Deciphering Me

So I must confess I have a guilty pleasure.  I love to watch Hallmark Channel movies!  It doesn’t matter how many times I have seen a movie, each one is like a dear friend to me that I enjoy spending time with again and again.

The up side to this is I regularly intake good, wholesome entertainment that always has a happy ending!  I also see the characters overcome adversity, find strength in spite of their human weaknesses, and mend broken relationships.  Some rekindle old dreams while others are discovering that change isn’t a bad thing.

The downside of this is that I see these characters in all kinds of jobs that I think I would really love to have, which leaves me feeling discontent.  Women who run country inns or bed and breakfasts or are chefs, writers, artists, restaurant owners, bookstore owners, wedding planners, or teachers to name a few.


So for the past few days I have been trying to imagine what my perfect job and life would be if I had no current obligations and money did not need to be a consideration – both the money for any training and/or set up cost and the income from said perfect job to at least maintain my family’s current finances.  Because let’s face it, I can’t turn off the satellite service to save the money on that bill – how would I watch the Hallmark channel?!?!?

I would be a writer with degrees in biblical studies that may possibly moonlight as a college professor while also having either a bookstore with a cafe and fun events for the community or an inn, and may here or there conduct public speaking engagements or fill in as a substitute preacher on a Sunday morning.  My daily life would include walks in nature, time for yoga (which I have never done but REALLY want to), reading/writing/research time, and time for puttering around my house cleaning, decorating, and cooking amazingly delicious and healthy meals.   Phew! Now I can take a breath.

That’s all!  Is that really so much to ask for? Lol.

This career path looks absolutely NOTHING like my current job and life.  As I have reflected in the past, I made the life choices that brought me to this career path based on a desire to be successful.  Unfortunately the definition of successful I used was the world’s definitions instead of God’s.

This realization of what I want to be versus what I currently am leaves me with two choices:


  1. Continue to be stressed and bitter about what I wish my life could be, filling my thoughts with regrets and what ifs.
  2. Know that God has brought me through everything up till this point and that he will use all of this in some way in my life. I can start making little changes here and there to work towards achieving some or all of these visions for myself trusting in God to bring me to that place to be the person he is calling me to be in His own time.

In my old life I would have probably chosen option number one and made myself miserable allowing the bitterness to steal all of the joy out of my life.  But I am a new creation, content to trust in God that he knows the directions he wants my life to go in.  So I am choosing option two.

Starting here and now in fact (with this blog post) – because I am writing.  And I will use the planner I keep thinking to myself that I should use to schedule time so that I can be more intentional about writing.

I will also add to my prayer journal these petitions to the section on my own person goals and dreams (you know, the one I keep meaning to set up to be more intentional about prayer time).  My prayer will be that God takes this vision of what I think I want to be and uses it to help me find out who He wants me to be.  And perhaps who I am now is EXACTLY who and what he wants me to be.

Last year I tried the New Years resolution word thing – where you pick a word to describe something you are working on understanding or being in your life.  The word I chose was Enough.  I wanted to focus on who I am in Jesus Christ and that I am enough exactly as I am.

This coming year I already have my word picked out and it is going to be Intentional.  Intentional in my walk with Jesus, intentional in my health goals for myself, intentional in seeking further education in theology and biblical studies, and intentional in developing as a writer.

Perhaps this is a two-year resolution word…

As often happens, while I was trying to get these words out I ran across on Facebook a Bible verse shared by author Sarah Bessey that has put this all into perspective for me today.  Isn’t God’s timing perfect?!?!

Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:11-12 (MSG)

Regardless of what my current employment is or my current lifestyle, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if I am an accounting manager or a published author.  What matters is how I live my life.  Do I chose the ways of the world or do I embrace my citizenship in God’s Kingdom?  Am I a humble servant of God that is obedient to God’s will for me?

My discontent over my job is just another worldly distraction.  I choose to be grateful I am blessed with employment at all.  And I choose to be more intentional about making changes for my future.  Counting my blessings daily and enjoying the simple things of God’s creation.


 

 

 

 

 

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Deciphering Discipleship Part 1

Part One of the sermon entitled Deciphering Discipleship which was originally given on April 23, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Matthew 28:18-20
2 Timothy 3:14-17


Picture By Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing used with no changes made. It can be found at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John#/media/File:Gospel_of_John_Chapter_2-12_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media).jpg

A Buddhist monk sat at the edge of the Yellow River and watched a dove with amazement. At regular intervals, the bird dipped its plumage into the water and then flew up into the air, feathers sparkling with water. And then he returned to do it again.  “Why are you doing that?” the monk asked the dove.  “Don’t you see the smoke on the horizon?” the bird answered. “There’s a forest fire over there. I’m trying to put it out.”  The monk laughed out loud. “And you, little bird, think that you can do something about it?”  “I don’t know,” said the dove. “But I know that I have to try.”

Our text today is a familiar passage that is found at the end of the Book of Matthew and has been motivating Christians around the world to get out and try to lead people down the road to repentance and salvation for a millennium.  In the NSRV version, Matthew 28:18-20 reads, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

It is in part because of this passage that I felt the need to go through the C.S. Lewis Fellows program.  This passage filled me with uneasiness, because I wanted to go as Jesus commanded me to, but I didn’t know how to go.  So, I eagerly completed the application thinking that very soon I would be given the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and able to Go and Make Disciples, just as Jesus was instructing me to do.  Instead, I learned that I totally missed the meaning of this piece of scripture.

If you were to look up this passage in the Believers Church Bible Commentary on the book of Matthew, you would read that the main verb in the Greek text of the great commission is matheteuo, which means make disciples.  Jesus is telling his remaining eleven disciples to expand the circle, to invite others to join them in following Jesus.  The other three verbs in the text are participles that connect with the main verb…We might paraphrase verses 19-20 like this:  As you go forth, call people everywhere to become disciples, which will involve both baptizing them into God’s community and summoning them to embody my teaching in their lives.

The focus on this scripture isn’t the going part.  Instead it is the making part. I think as a culture in general we do tend to miss that emphasis.  This is a rather convenient misunderstanding because if we focus on the Go instead of the Make, then we can find excuses that give us a pass on this command.  We can tell ourselves things like, that is the job and gifting of the missionaries.  I don’t need to worry myself with that command because I can’t go anywhere.  But in actuality this command isn’t just for those who travel far from their homes to spread the Gospel.  It is for each and every one of us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted that “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

We each are all called to discipleship and can extend this invitation to follow Jesus to every person we come into contact with just by going through the business of our daily lives.  There is as much of a need for the Good News of Jesus Christ in our workplaces and schools as there is for the people of the South American jungles that have never heard the name of Jesus.

So how have the churches in America gotten this passage wrong for so long?  It most likely goes back to cultural understanding.  We have forgotten, or never known, what true discipleship is.  Our version of discipleship is different than the understanding of discipleship in Jesus’ time.

The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary offers us this as the definition of disciple:  one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another: such as Christianity:  one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospel accounts.  That’s it.  It is brief, and seems to focus on accepting and sharing ideas.

A better definition for discipleship has been offered by Greg Ogden in his book, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, where he defines a disciple as one who, in the context of community, places himself or herself under the shaping influence of Jesus so that there is no doubt as to who is deploying the formative power.

However, in Jesus’ day, the cultural understanding of what discipleship is, was very different.  Rabbis in ancient Israel were scholars and teachers of Jewish laws and scriptures and they would travel around from town to town to teach in the local synagogues.  They didn’t go to their local college to get their Master’s in Biblical Studies.  Instead they had to learn by first being a disciple to another Rabbi.

To be someone’s disciple, you would give up your whole way of life and leave your family so that you could devote yourself to literally following your teacher as they travelled from place to place.  As you travelled with your teacher you also took care of his daily needs like food and shelter.  We often see in the Gospels that Jesus sends some of the twelve ahead to take care of details like these.  For years, you would devote yourself to this Rabbi so that you could learn all of his knowledge and ideas.  There were many teachers with Disciples, not just Jesus.

What Jesus changes with this model is that he is always the teacher and his followers through the ages are always the students.  The disciples remain disciples of Jesus even after he sends them out fully equipped to make disciples on their own.

What does Discipleship look like now in American Churches today?  It isn’t seen as a way of life anymore for the masses.  A lot of it is left to those who choose a monastic life, or a pastor’s path.

Dallas Willard, an author specializing in Christian Spiritual Formation, has pointed out in his writings how far we have strayed from understanding the Christian life as sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Instead we focus on the benefits that we receive by faith in Jesus rather than on being conformed to the life of Jesus.  We want abundance without obedience…The bottom line essential with in the evangelical world is having the debt of one’s sins canceled by transferring them to Jesus’ account…The most telling thing about the contemporary Christian is that he or she simply has no compelling sense that understanding of and conformity with the clear teachings of Christ is of any vital importance to his or her life, and certainly not that it is in any way essential.”  (Ogden, pages 46-47)

Studies show that only one out of every six adults who attend church regularly are involved in any type of activity or relational process that would help with personal spiritual growth.  That is around 17 % of the average church congregation.  Of this group about 69% are involved in a small group for bible or topical studies, 20% attend an adult Sunday school class, 14% are involved with one-to-one mentoring, 11% take part in special faith-based classes, and only 3% are involved in programs geared towards discipleship.  ( Ogden, pgs 26-27)

Discipleship, for the church body, has become a buzz word.   It is something to add to the to do lists rather than something to be actively engaged in so that we become closer followers of Jesus Christ.  The focus is on creating programs to reach out to disciple the lost people outside our churches. What is forgotten is the need to disciple those within the church first.


If you enjoyed Part One, please visit next week for Part Two.

Finding God in the Every Day

 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2, NRSV)

We have all heard at one time or another the passage in Hebrews that tells us to be kind to strangers because you just never know when you may be talking to an angel.  Isn’t that an awesome thought?  For anyone that knows me, one thought like that leads to another…

So of course the direction that my mind takes off in is to idealize what a perfect meal (because of course hospitality includes good food!) would  be like.  I envision starting off the meal with an herbed tomato salad made with dainty, vibrant heirloom tomatoes.  The main course should include angel chicken sitting on a bed of angel hair pasta.  Of course the only logical conclusion to this meal would be to finish off with angel food cake covered in juicy, ripe strawberries and swirls of fluffy, whipped cream.

The conversation around the perfectly set dining room table is deep and meaningful.  We cover important topics like relieving poverty, providing safe food and clean drinking water to all, and how to achieve world peace.

However, I don’t think that is quite what the writer of Hebrews was trying to convey in this verse.

Entertaining is stressful and messy.

Life is stressful and messy.

Last week I attended the MC USA biennial convention in Kansas City, Missouri as one of the youth sponsors with our MYF group.  We connected with old friends, became better acquainted with familiar faces, learned new things in seminars, and came together to worship and praise our God during daily worship services.

Our time was filled with endless opportunities to know and hear God’s voice.  We rose early to gain new insights or fresher understandings of things we already knew at the multiple seminars that were available.  We were servants together in city-wide service projects.  The fellowship and opportunities to be community together were plentiful.  The nights ran late with worship services and were followed by more recreation time together.  A fellow convention attendee said at the end of the week they were physically exhausted but spiritually filled.

The Emmaus Road in Luke 24 was the scripture focus.  Some very gifted musicians, teachers, and preachers helped us to unpack this scripture through a series of dramas, songs, and sermon messages.  We came away with the understanding that even though we may not see him, Jesus is always walking with us.  Even in the bad times in our lives he is there, using the situation as part of the process, and ultimately there is a purpose in all that is happening that he can use to help teach us and mold us into something new and better.  This is a very brief synopsis of the messages last week, and doesn’t even begin to convey the talent of the gifted people who facilitated all of the worship services.

As the week came to a close, Kim Litwiller, Associate Conference Minister for the Illinois Mennonite Conference, opened the worship service on Saturday night, just as she had done for all of the youth worship services throughout the week.  She told us how sad she was to see the week close, but rather than asking us what we were taking away from our time together, Kim asked us, “Where did you see God this week?”

Where did you see God this week?

The question took me by surprise.  All week I had been looking for what God wanted to do with me, but I don’t know that I was looking for him around me.  My eyes were apparantly blinded.

Which made me start thinking.

Are we so busy looking for angels that appear in rays of glowing heavenly light among us that we miss  the angelic moments brought to us by humanity?  Do television shows and movies now have us conditioned to be looking for the extraordinary rather than paying attention to the everyday ordinary occurences and people?

What if while you are following the advice of the writer of Hebrews and showing hospitality, just in case it is an angel, you yourself are being used by God to be someone else’s angel?

During that last opening message, Kim used an illustration of where she had seen God during the convention.  She told a story about a moment in her week to the 2000+ people (youth and sponsors) gathered, that she said could have been quite embarrassing for her.  She had just come back to the hotel after her morning run and stopped in the lobby to get a cup of coffee.  She had a flavor shot put into the cup and turned to walk to the coffee dispensers when she accidentally dropped the cup.  The sticky liquid in the cup spilled on the floor and the bottom of the counter.  A woman standing close by very quickly came to Kim’s aid and helped her to get it cleaned up and on her way again.  In that woman, at that moment in time, Kim saw God working.

Are we paying attention to how God is using those around us for his purposes?

Are we aware as we are helping others that God is using us for his purposes?

How often do others see God through the random acts of kindness we are offering to others?

Perhaps the writer of Hebrews should have instructed us to act as angels to others by showing hospitality, empathy, and compassion rather than to watch for one of them.  By helping others through good deeds and servant acts when they are in need, God is using us to help spread the light in his Kindgom.

For the most part, we will probably never know how our acts of kindness have uplifted or encouraged others.  Every now and again God does allow us to see the good we did with just a random act of kindness though.   In the most unlikely of ways.

The woman at the hotel coffee counter that quickly came to help that morning was me.  Never in a million years did I image that simple act would be remembered or have any kind of impact.

We, the children of God in his kingdom on earth, are the hands and feet of Jesus.  Let’s use those hands and feet to spread his love by showing his love through acts of kindness in a dark and cruel world. Let’s take turns carrying each others crosses and bearing each other’s burdens.

Each one helps the other, saying to one another, “Take courage!”  The artisan encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved. (Isaiah 41:5-7, NSRV)

Falling Down

Lately I have been struggling more than usual on this journey called life.  I have been finding myself filled with the bitterness of disappointments and wallowing in despair about life in general.  Last week all of that yuckiness built up to an all time high and situations at work allowed those feeling to implode leaving me an emotional and stressed out wreck.

Last night I attended the Winter Cluster meeting for the Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA for our region.  During the devotional time, Regional Pastor Ralph Reinford, talked about seasons and the different seasons of life.  He went on to say that no matter what the season is, it will always pass and change to another season.

That made me reflect on what I have been experiencing lately and it filled me with new hope.  I have been going through a season of frustrations, and it too shall pass.

At home we have been dealing with the changing moods and attitudes of our eleven year old son, Max.  I would voluntarily go back to the terrible twos!  In addition to the changing family dynamics, impatience with our finances has me chomping at the bit to FINALLY purchase our own home.  We are so very close!

On the church front there are the usual issues that come up while serving in a small congregation.  Changes are being made either too quickly or too slowly, depending upon who is asked.  Couple that with the polity issues that are happening around the larger Mennonite denomination as a whole, and there is a recipe for instant frustration.

Then there is the guilty frustrations that come when you have new dreams that you can’t quite seem to make happen.  I want to embrace this dream of writing and run with it.  Unfortunately reality doesn’t agree with my agenda at the moment.  It has been incredibly hard to find the time to write regular blog posts, let alone focus on other areas of this dream.  I would like to find the time to learn more about the craft of writing to improve my new-found skills.  There is also an impatience because I feel so strongly that God has been calling me to this but I don’t know what more I need to be doing with this gift.  Should I be focusing on magazine articles?  Is it a book that I need to write?  Fiction or Nonfiction?

However, it is the stresses I have been experiencing at work that were the final straws on the proverbial camel’s back that broke me last week and pushed my frustration level to the moon and back.  By Friday afternoon I felt utterly disrespected and disillusioned.  The sting of betrayal from a superior was more than I could bear and the blindness of the said supervisor that allowed the perceptions of another employee to take precedence over my proven track record of integrity and team work was like salt to the wounds.

I went home for the weekend belittled, indignant, and hurt.  Hard work should be the stick we are measured by, not whether we have a degree or what gender we are or what the opinions of other are, right?  Why is this happening?

Monday morning rolled around.  Leaving the safe shelter of my home to go to work was incredibly difficult.  The events of last week still plagued my troubled soul and The Dixie Chicks song Not Ready To Make Nice was playing in my head.  I quietly hid in my office for most of the day still seething internally.

I had heard a Proverbs 31 Ministry Moment on the radio on my way to work that said if I wanted God to fight my battles for me then I need to ask him to do that.  When I laid down my head to go to sleep Monday night that thought was bouncing around in my head.

I spent a very restless night and eventually woke up around 3:00 am.  By 4:30 am I gave up on trying to sleep and decided to get up and spend some extra time with God in his word.  I was looking for his comfort and some answers.

By the time I picked up my Bible I had concluded that I can’t change people’s perspectives about me.  I had also decided that if someone labels you as “difficult”  it is not because you actually are, but because they just don’t want to hear what you have to say.  And that is okay because it is their problem and not mine.  They must be insecure or stubborn, and they are afraid of what might happen if what you have to say brings about a change.

I was looking for a battle plan.  Something I could use to fix the injustices.  So I looked to a Psalm that has helped me in the past.  In Psalm 25, David is asking for guidance and deliverance from his enemies:

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.  Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; Let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.  

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.  Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.  He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.  All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.  Who are they that fear the Lord?  He will teach them the way that they should choose.

They will abide in prosperity, and their children shall possess the land.  The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.  My eyes are ever towards the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.  Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.  Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.

Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.  O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.  May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. 

Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles. (NRSV)

Revelation!  A flash of insight popped into my head — I am just as much to blame for difficulties I encounter and the frustrations that I am feeling if I don’t trust in the Lord with all my heart.  My reluctance to let go and let God lead me through my day has created an opening of bitterness that the Devil is waiting to use to thwart my purposes.  This impatience on my part is what is truly causing my unsettled mind!  I can’t help how others act  or change their perceptions and assumptions about me and I don’t need to.

 I need to humble myself and allow Yahweh to lead me.  He will guide me along the right paths and he will fight any battles for me.  I just need to ask him to be my defender.  Then I need to allow him to actually lead me gracefully from season to season.

Tuesday morning looked a lot different in comparison to Monday.  A humble Pixie left for work and I started off the day by reading again Psalm 25 out loud at my desk before beginning the days tasks.  For the first time in days I could feel a calm and peace descending over me.

Today I ran across Jeremiah 17:7-8 and I am convinced that it is Yahweh telling me that I am on the right path as long as I continue to trust EVERYTHING to him:

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by 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. (NRSV)

These two pieces of scripture from the Old Testament are going to be my mantra, at work especially, going forward.  I have printed both passages out and they are now taped on my wall right next to my desk.  When I arrive each morning I will be using these passages as prayers to help me center myself for the day and to help set my tone and attitude.  It is also handy to have them right next to me as I work through the day.  I can quickly glance over and re-humble myself to continue on with strength, grace, and integrity.

Falling Down Picture 1Falling Down Picture 2

We all fall down.  It is up to us to choose to trust in the Lord and let him help us get back up, or to give a victory to the evil tempter by staying knocked down to dwell on things we can’t change and that are out of our control.  No matter what, though, the love and mercy of our heavenly Father is always available to us.  Whether we start over right now, tomorrow, or next month, it is never to late to get back up.

It doesn’t matter how many times we fall down either.  He will  always surround us with his love and help us pick up the pieces and start again. Every. Single. Time.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23, NRSV)