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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Busy Being Not Busy

For the first time in my life that I can recall, I am finding myself in an odd position.  I have absolutely no idea what comes next on my journey, nor any plans for how to get to what I feel should be the next phase of my life.

I am a recovering busy-aholic.

For most of my adult life I have found my worth and my identity in all the activities I took part in.  This is in all the aspects of my life – personal, professional and spiritual.  Any changes in any of these areas, regardless of how small they were, caused major upsets in my world.

This way of perceiving myself and the world around me and qualifying myself by constantly doing was exhausting. It also didn’t ever leave me feeling very satisfied with myself or my circumstances or my life in general.

At the end of the day I still just wanted more.  More time, more financial means, more friendships.  Just more of all of the good things in life I guess.  Determined to achieve more and be more so that I could have more rewards from both the world of men and from God.

The funny thing about this perspective is that I tried so hard to take care of everything and everyone around me that I forgot to take care of me or my personal relationship with God!   No wonder I couldn’t find any peace, joy, or satisfaction.

Fortunately, in spite of myself, by the grace of God, I was able to realize just how dysfunctional my sense of self-worth was.  My worth can’t be found among earthly people or pursuits or even within myself.

 My worth comes from Yahweh — God who is always with me.

Having been taught this lesson by our very patient God where does that leave me?

I am now in a holding pattern.   I do not know what is coming next for me or where my next calling lies.  For the first time ever I have no idea what comes next.  There are no plans for how to get to the next place.  I am just being still and trying to be content in my Sabbath rest:

So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter Gods’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.  Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs. – Hebrews 4:9-11 (NRSV)

Rest – sounds so easy!  However, it has been a struggle for me.  For someone so used to being busy, stepping back from committees and other commitments without having new ones lined up has been incredibly hard. Still this is what the Father has for me at this time in my life.  Stepping back, letting go of settling for just good, while waiting to see what God has in store for me.  Taking time to just be and breathe.

As I have laid aside my studies, readings, and writing to just take time to rest my mind and commune with the Maker of my soul there have been little voices attempting to break my peace and joy.  Even on sabbatical rest the Enemy’s little darts still try to zing me.

Thoughts flood my mind of things I SHOULD be doing as I sit relaxing on the back deck watching the birds in the yard.   Thoughts of how lazy I am because I am not touching the pile of books that are on my end table patiently waiting to be read.  Thoughts of being a failure as a writer because I can’t seem to find inspiration for blog posts at the moment.

I have discovered that being not busy is EXACTLY what I am supposed to be doing right now.  If I were not being obedient in this then there would be no attacks, but the enemy has been working over time to wreck my peace.  It has been a constant temptation for me to jump into something, anything, just to make myself busy.

And it is during these times of temptation that I feel stressed and frantic.  When I tell those voices in my head to quiet down and allow me to rest, my peace returns.  I chose to ask God in humility and obedience to help me find the strength to continue to be resting in him rather than finding busyness that distracts me from him.

And little by little, small tasks are being sent my way again.  He is now leading me to continue to rest, but to also spend this time learning in preparation of things to come.  There are books that are now being read and studied, blog posts that are starting to come together one piece at a time, and opportunities to spread my wings and step out of my comfort zone to try preaching the Sunday morning message again in the near future.

Beyond these small things, He still hasn’t revealed what comes next on the journey for me.  I am content to learn the small lessons as he teaches them to me.

Sabbath rest is vital to a healthy personal relationship with God.  Make the time to engage in just being in his presence.  Rest in his arms as he prepares you to take up his yoke once more.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for  am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  – Matthew 11:28-30 (NSRV)

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Finding Narnia

Never before had I felt so nervous.  I have stood at the front of our sanctuary countless times before, but this time it was different.  I was not there to lead worship or hymns, it was not the start of a night at vacation bible school.  It was after the offering prayer on that particular Sunday morning, and the regular announcements were done.  The only thing left for me to do before turning the service back over to Pastor for the benediction was to make an announcement that was very personal to me…

Level Setting:

For the past several months I have been struggling to discern what God is calling me to do.  I had spent many hours in prayer, sought the counsel of prayerful people, started a blog, but still couldn’t quite figure out what that little, quiet voice was trying to say to my soul.  Until we had a guest speaker in our pulpit.

The visitor was from the C.S. Lewis Institute and his goal that morning was to introduce our congregation to his local office in Youngstown.  He talked about what the Institute was and the need for discipleship.  He was a very interesting speaker and passionate about his topic!  I couldn’t believe we had such a great place in such close proximity to us.

Then he mentioned that the Institute also offered a fellows program.  Intrigued by the few comments he had made about the Fellows program I  wanted to know more and stopped by the information table that was set up.  The very lovely wife of our guest speaker provided me with a wealth of information about this program.

The Fellows program is a year-long structure for people who want to learn more about discipleship and apologetics.  It involves a monthly time commitment, extensive reading, meeting regularly with a small group, and one on one time with a mentor each month.  It sounded a little overwhelming, but I put my name and email on a list of people who would like to receive more information, but I wasn’t convinced this was for me.  I went home inundated with new thoughts and questions.

Then the small voices shouted, “This is it! Seize it!”

All at once I realized that this could be the answer to all of my prayers, and began to talk about it in earnest with my husband.  He agreed that it did seem like the kind of program I would love, and he encouraged me to continue to pray about it.   It did indeed seem that this was all part of what the Spirit has been nudging me to do.

The application process was intimidating to say the least!  It started with a six page application that required essay type answers to questions about where I was in my spiritual life, how often I read my bible, what the quality of my prayer life was like, and what kind of spiritual gifts was I given?

In addition to the application I completed, I had to find two people to complete recommendations for me.  One had to be from the Pastor and the other from a person that has known me for a while and can attest to where I am currently at in my journey.

After all of the paperwork was in, I continued to pray as I waited for a response.  It came in the form of an interview request, and on a bright sunny afternoon in April I entered the offices of the C.S. Lewis Institute in Youngstown for what turned out to be a half hour interview.

Then the wait began in earnest.

A week passed.

Then another.

Followed by a third.

I was started to doubt that I had received the correct message from the Spirit.  Each day I eagerly stopped at the end of our driveway to check the mailbox.  For anyone that knows us well, they know that we rarely check our mailbox on a regular basis because all of our bills and expenses come electronically.  So the box is normally overflowing with flyers and junk mail before we get it.  But for three long weeks I was a faithful attendant to the poor little mailbox at the end of our driveway that is missing its little door.

Finally a letter arrived, and it was good news!

CS Lewis Acceptance

Such an awesome feeling to see how the hand of Providence moves!  All the things that I have been seeking will be tackled in this coming year.  So many expectations are building of what the coming year holds in store during this journey.

First and foremost is a better understanding of what I believe and why that will lead to a deeper, more meaningful faith.  One that will sustain me better in the storms of life and will draw me closer to my Maker.

My hope is that this program will help me overcome my “yes” person ways, allowing me to become more focused and intentional in everything that I do.  For the past few years I have been a Martha, scurrying to do every task that comes my way.  Now the time has come for me to be Mary, and sit at the feet of the great Teacher and learn his ways.

All of these things combined will help me to be better able to disciple and relate to those around me.  It will give me the confidence to lead our youth in Sunday school knowing that I can help them find their way.   The knowledge on theology and apologetics will also be greatly beneficial in my role as a worship leader.

The writer in me is eager for so many new experiences.  Perhaps this will be just the ticket to help me identify what my gifts are and how best to use them!

Back to my nerves at the front of the sanctuary:

On a warm morning at the end of May, with great trepidation I began to share the big news.  I had never before shared anything that related directly to me before my church family.  However that morning the story above came spilling out.  The support and love coming back from them is beyond fantastic.

Orientation for the 2015-2016 Fellows program is just a few short weeks away.  I can’t wait to dive in head first!  Some of my books have begun to arrive and the required reading has begun!  Looking forward to the adventures Yahweh has in store!

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Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7, NRSV)

Change Is In The Air

My Dear Reader Friends,

I am humble enough to know that no one other than myself realizes that I haven’t posted anything the entire month of April, however, please accept my apologies for the apparent slacking off on my part.  I am beyond excited to share with you some exciting things that have been going on in our lives that have been preventing me from spending time writing blog posts.  🙂

With the changing seasons, I find new and unexpected changes are springing forth for my little family.  We are in the negotiation process with lawyer and bank to finally purchase a home of our very own. Hallelujah! Good is God and he has showered us with many things to be thankful for already, but we can definitely feel his hand at work in all of this.

Another big announcement is that I recently discovered that there is an office for the C.S. Lewis Institute located nearby.  They offer a Fellows program that is one year-long commitment and focuses on apologetics and discipleship.  I have been busy applying to be part of this.  Any prayers would be appreciated as I await the decision of whether they will accept me into the program or not.

Fear not, dear readers!  I have not disappeared or fallen off the face of the earth.  Nor have I become discouraged and given up the idea of writing.   As the awesome plans above come together things will begin to be posted on a more regular basis.

Some ideas I have been working on for upcoming posts include:

  • my calling and how the C.S. Lewis Institute may be an answer to prayers
  • being an only child in a blended family with siblings
  • the heavenly unfolding of how we found a house
  •  a piece on worship inspired by the hymn Gather Us In
  • a piece with the working title of “Couseling Sessions” – it hasn’t quite decided how it wants to come together yet, but includes some thoughts on the book of Job, as well as thoughts on not suffering in silence, especially when the storms of life are raging

Only time will tell how all of these events will play out, but I have no doubt at all that God is taking me and my family exactly where he wants us to be.  We are listening to his call and ready to go at his command.

Blessings and Shalom!

The Midway Menno Pixie

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by the water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.  (Jeremiah 17: 7-9, NRSV)