Real Ministry

This year I am the "prayer coordinator" for our church's Vacation Bible School, rather than the "crafts chair" that I was other years. I am so glad! And, as I think about it, it is because I do not move easily between busy administration and relating to people with love . . . but the prayer ministry allows me to just take care of people. I don't have to stretch as crafts chair to try to keep mass chaos at bay on the one hand (as 180 kids rotate through 18 tables 3 times each day to do a 30-minute craft and then move on to let the next group swarm in and do the same thing for all 5 days) and still relate with joy and grace to all the kids and volunteers and the others doing administration. Instead, as prayer coordinator, I get to make conversation with them when they want to, and pray for them when they don't. (Ahhhhhh . . . big sigh of relief!)

I have loved this song by Sara Groves since I first heard it in late November of 2005:

There's always just one more thing
There's always another task
There's always "I just have one more small favor to ask"
And everything is urgent and everything is now
I wonder what would really happen if I stopped somehow
"I'll be there in a minute"
"Just a few places to go"
You wake up a few years later and your kids are grown

And everything is important
But everything is not
At the end of your life your relationships are all you're got
And love to me is when you put down that one more thing and say
"I've got something better to do"
And love to me is when you walk out on that one more thing and say
"Nothing will come between me and you
Not even one more thing"

There will never be an end to
The request upon your time
It's your place to stand up and tell the world
You've got to rest awhile
And everything is important
But everything is not
At the end of your life your relationships are all you've got

And love to me is when you put down that one more thing and say
"I've got something better to do"
And love to me is when you walk out on that one more thing and say
"Nothing will come between me and you
Not even one more thing"

I am very grateful for the examples in my life of people who really make the people in their lives more important than their other priorities and agendas. The rest of life serves the people in their lives, rather than the people in their lives being tools to accomplish their agendas. The two people who come most readily to mind in this for me are both women: my mom and our pastor Leah Stout. There are others I think of as well, and many who -- like me -- are aiming to live this way. But the two of them -- at least in how they have and do relate to me -- are clearly available to their relationships, and everything else in their lives is there to make them more available to serve the people they love.

This is a life-journey for me. I keep buying into the agendas and cultures around me that want me to accomplish something and to enlist the people around me to help me toward those goals. But in my daily reading I see a Jesus who is all about the people He encounters, and everything else is in God's hands. I also see that in Paul, and also in the Father God and Holy Spirit as our Triune God has acted in history by acting in individual lives. We have a God Who is all about people, and His agendas are executed by creating relationships Himself with individuals and between those individuals. We have a God Who's kingdom -- here among us this present day -- is all about how we relate to each other (when we define "each other" as He defined "neighbor" by the story of the Good Samaritan) and to Him, and not at all about anything else.

And so now my daily "agenda" is to care for those who God brings in front of me, and spend the rest of my time "down-sizing" my life so that I have better space for them. I need space on my calendar, space in my house and routines, and space in my cluttered-and-self-centered mind! And getting rid of all that clutter -- whether the clutter in my mind or in my house or on my calendar -- is the only way to be free to be the Good Samaritan rather than the Pharisee who rushed on by.

Once I have done the proper "down-sizing" there are things I need to do to be better prepared to use my particular personality and gifts to serve those that God wants me to serve in the ways He calls me to serve them . . . but I need to fight my own sense of urgency about doing that academic preparation by remembering what I'm preparing to do! If I have not learned to build my life on the people that God calls me to serve today, then any preparation I do may well prepare me for a "successful career" that does nothing real to manifest His kingdom hear and now among the people gathered around me.

It is very hard to neglect what I do well to learn to do what I really am not very good at! But, if it is necessary to what God wants to do in me and what He wants to do through me, then I can trust that He'll help me learn this new life. This is discipleship for me, here and now.

Our church is at the same kind of turning point with our visioning process. We are invested in a self-absorbed analysis of what we do well and what we don't do well and how we improve for the future . . . and it would be really really nice if we could simply put programs in place to fix what we do poorly. But "what we do poorly" really boils down to "putting people above tasks and agendas", and learning to actually put people above tasks and agendas won't be accomplished by another training program or a new ministry. It won't even be accomplished by our ministers teaching and preaching to us about how we can accomplish this. It will only be accomplished relationally . . . by each minister living it themselves as best as they can each day, and each layperson following suit. We can catch it from each other, but not promote it or teach it.

So, this week of VBS, I hope to live out a week of putting people above all my plans.

How about you?


Playing "Marco Polo"

My husband left for another ball tournament yesterday, and so left 4 sons and me and Josh (his stepson) and all his employees "alone" until the beginning of July. Now, Steven is someone who thrives on being "out of pocket" because he needs alone time (as I do also). However, I am someone who also needs to regularly affirm my connections to the important people in my life, while Steven is someone who wishes that those people in his life would just direct their attention elsewhere until there was an actual need to connect. To him, affirming the relationship is not a reason to connect. To me it most definitely is!

But Steven is crucial to the lives of many these days, and so he doesn't get the luxury of running off and leaving his cell phone. He did just that when he got to his hotel yesterday and went for a walk, and was dismayed to return to his room and find many many missed calls and voicemails. His sons expect constant contact, and his employees often need something. So success has its price on his comfort zone!

This is one place that we have relative comfort these days within our marriage, though. I have a whole world of other people I love to play "Marco Polo" with, and he has learned (most of the time) to be attentive enough in calling me that I don't worry that he's in a hospital someplace. (And I know that I'll start getting lots of calls from other people looking for him if he hides his cell phone for too long, so if that's not happening, I can assume he's alive someplace.) I also seem to have relative comfort in this with most of my other friendships, once they're established for a while. It's hard for a friendship to survive many months of discomfort in this area.

A big part of being a parent of a particular child -- or of being a friend to a particular person -- is to learn the rhythm of the "Marco Polo" game they most like to play, and adapt to it. At different times of life my boys grow and change in this, and each of them shows their own personality at a comparison of them at the same ages. They wouldn't like if I typed out my analysis of each of them in that, but toddlers tend to have a very high need to connect in order to have the freedom to "forget mom' and explore, and at some stage of the teen years each will have a very high need to totally disconnect from mom emotionally and only reconnect when they control that pace. (Steven and I were having fun talking about how that has worked with each of our 4 older ones the other day.) And then it seems like they get to a place where they are confident that they can disconnect at will, and they choose to reconnect again and play that higher-frequency "Marco Polo" game again . . . much to their parents' delight!

My friends each have their own rhythm of connection and disconnection, too. I have a couple who connect with me more often than my normal rhythm, and sometimes I just get tired of it and pull back for a while. Each of my real friends accommodates that discomfort on their side, and welcomes me back when I reconnect. Other friends are a bit uncomfortable with the frequency that I seek them out or communicate, and periodically they just "disappear", and I wonder if I lost their friendship. But then they call me back, and all is well. And so time tests out the reality of our connections even when we have different needs or wants in terms of how frequently we'd express them.

The best friendships to me are the ones that flow at the same rhythm on both sides. My "Marco" brings an immediate "Polo" response, and vice versa. Some of those friendships are remarkable in how intuitively that game is played -- especially with my mom and with one of my sons and with one of my women friends. In each of those relationships it is a common thing to go to pick up the phone to call and have it ring and be that person, or to go to type an email and find that I just received one from them. I am deeply grateful to God for those connections, and grateful to each of them as well. It is a good thing to know that I am not alone spiritually or emotionally, and part of the reason I can believe that God is always there is that my sweet friends are there for me like that.

I have been learning about that "Marco Polo" game with God, too! I always have experienced the joy of discovering that He responds promptly to me when I call, but I have taken a lifetime to hone my own ability to respond to His quiet call. Being a mom and learning to "listen" for my children and their need for connection has done a lot to teach me how to live with a listening ear for Him, my Creator and Savior and the Lover of my soul. We are spiritual creatures as much as we are physical ones -- indeed, the two are all wound up in each other and not meant to be disentangled -- and so we need our intuitive connections with each other and with God as deeply as we need success or intellectual stimulation or any of the other things we pursue. We cannot fully love people until we have learned to fully love our God, and that takes playing "Marco Polo" when we lie down and when we get up and when we awake in the middle of the night and when we are pressed on every side during the day.

Mature love allows for different rhythms. I can be a good mom to my toddler and teenager and young adult only if I am a responder to their needs. But I also need to recognize my own desires in each of those relationships and let God minister to me in the uncomfortable places. When I long to get free of my clinging baby who cries when I leave the room for a minute, or long to make dinner without a toddler on my leg, God is there and is sympathetic, and I can meet the child's need without dishonoring my own humanness. When I long for the little boy who loved me so much, but instead need to give space to my son who needs to be disconnected emotionally from mom for a while, God is there and is sympathetic, and I can meet the young man's need without dishonoring my own humanness. And when I rejoice in my new adult friend that has replaced the disconnected adolescent, God rejoices with me!

Playing "Marco Polo" with grace is the truest test of emotionally-connected relationship, whether that be with our God or our children or any friend. There is no way to follow Jesus' commands in John 14-16 without that connectedness, nor is there any way to live the life He described in Matthew 5-7. Abiding in Him and loving one another require more than just "checking in" periodically. They require a whole-hearted investment in relationship that is ever listening for "Marco" and ready to respond, and ever ready to take our turn at being "it".

May each of us grow in this grace to the fullness of that abundant life He wants for us!


"The Secret" vs "The Serenity Prayer"

I had never heard of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne until our pastor Jim Birchfield mentioned it in a sermon and called it "diabolical". At that wonderful endorsement, though, I went out and bought it and read it. I concluded that it was nothing particularly new, and that it was diabolical only as much as is anything diabolical when it puts forth a distortion of reality and calls it truth.

The central distortion in the book is in what parts of life are under my control and what parts are not, and in how I can exercise proper control over those parts that are mine to control, and in how I can cope with those parts of life over which I have little or no influence. So the book leads to a mixture of a neurotic attempt to control that which is not mine to control, a character-disordered refusal to accept responsibility for that which is truly my responsibility, and a psychotic break with reality as I attempt to replace truth with my fantasies.

A simple antidote to this confusion is found in the original serenity prayer penned by Rheinhold Neibuhr and paraphrased commonly through the 12-step programs as "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." There is tremendous spiritual and psychological power in simply viewing reality clearly and focusing my energy on the things that God would have me attempt to control, and in trusting His goodness and sovereignty with the rest.

I still find no better guide to understanding my world and my place in it -- and the actions that calls for, and the faith and surrender that calls for -- than the Bible. In it I see God revealed as One Who seeks my companionship and love and service, and a Kingdom come that promises abundant life.

I have stopped looking for The Secret, because I am becoming intimately acquainted with the One Who ordered chaos in order to know you and me. We walked away from Him in the garden to pursue The Secret, and so the fact that many would still prefer to do just that is not at all surprising. What is surprising is that Christians react as if it were something new.

This battle is already won. And I get to enjoy the victory feast with the LOGOS Who shines light on darkness, even when that darkness calls itself light. I don't think Paul would preach against The Secret. I think he'd use it to point people back to Jesus.

"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness" can be paraphrased in the language of The Secret to "focus on the greatest source of riches and satisfaction in life", and then there's the punch-line: we don't attract it by our thoughts! It is a free gift, given by a Creator God Who seeks us out to lead us into real riches.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!


Enjoying the Moment

We went to see Surf's Up and then out to dinner for Father's Day this afternoon and evening. I came out of the theater and looked at my 21-year-old Josh and realized that when his dad and I were his age we'd already had his older brother and were pregnant with him. Both Mike and Josh have paid the price for our immaturity, and I would like to avoid that with Noah and Brooks!

When I was in my 20s I did my best to be a good mom, but I did not realize how quickly time flies and how quickly those little boys would be men. I was concerned about all kinds of things, but not concerned about just enjoying them as people. I still get to enjoy them as people now -- Mike spends as much time talking with me as I could ask for a 22-year-old to spend, and Josh comes home every summer and for his other college breaks -- but I lost out on all that I should have experienced with them . . . even when they were babies and I was home with them full-time. I just didn't have the maturity to know how to focus on them the way I should have, and to treasure each moment as it came.

I am learning how to do that. When they were 14 and 15 their brother Noah was born, and then little Brooks was born the fall before they were 16 and 17. The shock of how quickly they had shot into their teens taught me to enjoy each baby-day with Noah and Brooks.

Enjoying today is not always easy to do. It is easier to focus on what is wrong than on what is right, and easier to focus on what needs to be done than on who needs to be seen and appreciated. But it is a spiritual discipline to enjoy today. The full life God calls me to live in as I live in His Kingdom is a life that sees people in their glory in the moment, and chooses to value them more than all the things that seem more urgent.

Diane and I are reading a book together called This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God by Rick Mckinley, and it's wonderful! He shows how the church -- and individual Christians -- are called to live in the kingdom that God has already brought, not to "work real hard" and labour to bring the Kingdom. God's Kingdom exists, even amid the beautiful mess of real life!

We are not called to programs and management of organizations -- that is, not as our primary focus. We are called to the person in front of us today, and to put ourselves each day in front of the people that God is calling us to love. "Enjoying the moment" is enjoying relationship: either the relationship with the God who made that beautiful sunset or that beautiful person, or the relationship with those around me who also enjoy His creation and His person or are that awesome person we are called to cherish.

Forgiveness calls me to cherish the moment as well! I cannot enjoy this moment with you if I am holding on to anger over what you did in the past or guilt over what I did. I cannot enjoy this moment with you if I am conscious of the ways you don't measure up to my expectations, or if I am conscious of the ways I don't measure up to yours. And so forgiveness is best expressed and tested by an ability to enjoy this current moment in our relationship, rather than living in the past or discarding this moment for the hope of a different tomorrow.

As I examine all the "Kingdom Values" from Matthew 5-7, I see a call to dwelling in the moment that also acknowledges the past and future, but lives firmly in the here-and-now. And all the values point to my relationships with you and God being anchored in a firm respect for who we all are right-here-and-right-now.

We are gifted with minds that can filter out part of reality and focus on another part of reality. That allows moms to feed their babies in the middle of the night when their bodies cry out for sleep. That allows each of us to focus on the next thing that needs to be done rather than being overwhelmed by the 40 things that seem urgent. That allows us to practice delayed gratification, and even allows us to endure great physical or emotional pain. Focus is powerful.

And "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" is a call to focus on the Kingdom in front of our noses today, not a call to ignore His kingdom for what our own "righteousness" might call into being if we work really hard at it.

So it's time for me to focus on my two little ones for this evening's bedtime!


Ruth Bell Graham

I have long been a fan of Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, and their daughter, Anne Graham Lotz. Ruth died yesterday, and her life is being examined now -- by us, and by Him. I love the reflections I see in various places, but I most like the one posted by Anne on her ministry website. She says:

"But two things stand out above all the rest. My Mother was in love with Jesus…and that love was contagious. She wasn’t caught up in religion or tradition or rituals-- she was caught up in a personal relationship with Jesus. And she developed that relationship through hours spent reading and studying her Bible, hours spent on her knees in prayer."

I also love this quote from It's My Turn by Ruth Bell Graham:

"Someone has said, 'A Christian is one who makes it easy to believe in Jesus.'"

Everything I can see of Ruth and of the results of her life make it easy for me to believe in Jesus, and I am grateful for that!

Ruth was a very accomplished woman in her own right. She wrote or contributed to dozens of books. She contributed to a discussion in her generation of what following Jesus each day looked like for the women around her. And she raised a woman who is one of the most powerful preachers of our day, as well as raising her other children and contributing to the upbringing of her many grandchildren. She followed Jesus herself, whether that put her behind the scenes supporting others or whether it put her out front.

But our children know us better than anyone, don't they? We can fool the world, but not them!

And this is the "final day" verdict on Ruth from her daughter Anne's perspective:

"If I could have seen the other side of the Pearly Gates when she entered, I believe I would have seen millions of angels standing to applaud Jesus…giving Him all the glory and praise for the life of Ruth Bell Graham. "


I want to add to that. Praise you Jesus for a life lived out in our generation that showed us Your power and Your joy!


Privacy, Transparency, and the Judgment Seat of Christ

In Acts, the Jerusalem Council sent word to the Gentile converts that they did not have to be circumcised, but that they should abstain from eating meat offered to idols, abstain from sexual immorality, and not eat animals that have been strangled or eat blood . . . so that they could be in unbroken fellowship with the Jewish followers of Jesus.

Soon after, Paul wrote his words to the Corinthian believers about the correct ethic being a concern for my brother's well-being and for what is actually right before God as each one's conscience testifies to him or her. We should not violate our own consciences, nor should we lead another to do so.

Paul also writes there and to the Galatians and Colossians that it is not an adherence to regulations about food that brings salvation any more than it is circumcision. Our ethic is truly to be AGAPE love and a real understanding of what is useful and what moves me and my brother and the body of believers toward God's best for each of us.

God does have things He prohibits and things He approves -- for all of history, for a particular culture, and for each of us in particular situations. We are given what we need to determine what obedience requires: the witness of the Holy Spirit in each one's heart, the Word of God in Scripture, the witness of the historical Church, the witness of the piece of the Church that I live in here and now, and the witness of the contemporary culture. And there will be a day on which all is revealed and the truth about what would have been obedience is revealed to all, at the judgment seat of Christ.

So we are to live by consciences informed by all of the above and held accountable by all of the above . . . both analytically and intuitively. Obedience is the natural response to a God Who loves us and rescues us from enslavement to sin and death.

A lot of the books I have read over the past 5 years and a lot of my own experience led me to a place where I believed the healthiest stance in living my life was to live "transparently", which basically translated for me to a life where there was no room for healthy privacy. All that I wrote before this paragraph in this post is my rationale to modify that now, as is all that I wrote in my previous post on rejection and betrayal about the way cliques operate.

I now believe that it is healthy to keep private those things that my own conscience approves but that others would disapprove as outside their "rules", whether to avoid the "norming" I described in my last post or whether to avoid leading another to violate their conscience in how they act.

For instance, if I have determined to be friends with a woman who likes wine, and it is comfortable for me to drink socially with her when I visit her, I will not feel obligated to reveal that to anyone who would disapprove or judge me for that. I also will not feel obligated to convince those who think social drinking is wrong that they are mistaken. But I will feel obligated to reveal my drinking to those with whom my relationship really requires such transparency, such as my husband or a key mentor, and will not lie about such drinking if it violates any commitment I have made to not drink at all. (That is, if I were a student on a campus where students were not allowed to drink at all, I would not be right to violate my commitment as a student there.)

A second example is in the way I might dress. My husband favors the "raciest" clothes he can talk me into wearing, and those clothes fit right in to most of the non-church environments I live in here in Orange County. My own sense of modesty leads me to "fit in" rather than to call attention to myself sexually; so I am comfortable in more revealing clothes in places where they don't mean anything in terms of a sexual display (like wearing a halter top today at a pool party where other women were in bikinis) but not comfortable in wearing them when they would be perceived as a sexual signal (like wearing the same halter top to church today without a nice blouse covering it up and a tank top layered under it for additional modesty.) Appropriate obedience, privacy, and accountability here do require me to dress differently in different situations, do require me to discuss it with my husband and select friends to make sure their take on it matches mine, and do not require me to discuss it outside my group of intimate friends or cave in to the disapproval of someone who disagrees with my choices. (How I dress is a social action, however it is my responsibility before God to consider various inputs and then dress how I choose to dress and live with the consequences, whether that be my husband's dismay at my undo modesty or my mother's disapproval of my blatant sexuality.)

So the right role of privacy in my life is to ensure that I will live in obedience to Christ and strive to please Him, rather than strive to please anyone who wants to have input into any of my choices. I need not reveal anything about those choices to people who are looking for an opportunity to exercise control over things that are not properly theirs to control.

The wrong role of privacy in my life would be to hide things that should be properly judged as outside the ethics and choices that will lead to the abundant life that I am to be free to pursue and to set others free to pursue. "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!"

I will not allow myself to be re-enslaved by sin and death, but neither will I allow myself to be enslaved by the legalist's desire to control me and others.

May we use appropriate privacy and appropriate transparency in full understanding of how things will look at the day all is revealed before Him and all our brothers and sisters. Is my conscience right from the perspective of that final day of truth?

Rejection and Betrayal

I have an acquaintance at church who is doing to me what women often do to each other: deliberately giving me the "cold shoulder". It is a "norming" technique that we've experienced since we were little girls, and it works like this: 1) through gossip about others or through other verbal means, we explain the rules for being part of "our group of friends", 2) when we violate those rules, various ways of being reprimanded or excluded are implemented toward us, and they may escalate to being seen permanently as "not fit to be part of the group", and 3) we are expected to use both of the first two steps ourselves to communicate the rules to others within the group and to exclude those who persistently violate those rules.

Now, I've always had good friends, but rarely been part of this kind of a clique, because the "rules" never seem logical to me; so I never believe I'll actually be shunned for breaking the illogical or unkind ones, and always used to be amazed when I actually lost friends for doing so. Now I have my own rules: live life with God as my audience, be as transparent with the rest of the world as is appropriate to each relationship, persevere in relationships and work for reconciliation and peace in conflict, and allow others to choose to dislike me or distance themselves from me as they wish if I am confident I have acted lovingly and peaceably and have even gone the second mile toward reconciliation and peace. And I'm no longer amazed at being shunned for something I think is silly or sick. I realize that is who we are as sinful humans, and that the grace God has extended to me in my sinfulness can also be extended to members of cliques that exclude me or others.

But in the case of this situation at church, the woman in question is a friend of friends, but not really my friend, and our mutual friends are not acting any differently toward me than usual. And this woman has not approached me with any accusations or complaints or requests for different behavior . . . so I have to make a judgment call as to what is right in God's eyes for me to do in regard to restoring peace. Right now I'm still at the "pray about it" stage for this particular person.

But she raises the whole subject for me of "rejection and betrayal", because those really are the things we fear the most in our relationships, aren't they? That I will invest myself emotionally in a friendship with someone who doesn't reciprocate my desire for friendship or who does briefly and then pulls back once she knows me, or that I will expose myself in some emotionally or spiritually intimate way to someone in private and she will expose me unknowingly to others that I would not choose to share such things with . . .

And my boys all deal with the social fears of rejection and betrayal, too. Tattling can be a betrayal for a 5-year-old, and making fun of them is an even bigger one when it comes from a trusted friend. Older boys get to deal with relationship betrayals by girls they care about. And boys of all ages deal with the fear and reality of rejection in an even greater way than do girls.

Judas Iscariot is the greatest illustration in Scripture of rejection and betrayal, but Peter is also such an example. One betrayal ended the relationship with Christ. One did not. And the "13th disciple" who could not sell all that he had and follow Christ is a wonderful illustration of rejection that kept a relationship from going anywhere at all. And, of course, our Triune God deals with rejection and betrayal from all of us many times over the courses of our lives, and it seems that only a few of us actually persevere to the end in relationship with Him. So God gets this!

The model He sets is the one I am basing my strategy upon. But more than that, it is also the example that calls me to be willing to love despite the certainty of rejections and betrayals. If I love, I will be hurt. I can count on it. But if I don't love, I am already dead.

And then there is the issue of my own ability to reject someone who has exposed herself to me in some way, or my ability to betray those that I love and have made explicit or implicit commitments to love . . .

I think the guilt that is hardest to shake is the places where I have rejected someone who was emotionally vulnerable to me, or where I have betrayed someone who truly wanted me to keep my commitments. And it is that guilt -- forgiven and healed, but remembered nonetheless -- that calls me to take new risks in friendships while I strengthen and nurture existing friendships.

While our salvation is not earned, it is lived out as God's grace is poured into our real lives. The result is lives of active reconciliation, repentance, and restitution. My ethical commitment as His follower is to make the love of I Corinthians 13 and of Romans 12 and of John 14-16 the cornerstone for real action, keeping in mind that there will be a day when all is revealed before the judgment seat of Christ.

And so "the rules" for this "clique" we call the CHURCH should be this: we take care to not reject or betray one another! . . . not for silly things, certainly, but also not for the "big" things. After all, Jesus admonished us that the weeds should be allowed to grow with the crop so as to not unnecessarily injure the real crop. It will all be sorted out after the harvest.

May I be a person who so treasures each individual in my life that I never give them even the reason to worry about rejection or betrayal from me, let alone the reality. And may God make full amends and bring full healing to all those I have so injured to this day.


Intuition and analysis

I had a good conversation with a friend today about intuition . . . and about how we have been trained to discount or distrust it unless we can "validate it" with external proof. She described how she has always tried to "line up her ducks" to prove that she should trust what she knows intuitively about something, but that -- if she couldn't do that -- she felt obliged to discount it and move forward based on things she could prove and trust.

I can identify with that! But I am "cataloguing data" that supports a new approach: trust your intuition unless and until it becomes clear that it was wrong. I believe now that that approach leads to fewer decisions to regret than the other approach of discarding my intuition unless I can validate it.

The caveat is that I need to recognize what I am doing, and make sure that I am up for the negative consequences of "getting it wrong" -- and that can be an incentive to "play it safe" and ignore my intuition sometimes -- or at least wait to act until I feel assured that the Holy Spirit is directing me or that my fear of the consequences is less pressing than my sense of where I should go or what I should do or how I should pray.

And then there are many times where my intuition is strong, but there is nothing to do and nowhere to go and nothing to pray about, except to ask for patience or endurance or courage or love.

But if your intuition is strongly leading you toward action, you should act --- as long as you are willing to deal with the consequences of your action, whether your intuition was "right on" or not. I believe God uses our sense of intuition much more frequently than He uses our logic when He wants us to move forcefully . . . because we are motivated by emotion, not by thought.

So . . . Act.


Simplicity and Relationships

Matthew 6:31-34 (New American Standard Bible)31"Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

We live in a day when we are overwhelmed by demands upon us. We don't -- here in my world, at least -- struggle for the basics of life like food and clothes and shelter. But we struggle to measure up to the expectations of the culture we live in, and to our own expectations. Some of us struggle for the A-dog position, and some of us just struggle to be sure we have a position at all . . . but few of us are just content, and don't worry about something consistently.

Those in church leadership or in active volunteer positions can be some of the most stressed people I know. They think they are seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, but they miss out completely on the fruit of the kingdom in their own hearts too often. Like me, they aren't stressing about their own clothes or food or drink, but they are stressing about their goals or about the unmet needs of others or about never being able to make the people around them happy, or at least about never being able to get done everything on their list of tasks and goals. And to relieve the stress, they don't jettison the things that aren't playing out as God's real priorities. They jettison the people that keep showing up wanting something: all those people that they just can't satisfy and send on their way so that they can get something important done!

Moms are lucky. They know their job is about people . . . albeit little people. And while we're not always great moms, and may not do the best job we could in ministering to our little people, we at least do not think the solution to our problems is to give up on those little people or on our ability to be moms! (Although "thank you, Jesus!" for the preschool my littlest one goes to! We are allowed to form a community of many caregivers and friends around our children to help balance our individual strengths and weaknesses, and should. But, even so, we remain "mommy!", the only comfort that really comforts those precious gifts.)

Pastors and church staff and volunteers need the same perspective. If projects are going undone but real people are being cared for, then today was a successful day. If people are an annoyance in the way of getting all those projects completed and praised, then perhaps it isn't God's praise that one is after. "Seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness" just might mean neglecting something I promise to get done or even an important meeting I myself called because someone shows up in front of me and I sense God's call to me to take the time to love.

My grandmother lived on a farm and had no electricity or phone or "TV babysitter" or washer or dryer or dishwasher for much of her early life. As she gained the "free time" she gained from hot running water and a washing machine and all those wonderful inventions, she invested in 3 things: hospitality, friendship, and time to read and think and pray. Many of her children and grandchildren seem to follow that example even now.

But here in Orange County California we have forgotten that talking with people or reading alone might be more productive in the long run than all that we do value investing ourselves into. For one of the people I love the most, I see a high value on pleasing the people whom he respects and values. He lives to do that, and does it well. But it must be terribly frustrating to try to please people and also to please God! (I think the Bible even has something to say about that?)

We are called to agape the people around us, which doesn't necessarily include pleasing them. We are called to be God's instrument in their lives today to accomplish His purposes. And that doesn't necessarily imply anything lasting or permanent in their condition. It just implies meeting the current need. Give that glass of water for this moment of thirst.

We have all our ideas of stewardship and mission . . . like "don't just give them a fish, but teach them to fish". That is all just and good, but not when it is a cop-out for meeting the need right in our face that we'd rather push off on someone else because it's in the way of our great program to stop such needs forever. Jesus didn't do that, did He? Nor was that part of the great commission as I understand it.

So "do not worry about tomorrow" and "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" really do boil down to obedience and agape in the moment, and plans for the future that value the ability of God to use us as His tools, rather than our ability to use God to fix up His world and His people so that they meet our expectations. And when we see that our lives are too busy or that we are too stressed, perhaps we should emulate Jesus rather than Jack Welch. Just look at the fruit of a life invested in needy individuals rather than in the growth of an endeavor.

The amazing thing about Jesus' promise is this: we get what we need for today if we invest in what is truly valuable. We don't have to run after a way to meet our own needs. We can run after Him with passion, and find that our needs have been met each day as we forgot ourselves in the pursuit of the Holy One and His agenda.

We are called to a freedom from the rat race of today's secular culture, but we are also called to a freedom from creating our own new Christian rat race, or from walking on in the one we inherit. We are called to the simplicity of a focus on that One who loves us, with the same kind of passionate abandon that we see in a newly infatuated teenager. The difference will be this: a teenager neglects the whole world to be with his or her new love, but we follow our passionate lover out to the masses and minister with Him shoulder to shoulder in service of any one who shows up.

If you are over-scheduled and not performing up to your own standard or someone else's expectations, perhaps the most responsible thing you can do is to delegate the stuff you hate to do and aren't doing well at all, and make room in your life for the simplicity of following Him into a full use of your giftedness . . . in alternating rhythms of solitude and prayer and study and of engagement with others in worship and service and fellowship.

And if you are performing ever-so-well and are very pleased with the produce of your hands and time, measure the real success of your life by your own reaction to people: will you be one of the ones who gladly gives that cup of cold water even when it interrupts your productivity, or will you be the pharisee who had to get on with his duties and promises and couldn't slow down for the mugged stranger in need of way too much time for this day he had planned?

Matthew 6:31-34 (New American Standard Bible)31"Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."


That Abundant Life

As I walk with Jesus each day through all the stuff of my own real life, I am learning more and more about the abundance of that life He is calling me toward, and what fits and what doesn't. The Good Samaritan's empathy and active kindness fit perfectly. The Pharisee's self-centered focus on the rules that kept him "safe" in his conception of life and goodness and community don't.

I am still an Evangelical by most definitions, but I find myself rebelling against the label more and more. I want to be an Evangelical if that means I am in the same camp as Richard Foster or Dallas Willard or Ron Sider or others like them. I don't want to be an Evangelical if that means that I am more concerned about those around me believing what I believe and living the way I tell them life should be lived than I am concerned for the ways that God wants to use me to meet their needs or to help them grow toward whatever next place He has for them in His vision. And these days it feels often like my evangelical heritage -- precious though it is, because I would not know love or life without it leading me here -- is something more akin to the pharisee thanking God that he is not like the sinner than similar to the sinner who knows who he is and that he needs God desperately.

I read the excerpt of the pope's new book on Jesus in Newsweek, and their article about it, and I rejoice at the way God is using that man and that new book to tell the world about TRUTH for today. The Holy Spirit is leading the Church-In-The-World to a new place today, it seems to me . . . and He is using all of the diversity of that BODY to do it. We have our traditions of scholarly study, pietistic and mystic spiritual disciplines, liturgical worship, free-form cultural expressions of worship, world-wide expressions of service and charity . . . and God is at work to accomplish His purposes fully through us all.

The central expression of Christ-In-The-World as the Holy Spirit moves among us now is just as it has always been. He leads us outside of ourselves into loving service of each other and of the world. Kindness and empathy and an active expression of both . . . they should show up in our conversations and in our checkbooks and in our calendars.

I cannot experience the abundant life that God desires to give me if I am trying to stay safe. Legalism is one of the main ways religious people try to stay safe, just as the pharisees did. "If I follow the rules and you follow the rules, life will be good and we'll know we're really obedient Christians." But that is a fallacy, because life is messy even if you do follow the rules. However, we do get to choose our messes. We can choose the ones we get when it is "all about me" -- inside or outside the "good Christian rules" -- or we can choose the messes that we get when we follow Him with abandon into real life with real people and all their issues, and refuse to abandon them when real life shows up those issues as too deep-rooted for any quick fix.

The abundant life that Jesus wants for me is full of needy people . . . and they are needy people who won't magically stop being needy just because I grace them with some token of my presence and attention. But what I do get -- and what they get -- when I get outside myself and look toward their neediness instead of toward my own -- is a window through which God pours His love and grace and mercy and creative healing. His kingdom is here.

I am learning just how much of what I read in the gospels and in the epistles cannot be accurately understood cognitively -- just like hitting a baseball or any of that sort of skill in sports or in life. But when I get in there and try it, I start to get it . . . and as I get better at it, I experience that "eureka!" that comes emotionally as words show up as TRUTH experientially.

I am also learning how much of the stuff that used to cause me grief or stress or worry just fades into nothing as I look at Him and walk on with Him.

"Seeking the Kingdom and His righteousness first" leads to a different kind of full and abundant life than either the un-churched or the over-churched can imagine . . .

. . . When my focus is on Him and His purposes, I find full freedom to serve others as His tool for His purposes in their lives and in the world, leaving the results with Him, but trusting Him that He is using me as an agent for the healing and empathy and protection and creativity and truth and beauty that is that full and abundant life of the Kingdom . . . and only as it pours through me to others, I receive it in abundance myself.