Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What's it Gonna Take?

There are at least two ways that God tries to get our attention and get us to listen to them.  One is by promising us hope and a future.   Take the Israelites for example in Exodus.

You know the story.   The Egyptians are slaves in Egypt and God has all these really cool promises that he has Moses deliver them.   In Exodus chapter 6, verse 9 in the message it says, "But when Moses delivered this message to the Israelites, they didn't even hear him -- they were that beaten down in spirit...."

Have you ever been so beaten down in Spirit that you can't hear God's message of hope?  I think we've all been there.  We need to remember, however, that God has a purpose and a plan for us -- and that regardless of how downtrodden we are, listening to that is what can give us hope.

A couple chapters later,  God is trying to motivate Pharaoh to let the people go.   He has to use force because Pharaoh is playing hard ball and being super stubborn.  So God has to go to great measures -- He has to send things like gnats and flies and boils and turn the river into blood and all kinds of other stuff and still Pharaoh is stubborn.

I wish I were the kind of person who always pays attention to God when He's going the easy route of promising future and hope.  I wish I weren't stubborn and didn't require figurative flies and gnats to get my attention.

Maybe 2017 can be a year when we all pay attention to the gentle nudging and rely on God's promises of hope regardless of how down trodden we are, so God doesn't have to kick it up a notch.

At least that's my plan.....

Monday, January 16, 2017

Is the Church a Bridge Over Troubled Water?

I do not want to diminish the power of this sermon by saying anything at all.   Efrem Smith was a coworker of mine way back when we were both young... I believe it was in 1995 when we were both 30ish.   When he spoke at Wheaton College last week he knocked it out of the park.

It's short, but if you don't have time for the whole thing, just watch the last minute.  If you are a Christian, it will challenge you and possibly change your life.

Impossible Expectations

Have you ever had a set of impossible expectations placed on you where you knew you just weren't going to be able to meet them?

In Matthew 25 Jesus set some impossible expectations when he completely changed the way that people looked at the law.   He basically said, “you know all these laws that really are impossible to keep?  Well, I”m raising the bar.  In the past you weren’t supposed to kill — now I”m saying don’t even hate anybody.”  Jesus raised the standard.

Yesterday I heard the rest of that story expressed in one sentence:  "When the expectations got higher, the grace went deeper.”   In other words, when Jesus came up with a new way to live for those who would say they followed Him, He knew that they would screw up.  So he made grace more readily available.  

That doesn’t mean, of course, that we should keep on sinning so that we get more grace, but that we acknowledge that when we do screw up, God’s grace is deeper.

What a comforting thought.  God didn't give us his expectations to crush us, but to allow us to experience His grace more fully.    

Finally, the grace we extend to others needs to go deeper as well.  Grace leads to grace.   

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Living Purposefully

Today I want to let you in on a little secret.  I have started 2016 with a great deal of intensity... to the point of almost wearing myself out.    But the secret is this:  Even though I am tired, I feel so much better about myself when I am accomplishing much than when I had no idea what to do next and thus did nothing.

As you probably know, last year was a really hard year.   I spent a lot of time staring off into space trying to process the last hard thing that had happened and trying to recover emotionally and mentally from the last blow.   So it is really great to start 2017 with little drama and the chance to live differently.

Having everything written down and tracking everything really helps me.  The bullet journal does that for me -- but it could be anything organizational.  I just have a plan of what I'm going to do to fill my dead time.  This keeps me from sinking into my time killer which is a combination of Candy Crush and Netflix and it can consume so much time.  I'm 53 and time is running out for me to change the world..... Even if I live a really long life, it's already half over.

So I have made lists:

A list of 12 leadership books I want to read.  I have already finished one.

A list of 24 articles/books  I want to read about Trauma Informed Care.  I am halfway through one.

A Bucket List that Bart and I wrote together of fun things that we want to do before the year ends.  We wrote the list in the first week of August and then the first of  September our daughter moved in with her two kids and we started babysitting five nights a week.   We got away from the bucket list.  But we have resurrected it, I put it in Trello, and we have completed two things on it and scheduled two more.

And I have set goals:

To memorize Philippians during 2017;

To read the Bible through in 2017.

To blog every day.

To write another book in 2017.

To get my diabetes numbers down.

I am also thinking about subscribing to a few productivity and leadership podcasts to listen to on the road.

So, when I come to a slump, I have plenty to do.  I can grab one of the books I'm reading, or grab my phone and read through the chapters for the day or listen to a verse over and over.   I can schedule something from my bucket list.   I can read an article, or head to the computer to blog.

It's been really good for the first 14 days.  I like living purposefully.  It is more tiring, but it feels so much better!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ever do anything stupid?

I am trying to think of which example to use of something stupid that I have done and there are so many to choose from.  There was the time that I was working as a counselor at youth camp and somehow got my underwear stuck in the back of my swimsuit and jumped into the pool.  To my horror and to the amusement of everyone in the pool, my underwear floated up to the top of the water.     In fact a few of my Facebook friends were actually there that day but I sincerely hope that you have forgotten this event.

There are many other options of stories like that and unfortunately my stupidity has been much more serious.  Decisions that were wrong, mistakes I made, and choices that influenced others negatively have sometimes haunted me.

When we look at the life of Joseph in Scripture we often remember him as the guy that God took care of regardless of all the horrible things that happened to him.   But as I was listening to the story again yesterday, I was struck by the fact that Joseph was a special kind of stupid.

Think about it:   He is his dad’s favorite and he knows it.   His brothers resent him.  A lot.  He has dreams about them bowing down to him so what does he do?  He tells his ten older resentful brothers about the dream which he had to of known would have incensed them.

Like a said, a special kind of stupid.

What I love about this though, is that God even used Joseph’s stupidity to save his whole family.   He used his crushing mistake and worked it out for good for Joseph.  I can’t even explain how comforting that is to me.  Even when I don't make the wisest choices, God can take our blunders and turn them into blessings.

So if you have done something stupid lately that still haunts you, remember how God turned Joseph's stupid choice into a miracle and realize that God is way bigger than anything we can do and it is impossible to mess up His plan if we are committed to being followers of Jesus.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Anybody else have a hard 2016?

Genesis is such a great book… so full of stories of people who had to be practice obedience — kicked up a notch.   Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob… I’m excited that I am almost to the story of Joseph because there is no other story in Scripture that better indicates the fact that “all things work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”

There is one verse in Genesis that has only 12 words and has no explanation.

"But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

I’ve been asking myself why there was such a punishment for looking back.  Why did it make God angry enough to turn her into a pillar of salt?

I’m sure that a lot of pastors have preached about this over the centuries, and that if I googled it i could find many sermons that would explain to me what they thought.   I have heard sermons that talk about how she looked back longingly at the sin and depravity she was leaving.  I suppose that is a possibility and would make her worthy of her punishment.  She may have looked back with regret that they had made the choice to follow God and leave.   She may have looked back to see one more time the things that she was going to miss.

Then there are those who might say that the verse is not literal.  It means that he froze her emotionally, or he stopped her in her tracks so that she looked like a pillar of salt for a while, and then went forward.  But since there is no mention of her ever again, I don’t think it was metaphorical.

I know for a fact that God doesn’t turn people into pillars of salt anymore, regardless of the reason that we look back.   But I do believe that there is a lesson for us in this:

When God brings us to a new place, it is not his plan for us to dwell on the past.  He doesn’t want us to wallow in the pain of past hurts nor does he want us to longingly wish for earlier days.   He doesn’t want us to regret obeying Him, that’s for sure.   He doesn’t want us to spend our time worrying, fretting, or focusing on what has happened, but to look towards Him and the future He is calling us to.   

As we enter into 2017 I am determined to stop myself as I look back on last year. That year is over, God has called us to a new place and he is already moving mountains to make miracles happen this year.   So join me in embracing the preferred future that God has called us to and let’s choose not to look back.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Facebook is My Pile of Rocks

In Genesis there are several situations where people go out and get some rocks and put them on top of each other.  They build little monuments — out in the middle of nowhere they pile rocks on top of each other so that they can remember what happened there.  They often named their little piles of stones.

For example, when Jacob and Laban (his wives’ father in law (yes, wives plural, they both had the same dad, he married sisters) made a covenant this happened:
Laban said, "Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.”So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap.  Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.  Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed.  It was also called Mizpah,because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.   (Genesis 31:44-48)

When Jacob slept on a rock that he used for a pillow, he had a dream with a Stairway to Heaven (no, i’m not sharing channeling Led Zeppelin right now.  When he woke up he built a pillar over that rock and named it Bethel which means house of God or Christian University in Minnesota.  (Just wanted to see if you are paying attention — this is where Bart graduated from seminary and my son Kyle received his degree in education by the way).

There are others but one of my favorites, is when Samuel set up a stone and called it Ebenezer which meant "Thus far the Lord has helped us.

I was thinking this morning of what our homes, churches and work places would look like if we still practiced this.   There would be piles everywhere.   We would be tripping over piles in our bedrooms where we prayed through with a spouse a difficult situation.  There would be rocks all over our churches where people were changed by God's grace.  At work we would be stumbling over the rocks that were placed there because God helped us to make a decision that furthered His purpose in our work.

Since building literal piles of stone would be a bit clunky looking, not to mention dangerous, we should probably just do so metaphorically or use some other means.  Sometimes I use Facebook and TimeHop to do this for me.   I know, it sounds nuts, but when God does something incredible I put it on Facebook — not because I want a lot of likes or shares, but because every year I want it to pop up on my time hop to remind me that at that moment in time I recognized that “Thus far, the Lord had helped me.”

Find some mental rocks today and look for some places in your heart, in your mind, or if you have a bad memory, online, so that you can celebrate the fact that God is good.

I just might create a bullet journal page for such a thing.  :-)

Have to include this song today.  Can't resist.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Locus of Control and Kids from Hard Places (I know, sounds boring)

Our new congregation has a very fascinating member.   A retired child psychologist, now eighty, Frank always inspires me.  He is still sharp as a tack and has many interesting stories to tell and ideas to share.

Last week we had a choir holiday party and I asked him about his dissertation.   He told us all about it and it was fascinating.   He was studying the difference a life-simulation game (not electronic because it was years ago) made a difference in locus of control among high schoolers.    I can't believe that I had never thought about locus of control as it relates to children from hard places.  Now I'm sure that if I googled it, I would probably find out that others have talked about it for years, but it was a new thought to me.  According to Wikipedia
Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives, as opposed to external forces beyond their control. Understanding of the concept was developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954. 
It dawned on me that this is one of the issues that is central to many of my children.   Somehow their trauma, whether it was abuse, neglect, prenatal exposure, or attachment issues, resulted in them believing that they have zero control over the outcome of events in their lives.  

I'm sure it doesn't surprise you if you know me well that I have a very strong internal locus of control.  I truly believe that I can do anything that I want to if I try hard enough and have enough time.   Nothing out there is out of my reach.  Now obviously, there are many things that I choose NOT to do because they don't interest me:  Go to med school, run a marathon, learn how to quilt, etc. etc. etc.  But that doesn't mean that I don't firmly believe that if I wanted to do any of those things, I could do it.

I'm sure that at times this strong internal locus of control is annoying to people around me.   I don't have a lot of patience, I probably appear arrogant, and if you have to work with me I may believe that we can do a lot of stuff that everyone doesn't believe is possible.   I'm sure that as a mom, not realizing my kids had this issue for two decades, has been incredibly frustrating for those of my children who do not have the ability to make this switch.

I won't tell you which of my children has been able to learn an internal locus of control, but a few of them had and it has made all of the difference for them.  Once they begin to believe that they can control things in their lives, instead of letting their lives control them, they have made great progress.

I've started to pay attention to the language of some of my kids and to help them understand this concept.  It is interesting now that they are adults, to watch them wrestle with this.  I've also become more compassionate as I have attempted, over the past few days, to feel what they are feeling.

What if I really believed that there was nothing I could do to change the circumstances around me?  What if I felt like I had to continuously respond to what was thrown at me, without the power to change it?

I think it would make me want to do virtually nothing.  

So, what have I missed?   How many thousands of articles are already out there that I haven't seen about locus of control and kids from hard places?  Is this a new idea to you?