What in the World is God Doing? Getting To The Other Side-Sunday Takeaway 5-17-20
If two weeks ago was a home run, then last Sunday's sermon was a grandslam! If you are asking the Lord Why me?, Why this? Why now?; if you are in the midst of a storm, then you need to listen to this sermon. This sermon, Getting To The Other Side, couldn’t have been more timely for me. What a confirmation and an encouragement for me.
Before I go any further, I want to reiterate that these ditties I write are not a synopsis of the sermon, they are not an outline of the sermon, nor are a critique of the sermon. They are simply what stuck out to me, rather what I took away from the sermon to ponder and pray about. To be honest, if my Pastor reads these, I’m sure there have been days that he just cringes at what I write because I so missed the main point, so please know that he neither requests or endorses that I write these. But at least I do think about what he says and I normally listen to his sermon more than once. I was in a church once where someone stood and said “Let’s face it, most of us won’t remember a thing that was said this morning by the time we sit down to eat lunch.” I wanted to stand up and say, then why are you here? I felt extremely sorry for that person and the Pastor. What a thing to hear right before you stand up and deliver a message that you worked on for hours through the week. So Pastor Dan, if you read this, please know that your sermons challenge me, they encourage me and they cause me to draw closer to Jesus EVERY WEEK! And I’m sorry that I sometimes miss the point. That’s a me thing, not a you thing.
Why do you get into a plane? I get in to go visit someone or to attend something. I used to fly with my brother, but that was just for fun. Ultimately, we get into planes, cars, buses, golf carts, whatever, because we have a destination in sight. So, we start out to get to the other side of the journey. It’s why the chicken crossed the road right? Unless it wasn’t! (I love how my Pastor gets you riding the wave and then boom!, the wave crashes and you’re ready to sit up and pay attention!) Maybe life is more about the journey than we realize.
Matthew 14: 22-25
We’ve heard this story preached so many times. Reinhard Bonnke used it to illustrate how faith is stepping out of the boat of normalcy and onto the foundation of the Word of God to do what you never did before. Others have used it to show us what happens if we get our eyes off God. Still others use it to remind us that Jeus will always be there to fish us out of our troubles. These are all good. However, I’ve never heard it used the way my Pastor did and it was both refreshing and so, so timely for me. The disciples are stuck in the storm. Not just any storm. The wording suggests that it was a demonic storm. One sent to assure that they did not reach their destination, that they never reached the other side. They were STUCK in the storm!
I hate being stuck in any sense. I hate when I eat right and exercise and the scales never move.
I hate it when I’m in a confined location with no visible way out-I am a bit claustrophobic. It probably comes from my many experiences of being dragged through a small crack between an open elevator door and the next floor of a 16 story dorm building whose elevators were broken more often than they were working. (I wish I had those 16 floors of steps I walked. Believe me, “freshman 15” was nowhere in my vocabulary. I lost weight in college!) Being packed like a sardine in an elevator with other nervous, sweaty people while waiting on the repairman who usually took his good ole time was traumatizing at best!
Perhaps the storm is more internal because of external circumstances or internal turmoil and there’s nothing you can do to change it. It’s completely out of your control and it affects you everyday. You didn’t sign up for it, you didn’t want it, you didn’t do anything to cause it, and you can’t get out of it without extreme consequences,and you are just stuck going through it. It’s like walking over a long chasm that is so deep that you can’t see the bottom and the only wy across is a path the size of a balance beam.
Are you currently stuck in a storm? Have you asked God the why me-why this-why now questions? Do you feel alone, vulnerable, forgotten? Are you fearing for your very life emotionally, physically, spiritually? Have you asked God where He is in the midst of it? I’m sure that the disciples could relate! I know I can.
And do you know where Jesus was in the midst of all of this? He was outside the storm watching from the hillside of prayer. Few things were more important to Jesus than being in the presence of his Father. And that should be the way we are too. He was in His #bestill spot and there’s nowhere more important than there. That’s the thing about Jesus. He never seemed to be in a hurry. He didn’t hurry to the bedside of Lazarus. He let him die. He didn’t rush to the house of Jairus, whose daughter lay dying. In fact on the way, He stopped to heal the woman with the issue of blood. I can imagine that if I was Jairus, I would have been saying, come on Jesus, she could die at any minute. That woman has been sick for years. She can make an appointment to see you later today. Please hurry or it might be too late! And Jesus didn’t hurry to the storm that was buffeting the disciples. Why? Perhaps he was getting instruction from His Father. Perhaps He was waiting for them to get desperate. What I do know is that Jesus is never late but I’ve found that He sometimes has that irritating habit of waiting until the last minute. Dare I call Him a procrastinator? Of course, for someone who sees a day as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day, I guess there is no such thing as the last minute, there’s only such a thing as the right minute.
Pastor brought out that when we are breezing along in the Lord, it is easy to sing and worship and praise, but in a storm, our view of the Lord can get distorted. That’s when the Why? questions begin to surface. Max Lucado describes it as looking through a glass window pain. We see things plainly but when the window gets cracked, it distorts our view. When storms come and we don’t understand why God is seemingly MIA, we can become hurt or angry or suspicious of God and His methods. Our once solid perspective of God begins to change.
Here are some important things to remember:
1. In the loving plan of God, sometimes being stuck in a storm is more important than getting to the other side. We want out of the storm. Jesus wants to get into our storm. At the right moment, Jesus entered into the disciple’s storm and showed his disciples that He was greater than the storm. He taught them that they could walk on water amidst the wind and waves if they would just keep their eyes on Him and hold tightly to His hand.
2. Christ is pursuing us in the storm Mt (14:24-28). It doesn’t say the disciples were praying, but you can bet they were. They were terrified. Jesus showed up right about the time they knew that without divine intervention, they were going to sink. Proverbs 17:3 reminds us that the Lord refines our hearts in the trials of life. He prepares us for what lies ahead, for what is on the other side. It is in the storm and over the chasms that He develops our character by getting our attention fully on Him! That is the only way true communication can take place.
3. It is in the storms where we learn to hear and know the Lord’s voice. The disciples thought He was a ghost. Peter, however, figured out that it was Jesus and he got to walk on water! I can testify that this is true. Several months in a hospital taught me this. My current storm is teaching me this as well. There’s no storms at the creek but there’s one in my heart and when I’m at the creek oh, how God speaks to me! And even though there are days when I long for the storm to cease, I can always look out and see that Jesus is beckoning me to come walk on the water with Him because He is the peace in the midst of every storm.
4. Our storms are not all caused by God. He gets a bad rap sometimes. However, He will always be with us in every storm and if we will learn to recognize His voice in the midst of them, He will teach and show us glorious things. When this happens we become one of those who say that although the storm was awful, if we had to trade what we learned of God, what He did for us, in us and through us, we would not go back and change a single thing about it, and we certainly would not have avoided it.
5. I used to be more of a rainy day Christian. I could go along pretty well with just minimal interaction with God until a storm hit. Then I would seek shelter under His wing but as soon as the storm subsided, I would ease out from under His wing to venture back out into the world on my own-until the next storm. I have had several major storms in my life and they have taught me to be an everyday Christian. I have learned that in sunshine or rain, I desperately need God. In times of confidence or terror, I desperately need God. In minor and major decisions, I desperately need God. I hold tight to His hand in every situation because I love Him and always want Him with me, in joy and in sorrow, in plenty or lack, in easy times and hard times.
Question: What is Jesus saying in your storm? Will you pursue Him or blame Him? If you want to walk on water, you have to give up your boat of safety, security and control. You have to step into the storm instead of running from it. Mt 14: 28-31
Pastor shared that the reward of surrender is Revelation. The reward of revelation is worship Mt 14: 32-33 And might I add that the reward of worshipping the Lord in spirit and truth, is peace? Get quiet before Him. Listen and surrender to all that He is doing in the storm. Remember that He loves you with PERFECT love. “When God wins, you can’t lose! Let your hands fall down, surrender, be still.” Let God get you to the other side in His time and in His way! He will always deliver you, in the right moment.
As part of a pilot program at my work, a group of co-workers and I were treated to dinner at the company's expense. The CEO and a member of the leadership team were also present.
I think I've mentioned before on this blog about how my fellow employees are obsessed with alcohol. There has not been one day since I started working there over 4 years ago that there have not been numerous references and discussions about drinking, in fact, I would think it odd if I didn't hear about alcohol at least once during the day. Well, this time was no different. The first discussion that went on after everyone sat down at the table was about the beer and wine list. Every person, except me, had alcohol to drink. I tried to not draw any attention to myself because it's just awkward. I'm not ashamed that when Jesus washed me of my sins, He also took all desire to drink alcohol with it. On the other hand, I don't want to make others intentionally feel awkward about their desire to have it, especially if they aren't saved.
Everything was moving along fine until someone noticed that I had ice tea. "Cyndi, don't you want some wine or beer?" I just smiled and said "I don't drink alcohol." Then someone else spoke up and said, "tell the group what your husband does for a living." I couldn't believe my ears! I thought to myself, i don't remember going around the table and asking everyone else what their spouses do for a living. At that point, the waitress came and talked with us and I thought I had dodged the bullet and I breathed a small sigh of relief. Once the waitress left, that same person said again, but louder, "Cyndi, tell everyone what your husband does for a living." Well, then I had no choice so I had to share with the group, most of whom I had just met that day, that my husband was a Pastor, which makes me "the Pastor's wife." As soon as it was out of my mouth, I felt it--the label. I wasn't sure if the label was a crown or a scarlet letter but i'm leaning towards the scarlet letter.
This may sound crazy, but sometimes I just want to go somewhere and be myself, me, Cyndi, not someone's wife, not some perceived position. I don't define myself by what my husband does for a living and I don't want people defining me by it either. I don't enjoy the extra scrutiny of every word I say and every action I take because some people think that I should act a certain way because I am the Pastor's wife. I don't think it's fair that I am liked or accepted based on the perception that people have about Pastors and their wives because everyone's perception is different depending on what they've heard, see on TV, been taught or experienced-good or bad. In a lot of ways, I don't feel like I have a chance. I know this to be true because I had worked there for nearly 7 months before anyone found out that I was a Pastor's wife. After that, some people treated me differently.
Being the Pastor's wife, in my experience is cause for stricter judgement. It does not allow for my individuality. It hinders me from truly getting to know a person if they are ones who have been taught that Pastor's wives are not to be trusted. The label doesn't let me be me. I'm not saying that I'm not me regardless. I'm just saying that it can put you at a serious disadvantage. In some ways it feels like being a can of green beans, but someone who didn't take the time to find out what was truly in there thought you looked like a can corn and applied a corn label instead. I'm not ashamed of the ministry, but in today's world, it can seriously limit your chances of getting to know people to the point where they will be totally honest and open with you. And above all things, I hate fakery.
How many people get introduced according to what their husband's do for a living? Have you ever met your doctor's wife? How about the garbage man's wife? You may have but they weren't introduced that way. I know sometimes people do it out of respect. I think my church ladies do and I love them for it. Others do it as a clue to others that they need to mind their p's and q's because "the Pastor's wife" is here. I've even had people rebuke others and say "not in front of the Pastor's wife." Why not!!?? I hate feeling that I'm spoiling someone's fun or making them self conscious or hindering them from being who they are. I love people. I love sinners. I recognize that they're sinners. It's okay. Really! I used to be one myself. I just want to get to know people. Actions or language are not going to melt my ears or traumatize me in any way.
I just want to be me. I want people to know who I am. I want to be accepted or rejected based on who I am, not what my husband, who many have never met, does for a living. I'm not a Pastor. Don't label me as one and expect that I will be a certain way because of it.
Now I know that some Pastor's wives think I'm looking at this too negatively.Other's see themselves with some kind of calling and think they deserve the same respect. That's fine for them. I'm in no way ashamed of Christ, ashamed of my husband, or ashamed of the ministry. There are many blessings that come with being in the ministry and I enjoy them all. If I suffer for the name of Christ, that's okay too but seriously, Jesus didn't go around announcing to all that He was the Son of God. In fact, he intentionally kept that a secret for a large portion of His ministry. Why? I believe for some of the same reasons I just mentioned. People knew Jesus for what He was to them, not because of His label. When he was labeled- "Isn't that the son of Joseph?"-it hindered Him from ministering to them the way He wanted to. Of all the people that Jesus would want to bless, it would be the hometown crowd but because they labeled Him, He could not.
Is there more I'd like to say? Oh, you bet! Maybe God made me a PW so that I would have to learn to use discretion and not just say everything I think. If you think that being married to a Pastor is easy, you're wrong. The demands on his time and attention are endless. The influences that come from people to try to color his opinions are many. This, plus the things the enemy will throw at your ministry and your marriage are sometimes just too much to handle and I return to telling the Lord that I don't want to do it anymore.
Initially I didn't want to be a Pastor's wife because I didn't think I could do it. You see, when my husband made the big announcement that he felt called to ministry, I thought of all the Pastor's wives I had seen and known and thought to myself, I'm nothing like any of them so it took me a long time to find my way. What I learned is this. Allow God to develop in you a soft heart and tough skin and don't get lost in the label. More importantly, don't allow the label to form who you are. That's God's job.
On a particularly stressful day, while my husband was in seminary, I was praying in the living room telling God that I just couldn't do it, I couldn't be a Pastor's wife. The Lord spoke something so loudly to me that I've never forgotten it. It has helped me all these years. He said "Cyndi, I made you the way you are because that's the way I'm going to use you."
I believe that's what He would like every human being to know whether you're in the ministry or not. God has designed you by His own special design. He knows what He had in mind for you when He strung your DNA together. So go with it because to do anything less is to deny your Creator the opportunity to shine through your life into a dark and needy world.
The idea and definition of womanhood has changed exponentially in my lifetime. Having grown up in the 60's, I saw the "Women's Movement" protests with bras and other feminine items being tossed into the "freedom can" and the crowning of a sheep as Miss America. I lived in a neighborhood filled with traditional women with the exception of one woman who was a bank president and considered an outcast in the neighborhood by the other mothers. Truly in that day and time, she was an anomaly.
After my siblings got on the school bus, all the mothers would gather in someone's kitchen for coffee and spend a few minutes "catching up" with one another. There was no set schedule that determined whose house it was. It was usually whichever house happened to have coffee cake or donuts on the counter on that particular day. If there had been a death in a family in the neighborhood, or someone had just had a baby, or someone was in the hospital or going through a hard time, they would line up a few meals or go door to door collecting money to buy flowers and a card.
There was never any need to put a GPS tracker on your kid if we had known about GPS back then. After school, as the kids came home and scattered throughout the neighborhood to play, all the mothers kept an eye on whoever happened to be in their yard and phone calls were made to let other mothers know where their children were. It was a happy, safe place as I remember. Often, at the last minute, a friend would stay for dinner. It was no inconvenience. We just ate a little less.
In my case, I would call home after a sports practice and ask my Mom if I could bring the whole basketball team or several members of the track team home for dinner. My Mom always said yes. These people were usually people my Mom did not know but they were destined to become her friends. Mom was an average cook. Our home was not fancy but she was never daunted by the extra, hungry mouths. She offered what she had and did the best she could to make it edible. I don't remember what she fed us, but what I do remember is her sitting around the table with my friends, chatting and laughing and singing silly songs. She had a song for literally EVERY situation and she brought many smiles with her animated renditions.
This brings me to the subject of hospitality. I've heard the word thrown around the Christian world for many years and heard the discussion of what it is and what it isn't and quite frankly it seems a little skewed to me. I've seen many attempts to show hospitality. Some were successful, others were not. Some events were pleasing to the eye, but I felt uncomfortable there. Others were held in messy kitchens with dirty dishes in the sink but I felt completely welcome. Many think that hospitality is everything from the decorations to the table setting to the menu to the appearance of the house, to the guests. Some events take months and a lot of money to plan. Others are elaborate but done on a shoestring budget. But what is hospitality, really? Is it a production of some sort, a planned event, or is it more just a way of living? More importantly, if we're going to drag it into the definition of Christian womanhood, what does scripture say hospitality really is?
Biblical hospitality is not the Pinterest perfect setting, quaint dishes, and a perfectly planned menu. It is not teacups and finger foods on a balmy afternoon. It isn't themed parties or oysters on the half shell. It is not putting on the dog. That is called entertaining. There is a huge difference between the two. Biblical hospitality is sharing your food with the hungry and providing shelter for the wanderer or traveler in Isaiah, opening your arms to the poor and extending your hands to the needy in Proverbs, it is a simple offering without any fuss or frills in 1 Peter, feeding the poor, crippled, lame, and blind in Luke, it's feeding, clothing and housing the poor in Matthew, and blessing your enemy in Romans.
According to what I'm seeing in scripture, hospitality is not a pretty little gathering on a Saturday afternoon. Hospitality, in its truest definition, is messy. It involves people in need, oftentimes people you are not familiar with. It's probably not something you would share on Pinterest. In Bible times, it was taking travelers, who were passing through, into your home for the night, seeing that they were fed and comfortable. Hospitality is based on need, not preference. The Bible does not condemn entertaining. There was the wedding banquet that Jesus attended in John. The guests were carefully chosen for an expected outcome. There was the parable of the great feast in Matthew. Again, the guests were carefully chosen according to the preference of the sponsor. That is entertaining. When the guests could not come, unclean strangers were invited. That's hospitality. Of course, the parable was not written about hospitality but is more about the heart of God wanting all to come and feast from His table. Yet, we see that God's heart is hospitable in that He invites ALL, regardless of state or stature into His home to receive a blessing without pre-thought or personal preference but as the need arises.
In her article, What's the Difference, Jen Wilkins gets to the heart of this issue when she says:
"Entertaining involves setting the perfect tablescape after an exhaustive search on Pinterest. It chooses a menu that will impress and then frets its way through each stage of preparation. It requires every throw pillow to be in place, every cobweb to be eradicated, every child to be neat and orderly. It plans extra time to don the perfect outfit before the first guest touches the doorbell on the seasonally decorated doorstep. And should any element of the plan fall short, entertaining perceives the entire evening to have been tainted. Entertaining focuses attention on self.
Hospitality involves setting a table that makes everyone feel comfortable. It chooses a menu that allows face time with guests instead of being chained to the stovetop. It picks up the house to make things pleasant but doesn't feel the need to conceal evidences of everyday life. It sometimes sits down to dinner with the flour in its hair. It allows the gathering to be shaped by the quality of the conversation rather than the cuisine. Hospitality shows interest in the thoughts, feelings, pursuits, and preferences of its guests. It is good at asking questions and listening intently to answers. Hospitality focuses attention on others.
Entertaining is always thinking about the next course. Hospitality burns the rolls because is was listening to a story.
Entertaining obsesses over what went wrong. Hospitality savors what was shared.
Entertaining exhausted, says 'It was nothing, really!' Hospitality thinks it was nothing. Really.
Entertaining seeks to impress. Hospitality seeks to bless.
But the two practices can look so similar. Two people can set the same beautiful tablescape and serve the same gourmet meal, one with a motive to impress, the other with a motive to bless. How can we know the difference? Only the second would invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to pull up a chair and sip from the stemware. (Lk 14:12-14). Our motives are revealed not just in how we set our tables, but in who we invite to join us at the feast. Entertaining invites those whom it will enjoy. Hospitality takes all corners."
I've never been an entertainer. I don't have good decorating skills or a flair for what looks good. There will never be a Pinterest perfect party at my house. I am more like my mother and I pray like my God. I don't consider anyone a stranger, no matter their race, creed, social position or country. The downtrodden are always welcome at my table and to spend the night on my couch if they need to. Jesus said that when we show hospitality to others, we show it unto Him. Our reward on earth is often new friendships, gratefulness from others, and the joy of being a blessing. There is also a reward that is stored up in heaven and that is hearing our Savior say "well done, my good and faithful servant."
So to those who want to be a Proverbs 31 woman, "open your arms to the poor and extend your hands to the needy." Be prepared to be inconvenienced as you're exposed to the messiness of people's lives and seek to be a blessing to them by offering them a place of comfort and provision in your home and in your heart. This is the gospel. This is true hospitality.
"For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, whee you sowed your seed and wteed it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven." Deuteronomy 11:10-11
The Israelites were on their way out of Egypt. They had endured 400 years of slavery at the hands of the Egyptians. Still, they had managed to eek out a life and survive as a people. I'm sure that their lives had routines, however stark. I imagine that they were somewhat "used" to their lifestyle and it had grown to become "normal." Even though it was not the optimal lifestyle, I think that they had learned to get along and to be as happy as they could in it.
Then Moses and the miracles came along. I can imagine that had I been an Israelite during that time I would have been a bit fearful at all the supernatural events happening in Egypt. I can imagine that fear AND awe would have been present in my heart. I'm sure I might have wondered what I was getting into with this trip to the "promised land."
Eventually the day came when they had packed their bags and were exiting Egypt to an unknown land that would water itself, a stark contrast to the life they had in hot, dry Egypt. The thought of rebuilding their homes and re-establishing their families must have seemed both exciting and challenging to them but generations who had gone before them had often talked and dreamed of this day. I know they didn't know that 40 years lay before them but I have the feeling that they knew there would be hardships, possible battles and a lot of work. If human nature really does run true, I'm guessing the men were ready for the challenges and the women were not. LOL! Still they took a step of faith and stepped out of the borders of Egypt. What a feeling that must have been!
They left the reality of their "normal" and were entering into an huge unknown in order to inherit something different and better.
In the Christian life, we can become settled in our "normal." Our normal may be a bit like what the Israelites experienced in Egypt, full of situations that aren't the best but we've learned to manage them and they are easier to endure than to try to change. We may pray about them but we don't deal with them. We'd like for them to change, we may even need them to change, but the thought of what it might cost to change them far outweighs the price we pay to endure them, so we choose to stay in a spiritual Egypt. We tell ourselves it's not that bad and many others have it a lot worse than we do.
Then God enters, as Moses did, and says you are getting out of normal and moving into something different. As you see it, you're not sure that what's coming is going to be better. It certainly isn't looking easy. You may not have a choice in the matter. You may be like those Israelite women. The decision is made and you just have to get ready for the trip.
Lately I experienced this. The actions of others caused me to have to let go of my "normal." My normal was not perfect in many ways, in fact there were parts of it that caused me continual heartache but I had decided to be content, to bear my burden, and to make the best of it-it sounded so spiritual. For whatever reason, God decided that I was not going to live in my normal any longer. As I looked at what lay ahead, I have to admit, I was fearful. What if the best parts of my "normal" would no longer be present in what lay ahead? I was sad. I had learned to be content where I was even though in the deepest, most hidden regions of my heart, I knew things should have been different in a lot of ways. I didn't know what to expect but I mourned the good of my normal that I had lost.
Most of us who come through difficult situations with the Lord's help can look back on them and say I'm glad it happened. We don't emerge from the fray the same as when we went in. With God, we come out stronger, having more wisdom, and tougher. I wish I could say this about my most recent departure from my normal, but I can't honestly yet because I don't know quite how it's all going to pan out in the natural. Yet, I have hope and I have the knowledge that, as the saying goes, "if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it." And if He's the one bringing you through it, you can know that you will be better because of it. The grass truly can be greener on the other side.
I have learned a million lessons so far. Because this was a journey I traveled completely alone, by the Lord's design, I learned the most important lesson that God is all we have and He is all we need. He is enough and much, much more. He is faithful, even when we, in our weaknesses, are not. We all know this as Christians but we don't truly know what it means until we have experienced it ourselves. He has promised that if we will put our trust in Him, He will not disappoint us.
Does that mean that everything will pan out exactly as we think, expect or hope? NO! What it does mean is that His ways are higher (and better) than ours. He is meticulously caring for each of us. He knows what we need and how much we can bear, even when we think we can't bear another thing. For me, it all boiled down to the question of truly trusting Him with literally everything. That might sound weird coming from someone like me who has been made to trust God with some tragic and serious situations through the years. In those situations I was trusting God for someone else, not really for myself. This time, I was trusting God solely for myself.
Sometimes we have to get out of where we are (our normal) to experience something better even if it means that our "normal" will never be normal again. Sometimes the thing causing the exodus from normal is painful, sometimes not but it will always be daunting and challenging. I am finding though that it is totally worth it. Even though I don't know what my next "normal" may look like, I know the one who is shaping it is faithful, true, and loving. So I wait to see what He's designed for me.
On May 14th, the retina in my left eye decided to say "tallyho" to my eyeball. I was sitting at work and noticed that everything looked "wavey" and not the kind of wavey you see at the beach. I called the eye doctor and went in for an exam and within 2 hours was sitting in a surgeon's office and scheduled for emergency surgery early the next morning. All went well and I am already back at work, although I am temporarily blind in that eye. (I will write more on all of this later.)
Through this whole ordeal, I have been amazed at the peace of God that has pervaded my life. Once jumping on this wave, everything went really quickly-the opthamologist, the surgeon, traveling to the hospital, the operation and home, the return visit to the hospital the day after surgery and home again. It was one of those buckle your seatbelts and hold on experiences. Outside of asking my husband to pray with me before entering the operating room, there was really little else except this deep, abiding peace. In the midst of not knowing if the detachment had progressed to the point of no return, there was just peace. In thinking about missing work and my ability to return to my present job, there was just peace.
On my desk at work, I have a scripture calendar that my sister gave to me. Each day I tear off the previous day to see the beautiful photo and verse for the day. I'm not a believer in using these like some use their horoscopes, but I find it uncanny at how much a verse will bless me on a certain day because it deals with exactly what kind of day I'm having. On the day of my surgery, had I been at work I would have seen "Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee: the glory of the Lord shall be thy rear guard."
What a perfect verse for that day. I don't think God designed that calendar just for me, but it is amazing to think that in His infinite knowledge of time and people that His hand was on the person designing and arranging the days on that calendar. I'd like to think that He had me in mind along with the myriad of other people who now own this calendar.
Impossible? Not for my God! And it is just something that He would do!
I started this blog months ago and never finished it. But it especially holds true now that summer is upon us. There seems to be a lot of churchitis in the summer months so this will be a good reminder to those who forget that vacations from work do not include vacations from church.
We've will have been in ministry 31 years next spring. Through the years, it seemed that we were blessed to be effective in what we preached, taught and lived. We always shrived to live what we preached because we believed it to be the truth and the correct way to obey and grow in God. That's not to say that we haven't ever changed things. Learning of Christ is an ongoing process and there have been things that we realized that maybe we were a little over-exuberant about but for the most part, the basic and foundational beliefs and practices have remained the same.
One thing that we have never budged on is our observance of the Lord's Day. Many will label this "religious" and they're right. Jesus never banged on religion. He condemned false religion. There is a difference. There are some things that we should do religiously like brushing our teeth, bathing, eating breakfast, telling our kids that we love them AND "not forsaking the gathering together of ourselves."
We religiously attended our home church every Sunday in that we left no stone unturned to make sure that we could be there every week. The only thing that kept us from it was the occasional illness or catastrophe in the barn-you'll have this when dealing with cows. They will occasionally get turned sideways while lying in a stanchion stall and break their spine trying to stand up at which point your only course of action is to call the rendering plant and have them come and get her. Or you will have a moose of a diary cow plug up the door leading outside and the rest of the cows will try to squeeze through and end up breaking a water pipe, thus flooding the barn. But these kinds of things are the exception.
Over the years, we have always taught the importance of being part of a local body and being faithful to church attendance. It has been one of our biggest struggles. On this issue, no one can accuse us of not practicing what we preach. It has nothing to do with the fact that we are in ministry. When we came to know the Lord, our favorite place to be was in God's house with God's people. There was no thought or desire to be in ministry then. We drove to church no matter the weather even though we lived almost an hour away in the middle of nowhere where even snow plows sometimes feared to tread. If we went to visit family and wanted to spend the night, we took a day off work and went on Friday so that we could be home and in our home church on Sunday. We let our kids sleep in their car seats and drove through the night to be HOME for church. God always blessed and gave grace, even to our kids for that. It taught our children to have the right view of the family of God, the Body of Christ, and the priority of God's meetings. We never missed-not for family reunions, not for moral/social events that were scheduled for Sunday, not for work-we never took a job if it required us to work on Sunday and usually not even for vacation if we could plan around it. I did lose a job once because they needed me on Sunday and I refused. God has blessed us for this decision.
Summer is coming and people just tend to go AWOL for no particular reason. I understand that people take vacations and I would begrudge no one that opportunity. Most people that I know do attend church somewhere when they are on vacation and for that I commend them. Still, others seem to have the view that as long as they go to church SOMEWHERE on any given Sunday that it is okay. Or they think that watching a live stream service of some pet preacher is the same as church attendance.
I'm not advocating the "I'm of Paul, and I'm of Apollos" mentality either. However, there are reasons that God has directed you to a certain church. If He hasn't, for heaven's sake find out where you're supposed to be and get plugged in there. You are needed somewhere and you need to be in a church where God can give words to you through his messenger, your Pastor. Yes folks, your Pastor has a higher purpose than comforting you when you're sick, marrying you, burying you, and giving you little pats on the back to assure you of your spirituality. He won't be held accountable with any of that, but he will be held accountable for what he preached and delivered. If he's accountable for presenting it, then you are accountable for hearing and heeding what he says.
Last year my husband contemplated putting a sign on the door one Sunday morning that read "Cancelled Due To Lack Of Interest". Of course, that would have only punished the faithful but it was very discouraging. So before you go running off to Anywhereland this summer consider a few things:
-God has given gifts to the church.
-He has placed those gifts in people.
-When he places a gift in a church, it is inside of a person.
-If the person is missing from the place where the gift was needed, thus being why God placed it there, then the gift is missing from the church.
-When gifts are missing, the Body suffers.
-Your Pastor seeks God for a message every week. It takes time, prayer and study. He delivers what God says the Body needs.
-If you aren't there, you won't get what God has for you that week. The potential for catasrophe exists when you are missing things God wants you to hear. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone say "I wish I had been there when that was preached" or my husband says "I really felt that the sermon was for so and so, but they weren't there", I'd be driving a new truck.
-It's just not about making sure you are in church somewhere. That is just religious activity and at its very heart, selfish. Well, I went to church, I heard a sermon, I worshipped a little, I paid my tithe so I'm in good standing with God. I'm still under God's blessing spout. It's all about me, me, me.
-Perhaps you could change your plans, cut your trip short one day, or some other type of sacrifice to actually be where God placed you to hear what He wants you to hear and minister to others in the way He has graced you to minister. Your gifts are important!
-Your home church won't be home long if you are constantly missing.
There will be times when it is impossible to be in your home church. That's understandable but it is important for you and those you call "family" to make HOME church attendance a priority. Some people will poo-poo this idea but it was preached of old and has proven in our lives to be a true source of blessing.
It's a matter of faithfulness. If you want to serve in a church, you have to prove yourself faithful. Maybe the reason you aren't asked to serve is because you haven't proven faithfulness to the body of Christ where God has placed you. Church attendance is a good place to start. Being there helps you connect and take ownership of a body of believers. It's important, even when it's summer.
When we left our denomination, or rather, when they left us, we became affiliated with a Pentecostal group that was similar to what had left us. In order to be ordained, we had to fly to sunny southern California to attend the ordination service. When the minister who was praying for people came to us, he stopped and prophesied over my husband first, and then me. As he spoke, he said some things that really resonated with me and some things that I didn't, at that time understand. After the service, we were given a copy of the prophesies to take home with us. I tucked mine in my Bible for further consideration and prayer.
We are not to just accept a prophesy as gospel truth. We are warned in scripture in 1 Thes 5 "Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil" and in 1 Jn 4:1 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
This particular organization was very pro-woman. They believed that women had total equality with men, both in position and function within the Body of Christ. Because of this, they also believed that when a man was called to ministry, his wife was called as well. You see this idea still in many churches. The wife preaches and teaches as much as her husband. I'm not against this if the wife is actually called to these things, but to assume that the wife automatically inherits her husbands gifts and callings doesn't make sense, in fact, I think it is demeaning to women.
The thing that he said to me in the prophecy was "you are not just a shadow of your husband." This was to encourage me to be a minister as well. Funny, I thought I was already doing that. I had at that point in my life, discipled many young women who were all over the world in missions and ministry or being a helpmate to their minister husbands. I was teaching Sunday school and leading the worship team. I was never one to like standing up in front of a group and doing anything, but I thrived in leading in a small group setting. I was raising 3 children in the fear and admonition of the Lord and was about to add one more to that mix. I was taking good care of my husband and "filling in the cracks" at church to make sure that everything was running smoothly.
Through the years I'd had the "one flesh" verse thrown in my face as they tried to ordain me every year as a minister of their organization. I told them over and over again they could ordain me all they wanted but I was not paying the fee nor would I ever use my ID card to assert myself as in some "position". (Actually I did use it one time when the hospital didn't believe I was a Pastor's wife when trying to get into the emergency room to see an injured church member, but that was merely an act of desperation!) The organization couldn't argue with me using scripture, so they used book excerpts to try to convince me that essentially my gifts before ordination were now expired and now I should operate in the same gifts as my husband. I insisted on scripture but they could provide nothing but the one flesh verse, which essentially, in the context that they used it in would make the sinner spouse of an ordained minister with their organization gifted to preach and teach as well. I could shoot that one down pretty quickly and they could never provide me any other scriptures to support their pleas. I'm stubborn like that. Eventually they quit calling.
I always thought that whole train of thought actually defeated their attempts to validate and elevate women. Essentially it said that women were not complete in their gifts until married to a minister or ordained themselves. I don't believe that the gifts that God had given me as young woman were just "temporary-get-by gifts" until I could step into whatever calling my husband had! I am complete, married or not! I am gifted by God, married or not! I have a place and a purpose and worth in the Kingdom with or without a spouse.
And even though I agree it wouldn't have been good for me to be a shadow, it would have been equally bad for me to be a mirror, which is what this organization seemed to be advocating. I am called to mirror Christ in whatever gifts and callings HE has given me. Those operated in me before my husband even thought about the ministry, while he prepared for ministry and after he entered the ministry. How they manifested in my life might have been different depending on the situation and need, but they remained unchanged and without repentance, as scripture says. I've never bent to the pressure that is put on Pastor's wives to be anything but Godly, as God has called us all to be.
I encourage you today to find the gifts that God has given you and run with them! You are not the second part of a two for one deal. If you are called to preach, preach. If you are called to teach, teach. If you one of the "unseemly gifts", do that with all your might. Don't allow the perceptions of what others think a Pastor's wife to be squeeze you into a mold that was never meant to be yours! I will tell you that it won't feel comfortable and eventually parts of you will pop out because of the shear pressure of the molded life. God created you the way He did with the full knowledge of why He needed you to be that way. It's how He will use you! Let God mold you around that gifts He has given you and you will be able to minister in power, authority and with great success. Don't worry people will eventually get over the fact that you are not anything like what they expect you to be and will grow to accept and be thankful that you who you are.
As a Christian, there is nothing as disturbing to me as pettiness between brothers and sisters in Christ.
Over the past few weeks, I've been having an ongoing discussion with some Pastor's wives about different things that go on in church that we find appalling and we are 99.9999% sure the Lord feels the same way! Then my daughter wrote a thought provoking blog that caused me to think even further. Both conversations had to deal with forgiveness and not exposing the sins of others. As a Pastor's wife, I have plenty of opportunities to make judgments, a lot of which I wish I didn't have to make. The truth is that we have to make judgments everyday about our daily lives, situations we are involved in, and critical situations when dealing with people. That is not the same thing as judging people unfairly although it may involve coming to a conclusion that the person wouldn't like.
When having to make judgments and BEFORE becoming judgmental, take the following steps:
1) Look at your own actions first. Their actions might well be a reasonable reaction to your actions, attitudes and narrative. If in doubt, before accusing and/or exposing others, approach them and ask! It's God's prescribed method of dealing with glitches in Body life. Don't over-spiritualize your own experience in an effort to validate ways of thinking that need to change in your own life.
2) Think the best. Think about who that person is. That they claim to love the Lord....just like you do. That they endeavor to follow Christ and emulate Him...just like you do. Think about all the good qualities, all the good times, all the things that made you love that person in the first place and realize that more than likely they are that same person. Give them the benefit of the doubt. (Works with husbands too) There is nothing more hurtful than to be betrayed by another person in the Body of Christ because they believed what they heard about you from another brother or sister in Christ or they perceived some wrong doing by your actions without fully considering and investigating them first. I believe that the Bible refers to this as "devouring one another." Why is it that church people are so quick to believe the bad they hear or perceive about another member?
Many years ago, a colleague slandered and defamed us as people and ministers. The ramifications of these actions changed the whole course of our ministry. Although we had some insight as to the motives behind it, what hurt us the most was that people who knew us well, some who had raised us in the Lord and mentored us believed what was said without ever questioning us about it. They had only known this colleague for a short time. They had known us much, much longer and should have known better than to believe what was being said about us. And if they thought that what was being said was true, why didn't they come to us out of concern for our souls and question us about it? In some ways we could sympathize with King David when he said in Psalm 41 "even my close friend whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me". In his case, he had sinned. In our case, we had not and that made it even harder. Friends that we had trusted betrayed us and shunned us and distanced themselves from us. Fortunately a few of our friends supported us saying that when they heard these things they knew they weren't true because they knew who God had made us to be. They had eaten with us, fellowshipped with us, and sat under our ministry. They knew what kind of people we were. It's in times like these that you find out who your true friends are. So when dealing with the Body of Christ, treat them as family because they are. Treat them as you want to be treated. Give them the same benefit of the doubt that you give your blood relatives or that you would want people to give you.
3. Cover. Even if it turns out that the person was in the wrong, cover their sin, don't expose it. It amazes me the things that end up on the internet. Don't validate your venting because you didn't go to a person who you perceived wronged you as some sort of spiritual exercise to help enlighten others or to justify your own feelings of unforgiveness and violation. And for the sake of the name of Christ, keep the church's dirty laundry in the church! Exposing perceived wrongs (see #1 of this list) in a public forum only strengthens scoffer’s arguments that church is no different than the world. Although it may be representative in the church, the world sees it as representative of that body of believers or the church universal. I do not believe that God takes that lightly considering what it cost Him to provide them a way of salvation. Plus, these are His kids you are attacking and God does not feel kindly towards bullies.
4. Forgive. For goodness sake, just forgive and move on. Jesus suffered much worse and still died for those nailing him to a tree. In comparison, your petty little grievances are really not that monumental unless you allow them to become so. Forgiveness is not a service you provide for the sake of others. It is something God has provided for your own sake to keep you at peace and in His good graces. If you truly have forgiven a person, their wrongs will not still be following you around months or years later. In fact, you will be more inclined to remember the good interactions you had with that person over the bad ones. Perhaps you never forget, but those things should not still be causing you to have anger, hurt, resentment or pain in your heart. I will never forget what the wrongful actions cost us as a couple, but they don't bother me anymore. In fact, I rarely think about them. I chose to forgive a long, long time ago. Did I learn from them? Yes! They were valuable lessons and in many ways were used to create positive changes in my mind and heart bringing me more stability in life. Unforgiveness is a terrible taskmaster! It steals kills and destroys because it is from its creator-the devil.
A small mouse nibbling can create a big hole! Don't be nibbling on your brothers and sisters in Christ. It's destructive to the Body of which Christ is the head. Nibbling on His body is the same as doing it to Him. In a world that endeavors to devour you, you need those church members. Don't destroy what God has given you as a great gift by unforgiveness, self-centeredness and pettiness!
Pastor's Appreciation Month is about over. I almost hesitate to ask. Did your congregation do anything for you to show their appreciation? I have mixed thoughts about delegating a month, executing a large promotional blitz to get the word out to congregation members and setting Pastors up for disapointment. To me it's much like Mothers Day, Fathers Day and Valentines Day-all invented to give the card, candy and jewelry industry a retail bump. I do remember when Pastor's appreciation month started. It started as a day and was initiated by a layman who thought that if the groundhog had a day, certainly Pastor's ought to have one too. I guess that was a compliment. Anyway, that's how the whole thing got started a couple of decades ago.
I posted a question to my Pastor's wives friends and found that they have a love/hate relationship with the whole concept. While it's nice that the congregation thinks enough of you to give you a little momento, it's very disappointing when they just seemingly forget, don't know, or flip it off as unimportant. While I don't think the day or month is important, I do think it scriptural to acknowledge and bless your spiritual overseer. What ends up happening is that some Pastors get recognized while others do not and those that do not feel unappreciated when if there wasn't a day like this at all, they might not. Seriously, we can't judge our effect or success on this one month of the year. I don't believe that it takes a scheduled holiday for people to show appreciation. On the other hand, I don't think that congregations that do participate are insincere. However, if you have to be reminded to bless or express appreciation to a gift that God has placed in your life, then you have an ungratefulness problem. You might want to look that up in your concordance and see what God has to say about it.
So I set about to decide what would be the perfect Pastor's Appreciation Gift. I made a list and whittled it down little by little. With some input from my PW's friends and thinking over all the wonderful ways we have been blessed through the years from our congregations, I got down to one thing that would apply to all Pastors, in every nation of the world.
Before I get to it though I want to share some of the non-Pastor's Appreciation Month gifts that have blessed us through the years. One of my husband's favorites are the little ziploc bags with a couple of cents or sometime a dollar with a piece of candy or a hand drawn picture that show up on his desk or in the offering plate from time to time. He has a whole desk drawer full of these because to him, they are like water from the well of Bethlehem that David's mighty men drew while the city was occupied by the Philistines. He knows that some child has just dipped into their allowance and is giving it to him. This says a lot not only about the child, but it is a reflection of what the parents have taught the child about the role of a Pastor in their lives. So believe me, when these little goodies do show up, they are a blessing.
This year, a young teen gave him a gift card to his favorite restaurant from a hard earned labor intensive job. It's going to be very hard to use it, but I think that he probably will.
Another is the occaisional timely gift that he recieves. My husband is hard on reading glasses. If he doesn't break them, he loses them, sits on them or forgets them. So one year while the ladies were doing secret sister things, my husband received a package on his desk from his "Sneakret brother." It was a pair of reading glasses so small that you could practically carry them anywhere all the time. My husband still uses them today and always mentions where he got them from. They have truly been a blessing and appreciated. You see, without them he wouldn't be able to read his Bible or his sermon notes, so to have someone give him glasses says "I appreciate what you do and want to hear what the Lord has laid on your heart."
Another way to bless your Pastor is simple. Just show up. When comforting Pastor's wives who lament that no gift was given, I remind them that the congregation does show up every Sunday. That in itself is a gesture of appreciation. They must want to hear what you have to say-the first step to being an effective Pastor. We don't judge our effectiveness by how well received we are. That method can be very deceptive but when you are in front of a group of people, just give them the Word of God! That is all the effectiveness you could ever achieve.
This year I did something different to bless my husband. What?, you say.....he is my Pastor too. I didn't cook or buy him a firearm (although that would have thrilled him to death). Instead I bought him the nicest card I could find and compiled all the verses that God has given me for him through his 31 years of ministry into a prayer. I do pray for him regularly and I use those verses to pray. So I thought it might bless him to know that a) someone does pray for him because I would hate to carry the weight and responsibility of ministry without someone praying for me and b) that I understand from the Word of God His place in my life and that I am open to receive whatever he has to give to me be it encouragement or correction and c) that even though I know and love him more than anyone else in the world, I still see him as a gift from God to me. And that he is.
I was looking back through some sermon notes and I found a little something I had written as a thought from a sermon. And this is the gift that any Pastor could get that would be 100% sure to warm and bless his heart. It simply said, "A Pastor is merely a man, gifted by God, to work for and with God in the spiritual lives of the ones God has entrusted to him. Let him!" That's it. Just let him do his job. Let him use his gift in the body of Christ as ordained by the Word of God. There will be no need of monetary gifts, cards, days or months of appreciation. The appreciation will be visible in our lives. I don't know of one Pastor that would not love this!