On Progress and Outcomes

The first progress report from middle school came home today and there were some, well… less than favorable remarks on the one we received. It really wasn’t that bad but for this particular boy it was out of the ordinary.

A conversation followed with questions such as,

“What do you think led up to this result?” and

“Do you know what you could improve on?”

The answers to these and more were thankfully appropriate and what came out of it is, the grades don’t matter as much as the lessons learned along the way.

As we learn what we are supposed to learn, acquire the understanding and knowledge we are there for, the process is what shapes us rather than the final grade defining us.

Such is the case for so many of the situations we face on a daily basis even when we are no longer students.  The roads that hold the feet we walk upon and the situations in which we live are watered down to something we must “get through” instead of lessons how we are being formed along the way.  Rather than learning to dance and sing in the rain, we remain focused on getting through the storm.

We pray for healing, relief, and solutions…all good things but until God provides that which He will at His appointed time, are we willing to suffer long enough to see what He wants us to see?  Learn what He wants us to learn?

When I think of what defines me, it’s not how good I am at any particular thing, how successful I am at mothering, teaching, writing or any one I am to any person I am with.  Character is shaped by process that includes and is not limited with refinement and sanctification. I am not defined by that characteristic or even what I’ve been through to be molded this way.

Neither are you.

Sinner.

Adulterer.

Tax Collector.

Pharisee.

Alcoholic.

Ex-Convict.

Prostitute.

Failure.

Lazy.

Hopeless.

Those who call on the name of Jesus are defined by grace.  Grace that is never ending, far reaching that  flexes, moves, and reaches out and reaches down where no one wants to go.

I am defined by the Potter, the Creator and the Artist.  I am not the artist, I am the canvas. I am His workmanship, a work in progress and by His grace my outcome is secure but my process and that which I will learn along the way, who I am becoming and what it will look like is ever changing, ever morphing into the image of Another.

What defines you?  Are you looking at an outcome longer than the process in which you find yourself?

Our eyes should be on eternity, but that view is dim yet He is illuminating something for each of us right here, right now and that process is chiseling us into a final product, the outcome of something splendid, designed before the foundations of this earth.

And that outcome belongs to Him.

Let us not miss it.

Gone Fishing?

One of the roadblocks many people express when it comes to discipling others is they don’t know who to disciple. The other is we feel inadequate, too broken and not enough.

I often hear from well-meaning women they are ready and available, yet there is no one coming to them or they just aren’t sure who is looking for that kind of friendship with another woman. Or I hear a myriad of reasons why they can’t, shouldn’t, are too busy, etc.  Some of these are good reasons and God can work through each of them.

Last night around a living room, a beautiful theme emerged with this discussion and what resonated most is we are called to be fishers of women.

We do need to be intentional and purposeful with our relationship so the acronym of FAT women (Faithful, Available and Teachable) is true.  But Jesus also told his disciples to go fishing…lower the nets and He will direct the fish to them.

We are to lower our nets.

Source: flickr.com via Caitlin on Pinterest

No one can do your fishing expedition for you.  Look around you. Who is listening?  Who is watching?  I firmly believe women are influencers and we influence best in relationships.  If you think you aren’t influencing anyone, let me encourage you to pray and ask God to show you if that is true.

The other roadblock is when we think we don’t know enough, aren’t mature enough, aren’t perfect enough to be a good influence or disciple others.  If you look at the Gospels and the book of Acts you will see the most fruitful disciples/disciple makers were formerly known as murderers, thieves, women with promiscuous pasts, cowards, and people with anger management issues.

God is at work in each of us and others need to be comforted and encouraged by the work God is doing in you.

It’s not our job to make a person grow, to change their habits or to fill their cups.  If we are to disciple women, our job to empty our cup.

What’s in your cup? 

Are you in the Word? Are you confessing your sins? Are you forgiving others?

Are these not the most simply stated yet often most difficult disciplines to practice?  But they are disciplines and they are what make us disciples and by sharing that which God is doing in our inner {wo}man, we pour out and make disciples.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

{Matthew 28:18-20}

Sunday Reflections: Dull Knives and Dull Hearts

The Pioneer Woman's Restaurant Style Salsa

One of my favorite things to make for dinner parties is fresh salsa.

The combinations of flavors between the tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro are mouth-watering before you even slide your chip in for the dip.

Several years ago, my father-in-law taught me what is required to make good salsa is a good chop.  Lots of chopping.   A salsa with a good texture is the perfect balance between saucy and chunky.

The knife in my kitchen I’ve used to prepare almost every meal since our wedding day is a basic chef’s knife. Perfect for chopping, slicing and dicing just about any vegetable.   However when the knife becomes dull, it becomes ineffective.

In fact, not only does it become ineffective, it can be downright harmful.  If I use a dull, ineffective knife to chop an onion, the knife can slide off the onion and chop my finger instead.  Worse yet, I can know this and in my laziness do nothing about it, resigning myself to the rough, overly chunky chop, making one bite of salsa overwhelming with the taste of onion.

This truth came to mind while studying Hebrews 5:11-14 where readers of God’s Word are warned about falling into the danger of dullness.

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.   But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Dullness.  A debilitating condition that causes us to become spiritually ineffective.

We let time go by and become complacent, finding ourselves standing in the same exact place we’ve been standing in for years.  Not moving.  Not growing. Not changing.  Regressing.

We no longer learn because we are not passing on what we know to another. Seeing and experiencing that what we have learned actually finds its fulfillment when we teach.

When we give it away. 

We are blessed to be a blessing.

The knife in my hand is meant to prepare something to feed others.  Likewise, we are placed in the hands of the Living God when we die to live for His purpose.

Our lives are not our own.

The deal with the knife though is there is a fairly quick remedy.  I can take the sharpening tool that came with it and with a few swipes across, the knife is sharpened and back in the game.

It becomes useful once again.

And so it goes with our complacency.  Our spiritual dullness.  One simple move can help us grow and become effective to those around us.

One step of faith in action.

One phone call to encourage or pray with the person we’ve been thinking of daily.

One step of faith to begin a discipleship relationship with that younger woman who is always ready to talk and ask questions.

One commitment to serve within your community.

These things make the ineffective suddenly effective.

We are blessed to be a blessing.

Does your knife need sharpening?

What steps can you take to combat spiritual dullness?

Lists and Yokes

Last week in my discipleship group, one of my friends opened up about her ongoing struggle with Christianity and the issue of faith and works.  She struggles with the tension of being  saved by grace alone and lists of “to-do’s” that we often hear from the pulpit, in our Bible studies and conversations with other believers.

Lately, I’ve been chewing on the gospels and what Jesus actually says about being a disciple of Jesus.  The one thing our pastor has been saying lately that won’t leave my head is “disciples listen better than they see.”

This is so true because of a number of things.

1. If we listen well, then what we listen to {as opposed to what we simply hear} stays embedded in our minds, hearts and our souls.  We won’t easily forget what we’ve heard when the next thing hits our ears. We won’t despair to the depths that we could when the truth of what we know, defies what we see in front of us.

2. Disciples need to listen better than we see because  if we base everything on what we see, we forget that we rarely are able to see what God sees in the full picture.

3. We need to listen well otherwise, we will forget all that we know and the message become cloudy and overwhelming.  When we hear a command like “practice hospitality,” we begin to add it to or create a new list when the command should really just be an overflow from what we’ve heard in the beginning which is that

We are fully loved and fully welcomed into the Kingdom of God.

4. We have to listen better than we see because there is so much to wrap our minds and hearts around in the person, work, spirit and words of Christ  that if we only go by what we see, we might actually miss it.

5. Disciples listen better than they see because what they’ve heard is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself” and that we love “because He first loved us.”

Every list, every command should be filtered through these.

We live in a world of hurry. We want to get through what we are doing so we can move on to the next thing. It’s why we create lists so we don’t forget what we have to do and where we need to be.  The people of Israel created a golden calf when they couldn’t see God, we create lists when we can’t see Him.  We are used to instant gratification and if the Word and Spirit aren’t measurably changing us, then we panic.

We want a new list.

Or worse yet, we choose to quit.

God’s desire is not just to just change our behaviors but to transform us into His likeness. He speaks of transforming us through

perseverance

endurance

like a runner finishing a race well.

These things take time. And despite what our society tells us, time is on our side.

This thing is eternal.

Do you struggle with creating lists when it comes to following Jesus?  I do.

Cape Town

Two of my favorite writers/bloggers are in Cape Town, South Africa for the Third Lausanne Congress on Evangelism. If you are unfamiliar, the Lausanne Movement began in 1966 with Billy Graham and 1200 delegates from over 100 countries. The second congress was in 1974 (the year I was born…no correlation however), in the Swiss Alps with 2700 participants from 150 countries. This week, the third congress in Cape Town has over 4000 people in attendance from 197 countries.

The purpose of the gathering is to address and engage the issues facing the Church and missions today. The stories I’ve been reading  through Margaret Feinberg and Mary DeMuth are amazing. Stories of people who are:

Suffering

Contending

Giving their lives

to bring Jesus to people who live countries where Christ may not welcome.

Today, Margaret wrote this:

A young man shared some of the failures of the global church that captivated me.

He highlighted the following:

The failure to understand the world we live in and have a Christ-like response. This statement has countless implications, one of which is simply—because we don’t understand Islamic world, Muslims are feared and despised instead of recognized as people Christ died for.

Another is that we have failed to realize the twentieth century has ended. We have not realized that the twentieth century missions movement has ended with it. As a result, we continue to offer clichéd responses to people and situations. Evangelism is not a one-off event in which we give no second thought to what will happen to people.

As a result, we need to have the courage to ask the question every generation must ask:

“What does it mean to believe in a crucified God in this time in this generation?”

Only then can we thoughtfully and prayerfully determine how to respond.

It seems to me that bringing the truth, love, joy and hope of Christ to people in the 21st century is largely dependent on relationships. Almost any where you are, or any where you go, there is information available. Just today, I talked with a woman who knows her Bible cover to cover but is not getting any peace, hope or joy from her knowledge. Transformation no longer occurs solely through fact-finding, but rather through the authentic display of truth, the tangible acts of kindness and the astounding effects of mercy and justice.

Authenticity is more essential than it ever has been.

In church this weekend, I was convicted by my response to the world around me and my failure to understand it.

It’s easy to talk about other faiths without actually being willing to go to people of other faiths and have a genuine, authentic relationship with them. Especially when it’s just next door.

It’s easy to talk about “culture wars” without actually entering into the culture and understanding why it resonates with people.

We can jump into all kinds of rhetoric about homosexuality without actually entering into people’s sexual brokenness, listening to their story or walking with them.

I can join a pro-life rally, I’ve even prayed in front of abortion clinics, but have I been willing to sit with someone who has actually had one, showing them kindness and love that is absent of condemnation and help them heal? Have I been doing enough to care for the children of those who have chosen life yet their kids are bound up in a broken foster system?

As people in church stood up and proclaimed Christ’s victory for pulling them out of pits of oppression, blindness, poverty and captivity, I sat convicted that as a follower of Jesus, I have no right to cry, warn others, grieve or talk about an issue, unless I’m willing to walk with a person, enter their story and stay with them through the pain regardless of the outcome. The outcome belongs to the God of the Universe. Not me.

Clichéd responses to people and their situations not only marginalize people who need Jesus, but they also become a stumbling block for those who are trying to seek Him for who He is. I’m not sure, but I don’t think Jesus ever reprimanded or corrected anyone without loving them, listening to them and making it clear He understood them.

Well… except maybe the Pharisees.

 

 

Becoming a Living, Sharing, Practicing Church

I just (finally) finished reading Tim Morey’s book, Embodying Our Faith: Becoming a Living, Sharing, Practicing Church. Since I’m a working-mom, it takes me a while to get through books as this one did, but it was well worth the time it took. Time was actually helpful in this case because I found I needed just that to really savor and let Tim’s words sink in to my brain so I could process them and even take an inventory on how we (and me personally) are doing as a Christ-follower attempting to live out what we believe.

Tim has a wonderful way of taking the Scriptures and showing us through the lenses of  history and the current culture that God’s hope for the Church and the World remain the same. Jesus built His Church to bring hope and joy to a lost and dying world as part of “his intentions to redeem the world and undo the damage that the Fall has wreaked on His creation (Gen. 3:15).” Tim gracefully and Biblically builds a bridge between the post-modern/emergent church movement and more modern/traditional expressions of the evangelical Christian faith.  More importantly, guided by the words of Christ, Tim takes the heart of the reader and gently reminds us of what it means to live out our faith in a way that points others to the true Jesus.

My favorite parts of the book were right in the middle where he takes the Great Commission (Matthew 28) and shows us how our traditional view of “evangelism” must become more holistic to include disciplemaking and spiritual formation. He is well aware of and understands this culture correctly by pointing out that people are not going to be drawn to Jesus simply by a logical understanding, but rather through authentic relationships and experiences that are met through the kindness, the compassion and hospitality of God’s people.

I happen to know Tim personally, but don’t think this review is biased because of that.  The only reason why I bring it up is because I have had the privilege of observing first hand how much Tim loves Jesus and loves the Church. He also has a passion for discipleship which is why I was so looking forward to reading His book. It did not disappoint as Tim paints a beautiful picture of what Church is intended to be. A worshipful, loving, authentic, deeply engaging, serving and growing community that pours inward so that it can pour outward.

I highly recommend this book to any believer and community of believers who desire a better understanding of how to daily live out their faith in such a way that they may actually bear the image of Christ.

What great books have you read lately?

The 21st Century Cost of Discipleship

This evening, I spent some time on the phone with one of my favorite people in the world.  She is one of the most noble women I have ever known and I had the honor of being discipled by her a few years ago.  She invited me into one of her discipleship groups that she’s led every year since she herself was discipled by Anne Ortlund.  As Anne’s discipleship influence changed the course of my friend’s ministry to women, it did so to mine as well. 

Discipleship can happen in many different ways, but the basic heart of it is influencing the life of another Christian so they can grow mature in their faith and trust in Jesus.  This particular model of discipleship (we’ll call it the Ortlund model), requires a commitment.   When inviting people to join you in discipleship, Anne suggests that you look for F.A.T. Christians: faithful, available and teachable:

  • Faithful – Think about Levi, or Matthew, as he was called.  When Jesus saw him He said “Follow Me,” and Matthew jumped up and “left everything and followed him” (Lk. 5:28).  This doesn’t mean that from here on he owned nothing.  It means he had a new Master and was faithful to let Him take complete charge of his life.
  • Available –  Jesus didn’t choose Nicodemus for His group, though Nicodemus had great religious influence.  He didn’t choose Joseph of Arimathea, who had lots of money to finance their travels.  They both loved Jesus, but they were probably too enmeshed in their own businesses.  They weren’t loose enough to really commit.  
  • Teachable – “Disciple” means “learner,” and this person must be willing to be one – not come across as if he already knows everything.

Once you have your “Ortlund Model” group formed, the commitment is weekly (we meet for one and a half hours), from September to June.  Nine months.  Any more than that, Anne suggests, is detrimental to the group and the leader because people typically can’t sustain a longer commitment. 

The thing I’ve noticed is that in our increasingly busy society, where the world of work, school, sports, media, social media, etc. demands our time and attention, it appears to also be increasingly difficult to form and sustain commitments like this. 

My question is this… is it possible to do discipleship this way in the 21st Century? 

I completely recognize that this is not the only way to do discipleship.  There are times and seasons for every person when discipleship can happen and is lived out in many wonderful and creative ways.  However, regardless of how you do it,  read through the New Testament and see that discipleship does indeed have a cost.  Any mature believer will tell you that following Jesus is costly.  Sometimes you give up your time, but sometimes it may cost you friendships, the respect of family members, your job and yes… it could cost you your very life. 

Jesus once spoke to a wealthy young man who was interested in eternal life.  He looked him lovingly in the eye and said, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  Are we all required to sell everything we have?  No.  But the lesson implies that we need to be willing to give up everything we have, everything we hold as precious to us to pick up our cross and follow Him.  This particular man, looked down then walked away.  Jesus didn’t run after him. To follow someone requires a choice. The follower must be willing, motivated and eager. 

Every follower of Jesus is a disciple… but if you are going to go from making Jesus your Savior to Jesus as Lord, you can’t do it alone.  No one can and no one was meant to.  That’s why God established His Church.  To build and strengthen disciples who would love Him and go out and love the world to Christ. 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  ~ Matthew 13:45-46

Do you REALLY believe?

For the past couple of months, I haven’t been able to get my mind off of a certain lyric that we often sing in church. 

It goes like this: “Savior, who can move the mountains…our God is might to reign, He is mighty to reign.” 

I often wonder, if I really believe in a Savior who can move the mountains, have supposedly given my life to follow Him…then why don’t I walk like a person who believes my life is led by someone who can literally pick up a mountain and drop it somewhere else should He wish too. 

Then one day, I was sitting at a conference, when I heard the speaker say: “The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, lives inside of you.”  Makes me wonder… is it just me?  Am I not making way for this power to work in and through me?  I KNOW it.  It’s in my head. I believe it is truth. 

So now I’m praying… for God to show me where it is that I DON’T believe… so I can make way, so He can make His way for that power to work in and through me. 

Is it just me?