Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipsed by God's Glory

Make Room for a Bigger God

Psalm 24:7 “Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”

As I watched the heavens move this morning I was in awe of God and His creation. I was acutely aware of my smallness and in the midst of the largeness of God’s spinning universe, and yet overwhelmed that the same God who spoke the stars in existence knows how many tears I have cried and how many hairs are on my red head.

As I opened up my Bible for a time of worship and reflection of God this morning, I came upon Psalm 24. I read, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it…” Not only do the heavens declare God’s vastness, but the earth does too. Recently, I traveled by car from Missouri to Washington. We moved from wide, open skies, prairies as far as the eye could see, and rain storms that could be identified from a far distance to the huge buttes and mesas of Wyoming. Our small car rolled through mountainous terrain with enormous hills for hours and I marveled at how pioneers ever navigated such a massive amount of land. As I traveled, I took in the vastness and enormousness of God’s creativity and I welcomed the feeling of being overshadowed and engulfed in something larger than myself. Sometimes, I don’t like feeling small, because it makes me feel insignificant, but this was different because of my awareness that the same God who created the earth and everything in it, is the same one who knit me together in my mother’s womb and knows my thoughts before I think them. For me, it’s a very comforting thing to know there’s a God bigger than my whole world.

Later on in Psalm 24 I came upon verse 7 ““Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” In Biblical times, cities were often entered through gates. Something like two poles with a beam laid across the top. The beam on the top was referred to as the head of the gate. Sometimes in order to prepare for and welcome immense items coming into the city, the head of the gate was lifted up so that larger things could pass through.

Now consider for a moment that as Christ followers we too are gates. We are vessels through which God desires to reveal His infinite, glory to a waiting world.  When we pray to God as Jesus modeled, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” we invite the largeness of the kingdom of heaven into the earthly realms.  Our prayers combined with acts of faith become the portals through which God releases His glory in this sin soaked and searching world. God may make known very specific steps of faith He wishes us to take as we follow Him, but here in verse 7 we see that the gates are instructed to “lift up their heads” so the King of glory may come in.

Throughout the Psalms, David speaks of lifting his head and in the same breath refers to victory over enemies or finding refreshment in the heat of battle while lifting his head high. Lifting up the head also embodied the idea of God rightfully and victoriously returning to His tabernacle where His glory could rest.  Gates were lifted to welcome and receive the King of glory. What can you and I do to welcome the King of glory to reveal Himself in and through us?

We too can lift our heads (gates) by keeping a faithful and consistent gaze upon God while we are on this earth. In the midst of the daily and the difficult and the discouraging, we can hold our heads up victoriously believing in and declaring His promises and we can look UP.  We can be lifted up in consistent prayer that truly and honestly seeks His will before or at the cost of our own.

Recently, my brother shared an encouraging word with me reminding me that I am a gate and that God’s glory and goodness were waiting to come into my life. He encouraged me that it’s just a matter of timing and alignment and that word leads me back to the eclipse I saw today. If we want to see God move heaven and earth, if we want to see His power and might, then we’ve got to consistently pray like it’s possible and be yielded vessels. In the midst of so many ordinary days those who were looking up and watching were able to behold the planets literally lining up. God gave us a glimpse of something bigger and it was awe-inspiring. The heavens truly do declare His glory. Who can fathom what greater things God may wish to usher into this world, through those whose gates are lifted up and whose hearts are aligned with Him?

Monday, March 27, 2017

My Top 10 for PW's

I was recently given the opportunity to share anything on my heart concerning being a pastor's wife. I really enjoyed coming up with the top 10 ten things I would like to pass on to those up and coming.
1.  If God is calling your man, He is calling “you” too. If you have looked to the Lord and waited on Him for your Boaz, and the man you are engaged or married to is called to the pastorate, then consider that as an invitation from the Lord extended to you. God equips those He calls! That is true for your husband and that is true for you! Think of Gideon. God called him a mighty warrior, but he didn’t see it yet. Consider that God has used the uniqueness of your personality, your experiences, your talents “and” your weaknesses to match you to your calling. He has shaped you for what He knew you would do someday and He’s known what you would do before the foundations of the earth were set. Ephesians 2:10 encourages us, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Here are some other verses that may encourage you. (Hebrews 13:21, Jeremiah 32:27, Jeremiah 29:11, and Philippians 2:13)

2.   Your greatest responsibility is to know, love and pursue Jesus Christ. Everything you will ever do for your husband, children, church family or ministry will stem from your relationship with Jesus Christ. This is your greatest purpose and your greatest priority as a Christian. Philippians 3:10 in the Amplified Bible states it this way, “ [For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]11 That if possible I may attain to the [spiritual and moral] resurrection [that lifts me] out from among the dead [even while in the body].” Making this your priority will ensure you are living to your fullest potential as a pastor’s wife and in the many other roles you may play in life.

3.  Support your husband. 
This is my second priority next to knowing Jesus. God has already spelled out in the book of Genesis that the wife is to be the helpmate for the husband (Genesis 2:18 NIV). We have a position and proximity in our husbands’ lives unlike anyone else and no one else can have the influence for good or bad that we can. Consider, Who it is that gave us that position. It’s not to be taken lightly. To neglect or abuse our role has grave consequences. When you tied the knot, you became one unit (Mark 1-:7-8) Therefore, whatever you do to build your husband up is not only an investment in him, but also in your own life (Ephesians 5:28b). In the same way, when you tear down your partner, you are tearing down yourself. To be a wife is a gift from God. Take the opportunity to make the most of this gift. Pray for your husband. Pray Scripture over him and lift his strengths and weaknesses to the Lord. Encourage him with your words, and loving actions. If he is stepping into something new, remember it is not your job to point out his faults. Ask God to help you see your husband as God does. God sees all his potential. Find what is good and build him up in those areas. You will never regret this investment. When you do need to speak words that may be hard to hear, pray first, and be mindful of what you hope to be the outcome of the conversation. Do your words align with that goal?

Also, as wives we can set the tone of our home for our husbands. Find out his preferences and needs and set out to make your home a refuge as much as possible. The life of a pastor has a lot of social demands so my husband desires our home to be a comfortable and quiet place. For me, that means our home does not have a revolving door on the front where people are constantly coming and going. If we have people over, it is scheduled. As a mother of young children I allowed them to be in one extra-curricular activity at a time so that our evenings weren’t spent running five different places and eating fast food every night.  Discuss with your husband what kind of environment you want your home to be and do your part to help.

4.   Be yourself.  I remember in my early years of ministry that I lacked confidence that I had what it took to be a ministry wife. I had an image in my mind of what I thought the perfect pastor’s wife was supposed to be. Along the way I discovered that sometimes others in the church had there own idea of what a pastor’s wife should be. Please hear me when I say, trying to be what you or others “think” you should be is a formula for misery! Be honest, genuine and transparent. Don’t try to be the person you wish you were. Let God define you and declare who you are in His Word each day.  I like the way Soren Kierkerguard says it, “Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” People don’t want to see someone who is perfect and they can see right past our pretense. God is glorified most when humble people give themselves to His purposes and let others see Him at work through their successes and their weaknesses.  Do not let others demand of you what God himself does not. It’s his opinion that matters and his yoke that you are to carry.

5.  Be able to laugh at yourself. A good sense of humor will go a long way in the ministry. Like it or not, sometimes you may be in the public light a little more than you desire as a PW. Some people’s personalities adapt easier to this reality, but for those of you that find this difficult, remember, God’s chosen you for this platform and He doesn’t make mistakes.  He really can make all things work for good. I’ll never forget my first Sunday in a large church near St. Louis. My husband was in Thailand on a mission trip. I braved the service with my five-year-old daughter sitting next to me in the pew. A kind couple nearby gave my daughter a Valentine’s Day sucker to help keep her occupied during the service. It was a very nice thing of them to do as I remember my daughter was particularly wiggly that day. At the end of the service, I felt led to go forward and pray. On the way back, I noticed that the first few pews of the church were filled with youth who seemed to be tickled about something. After making it back to our pew, the youth pastor’s wife came over to me before the service had even finished and whispered these words to me, “There’s uh, something stuck on your, uh dress.” And there it was, the huge, red, heart-shaped sucker that my daughter had taken one power-lick of and laid in the pew, stuck to my left, uh, side. Embarrassing as it was, the sucker incident led to some wonderful relationships, and some very endearing nicknames. 

6.   Be willing to try on different hats. As Beth Moore says, “An inevitable part of discovering what we’re good at is discovering what we’re not.” Through the years I have played so many different roles. Different churches had different needs. Whenever God brought us to new places, I usually prayed for a couple months asking God to share with me where to contribute. That played out in different ways in different churches at different seasons of my life.  When my children were young, I mostly took care of them and did not take on any major ministries. I helped out in the nursery and contributed when I could with my gifts such as helping with VBS or one-time events or ministries with short durations. When my children were in elementary school, we planted a church and I did everything from cleaning toilets, to leading pre-school, to singing in the band to facilitating Bible studies. Further into our church plant other people were wearing some of the hats I first wore and I taught full time as an elementary teacher. Now, my kids are grown and gone and I can participate in ministry like never before with my husband. Through it all, I have figured out what gifts I am most comfortable contributing. If I tried to do it all, others were denied a blessing. If I did nothing, I missed the blessing of being part of the body of Christ. Find a balance that works for your season of life.

7.   Date your husband. Prioritize spending time together in a fun and relaxing way. Schedule it if possible. Leave room on your dates for time that allows you to look into each other’s eyes, to talk and to listen uninterrupted.  Take a hike, enjoy nature or converse over coffee. Just find a way to be “present” with each other. It’s amazing what connections can take place just by paying attention to the little things. If you can silence your cell phone for a movie, you can do it for your partner.  As your ministry and family grow so will the demands on you and your husband’s time. If you are not careful to balance the needs of your husband, family and ministry it can easily pull both of you in two different directions. When this occurs consistently it can wreck havoc in your relationship, leaving each spouse feeling isolated, lonely and vulnerable to temptation.

8.   Choose close friends with care. When it comes to finding friends I have learned some lessons the hard way. Prepare yourself that with each move to a new church you may experience a time of loneliness as you get settled. It takes time to get to know people past a surface level and time for them to get to know you. I have learned to see these times as a chance to grow closer to God. I often pray for Him to show me where to serve and to give me wisdom in relationships. It is important to find ways to be socially connected with those in your church community, but that does not mean you cannot have a close inner circle of friends. Jesus did. When selecting your inner circle, choose people who are: spiritually mature, trustworthy, proven over time, on mission with Christ and the church, without agenda, supportive and respectful of your husband, and who have the capacity to relate to you, pray for you and encourage you emotionally as a person and in Christ.  Lori Frank has written an excellent blog with great advice in this area titled, “What I Wish I’d Known About Friendship.” I wish I had read it on the front end.

9.   Keep a mental file. As you serve throughout the years take note of those around you in ministry. Who is miserable and unhappy? Why? What works well in ministry? What doesn’t? Some of the greatest lessons I have learned about being a pastor’s wife have been gleaned from others. One of the happiest pastor’s wives I’ve ever been around was extremely comfortable with herself and had a great sense of humor. In fact, remember the sucker story? After church was over that morning and I was waking up to my embarrassing reality she gave me a hug and said, “You’re one of us now!” I’ll never forget it.

10. Ministry is dynamic. This isn’t profound, but it’s true. Your husband may begin as a worship pastor, or youth pastor and later shift to lead pastor. He may be called to the mission field or to plant a church. God is not concerned with degrees and titles so much. He’s all about doing what works with those whose hearts are turned towards him. I’m am not an adventurous person by nature, but following God and serving with my husband has been an absolute adventure! I wouldn’t trade even the most difficult or uncertain moments for the thrill of what I have learned about God on the way.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Fulfilling Your Ministry

But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:5

“Proclaim the gospel, persist in it whether it is convenient or not, rebuke, correct and encourage with great patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2

When it comes to following Jesus, all believers are charged with advancing the Gospel, and fulfilling their ministry.  Those ministries and gifts may play out differently, but we share the same message and serve the same Savior. In our walk of ministry, we will experience times of weariness and discouragement. These times often and ironically come after spiritual highs.

In one of those moments this past week, I was asking God to help me push past emotions and weariness and give me wisdom to keep moving forward. That very morning, I read the words of 2 Timothy 4:2, which Paul penned as his life was coming to a close. Words in which he passed on a great trust to Timothy, words full of meaning and carrying great weight. God spoke through those words and encouraged me too. I was reminded to persist in spite of feelings, human weakness and seemingly unanswered prayers. In fact, if I had to boil down fulfilling my ministry to one word, it would be the word “persist”.

Persist is a word I have a love-hate relationship with depending on which part of me is at the helm of my heart, the flesh or the Spirit.  Our culture does not cultivate persistence, and persistence always comes with a heaping side of patience (not fries). Many follow the path of least resistance daily and wonder why they haven’t attained their deepest desires. Fast food, fast lanes, text, social media, credit cards, easy access to all forms of drugs, online divorce and the great disparity between how easy it is to kill a baby and how hard it is to adopt one, all appeal greatly to the flesh. No, persistence is an action that flies in the face of our culture. There is nothing convenient about persisting. But, God wouldn’t ask us to do something He doesn’t empower us to do. He’s not that kind of God. Thankfully, his strength is perfect when ours is weak (Philippians 4:13).

So, here’s what I love about the word persist. It’s do-able. There are a lot of things I absolutely can’t do. I don’t possess other people’s talents, skills, brains, backgrounds, experiences, beauty or abilities, but God is not asking for those things. He’s asking me to give Him what I do have (Mark 12:44) and to persist.  What a relief! It’s not my talent that makes me effective, it’s God taking what I give Him and making much out of it! That’s an order I can fill.

I love it that Paul likened fulfilling his ministry to running a race. I will never forget my first half-marathon, because nothing teaches the benefits of persistence like running a marathon! After moving to the Pacific Northwest I discovered a love for running. The climate here is perfect running weather and the mountain views are beautiful. Training for the marathon took a lot of discipline, effort, consistency and time. When it came time to run the race, I was as prepared as I could be. I had done my part to get ready for that day.

I leaned heavily on that training until about mile eleven. Eleven miles was as far as I had been in my practice due to an injury I had sustained along the way. I had two more uphill miles to go and everything in me was screaming for me to quit! My feet, legs, lungs, and mind were done! I remember praying and asking the Lord to help me finish. Somehow, I kept putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t graceful, or pretty, but by the grace and power of God, I did not stop running. 

I can’t describe “how” I finished or the incredible euphoria I felt as I crossed the finish line. What an unbelievable reward to personally experience God carrying me forward step by step when I was done in every way! It was brutal for those two miles (and not easy on the other miles), but I wouldn’t trade knowing what I know because of that experience for anything in this world. I still remember how amazing it felt to have that ribbon placed around my neck and to have completed that race. All of that was only a glimpse of how I am going to feel, Lord-willing, when I get to end of my life and look back and say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) When the flesh screams loud, may I keep my eyes on Jesus and follow Him step by persistent step.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

What to do With a Weak-Will?

“For among them are those who worm their way into women’s households and capture idle women burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:6-7 (HCSB)

I don’t know about you, but something about the description of this woman above sobers me. I’ve known those who I might consider to be idle and those who are always following a new passion, yet not passionate about the one thing that really matters in life…following Jesus. But, the part of this verse that really stops me in my tracks is “always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”. I don’t want to be this woman! The woman who looks in the mirror of God’s word and doesn’t change a thing. The woman who doesn’t heed these words in James, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Storing up knowledge makes us spiritual hoarders rendering everything we possess worthless. The word of God is powerful and alive in us when it is applied. If you’ve attended your fair share of Bible studies, you may remember that one woman who was always asking questions, but never truly wanting to hear and apply the answers.  Her agenda was obvious, but the challenge here for me is am I doing what I am hearing and letting God mature me in the process? We come to a knowledge of the truth as we do it, pure and simple. No short cuts.

So how can we avoid being weak-willed women?  If you are not weak-willed altogether you probably have areas or an area that causes you struggle. As long as we are believers living on this earth our spirit is destined and sealed for heaven, but our flesh is ready to drag us back as close to Hell as it can. How do we press forward and ward off a weak will?

1.    Tell the truth to the Truth. First, we’ve got to call a spade a spade. Examine your life to assess where you are weak-willed. Where are you swayed by evil desires? In Ephesians 5:13 we are encouraged to bring everything into the light and that everything illuminated becomes light. Start dialoguing with God about your area of struggle in prayer. You can’t face what you don’t own. The truth will set you free.
2.    Ask God for wisdom. In James 1:5 we are encouraged, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” The NIV uses the word gullible instead of idle in 2 Timothy 3:6. Agree with God on areas of struggle in which you may be gullible and ask for wisdom believing that God is more than able and willing to help you overcome as you cooperate with what you know to be true in His word. 
3.    Apply the Word and abstain from the world. As mentioned above, we experience the power of God’s Word as we step out and apply it, by actually doing it. In the book of Ephesians the word of God is likened to a sword, which is an offensive weapon. When faced with temptation in the desert, Jesus used that same sword to fight off the enemies’ temptations.  We can arm ourselves with Scripture to help us stand firm against the temptations the enemy sends our way. As we learn the truth we’ll begin to recognize the lies, patterns and philosophies of this world. In Colossians 2:8 we are encouraged to “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than Christ.” In addition to this, Paul admonishes us “not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed (changed from within) by the renewing of …” (Romans 12:2) our minds.  As we begin to separate truth from the lies we may need to create new boundary lines in our lives.  The Holy Spirit can help us to adapt these boundary lines to our personal needs. Maybe you need boundary lines, where others don’t to stay pure? Be willing to steer clear of your pitfalls and avoid playing around the edges.
4.    Pray keeping your eyes on the prize. Along with taking up our sword in Ephesians 6 we are also encouraged to take the helmet of salvation and to pray at all times in the Spirit. When you feel weakness coming on pray! Ask God to bring His word to mind. Have Scripture written on notecards ready to speak into your circumstances. As you pray and do your best to stand firm, keep in mind that one day we will live eternally in heaven where God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ!  We can fight the good fight now knowing that one day we’ll be in a place where there is no death, grief, sorrow, tears, or pain. Hallelujah! Our day is coming!

As we begin to walk out the process above we’ll see our strength give way to His. Blurry boundary lines will become clearer and we’ll experience the safety and joy that comes with walking in the center of Christ’s will for our lives. Our resolution to be honest with God, and seek His help will allow Him to fortify and strengthen our wills. Finally, our perseverance will pay off. James 1:4 says it this way.  “Let perseverance finish it’s work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”