim pickings, God can reveal not only the root cause, but also reveal the part of His Word that can hack away at that root!

We even have to clear out the remnants of yesterday’s harvest before tomorrow’s potential can be unlocked.  Some folks leave the fodder of once-upon-a-time movements of God standing as brown, brittle memorials that He once was there in their midst, instead of tilling up the soil for another planting.  Yep, sometimes preparing our hearts for what He wants to do in this season requires letting go of our expectations based on the past.  Hard stuff…we can’t do it without the right tool in our hands.  God’s Word does honor to the past, but it is constantly demanding that we press forward, keep working while it is day.  I don’t know about you, but I desire with all my heart to be moving from glory to glory with God.  I don’t want to sum my entire existence up on what He once did, when He’s still moving and doing and showing Himself mighty to save!  May He look at me–and likewise, may He look at YOU, too–as good ground, and as good stewards who will put His every tool to use to maximize His kingdom and His will on earth!

The truth is, we need God’s Word in every season, in every step, in every creative process, and in every discipline of our lives.  If we will get it off our coffee table, off the nail in the tool shed, and keep it polished, shining, and used regularly, it will not only inhibit the wrong kind of growth in our souls, but will enhance the potential for the right type of growth in our spirit-man!  Don’t let your sickle–your precious copy of the Bible, God’s holy Word– get rusty from only occasional use.  Make it your “Swiss army knife” that finds an application in every area of your life!