Monday, June 23, 2014

Be Original

When I travel, I always take Oswald Chambers with me. He’s been dead for nearly 100 years but his most popular book, My Utmost for His Highest, a 365-day devotional is timeless. It’s not the Bible, but I do put it on the same shelf. (*wink) I correspond my daily reading (while travelling) with the correct calendar date, and it never seems to fail but the words usually confirm a lesson the Lord is already teaching me. Last weekend, when I was in San Francisco, Oswald spoke to me again. He said,

“Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as he is with you.”

I’m different from you, and you are different from me. It’s a no-brainer, right? Wrong. It’s the hardest thing to understand (and keep understanding) that we are different than each other. As Danny Silk teaches: most often what we like or understand about someone is the part of ourselves we see in other people. We view and judge others by our values, gifts, experiences and personal expression. I’ve done it to others, and lately I’ve been experiencing the other side by others’ expectation and judgement of me.

For example, I don’t like to pray. Yep, I said it. Don’t judge me. I’m an intercessor and I don’t like to pray. I’ve just admitted I don’t like to do the one thing the [global] church deems important. Not only is it important, many people in the church probably agree it is the most important discipline in the Christian faith. Specifically, there are several people around me who are particularly gifted in prayer and can easily pray for hours at a time, praying and travailing for the same thing. Because I don’t like it, if I view myself through their eyes, I feel I don’t measure up. In my defense, I do pray but usually I prefer to be alone and it’s done in worship – either as I actively flag and dance or even in my work, as I sew and make flags. 

What I don’t like is to pray for other people in the [usual] way we’ve been taught to do it. You know the drill: you’re at a Bible study, and the evening is coming to a close and everyone begins to rattle off their prayer requests; someone has terminal cancer, or their house is in foreclosure, or their child is strung out on drugs and is working as a prostitute – you know the stuff. Then just when the prayer requests are complete and it’s time to pray, someone looks at the clock and says, “We’ve got to run but we’ll pray for you during the week.” Nothing is resolved and all this crap has been left on the table so we pick it back up and leave feeling deflated. After a meeting like that convinced I’m a bad Christian because I dislike prayer or prayer meetings.

This past week, someone asked me if I could come over and pray for her because she is going through a period of anxiety and depression and my first reaction was, “NO!”  Truthfully, my first reaction has H-E-double hockey sticks in front of the No. Of course, I can’t say that because then I look like a first-rate jerk, who is probably going to h-e-double hockey sticks so I wonder how can I get out of it without looking like a jerk.

I want to want to make time to pray because I know it’s important (nothing happens without prayer) and instead of getting out of it, the Lord gave me a win-win strategy; I could combine worship with prayer. Worship focuses on the goodness and greatness of God, and our problems are no longer insurmountable in the face of such an amazing and great God. It’s easy to declare victory in every problem. I can worship my big God, pray for the small problem and finish feeling hopeful.

The point I’m trying to make is a reminder to myself, “Be original.” Allow others to be original and don’t only celebrate the way other people are the same as me.

 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. ~Romans 12:6-8

Monday, June 9, 2014

No Fear of Punishment

I finally watched Son of God last night with my family. I’ve read the book, so the storyline wasn’t a surprise but I usually like the visual of the drama-come-to-life and this movie was no exception. The account of the woman caught in adultery was particularly impacting for me. It’s familiar to many so I’ll spare the details but whenever I read it (or in this case see it portrayed), I put myself in place of the woman. I may have not committed adultery but there are plenty of sins I’ve been caught red-handed; I’ll assume I’m not alone in this experience.

The woman expected stern punishment; certainly she knew nothing of kindness when it came to sin. She was taken to the Rabbi, the current media sensation whom everyone was talking about. She may have heard he was different than the other teachers and religious leaders but how different could he be? Sin was sin and it needed to be reprimanded and punished – severely.  She was ashamed and she wouldn’t raise her eyes to the Rabbi.

Like the harlot, time and again I’m reminded how I fear the wrath of God when I am caught in sin. Instead of fearing God, I fear the wrath I’ve been taught to expect. The reality of God is quite the opposite, as Hebrews 10:14 gives proof. The wrath of God was satisfied through Jesus’ death on the cross (Romans 5:9) and by his sacrifice, we are made perfect forever, even as we are currently being sanctified (being perfected). In other words, he sees us as if we are perfect, even though we are still undergoing the perfecting process. There is no need for wrath or punishment when we have already been made perfect. (Rebuke and correction are different than punishment.)

It seems like it’s too good to be true, doesn’t it? It’s a mystery but that’s the gospel in a nutshell.

I have a confession: last year I was part of an inaugural ministry team to partner with a Global Outreach team operating in Cambodia. The connections and relationship I developed during the 16-day trip went deeper than would seem possible in the natural. My heart and life were knit into the weave of several people on the team. A year later, another North American ministry team partnered with them again, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my new friends liked the new team better. It’s definitely not a Godly, or spiritually mature thought but isn’t the point of a confession is to admit my vulnerability?

As soon as the thought was expressed (to myself), I was ashamed and expected a reprimand and some sort of punishment. What I received was different. The same day I had the thought and the consequent shaming thoughts, I received a text from my missionary friend, saying it was great to have a team there but it wasn’t the same without me. Awwww, it made my day, not just because I was loved and not forgotten by my overseas friend but because Jesus didn’t punish me at all. Instead, in his kindness, he covered my insecurity and vulnerability with affirmation and love. Experiencing the love of God does a whole lot more to motivate me to repent than fear of punishment. You could say the love of Christ compels me towards holiness.

The harlot received the same love. Jesus didn’t condemn her even though he could have. He loved her and by his love, he compelled her to, “go and sin no more.” He didn’t condone her sin, nor did he excuse it. It was evident to all, and still he loved her. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Sin has been punished; what’s left is love. What a beautiful and glorious thought.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Building vs. Doing

I’ve stayed at 2-star hotels and I’ve stayed at 5-star hotels. I like 5-star hotels better but it’s not just because the beds are better quality, or the bathroom is big enough to fit my entire master bedroom. It’s not even because when I make a call to any of the hotel service areas, my call is personalized by their greeting, “Good afternoon Mr. & Mrs. York, how may I assist you?” I like all those reasons (especially the personalized greeting), but the one reason that stands out the most is that all the staff, from the General Manager to the new immigrant hired in housekeeping, are working toward a higher purpose. They are building a company; everyone and every role is important. They have a common goal, and they believe it can be accomplished together. The staff in a 2-star hotel is simply doing their job; they aren’t building anything, and it shows.

I’ve been thinking about building vs. doing for the better part of the last school year. In years prior, I was quite involved in a supernatural school ministry, taking on a leadership role because I was invited to help build the school which I was part of. Last year there was a change in leadership at the Director level. I approved and readily supported the new Director. Initially I was prepared to continue in the supporting leadership role I had been in but it was different year, with different leadership. There were other changes happening in my life, and I felt God leading me to step back. The final confirmation came when the new Director approached me and asked, “What do you want to do?” The question bothered me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I come from a Christian culture that values hard work, and pitching in to serve others. It’s a great value but there was a danger, at least for me, to believe I needed to work for love, rather than knowing I was already loved and work from there. The question grated me because I felt I had been working hard for the past few years to understand the incredible love the Father has for me, and in one single remark I was back to where I had started.

(The Director’s question was not intended to send me into a tailspin of self-contemplation. I know the Director’s heart, and it was an innocent question meant to include me in the future of the school, and not minimize my role or influence. The Lord was working on an issue in my heart, and I have not needed to communicate my thoughts to the Director, who I consider my friend.)

Vision is important to building. Proverbs 29:18 says, where there is no vision, the people perish. A vision, when it is communicated well, brings unity and gives purpose. At the heart of communicating a vision is the invitation to participate and help build. Someone who is building, and knows why they are building is a much better worker than someone who is just doing the work. Both involve the same type of labour but the one building is reaching for something greater.

Nehemiah had a vision to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem; he invited others to [literally] build with him. He gave each family responsibility to build where it mattered to them. It created ownership and a sense of purpose and as a whole he accomplished something even better.

1 Kings 10:4-5 describes the Queen of Sheba’s response to King Solomon’s household items and his palace staff. I’ve always thought it an odd inclusion to the Scriptures but in studying it, I believe it’s a great lesson on leadership.  Solomon communicated his vision for building his kingdom, and everyone, from the greatest to the least served their role well because they were part of building something bigger. 

Jesus is building his church. A relationship with him is an invitation to build with him. I no longer want to labour in vain (Psalm 127:1); I want to partner with him to build something that will last. How about you? Do you want to do something, or do you want to build?
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