Misplaced Monday’s: Accountability

“What on earth is that?”

I am gazing at a sticky, snot like stain on my front door window.  It’s about 2 inches wide and 3 inches tall.  A dead fly is stuck in the corner with a collage of legs and wings from his nearest and dearest friends.

“Wow.  You just noticed that.  It’s been there forever.” Says the teen.

“Jeez, Mom. I can’t believe you just saw that.” Says the tween.

“It’s been there for years,” says the man. “It ‘s just a sticker that melted to the window.”

“So,” I reiterate, “We have had a snot blob and fly guts stuck to the window for years.  You all have seen it and not one of you has bothered to take a scraper and clean it up.”

“Look how long it took you to notice,” my smug man says with a smile on his face.

Is anyone else’s blood pressure a little high?

I proceed to explain the importance of taking care of messes as soon as you see them.  Just because no one else seems to notice does not make a difference. You saw it.  You handle it.

However, no one is listening.  The fact that I ranted this very  speech just two hours before might be a reason to take into account.  Is it really too much to expect your family to clean up the mess the Diva wonder dog left.  4/5 of my family walked through the war-torn mess of half eaten Q-tips and wash rags yet not one took the initiative to clean it up off of the bathroom floor.

Come on!

Yet, in the world outside of our homes we tend to turn a blind eye as well.

How many times have you seen a brother or sister walking into a dangerous, broken or messy situation and chosen to turn your head.

How many times have you looked the other way when you see a friend engaged in behavior that can harm their most precious relationships, but you didn’t say a word because it was none of your business.

How many times?

Iron sharpens IronAnd is it really our place?

This issue of accountability has resided close to my heart as I think of the many times I chose to turn a blind eye.  Our command is to get involved.  Especially when the one engaged in sin is a member of the family of believers.

Accountability is something we all need from time to time.  Who better to help us than our family of believers who love us enough to say the words we need to hear to turn away from sin, repent and pull back on track with God.  Yet, in this business of confrontation, we have some firm rules we need to follow to keep our walk in the clear.

We must confront with a spirit of gentleness.  Leave the tar and feathers at home. This is about approaching what is tender and opening the possibility of God’s grace to enter, heal and restore.

This starts as a between me and you conversation.  Not me and you after I put you on the prayer list at life group.   If this conversation doesn’t work, you are then allowed to recruit help.  Again, confidentiality is so important.  If you find yourself in this situation, confide in someone who will help and keep the transgression quiet while going back to your brother and sister.  If they still turn you away, you  go the church.

Can I be honest with you for a second?  This scares the stuffing out of me.  Go to the church? EEP.

Let’s get back to the role of the church.  To be the hands and feet of a loving Christ.  My thought is that going to the church means seeking the presence of your pastor, or elders who can approach the sin with appropriate counsel & correction while holding the sinner with love, dignity and respect.

It all comes down to this.  We have specific instructions to hold our brothers and sisters accountable.  We live a higher standard in Christ.  We can’t live dual lives. We’re different. We’re marked by grace. We can’t turn a blind eye because no one else has noticed and you don’t want to get your hands dirty.

I think of something I heard a long time ago.  It has always stuck with me.  A pastor’s wife was giving her testimony in church and she said, “You wouldn’t let someone run into the path of an oncoming car without trying to stop them.”

Who needs your interception today?

Just think of the lives that could be changed if we made the intentional choice not to turn a blind eye any longer.

The fall of pride. A review of motives. A lesson in humility.

I stood at the altar clutching my fleece creation as I finished my call for volunteers.  I had a great project in mind and I was in need of some extra hands  to pull it off.

I met eyes with the head of personnel as I turned to exit the stage and nodded a brief hello.  Which is the exact last thing I remember before hearing a collective “OH!”, as I tumbled from the edge of the altar and on to my hands and knees.

No stairs required.

I did a quick pain check and prayed a quick prayer that God would maybe just take me away from the moment.  A little vanishing act to finish the show would certainly be appropriate.  To no avail, I stood to my feet. I looked back to the congregation with a brief wave acknowledging I was okay and immediately left the room in a rush to get back to my office.  No harm.  No foul.

A lesson in humility learned in front of an audience of about 100 people.

No biggie.

Except it was.  Because when you fall off the altar in front of the entire church, everyone wants to follow up and make sure you’re okay.  It was like reliving the fall over and over again which was a hard pill to swallow.

Because in this season of ministry, it was all about me.

How can I make a name for myself?

How can I turn heads? 

How can I win more people to my cause?

It didn’t take me long to acknowledge my error.  Let’s say this moment was the beginning of the end.  It was in the weeks and months to follow that I realized that the purpose of ministry is to point people to Jesus.  Not to me.

I told myself I was pointing people to Jesus but that was a lie.

The truth is that it fed my ego when people acknowledged me and the success we were having in our children’s ministry and my motive for taking the director position was not exactly pure.  It was a chance to make a name for myself and prove that I was not the screw up that I believed myself to be.

God did a powerful work in my life in that season.  The most powerful work occurred in his silence.  At times when I desperately needed to hear his voice for wisdom and direction, he was quiet.  He was with me, but he just didn’t have much to say.  There were many moments when I had to stand on my own against popular opinion.  There were moments when people I respected shut me out.

Yet even in silence, God is still good.

It was in those moments I knew I was running the ministry God gave me in the exact way he was calling me to run it. I wasn’t doing it for me anymore. It was all for him.  And regardless of the noise happening around me, I was at peace.

At the end of that season, I left the ministry he gave me and started a new chapter in my life.  A new church.  It was a while before I got involved in a new ministry.  This time, I wanted my service to be different.  I wanted my service to be for him.  So I waited.  Nearly two years I waited.  At some points, I felt that maybe I had burned my bridges, so to speak.  I had my chance.  No more doors would be opening for me.

The thing about God is that he is not finished with me. Even now.

 In that time of waiting, I have rebalanced my priorities.  I have prayed.  I have reconnected with him. Even though I’m still under construction, he is starting to open doors for me once more.  Not only for me, but for my family as well.

I am done forcing open doors and windows of opportunities for service.  When ministry starts to feel like a burden, I do a heart check.

Is this really where I am supposed to serve or am I blocking someone else’s opportunity to serve joyfully? 

Does my choice to serve in this capacity offer an opportunity to point people to God? 

 Is this just an opportunity to make a name for me?

Each day I wake up and ask for ways to serve the Lord.  I am grateful for every opportunity he gives me, even when I receive no earthly recognition for my efforts. I ask God for a heart of contentment in knowing that I am his fragrance here on earth.  The girl longing for recognition still lives inside of me.  But with prayer and intentional surrender, God helps me to keep my focus where it belongs.

On Him.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
1 Peter 4: 1-2

Coffee Shop altercations: A story of mistaken identities

I was checking the balance on my smartphone ap while digging correct change from my ashtray in the parking lot of my favorite afternoon beverage stop.

It’s a venti kind of day.

I shut down the ap satisfied I have enough to cover my craving when I look up to meet the eyes of a middle aged woman staring me down from across the parking lot.

By staring down, I mean ready to snatch me bald.

Hmm.

I take a deep breath, close my ashtray and straighten my posture.  I put on my “you’re gonna love me” smile as I get out of my nondescript sedan and head in her direction.

“Hi.  How are you doing?”  I say in my attempt to kill her with kindness.

She stares me down with an owlish expression.  Blink. Blink.  Head shake. Shoulder shake.  Deep Sigh. I grow concerned as I wait for her response.

“I thought that was my car you were in.  But my car is parked over there.” She says as we both turn our heads toward her nondescript sedan.  Otherwise known as my car’s doppleganger.

“Happens to me all the time.”  I reply.

Really.  It does.  Ask my kids.

As I head into the shop I recall my pastor saying that we should follow Jesus so closely that we can say with confidence, “Just follow me.  I’m following him.” My life should resemble the belief that lives inside of me.

The truth is, I cannot always say I am following the footsteps of my savior closely enough to be mistaken for him.

I want my wrongs to be made right.

I want my comfort zone to be restored.

I want to give my emotions the key and the driver seat.

I want to go my own way.  And, when I go my own way, I’m not following Jesus any longer.

Please tell me I am not alone in this.

The bible tells me that I am not alone in the process of transformation from me to he. He gave me his powerful Holy Spirit as a seal and a ransom for my life.  I am marked as his.  I have an advocate for prayer when I don’t know what to say. A mighty power that fills the void on days when I’m feeling particularly human.

The best promise is that his mercy is made new every morning.  I have fresh grace and fresh mercy to call upon each and every day.  A new opportunity to take the mistakes I made yesterday and turn them into opportunities for witness today.  His redemption is powerful.  And, it’s mine. (It’s yours too!)

When people see my life, my words and my choices, they should see my savior.  They should see my flaws, refined and restored, in his amazing mercy and grace.

They should be overcome by His love overflowing from me.

 

Maybe it’s not her. Maybe it’s me.

The darkening sky is reflecting the stormy atmosphere inside of my car.  My daughter is singing along with the radio while my son’s fingers are jammed into his ears as far as they will go without the need for surgical removal.

Lightening strikes.

“Chloe, if you don’t stop singing, the lightening is going to strike you so you can’t sing anymore!”

Sometimes, people just get under your skin.

Lately, I have found myself challenged by difficult people. People different than me.  People who annoy me.  People who choose to go their own way and have a tendency to throw a kink in my well thought out plans.  People who act as a speed bump to the flow of progress.  And, when my flow of progress is bumped, my inner mean girl comes out.  Thoughts start to circulate in my head.

Thoughts like:

How can you be so oblivious?

I would love to put her in her place!

I really dislike that woman.

The real tragedy occurs when I allow premature judgement feed my annoyance.

Finally, all of you should be of one mind.  Sympathize with each other.  Love each other as brothers and sisters.  Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.

1 Peter 3:8

What if, instead of making snap judgements, I rephrased my line of thinking.

Is the individual truly going her own way or does she just not grasp the vision and the plan we are trying to achieve? Am I threatened by the gifts and talents of this individual? Or, perhaps, the attention she is receiving?  Is my snap judgement and assumption of motive the cause of our delayed progress? Or, is it my unwillingness to communicate that keeps us from achieving our goal?

Maybe it’s not her.

Maybe, it’s me.

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

The problem wasn’t her.  The problem was me.  As ugly as that sounds.  The next time the ugly emo of annoyance raises its head, I’m going to reach out to the person at the root of the cause.  Not in aggravation, but in love.

Love is the only emotion big enough to cover petty differences.

Love is the only emotion I wish to allow free reign in my life.

Love is the only emotion big enough to soften a heart hardened by annoyance.

 

 

The bravest hearts come in small packages

We pull in to the K-Mart parking lot in Freeport, just outside of Applebee’s.  I can feel the tears burning my eyes. I’m trying to be strong but failing miserably.  I take off my seatbelt as I glance in the rearview mirror.  My Chloe, then third grader, was folded over crying silently.  I look over at my husband as he gets out of our magic van.  He pops open the side door as I walk around to take the driver seat.

This is where we say goodbye. I wish I had a fast forward button I could push.  I’m really not ready for this.

“Dad”, our 5 year old Lucas says, “Chloe is just afraid that this is the last time she is going to see you before you die.  But I know that Jesus is going with you and he is going to kick the bad guys butts.”

I will live and die to claim that these are and will be the hardest words I will ever heard one my kids say.  The hardest moment I have ever had to move through. We were prepared physically. In the last few weeks, we had attended every family meeting the national guard had offered.  We got our financial affairs in order.  Arranged for activities to keep the kids busy.  My work schedule altered to accommodate my new single mom status.

We planned for the worst while expecting the best.  But no one told me how to walk away. To leave my man behind to go and fight a war while I proceeded forward with my regularly scheduled life.

Yet, in that moment of brokenness, sheer wisdom came from the mouth of our kindergartener.

You’re not going alone. 

Jesus is with you.  

Jesus has your back.

When our greatest fears threaten to paralyze us, we have to stand on the fact that the power of God will fuel us with exactly the thing we need to move us toward his purpose, even when all evidence says we can’t.

He gave a stuttering murderer the power to part the red sea with his staff.

He projected a rock from the sling of a small boy to the exact coordinates needed to slay a giant.

He arranged a marriage for a pregnant, unwed teen mom that her reputation & future would be restored so she could fulfill her “yes” to him.

He granted his son the power to defeat a sinners death on the cross that all who believed could live in relationship with him.

He granted peace of mind to a 5 year old boy and his family that was separating for deployment.

What is paralyzing you today?

What is that thing you are facing that leaves your palms sweating?

What is the thing that leaves your stomach in knots of anxiety?

God is there.  He has gone before you.  He is with you now.

He has already kicked bad guy butt.

Allow his mighty power to move on your behalf today.

Live as a foreigner

Our team was exhausted.  A bit nauseous from the twisty, turvy ride through the mountainside. One part excited.  Two parts  scared.  Wholly expectant to see the hand of God come to touch each one of us in the week to come.  We hesitantly observed our living quarters.  Wooded framed bunks with a three inch foam mattress.  Pane-less windows to accommodate a desert breeze.  Porta- potties and a shower house to tend to the necessities.  Its meager offerings were much more that I anticipated when I volunteered to go.

Since you call on a father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.

1 Peter 1:17

To live as a foreigner is not a concept I have always been comfortable with. So, surprisingly, when our church announced a missions trip to Mexico, I knew I needed to go.  I have no other explanation.  I just knew.  I prepared my heart to expect God.  To be open to his movement in my life while in Mexico.  Living as a foreigner has taught me much about the walk Jesus expects his followers to walk each day we have on this earth.

Each morning, I woke before the sun to the sound of roosters crowing and the smell of diesel from the buses leaving to pick up children for the day.  I showered and read my devotion, ready and expectant to hear from God.  No laundry.  No dishes.  Just the sunrise and quiet.

After breakfast and team devotion, we would tackle our daily project.  This might mean picking up trash in a community, delivering water or hosting a children’s program. We prayed for the individual families we served.  We moved dirt piles for a man building his home.  We mixed concrete and dug trenches for water filtration for the orphanage. Some hard and laborious work for a girl who typically gets paid to talk. The biggest barrier being communication. Trusting the interpreter to interpret clearly.  Observation of body language.  Being Jesus instead of merely speaking Jesus.

As meaningful as this work was, each days purpose was to seek the treasure God placed in our treasure box.

What is this treasure box you speak of?

Simply this.  Each day, we would spend a quiet moment with God and we would ask him to lay a person, place, thing or image on our heart.  This would be our treasure.  Before each mission, we would share our treasure with our team. These things include (but not limited too): jagged hearts, blue hats, white rabbits. A beautiful little boy named Benjamin.  In every sign, God was faithful.  The meetings often happened in places we weren’t even scheduled to be. (See future blogs about broken down busses in Mexico.)

Our day would conclude with our team. We would take time to reflect on the ways God had shown up that day.  We would share our testimony. We would finish our time together in praise and worship.  We prayed over individuals in our own team that God would meet their specific needs. The day would conclude as we laid in bed with our journals and flashlights, recording our adventures of the day, anxious for what tomorrow holds.

When I reflect on living as a foreigner, I can’t  help but think of Christ’s example here on earth.

He woke  with the intention of serving God each day.

He  spent quiet time with God regularly-seeking wisdom & direction.

He sought God’s treasure, even in places he wasn’t supposed to be.

He gathered with other believers, regularly, to teach and encourage them.

Living as a foreigner in a foreign country is much easier in a foreign country.  The command is to live as a foreigner here. At work. At home. Carpooling and soccer practice.  With the people who know your backstory and aren’t afraid to use it against you.  We can, however, be confident in knowing that many broken believers have gone before us and their authentic belief added to the number of Christ followers.  Daily.

So, who is in your treasure box today?

Trust and Obey

Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him and he’ll make your paths straight.”

“The Lord is my shepard, I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1.  My daily meditation verse.  For 2013, I chose the word Obedience as the word I am focusing on for the year.  As I came to this word, the Lord has placed a burden on my heart to spend time each day focusing on one verse.  Taking time to meditate on it and record what He had to tell me.  When I came to this simple verse of Psalm 23:1, I was a little disappointed.  And it took me a while to open my ears and truly here His voice.

Regardless of how the circumstances seem; regardless of how daunting your To Do list appears- I have given you a perfect portion.  I helped you coordinate and plan.  I see the whole picture.  I know exactly what your up against- have no worries.  Trust me!

Trust me.  At this moment, I am picturing Aladdin and Princess Jasmine.  Aladdin is sitting on the magic flying carpet, reaching out his hand to welcome Jasmine to take a magic carpet ride.  He says with a gleam in his eye, “Do you trust me?”  In that moment, she realizes this arrogant prince is the peasant she has dreamed of in the marketplace.  She accepts his offer.

I looked up the word, trust.  Of course, the definition I was looking for was simple.  A firm belief in reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.  But what struck me was the following definition.  “Confidence placed in a person by making that person the nominal owner of property to be held or used for the benefit of others.”  Trust me.

When I choose to obey God and “trust” him with my life, I am giving him ownership of my life for the benefit of others.  I am confident in his ability to manage everything that comes my way. My time, my marriage, my family, my job, ministry opportunities- the list goes on and on.  He doesn’t miss a single detail.  Not only that, He gives me the strength of his Holy Spirit to rely on in times when I am weak.  His power is made perfect in my weakness.  What a relief.

When I make the decision to trust God, I can stop striving. I  can stop approaching my time of bible study with the sole purpose of trying to discern his purpose for me.  I can approach his throne with a quiet heart and listening ears.  I can get to know Him and His promises.  And in return, He will make my paths straight.  Trust and Obey- there really is no other way.

Will the Real Slim Shady PUH-LEEZE stand up?

I am a closet rap fan.  Okay, so I’m not in the closet anymore.  There is something about Bass that sets things right in my world.  It’s quite possible that this love stems from being rocked to sleep by it in student housing as a baby.  When the song in my title, produced by Eminem, debuted, I recall an interview he did with one of the major morning shows.  The talking heads asked him,” What is the meaning of your song?”  To this he replied that we all have two egos that live within us.  We have one side that we want the world to see.  The good, loving, wonderful side.  But we also have a “Slim Shady” that lives within us.  This is the ego that causes us to flip someone off in a fit of road rage. (His words, not mine!)  I remember his words resonating with me.  I can completely relate.  NO!  I have not flipped anyone off in traffic, but I do have a two year old that lives inside of me when things don’t go exactly my way.  Turns out, I’m not the only one.  Take note from Paul in Romans 7: 18-20:

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one who is doing wrong; it is the sin living in me that does it.”

As “good” Christians (this IS an oxymoron), we tend to believe that we are born as “good” people.  In reality, the bible says there is no such thing!  In original creation, we are born to the “flesh”.  This not only means our skin, but more importantly, human nature!  This is the earthly nature of a man apart from divine influence, therefore, prone to sin and opposed to God.  So God decided we needed some training wheels.  He sent Moses to the mountain and created “The Law”.  Believers of God were so excited about “The Law” they forgot God’s promise of a Savior.  Many still believe, to this day, that through their own “good” actions, they can get to heaven.   But, the bible say’s we have to be born again, to the spirit;  The disposition, or influence that fills and governs the soul of anyone.  In my mind, I know God sent his son to the cross to die for my sins.  I fully accept that I cannot get to Heaven on my own.  But my dilemma comes in when I try to live up to “The Law” and transform myself into who I think God wants me to be.   This was not God’s design, at all!  In Galatians 3:3b, Paul reminds us, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Okay, so when you say it out loud, it sounds scary!

I leave with this thought.  When my “Slim Shady” is trying to come out to play, I will remember that I am “under construction.”  If God had made himself perfect in me, I would be blogging from Heaven.   God produces good  fruit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.  If the fruit I produce is anything other than these character traits, I am commiting Galatians 5:24-25 to heart:

“For those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed their passions & desires of their sinful nature to the cross and crucified them there.  Since we are living by the spirit, let us follow the Spirits leading in every part of our lives.”