Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Habits of this Highly Effective (But Lost) Church Lay Leader: Week 6 - Serving: Working up a Sweat

"But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him." - John 4:23 (ESV)

We've made it to the sixth topic of our series on the heart of the worshiper. This series has turned out to take a lot longer than we anticipated, but I think sometimes we don't always see the big picture that God has in mind. So, I am glad that we've been flexible thus far and that you are still with me as I share my zany thoughts from my days prior to becoming a genuine Christ-follower.

To tell you the truth, the idea of talking about serving the Lord is one that makes my head swim.... There are a lot of things we need to address when we talk about service.... Who we serve, What we serve, When we serve, Why we serve, How we serve, How much, and then we need to discuss some of the fallacies of service. We need to discuss our motives for serving. We need to discuss spiritual gifts and how those are used within the body... And if I honestly tried to cover all of this, it would take six months to read one blog post!

Rick Warren has written a fabulous book called, "The Purpose-Driven Life" which addresses serving God. There are similar books out by Dr. David Jeremiah and Max Lucado on the subject as well. If you are looking to go deeper on this topic, those would be great places to start.

For the purposes of this blog, and to keep the continuity of the previous blogs, I am going to share my own experiences relative to serving in the local church body prior to knowing Christ. And then I am going to share what God has taught me as a Christ-follower over the past nearly nine years.

I believe I shared with you last week that I was invited to church by one of my neighborhood friends, who also happened to be a PK. She had invited me to join a youth choir at her church because she knew that I loved music. I think I also told you that particular choir was going on tour to Texas.

I learned right away that service was supposed to be a big part of the Christian life... and I have the physical scars to prove it! The very first time I ever remember going to that church was to go to work at a pancake breakfast in order to earn money for the choir tour.  I had not even been to a choir rehearsal yet, but I was already working in the church.

After the pancake breakfast that afternoon, I helped to wash windows along the church nursery wall. This was an outside wall, and beneath us was a paved driveway that led to a carport typed awning (this was in the 70's) for a drop-off point for parents. Now, mind you, I had never even so much as cleaned my room at home or had to clean a bathroom mirror! So this was an entirely new experience for me. But I wanted to earn my way to Texas, and so I climbed up on a rickety step ladder and began to clean those windows! Side by side with my little PK friend, we were working for Jesus. Or something like that.

Okay. Now, I was a very short kid -- always the shortest one in my class and I hadn't gotten all that much taller by the time I reached the seventh grade, and so reaching some of the spots on those windows was a challenge for me. At one point, I gave up and climbed up on the very top of the step ladder. The ladder gave way, the bucket that I had on the shelf fell, and I went backwards! The next thing I knew, I was down on the pavement! I had a gash in the top of my head, and there was fear that I might have had a concussion as well. It wasn't pretty. But I helped earn my way to Texas.... and as far as I could tell at that point in my little warped teenage brain, that was also a step on the journey to earning my way to Heaven as well.

The only problem was that I didn't know how much I needed to do to get into Heaven. So, I continued to do nice things. I tried to make sure that I was at church nearly every Sunday from that day forward (surely God would count that toward getting in) and that I did plenty of good things for him. My resume was filled with all sorts of lay activities in the local church, as well as professional opportunities in churches and para-church organizations or agencies. If I had one of those Sunday School pins to represent each of the things I did over the years, I believe I would have tripped over it!!!!

But those things all became moot point because all of those activities were about me.... and boosting myself in the congregation and getting God to notice....

Here are some of the things I have learned since following Christ about service:

1) I am to serve Him because I belong to Him.... Not because I want to belong to Him. Do you see the difference?

"8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:8-10

2) My service to God is a way of showing others that I do, in fact belong to God.

"22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." - James 1: 22-27

3) My service to God is for the benefit of His kingdom. Therefore, I am to serve humbly and follow Christ's example. It isn't about me.

"1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Philippians 2:1-11

Did you notice what Jesus did? He took the form of a servant... and humbled Himself by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (v.7)  Our example of servanthood comes from Christ Jesus, Himself!

4) God designed and calls each of us to fit into a specific local body of believers to complete the specific mission that God has destined for our churches. We are to use our spiritual gifts, our natural talents and our life experiences to help our local church to reach the lost and to encourage the saints. He did not design anyone for pew warming!

You can find spiritual gift lists in  Rom 12:3-8 ; 1 Cor 12-14; Eph 4:7-13 ; and 1 Peter 4:10-11.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then He has given you certain spiritual gifts to be used within the body of Christ. Those came at your salvation. Discover your gift, and use it for His benefit within your local church. If you fail to use your gifts within your local church, your church will not be able to accomplish fully her mission that God has designed for her within your community.

There are many good gift surveys available to help you discover your areas of spiritual giftedness. Your pastor or educational minister could probably help you to find a survey and help you discover your own gifts. I seem to remember that "The Purpose Driven Life" had a good gift assessment survey in the back of the book as well.

5) Don't confuse "spiritual gifts"  or natural talents with THE GIFT or THE GIVER! God has given us the GIFT of HIS SON! One of my biggest issues I think was that I often confused the idea of serving with having a relationship with Jesus.

If you are questioning your salvation, the best thing to do is nail it down!

God loves you and has a plan for you:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not persish, but have everlasting life." - John 3:16

There's a problem - God is holy and we are not. 

"There is none righteous, no not one." - Romans 3:10

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." - Romans 3:23

The penalty for sin is eternal death. .
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 6:23

God made a way for us through Jesus and His death on the cross.
"But God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8

All we have to do is ask Him to be the Lord of us. The word "Lord" is probably best translated in today's terms as "Boss." When you ask Jesus to be Lord of you, you are asking HIM to call all of the shots on your life from this point forward. He's in charge 24/7...

"because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." - Romans 10:9-10

If you have made this decision, the next step will require some courage on your behalf, particularly if you have been in the church for a long time, as I was. You will need to talk with your pastor or another church staff member and tell him of your decision. He will guide you from there as to next steps (believer's baptism and so forth.)

I will be praying for each of you.... as you find your place of service and for some of you who will be nailing down your salvation experience for the first time!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Habits of this Highly Effective (But Lost) Church Lay Leader: Week 5 (Part B) - Daily Walk: The Do's and Don'ts of the Christian Life

"But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him." - John 4:23 (ESV)

Last week, we learned that we are slaves to sin... and that God gives us freedom. Sometimes our freedom comes when we first come to know Christ. Other times it comes after we are believers who experience some kind of moral failure (big or small) and find ourselves in a position of brokeness before God. That's what I want to touch on this week.

Sadly, yes, believers fail God sometimes. And sometimes we get ourselves into real messes. And depending on the circumstances, we can find ourselves in a place that is embarrassing, and costly.... Very costly. I am talking about the kinds of costs that money cannot repair... emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The kinds of costs that disrupt our lives... and sometimes cost us our jobs, our families, our friends, and sometimes, if the person happens to be in ministry, our churches. This is the kind of cost that bankrupts our lives.

And do you wanna know the truth?? (The truth is what sets you free!)

It's precisely where God wants you and I to be.

You see, it's when we are broken that we are most useful to Him in His kingdom. The heart of a servant who serves from the broken places is not likely to stray again.

Shepherding was a very common way of living in biblical times. And Jesus told a story about the wandering sheep and how the shepherd would go after the one that went astray (Luke 15:1-7.) I've heard it said that what Jesus was referring to was the practice of shepherds in His day relative to teaching a wandering sheep not to wander again.

The shepherd would go and retrieve the wandering sheep and before he would bring it back to the fold, he would break all four legs of the little wandering lamb. Then the shepherd would gently bind up the broken legs and place the little lamb on his shoulders, where he would remain until the wounds healed. During this time of healing, the shepherd fed the lamb, and he would carry him everywhere that he went. The shepherd would meet his every need, just as he met his own needs. When the healing was completed, the little lamb would then be allowed to return to walk on his own again. But from that point forward, the lamb would become a shadow to the shepherd. He would never stray from his side again.

When we are broken before the Lord, and allow the Lord to be the Only Healer of our wounds, we have the choice to serve Him out of our brokeness. If we allow Him to carry us, He will meet all of our needs. And as He allows those wounds to heal, we learn to follow Him.

Like that lamb who is allowed to walk again eventually under his own power, if our eyes are on Jesus during the entire time of our healing, it is not likely that we will find ourselves in the briar patches soon again.... We will fall right in step behind Him....

Paying attention to His every word for us.
Listening closely as He speaks to us.
Obeying all that He asks of us.
Remaining teachable as He teaches us.
Being a fisher of men.
Going to the least of these.

All from a servant's heart.
All from a broken servant's heart.

The prophet Isaiah wrote (about Jesus):

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations." - Isaiah 61:1-4

Did you notice that He has come to set the captives free? But did you also notice that the freedom followed the binding of the brokenhearted?

Again, like that lamb, we've been set completely free to come and go as we please but now we are CHOOSING to follow.

Following closely.
Remaining at His heels.
Never straying.
Never. Straying. again.
Even when we could do our own thing, we choose to follow ONLY Him.

By Step.
By Step.
By Step...

All for His good pleasure.

In some cases, we will be redesigned for a different purpose. In others, we will be scarred vessels who will be used in similar circumstances to where we were before. But it's not up to us to decide how or where or when He will use us, or whether He will choose to use us again. That's for Him to choose. And for us to obey, and in whatever capacity He chooses to use us, if He chooses to use us, we will be content.

Our job is to look to Him, and simply follow.....

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Letting Go After Twelve Years... A Word of Encouragement...

Okay. I know some of you will be freaked out by the fact that I have written three posts, three days in a row... Don't get used to it! I don't usually have the time to do this and this has been a unique week.

Most of you will read this on January 13th. For most of you, it will just be another date on the calendar, but it has a specific meaning to me. It was January 13th, 1998 that Tony passed away following a battle with cancer. Today will mark the 12th anniversary of his death.

Now before all of you start getting all weepy and soppy on me, I want you to be aware that this year is different for me. For the first time, although I can't say that I have made a really big deal of the date in quite a while, I am aware of the date's arrival and I am finally being able to say that I can think of Tony in a way that does not associate his life with his death (necessarily.) I have come to a place where I can think of the pre-cancer days and smile, remembering birthday parties with family, crazy things we did together as a couple, the dreams we dreamed.... buying our first house together... The tears don't come as often as they once did...

And I am only sharing these thoughts with you because I want to encourage those from Mourning into Dancing who are struggling with loss. So many of our girls are still in the very early stages of grief, and I want them to know that time has a way of healing old wounds... This is about encouraging you, girls.

Tony and I had a great life together.... and make no mistake... I loved him dearly! But there comes a time after the grieving process when you move on.... and you realize that you are living in a totally different world. That time comes at different places for different people. There are no magic formulas... no magic pills or dates on the calendar that make it go away... I still have moments when the tears come... but that happens on the very, very rarest of occassion now... and I am a long way from crying myself to sleep as I did for the first three years or so after he died.

And that doesn't mean I don't still think about him daily (actually he comes to mind several times a day.)  In truth, it's hard to escape thoughts of someone, when everywhere you turn in your home, there is some piece of furniture still there that you built together (and the fights that went with it.... LOL) or your little furry shadow that you both raised from the time she was six weeks old is still sleeping on your bed (she's nearly eighteen years old now).... Then there are all of the sayings and silly rituals you had together.... Those thoughts don't dissappear. But now, I can remember those things and smile... I can't drive past our first home which is just a few blocks over and not think about us picking out that house...

Anyway, girls, I want you to know that God has a way of comforting us in our grief, if we let Him.... You and I will never know on this side of glory why God chose to take the men in our lives away at one time or another... But as a really good friend of mine posted on facebook last night relative to another loss, because of Jesus, if they knew the Lord, we will all have a lot more time in eternity with them than we did on this planet. Therein lies our certainty.

This little poem was read by one of our former pastors at Tony's funeral, and it stays in my mind. I have no idea who wrote it... But it speaks of  "Letting Go."

"Miss Me But Let Me Go"

When I come to the end of the road

And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free!

Miss me a little - but not too long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love we once shared
Miss me - But let me go!

For this journey we all must take
And each must go alone
It's all part of the master plan
A step on the road to home

When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds
Miss me - But let me go!


Monday, January 11, 2010

Whodathunkit???? :)

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen". - Ephesians 3:20-21

Yeah, I know. Two posts in twenty-four hours! Major miracle, right??? Well, let's just say that I wanted to give the Lord a "Standing Ovation" for what He has done with Mourning into Dancing!

Last spring, God really impressed upon my heart the need for "Mourning Into Dancing" to become a reality for a group of young Christian widows. So many of them were already in my circle of friends... and were really hurting from the pain of losing their spouse. Having gone through this just 12 years ago myself, I knew what little existed by way of support for these girls. And with a heart of obedience and really kinda feeling my way through the dark, Mourning into Dancing became a reality in April, 2009. 

Tonight, as I am typing this, we now have 27 girls in the facebook group from literally all over the world. Because of God's leadership, modern technology and thanks to the world wide web, 27 girls are connected to other girls who have walked in similar circumstances of loss. 27 ladies under the age of 60 can lean on the shoulders of twenty six others who totally understand and can pray and encourage....

Not bad for a group that is almost entirely based on word of mouth and just through facebook, huh? :)

So, join me, dear friends in Thanking God for His continued work in Mourning Into Dancing!

Thank You, Jesus! I never dreamed that we'd reach five, let alone 27! And I certainly didn't expect them to come from around the world! Thank you, Lord for so many who have found a home on our simple group page.... and come with an encouraging word for others who also may be hurting. God, You ROCK! Thanks! In Your Precious Name, Amen!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Habits of this Highly Effective (but Lost) Church Lay Leader: Week 5 - Daily Walk: Dos and Don'ts of the Christian Life

"But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him." - John 4:23

And..... We're back! :) Hopefully, you have all recovered nicely from a great Christmas break and the New Year is well under way for you by now. My husband and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary on New Year's Eve during our break. I am so thankful for him and grateful to God for the gift I have in him as my husband. He is my best friend, and my soul mate. And I love him dearly!

Are you ready for week five, friends??? Shall we review just a bit as to where we've been thus far first? Let's do that quickly. In week one, we learned that we need to drop the masks and get real with one another and with God. In week two, we talked about our prayer life and we learned to pray the way Jesus prayed. In the third week, we first learned about loving others and then in part two, we learned about fully loving God. In week four, we learned about wreckless abandonment, and how we allow God to do with us as He pleases, all within the love relationship that we have with Him as His child.

Ok. Take a deep breath, and lets begin thinking about our freedom in Christ this week.

Let me start with a story.

When I was a child, I grew up in a neighborhood filled with lots of playmates on our street. All of us were from various backgrounds... My dad was a computer guru in the retail industry. Other dads worked in insurance or sales. We had a nurse, a pilot, a mechanic, a truck driver... and then there were the Baptist preachers... Yep. Just a few doors down from us and across the street was a parsonage belonging to the church that I would attend in my teen years... and in that parsonage lived several different pastors and their families over the years. So, I grew up with some PKs being in my peer group during most of my childhood.

I remember one particular family who lived in the parsonage.... and the oldest daughter was just a few months older than me, but a year ahead of me in school (she started at age five, even though her birthday was late in the year.) Anyhow, this particular girl was the first one to invite me to her church. She knew that I loved music and invited me to come to youth choir with her. They were going on a youth choir tour to Texas, and she knew it would be fun for me. And so, it began....

Well... a few months into the journey, they had youth council elections, and the pastor's daughter was elected to the council. I had NO clue what a youth council did in a Baptist Church. I had not been raised in the Baptist Church. My family as a rule wasn't a church going family, except on Easter when we would dress up in our new Easter clothes and go to the grandparent's houses and show them off.

So, anyway, one afternoon not too long after the elections had been held, I was over in the backyard at the parsonage, hanging out... and I congratulated the PK on making youth council. Then, I said (in my great naiivety), "So.... Are you guys planning some great dances soon?" My little PK friend's face turned ashen, and said, "Bitsy, Baptists don't dance!"

Now, I am sure that my little face turned about as red as a beet because I was totally embarrassed. And I proceeded to find out all of the other dos and don'ts of Baptist life... And in my warped little brain, I think I began to believe that it was all of those things that I did, and all of those things that I didn't do that made me a Baptist, and then, true to my nature, I took it one step further... I thought it was what made me a Believer... So much so that I carried that belief all the way through to my adulthood years.

Going to church faithfully all those years, and taking so many classes and learning doctrine from the pulpit, my Sunday School teachers, at college, in church classes, I learned all about what it meant to live the Christian life, but I had NO CLUE about what it meant to be in a relationship with Jesus. I knew all of the right words to say and all of the right things to do, but I did not have a love relationship with the Living God! I just didn't. I didn't know how to even begin to have a relationship with God. I just thought that because I didn't drink, I didn't smoke, didn't do drugs, kept myself  "pure" (well, I did up to a point, but that's for another time and another post), didn't dance, didn't curse (or "cuss" as we would say it in the South), didn't gamble, and I voted Republican that made me a Christian! Seriously. I was even baptized... or well, I should say that I got wet. What's worse, I actually was serving in leadership roles in our denomination's state convention office!

Anyway, a few years ago, God began teaching me and showing me some truths. I didn't know it at the time what that was.... But I remember watching some movies from the "Left Behind" series and some similar in content with a group of singles from my church. And I started identifying with the Associate Pastor in the movie who had been left behind. I knew a lot of Bible stuff! Hey, Christianity was one of my double majors in college.... I knew the Book well! And I could argue with the best atheist you could throw at me! But I didn't know the Author of the Book... the Author of Salvation...

I didn't know God.

I was caught up in the world's biggest religious rat race... And sadly, I was one mighty big rat.

All I was doing was spinning my wheels... and going nowhere...

Like a hamster on a wheel.

Round and round I went. And I was going everywhere that I thought I was supposed to go, but in truth, I was going NOWHERE.

I had absolutely no purpose in life. I jumped from job to job to job. I was so insecure, no real motives, no real goals... No real life. Yeah, I had a lot of stuff... and on the outside, it looked like I had it all together, but inside of me was a turmoil that would make Don King want to shave his head! I'm telling you!!! It was the truth! I was one giant mess.

Ok. So back to the movies... I started having nightmares... and lots of them. My first husband had died a couple of years prior to that... and I began having nightmares about him. And I had nightmares about being left behind. This went on for a couple of months... During all of this time, I was still faithfully attending church, and going to choir rehearsals, singing in a ladies group that I directed...

I remember that the Easter production came, and I was at the end of my rope. I had been several months without a job, and was financially in the worst shape I had ever been in my life. I was close to losing my home, had no money, horrible credit (due to no fault of my own) and was struggling with nearly every relationship I had. I felt deserted..... abandoned.... and completely at my wits' end.

And it was there that I finally gave in and talked with a dear friend (my former worship pastor and one of my closest friends), who led me to Christ in his office.  Those chains of legalism were unlocked that afternoon of April 18, 2001!

God took the shackles off my feet that day.... And He is still teaching me to dance.... I won't be so arrogant to say that I understand complete freedom at this point in my life, but I can tell you that He is still teaching me how to be free... And there are still some areas where I need to be unshackled. But the taste of sweet freedom is beyond anything that I ever dreamed before.

" To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"  Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." - John 8:31-36

Mary Mary made this song popular a few years ago.... I hope it ministers to you.