Posted in Bible reading, Faith, Fame, God's call, Perspective, Popularity, Purpose, Success

Only Then

 

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Success. It’s what everyone dreams of and hopes to achieve in life.

To be honest of my own aspirations, I dream of one of my blog posts go viral one day. I think anyone who pours themselves into their writing (or any craft they devote themselves to for that matter) hopes that their efforts will be recognized.

Musicians strive to record the best songs, post them on YouTube and hope someone will recognize their talent.

Athletes will train for years dreaming of making it to the Olympics.

Preachers prepare and work on their messages hoping that their congregations will receive them well and even congratulate them on a job well done afterwards.

Just a side note here: Props to all preachers out there who spend hours preparing every week to preach a message to their congregations. Most of them are not the televangelist type. They are unknown, uncelebrated, not on TV, paid very poorly, if at all, but have a real desire to bring messages of substance to their congregations. They are the unsung heroes of the church world, ministering week in and week out to the people on the ground. My husband is one of those faithful preachers and I watch him prepare sermons weekly in a language that is foreign to him (this sometimes takes days) in an effort to reach the wonderful people God has given us. It’s mostly a thankless task but let me just say “well done” to him and all others out there who give their all for their congregations with hearts of integrity. Rant over and back to the subject at hand. 

When probed about our dreams, we’ll often take the “humble” route, saying we’re ok with whatever happens. However, truth be told, every time our efforts don’t produce the results we hope for, we feel the sting of disappointment.

I’ve read countless articles on writing and blogging; there are many topics I have read that have ranged from how to blog successfully, how to be a successful blogger in 90 days, 1-2-3 steps to a successful faith blog, monetizing your blog, and of course the blog articles with the most “bling” attached to them are the ones promising great income if you pay for their online course. Being the skinflint that I am (I’m not totally blind to the “click here to sign up for my paid course” gimmicks), I’ve signed up for free courses, free emails, and poured over articles about various ways of using hashtags, hyperlinks, and social media posts.

Just like you, when my efforts don’t reach my aspirations, I feel disappointed which then brings me to question why am I doing what I’m doing when it’s not been “successful?” This is the point when, if we dare to look beyond what is popularly defined as success, we can find true success. Instead of reading everyone else’s “how to” manual – we already have The Manual (the Bible, God’s Word) that has been tried and tested, but usually sits unread on our shelves and coffee tables:

Joshua 1:8 NLT “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”

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In the Kingdom of God, the way to success leads us in directions that often run crossgrain to what society popularizes. Success in the Kingdom is measured not by what appears on the outside but the changes that are produced internally when we change course and dare to become people of The Manual. God’s Word is meant to be a Manual for Living as the words in it, when we take them in and saturate ourselves with them, transform us.

Hebrews 4:12 NLT “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

This juncture of reaching success in the Kingdom is where many of us struggle – how can we be successful in this world we live in by living according to a different set of rules? The difference is found in what the 2 systems produce: this world’s definition of success relies solely on appearances, resulting in a great deal of stress and disappointment when unfulfilled, while the Kindom’s definition of success relies on the integrity of God Himself, resulting in a sure path to prosperity and success.

What is posperity and success in the Kingdom? It probably isn’t what most of us would consider prosperity: a fat bank account, stock options, a viral blog, or our own TV show. Success in God’s Kingdom is born from a heart trusting in His ways and following The Manual that leads to Him taking care of each and every step we take in this life. I’ve found this to be true in my own life as I live by The Manual, I am sure of God’s care for me. While I’ve not amassed much in this life compared to others, I’ve never gone to bed hungry nor have any of my children lacked food, clothes, a roof over their heads, a bed to sleep on, or an education to help them move ahead in life. If my Father has gotten me this far, I’m certain He will take care of me and my family to the end.

Is that not enough? Is that not success?

Posted in Choices, Church planting, Courage, Cross, God's call, Inadequacy, Kingdom, Leadership, Loss, Missions, Obedience, Popularity, Rejection, The Call of God

The Hashtag

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In this new world of social media, blogging, vlogging, podcasting, Facebooking, Twittering, texting, and other forms virtual contact that I am surely not aware of, there has arisen an unlikely hero on our keyboards: the hashtag, aka #. I don’t even know how to punctuate that in a sentence!

On my keyboard, prior to its recent popularity, the hashtag sat mostly unused above the number 3. I would occasionally use it as a number sign but for the most part, I could’ve easily lived life without a hashtag. Until the advent of the #hashtag movement, this humble symbol went largely unnoticed.

I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind, what appeared to me at the time, the arbitrary use of the symbol until one day when I saw this posted beneath a meme (a picture or image with a piece of relevant text added to it):

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#thestruggleisreal

The meaning of the hashtag finally had dawned on the horizon of my understanding. The humble hashtag, when followed by a word or several words connected without spaces, is meant to connect people to the subject at hand and communicate a short truth such as #thestruggleisreal. I finally got it and I saw that hashtag (#thestruggleisreal) fall into place many times over the subsequent months and years.

The truth of the matter is that the struggle really is real, the hashtag has meaning. There are some things we’re going through that have no explanation, no easy way out, no shortcuts to their resolution. The only way to see them through is through the struggle, and that struggle is real. Bishop T.D. Jakes puts it so well in saying, “You have to pay full price.”

As a church planter I’ve experienced more than what I originally thought was my “fair share” of struggle. It seems as if every step forward is accompanied by troubles that go beyond the lines of my expertise. On a regular basis I find myself posing the same question, “Why the struggle?”

There’s a common thread weaving itself through the intertwined fingers of humanity; we’re all seeking an escape from the struggle. Try as we might, however, the struggle finds us and the fight goes on for as long as there are days we have left to live – neither is creation exempt from the struggle.

Romans 8:20-22 ESV “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

While in our day and age much is taught about the blessings of God (and rightfully so, we are blessed), little is said in comparison of the struggle we face in our futility. We struggle for the freedom we know is part of our Kingdom inheritance, we struggle in our journeying, we struggle for the answers to our prayers and come face-to-face with the reality of how real the struggle is.

Who knew?

On a warm afternoon in October 1991, I stepped off a plane with my young family and onto the tarmac at the airport in Bujumbura, Burundi. Heat rose from the runway in the distance and blurred the outlines of the trees and faraway mountains. My heart was full of hope for the future but the loneliness of our situation wasn’t lost on me. We’ve often joked about this in the past – but on the other side of our joking was the reality of our utter solitude as we began the work of planting our first church.

I can’t the number of times we’ve felt misunderstood by not only strangers but by those who are close to us. How can we go about explaining the fire in our hearts for Africa to others whose journeys are so very different from ours? What possesses us to choose this lifestyle, one so very foreign to our own? This is perhaps one of the most painful of the struggles we encounter (and we encounter it regularly). There is no logic to this call, what is worth this kind of sacrifice?

Over the years we’ve struggled with financial lack, insecurity in the countries we have lived in (not knowing from one day to the next what could happen), sickness, and leaving our children and grandchildren behind in the USA. As this cycle of struggle and loss repeats itself I find myself struggling less and looking forward more. I can’t move forward while at the same time looking back. Has my heart hardened? Am I now unaffected by the struggle? Not in the least. But I’ve learned that as real as the struggle is, the rewards of the struggle are much greater than any pain I’ll suffer in the here and now.

Philippians 3:8-10 ESV “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”

I have little, in comparison to others, to offer God. While I’ve never gone to bed hungry or held any significant debt, my bank account alone gives testimony to my total reliance on God to meet my needs. I haven’t a great musical talent or prominent spiritual gift that can help propel me forward into the limelight. I don’t have the “pedigree” of coming from a family line of preachers. Neither do I possess any significant connection into the world of the rich and famous. What I do have to offer is this life God gave to me; He gave His all for me and I am now doing the same for Him.

And about that struggle, yes, #thestruggleisreal – but it’s only #temporary.

Posted in Choices, Courage, Destiny, Faith, Fear, God's call, Kingdom, Perspective, Popularity, Purpose, Resurrection

Things Aren’t What They Seem To Be

Play it safe.

Don’t push too far.

Be careful.

Should we chose to follow all safety precautions on every product we buy or activity we take part in, there are still bound to be unforeseen, unplanned, and unexpected complications that will meet us along the way. We simply can’t avoid trouble, it comes with the territory of life.

I’ve said it many times and still hold to this: the safest place to be is in God’s will. There, I find protection, provision, joy, and comfort. There’s nothing that can reach me there; I’m in His pocket ( 1 Sam. 25:29) as it were, close to His heartbeat. From that place, I hear what stirs His heart and I find the courage to reach for things I never dreamt of before, because things aren’t what they seem to be when you’re in the will of God.

John 14:27 ESV “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

It would appear that Jesus was coaching His disciples to really open their eyes to the possibility of things not being as they would appear when He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” At the time being described above in John 14, Jesus had entered into Jerusalem and was preparing His followers to understand that in the days to come, events would unfold that would appear to say, “It’s over.”

The crucifixion was on the horizon, Jesus knew it – but He also knew that the Resurrection was soon to follow on the heels of what would appear to be His end. He knew things weren’t going to be at all as they seemed. Jesus also knew everyone would flee and that He would be left alone to face the cross, yet He did it anyway. Why would He suffer and die when all would leave Him? He also knew that after His Resurrection, no one would believe in Him right away. It took quite a bit of work after He rose to convince those who had fled, that He was really alive. If it had been me making the choice at that juncture, those who had fled would not have been in the running for those chosen to be the leaders of the early church. Yet, by grace, Jesus chose to look beyond what the rest of us would call “the obvious” because He knew that nothing in His Kingdom is as it seems. Jesus knew that those who had fled weren’t at all as they appeared. They were born for something more, they were meant to turn the world “upside down.”

Acts 17:6 ESV “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”

I see a pattern throughout Scripture where those who dared to live close to the Father’s heartbeat never played it safe. They understood that being led where God took them was the only truly safe place to be – even if that path lead them to a place where it would seem their end was imminent.

Daniel chose the lions.

Paul chose to go to Rome.

Joseph chose to take Mary.

Each one (and many others) could have chosen to follow an easier route, but they didn’t. They knew the worst that could happen would have meant losing their lives, which would only put them in the presence of God; where would the the loss in that have been? They chose His safe place, and as they did, they lived amazing lives of adventure, seeing impossible dreams come true that they didn’t even know they had.

This life and all of its trimmings would have us to believe that living a life of adventure for God is unsafe, unreasonable, and even foolish. For those who don’t know the Father, I can understand those feelings. Still, there’s a thirst in me to see more than a life colored safely in the lines of what seems to be safe places, for in reality nothing is safe apart from God.

My choice is to live far from what seems to be safe; I want to live close to Him and far from things as they seem to be.

“The worship of God is not a rule of safety; it’s an adventure of the spirit.” Alfred North Whitehead

Posted in Choices, Destiny, Fame, Fear, Popularity, Uncategorized

Keeping Things Under Wraps

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Popularity – pɒpjʊˈlarəti/

noun

  1. the state or condition of being liked, admired, or supported by many people.

How much of our lives is spent in the pursuit of what is popular or to become popular? For some reason, we are wired with an innate desire to be liked, to be first, and to be the best. Early in childhood we all wanted to be first on the best swing, first on the climbing frame (monkey bars for all my US readers),  and first to take a turn at hop scotch. From there, everyone slowly steps into line in the “pecking order” of the group; everyone knows his or her place. The first place always goes to the one who won, who got there first. Thus, the “popular kid” is born.

As you might have already guessed, I was never the first kid on the playground. I wasn’t blessed with the speed needed in those days to get the coveted first spot. Now, looking back, I realize that there were very few first kids because there could only be one first place among a group as large as our elementary class of 20+ children. The great majority of us were simply the ones who came in last – for first was all that mattered back at that time.

Try as we might, human nature (especially when it is unredeemed) continues to chase after the invisible goal of popularity. As much as we wish it didn’t, the idea of pleasing people, being propelled into the spotlight as “best in class” still can entice the humblest among us.

Enter Jesus.

John 2:25 ESV “and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

Throughout Jesus’ three-years of ministry on the earth, He did nothing to raise His own profile on purpose. His profile was raised naturally by the fact that His goal was to fulfill His Father’s will (Luke 22:42); not His private agenda. I imagine it would have been very easy for Jesus to convince the disciples to engage an advertising company, raise banners, start a Twitter account (not really but the ancient equivalent), and offer free fish sandwiches every Friday evening by the Sea of Galilee. Indeed, there were times it seems the disciples wish He had taken the popular route.

Acts 1:6-8 ESV  So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’”

Even after all they had witnessed (ministry of miracles, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus), the disciples still wondered if they were going to be “first” among the nations. Patiently, as per His character, Jesus simply said (my paraphrase), “It’s not for you to know…but I’m giving you power to go, so go and tell the world the Good News.” It seems that His response stunned them for in Acts 1:10,11, they simply stared into heaven and had to “snap out of it!” (Again, my paraphrase!) By all accounts, it seems they couldn’t believe that after all Jesus had been through, He wanted the world to be reached – through them. He wanted them to stop thinking about themselves and look to those around them who hadn’t experienced what they had.

Wherever Jesus went, except when entering Jerusalem for the last time, He didn’t seem to put much weight into the thought of being popular as He knew what was in the hearts of men. He knew, as He went down the road to Jerusalem for the last time with crowds praising Him, that not many days would pass before those who cheered Him on would crucify Him.

Popularity, it’s a poison that, when it takes effect, seduces and then destroys those who are unfortunate enough to fall victim to it.

I’ve been reading in the book of Mark and have begun noting scriptures where Jesus wanted to keep miracles “under wraps” as it were. In 3 chapters alone (chapters 7-9) I found 4 separate instances where Jesus didn’t want anyone to know what had happened (Mark 7:24; 7:36; 8:30; 9:30), this begging an answer as to why?

Some say if word got out of the miracles then His ministry would be hindered by the vast crowds. I can understand that viewpoint but there are many instances in the Gospels where Jesus ministered to large multitudes.

I wonder if Jesus didn’t try to keep things quiet at times in order to keep the monster of popularity away. Once word got out, for example, that someone has raised from the dead or been healed of leprosy, I’m sure every newspaper and important figure in town would have wanted to see the person themselves – all at the risk of becoming popular.

The Son of God chose to come to this world in the most obscure way, had an opportunity to become popular (and in fact was popular for a time but was not wooed by it) but ended up dying between 2 thieves.

I wonder if we took the energy we expend on garnering popularity and shifted even a small bit of that energy  into “going” (as the disciples were told in Acts 1:8) to all the world, we would find ourselves in a much better place. The world wouldn’t hold us and the grave would no longer frighten us.

John 15:18 NLT “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.”