Showing posts with label Devotional Tidbits. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Devotional Tidbits. Show all posts

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Waiting Room: When Waiting on God to Talk Back Gets Hard

Yep--all of the clergy are gallivanting about in Israel, so ya got me. Don’t worry, we won’t be making flames with red glitter or having you act as one of the disciples in front of a gutsy fan.
 (Or, will we?)

My name is Meg and for almost a decade now, I have been blessed to serve as the minister to children and families here. It was not an easy gig to land, in fact, it took me spending some time in the slammer.

The year was  2008 and I was so done with ministry.

As one who spent most of my life as Mandy Moore’s character from the film, Saved (a tightly-wound, Bible-thumping Holy Roller), I had reached spiritual burnout. To add to this, I had just had an ugly falling out with a teammate, and the scars left me done with ministry (a call that had been on my heart since I was 13).

Don’t get me wrong, I was not done with Jesus or spirituality. I was just done with church, done with organized religion, and for my “big life plan” that meant done with seminary.

Although I had applied to seminary (and actually had gotten in), my bruised spirit would not let me go. I decided I would serve as a teacher in my home state--Texas.

Before I could fly south and begin this new chapter (away from the messy and draining world of ministry), there was one last thing I had to do. I had to go on a mission trip to Epworth Children’s home in St. Louis with the Discipleship Team at Southwestern. I might have stopped being a holy roller, but I was still a cheap-skate who had already paid for it, so I went.

As we arrived on the campus, they asked for 3 female volunteers who could lead a time of worship for some of the “children”. Leah, Megan and I volunteered. We were then escorted by a security guard. (Yes-you heard me right.) A female police officer led us down this dark, gray, and cold hallway.

She shared that this particular hall was for young women who did not do well in a Juvenile detention center . Due to their crimes and behaviors being so foul, they now resided here. I hesitantly smiled and hoped my discomfort would not hinder whatever God had planned for this unexpected time of worship.

The guard punched in the code to the thickest door I had ever seen. As it opened, sounds of chattery teen girls filled the air. I did not think hardened criminals would be talking about prom dresses and contouring, but they were. These young women were articulate, beautiful, and surprisingly hopeful. Never had my expectations for a moment been so far off.

After some high-quality mingling, we awkwardly transitioned into a time of worship through song. We passed out song sheets and I began to strum and sing the song “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”. Everyone sang along, and by the first chorus, I lost myself in the song and closed my eyes in prayer.

As I opened them I noticed a girl in a pink shirt and a high pony with her eyes tightly shut and tears streaming down her face as she sang. The image pierced my memory. As I looked at her, I heard the Holy Spirit speak within me (I guess God resorted to words because I was so oblivious to God’s voice at that point.), “I made you for this. I made you for this.” (And I guess God repeated it, just to make sure I got the point.)

Once we left Epworth, I vetoed my teaching plans and started applying for church gigs. That same week (I kid you not) Pastor Beth called me and told me that they were hiring a Children’s Minister and here I am 10 years later.

As I entered Epworth I was

Waiting, and conceitedly clueless. 

This was a moment that I was not even aware that I needed to be waiting for God to speak because I had it all figured out on my own. If I was waiting at all, I was most certainly cluelessly waiting for the wrong thing.

Fast forward six years. My husband and I are in a hospital room and I am lying on a plastiky, metally bed. Our high-risk pregnancy has made it to the eleven-week mark and the CVS test is about to begin. Due to my funky chromosomes, creating life was a mere dream of ours for years and here we were seeing her on a black and white screen.

He squeezes my hand as I sing hymns and cuss through the pain of the needle in my stomach. What hurt more than the physical pain was the fear that pulsated through me.

Will our child be ok? 

Between the nervous looks between Garrett and I, the doctor shared how he had never had a patient sing hymns before, but that cussing was a common response to the pain. Our nervous laughter was interrupted by a miraculous sight on the monitor.

“Well, would you look at that...” the doctor said, “He or she’s waving at us.”

As Garrett and I looked at the screen, we saw the tiniest little hand greeting us, as if to say, “Hey, mom! Hey, Dad! What’s goin’ on? I’m doin’ great in here!”

While it would be another week before we knew that Henley was healthy, that sacred sight was enough to still my scared soul. God shared a message of courage and comfort that day, not by words, but by sight.

In that hospital room, I was

Waiting, and anxiously afraid. 

The situation was totally out of my control. No choice of mine would make things any better. I was just fearfully waiting on God to do something because there was nothing that I could do. The problem was way bigger than me. I was just waiting; waiting and anxiously afraid.

Image result for Miki de Goodaboom painting of widow
Miki de Goodaboom
And then we get to 2018. We arrive at today. Over the last few years, a very special relationship of mine has been broken. With a horrible decision swept under the rug by others, I am really struggling to forgive. Time has passed, yet I see no signs of healing.

While I have witnessed first-hand just how miraculously God can communicate and am confident that God will do it again, I now find myself asking, “God, what are you saying in this moment? Will things ever get better? How do I move forward in a relationship in which there is such a strong disagreement? I want to restore the relationship, but how? God, share with me the steps you would have me to take. Speak again, Lord. Speak again. I am open and I am trusting, speak again.”

Right now, in this tough situation, I am

Waiting, and seeking next steps. 

Another way to look at this type of waiting is shared by one of our pastors here, Dave. He shares that months before he was called on by the bishop to serve at our church, he began feeling a divine nudge towards something different.

He could not quite articulate what he was being called to, but he shared these faint whispers with his wife months before the phone rang. He remained open and keenly tuned in to the Holy Hums, and when the call came, it was obvious that this was (we were) his next step.  (Side note: Dave has always comforted me over the years with his famous line of, “Don’t doubt for one second that God will graciously redirect you if you have misunderstood the nudge in some way.”)

When I am waiting, and seeking next steps 

Some parts of how this turns out are within my control. My thoughts and actions can make a difference. I know that God wants me to move, and I am willing to take the necessary steps, but I am unsure of what these are. I am aware that the Holy Spirit will guide and equip me, and I am open and listening for direction.

I am waiting, and seeking next steps.

I am waiting, and conceitedly clueless. 
I am waiting, and anxiously afraid. 
I am waiting, and seeking next steps. 

I am sure that Jesus’ closest friends were, on some level, waiting in similar ways on Pentecost.

Being one of the most popular of Jewish festivals, Pentecost was a time of celebrating the giving of the law to Moses (the ten commandments) and the new harvest. It’s name, ‘Pentecost’ comes from the fact that it fell on the fiftieth day after Passover (a holiday that celebrates how God protected the Hebrew people as they escaped the reign of Pharaoh in Egypt.).

Like most holidays, everyone took off of work and every Jew within 20 miles of Jerusalem would have gathered to celebrate. Needless to say--the place was a-buzzin’ (and we see this in the listing of the countries in today’s Bible verse) . Everyone showed up for the party--except for Jesus’ closest friends. Yes, they were there physically, but I would not say that they were in the party mood.

There they were in a place where Jesus had met them many times before--the upper room. There they were in a space where so many lessons of loving service had been taught; where the bread was broken, feet selflessly washed and the proof of wounded hands shown. Here was where Jesus had asked them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The weeks building up to this moment had been extremely puzzling. From the cross to the tomb, from the tomb to the sky, nothing was certain but uncertainty. Not only were they unsure of what God was going to do next, but they were unsure of what they were supposed to do next….so they waited.

Perhaps his disciple and friend, James, was waiting, and conceitedly clueless.

After all, he was known for his rash decision making and his inability to apply the gospel to earthly matters. Even up to the time of the ascension, he was questioning Jesus about what all of these weird events meant. He might have been waiting, but I doubt this “son of thunder” (nickname) was reflectivity waiting on the right thing.

Maybe there was some waiting, and conceitedly clueless going on in the upper room that day.

James Tissot 
Perhaps his pal, Peter, was waiting, and anxiously afraid.

The disciple that experienced every feeling at the highest, most animated extent was most likely anxious at Pentecost. From what we know of Peter, scenes like him reactively cutting off ears of those trying to arrest Jesus, sheepishly denying he knew Jesus (#groupThink) or impulsively jumping off boats to be close to Jesus were all too common. “That’s so Peter,” was most definitely an inside joke among the gang towards another ’s swift change of mood.

Maybe there was some waiting, and anxiously afraid going on in the upper room that day.

Perhaps the disciple, Andrew, was waiting and seeking next steps.

Being known as the truth seeker who worked in the background of his brother, Peter, Andrew led others to Jesus. At all costs and with great methodology, he valued and sought after truth. Feasibly on this holiday, high above the hype in the streets, Andrew humbly opened himself up and waited.

Maybe there was some waiting, and seeking next steps going on in the upper room that day.

Regardless as to what type of waiting was taking place, their patience was suddenly rewarded as,

“Without warning, there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks,”

(Like other times in the Bible, NT Wright teaches, "these scaredly strange moments are described with practical words and very real senses".)

“and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world (remember--because of the holiday?). When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck.”

Here, unlike anytime before, these flaky friends and distracted students heard the voice of God in a way that shook them to their core. Not only were they convinced of the message of Christ themselves, but the message permeated through them in a way that it became contagious to others.

After the waiting, God did talk back, but the message was not theirs to keep.

Moved by the winds of the Spirit, it was time for them to leave the comfort of the upper room and go out into the streets. They would not go alone. They would be equipped with a boldness of speech, draped with wisdom and the Spirit would make it possible for others to know the healing love of Christ through their work.

Or as one of my favorite authors, NT Wright puts it,

“If Pentecost is simply all about us having new private religious experiences, however exciting and dramatic, we are turning Christianity into a private hobby.
 The gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing if it's not public truth, issuing a costly and dangerous challenge to the world's conceptions of truth. The world of the first Christian centuries was full of competing and clashing cultures, religions and tongues, and the followers of Jesus discovered that the tongues of fire which rested on the apostles enabled them to address these different cultures with a fresh judging and healing word of truth.
May it be so again in our day.”

No matter the type of waiting you are doing,

Waiting, and conceitedly clueless 
You are unaware that a situation needs redirection/recreation from the Holy Spirit or you are waiting for the wrong thing.

Waiting, and anxiously afraid
 You are in the midst of something that is completely out of your control and you are worried out of your mind.


Waiting, and seeking next steps 
You feel the Spirit nudging you to act because a huge part of this situation is totally within your control, but you are unclear of your next steps. You are open and seeking them.

Know that you were not made to wait alone. Your tribe is here with you and God will talk back, but the message is not yours to keep. It’s for the benefit of others as well. 

With the help of the Holy Spirit moving through you and our community, we now offer up this space for a time of intentional waiting. Feel free to simply breath, pray, and seek as the following questions guide you.

How are you waiting today? 

 Are you waiting, and conceitedly clueless? 
(You are unaware that a situation needs redirection/recreation from the Holy Spirit or you are simply waiting on the wrong thing.) 

If so, what was a recent conversation that left you surprisingly defensive? What were you talking about? Offer this observation up to God, and if it occurs again, pray that the Holy Spirit would open your eyes and  (if necessary) adjust your vision. 

 And taking this question beyond yourself--are there other sides of the story that would be helpful to hear? Can you ask him/her to do coffee this week? Or lunch? Can you attend that meeting and just observe--just listen?

Are you waiting, and anxiously afraid?
 (You are in the midst of something that is completely out of your control and you are worried out of your mind. Whether it is the poor choices of one you love, or a diagnosis for yourself or another--there’s nothing you can do to change the outcome.)
estralla canziani

Are you making space in your day for this grief? Are you letting yourself lament? Pray that the Holy Spirit would help you to discern which parts of this situation are truly within your control and which ones are not. God is faithful. God will ground you in wisdom and adorn you with peace.

 And taking the question beyond yourself--is there someone who is going through a similar type of waiting who would benefit from hearing your story? How could your story offer healing to another? You do not wait alone. Hope awaits us in each other. 


Are you waiting, and seeking next steps?
(You feel the Spirit nudging you to act because a huge part of this situation is totally within your control, but you are unclear of your next steps. You are open and seeking them.) 

 Are you making time to listen intentionally? Or are your days too loud? Too full? When did this divine nudge begin? What do you know for certain that this nudge is not? What do you know for certain that it involves?

 And taking this question beyond yourself--is there someone within your community who has a similar interest? Perhaps someone who had a similar nudge a few years back and noticed it too?  Could you call him/her and swap stories? 

You were not meant to wait alone. 
We are here with you.
God will talk back, but--
the message is not yours to keep,
it’s for the benefit of others as well.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Serving the Poor Through a Tarnished Lens

As soon as the strap hit my shoulder I knew something wasn’t right. Heart racing, I unbuckled my bag only to find that my wallet had been stolen. Stolen? Yes-stolen. I was heart-broken; it was most likely pocketed by one who came to our office seeking shelter, funds or food. 

The church's community meal was the next day and unlike previous shifts, I was not feeling this one. My heart was bitter. Needless to say, the disappearance of my wallet gave me a resentful filter through which I viewed the entire evening. My usual common courtesies of small talk or topping off waters were non-existent. 

Despite my sullen mindset, I remained faithful to my volunteer hours. The following week was Christmas, and each family would receive a gift from us. With my prickly attitude and low expectations, I began lining up these twenty-plus bags of groceries.

The fake Holiday-cheer of mine quickly faded with the first person who fought me on the “one-per-household” rule. It also did not help my morale when families would send different children through the line to get an extra bag.But I remained faithful. I kept showing up to serve.

My infant daughter joined me at the following meal. I wore her in a carrier. She and I weaved through tables giving refills and taking trays. Similar to before, I was not emotionally present until a voice shook me out of myself. “How old is your baby?” I turned around to see a round-faced, brunette in her mid-twenties with a messy pony tail and pastel sweats. She was surrounded by a flock of children. 

Our paths had crossed before, but the extent of our conversation was her prefered amount of gravy. “One,” I said. “She walkin’ yet?” She asked. “Yes. On Christmas day, she just decided to take off,” I replied. After sharing a chuckle, she did something unexpected. She went around the table and shared the early milestones of all of her children. Sharing at great length, she spared no detail. Her cup over-flowed with pride and love.Her memory far surpassed mine and I only had one child. Prior to this moment I had sinnfully doubted her competency as a mother. In fact, since the wallet situation, I had been viewing all of the guests in a disrespectfully inferior way. 

Shame for just showing up with my low expectations of her and the others overtook me. As I walked back into the kitchen, the Holy Spirit humbled me. My heart was convicted at the thought that while my lens was temporarily tarnished, God’s perspective is always grace-filled. He looks at me and her in the same exact way. Regardless of social-class, He sees through a filter of love. Instantaneously, my negative lens was wiped clean, and my bitter dehumanizing thoughts vanished.

Before any conversation regarding the education or accountability of the poor can begin, we must first assure that we are viewing each unique situation through a grace-filled lens of understanding and acceptance. 

Resources to assist us include: Ruby Payne's Bridges out of PovertyandCIRCLES USA

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Discipleship: It's Not All About You

        "It's not about you." My grandmother corrected over the phone. A rookie on the job, I had found myself in the midst of a monumental personality clash with a coworker. I was livid and was seeking a hype-man of sorts-or at least a pan on the back. Neither did she deliver. "It's not about you, Meggie Lee." She said,"You gotta get your ego out of the way so God can move in that church." this was not the starched sheets and cornbread kind-of love for which she was known;and while it took some time, I was eventually convinced. I was so wrapped up in myself-my talents and preferences for ministry-that I was oblivious to what the Holy Spirit was up to.

       This is similar to when Jesus washed Peter's feet.  At his first attempt, Peter protested.  Then when Jesus persisted , Peter refuted that Jesus' plan for merely his feet would not suffice.  Peter was missing the mark.  This teachable moment was not about him, his past mistakes or dreams of greatness.  It was about what Christ could do through  him.  It was not about Peter, just like it was never about me.

       And this paradoxical truth is what makes following Jesus so overwhelmingly joyful one moment and heartrendingly difficult the next.  As children of God, our Creator thirsts to be in relationship with us; hence Jesus.  This sacrificial love is life-giving.  Furthermore, the Holy Spirit enables me to live like Christ. I am guided in ways, humble ways, that are contradictory to my nature.  What once seemed uncomfortable becomes innate in me as the Holy Spirit takes the reigns.  It is so refreshing to know that the heavy lifting is covered as long as I trust in Him.

     This is, of course, easier said than done.  Christ calls us to trust in him at all costs.  Fearful are we, because our trust has been broken before.  This leads to another bump in the road-our world is broken.  God's voice isn't easily heard here.  Impure voices drown it out; voices of vanity, voices of greed.  And herein lies the greatest challenge of all.  In order to become true disciples who trust that Jesus will take care of the heavy lifting, we must accept that we, in some small way, helped to make the mess. Ouch. No more displacing the blame, no more delusions of grandeur; for we are imperfect without Christ.

     As disciples, we look out over the world for how He is calling us to heal; while also looking within to find our own need for healing.  Granting all this, discipleship is not all about me, but it's about me nonetheless.  It's about my willingness to answer the call and my acceptance of His grace.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Being Known By God

John 4:1-30| Preached during Lent of 2011

          Do you think she had any idea what the day would hold when she awoke that morning? What are the odds that the same time she was retrieving water, would be the same exact time that Jesus decided to take a breather on his trip to Galilee. This scene is painted beautifully in the testimony of John.  Jesus was alone.  His disciples had ventured to find lunch, so there he set by the well. 

          He asked for water.  This left her shocked, not because she was a woman, but more importantly because of their religious differences.  Due to noon not being the most popular time to retrieve water from the well, chances are there were not many others around.  With this, she called him on it, “How come you a, Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan, for a drink?”

          He answered her, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”  As we just heard from Julie, this response of Jesus’ led the woman to doubt and refute him with sound arguments. This should not surprise us that she was capable discuss the origin of the well so comfortably with a Jewish man, for “ In contrast to the Rabbinic law exempting women from certain observances- Samaritans did not make any distinctions between [genders] in reference to their common obligation to carry out the Law.  Due to the Samaritans interpreting the Pentateuch strictly, the injunction of Deut.31:12 indicates that the Samaritan practice of educating children of both sexes in the law and Samaritan traditions…probably dates back to their origins” [1]

          She knew her faith’s foundation, and probably fed up with the pharisaic traditions, she was more than ready to reject the words of “this Jew”.  In hopes of never having to come back to this well again, she simply gave in and requested this “living water” he spoke of.  He then said something unexpected.  He revealed to her that he knew of her five husbands and that the man she was living with now was not her husband.   He knew her   He Knew Her.

          “How could he have known that?” She thought…“A prophet?!” She then continued on with her questioning and inspecting his thoughts on the differences in worship between the Jews and the Samaritans.  In the bustle of her own words, she almost allowed the words of Jesus to float right over her head. Perhaps Jesus slightly interrupted her a bit and said, “The time is coming-in fact it has come-when where you worship will not matter.  It’s who you are and the way that you live that count before God…That’s the kind of people the Father is looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him”. (Message, John 4:22-24)

          The woman replied, “Well I don’t know about that.  I do KNOW though that the Messiah is coming.” She took another drink of water.  “I am he” Jesus responded, “you don’t have to wait any longer or look any further”. 

As the disciples returned, shocked to see him speaking with a woman, something he hadn’t done since the wedding at Cana in John 2, the Samaritan woman became uncomfortable and ran back to the village.  She proclaimed to everyone, “Come see the man who KNEW all about the things I did, He knows me inside and out!”

          One of the great theologians and scholars of our time, Henri Nouwen once wrote that, “For most of my life, I had struggled to… know God…. I have tried hard to follw the guidelines of the spiritual life, pray always, work for others, read the scriptures- and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself.  I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.  Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to KNOW me.  The questions is not, “How am I to know God”, but “How am I to let myself be known by God?”[2]

The God who made us, loves us, and continues to make us, daily takes    

great initiative to know us deeper.   Though some times we hide from

God…..or we are very selective as to what we chose to reveal ….In our

brokenness we retreat in isolation from a loving faith community….or in

the competitive world we live in, we hide behind our talents or

accomplishments, praying and hoping that no one will ever discover

who we truly are, what we truly think, how weak we can sometimes be. 

With a smile on our face, we secretively doubt our own inner goodness.

“Instead of experiencing their outward success as a sign of their inner

Beauty” Nouwen teaches, “they live them as a cover-up for their sense of

personal worthlessness.” [3]  But oh, if we only could wrap our hearts

around how VERY much God not only loves us but achingly yearns to

KNOW US deeper.  What is the difference between knowing God and

being known by God?

          “None of us have perfect scores.”  Benedictine sister and Author, Joan Chittister writes, “All of us have been saved from ourselves and through no merit of our own.  And that’s the problem; If we have to merit heaven, we’re never going to get it.  Because we can’t We aren’t made to be perfect ; we’re made to be us. “We’re made to grow slowly .  We’re made to begin again and again.”

We’re made to be us, children of the most high God, ones who God longs to know inside and out, if only we would allow it. 

During the remaining days of Lent, perhaps it shouldn’t be about “how much we know” or “what steps we are taking to know more about God”, but maybe our Lenten journey should be more about ……….how well we are allowing God to know us..inside and out….may we allow God to know us.

[1] Maccini, 41
[2] Nouwen, 106. 
[3] Nouwen, 108