Monday, May 25, 2015

LifeSprings Retreat

This past weekend I had the amazing joy of serving as the speaker at a LifeSprings International Women's Retreat. The caliber of women that are seated in this photo is absolutely exceptional. If they hadn't been such Spirit-filled models of grace I'd have been completely intimidated, for they came from at least 10 different countries and they are doctors, lawyers, IT specialists, missionaries, authors, entrepreneurs, and engineers. They work in places like Mercedes-Benz and the United Nations. Beyond their professional roles they are sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandmas. They are from multiple denominations, Catholic and Protestant. Above all, they are lovers of Jesus who are giving their whole lives for the sake of his glory.

We spent the weekend learning about the power of God--and how we are meant to live in that power. We marveled at God's goodness, drank in his love, received his kindness, and renewed our faith in his all-sufficient grace.
I made new friends, women with whom I plan to stay connected because they are so totally awesome and they have MUCH to teach me! I delighted in the instant depth of relationship that is experienced because of our sisterhood in Christ. 

I also cherished the time with this dear friend, who came along for the ride. She was a constant source of joy and encouragement and I'm so thankful for the time we spent together.

Over the next couple of days I'll share some the notes for some of my messages here. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Work of the Sabbath

Life is full. I resist using the word "busy" because it has too many negative connotations. I delight in and gladly welcome the wealth of opportunities that are before me at the moment. Yet. Yet, I am at risk of being overtaken, overwhelmed, overcome.

The To-Do list is long and growing while deadlines are fast approaching. I'm beginning to worry that I won't get it all done in time. I'm starting to fear that I won't do it well. And so I woke up this morning tempted to do something that I almost never do: work on my Sabbath.

You see, in crunch time, I start to think that if I put in a few extra hours on my day off, I'll be doing myself a favor. I'll be taking the edge off of the teetering pile of tasks so that life will just be a bit more manageable come tomorrow. After all, who can even relax while being haunted by waiting work?

Some days sabbath is easy--a welcome respite. But some days sabbath is hard. It is an act of outright defiance againt my sin nature--a refusal to believe the lie that my life work is more important than my life.

Sabbath is a brazen act of faith that screams, "NO!" to the spirit of self-importance. Sabbath is a peaceful protest against the tyrrany of the urgent. Sabbath is trust in action through intentional inaction. It is not a luxury for the lazy, but God-ordained time-out for the workaholic.

It goes against every fiber of human reason, stands in opposition to prinicipals of productivity, and defies the laws of time management. But Sabbath is probably the most fruitful weekly endeavor one can pursue.

And so today I will rest.

I will not work on PowerPoint presentations for tomorrow''s sermons in French and in English.

I will not write the final message for my speaking engagement at a retreat next weekend.

I will not download the conference materials for the European Leadership Forum that is just around the corner.

I will not work on the meditations for the Learning Community in the first week of June.

I will not read books for school, or write responses to emails, or compose a newsletter.

I will not bathe the dog or change my sheets, though both have been long neglected.

Instead, I will set all of those things aside, trusting them into the capable hands of a God who never slumbers nor sleeps. I will struggle to rest so that I can endure the rest of the struggle. And by my rest I declare to my soul, "You are NOT in charge! Sit still, be quiet, and breathe. The LORD of the Sabbath is near, behold him, adore him, receive him. There is no greater work than this."

Instead of working on the Sabbath, I will let the Sabbath work on me.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Anyone Out There...

For anyone out there who keeps up on my reading list and thinks that perhaps I may have given up reading books in 2015, rest assured I have finally updated the page. Besides noticing the many amazing books that I have been reading for seminary, you will notice an obsession with the Masie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. These are detective novels set in post WWI England, and they are total book candy. Nothing challenging, but highly entertaining, they provide light-hearted study breaks from my intelectually stimulating course reading.

Image result for maisie dobbs

For anyone out there who still doesn't know where we are moving this summer, let me enlighten you. Destination: Lyon! We are very excited to be joining a church planting team that will plant in the center of Old Lyon.

For anyone out there who wonders if I ever indugle in the delectable delicacies found in French bakeries, let me assure you, I do. Though not often, because, well, who can stand the calories? But every now and then a splurge is in order. Last week I enjoyed a variety of macarons. Strawberry, coffee, pistaccio, and vanilla were among the mix.

For anyone out there who needs to know how to renew a passport when living in France, I feel your pain. I sent mine off two weeks ago because it was due to expire June 1 and I need to travel to Poland May 19-June 4. They said it should take 10-14 days, but what I forgot to take into account is that every-stinking-other- day in the month of May is a HOLIDAY in France. There are more holidays that working days, and I am starting to get concerned that I may not have my new passport in time!

For anyone out there who wants to know where I've been spending my creative energy this week, I'm working on a project that Chandler calls "Hobbes 2.0." I made a Hobbes for Graham for Christmas, and Chandler is laying claim to this little guy.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Problem with Facebook

I wonder sometimes what Facebook is doing to us. Or rather, if our engagement in social media is changing who we are and how we live life. Because actually, Facebook is a passive tool. We are not victims, but actors. So let's own our part.

I've recently seen some articles and videos about the discrepancy between what people post on Facebook and the reality of their experience. Facebook, for most of us, is a snapshot of life, whether in words or photos. And whether taking a portrait or a candid photo, we typically try to look good. And so I'm not sure why anyone is surprised that most Facebook posts are, well, cheesy. We're mugging for the camera, so to speak.

But there are also those who use social media as a platform for complaint. Rather than putting their best face forward, they indiscriminately post verbal vomit for the world to read. Still, this is a choice. This is the face that are choosing to reveal.

The problem is not whether or not we can take Facebook posts at face value. We can, for the most part. The problem is when we believe that Facebook tells the whole story--both ours and theirs. Because it doesn't. And actually, it shouldn't. I have Facebook friends that I've never actually met in real life, and sharing my life at any depth in that venue would be at the least inappropriate and at the most dangerous.

So while I love Facebook for quick updates on who is going where, and what they ate, and who has a birthday, and who's kids won what prizes, and who got a new job, and who knit a new sweater, and all those other little snippets...I don't look at Facebook as a basis for real relationship.

I may be able to read a prayer request on Facebook, but I can't lay my hands on your head and pray for you.

I may be able to smile at your funny experience on Facebook, but I can't share a belly-laugh with you.

I may be able to appreciate your amazing vacation, but I can't hear the enthusiasm in your voice.

I may be able to join your cause on Facebook, but I can't see the passion in your eyes.

Facebook is like reading a menu. Real life relationships are like eating a meal.

And the problem is not with WHAT people post on Facebook. It doesn't matter if the description in a menu is flowery and detailed or blunt and to the point. Reading the menu can't satisfy our hunger. The problem is believing that our hunger for relationship can or should be satisfied by a menu.

We need to be living out real lives in community with other people. We need to hear each other's voices, see the tears in each other's eyes, and we need to touch each other. We need to laugh together in person, we need to eat meals around the same table, we need to walk through the same fields. If Facebook is your main source of community, then I hate to tell you, but you don't have a community.

Our brains and bodies were created for connection with other human beings. This isn't just psychology, it's biology. In their book A General Theory of Love, the authors (all of whom are medical doctors) talk about the fact that humans are not able to live solitary lives, that we actually need the physical presence of other human beings in order to be stable. They write that "people cannot be stable on their own. Not should or shoudn't be, but can't be....Total self-sufficiency turns out to be a daydream whose bubble is burst by the sharp edge of the limbic brain. Stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying near to them" (86).

I think we need to stop fretting over the "accuracy" or "transparency"of  Facebook posts. What we need to think about is staying near to the people who regulate us well!

The menu can never take the place of the meal. Let Facebook be what it is. Glance through it if you like, post a comment or two. Then shut down your computer, turn off the iPad, silence the SmartPhone, and meet a friend for coffee. Take a walk with a neighbor. Pray with a family member. Give yourself fully to the people in your midst, rather than constantly being divided between electronic connections and real ones.

We are losing something of life because we settle for reading the menu of friendship instead of feasting on the real thing. Don't blame Facebook. There is a "log out" button.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Birthday to Remember

Wednesday was Chandler's 18th Birthday, and I wanted it to be special!

I wanted it to be special because I have such special memories of my own 18th Birthday. When I turned 18 I asked my parents for a new Bible. They took me out to dinner at Benihana's where they presented me with a lovely new Bible. And then they handed me another gift. Much to my surprise, my parents gave me pair of real diamond earrings. I was stunned by the beauty and extravagance of the gift. I still have my diamond earrings and I wear them often. I don't remember many birthdays, but I will always remember that one.

So with Chanlder's 18th Birthday fast approaching, I was eager to figure out how I could make it a day to remember. We had purchased him a nice wallet as a gift and I had planned all of his favorite meals, but it just didn't seem, well, special enough. And with David out of town, I would be the only guest at the party. I just knew it would be a flop. And I was so sad.

At prayer that morning, we prayed that God would especially bless Chandler on his birthday. Still, I didn't know how to make that happen. After prayer a friend asked what we were going to do to celebrate. As 18 is the legal drinking age in France, I mentioned that I was cooking a special dinner and that Chandler has requested a shot of whiskey to celebrate. He had tried whiskey when touring the Jameson Distillery in Ireland a few years ago, and he had taken a liking to it. So my friend suggested that a few of us go out to a local bar and toast Chandler for his 18th Birthday. I was thrilled at the idea, and a plan was set in motion.

At 8:30 pm we gathered at The Caravage. There were ten of us all together, aged 16 to 70. Some brought gifts. All brought love. And Chandler was completely in his element.

The waiter brought the whiskey list, insisting that the Japanese whiskey was the best. Chandler took his advice--and ordered a glass. The smile on his face says it all. We sat outdoors, chatting and sipping drinks until the sun went down. Deeply content, we kissed everyone goodnight, said our farewells, and began to walk back home. And that was when the magic happened.

As we walked over cobblestone streets, we began to see lights floating up into the air. Up in the royal part of the medieval city, hundreds of laterns were being released. As they danced across the velvet sky, Chandler marveled and I held back tears. I had done nothing great to make his birthday special, but God surprised us all with diamonds in the sky.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I am the Lame Man

I have been Miriam, leading the people of God in the praises of the Most High. I have danced and sung before the Lord with the abandon of David. I have been stunned and silenced like Isaiah. 

I have been Peter, impetuous but sincere in my devotion to Jesus. I have jumped out of the boat just to be near to him. I have preached with the conviction of Paul, passionate to proclaim freedom to prisoners. I have been John the Beloved, convinced beyond a doubt of my Savior's love for me.

I have been the father of the mute boy, wavering in my faith but desperate in my need. I have thirsted after living water with the woman at the well, longing for someone to just tell me who I am. I have been the bleeding woman, desperately reaching to touch the hem of His garment.

I have been Mary, breaking my vase of expensive perfume to show my Lord how deeply I love him. I have been raised from death and breathed life anew like Lazarus. I have been the man born blind, given sight so that the work of God might be revealed through me.

But today I am the lame man, broken and helpless. Dead weight on my mat, my friends are carrying me. I am the burden that others are bearing, the one who needs healing but is helpless to seek it out for myself. My friends climb the stairs to the roof, dirty their hands to make a way for me draw near to Jesus. They gain nothing for themselves, but by their acts of love, I am brought to the feet of the healer. And there I find hope. 

There are times when I resist such tender expressions of kindness, not wanting to "impose" on friends. No one likes to be needy. And then there are times when I am painfully aware of the reality of my own neediness. I not only need healing, I need help getting to the healer. And so I lay back on my mat,  while tears of gratitude flow from my eyes for those who will bear my weight. 

And what is the first thing the healer says?

"Your sins are forgiven."

Yes. There before the crowd of strangers and in the intimacy of my dearest friends I am called out. The reality of my sickness revealed for what it really is, I am crippled inside and out. And yet, with those words, the burden is lighter. Yes, I feel better already. But I'm still lame. Awaiting the secondary healing that will serve as proof of the primary. In the Bible these two healings are just moments apart, but I find that is not how it always happens for me.

And so I rejoice. My sins are forgiven! 

And I wait for the healer's next move. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Personal Transformation

I'm taking a class on personal transformation right now, and I'm learning all sorts of interesting things about how the brain works and how different environments can either stimulate or inhibit change. There is great research available that can help Christian leaders create spaces and opportunities for spiritual formation. Of course, the main change agent for the believer is the Holy Spirit, and I am convinced that we cannot accomplish anything of significance apart from the work of the Lord. But that doesn’t mean that we should be apathetic either. Perhaps my main role is simply to be malleable--but even becoming a workable lump of clay requires some effort on the part of a human being.

In truth, I think that personal transformation requires 100% participation on my part and that it is 100% dependent on God’s work. This is why Paul wrote about running to get the prize and doing things mightily as unto the Lord. This is also why Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

But here’s the thing—we don’t have to worry about God keeping up his end of the bargain. If you belong to him, he IS at work in you. The question is, “Am I working for or against God’s work in my life?” And what I’m discovering is that if I am not intentionally, attentively, passionately working WITH God, I am inadvertently working against him. There is no middle ground.

I have heard some describe an emphasis on personal transformation as a type of self-obsessed navel-gazing. While it is true that formation requires introspection, self-awareness, and personal reflection, these things are means—not ends. Les Steele says, “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” So the goal of spiritual formation is actually for the sake of others!  

Bible study, community service, evangelism, the sacraments, and church membership are all part of the spiritual formation process—these are tools that God uses to shape us into the likeness of Christ. But what surveys and studies show is that for many life-long Christians, these tools are not having the desired effect. We do all of these things because we know they are good things to do. And yet, after years of time invested in these efforts, we are little changed. The famous Christian psychologist, Larry Crab said, "I've been a follower of Christ for more than 50 years, and my testimony is that I'm disillusioned. What I have understood to be a distinctively Christ-centered, biblically informed approach to living does not seem to be transforming me the way I was encouraged to believe it would. I'm appalled, after all these years, at how untransformed I remain."

Can you relate?

And perhaps more importantly, are you okay with that? Did you come to Christ simply to escape the punishment of hell? Or did you come to Christ to experience new life? To be changed? To be transformed?

After almost two years of learning some new things about spiritual formation, and then with the things that I am learning though my class on personal transformation, I am so delighted to tell you that I have figured out some ways to join God in his work in my life, and I am being changed. The changes do not come quickly or cheaply, but they do come. I am no longer disillusioned, I am inspired.

The Spirit is doing a makeover on my life, and like a remodeling project, the beginning looked more like destruction than construction. And honestly, I’m still a bit of a mess. I wrestle with shame over the messes that keep getting uncovered in my life and relief that those things are finally getting the attention they need. It’s just not pretty. But I welcome the mess because I’ve caught a vision for Jesus is doing, and he has good plans.

Friends, if you have a similar experience I’d love to hear about how God has been transforming you. If you read this post and you find yourself spiritually stuck but longing for more, please share that as well. If you read my blog regularly, you’re always getting glimpses into God’s work on me!