Writing, Preaching, and Teaching

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;  ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8, NRSV)

 

The twists and turns that come up on the journey of life are always surprising.

It isn’t like the new cars of today that have the sensors all around them that start flashing lights and talking to you warning you of things that are coming.  Wouldn’t it be great if humans were equipped with this capability?  To be able to prepare and be proactive rather than reactive?  But alas, God our creator didn’t see any need to add this feature to our design.

So, surprises must be a required part of our journeys.

For me the surprise twist in my road seems to be that God has been using me to preach.

Me!

A woman.

A relatively new Anabaptist.

Never in a million years would I have expected this.  In fact, over the years, I have been adamant that I could never be a preacher and had no desire to give a sermon….EVER! Yet here I am, preparing to start writing my sixth sermon message in seven months and plans for a seventh one to be given in May.

Our God works in very mysterious ways indeed!

When I first began to feel that God was calling me to change and to begin something new I was excited. All indications seemed to point to being a writer.  This all seemed very romantic to me as I recalled all of my childhood literary heroines.  It was like being invited to join the ranks of Laura Ingalls, Jo March and Anne Shirley!  As a result, Wisdom Wanderings was born!

It was this urge to write that led me to become a C.S. Lewis Institute Fellow.

I entered into that year of intentional discipleship expecting to learn more about myself and to also gain a firmer understanding of my faith, what I believe, and who I am as a child of God.  All of these possibilities excited me and I just KNEW I would come out of that year of study a better, more competent writer.

It doesn’t surprise me that all of these expectations were the outcome – I do have a firmer understanding of what I believe and a much deeper faith – but I am very surprised that the writing I am doing the most of since completing year one of my fellowship time is sermon writing!

Not blog posts.

Not magazine articles.

Not a bestselling book helping others to find the deeper faith that I did….Sermon writing.

All of this sermon writing has me wondering where this road is going to.  Again, there is no sensor to give me any indications of what is coming.

It would seem that a perfect storm of events, a.k.a God’s timing, has placed me in a church that is currently seeking a new pastor.  This vacancy has given me the opportunity to preach occasionally.  However, we will eventually find a pastor, and that leads my mind to wondering what comes next for me?

God always has a purpose.  This time of sermon writing and giving are preparing me for something.  Only time will tell what God is currently equipping me for.

Could there really be a future for me in some kind of preaching or teaching capacity?  I can’t in the foreseeable future see any opportunities for either preaching or teaching outside of my own church.  God works in mysterious ways and in his own perfect timing.

In the end, all I can do is continue on as God’s disciple.  When he calls me I will answer with the words of Isaiah:   “Here I am, send me!”

Although preaching and teachings God’s word from a pulpit weren’t a part of my plans, they seem to be part of God’s plan for me.  To truly be his disciple I must heed the call and follow his plans rather than my own.  After all, his are always infinitely better!  I will continue to trust and hold on as I come around the next bend in my life and be willing to be open to whatever God has around that bend for me.

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14, NRSV)

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Getting Comfortable

God is always moving and the Holy Spirit is always moving in us.  As we thrive and become comfortable He begins to start to nudge us here and there to stray out of that comfort zone for His glory.

These past few weeks have been quiet weeks for me.  I have been resting my mind and renewing my soul taking sabbath time with the Father.  Time that is much-needed after the flurry of activity surrounding two major milestones on my journey to answer God’s calling on my life.   Both of these milestones required me to come out of the comfort zone I had built around myself.

The first of these was completing and graduating from year one of the C.S. Lewis Fellows Program.  This year-long intensive program is designed to make disciples who can then go out and disciple others.  In order for this to happen I had to be willing to let go and let God move into all the areas of my life, not just one or two.  His claim is on all of me.

Many times over this past year I have had to go to some very uncomfortable places in my heart and mind as I emptied out the hurts that have built up in my heart over the course of my lifetime.  Digging deep into feelings that I didn’t even know I had in some cases.  This process still isn’t finished, and I am not sure that this ever will completely end, but along the way God has filled in the holes in my heart.   He is strengthening me daily and letting me know that I am enough already as I am.

This process of healing that he has begun in me is necessary in order for me to move forward and be able to fully embrace the call he has for me in this life.

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The second milestone I reached during the month of June I must confess is one that I never thought would be something that would be a part of my calling.  On June 12 for the first time ever I brought the Sunday morning message to the congregation at Midway.

Never in a million years did I see myself in the position of being qualified to give a sermon or that the opportunity would ever even be given to me.  However, our God works in mysterious ways as we all know.  So I guess at the end of the day is there ever anything that is too great for us to do if we are filled with Spirit of God who gives us the guidance and wisdom we need?

Many times I have stood before our congregation, but only ever as a worship leader.  The thought of standing behind the pulpit was a very intimidating one!  I knew right away that God was calling me to share my testimony so that was what I concentrated on as I began to write the message.

Some parts came together easily.  I knew right away that the name of this message had to be “Believing and Belonging”.  The scriptures that would be used came relatively easy as well:  Luke 10:38-42 and John 15:1-8.  The story of Martha and Mary is told in this passage from Luke and is the perfect illustration of the journey I have been on – first as Martha, then as Mary.

However the actual words of the sermon eluded me.  For the better part of a week I tried in vain to find a place to begin.  Thursday night before the given Sunday I sat in front of my computer willing the words to come, but nothing felt right.

Giving up for the night I went to bed with renewed prayers that God would pour the message he wanted me to share into my heart.  As I laid in bed waiting for sleep to come I suddenly knew where the message needed to start!  The next morning I began typing and the words quickly filled up pages.  The message was ready!!

But was I?

On many occasions I have made it clear that I did not feel I would ever be able to fill a pulpit and preach a Sunday message.  The suggestion that perhaps I should preach was one that I regularly rejected feeling that wasn’t a place for me.  Turns out God had other ideas on the matter!

I don’t know what will come next for me, but that Sunday morning God held my hand and steadied my voice and used me to bring a message to his people at Midway.

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I guess we just never know where the road might take us if we are willing to leave our places of comfort!

So perhaps it isn’t that we are ever truly comfortable in our lives, but that we are learning to be comfortable serving him in humility, relying on His strength and wisdom to guide us through all the tasks that he brings our way.  We are learning to be comfortable in him rather than in ourselves.

As I continue to branch out in his calling for me, I will move forward with confidence drawing strength and wisdom from the vine.  Serving where ever and however He may call me.  Abiding in his love bringing glory to his name.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.   You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.   Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.   I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.   Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.   If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:1-8, NRSV) 

*To hear my recorded message, visit the Midway Mennonite Church’s website.  Worship in song followed by the scripture readings begins the recording and the message starts at about 23:30.

 

 

Talents and Testimonies

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A few weeks ago my son and I joined our church family on the annual weekend spring retreat.  It was held at the Laurelville Mennonite Church Center near Mt. Pleasant, PA.

One of the activities available at Laurelville is a prayer labyrinth. It is situated at the top of a long, gradually winding, hilly path.  From this labyrinth, which is a large circle and consists of winding stone and pebble paths, you can look out across a breathtaking view of a valley.

As I set out for an afternoon walk to the prayer labyrinth I found sunshine, deep vividly blue sky, brisk winds, and a quiet meditative time of reflection and prayer.  My thoughts began to reflect on the powerful messages our resource person for the weekend had shared with us earlier that morning and the previous night before.

Our resource person was Dr. Don Bartlette*.  He is a very gifted speaker known for his  life story, Macaroni at Midnight.   It tells of the struggles he faced as not only a disabled child, but also as a discriminated Native American child who grew up in poverty.  He over came all of the adversities of his childhood and young adult years and would eventually go on to use his story of healing and redemption to help spread God’s message of love.

As I continued to walk with the brisk breezes and sunshine hitting my face my thoughts shifted from Dr. Don to one of the scriptures I have been meditating on over the past month,  the Parable of the Talents.

Found in Matthew 25:14-30, this story tells the tale of three servants who are each entrusted with different amounts of talents (money) from their master.  Two of them immediately go out and use the talents they have been given to increase the total amount of talents.  The last servant, who had only been given one talent, dug a hole and hid the talent given to him there.

When the master returned he was greatly pleased with the first two servants and rewarded them.  The third servant was not so fortunate.  He was tossed out for being wicked and lazy.  I must admit that I have always felt sorry for this poor guy.

Until recently I must have been taking this story quite literally because I couldn’t understand why the guy who protected the money he was given was considered so lazy.  He was entrusted to protect the money given to him, right?  That’s exactly what he did!  In my mind the first two were the ones that were questionable because they were gambling with the master’s money.

It turns out Jesus wasn’t telling this story to warn us about the dangers of a gambling addiction!

In this parable the talents are actually representing spiritual gifts and the master is God.  So the first and second servants went out immediately and used the talents/gifts God had given them to increase the numbers in God’s flock which in turn brought the gifts of the new members to be used for Kingdom work.  They were obedient and willing servants.

The third servant, who was called lazy, actually kept his gifts locked inside and was refusing to use his gifts because he was afraid of God.  I believe that at the heart of this fear was the fact that he didn’t clearly understand the nature of God.  He says to him, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed,” in verse 24.

We have been taught in songs that there are many gifts but the same Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts and talents that are uniquely suited to our purposes and tasks in the Kingdom:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;   and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.   To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NRSV)

However, neither God the Father nor the Holy Spirit forces us to use these gifts.  We have to willingly make the choice to share our gifts and to be used for good here on earth.

We are also each given a testimony that is unique to us.  These testimonies are made of good experience and bad experiences.  There is pain in this life.  No one can escape from it.  However, God is using that pain in the process to help refine us.

God doesn’t choose to let bad things happen to us, but he will always use the experience for good.  If we are willing to live lives of obedience and humility in his service he will help us to not only survive but to heal and to thrive.  He will use these experiences as teaching tools once the work of refining and molding are done.  The greatest men and women in the Bible had to go through pain and trials as God was cleansing them and preparing them for great tasks.

Who would know this better than Joseph?  He chose to trust in the Lord in the midst of his betrayals and sufferings caused by his brothers’ jealousy.  Joseph also allowed God to heal his wounded heart.  When the time came, he was able to not only forgive those same brothers, but he provided for them and their people during the time of famine:

Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. – Genesis 50:20 (NRSV)

We each have a testimony to go out and share and talents to use to help us share not only our testimony, but also the love of God.  Our heavenly Master is weaving together our gifts and experiences into the tapestries of our lives.  Will the finished tapestries reflect love and care for gathering in God’s people?  Or will they be marred by insecurity or an unwilling, unrepentant spirit?

Will we allow God to heal our wounds and depend on him to use them for good? 

Trust in God and he will make all things new and good.

I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. – Philemon 1:6 (NRSV)

*To learn more about Dr. Don Bartlette and his experiences and testimony, visit his website or find his recordings at Amazon.

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Mr. Max and Dr. Don Bartlette – Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, April 2016

Balancing Act

Modern life is definitely fast paced.  We have cities that never sleep.  We race around until we are about to have a nervous breakdown because we are out of time and energy and there are hardly any items checked off of the to do list.

Why?  Why are we stressing ourselves so much with a multitude of demands on our time?

It most likely comes back to our western culture.  Our values include things such as more is better and survival of the fittest.  We have become so used to the frantic paces of our lives that we struggle to spend any quiet time because it leaves us feeling like we should be busy.  That we are somehow being lazy.  We have forgetten how to engage in sabbath times.  This is greatly affecting our ability to spend quality time in relationship with God.

I have been reading this month a book by Paul E. Miller called A Praying Life, Connecting with God in a Distracting World as part of my reading  assignments for the Fellows Program.  He points out that one of the reasons we fail at prayer is because when we can’t stand to stop long enough:

American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray. We are so busy that when we slow down to pray, we find it uncomfortable. We prize accomplishments, production. But prayer is nothing but talking to God. It feels useless, as if we are wasting time. Every bone in our bodies screams, “Get to work.” – pg 15

It pains me to admit it, but I am in this category.  I consistently struggle to find space for consistent prayer times in my life.  I have the best intentions, but still continue to be more of a conversational prayerer more than anything else.

By this I mean that I have little conversations with God throughout the day.  For example when I am in the car driving to or from work.  Or when I am in the latest battle of wills with Mr. Max (my son).  When I lay down in bed at night.

I also frequently do what Mr. Miller refers to as breath prayers, which are quick phrases said in a single breath (pg 68).  So it is not unusual for me to say a quick prayer like, “Lord give me strength” or “Lord help me learn patience” as I go about my day.

However, a quiet time of prayer daily seems to still be eluding me.  I am determined to change this because I can feel the presence of God during these quick times of prayer, and it makes me want to have that feeling more often!  I tend to be a highly emotional person who can be  a little high strung.  How much more effective could I be as a woman of God if I could feel his calming presence more regularly in my days?

So what is keeping me from devoting this time to be in relationship with God each day?  It is my crazy 21st century life.   Even though I have cut back my involvement in things significantly both in my home life and my church life, there are still many responsibilities that have to be attended to:

  • Taking care of my husband and son
  • Taking care of our home
  • Working a full-time job as a department manager for a redistribution company
  • My studies and assignments for the C.S. Lewis Fellows Program
  • Church Ministries I am still part of
  • Exploring the writing nudges God has placed on my heart
  • Exercising and self-care
  • Quiet times for prayer and Bible Study

These areas of my life take up a huge chunk of my time.  I am pretty sure that no matter how hard or how often I pray for it, God will not provide me with more hours in the day!  So that means I am going to have to be more intentional with my time if I want to squeeze it all in.

As the busy season for me at work dies down I am now going to turn my focus to this list of priorities in my life.  They are all important areas of who I am and who God is calling me to be.  So cutting anything from this list isn’t an option.

So what can I do to make these things happen?

To start with, I need to take a look at the distractions in my life.  One important item to cut are the ministries that I am involved with that God is no longer calling me to be a part of.  I have struggled with this greatly these past couple of months.  It has been a hard lesson for me to learn that while all ministry endeavors are good not all of them are part of God’s plan for me at this time in my life.

Have you ever read the poem about people who come into your life?  Some are there for a reason, some for a season, and some are there for life.  I have discovered that this also applies to ministries I am involved with!

Some I have been called to for a reason.  God had a lesson for me to learn there, but now it is time to let the ministry go because I have received the intended lesson.  Others I have been called to for a season and will continue with these areas, like being a worship leader.  And still others I will be a part of for life.  So I have been slowly learning to let go of the areas of church life that I served in for just a reason or a season that has now ended.  These have been some of the hardest lessons I have learned to date.

Through my prayer conversations to and from work I am also realizing that I spend too much precious time watching unnecessary television.  So if I want to find more time for the priorities I have identified above, specifically more consistent quiet times with God through prayer and Bible study and exercising and self-care, then I need to not waste time watching reruns of shows I really could care less about.  Cutting down in this area can help in two ways:

  1. free up time in the evening after dinner to devote to exercise
  2. get me to bed earlier so that I can wake up a little earlier each morning to incorporate the quiet times

In addition to these two items, I realized that I will also need to be more intentional with our weekly meal planning.  I need to be considering healthy meal  choices while also keeping in mind prep times.  This will enable me to quickly take care of meal times for my family but also leave some free space in the evenings.

So there it is.

Most likely I will need to keep coming back and surrendering myself in prayer for the Father’s guiding hands in my life as I plan out how to use the valuable time he has given me each day.  This balancing act has been and will continue to be a struggle for me, but this time I am giving it to God and asking for his help.

I can do all things through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13) when I take the time to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10) and his plans for me are for my welfare and will give me hope for the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

 

 

 

Glimmers of Light and Looking Towards Eternity

The twists and turns of our paths are a mystery.  We come around bends never knowing what we will find there.  Sometimes we find good freshly paved road and have a smooth journey during that stretch.  Other times we suddenly find ourselves on bumpy uphill roads filled with pot holes and decaying black top that can slow us down and trip us up and sometimes break us down completely.

A couple who know this truth all to well are Gerard and Jeannie Long.  In an eight year period they lost two of their three children – one to suicide and the other through a tragic accident.  Today I was blessed to attend a seminar presented by them at the C.S. Lewis Institute of North East Ohio and got to spend some time with them journeying through their Valley of Baca with them.

Some of my take aways from Gerard and Jeannie in today’s sessions were:

  • even in the darkest of places in the lowest valleys there are glimmers of light
  • God is there with us, and wants us to call out to him to help us get through what ever darkness we may enter into.
  • He will give us the grace we need to get out of bed everyday and carry on.
  • There is purpose in the pain and suffering we endure here on earth.  Even when we can’t see it, God is working to use all things for good.
  • God is okay with our questions about the why of a bad situation or event and he wants us to wrestle with him.  He wants to have a deep and intimate relationship with us.
  • we are just sojourners here in this life.
  • look towards eternity and live our life here in preparation for the next one.

To hear more about their incredible ministry or to listen to Gerard and Jeannie tell you their story, you can visit their ministry page, Awakening to God.  It is my prayer that they continue to feel the comfort and love of God surrounding them.

For myself, today has forced me to confront my own thoughts and fears.  I wonder if I could find the same strength that the Long’s have found through God if I were ever to find myself in a truly dark place.  I also wonder how these new thoughts about eternity that I soaked in today will help ease my fears of death and what comes next.

Eternity has always been a subject that leaves me feeling queasy and full of dread.  So it isn’t something I focus on.  EVER.    Which seems rather backward in retrospect considering my desire to be an obedient child of God.  So how do I reconcile being a kingdom worker and light bearer with the concept of being prepared for my heavenly role?  With every fiber of my being I want to share the good news with others and help to sow the seeds of love and grace!  I just never stopped to reflect or meditate on how God will have me use the gifts he has given me in heaven.

And there is comfort in that thought.   I don’t need to fear eternity because I serve a God who is good and gracious.  His grace will prepare us for and see us through anything in this life and the next.  All he asks from us is that we take part in his kingdom work here on earth.  Whether we are helping to shepherd his flocks or sowing or reaping the seeds of his harvest, all the work is done for his glory.  Scripture says his yoke is easy so who wouldn’t want to be employed by the King of Heaven and Earth?

In light of living with eternity as our goal, while I am here I can love hard with all my might and trust in God above.  He will always be right here beside me.  In joy and in sadness or suffering, my God is an awesome God.

This year of my fellows journey has just barely begun and already I can feel His love nudging me to step out of my comfort zone.  He is bringing me wonderful people whose words, spoken and/or written,  are pushing my boundaries and helping me to let go and grow in his strength.  It is all part of the twists, turns, and bends in my journey.  I am braced in his love for an adventurous year of learning and growth sitting at his feet like Mary and letting Martha take a rest.

Loving God, let me live each day showering those around me with love.  Let me strive for peace, both in myself and for those around me.  Let me treasure the gift of your precious Word and soak in the messages and wisdom contained in it.  Father God, raise me up to be the person you are calling me to be.  Let me always be full of thanksgiving and praise for you, Lord God, who is deserving of all of my worship and adoration.  Fill my heart with your love and let it flow through me into a dark and hurting world.  In Jesus loving name I pray. Amen

Gerard Long offered us many pieces of scripture today as he shared his heart with us.  There was one, however, that he kept coming back too.  It feels fitting to also end this piece with that same wonderful verse:

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men:  yet they can not fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  Ecclesiastes 3:11