180 Degrees

“Jesus said, ‘But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.'” Acts 26:16

In Acts, Paul recounts his conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul had been traveling the region, persecuting, imprisoning and killing those who proclaimed faith in Jesus. But his world was turned upside down when Jesus showed up and told him He had other plans in store.

It struck me as interesting that Jesus not only stopped Paul in his tracks, but also chose Paul for a very important mission. I can’t imagine Paul’s confusion in that moment and the paradigm shift that happened shortly after. Paul went from being a Christian-killer to planting a large number of the early churches, writing two thirds of our New Testament, being imprisoned several times, and eventually martyred all in the name of Jesus Christ.

Jesus had a plan and a purpose for Paul. He knew the potential and ability that he had created inside of Paul. The point that hit my core was that God had a ministry and mission for Paul while he was on the road to Damascus in order to persecute Jesus’ followers. Try to wrap your mind around that. Jesus caused him to do a complete 180 degree turn in his life’s mission. Here Paul was, thinking he was doing good things for God by irradicating Christianity and in that exact moment, Jesus recruited him to be one of the founders of the faith.

Jesus is still doing that same miracle today. He shows up in the middle of our path of life, in the center of our sinfulness, and says, “You’re mine and I have bigger plans for you.” Stop and ponder the wonders He has done in your life, even when you were defiantly doing things your way.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8

Not a Gumball Machine

Every commercial that comes on the T.V. lately is Christmas marketing mayhem! Each toy is this year’s must have item. Every dolly and truck and Lego set we see in the store is a necessary item that my kids CAN’T live without! My children will periodically and randomly ask, beg and whine for a variety of gifts, toys and gadgets.

As easy as it would be to go overboard and buy them every thing they ask for, I realize as a long-sighted parent that giving them whatever their whims dictate is not the best thing for them. My desire is to cultivate grateful, servants’ hearts in them rather than a demanding sense of entitlement. We’ve all seen those children in Wal-mart (some days “those kids” belong to me). And we’ve seen an entire generation of “those kids” become selfish, demanding, entitled adults. I refuse to have my children contribute to the problem our society faces currently. Instead, I hope to raise compassionate, selfless, problem solvers. Being mindful of that goal (and my finite budget), sometimes I have to tell them “no” or “not right now.” It doesn’t mean I don’t want to bless them with everything their heart desires or that I’m a “mean mommy.” It means the heart issue is more important than the things. Maybe they need to work to earn the toy so they will value it more. Maybe I can see that it’s a frivolous toy that won’t satisfy them for very long. Or maybe they need to soften their hearts towards those who have far less. Whatever the reason, as a loving parent, it’s my job to tell them “no” and cultivate a heart of generosity and community consciousness within them.

How often do we behave like entitled children towards God? We pray for financial blessings, a bigger house, a nicer car, and other luxuries. God is a good, good Father. He wants nothing more than to bless us. I believe that with all my heart. But maybe our perception of “blessings” is off track. I find myself often praying “I want… I want… Give me…” Meanwhile, God has provided a wonderful home, nice vehicle and plenty of food in my cupboards. Yet I catch myself wanting more, bigger, and better things. Things that may be frivolous in the grand scheme of things and will not satisfy my soul. Our heavenly Father is far more concerned with our heart and how we are furthering His kingdom. That is something I can take with me at the end of my life.

A friend of mine and I were having lunch awhile back when a similar conversation arose. She equated this behavior to treating God like a gumball machine. “Put in a quarter; get out a gumball. Put in a prayer; get out a promotion. Put in a prayer; get out a new car. Put in a prayer; get out a million dollars.” As though God, the Creator of the universe in all his infinite wisdom is nothing more than a genie in a bottle or a gumball machine just waiting to grant our wishes or spit out gumballs. It sounds ridiculous put in those terms, but isn’t that how we act sometimes?

In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, talks extensively about how the accumulation of things and pursuit of the world’s idea of success is as futile as chasing the wind. I suppose I’m coming to that realization. Nice things are great and I’m certainly not condemning affluence or suggesting you and I should sell everything and live in poverty. I’m merely pointing out that maybe when we pray and ask God for whatever tickles our fancy, sometimes He may say “no” or “not right now,” because He is a good Father Who is developing each of us for His high calling.

Today, be content and grateful for everything the Lord has blessed you with. And instead of praying for a Christmas wish list, ask to be used for His kingdom.

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after thewind; nothing was gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:11

Paradigm Shift

With Christmas approaching, my typical American ten-year-old son is working feverishly on his wishlist. Most of it consists of trivial toys and fads. Some of it could be considered educational, like an erector set for building his own robot and more Legos (because the large plastic bin full still isn’t enough). But most of it is just plain frivolous.

We started reading a book together about people living in trash dump communities. I strongly recommend the read: “Witness: True Events from a Society Living, Working and Dying in Trash.” As we read the first few chapters together, he was shocked to learn that there are people in the world who don’t have adequate living spaces to shelter from the elements, clean water, or access to proper nutrition. He has been aware for some time of homelessness and poverty in general, but this was a new, real, tragic detailed account of communities surviving around public dumps. Worse than that for us to comprehend are the horrific injustices and crimes against humanity that are a daily occurrence in those impoverished areas. At one point, even though I was filtering some of the more violent descriptions, he said, “Mom, stop. I need a break. This is too much.”

We have had our struggles in life and there have been times when we had to “tighten our belts” to get through a few months. But it usually consists of backing off eating out and skipping the movies. We’ve been blessed to never be literally living on the street for any period of time. We did have to spend one night in the shelter after fleeing an abusive situation, which was definitely a perspective-changing experience. But we never had to dig through garbage for a meal or sleep under a bridge. Never once have I been faced with a decision to sell myself or my children into human trafficking to survive.

Immediately, my son and I, both heartbroken, started discussing “what can we do?!” We feel so far away and so detached from such societies. We talked about making a difference to the homeless and poverty-stricken in our own community. We even talked about preparing to take a mission trip to visit these communities and truly help and “get our hands dirty.” We’re making a list of things we can do now like supporting our church’s involvement with Trash Mountain Project by helping with care packages to be sent to these trash communities.

And then the conversation shifted to something incredible… My ten-year-old boy offered to relinquish his Christmas gifts. “With the money we could save on buying presents for us, we could send them soap and gloves and boots to help,” he suggested. We agreed that this year each of the kids would only receive one small gift from me. And for advent this year instead of drinking hot cocoa and watching “Elf,” we will do acts of kindness, serve the needy in our community and put together care packages for “the least of these.” As a mom, my heart swells for my son’s compassion for others and willingness to sacrifice.

Today, if you are content in your “cushy world” and don’t want your perspective of the world completely shattered, don’t look up trashmountain.com. And definitely don’t  read the above mentioned book.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40

Ugly Self Promotion

As women, we are taught from a very young age that self-promotion is ugly. We’re not supposed to brag about our accomplishments. Today while teaching a community education class to a group of female entrepreneurs, one woman pointed out how much more true that notion is towards christian women. We are expected to be submissive, quiet, meek and mild. While all those qualities are good, they don’t serve us well in the business world or in ministry.

This, of course, got me thinking. First of all, where did we come up with this idea?! At what point did we decide that a christian woman should be a mouse that disappears into the background? How can we be successful business women, mothers, leaders in the community and yet authentically live up to biblical expectations and christian character?

Allow me to present “Exibhit A”: Proverbs 31. This chapter of the Bible describes the godly woman that is the example for all of us. This is the bar that has been set. There are several apparent attributes to point out about this female standard: 1) She is successful in business. 2) She plans ahead. 3) She is well-known and has a good reputation in the community. 4) She embodies strength and honor. 5) She does not tolerate gossip and idleness in her household.

How could a woman acheive any or all of those characteristics while being a doormat? In fact, she sounds to me like the strong, independent woman so many of us aspire to be. Clearly the Proverbs 31 woman is an example of gentle assertiveness and humble self-promotion. I would even say this proves we are called to be leaders in our homes, businesses, ministries, and families.

God created each of us (men, women, and children) for a unique purpose. Part of fulfilling that purpose may involve letting people know what you do for work and/or His kingdom. Or when you do something wonderful that God has created you to do and someone notices, it’s okay to simply say, “Thank you.” It’s not egotistical or prideful to humbly accept a compliment. And self-promotion can be done in such a way that it is not prideful or conceited. Think of it as making others aware of what you do and that you’re eager to serve rather than “tooting your horn” if it makes you feel better.

Last week, I taught at Celebrate Recovery meeting. Afterward, I had several people approach me and pour out their hearts, saying how something I shared had touched them deeply. Several others complimented on how powerfully and eloquently I’d delivered the message. I caught myself starting to say something cheesy like, “to God be the glory.” I stopped myself and just said, “thank you.” I realized in that moment that God gets all the glory because my message pointed to Him and it’s okay to accept a compliment. My message was not powerful just because I’m a good speaker all by myself. God gave me the gifts, talents, abilities and anointing to carry out a specific task. When I use those gifts to honor Him, He is glorified. It’s not about me. It’s about the work He does through me. Saying “thank you” when someone says “good job” doesn’t discredit God’s power and anointing.

A mentor of mine who often has pearls of wisdom flowing from her very being told a group of women once, “We should take a cue from men. They enter the world with confidence. It doesn’t matter how much weight they gain or how they look compared to the next guy. They say, ‘Look at me! I’m a man, created in God’s image, and I’m awesome.'” She’s absolutely right. While we women are wasting time comparing our (unique) selves to the other unique women in the world, worrying if we’re the right size, shape or color and wondering how we’re being perceived, men are getting the jobs we want and filling some of the roles we were designed to perform.

Today, know that you are uniquely powerful as God created you to be. Walk in that by confidently speaking about what you do and accepting compliments graciously with a simple, “Thank you.”

“Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. -Joshua 1:7

The Rules of The Game

My background is in property management. I used to manage large apartment communities with hundreds  of units. Each year, I’d have to complete continuing education classes. As a property manager, I had to know the law around the Landlord Tenant Act. The main thing I got out of it was the law generally falls on the side of the tenant. So many times landlords would charge the dickens out of someone who would move out, or make human errors on the charges. But the majority of the time, the tenant would give up and say, “oh well. I’m stuck with that bill now.” They won’t question its validity or show up to a court date to appeal.

The majority of property management companies I know of have a strict “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” If the tenant doesn’t ask the right questions, don’t tell them what the law is or how to remove false charges. They don’t want tenants to start figuring out that the law is actually in their favor. If they knew that, many of the charges and collections would be debunked.

We, as believers, often are like these tenants. So often we just accept things the way things are because “that’s just how it is.” The world beats us up and spits us out. The enemy puts false allegations against us. Thoughts of unworthiness and insignificance creep in. Miracles don’t seem to happen anymore. Maybe God used the miraculous during a time when it was needed in the early church (read Acts). But he must not use them anymore because we just don’t need miracles. The world just is what it is.

If we only knew that the “law” is already skewed in our favor. How differently would we live if we truly took God at His Word? What if we truly believed and behaved out that the enemy has been defeated? What if we truly understood that God is the same big, miracle performing, mind blowing God He was to the early church? What if we began to see that Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice so we could be victorious?! The rules of this life are stacked in our favor because that’s how God set it up. God doesn’t favor one person over another. The same miracles and favor He pours out on one, He freely gives to another. All we have to do is ask and believe.

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57

Performance vs. Worship

Music is one of my passions. Few things can cut through to the very soul like music can. Music is powerful. It can bring a grown man to tears. Or it can stir feelings of joy.

In the christian community there are two major types of music. Both can praise God. Both can point to Jesus as Savior. Both serve a purpose in the life of believers. There is a time and a place for each. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial for church leaders, worship leaders and attendees. Just like when I go to a concert, I want to know what type of music to expect, so should it be in the christian music genre. Sure, the style varies greatly from venue to venue. One assembly may use traditional hymnals and an organ while another has a full band with electric lead guitars and words on a projector. Not all hymns are worship and not all contemporary songs are performance based. The style is impertinent really. Lyrics and posture are crucial.

Here are a few indicators of which type of music you’re listening to, leading, or singing. Performance lyrics talk about or to God. Performance posture makes the singer/leader/band the focal point. Performance puts on a show and strives for perfection. There are many wonderful and talented performance bands in the christian arena. They provide excellent entertainment while pointing audiences to Christ. However, worship lyrics speak to God. They should align with scripture and exalt God to His rightful place as Sovreign Lord. Worship posture makes God the focal point. Worship leads people into the presence of God and offers their best as a fragrant incense to the Holy One. There are several anointed worship bands currently. I use the term “annointed” because it requires far more than technical talent to lead worship. There is a calling and special choosing by God to lead worship.

Recently, I have played in bands of both type. In fact, once in the same night. The first band I sang with was the opener for the evening. The leader hoped to prove that he was a talented leader, worthy of a bigger stage. The songs he chose were to show off his skills as a musician and showcase his abilities. Not necessarily a bad thing. As we sang and exuded energy, I felt the crowd watching me. I had a keen sense that any sour note would be noticed. We were performing. The point of the song set was to entertain and create and energetic atmosphere. Moreover, we used tracks as filler music under the musicians which does not allow any deviation from the rehearsed song order.

The second band I played with was the near opposite. The worship leader had the intention of creating a space in the middle of the event that would usher people into God’s presence. She chose songs that spoke to God and gave Him honor for giving us a second chance, turning our messes into something beautiful as only God can. As we sang the songs, many people in the crowd had their eyes closed and hands raised in worship and reverence. I did not feel critiqued, but instead like an empty vessel for God’s use. There were no eyes on my and so there was no pressure to be perfect in and of myself. Furthermore, the worship leader did not use tracks so she had the freedom to repeat a chorus or bridge as she felt led. It required more attentiveness and skill from the musicians to follow her cues as well as hold their own musically without the assistance of pre-recorded tracks.

I would challenge you to discern which type of music you are listening to or leading. Is it performance or worship? Are you on an amphetheater stage or a church platform? Is the purpose of your venue to put on a show or draw people into the presence of the Almighty? Is your audience in the crowd or on the throne?

Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise glorious. -Psalm 66:2

Who’s Number One?!

Whenever the Bible introduces a concept for the first time, there is significance in it. The first time worship is introduced is an unexpected context. It is found in Genesis 22 when Abraham is about to take his only son, Isaac, to the top of a mountain to sacrifice him.

“And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.’”

If you’re not familiar with this story from the Bible, I encourage you to read the entire chapter. But this story started long before this moment. You see God had promised to make Abraham the father of many nations. Isaac was his only son and the fulfillment of that promise. The Bible tells us that Abraham loved Isaac very much. In fact, all of Abraham’s hopes and dreams rested on this young man. This was not just his son, but the physical embodiment of God’s promise realized in his life.

We know God’s purpose in the request for sacrifice of Isaac was for Abraham to prove that he trusted the Almighty God implicetly. Spoiler alert! God did stop the sacrifice and provided a ram to replace the boy. But Abraham didn’t know the end of the story. Can you imagine that moment? Preparing to hike up a mountain to kill your son (as if that’s not a fast track to a therapist’s couch) but also the future legacy God has promised.

And that is the moment God uses to introduce us to the term “worship.” Abraham told the men accompanying them that they were going to worship and would return when they finished. I don’t believe he was a man who lied regularly. Conversely, he couldn’t say, “Hey, we’re going to climb this mountain so I can murder my son. Be back in a jif!” Abraham used the term “worship” for a reason. He knew his mission was to put God first.

That is what worship is. Whether referencing worship in song or worship as a lifestyle, worship means putting God first. But take it a step further. Worship is sacrificing the thing that is most important to us. Worship is setting aside what we value most in that moment and giving God his rightful place as first in our lives. In fact, the Hebrew word in this scripture means “to bow down, to give reverence.”

Take the time to give God reverence and acknowledge him as first in your life whether in song or choices throughout the day. Are you willing to be obedient and sacrifice your will, ideas and plans for the future? Whatever the thing that is most important to you right now… give it to God.

Starfish Redefined

“A man was walking along a beach that was covered by thousands of starfish that had been washed onto shore by the tide. He noticed a small boy picking up the starfish one by one, throwing them back into the sea. The man pointed out that this was an exercise in futility as the boy would never be able to make a significant difference to the multitude of starfish dying on the sand. The boy pondered this comment, picked up another starfish and tossed it into the sea, and said, ‘I made a difference to that one.'”

I’ve heard this story many times before, but this week, it was made very personal to me. My life is so busy and so full, that it becomes very natural to take on a task-oriented approach to life. I look at my calendar, make a to-do list, put on my blinders and get stuff done! I often feel accomplished at the end of the day having checked so many things off my list. But this week I was asked to pause and consider the lives I’m impacting along the way. Who have I stopped to connect with? Whose life have I taken interest in and ministered to?

The discussion of the starfish story brought up an interesting point, if the boy was trying to approach his task like a to-do list, he could’ve used buckets, machines, or contraptions to better leverage his time. But he didn’t. He valued each individual starfish he rescued.

As so often is the case, God provided an opportunity to put this lesson into action repeatedly this week. I was planning on spending my Friday going over my sermon notes for a speaking engagement. But as I spoke with a friend that morning, the Holy Spirit stirred in me that He had different plans for me that day. She was my starfish that day and I was able to be used to make a huge difference in her life. Had I not been open to slowing down and listening, I would’ve missed the opportunity to watch someone’s life be touched by God’s hand.

In this busy world, take the time to intentionally slow down and pay attention to the people around you. Afterall, it doesn’t matter how many tasks we scratch off our list if we didn’t make a difference to the people around us.

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” -Matthew 25:40