Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


We were up to our elbows in cucumbers when I made a logical decision: Canning would be my hobby.

Those of you who know me probably know that while I have many strengths, spontaneity is not one of them. I also tend to be disturbingly rational and logical -- and thus even choose my hobbies intentionally.

But my husband loves to garden, and we don't waste food - so since I was going to can anyway, I decided one day in the midst of a 17-day stretch that saw us can 42 quarts of pickles that canning would indeed be a hobby. Not a chore, or a responsibility, but a hobby. I chose to make it fun.

And in the process I discovered something amazing -- koinonia. Yes, the Greek word for fellowship.

Koinonia is more than just the meal after Sunday church. It's not the coffee hour or the ladies' craft day outings. Biblical koinonia is most closely understood as the fellowship that comes to those working together for a common goal. It's the unity of purpose, the relationship that comes when people share the same heartbeat.

Bob & I added koinonia to our many layers of closeness this summer by developing a common hobby. Night after night, as we chopped and seasoned and peeled and boiled, we found ourselves enthralled at what we produced. In an odd way it was like the years we raised kids together - getting on the same page and moving forward drew us even closer.

That's what it's supposed to be like in the church. We all should have a common goal - furthering the kingdom of God, blessing the nations, serving the world. It doesn't always work that way though, and koinonia gives way to mere social fellowship.

Yet those of us whose minds and hearts are with you in your corners of the world are learning that koinonia doesn't require physical presence. Because we share koinonia - the fellowship of common goals - we have a shared heartbeat. His heartbeat.

So when I write this blog I am in a sense having a "coffee hour" with you. I'm thinking of our common goals and trying to further them in a small way. And in the process I learn from you what it looks like to put feet to big kingdom dreams.

Thank you for that shared koinonia.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

As Good as dead

I'm reminded today of the depth of grace, and feel somewhat like Isaac or even Lazarus - alive when things looked hopeless.

My Bible read-through has me in Leviticus these days, and as I seek to get personal applications out of each passage, I have had some surprising lessons. Today's was more of a reminder of something I so easily forget.

Grace is amazing.

I was reading through some of the lists of sins in the law ... sins that carried the penalty of death by stoning. I was realizing afresh that I had committed some of those very sins. I was guilty and deserving of death - not in the James 2, "guilty of one = guilty of all" way, but in the very literal sense. My specific sins carried the specific penalty of death.

And yet here I sit, in His presence, soaking in His word, communing with Him daily in the very Holy of Holies. His presence indwells me and His life infuses me. "He shall not die, but live" Jesus told the disciples about Lazarus. And so it was with me.

While I was dead spiritually in my sins and trespasses, Jesus took upon Him the penalty of physical death that was mine. That's one of the reasons I believe very strongly that it wasn't "one drop of blood" that saved me - it was His death. He had to die ... to be my sacrifice, to enter the grave, to be resurrected. And in His death, He gave life. His grace not only bore my sin, it brought me back from the dead.

How did Isaac feel when Abraham untied the bonds that held him to the altar? How did Lazarus feel as the wraps were undone? How can I put into words the feeling that comes when I put those passages next to each other - the one calling for death by stoning for me and the one telling me that I have been saved by grace?

I can't. All I can do is what He wants me to do - live to Him. In a very real sense I've already died to myself - to that me that deserved to be stoned. Living for Him is the life that I have left. And it's the only life that matters.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Whose Call is it, Anyway?

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” So when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:10b-11)

I've become convinced lately that we fret too much over our "calling". We often hang more weight on an "experience" than it was ever intended to carry - often when things are going "wrong".

We replay it, relive it, journal about it, talk about it, review it, take it apart, examine it, and try to put the pieces together. Often, we end up with "paralysis by analysis". We are so good at making things harder than they have to be.

As I was preparing to teach Children's Church this Sunday (how I love God's sense of humor), I was struck by a theme in all of the Gospel accounts of the call of Peter and John. It's a simple point, but one that struck a chord with me: Scripture doesn't portray the call as Peter and John's. The call is Christ's. He simply states the work at hand, and gives them the choice whether to follow Him.

His call, not theirs. His call, not mine. Henry Blackaby put it this way: God is always at work around us, and He invites us to join Him in His work. Like the disciples, my primary call is to follow Him into the work He is already planning to do. Those men He wanted Peter and John to go fishing for? They would be caught regardless - even if Peter and John said no. Jesus would have found other willing vessels, but His work would have gone forward. His call, not theirs. His call, not mine.

In 2020 Vision and Run with the Vision, Bill & Amy Stearns outline a view of call that de-emphasizes specificity and prioritizes opportunity. Take Phillip as an example. In Scripture he is portrayed as a deacon, an evangelist, an itinerant missionary, and a father to godly prophetesses. What was his "call"?

I'm not discounting the importance of preparation and awareness of spiritual gifts, or even the value of a call to a specific role, area, or corner of the world. If you have that much specificity, great. But don't ever forget that your primary call is to follow Him. And your call to wherever you are now is really His call, not yours. Which means He gets to decide how you - and I - fit into the big picture. And because we are His "special possession" - literally "moveable treasure" - that may very well require some relocation (literally or figuratively) on our part.

Frankly, it helps me to know that it's His call, not mine. It takes the ultimate responsibility off my shoulders and puts it onto His. And most importantly, He gets the glory, not me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Too Quiet!

I'm drowsy tonight, the result of a poor night's sleep Saturday for which I can thank Hurricane Ike. His remnants raced through Arkansas, causing minor damage and widespread power outages. Ours hit around 2 a.m. and I was awakened by the sound of silence.

I sleep with a fan next to the bed year-round -- a habit I've had for years. The silence instantly awakened me. I was a little warm without the trusty air conditioning, but that wasn't what kept me lying awake for an hour and sleeping fitfully for the rest of the night. It was the lack of background noise.

Somehow into my sleepy head drifted the thought: This reflects a spiritual problem that I have. I struggle to truly be still, silent with God. I'm so used to "background noise" in my life. My prayer time most days occurs while I'm getting my exercise walking; worship music is the backdrop of my day as its sounds fill my office as I'm working; even my Bible study time is filled with distractions from sleepiness to household needs to phone calls. I've gotten so used to "multi-tasking" in my relationship with God that I find it challenging to focus.

And yet that is exactly what He is calling me to. He wants to be honored by being the only thought in my mind ... the only thing on my agenda ... the only thing that is needful. He wants me to be able to rest in Him ... without the background noise.

He wants me to be still ... and know that He is God. And then I will see Him exalted among the nations!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Traffic Jam!

I was stuck in traffic a couple of weeks ago. On a side street through our downtown, I found cars backed up and not turning right when it was obvious to me there was no reason not to be moving. After my initial frustration, I turned to prayer and hoped to get a lesson out of it. (A conscious choice - not my usual pattern!)

As I rounded the corner to finally make my turn, I saw immediately the reason for the delay: construction workers were backing a large piece of equipment in and out, stopping traffic as needed to accomplish the task. I questioned the wisdom of doing this at 5 p.m. on a weekday, but quickly grasped the lesson for the day.

Only God sees the big picture. Sometimes other believers do things that from our perspective make no sense. They go when we think they should stop - or worse, stop when we think they should go. We sit smugly in our pews assuming our perspective is thoroughly accurate - never considering that they see something we can't envision quite yet. It never occurs to us that the Master Plan might require us to hold on while something big gets moved into place.

I'm a doer - and so my tendency is always to get ahead of God. His "wait" answers are the hardest for me. When I'm sitting in a traffic jam, it's easy to blame the drivers in front of me. And sometimes, people do need to be spurred on to keep moving. Sometimes the enemy is stopping traffic. But sometimes, God Himself is moving something big in place - and I just need to be still and watch it happen.

Even if it feels like a traffic jam, waiting on God is a great place to be.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Lowest Place

The Lowest Room
by N.V. Tilak
Grant me to give to men what they desire,
And for my portion take what they do slight.
Grant me, Lord, a mind that doth aspire
To less than it may claim of proper right.
Rather, the lowest place, at all men's feet
That do Thou graciously reserve for me.
This only bounty I would fain entreat,
That Thy will, my God, my will be.
And yet one other boon must Thou bestow;
I name it not ... for Thou dost know.
I've been gripped for months by this poem which I've posted here twice before. Only this week, God gave me a new insight about what "the lowest place" really means.
We've all heard the insight about John 13 that washing feet was the lowest task, something reserved for servants - the exact lesson Jesus wanted to teach the disciples. But the willingness to get down by His feet leads to another privilege, one He called the "choice part" (Luke 10:38-42).
What He taught me was that when I embrace "the lowest place", serving others, I find myself at His feet. And in God's economy, that is the best place.
I'm learning to die to self and give up my right to be right. I'm also learning the truth of what CS Lewis meant when he encouraged graduates to shun "the inner ring" - that place of earthly influence and significance. Because the only "inner circle" that really matters is the one in His presence.
What low place is He calling you to today? What inner ring do you have to give up? Trust Him that when you bow to serve, you'll find yourself at His feet. And when you give up the pursuit of those earthly spheres of influence, you'll find yourself in His presence in a whole new way.
His call to serve turns everything upside down. Which makes it right.

Monday, September 01, 2008

It's About the Process

Earlier today we had a sinkful of tomatoes. Tonight, 10 quarts of spaghetti sauce sit cooling on our kitchen table, all because of a process called canning.

We've come to really enjoy the process of planting and growing seeds, harvesting produce, and creating something for later meals through canning or freezing. But the process is a lot of work! And it requires forethought: a sinkful of tomatoes might become salsa, or spaghetti, or plain diced tomatoes -- but we have to know when we start working on them what they will become, so we can follow the correct process.

The process is different for sweet pickles or dills. Some produce requires additional steps to guarantee safe preserving. Some items - like watermelon - just have to be eaten fresh; the process of canning would ruin the fruit.

I love eating canned items well into the winter. I enjoy seeing the finished product. But what I love most is the process - seeing something through from beginning to end, from seed to shelf awaiting use.

It all reminds me of a comment from a friend - "God is process-oriented". Face it, here in the west especially we are very task- and outcome-oriented. We love to set our goals and the steps we need to get there. And if we can skip some steps to speed up the outcome, that's fine by us.

God doesn't think that way. Because He views things eternally rather than temporally, He doesn't get anxious like us at a process that delays an eventual goal. In fact, the process is central to His work in our lives. I would even go so far as to say the process IS the work.

The over-arching term for God's process in our lives is called sanctification. And the goal is certain: we are being made into His image. Along the way, that process of sanctification will take us through some lessons that we will learn quickly, and others that we will return to repeatedly until we grasp His viewpoint. In all cases, we have to trust the process. We have to trust that He is working toward that ultimate goal of Christlikeness. And we have to realize that the process can't be short-circuited. God can no more skip the painfully slow lessons than I could skip the 45 minutes our jars spent in the water bath canner before the spaghetti sauce was sealed.

It's such a relief to know that God has guaranteed the finished product of my life, and that He is in charge of the process. He's not just preparing me to sit on a shelf - He's putting within me what I need to serve, to be used and poured out for Him. All the things that seem to me to slow down the achieving of some goal are really part of the process.

I know I can trust Him, and I'm learning to sit back and enjoy the process!