Lacking Nothing

Patience. Are you willing to experience the “almost-but-not-quites” on your journey to your destiny? Brace yourself because there will be some! My biggest need of all, perhaps, is to let patience have her perfect work so that I can be whole and entire, lacking nothing! It’s hard not to succeed immediately. We’ve spent our entire lives watching movies where the whole plot of the story gets resolved in 90 minutes, and we want real life to work out that way too. In our fishbowl society where all eyes are on us, we are so afraid people will judge us if we can’t be a superstar at every single thing…and in record time, no less.

It’s been the ongoing challenge of my life not to rush to the finished product. Lifting the lid on the crockpot knowing good and well that a peek disrupts and makes the process even longer. Not waiting for the nail polish to dry before the next coat. Putting the furniture together without reading the instructions, only to find out I just tightened the nut down on a part that was supposed to go somewhere else. Not waiting a day or two to proofread that manuscript one final time; or better yet, to have handed it over for a second set of eyes to critique. Not waiting to hear from God on a specific request, but rather, figuring that “silence is consent” on His part. I can criticize Abraham and Sarah’s rush for the fulfilled promise all I want; but I’ve tried to get ahead of God’s plan too, thinking He surely must need my input, surely He must have gotten busy and forgotten me…I’ve done it more times than I can count.

I read somewhere once that the way to set up a peach tree for future bumper crops is to pluck off all the first year’s peaches while they’re still green and discard them. Whaaaaaaa?!!! I’d love to have a peach orchard on a big piece of property somewhere someday, but I can only imagine how hard it would be to cast off that first crop! Matter of fact, Levitical law actually requires the children of Israel to do that for the first three years…then the fourth year’s crop is sanctified holy to the Lord, then they may do as they wish with the fruit beginning with the fifth year. Interesting that even HE didn’t want the “first fruits” to be the firstfruits. Why, He even made provisions for rotating ground crops and letting the land rest. It’s little wonder that by obeying these religious laws, their land is so fertile and the produce so abundant. God always knows what He’s doing–He wrote the original Farmer’s Almanac!

What gets us in a pickle is trying to shortcut around what we know to be right. It takes faith in order to trust Him enough to count certain things as a loss in order to attain something better in the long run. It’s the test that we perhaps fail the most often. We might ask, “God, You knew how this would turn out…why did I have to waste my time going through the whole process just to walk away with nothing?” Disappointment is hard; but if we will let Him, God can build character and consistency in us when we choose to keep trying in the wake of failures. We see one scenario playing out, when in fact, He has the entire view from start to finish and has a better plan–something more than we can ask or think! Letting the process run its entire course; it’s what makes millionaires out of ordinary investors–not trying to pull out dividends as soon as they start accumulating, and not trying to sell off shares every time there’s a bear market year. Fear makes us foolish; faith makes us flourish!

Father, help us build this kind of resolve–to count the losses as mere trial runs, and to keep persevering while we wait patiently on Your plan for our lives. When we can’t believe that the invention, the song, the book, the piece of art, the business, the ministry, or whatever enterprise we’ve embarked upon did not bear a bumper crop, help us not to give up. Maybe it was a very good project that seemed foolproof, and then it flopped. Maybe, however, it was one of those first few crops that was meant to perish in order for our tree to be rooted deep and to be stronger and more consistent for many years to come.

We roll our works upon You–we commit and trust them wholly to You–and will do things Your way! We believe that, according to Proverbs 16:3, You will cause our thoughts to become agreeable to Your will. Wow! You’ll even help our thought life to align with what is going to work–Your will. When that happens, our plans shall be established and succeed! Yes, we CAN prune off what seems to promise to be a sure thing if that’s what You know will guarantee a better outcome later. We CAN rest when You say rest, knowing that obedience will take us so much farther than our best efforts to rush to a hasty quick-fix finish. Make us willing to fail in order to eventually succeed. Teach us to wait upon You, and to never give up!

Fallout Shelter

Back in days of the Cold War, “fallout shelter” became a familiar term as people grew increasingly aware of a threat of nuclear war. It wasn’t altogether uncommon for some serious preppers to build an underground bunker similar to the tornado shelters of the Heartland. I can remember, as a child, that I didn’t fully comprehend what a fallout shelter actually was; but I knew that it was protection from something ominous. The symbol on the outside of our county courthouse and other public buildings was an unsettling yet comforting reminder that if some bad thing were to happen, there was perhaps a place to run and hide.

Last night as I was brushing my teeth, I stared at the Psalm 91 print on my bathroom wall and in my mind, I recalled the fallout shelter symbols that were so commonly seen in my childhood. Although the most popular translation of Psalm 91 refers to the “secret place” of the Most High where a believer can dwell perpetually in our relationship with God, I pondered the aspect of that place of safety where the righteous might congregate when peril grips the land. We don’t really grasp what that means because in general, we haven’t felt unsafe out there rubbing shoulders with the world. We haven’t truly sold out to the idea that we’re not supposed to be absorbed into this culture; because though it shocks us from time to time, it holds the same kind of seduction that Sodom and Gomorrah held for Lot and his wife and daughters. The danger is perhaps a little exciting. We’re not genuinely repulsed, as well we should be, by the effects of sin on this world.

I’ve never had to run to a fallout shelter, nor hunker down in a reinforced space during a bad storm, and I hope I never will. Recurring nightmares of floods, wars, tornados, and disasters where I couldn’t find my family were more than enough drama without the real thing coming to pass. Yet, as I think of my most terrifying and vivid dreams, I can put that Psalm 91 shelter into perspective. Yes, it is plausible that something terrible could happen where we might have to be (if not outright hidden from an attacker who seeks to abduct or kill us) somewhere safe and secure from danger. Those of us who’ve lived in safety all our lives can’t really fathom a warning blast and having mere minutes to escape imminent danger. We don’t even have disaster drills in most locations because we’ve never had to have a rapid response plan. Yet the Psalmist, a man not unfamiliar with war, animal attacks, and danger, penned such a wonderful illustration when he wrote:

You who live in the shelter of ‘Elyon,
who spend your nights in the shadow of Shaddai,
who say to Adonai, “My refuge! My fortress!
My God, in whom I trust!” —
 he will rescue you from the trap of the hunter
and from the plague of calamities;
 he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his truth is a shield and protection.

You will not fear the terrors of night
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the plague that roams in the dark,
or the scourge that wreaks havoc at noon.
 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand;
but it won’t come near you.
Only keep your eyes open,
and you will see how the wicked are punished.

For you have made Adonai, the Most High,
who is my refuge, your dwelling-place.

No disaster will happen to you,
no calamity will come near your tent;
for he will order his angels to care for you

and guard you wherever you go.
They will carry you in their hands,

so that you won’t trip on a stone.
You will tread down lions and snakes,
young lions and serpents you will trample underfoot.
Because he loves me, I will rescue him;
because he knows my name, I will protect him.
He will call on me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him when he is in trouble.
I will extricate him and bring him honor.
I will satisfy him with long life
and show him my salvation.”
(Psalm 91, Complete Jewish Translation)

David frequently used verbage that described God’s protective nature, referring to Him in such phrases as “strong tower,” “shelter,” “secret place,” “refuge,” and others. We gloss over these phrases because few of us have ever had to cry out to God from a foxhole with the sound of exploding artillery all around us, or from a sinking ship being inundated with dark water. Our idea of trouble is Him getting us through a rough day at the office, or perhaps help during a financial crisis when we’ve had more month than money. David, Isaiah, and others knew danger when they penned words about Him hiding us in a safe place until calamities be past. I can only imagine the terrifying closeness of death that people feel when a tornado rattles vehemently over the locked doors of the underground shelter, and how glad they must be that they knew in time to run to safety. I feel that in these upcoming days, we will probably get a clearer revelation about what it’s like to be in a protected place while the sounds of disaster shake everything that can be shaken.

We need once in a while to be reawakened, re-sensitized to the fact that we are in the last days. We are about to see hard, sad, terrifying phenomena as the clash between righteousness and unrighteousness creates rumblings in the earth. Whether it would mean literal physical danger from war, or natural disasters, or famine and pestilence, or the intense battle for the souls of humankind, this earth is no longer a neutral ground in good versus evil. We need an established place of refuge in our God–familiar because we have been in His presence already–and know where to run and bring others when the worst day of our lives happens. And we will all have that worst day of our lives. Is He Lord of your life? Are you ready in the event that all hell breaks loose? Is the secret place ready to run to, or have you instead turned it into a junk room where there’s no way you could access it at a moment’s notice?

The interesting thing about museum depictions of the Cold War fallout shelters is that they weren’t just big empty rooms with walls meant to block the direct effects of radiation poisoning. They were ideally equipped with necessities for survival in the event that one might have to remain hidden for a time. Food, water, heat and light sources, etc., were kept stored in these bunkers for use by the hidden ones. I like to think of God’s provision in His Psalm 91 shelter as that way, too: if ever we have to take refuge from terrible life circumstances, He isn’t prepared just to shield us momentarily, but also to sustain us as long as it is necessary. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to think about being in survival mode; I like peace and I like an easy life. I’m glad, however, that my Father sees farther down the road than I do and is leading me to focus on something greater than the lull of my immediate comfort.

We don’t know, as these last days’ cataclysmic events unfold, what our previously free-and-easy lives might encounter. Food and supply shortages, infringements upon our civil liberties and religious freedoms, even invasion of a foreign enemy could change life as we know it. Covid-19 could just be the first of who knows how many more pandemic pestilences that invade the nations. Ungodly cultural shifts etch away at both our children’s and our own sense of right and wrong. We feel the pressure to conform even though we know we must be instead transformed by the renewing of our minds (just so we can continue to discern what’s good and acceptable to God!). If we have been lax in nurturing our relationship with the Father, now it is high time to shake off the complacency and begin familiarizing ourselves with His place of safety. We are going to need it even if we don’t fully comprehend what dangers lie ahead.

The good news is, He’s already got a special fallout shelter ready for those who will make Him Lord of their lives. God’s will is not for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance…which simply means, to do a “180” of heart and mind! When our hearts and minds change, our lives and actions will follow. You don’t have to be left defenseless from the attack of the enemy, because our Lord has already made a way. If the appeal of a cozy secret hideaway where you and God can meet in the cool of the day doesn’t draw you to the place David described in Psalm 91, then consider the non-optional fallout shelter of Psalm 91: for it’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN you’re going to need to be shielded from calamity as sin and iniquity continue to open the floodgates of demonic attack. You’ll not survive the storm about to engulf humanity if you don’t have a relationship with God.

Father, I pray that all of us will discern the times in which we are living, and that none will remain out from under Your protection. Convict hearts, O Holy Spirit, that we who are fickle might run without delay through the door Christ opened for us by His life’s sacrifice. We accept the risen Savior today and we ask You to not only save us, but to keep us, body, soul, and spirit. Teach us to cherish the place You have carved out for our preservation. Teach us to value holy living as well as listening for Your guidance. You will reveal pathways for our good and not for our destruction, through Your Word and through Your messengers. May the lives we live post directions to YOUR fallout shelter so that we might preserve many. In Yeshua’s name we pray, Amen.

The Fine Print

“When someone is tempted, he should not say, “I am being tempted by God,” because God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Instead, each person is tempted by his own desire, being lured and trapped by it. When that desire becomes pregnant, it gives birth to sin; and when that sin grows up, it gives birth to death.” James 1:13-15 ISV

Ever hear the acronym “EULA?” If you’ve ever downloaded a software app or a game, you’ve no doubt met Eula even if you didn’t take time to know her. She’s the lady who makes you so impatient that you check the box without reading it just to get what you wanted. When you actually DO click the link to read the “end user license agreement,” it’s frustratingly long and complicated and full of legal yadayadayada, so you scroll past and select the box to accept the terms of the contract, get your product, and hope like crazy that you didn’t just pledge your firstborn. It doesn’t matter anyway…right?

I’ve done it many times and probably so have you. We have that inherent trust that surely, it’s just a required disclaimer and nothing more—a means to an end. Surely the licensor would not mean the licensee any harm. We just want what we want; then to our surprise, we start getting a mysterious recurring bill for $14.95 on our credit card. When we trace it back, our epiphany moment reveals that yes, it did turn out to cost us more than we bargained for. Oh, most of those checkboxes probably are harmless; but there’s a reason the terms are so long and cumbersome…they’re intended to frustrate you into agreeing without reading the fine print.

The devil is in the details of real life, too, and not just metaphorically. His end goal is to take you farther than you ever intended to go. Eula’s real name is ELLA—the End Loser License Agreement (no offense to ladies whose names happen to be Eula or Ella, btw). Surely the forbidden fruit is good for food; and then your eyes are opened and you find you’re not liking what you see.

Many times we blame God when our life choices go wrong. He allows us to choose for ourselves despite His warnings not to choose a certain way; and then when we override Him and it goes south, we angrily accuse Him of being an unreasonable tyrant. He should’ve made it so that there were no hidden surprises, no consequences, right? Actually, He warns us in clear language not to do certain things. Sometimes He’s been screaming in our conscience so long that we don’t even hear Him anymore. What we view as punishment from God is just the fine print of the devil’s crafty license agreement to do what God tries to warn us not to do.

Lord, You are not a deceiver. Your Word doesn’t trick us into hasty decisions and moral upsets. It’s very much to the point. If something is going to harm us, You say, “Don’t.” If something will bless us, You say, “Do.” You created clear boundaries for our safety, but You gave us free will. You don’t want us to choose what You cannot bless; You want us to choose life.

It’s only within Your boundaries that Your rules are in force. When we override Your written Word and even Your laws written in our hearts—our conscience—we begin to deal with another licensor. His product has no clear guaranteed end result. It can lead us down a thousand “additional in-app purchases available” paths before the end result emerges as death. Oh, it may not be literal death at first, but a thousand tiny cuts. Death of healthy relationships, death of a marriage, death of our health, death of our integrity, death of critical opportunities, death of time.

You came that we might have abundant life and You gave Yourself to give us eternal life. And though our salvation rests in what You did alone, we still must receive Your sacrifice. We still need to operate within Your boundaries in order to ensure an outcome You prescribe.

Thank You for grace and for mercy. You can set us back on the right path if we confess and repent for our sins (our deliberate overriding of what You have warned us and outright commanded us not to do). Sometimes You lessen the severity of the consequences even as You forgive us, but our bad choices will still have altered our lives in ways that won’t change. We may leave here prematurely or damage others’ lives for our hasty rush to accept the terms of the other licensor. Whatever’s in his terms of agreement, the devil cannot fulfill a promise of no consequences for departing from Your will.

Create in us a clean heart, one that responds again to Your guidance and isn’t seared with a hot iron. Give us a hunger for Your presence and a desire to consult You for the choices we make, before we make them. Right choices don’t totally exempt us from opposition or hardship—sometimes we will suffer for doing right—but You will ultimately work all things for our good and will bless us for following Your lead. You can even bring about good things in spite of the consequences of our poor choices and sins.

We love You and we ask You to help us love You more. We will strive to make choices within the framework of Your Word and our conscience today, so that we don’t grieve Your Holy Spirit. Grant us mercy and grace to recover from the outcome of our sins. Teach us to judge ourselves, to pray, to turn from a pattern of repeated wrongs. Help us to do the work of killing the roots of strongholds that promise to keep reproducing cursed results. Forgive us and shape us in ways that please You, for You paid a terrible price to redeem us, we ask in Jesus’ name.

The Art of Becoming

Have you ever watched a movie where someone was cast to portray a famous person, or perhaps watched a comedian who was an impersonator; and although he or she didn’t particularly look like the real character, the actor pulled off such a flawless representation that you temporarily forgot you were watching someone other than the personality being portrayed? The transformation is so believable that you “see” the person being imitated! I’ve read accounts where, in preparation for a role, some actors have gotten so immersed into becoming a character that after the movie was finished, they had a hard time going back to just being themselves! Some have even been somewhat permanently altered for having “put on” a certain role.

Romans 13:14 tells us, “But put on (some translations say to CLOTHE YOURSELVES with) the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Several times throughout the New Testament, we are encouraged by Paul and others to be imitators—to act out what we’ve seen. Imitators of God…of Christ…of the apostles…of certain churches…of the faithful and patient…of good rather than evil. To imitate someone or something, we have to become acquainted with his/her/its nature. We have to rehearse and practice to adopt a certain tone, posture, expression, personality, and presence in order to get into “character.” I’ll admit, I’m not as brave as Paul when he encouraged the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitated Christ. Sometimes, to my shame, I’ve borne very little resemblance to the Lord!

Sometimes in becoming a certain character in a movie, an actor might go through hours of makeup and prosthetics to become transformed into a believable imitator. In a world where we are encouraged to become whatever we believe our true selves to be, I would encourage us to find the best examples of what God would have us identify as…and walk in His divine nature. While there’s something admirable and virtuous about genuineness, we can become a better version of who we are meant to be by adopting qualities already demonstrated for us by Jesus and by godly men and women throughout history. Can we add to who we already are? By all means! Apostle Peter instructed us how to add to ourselves, with faith as a foundation: a layer of virtue, then a layer of knowledge, then temperance (discipline), then patience, then godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity.

Under all those layers, we effectively become another person, all while still being our true selves—who we were born to be! As we take on the nature of Christ, we even begin to discard some undesirable traits; and that, friends, is growth. There’s no hypocrisy in exchanging our former habits and mindsets for something more virtuous! Being a follower of Jesus isn’t pretending to be something we aren’t—it’s a daily dress rehearsal in faith of what we need to become. Gradually we are transformed and have put on—clothed ourselves with, gotten into character, become mirror images of the Master Himself!

The Greek word “mimitace” was sometimes translated as “follower” in the KJV, and it literally means to “mimic” or “imitate.” May I humbly submit that we probably can’t be followers of Christ without actually becoming imitators of Him. It should at least be our priority to be working toward bearing His resemblance even when we don’t always get it “spot on.” It’s a process we should all be undergoing.

I remember Sister Sharon Taylor singing an old song that said, “I want to be so much like Him that the world can’t tell us apart.” Indeed, may we all become just that skilled at adopting His character.

Honoring and Guarding Our Sabbath: A Devotional and Prayer for Ministry Leaders (and Workaholics in General)

“So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath-rest reserved for the [true] people of God; For he who has once entered [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own. Let us therefore be zealous and exert ourselves and strive diligently to enter that rest [of God, to know and experience it for ourselves], that no one may fall or perish by the same kind of unbelief and disobedience [into which those in the wilderness fell].” (Hebrews 4:9-11, Amplified Bible, Classic Edition)

I remember once hearing Joyce Meyer say something to the tune of, “The Lord’s the author and finisher of our faith, but He’s not obligated to finish what He didn’t author.” The following paragraphs are not intended to make you bail on your calling, lie down on the job, or abandon your work ethic or loyalty; but rather, to compel you to work smarter instead of harder, and to actually consult the Holy Spirit before you start filling up your daily planner with what God may not have told you to fill it with! And you guessed it. I’m talking to me here…

Take care, friends, that you begin to respect your bodies and minds and start cutting ties with what God didn’t author, even what appears to be good or productive. Some of us are addicted to busy-ness and we gauge our stock value in the Kingdom (and everywhere else) by how far we can push the envelope abusing our bodies. Sometimes we feel a little more important, pious, “martyr-ish,” and yes, even prideful when people are fawning over our dedication with, “Wow, I don’t know how you do all you do.”

Let me lovingly submit to you that God doesn’t violate His own precepts! If you are not allowing yourself a Sabbath–on whatever day you choose to celebrate it–you are walking contrary to the system He Himself set in place and was the first observer thereof! God doesn’t need downtime…the God who never slumbers or sleeps doesn’t actually need to recharge; but He set the example for us by resting on the seventh day. Now, I realize that a “Sabbath” looks different for everyone–folks have work shifts, assigned workdays, etc., that are set for us without negotiation; but the point is, there must be designated downtime; set-aside blocks of time. For someone whose job mandates unreasonable 7-day schedules, I can’t tell you that you must leave that job, but I will tell you to make yourself a Sabbath block of time. That block may be hours instead of a full day; but I urge you, set aside your block large or small and guard it as sacred! For those of you who have the luxury of a 5 or occasionally 6 day workweek, you don’t get to fudge in this, either. Start establishing a Sabbath in your life instead of treating your quiet time with God like a power nap.

And full-time ministry leaders who aren’t under secular workplace mandates, this applies to you, too–perhaps especially to you. Start setting a better example for those in your circle of influence! Even a 3-shift coal mine sets scheduled downtime for maintenance on its equipment, if it wants to stay in business! Keep running that machine without greasing and regularly changing hoses, etc., and see how costly it gets when things start burning out, locking up, and falling apart… In Exodus, when God established the Sabbath, He did it not just for that head of a household and his family, but also for the sake of the animals and hired servants/slaves…He even designated Sabbath years for the sake of the land, which could be overworked out of zeal, greed, or a variety of motivating factors. Relentless leaders not only abuse their own bodies, they wear out anyone or anything who’s close to them or under their authority!

So why do we people in leadership feel compelled to give the “do as I say, not as I do” excuse for abusing our bodies? We reference Scriptures like “work while it is day because night comes when no man can work” to justify never, ever taking a break? And we tune out the voice of reason who urges letting go of a few things so that the remaining works we do are done more effectively. Are we letting the enemy guilt us into walking in rebellion, deceiving ourselves into thinking that because we are in the last days, we must override common sense (and the Word) to be as busy as we possibly can be? Can we do so and expect to be exempt from the health and emotional consequences of priding ourselves in being workaholics?

I submit to you as well, we as spiritual leaders have a moral obligation to live in balance, for the sake of those who emulate our example. If we don’t respect our own body/soul/spirit, we must, MUST think of our families, our constituents, and a lost world around us–all of whom look to us for at least a reference point of guidance. Hebrews 4 doesn’t beat around the bush here…suggests that we can actually be a spiritual liability to ourselves and others if we disobey God’s directive on right balance. It’s not legalism to suggest that we treat the rest-time He has given us as a holy thing. God engineered all of creation to flow with that same protocol. You aren’t too important to observe some form of a Sabbath, and neither am I! Let’s start re-drawing the boundaries in our lives so that we can be healthy and strong–emotionally, physically, and spiritually–for these last exciting days before our Lord returns!Pray with me…

Lord, I sincerely appeal to You first for mercy, as a person who is guilty of making myself busier than I should be. My spirit man suffers and my words tell on me when I have spent myself beyond reason. While I don’t like the stress and aggravation of no downtime, I confess and repent before You that I’m a recovering addict of work. I drive myself to be busy while making others miserable, because I make sure they’re busy too. I’m working twice as hard for half the impact, because I’m breaking Your rules and expecting You to bless my dismissal of common sense and Your example.

I’m sorry for thinking that You make special exceptions for me because I carry a heavier responsibility. Yes, to whom much is given, much is required–but the “much” is in terms of a closer walk with You and a deeper level of consecration. And even if it were much more required in the physical realm of activity, there are a lot of things on my plate that You didn’t give, Father. Oh, I like to think of all these responsibilities as given by You, but some of them are of my own doing. Some of them are just because I won’t say no to people who can’t wait for me to get even busier doing things THEY want me to be doing! And I say yes and pencil it into my bloated calendar, knowing all the while that I need sleep, I need study time, and just a break from having to think and run so much.

Forgive me, Lord! You gave me a healthy body meant to carry me well-into old age; and I live like I intend to wear it out in half its life expectancy. I pass up sleep and exercise; and I rationalize that if I’m spending that time doing good works, it will never catch up with me.

I repent and I appeal to You for mercy on all others, too, who have become the work adrenaline-and-approval junkie I’ve allowed myself to become. We don’t know how to change except by submitting ourselves to You and listening for Your counsel. We will have to hear from You because we can no longer hear the appeals from our own bodies. We shush our compromised adrenal glands by pumping them full of caffeine. We have a pill for everything. You in turn have a Scripture for everything and a word MODERATION that we ignore because we convince ourselves that we must be always working 24/7 because of who we are.

I will find a way to be less busy, Lord, with Your grace. I will respect this body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and stop giving You an efficiency apartment with worn-out furniture and tired, cloudy windows to look out of. I will make not just room for You, but the best room. I won’t be merely shooting You a copy of my to-do list after I’ve filled it and crammed more into the margins and started on a new sheet. No, I will say, “Here, Father. Take Your eraser and start removing the sacred cows of a busy addict.” In fact, wad up my to-do list and just start me a new one. Put only Your agenda on my list, in Jesus’ name I ask. And I’ll start asking Your permission before I make all those plans that leach the life right out of me and anyone else who has to tag along.

What? You just wrote in a full night’s sleep and a Sabbath! More time with relationships with real people and less time on computers and electronic devices? And even orders to put healthier foods into my body and more time walking and moving! Wow, You are ordering me to get my act together so that You can get maximum return on Your investment in me. I thought maximum return meant how many items were on my list.

You’re after quality. You are after a ten-ring shot and not a broader spray pattern. Most of all, You are after my heart. You want me chasing after You, walking with You in the cool of the day for RELATIONSHIP, not for my sales pitch to You of all the things I did in Your name (or rather, in the name of “ministry”) which You may or may not have instructed me to do! You want me to know You. Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light? Wow. I guess I wasn’t listening to that (even though it was…written in red).

And Your way of governing balance will help me be first a better daughter to You, and then to be a better leader and better family and society member, too?

Yes.

Selah.

(Adapted from a Facebook post I made 03/31/17)

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
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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!

Strengthening Ourselves Against the Spirit of Offense

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Make a commitment to yourself and to God for this upcoming year not to be sidelined by a spirit of #offense. Some of you may get huffy on me even just reading that first sentence…but hold on and let me elaborate a little!

In my prayer time a couple of days ago, the Lord cautioned me that the enemy was going to launch an attack on the body of Christ in the way of offenses; an attempt to erode our unity. Not so much one big collective attack where everyone is hit at the same time by the same event, but many small instances. The old “death by a thousand cuts” strategy.

We live in a perpetually-offended society nowadays, and believe me when I tell you that listening to constant bad news on TV (true or not), listening to negative music, reading negative articles and books day in and day out can wreak havoc on your spirit man! That spirit of offense can get all over you if you don’t guard your heart! We worry more about our outward appearance being impacted by a lost culture, than we do about the inward impact of those feelings of entitlement, pride, arrogance, and yes, the tendency to get angry, hurt, and offended by everything that doesn’t agree with how we want it. People are ready to sue or to break ties or to ruin others’ reputations at the drop of a hat. And sadly, it happens even in church too.

So how do we cope and make it through the obstacle course of offense? By renewing our minds daily in the Word. By being honest with ourselves before God and recognizing what pushes our buttons. By praying protection over ourselves and our loved ones and inviting the Holy Spirit to change the atmosphere wherever we are—home, school, church, the grocery store parking lot, wherever.

Our minds are going be full of SOMETHING. We have to set parameters and say no to what the Holy Spirit cautions us to avoid. And even though we feel we shouldn’t have to be careful around others, yes, as believers we have an obligation to walk blamelessly before the world. We need to think before we act and do. And we need to arrest that spirit of offense when we feel it rising in us.

At some point over the coming weeks and months, you may feel the enemy say something like:

  • “You should just leave/quit/resign/divorce/part ways. You’re not appreciated. Your (spouse, job, family, group, ministry, church, etc.) ought to have to suffer a little bit and then they’d see how much you are worth.”
  • “They did that on purpose! Are you going to just stand there and take it?”
  • “God didn’t answer your prayers. He must not really love you after all.”
  • “So and so just gave you the stink eye. That person doesn’t like you.”
  • “They just did you wrong because you are (too young, too old, not beautiful, they’re jealous of you, not the same color as them; or they think they’re better than you).”
  • “Your church takes too hard a stance on that point of doctrine. They act like a cult. You should find a church that agrees with what you consider truth.”
  • “Who do they think they are to judge you for your choices?”
  • “They’re not the boss of you.”
  • “You should just go ahead and (hurt/kill) yourself and get out of the way.  That’d make them sorry.”
  • “That attitude can go two ways. If they’re asking for trouble, you know you can’t back down now.”
  • “If that person were really a Christian, he/she would (look, act, vote, participate, speak) just like you. Don’t trust him or her!”

Sound familiar?

Well friends, we have a choice. We can do the work in our prayer and study time to toughen up, or we can run around constantly wounded and on the defensive. People hate having to always tiptoe around one certain person in their lives! Don’t let that person be YOU! Remember that much of the time, folks don’t even know that their words were inappropriate or caused you to be hurt. And yeah, some people are not going to be fair with us—now or ever. The Word tells us to pray for, forgive, and love them anyway. Sometimes we have to do it (without gossiping about them behind their backs, by the way) from a distance—but near or far, God’s grace can enable us to shake it off.

Pray with me: “Father, I don’t want to be overly sensitive. I don’t want to stumble on the rock of offense, this year or ever. I don’t want to abort my mission or abandon a divine assignment You’ve given me over becoming hurt, mad, or offended at someone else. Jesus, some of your followers even abandoned You when Your words offended their sensibilities.  Please help me!

There are any number of opportunities in a day for me to have my feelings hurt, if I choose to. Crucify the drama queen nature in me! I reject that tendency to want to dramatize and rehearse and nurse and tell others about how this person or that organization or that race or this group was unfair to me. It’s hard, Lord. Sometimes people’s words and actions are downright intentional! I feel sometimes like people who don’t understand my pain are against me. But by Your grace I am rising above offense, in Jesus’ name.

Today I put on the whole armor of God. I protect my mind with the helmet of salvation, my heart with the breastplate of righteousness, my whole being with the shield of faith, my vital organs and private parts with the loinbelt of truth, and my feet with the gospel of peace. I have the Word and Your Spirit in my hand as a sword of defense from the attack of the enemy. You have equipped me to protect my spirit, soul, mind, will, emotions, and entire body. I will not leave the place of prayer improperly dressed to meet my day!

Lord, Your Word tells me in Matthew 18 exactly what to do when a brother offends me—it’s actually a good template for my other relationships too. It starts with personal communication, not a Facebook rant. I will handle situations the way the Bible tells me to. I will not assume that the other person automatically knows, and I will not read his or her every action or inaction as some kind of negative response! I will be civil but honest when these kinds of communications must happen. The object is restoration and forgiveness. Father, in this moment I release and forgive every person who has knowingly or unknowingly offended me!

Lord, I remind myself today that the enemy’s goal is collateral damage. A hit at me is intended to wound and scatter and render ineffective my whole circle of influence. The offense was a weapon not of flesh and blood, but unseen wicked spiritual forces at work. I can’t afford to see this attack in the natural! I will ask what the devil is trying to accomplish if I accept his bait—for that is exactly the post I can’t afford to abandon! I refuse to leave my family, my church, or my assignment over becoming offended!

Finally, I will exercise more caution in the way my words or decisions affect others. When I know I’ve hurt someone, I will man or woman up and go make it right. I won’t just let that person simmer and stew in offense. I won’t just write it off as the other party needing to grow up. Maybe that’s the case and maybe it isn’t; but God isn’t judging me on someone else’s actions. He judges me by how I handle things from my end! I will take the high road. I will at least initiate the conversation that opens a door to reconciliation.

And finally, Father, I thank You for not leaving me comfortless! In a fallen, unfair world, Your Holy Spirit consoles and gives me peace. In the name of Jesus, I go forth today declaring that I AM NOT A VICTIM! I WILL NOT LET THE DEVIL MOVE ME FROM WHERE GOD HAS ASSIGNED ME! I am a Psalm 1 believer who refuses to be influenced by the negatives of others—a tree thriving in rich soil, which bears fruit and whose leaves aren’t withered. I am not ignorant of the devices (strategies, traps) of the devil. I won’t miscarry my destiny because of a vagabond, offended spirit. I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Amen and amen!” 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼

Blessed Paradox: Hope and Encouragement for the Introvert with Extrovert Gifts

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People who only “sort of” know me are actually quite surprised to find out that I am an introvert. They see me minister weekly on the platform with multiple instruments and singing, or see my blog and the book, or me breezing through the hallway shaking hands and hugging necks.  They think I am bold as a lion and to a certain extent, they are right.  I suppose it does take a lot of courage to grab a mic and play a song in front of a large group of people.  But still, there’s the safe, invisible “space” between me and those who might be sitting there listening. It’s the same with writing…a way to project thoughts and bring inspiration and glory to God from a comfortable distance.  I guess some gifts even develop or evolve from a necessity to make the best of the personalities we’re born with.  At any rate, here I am, a bit of a recluse, with gifts that make me look like the exact opposite.  A true paradox.

The reason I’m sharing this so transparently is that some of you have this same personality quirk; and you feel it renders you useless in the kingdom of God.  I wasn’t always sure myself that I’d be able to work through this nagging need for personal space; and some days I still have to hack through the cloud of self-doubt.  But I know that the Lord was not on autopilot the day He created me to be who I am!  And He wasn’t half-engaged the day He made you, either.

We aren’t social misfits, we introverts.  I heard it described perfectly not long ago:  introverts get energy from time spent alone, and they find being in the presence of others enjoyable but absolutely exhausting—physically and emotionally.

I married a man who understands this part of me, and he loves me anyway.  We have built a life together where we respect one another’s need for quiet and space, and times for social engagement, too.  He’s better with people one-on-one than I am, and that’s the place in ministry where he fits so perfectly; but at the same time, he actually gets me.  And though sometimes even he overrides my need for alone time, he actually works at protecting my boundaries, love his heart.

So where do you fit on the broad spectrum of the body of Christ? Don’t let anyone, especially the devil, convince you that you cannot be a fruitful yet quiet person who craves solitude. There are places where you can serve which require minimal interaction while still meeting vital needs in the church or community.

Volunteer to do the downtime, behind-the-scenes work.  You may not enjoy being the person performing in the Christmas drama on stage, but you can help build the set or run the spotlight. You can come in and tidy up the nursery after church if you want to help the kids’ ministry but aren’t great with kids. Bake the cookies for the funeral reception. Stock the food pantry shelf after hours.  Fold the bulletins or manage the website.   Agree to lead the devotions for the small group held in someone else’s house, if having people in your own home is too disconcerting. Send the care cards to shut-ins and write them personal notes of encouragement.  Be a youth leader’s assistant who handles the side stuff…it may give you just enough people time to feel bonded without getting pulled into relationships you’re not feeling comfortable enough to sustain.  Interestingly, introverts often become powerful intercessors because of their ease with praying for extended periods in solitude.

And yes, you can absolutely teach and preach with an introverted personality.  I’m constantly surprised to find that some of the best pastors and ministry leaders are a lot like me–hidden away enjoying time away from the crowd–when they’re not doing ministry!

I won’t tell you that as an introvert in ministry, you’ll never be misunderstood.  This is that “suck it up, Buttercup” moment.  Yeah, by people who don’t know how your unique personality nuances affect your responses to being thrust into scenarios that are awkward or downright terrifying, you may get judged unfairly.  You may be perceived to be stuck-up, snobbish, strange, stand-offish, eccentric, too private, too serious, or just…an odd fit.  You may, as I have multiple times, hear people say that if you don’t love being around people, you’re probably not really called into ministry; or that your love walk is jacked up on cinder blocks. That’s not quite true. There’s a huge difference between loving people and actually wanting them in your personal space! Wink!

But newsflash… Jesus got misunderstood and He ministered anyway.  He migrated toward the fringe people and in so doing, was called a drunkard, winebibber, and friend of sinners.  While being judged inaccurately or unfairly isn’t utterly avoidable, remember the law of sowing and reaping.  Be careful of how you judge other people. There are a lot of odd sorts in the body of Christ and elsewhere who merely have personalities different from yours.   Before you write others off, consider how you yourself struggle with where you fit. Sometimes someone who’s the exact opposite of you has the same difficulty finding his or her place in the kingdom, too.  Judge not; it may help you to be less-often on the hot seat of judgment yourself.  Moreover, it’ll make you less likely to try to pressure someone else into serving where and how you serve.

It’s ok to be an introvert…but the spiritual issues that you allow God to prune off you in prayer and the Word (like insecurity, fear, judgmental nature, selfishness, unbelief, lack of love, and suspicion) will be what make you an introvert who is fruitful.  Learn what spiritual traps are more common for those who have that tendency to be loners…and do the work to strengthen yourself from what could destroy the unique and beautiful you whom God created!

A plus to being an introvert in ministry is the comfort level of the briar patch of aloneness. Ministry and leadership can be lonely to someone who’s always got to have a cheering section, always needing a Facebook “like.”  So the place which is difficult for the extrovert is actually where you thrive. There’s a need for all kinds of personality types!

To share with you my strengths and weaknesses as an introvert is a little awkward; but I think it’s necessary because people like me (maybe you’re one of them) feel the need to be understood. For me, I can only handle being around people for a limited amount of time before I retreat to my home.   It’s fun to fellowship, and I love people. I love to laugh and make others laugh with my quick wit and silliness, and I like to engage in deep conversation and to listen genuinely when others are talking. I especially love to be an encourager who speaks positive things into someone’s life.

But all of this interaction, even the fun kind, can exhaust me quickly.  People I would expect to bond with, I don’t always…and I haven’t learned how to make myself enjoy those connections; and yet I’m sometimes surprised at who turns out to be an easy fit. So knowing how I am, I tend to try to compartmentalize my social time and my alone time; and I keep as much as is practical of that time to myself.

I am also not a person well-suited to be the “face” of the ministry—haha!  Working as a church administrative staff person, I learned quickly that I’m terrible at being the receptionist. I don’t have the sparkle, the gregariousness, the gift of gab, the sheer patience; and people who talk a lot, are negative, manipulative, or overbearing make me very nervous.  I try to hide that, but unfortunately, don’t pull it off very well.  I can be social or I can be productive, but I’m a train wreck if I have to combine the two.  Nope, put me in a room off to myself with a stack of work, and I’ll work till the crickets stop chirping.  Yet I’m effective in my element.

At home, I’m pretty low-key.  I generally don’t host overnight houseguests; and I prefer a little notice when someone decides to drop by, just because I don’t fancy myself a great housekeeper.  I’m not so great with kids and babies because I never had any, even though I love them.  I also find myself backing away when someone tries to bring unwanted drama into my sphere, or who “hems me up” in a corner.

I have a gift of hospitality that clashes with the introvert in me. For that reason, I usually prefer to be a contributor to someone else’s get-together, where I cook and send/bring the food (Dana and I share a love of cooking for other people, so this way I can do it without feeling the pressure of being the hostess).  We love to make food sometimes and just drop it off to people.  That blesses them, and it blesses us without stressing me out over the pressure to entertain!

The biggest shock of all to me was when the Lord spoke to me three years ago and impressed upon me to get credentialed in ministry.  As you know, I’m a writer, and I’m very content to make books and the internet my pulpit.  I don’t relish the thought of standing behind a podium and doing public speaking. Nevertheless, I said yes to God and completed a two-year process that earned me an Exhorter’s and then an Ordained Minister’s license in the Church of God denomination.  All the while, as I went though the process, I wondered why the Lord would pick a virtual hermit to be one of His messengers.  I had to arrive at peace with the fact that, while He will stretch this wineskin a little out of her comfort zone, He won’t rupture me and waste His investment!  I did a lot of soul searching, and it was healing to discover that I’m not less holy than an extrovert who by nature loves being in the company of others constantly.

Introvertedness is not a measure of one’s heart or holiness.  I like to think of us as the edge pieces of the puzzle.  We are connected to the body, too, but we have a specific place to fit in the overall synergy of the picture that perhaps makes us connected on fewer sides.  But, even corner pieces are necessary!

I’ve seen so many bold preachers and teachers and lay people who are incredible with people; and thought that there must be something wrong with me for not handling the close proximity thing with their kind of ease. At times I have felt as if perhaps I weren’t as good a person as those who are comfortable with people in their face constantly. I know people who make great foster parents, or who host a lot of company and love having people in their houses—even strangers.  Their driveways are always abuzz with cars coming and going.  Some of them even raise their grandkids and love it.

They’re also the sort who love to take a dozen people with them on vacation and always have a posse running around with them, hanging on their every word. Conversely, people who are extroverts don’t do alone very well; and they thrive on that constant interaction.  They have a wonderful work to do, God bless them every one.  I admire them, I cheer them on, but I am not them.  Other people’s drama can quickly spiral me into exhaustion and then depression.  But there is still a place for me in the body of Christ, and there’s a place for you if these scenarios aren’t your cup of tea, either.

Yes, it took a while for me to realize that not everyone in ministry is or has to be an extrovert!  Some of the people I thought were the most grand social butterflies are in fact, very much like me–the square peg introvert. They have just learned the fine art of emotional management, time management, and adhering to a schedule where there’s promised alone time.  I’m better than I used to be, but I’m still after all these years trying to find that happy medium.

I remind myself often that Jesus craved alone time and that He would routinely spend time away from His disciples to pray and recharge.  Sometimes His compassion would override His need for separation (as in the time He pitied the multitude following Him and ministered to them even while tired…seeing them as sheep with no shepherd).  But the Word does not tell us that He did that every single time.  No doubt He was always in demand; but He still got alone with the Father; and the Word even tells us His custom was to do it early in the mornings.  Perhaps that was the only time He could guarantee that other people weren’t stirring around looking for Him.

I do know that the more time I’m in the company of others, the less time I have for collecting my thoughts and pouring them onto paper.  I need that aloneness in order to release the essence of my gift. So the introvert nature is a bit of a blessing for the writer/artist part of me.

I just don’t get lonely very often. I was never the girl who couldn’t go to the restroom without asking one of the other girls to come along.   I love to go on long drives by myself, and some of my happiest prayer times have been on long, lone commutes. Much as I love my husband and other members of my family, I still need that space.  It energizes me.  It heals me.  It’s the “beside still waters” place where my Shepherd restores my soul and my sanity.

I’ve rambled a bit, so thanks for your patience.  I guess this is all gushing out because I need to say it as much as someone possibly needs to hear it.  Maybe I just need to get it off my chest. If you’re a friend or family member who wishes I would give more of myself, thank you for enduring the fact that I’m only good for a short stint before I retreat back into my cave.  I’m just like a cordless phone that can’t be off the charging cradle too long!

But seriously, back to the subject of ministry and the introvert, I encourage you not to perceive yourself as unfit!  Find a place where you can serve, that stretches you just enough to keep you growing, but that doesn’t let you make life all about you, either. There is a way to connect with other people even if you don’t want to have an entourage following you and calling you constantly! I think Jesus may have deliberately chosen 12 disciples with enormous differences in personalities and gift mixes.  It teaches us that it takes all kinds to make up His church.  Some of His disciples we know about practically in name-only.  They didn’t write canonized epistles or have particularly daring historical accounts, but their presence was significant just the same.  Jesus even chose the one who would ultimately choose whether or not to betray Him…and did. Interesting, isn’t it?

Hey, I’m in my 50’s and I’m still trying to overcome the desire to pull the covers back over my head a lot of mornings.  I could choose to let this introverted nature completely rule me.  At times, perhaps I have.  Becoming bold to be a writer and musician and to wear other hats has surely been a long process.  But I do want to be fruitful and to let Jesus conform me to His nature; so I keep trying, and I keep putting myself back up on the Potter’s wheel to work out the marred parts of my clay jar.

If you’re wrestling with your place in the kingdom and in ministry, pray with me:

Father, I identify with Paul when he wrote about wanting to be one way but found himself being another way.  He was referring to his sin nature which constantly needed put in check; but sometimes I find my personality just as frustrating as a sin nature. I need your help.  I present my body to You as a living sacrifice. Make it holy and acceptable. Take the parts of me that need perfecting, and work them over (and over again if necessary).

Paul said that he became all things to all men so that he might win some to You.  Help me to identify with others on a more Christlike level.  Help me to have the wisdom to make room for sharing Your Good News while navigating this life as someone whose personality prefers aloneness.  Show me ways to make a difference in the world in spite of my need for an arms-length relationship with most people.  Help me not to be blind to elements of my nature that warrant change; but also help me not to judge myself unfairly based on the accuser of the brethren’s voice, who tells me that I’m unworthy, not holy enough, or not fit to serve in the role of ministering to others.  

I want to be involved, truly—but I want to be involved in a way that is energizing to me and not just draining.  I need Your wisdom to pair me with what fits the person You created me to be. Give me opportunities to sow into the ministries of those who can handle the more dramatic one-on-one encounters!  There are people who are perfectly crafted to minister in some very difficult social settings which I cannot deal with effectively.  If You lead me to support those ministries, I will back them however You tell me—financially, behind-the-scenes, or just merely in prayer. Give me a servant’s heart that overrides my will, when my need for aloneness crosses the threshold from healthy to just plain selfish.  Even though I need down-time, help me to always be generous and compassionate. Give me balance.

And Lord, help me to be less judgmental of others.  I’ve often mistaken other people’s personalities for being something they weren’t.  Just as I don’t want to be misunderstood, help me not to misunderstand.  Help me to be more tolerant of those I perceive to be overbearing people, because in some cases, it’s just their extroverted personality showing through.  Help me work through my desire to retreat from and avoid the hard, necessary business of loving and tolerating people who aren’t just like me. Some of their strengths can compensate for my weaknesses, and vice versa.  We need one another.  

In whatever areas You have gifted me, I’ll serve to the best of my ability.  Yes, I can have a bold message of faith to share and still be someone who has a quiet nature.  I’ll draw strength from my time alone with You and will carry it out to a lost, hurting world who needs to know that You love them.  I’ll fight the doubt that tries to make me feel disqualified from ministry.  You made me; You can use me in any way that You choose…and not even my weaknesses can change that.  They are only crippling weaknesses if I were to refuse to let You work on me.  I surrender to You what I have.  I am the loaves and the fishes.  Bless me, break me, and feed the hungry.  

In Jesus’ name…

Speak to the Mountain! An Exercise in Radical Faith

sunlight beaming through clouds
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Jesus said to them, “Have faith in God!  I can guarantee this truth: This is what will be done for someone who doesn’t doubt but believes what he says will happen: He can say to this mountain, ‘Be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it will be done for him. That’s why I tell you to have faith that you have already received whatever you pray for, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24, God’s Word Translation.  Copyright © 1995 by God’s Word to the Nations, Baker Publishing Group)

Need a little help speaking to your #mountain?

Let’s start with ground zero and we can work our way out all in good time. I know there are other issues that involve households, communities, finances, etc., but here’s what I feel impressed to share for now. I tried to hit it broadside, but you can of course be more specific in narrowing down the problem. It’s just an example. We’re to pray all kinds of prayer; but in addition, if you’ve never actually spoken to the problem directly, here’s how you might do it. 🙂

~Sickness, disease, and infirmity, you be rooted out of my body in Jesus’ name! Be gone–now! Be dissolved and cast into the sea. You must leave and never come back. I refuse to let my body and mind be a gracious host to you any longer! I command you to GO! I am alive with the life of Christ and I am healed from head to toe. I claim Mark 11:23 as the excavator that digs you out, lays its blade to the roots, along with every spirit that’s associated with you…and then disposes of you. I release grace, mercy, and goodness, righteousness, peace, health and joy back into every corner, nook, and cranny you occupied. You are evicted!

~Grace, mercy, goodness, righteousness, peace, health and joy: flood my body, soul and spirit now! I give no place to the enemy! I receive the forgiveness and healing of Christ and therefore, I invite the graces and blessings of God to inhabit this temple of the Holy Spirit! Together we don’t give up one inch of ground! We crowd out the enemy and we make me a warm, holy, and welcoming place for God to dwell! He has good things for me to accomplish while I am here, so for His glory I am brought out of the ditch of miry clay. My feet are on a solid rock and while I have breath, I will serve Him and I will bear fruit!

~Body, you start kicking into gear and rejecting these enemies of your health. Jesus already bore these sicknesses in His body on the tree so that you don’t have to. You fight for your wellness, body! By His stripes you ARE healed and made whole. All of you–organs, body parts, even down to my mitochondria and DNA and smallest parts–be healed and behave like you are healed! Body, I no longer look at you in the mirror and complain about how sick you appear. I call you whole and I praise God that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made! I glow with the countenance of someone who has been in His presence! My laughter and my positive outlook are contagious!

~Depression, anxiety, worry, anger, indecision, confusion, despair, jealousy, self-pity, unforgiveness…I speak to you and renounce you and command you to leave my soul…right now. The Son has set me free and therefore I am free indeed. There’s no place for you to reign in my life. You are a curse and offense to me, and Galatians 3:13 says that I’m redeemed from the curse. I choose to take God at His Word and not listen to your lies any longer. The Lord rebuke you, and I resist you, dark emotions that try to cause me to doubt the goodness of God! I call forth thanksgiving and praise into my life. I forgive others even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven me. I will say, “I forgive and release” every time the offense comes back to my remembrance. I give Satan no legal ground in my life. I put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, and I will praise even before I feel like it. I surround myself with praisers and encouragers, not naysayers. God is my source. I am single-minded and I will not sway back and forth between two opinions. My mind and soul are healed from damaging emotions and wrong mindsets. Go away, now, you toxic intruders! I resist you steadfast in the #faith!

~Mind, will, and emotions, I plead the blood of Jesus over you now, …I give the enemy no ground to operate in you! Mind, you line up with God’s Word! Just as I’m instructed in Philippians 4, I choose to think on righteous, uplifting things. I’m going to listen to the kind of music, teaching, and Scriptures that makes evil spirits very uncomfortable in my personal space. The devil will find it very difficult to hang in the same room with me because I will be speaking the name of Jesus, the name above all names, whose power no evil can withstand! Mouth, I forbid you to speak words of doubt and unbelief! Ears, you know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and you are not confused and deceived by any other voices! Eyes, you quit setting yourself on things you should not see! Fix your gaze on what’s righteous and holy! And hey, if you slip up and revert back to your old way of doing things, I WILL REMIND YOU OVER AND OVER TILL YOU GET IT RIGHT! I will, starting now, renew you daily in the Word!
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Thank You, Heavenly Father, that You have instructed me to be strong in You and the power of Your might! I’m no victim! I’m no slave! I’m no loser! I am an overcomer by the blood of the Lamb and the word of my testimony.
#callthosethings #prayer #declare #healing #freedom #wholeness #shalom