Thursday, August 21, 2014

Outward Appearance


We spend so much time and attention on our outward appearance. We buy make-up, deodorant, perfumes or colognes, stylish clothes, shoes with ridiculous pointed toes or high heels...all to make an impression on people we meet. We dress up to appear wealthier and more successful than we are, or to identify with a particular group of people, whether it's a gang or a fraternity or an employer.

And we judge others based on their outward appearance. We are quicker to trust those who look like us, and to fear or look down upon those who are different.

But we can't fake it for God. He sees the truth inside of us, no matter how we decorate the outside.

This is either a very scary thought or a very comforting one, depending on how you look at it. I choose to thank God daily that he doesn't judge me on my shoes or muffin top or mom jeans or sagging skin. Because I know He sees my heart and pours His love onto me and into my heart, I am humbled and comforted and want to share that love with the world.

I hope you are humbled and comforted by this verse, too.  If, however, this verse makes you worried or scared, I encourage you to pray, to find a friend to discuss your fears. No one is perfect. Everyone is a sinner, flawed and selfish and petty and small. Yet each and every one of us is a child of the Living God, a Father who wants us to know Him and follow Him in love.

With God, it's always about the love...His undying love for us and our love for Him and for each other.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Consider the Fruit

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

A man I know once asked his pastor how we can distinguish between God's will and our own. How do we know, he wondered, when what we want to do is really God's plan for us or merely our own will at work?

The pastor, Dr. Mark Shimer, considered the question and replied, "Consider the fruit."

In other words, who will benefit? How will they benefit? Is the fruit of your labor sweet and healthy, or is it sour and poisonous? Will God be glorified or vilified? Does the action you're considering make the world a better place, or does it make the world a better place just for you at someone else's expense?

When you bring forth good fruit, you spread love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If what you want to do doesn't bring about these fruits, then it isn't of God.

When an impulse to do something, to say something, to encourage someone comes upon us, considering the fruit helps us stay true to the kingdom path. At times, considering the fruit is pretty straightforward. Other times, it's tough and conflicted and we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that God wants what we want. For examples, think of historical justifications for slavery, or think of recent justifications for threatening a mosque in Tennessee or for pulling sponsorship of starving children worldwide because World Vision decided to allow married gay people to work for them.

What is the fruit of that deed? Will it result in love? Or will it foster hate? Will it bring peace? Or will it bring war? Is it kindness? Or is it cruel? Does it inspire faithfulness? Or does it drive people away from Christ?

Consider the fruit. Good fruit draws non-believers to God. Good fruit fosters community and understanding. Good fruit brings God's kingdom closer to fruition.

How's your harvest?

Have you considered your fruit? Has there been a time when you realized your fruit wasn't good? How did you respond to that awareness? When have you produced excellent fruit? What were the results of that? Did the experience change you?

Monday, August 4, 2014

10 Random (and Occasionally Silly) Observations of a Mountaintop Experience

The fountain view outside my dirty hotel window

1. It's easy to see how Jesus could have stayed up all night praying. It's impossible to go to sleep when you're high on God.

2. That is, until the sleep deprivation catches up with us mere mortals, and we crash. Hard. Unfortunately, I didn't crash until 1:00 last night.

3. Prayer partners are miracles. Mine is Althea, and meeting this sister in Christ has made the mountaintop feel like home.

4. There's a LOT of paperwork on the mountaintop.

5. My Stephen Ministry team at home gave me greeting cards to open while I'm here. Linda's card included this delightful watercolor painting. I'm carrying it around for Show-And-Tell, and everyone loves it as much as I do. When you look at it, don't you feel like Jesus is giving you a hug?

6. After just one full day of training, I'm in awe of what our two Stephen Leaders have done and continue to do. In an ideal SM group, there would be at least six leaders to spread all the work around. We have had just two leaders for over five years. The complexity of the task is astounding. I appreciate in a whole new way the hard work they've done and the depth of faith with which they have done it.

7. I've used about a quarter of the tissues my SM friends gave me. The trainers keep springing touching videos on us, and I'm sharing tissues with my table mates. Sniff, sniff.

8. I am an enthusiastic appreciator of music, but I fought an impulse to apologize to the people on either side of me after we sang a praise song this morning. Poor people, having to stand near me, singing! Perhaps I should give them tissues to stuff in their ears. Or just lip-synch like Milli Vanilli. That might be kinder.

9. "Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2 This verse has two sides: sometimes you're the subject doing the bearing, and sometimes you're the object whose burdens are being borne. If you can help someone, do so. If you need help, let others be a blessing to you.

10. I'm crashing. Hard. Have a blessed night.

The view of the flag outside my dirty window

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Road Beginning with Gratitude

Years ago, when our pastor's mother gave a presentation on Stephen Ministry, I felt called. As this woman described the process of becoming a Stephen Minister and then a Stephen Leader, I knew that God was calling me to follow in her footsteps.

I am so grateful for this woman, her presentation, and that call.

Several prayerful years passed, and I joined a Stephen Minister class with one other student, a woman named Barbara, and an outstanding teacher, our Stephen Leader Karen. Karen and I were already close friends united by many common threads and mutual respect for our differences, but Barbara and I were strangers at the beginning of training. Very quickly, we became wonderfully close, and now Barbara is one of my dearest friends and closest confidantes. She is an incredible treasure in my life!

I am so grateful for Karen and for Barbara.

Several more years passed. Our Stephen Leaders decided to hold a Small Group Peer Supervision Leadership Training Class so we would have more than two SMs qualified to run peer supervision. Linda and I took that class with the excellent Karen teaching us. It was another wonderful growth experience.

I am so grateful for Karen (again!) and for Linda for a rich afternoon of learning.

One day, my sister-in-law Angela and I were talking about Stephen Ministry, and I mentioned how I wanted, eventually, to be a Stephen Leader. She asked what was holding me back, and I told her that the boys were still too young to be left alone for an entire week while George worked. She immediately offered to watch the boys while I went to the training in Pittsburgh. I hated to impose, but she got downright pushy about it. "Give me the dates."

I am so grateful to Angela for giving me the freedom to go earlier than I ever expected.

After Angela's offer, I approached our other Stephen Leader, Zandra, and told her that I was interested in attending the Pittsburgh course in August. Zandra enthusiastically approached the church leadership, asking for the funding to pay for my attendance. The church said yes.

I am so grateful to Zandra for supporting me and to First United Methodist Church of Springboro for making the money available.

At the last SM meeting before my training class, the group gave me an enormous basket of goodies to take with me. Hand warmers (for the cold conference hall), pens, pencils, post-its, notebooks, a book on prayer, hand sanitizer, snacks, book marks, a key ring, a pin, and--best of all--a stack of cards from all the SMs for me to open during my week in Pittsburgh.

I am so grateful to my SM group for their encouragement and support.

Tomorrow, I leave for Pittsburgh in an adorable red VW rental as my own car is repaired. As silly as it sounds, I cannot express how totally cool and unexpected that little car is!

I am so grateful to Enterprise for running out of four-door sedans.

Finally, my immediate family has put up with my absence for SM training, for regular twice-monthly meetings that sometimes run late, and for emergency phone calls and meetings relating to Stephen Ministry. While this coming week's absence has been turned into a fun vacation by Angela and her husband Mike, my husband and children will be without me, and I will be without them.

I am so grateful for George, Nick, and Jack in their support of my time spent in God's service elsewhere.

The road leading to Pittsburgh as been long and blessed and wonderful and challenging, and there's just no better way to begin than to acknowledge with deepest gratitude all those who have made it possible for me to serve God whole-heartedly through this amazing ministry.

I rejoice! My heart overflows with gratitude! Thank you, God, for these many blessings!

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18