Slipping back into the infant role . . . and growing up?

God the Trinity has been a pervasive part of my life in all three persons for my whole life, and for that I am so grateful! God-the-Father, God-as-the-resurrected-Jesus, and God-as-the-Holy-Spirit-Who-indwells-me-and-my-brothers-and-sisters-in-the-faith has been such an undeniable reality in my life that I truly cannot remember any time when my world was not filled with Him, and most of my spiritual challenge has been more to determine whether I am just severely deluded (as most materialists and atheists would say) or whether I can rest in Him and trust my senses. At this stage I am quite willing to say I have enough support intellectually to trust what I know as knowledge and not delusion or illusion.

To many in our world, that would be the end of a spiritual quest. To me, it isn't even the beginning. It is secondary. It is merely the kind of intellectual / philosophical pursuit that a sophomore engages in as he struggles with whether he is real or not, and what "real" might mean. A "spiritual quest" is what one engages in when one embraces a specific "higher power" or religion and lets it take one down whatever path it is capable of taking one. That may be a dead end, or insanity, or delusion, or a life that those around can testify to as a "good life", even as the one within the quest testifies to it as a "good life". (I believe that is what Paul was talking about in the last few chapters of Galatians.)

So I am walking with the Triune God daily. He is making me. But, just as an infant tries to manage its parents and care-givers, so I try to manage God. He is teaching me to let Him manage me, and I am growing in that, but it is not my innate nature, by any means! Even though I discipline myself to pray for His will and His purposes in all matters, it has been a discipline and not my nature.

So today I woke to Him, and told Him what I wanted Him to do for me today. And I returned from taking my boys to school and sat down to do more of the same. After all, when I was learning to embrace Him and know Him and follow Him -- that is, most of my life to today -- I was greeted by His love and generosity as I sat down to tell Him how I felt and what I wanted. But today He laughed at me, and asked if I didn't know Him better than that now, and didn't I know life and the journey better than that now?

And He is right. I do. I no longer need any discipline to ask Him to accomplish His purposes in me and through me, and in every situation. I'm not a baby anymore, and I see the world better than that these days. I will still use the Lord's prayer as my "agenda for the meeting" as I pray each morning, but the base "cry of my heart" is becoming different now. I no longer can believe that what I want and think I need will actually result in a satisfying life if He just gives it to me. (I still tell Him, of course, but as a confession of my limited perspective and not as a request. He's answered too many of those requests for me to want Him to be my tool to get me what I think I want anymore!)

So, this is becoming my deep cry:

Lord, right here and right now, make this day in my life what You see it needs to be to let me live truly under Your rule in Your kingdom today. In this moment, and all day today, accomplish in me and though me Your love and Your mercy and Your good will for everyone and everything I impact. Let me rest in You!


Ethics and Consequences, Last Installment for Now

Okay, as I said in my earlier post, a good treatment of the specific ways that a biblical system of ethics and accountability should be implemented in today's church-in-the-world would merit a whole book -- to treat all the applicable scriptures and look at enough of the possible examples from real life today to do justice to the concepts. There are many treatments of ethics and church discipline out there, and so in reality the topic merits a library of books. I definitely "bit off more than I can chew" here, and am interested enough that perhaps I have hit upon a good doctoral dissertation topic, if I ever get that far. Meanwhile, I'll take a quick look at what I think are the essentials of how we might apply a biblical ethic in today's church through a few examples.

First, I want to restate the goal of ethics and accountability: our goal is the abundant life -- the righteous and satisfying life -- that Jesus calls us all to pursue, find, and enjoy. This looks like obedience to Him, both individually and corporately in our faith communities. This also is forward-looking rather than backward-looking, because we are all in a constant state of repenting from past sin and moving forward toward His abundant life -- and the only purpose of looking backward is to understand better how things really work so that we have a better map of reality as we push forward toward obedience.

So we need to take the best understanding we have of what obedience means -- for our sexual relationships, for our gender roles, for our marital commitments and relationships, for our child-rearing, for our emotional health, for our spiritual health, etc -- and construct out of that the social structure for our community and for our teaching. Part of that is based on a literal application of scripture. Part of that is based on understanding the story of humanity we see in scripture, and the principles it teaches us about life. Part of that is based on our traditions and common experience as the Church through the centuries. Part of that is just based on the human experience we share with all men and women. And all these parts form a coherent picture of how we should live if we want to make it easiest for most of us to follow Christ in obedience, individually and together.

Once we have that picture in mind -- of what obedience means in specific situations -- then we consider how we may best spur each other on to live that kind of life. Here I want to go back to my illustration from yesterday, of spanking a child who has already been hit by a car. We don't want to do that, do we? Rather, we want to keep the child from ever being in a situation where he could be easily hit by a car, and so we want to teach him to obey and teach him about avoiding dangerous situations when we aren't there to call him to obedience. We want to develop knowledge about the world in which he lives and the skill to navigate in it successfully, and we want to develop character. And we most definitely don't want to allow a situation where we have 20 children all running back and forth across traffic unrebuked, but then we spank the one who "gets caught" by being hit and injured.

In raising children, there is a role for punishment with consequences other than the ones provided directly by the results of any behavior. I will punish my child if I need to punish him in order to avoid more severe consequences if I allow a behavior to go unchecked. I do not want him to have the consequences of being hit by a car, or of falling off a cliff, or of having a mouth full of cavities. But punishment is not my only option in helping him avoid those consequences, is it? I hold onto my toddler if I am near a cliff or a street, and if he is about to escape my grip and make a dash toward danger, I don't just give him a verbal order to stop! I scoop him up and make sure he can't disobey me! So I use a whole set of tools to train up a child to understand life and function well in life, and punishment is just one of those tools, and a tool with a very limited function. It serves no good function if the consequences of an action are far harsher than any punishment for the action would be.

One of the most-used tools for exacting the behavior we want from our kids is to cultivate in them a desire to be a "good girl" or "good boy" so that Mommy and others will love them, and to instill a fear in them of being a "bad girl" or "bad boy" and making Mommy and others sad, or even of losing Mommy's and others' love. The shame of being bad is strong disincentive to many children to actions that would incur that label, and the relief of being good is a strong reward for walking the straight line and obeying the rules. And this whole way of training our kids -- and each other -- is not even always something that is expressed verbally or through actions, even. Sometimes it is just the underlying intuitive reality that colors our world and theirs, and we are not even conscious of it unless we stop and pay attention. The incentive to an unimpeded relationship is powerful, and the horror of a broken relationship is equally powerful. So it is tempting to use this power to control behavior through an intuitive or explicit approval or disapproval, or at least allow the dynamic to exist unchecked because it is easier.

In the same way, we can use approval and disapproval in our communities -- with great power for good or for evil, depending upon how closely our use of approval and disapproval is tied to a view of what is truly God's best for each of us. And, as with our children, the degree to which we speak or act on our approval or disapproval is not necessarily proportionate to the simple power of real approval or disapproval, sensed intuitively by each of us. Since much of this is outside our conscious control, we must master what is within our conscious control: a consistent practice of study and worship and service and all the other spiritual disciplines, so that our reactions can be formed by His Spirit.

The first and most necessary scriptural exercise of "church discipline" is for JUSTICE. We are called to protect the innocent and the victim of another's sin. We are not allowed to allow each other to injure each other or outsiders in grievous ways and not do something about it. So, even if there were no civil law to use to protect people from being murdered or abused or defrauded, we are called to take steps to protect those so abused and to impose consequences upon those who so abuse others.

When we couple these two uses of "discipline" -- to move us all toward Jesus' "abundant life" and to implement real justice in protecting the oppressed -- the historical uses of "church discipline" fall into an interesting array. We have some that do just that. We have some that completely neglect both. And we have some that are well-intentioned but misguided. We need to consider both our structure for discipline (as found in something like the book of order and more detailed administrative guides within presbyterianism) and our intuitive use of discipline within our individual churches. I am going to cut that whole discussion out of what I treat in a blog, and just jump on to looking directly at common problems for discipline within our real churches.

So on to my examples . . .

Let's start with our ordained and pastoral leaders. (In my church we call them our "program staff", as opposed to "support staff" who hold positions where they are not leading ministries.) These leaders, as well as our elders and deacons and others who take actual vows concerning ministry and behavior, know they are accountable to certain behavioral and ethical standards, and that they will face consequences if they violate these standards. This is not always as straight-forward and objective as we might desire, but it is not nearly as subjective as some of my following examples. So, if we find such people engaging in adultery or spousal abuse or embezzlement or many other types of behavior that are clearly in violation of the behavioral and ethical agreements that they knew they were making in assuming their positions, it is relatively straight-forward to apply appropriate discipline. A pastor who has preached upon the texts that govern his behavior and then acted in a way that goes against what he himself has preached has violated the trust of his congregation, and must be held accountable. A healthy process will hold him accountable for sin in a way that is proportionate to the sin, and will also provide a way for repentance and reconciliation and a renewed ministry for a leader who shows the life-results of real change. A healthy process will also permanently bar from ministry one who is not willing to conform his behavior to the beliefs of the congregation. And a healthy congregation and process will allow our leaders to be human, and admit normal human struggles without penalty when those struggles do not violate our trust. For instance, there should be no penalty for admitting marital conflict or depression or many other normal parts of life. But spousal abuse -- even just alleged spousal abuse than cannot be proved -- must be taken seriously, because of the need to protect and do justice.

Now, for support staff and volunteers in ministry: Here we have a wide variety of people with various backgrounds at various stages of spiritual commitment, performing a wide variety of services. We have janitors, technical people, child-care workers, "teachers" for different age-levels of our children with different goals for the time (ranging from pure child-care during times when adults must be in meetings to times of trying to instill some teaching to times where the Bible and Christian doctrine are very much being taught as the primary purpose of the time.) We have people who distribute food to the poor, people who mentor, people who help construct during missions projects, and many other types of service. And the motivations vary widely, as well. Some of these staff are motivated simply by a paycheck. Some desire to be in ministry. Some are in the middle and need a paycheck and also feel a call to do what they are being paid to do. And volunteers are motivated by many things, as well. Some simply said "yes' when asked because they don't ever say "no". Some desire to serve. Some desire the social connection. Some are investigating Christianity but do not yet have sound commitment. And there are many, many other motivations.

Holding this variety of people fairly accountable to any system of ethics or behavior requires that we completely abandon anything subjective, and make the process as completely objective as possible. They should each be given either an employee handbook to sign off on or a specific agreement as to their behavioral and ethical requirements in doing the specific job, with an explicit statement of the consequences of violating those behavioral standards. To assume any underlying understanding of a cultural consensus on their behavioral requirements and the consequences of deviation from that consensus would reflect ignorance and insensitivity on the part of those in leadership of these staff and volunteers. In this way, the man who was accused by his wife of spousal abuse -- or the woman who accused her husband of spousal abuse -- would have a good idea up-front of what the church's response would be to their continuation on staff or as a volunteer. So would the man arrested with a DUI or in possession of marijuana. So would the woman who confessed that she'd had an abortion. And so would the woman who confided that she had been abused by her long-time boyfriend when he had been released from prison and subsequently gotten pregnant and decided not to have an abortion. Because of the wide variety of people and backgrounds, it would violate trust to implement any discipline that had not been clearly set out at the beginning of the volunteer or support-staff relationship with the church.

The last set of people to consider are those who are attending the church -- either as members or not -- but are not engaged in any volunteer or paid service. Membership should also have its stated requirements, so that any church discipline is objectively administered, and not simply administered on a subjective basis. And those who become part of the community by their regular appearance at events, even though they never join the church, should also understand very clearly what is expected of them, if anything. No church can afford to assume that its positions and actions will be understood by anyone if they are not clearly explained in advance.

We are accountable for our part in a healthy community that is a true reflection of Christ's Kingdom for today -- right here and right now. We need to take that responsibility very seriously if we call ourselves His followers -- every single one of us!

May we each do our part to influence each other toward a greater experience of the freedom to live in His abundant life, and to protect the innocent from abuse and neglect and rejection. May none of us pretend that we don't see what we do see, and be judged in the end as accomplices!



Today is my 3rd-born son's 8th birthday. We celebrated with a big party on Tuesday (25 kids and about 15 parents) at an amusement park in Irvine called "Boomers". The party went from 2 in the afternoon to 7 at night, and Noah had a blast. I was drained, but happy that I had the "success" of his happiness. (I am also aware of our culture's tendency to worship our children, and came far closer to that with this birthday party than I should have. I did not expect that level of attendance when I planned and invited. I will take care going forward that our celebrations of our children's milestones do not verge into consuming resources and expectations and time that God would choose to use in other ways!)

We celebrated Thanksgiving by eating at a restaurant -- for the first time in my 23 years of motherhood. My husband and 15-year-old stepson were driving to Las Vegas in the late afternoon for a weekend ball tournament, and I didn't want to cook in the morning, because I wanted to be at church -- so I made the reservation weeks ago. (As it was, I missed church, because I ate something yesterday afternoon that gave me a dose of food poisoning like 20 doses of one of those colon-cleansing enemas -- and so I was doing well today to just get my husband and I and our two little ones to the restaurant for our 2 p.m. reservation.) It was a nice meal, but very strange to "celebrate" Thanksgiving in a way that didn't fit my whole idea of celebrating Thanksgiving. But lives change, don't they? And then Steven and Cody left for Vegas, and Noah and Brooks and I were left to have a good holiday weekend in peace.

Mike -- on the east coast for his 2nd year of law school -- called early to wish Noah "happy birthday" and to inform me he had turned down Thanksgiving celebrations to study, and was happy doing just that. I called Josh -- in his senior year of college in the midwest -- and found that he had chosen to stay at his frat house for the day rather than visit any family or his girlfriend. And Cody and Tyler -- my 2 stepsons -- celebrated with their mom, and so Steven and I had a sparse day, in terms of the company of family. My mom and dad didn't have any of us kids join them, either, but invited friends over.

What a strange jump from the days of all of us cousins and uncles and aunts together in the small spaces of my grandparent's farm house! Changing values lead to changed celebrations. But -- I hope! -- we all still love to be together when we can pull it off. As much as the holidays with all 6 kids were stressful, they were precious -- and I am guessing they will be few and far between from here on out.

So now I have these days of "Noah and Brooks" time, with breaks for a movie with Diane tomorrow evening and for the Dead Sea Scrolls trip on Saturday and for church on Sunday . . . and I know that the earliest that Cody's tournament will be over is at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, with a drive from Las Vegas in the way of Steven getting home and getting sleep before the week starts again Monday morning. What a strange "paradigm shift" from my idea of the life I would like my boys to know . . . but this is life, and Jesus' Kingdom comes to me in the present moment.

I am mostly grateful today for my 4 boys -- Mike, Josh, Noah, and Brooks -- and for the Triune God's presence in the present moment and His ability to write a good story, even with elements of tragedy, evil, grief, and hypocrisy mixed in with the elements of beauty and power and grace. I am still learning that -- even though I cannot control God and make Him my tool to get the "story" I would write with my life -- I can learn to let God more fully control me, and write His story so that I am a person inhabited by His love and grace and mercy more than a person who is destructive or mean even though well-intentioned. I am also learning that His grace extends to the mean and destructive and hypocritical, and can be extended through me even when I am the intended target, and for that I am grateful!

I am thankful that His justice first brings the TRUTH finally into full view, and then His grace and mercy bring the reconciliation and healing that can only come with a full disclosure of all that went on in the hearts and minds on all sides, as well as in the hidden and open actions and words.

I am glad that He values all people, and teaches me to be His tool of love in the lives of my family, friends, acquaintances, enemies, and all those "invisible" people around me. I'm glad that I can trust that He is at work to make this that kind of world -- where people don't just talk about love and justice, but actually live them.

Most of all, I am grateful for the people in my life. They are His primary call upon my life. They are His primary provision for me. And they are His greatest value, so my impact on each one of them is His primary criteria for judging my life.

I am thankful that He is the One Who can provide the wisdom, motivation, words, and actions that will allow His love to flow through me to them.

Life is all about people. Forget that, and you miss living. Forget that, and you never really knew Jesus.


Fear and Disillusionment

I have a couple more posts written on the subject of ethics . . . they need to be cleaned up a bit, but that's not why I don't click "publish". I don't click publish because I have become strongly aware that the prime goal of most of my readers seems to be that we create a community of "good Christians" living "moral lives" and getting all the social riches of the evangelical version of the American dream. We aren't guilty of the "health and wealth" gospel so much -- although we certainly want that too! -- but we are guilty of the "happy family that is God's good plan" gospel. The goal is that happy marriage, happy home, and good kids -- and God and God's plan to get there are our tools to get it.

Right now I don't feel like writing out my "heresy", because I care about being part of our community. But I will!

My heresy is this: God doesn't really care if you have a happy marriage or good kids or riches and power. Sometimes it is His plan to give those things, and sometimes it isn't. God cares whether you are walking with Him, and becoming a person so filled with His Spirit that you show the fruit of the Spirit in your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. God will lead you to be a person of integrity who has the right values and who acts in godly, righteous ways. But that may be in the midst of a marriage that never is that good, and with finances that never quite stretch to give you all you feel you need -- let alone want, and with kids that rebel and embarrass you.

My further heresy is this: we are called to love each other in real life, and to allow people to go through a process of growth and commitment, the way God does. When we "screw up", we are called to point out the lesson about life there -- "if you act this way, these are the possible consequences, and so we are told to act this other way, because God wants these other consequences for us" -- both to the one who screwed up and to the rest of us. We are called to push on toward "perfection", but understanding God's way of bringing that power to our daily life. That means we don't get to SAY "you don't have to be perfect to come and start the journey. God is the One Who will heal and change you as you continue to follow" and then ACT EMBARRASSED for people when they tell the truth about what that process really looks like in their lives.

My last heresy is this: Leaders who talk about community and limit their experience of community to "good Christians" have no right to think they are being obedient to the God Who as Jesus spent most of His hours building real relationships with anyone but pharisees, not trying to bolster the pharisees. A "good church" is not a community of pharisees discipling pharisees. A real church is a community of transparent leaders telling the truth about their own journeys, and leading us forward in learning how to authentically be followers of Jesus as we live our real daily lives. There is nothing godly about putting on an act "for the cause of Christ." All that does is rob the gospel of its authentic power to change us.

We have amazing power to really know God and really let Him bring His kingdom to us and through us. There is nothing more nauseating than seeing people in leadership ignore that power and put on a show of "righteousness" that robs onlookers of access to a community that might actually bring them into that way of transformation.

But God's call to each one of us is the same: today know me and obey me, and love the people I put in your life in real ways. Experience -- right here and right now -- My power to change the world, as you let Me change you and use you to change others.

And each of us can enter in to that intimate place of solitude with our God, experience Him in all His amazing glory, and leave to find Him in our community of faith, and inject into that community a fresh spirit of obedience and worship and love. That is my goal today.


Ethics and Consequences, Part 2

The central question in any system of ethics is "What is the good life? That is, what life is most satisfying?" (Yep, I can type "ethics" into Wikipedia's search.)

Once that central question has been answered, then good and evil -- righteousness and sin -- are determined by its impact for the community upon the ability of most individuals to live that satisfying life.

Jesus had revolutionary answers for both these questions. He told us that the only life that satisfies is the life lived following Him, and that the only way we would be capable at any given moment of obedience (good) rather than disobedience (evil) was by staying connected to Him in the moment -- that is, by abiding in Him. (As in so many other places, my central texts are the Sermon on the Mount and John 14-17 .) He also said that the His primary command was that we love others -- love our brothers and sisters, love our enemies, and love the stranger in the road.

Jesus laid out a clear system of values in the Sermon on the Mount -- and the central tenet was a self-giving love, as outlined above. The ethic that grew out of His teachings in the early church was also an ethic of love and truth. We see this all the way from the stories in Acts to the writings of Paul to the Colossians and Galatians to the writings of James. There was a respect for "what seems right to all men", and beyond that a commitment to focus primarily on a life spent for Jesus.

The chief problem with most modern writers and teachers who espouse a secular or liberal ethic is that, even if they catch Jesus' drift in pointing toward an ethic of love, they miss His primary claim to be the source of the good life -- the life that satisfies. It is in Evangelicals, conservative Protestants, orthodox Catholics, and others who affirm Orthodox Christianity that I find that life-giving center of power and salvation. Without knowing the real, risen Jesus, there is no power to live a life of love -- and even if there were, it would not satisfy in and of itself, without a life soaked in the presence of the One for Whom each heart cries.

The chief problem with a conservative ethic is that it tends to forget the point of the ethic -- that it draw us all closer to Him and to each other, and that the primary command we are to obey if we are His is the command to love. We are to seek for truth and live in truth -- the truth about how we are wired sexually and socially and in every other way, and the truth about how the world works, and the truth about the things that God asks of each of us -- but we are to go after truth in a way that pushes forward toward reconciliation and healing and real repentance, not in a way that pushes all of us back into hiding for fear of the light of day. And most of what the older evangelical ethic does is not to move people forward toward freedom, but rather push them back into hiding and close them off from the source of real salvation from their sins.

We are definitely called to uphold TRUTH and to call each other to act in ways that move each of us and all of us toward righteousness and freedom -- and the first step in that is to keep holding up the TRUTH that the reason we each need a Savior is that we each actually need a real Savior to save us from real actual -- embarrassing, messy, hurtful -- sin. And that we do "get better" as we walk on, but we never stop needing a Savior in a real way, anymore than an meth addict can ever say he or she is so "recovered" that they aren't vulnerable to their addiction anymore. We are sinners. Even you. Even me. Even everyone we pay to be our spiritual leaders.

The next step in accountability is to extend grace to each other in confessed sin. God doesn't make us clean up our act first and then come to Him once we've managed to do that, and we can't do that to each other, either. We need to keep refocusing each other on the source of life and the source of being able to "clean up our act". You can't really clean up your act, nor can I -- but Jesus can make real change from the inside out, and He will if we're willing to keep showing up for Him to love on us.

The third step is something that God does: if we tell the truth about our need to be cleaned up, and extend the grace that lets people keep showing up to be transformed by the Living Word, then God allows people to be held accountable to good ethics through the work of His Spirit in conjunction with real life and its consequences. Drugs produce one kind of life. Sexual immorality produces one kind of life. Rebellion produces its fruit. And love and obedience to God produces its fruit. So those who are drawn toward THE GOOD LIFE -- the real good life that is a relationship with our Triune God -- will leave behind their filth and walk on toward good food and rest.

An application of Galatians or Colossians or I and II Corinthians to the subject of ethics and consequences in the modern church twists our old ethical systems into something unrecognizable. It is not a liberal, secular ethic, because His values don't make sense to the world. But it is also not a legalistic ethic, because freedom from sin comes from focusing on the One Who frees us from sin. We can't struggle free of it on our own, and we can't expect our brothers and sisters to do so, and punish them for sin beyond the natural consequences, as if they were our little children that we helped by so doing. (A spanking is certainly better than being hit by a car, but what parent picks up the injured child who was just run over by a car off the street and promptly spanks him for running in front of the car that actually hit him? But we treat each other that way, and say the spanking is for the good of the on-lookers even if it doesn't help the child right then. Yeah, right!)

The specifics of how this might be applied in real situations in our faith communities is a great topic for a whole new book . . . but I'll touch briefly on it tomorrow.

Meanwhile, offer freedom -- to yourself and to your brothers and sisters -- by calling yourself and calling your brothers and sisters to focus on the Only One Who Frees. "Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord!"


Ethics and Consequences, Part 1

If the New Testament gives clear guidance on anything, it is on what "laws" the N.T. church was still under, and how the church should deal with ethical violations among those who called themselves brothers or sisters. (See my post from June 10th and also my post from August 9th.) We are called to hold each other to high standards of behavior, that we might together experience His Kingdom in all its abundance. When we drop the ball on that, there are consequences . . . both the natural consequences of the actions themselves, and the consequences of dishonor to our Lord and to the church community, and then any consequences that scripture spurs us to impose on the one who violated our standards.

How well do we apply all those passages? Do we apply them consistently? Do we have a consistent ethic that can stand the scrutiny both of the devout brother or sister and of outside observers? Do we teach that ethic and encourage each other in that ethic in useful and loving ways, that give greater ability to live out that ethic? Do we model it well? And do we tell the truth about the ways each of us struggles to live it out, or do we hide those ways as well as we can, less we be seen for who we really are, or less the ethic itself be seen as unworkable? And the passages that call for confrontation and for consequences or for exclusion from fellowship . . . do we apply them consistently? Do we teach them consistently? Do we model them well?

How well does our ethic and how well does our church discipline lead us to a full obedience of all that Jesus taught, individually and together as a church community?

What will Jesus have to say to me personally about my role in that? Am I walking with my brothers and sisters in love and in obedience and in a way that encourages us all toward His Kingdom lived out fully?

And what is your responsibility in all that? Are you allowed to leave it to "ministers" who are more qualified than you? Or are you called to speak the truth in love and to love in truth?

The culture of the CHURCH is the responsibility of each one of us, and we will be held accountable for our individual roles in that. We are indeed a BODY, and are bound together both in our ability to discern TRUTH and in our ability to walk it out. May none of us miss out on the joy of obedience!


Routines that Make Life Abundant -- Slowly and with Joy!

"Intimacy with God" hasn't been something that has come easily to me this week, if I fall into the error of considering only times of solitude and a sense of intimate and direct connection with Him as the only real intimacy with God. But if I allow myself to understand that intimacy with God can be there in cleaning up after Brooks when he is sick to his stomach and that it can be there as I sort my laundry or plan Noah's birthday party and create the invitation, then I can see that I have that sort of intimacy with God in those times these days that we also have with those who share our homes and lives. (Women in our culture tend to see intimacy as what we experience during those times of face-to-face attention and connection, while men in our culture are more likely to understand the intimacy experienced as two people give their full attention to the same endeavor or to the same outside experience. I hope we can raise our children -- and learn ourselves -- to experience the joy of both ways of being intimate!)

I have to admit that I much prefer to sit and listen to my God or to sit and spew words at Him -- or even to get up and do that which I heard Him tell me to do in this moment -- than to simply repeat the tedious chores that make up my life as they make up most of our lives. Yet I understand that a life of intimacy with God is mostly shown by faithfully exercising the repetitive tedious chores of each day and each week and each month. This is what writers and speakers are referring to when they speak of the difference between "the mountain-top" and "the valley", rather than the difference between joyful times and times full of grief. (It is much easier to "feel God" during times of grief than to stay connected to Him during the day-in-day-out tedium of real life, isn't it?)

So I have a routine to my day that allows me to integrate the parts of "intimacy with God" that come easily to me with the parts that don't, and I am becoming better at the parts of life that come to me only with great effort. I believe that is part of what God calls each of us to master as we steward our time and efforts and resources: we are called to fulfill each of our responsibilities and calls each day in a way that draws us closer to our God and closer to each other and closer to nature and closer to a true understanding and mastery of the person that God imagined each of us to be when He created us individually. And that call is miles away from a simple call to fulfill each responsibility individually.

This means that I am not just called to clean and decorate my home, or to raise my kids, or to befriend the friends He calls me to love, or to pursue and exercise the vocation to which He calls me. I am called to find ways to do each of those things that best foster my connection to Him and to all the people in my life. And that is a radical change for me.

I lived most of my life divided into two portions: the task/project/accomplishment/responsibility portion and the people/love/God/intimacy/joy portion. And so neither portion was anything like what God desired it to be for me. When I was in "task mode" I was "on a mission from God" but I was disconnected from God and from others and from the part of myself that I believe God most values. I was no fun. And when I was in "people mode" or "God mode" I was lazy and unmotivated and got nothing done toward the daily work of life -- at least, unless someone else was driving the work while I stayed in "relating" mode. So neither of these modes of mine accomplished God's Kingdom lived out in my life, right here and right now.

I am still pretty bad at this, I'm afraid. It has been my primary task these last three years: to integrate these two halves of my life. But it is slowly coming together in reality and not just in my ability to articulate and desire it. And the way it is coming together is as I turn the right routines into daily habit. I am learning to get stuff done without always flipping into that "task mode" that brackets people and God and emotions into something to deal with later, and reserve that ability to bracket for the times that life really requires me to use it. (It honors God to be able to focus like that and leave emotions for later when one is truly in a crisis, like injury or abuse or a time-sensitive emergency, but to flip there in order to get my kids to school on time every morning is to raise kids who need that rush of adrenaline to get normal stuff done and who echo my inability to stay connected with others as they live the daily routines of life.) And I am learning to be able to converse with God and people as I do my daily housework, and not have to sit and give Him my full attention in order to connect. (But, of course, I still need regular times of where my time and attention is completely focused on Him and in turn on each of the important people in my life.)

The way I am learning all this -- practicing it so it is a reality, and not just something I can process cognitively and articulate to you -- is by setting up routines each day that accomplish what I want in both areas, and then disciplining myself to follow those routines. These routines simply get done everything I want to get done each day in a certain order each day, with the flexibility and leisure to allow me to deal with phone calls and my kids' interruptions without keeping me from having adequate time to complete the tasks, but with the structure that gets me back on task once the interruption is over. This sounds simple enough, but the challenge in it is that I have had to give up many of my ideals of efficiency and achievement of as much as I possibly can. I have resigned myself to the idea that God is calling me to just get as much "accomplished" toward my life goals as He allows me to accomplish, and just at the rate at which it happens easily. The priority has to be simple daily obedience in simple tedious tasks in a way which allows me to still be responsive to Him and to people in the moment. And that may mean I never accomplish some of the things I wish I could accomplish educationally or vocationally. But it also means I will have been the person He wanted me to be, right here and right now.

It is a revolutionary change for me to acknowledge in my daily habits and routines that any lasting satisfaction in my "accomplishments" in life will require letting my pace be set by the needs of the man laying wounded at the side of the road, rather than by the speed my feet can carry me toward my next appointment or task in my project plan.

God values people, and all accomplishments mean nothing if they are not accomplished in genuine service of Him -- which mean in the genuine service of the stranger and of my enemy and of my loved ones.

This is radical.