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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

For the love of God

Imagine this scene: You are in the time of Nehemiah. The wall has finally been rebuilt around your city, Jerusalem. Now your city as a whole, your people, your lives are being rebuilt. And here comes this man, this scribe, with a Book called The Law of Moses and everyone is pulled into an assembly to hear him read it; something that probably hasn't happened since Josiah was king before the captivity (in other words, it's been a long time). He reads it carefully, paragraph by paragraph, and there are people around, priests and leaders, helping explain and making sure that the people hearing, that you, understand. As the Law of Moses is being read out and people are beginning to understand what they are hearing, their response is weeping and grieving; a true tell that they do in fact understand what they are hearing. Now Nehemiah, your governor tells you to stop weeping because this is a holy day to The Lord and a feast was ordered saying, "Do not be grieved, for the joy of The Lord is your strength." And you, and everyone around you leave the assembly to eat, drink and rejoice. (Nehemiah 8)

Why?

Wouldn't it have made perfect sense for God to tell them to repent and consecrate themselves? To make sacrifices at the temple and be cleansed from the sin revealed by their grief at hearing the Law? It would have made sense. We would have read this story and passed on without thinking God impertinent for doing so; He would have been right in calling for such a response, in allowing their grief to lead them to repentance. But here, here He does not call for grief, He calls for them to rejoice.

Why?

Because they understood what they heard.

This is our God. While man was grieving and weeping, God was rejoicing over the fact that they understood. He took delight in them and instead of making that day a day of attonement, He made that day a feast of rejoicing and chose to refresh them by way of His joy.

He chooses to delight in us more oft' than we know; proving how much more we see Him as Judge than as Father.

Does His Word not say, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise!..(Psalm 100:4)."? Before you come into the temple to make your sacrifices before God and be attoned for your sins, you are to come into it with thanksgiving and praise; and even after all the ceremonies of attonement are done, you feast and rejoice once more - Sin sandwiched between rejoicing and feasting. Does that even begin to sound like the heart of the god we honestly imagine Him to be?

God's focus is not, nor has it ever been, on our sin; it is a mere footnote in the story of who you are and He delights in your story whether you claim Him as Author or not.

Truly there is a time for repentance, but how often do we linger in repentance rather than rising and walking in freedom? How often do we hammer on our unworthiness refusing to accept the fact that He found us a worthy cause? Truly there is a time for repentance, but there is also a time for rejoicing. How many invitations has He given us that our self-continued grief has kept us from receiving.

For the love of God eat, drink and be merry.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Tamarisk Series: Part IV

I want to finish the Tamarisk Series and I swear I have been mulling over how to get it done. I've been wrestling with the knowledge of needing to bring children into the discussion and avoiding it because I may have some "spiritual children", but I don't have biologial children and that fact really doesn't give me a whole lot of authority to go blogging about it.

But I need to finish this series. I need to get the most plain and simple point out there that I keep trying to squeeze some mystery out of, thinking, "There's got to be more to it than that." Because here it is: You can do everything right as a generational thinker and somewhere along the line, someone is going to muck up because no one is perfect. Somewhere along your line someone is going to try and undo everything you did, all the blessings you set in place unraveled. Everything you build in this life, everything you leave behind, is subject to destruction.

So what the bloody hell do we do?! What can we do?!

The answer has been staring me in the face for quite some time and I kept avoiding it because I didn't believe it could be that simple. And here's what I think: You just love God the very best you can.

I really dislike that answer. It's so stereotypically Christian; right?! But let's look for a moment at another generational figure. Let's look at David.

Here we can follow part of David's line. Now we know from Scripture that David was a man after God's own heart, his love for his Lord was his fame. As you read through 1st and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles, you will read time and time again of kings following in their father David's ways loving God or turning aside from them and defying God, but even when they turned away from The Lord, you will read, "Nevertheless for David's sake..." and you will see how God spared them and continually blessed them, despite their infidelity, for the sake of their father David who loved Him.

There you will see another line, the line of King Jeroboam and he too had a mighty influence over the generations after him. Jeroboam committed a terrible sin against The Lord and cursed his line with it. Every king that would follow Jeroboam fell victim to that sin and it reads , time and time again, "walking in the way of Jeroboam"...doing evil in the sight of The Lord.

David loved God and his love for Him rescued his line repeatedly, his love for God surpassed his life and continued to flow through and influence son after son. Jeroboam rejected God profusely and that defiance, it too continued to flow through and influence son after son. The point is that we do not make the generations, but we serve a God of generations, The God Who called Himself The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

So...love Him.

 

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Tamarisk Series: Part III.5

"Stephanie what are you going to do that's going to impact the generations you'll never meet?"

If you're anything like me, that question flabbergasts you. Because let's face it, impact is a heavy thing to tackle. We are constantly leaving an impact on people, both good and bad, and I can't guarantee that the impact I leave is always going to be the one I intend. So what can I do that will leave the impact I intend for the generations?

Well, impact is a big thing to try and chew, and I think impact is more often than not something that happens as a result of what you do rather than something you actually do, and it's also a big thing to try and pass off to someone else. It's hard to give and it's hard to hold. So let's break it down and think smaller. If we cut down impact to a manageable size I think it'll look a lot more like the verb "to bless."

Now think. Think on the people who have blessed your life, be it through word or deed. There are people who instantly come to mind for me. And when I look at my life and who I was before that moment of impact where their blessing collided with my life, I was different from then on out. Their blessings changed me; their blessings made me want to align my will to soak in their character- to take on those attributes that led them to bless me. It was a natural, almost subconscious, shift. We want to be like those people who've blessed us. And by becoming like them we take on a part of their legacy through our generation, make it our own, and pass it on.

One such example: A beautiful 12-string guitar was given to me over 2 years ago by a woman I greatly respect. The guitar belonged to her. I had heard her affectionately describe its beauty and rich sound on several occasions. Her reason for giving it to me was that she wanted to bless me. Never before had I received such a gift from someone outside my family. I was so impacted by her blessing that it changed me. It seriously altered the way I would look at the things I posses and it ruined, for the better, the way I would give. That guitar has encouraged me on countless occasions. It has enhanced, shaped, and changed my music, and it has served as one of my greatest tools for blessing those I meet. Any person who has ever been blessed by my music, has also been blessed by this woman. Her story goes with the guitar, her generosity goes with the music. Anytime someone compliments or remarks on the guitar, I share with them the story of the woman who blessed me with it and so her legacy of generosity continues through my life. That guitar will never be sold for any profit, if/when it ever leaves my care it will be given in the same measure that it was received and so it will go on down the line.

Impact is intangible. Blessings are not only within our grasp, but inside our pockets, around our home, in our mouth, and beyond the Wardrobe. They can be found in a moment or built in a lifetime.

What I'm trying to say is that blessings are generational. They are generational by nature. If we want to impact the generations we'll never meet try and bless those you will meet in this generation. It really is that simple. And what an empowering simplicity it is.

If this blog series can do anything for you, let it do this: Create a new habit. Start something now that you'll continue for years to come. Maybe it's that you start giving away guitars, I don't know, you decide. I know for me one of the habits that I have decided to start and continue in is to plant a fruit or citrus tree wherever I live for however long I live there; something to bless people after I've moved on. But that's just me. You do you.

Want to be generational? Be a blessing.

 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Tamarisk Series: Part III

Someone once asked me, "Stephanie, what are you going to do that will impact the generations that you'll never meet?" And the truth is that there's not much that I can do and even with those things I can do, without the correct motivational mindset driving it, those things are even less guaranteed to succeed my lifetime. We're playing in a game of free will and our opponent is a culture that is exceedingly boistrous, and incredibly successful, in its aim to pull everyone into independence; we're trying to leave something to be picked up by those who follow after us against a world telling them to go and make their own.

It is therefore my growing belief that we no longer live in a culture where such inheiritances are as possible, much less as welcome. The time where things were passed down from father to son on down the line will most likely remain in history on the large scale that it was once honored. Independence has spoiled us for such things. So rather than trying to fight against it all and trying to enforce an almost extinct tradition, let's move on and forget the whole battle against the free will of the future generations because the harder we try to force a legacy the shorter it becomes. And if God Himself chooses to limit Himself that we might have free will, oughtn't we give the same luxury to our children?

So get it out of your mind. Stop trying to think about what you can create that others can finish. Stop trying to think up some grand scheme that will hypnotize your children's children into honoring you, your life, and your life's work. Put it out of your mind, erradicate it from your thinking, of how you can win over free will because you can't. So forget it.

Now is probably a good time to write all such ideas down on a piece of paper, crumble it up and throw it in the bin as a physical action of what needs to happen in your heart and mind here. Even simply write the words "Force", "make", "try", and "mine" down on the paper and destroy it.

Please take a few moments to do this and ,by all means, make it your own.

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The tamarisk, once pruned and shaped into a tree, is an incredible thing. "Anyone sitting in the morning shade of the tamarisk feels its pleasant coolness. If the sojourner raises his eyes to the tree's branches, he will be surprised to discover shiny droplets of water on the thin branchlets. These droplets, most plentiful after a humid night, evaporate towards noon [the hottest part of the day]. A lick of the tamarisk's branches reveals its secret: tiny salt crystals are exuded by the tree into the leaves. At night as the moisture increases in the cooler air, the water vapor adheres to the hygroscopic salt particles and condenses into droplets. With morning, as the sun warms the air, the water evaporates and so cools the tamarisk's branches (Under The Tamarisk by Nogah Hareuveni)." The shade of a tamarisk tree is significantly cooler than any other tree because of this mystical phenomenon making it almost like a shaded mister. And herein lies the beauty of the tamarisk and the key to the mystery of what we can do in spite of an impossible battle against free will.

The shade of any tree would have been a welcome relief in the heat of the desert, but no other tree would provide such an enduring, alluring, multiplicative blessing as the tamarisk. Abraham did not seek to force anything upon the generations after him, entrapping their free will to his devices and thus securing his promise and inheritance, but rather he sought to bless them so richly that what followed would only continue to bless them and their children and so on. What Abraham did, what he left behind, was motivated by blessing. No shade is like the tamarisk's shade; no shade so comforting, no shade so rejuvenating, no shade so enticing as the shade that Abraham invested in. It was not for his pleasure, no; Abraham would endure the blistering sun and the tiring heat of the desert to prune lasting blessings for his family.

Abraham trusted God and entrusted to Him everything he did understanding that whatever happened after him would only succeed by the blessing, favor, and will of God Almighty and so turned his will to bless and thusly increased his favor.

We cannot guarantee the endurance of the things we plant in this life, but if we plant with an untainted aim to bless, trusting the rest to God, I think that we increase the possibility that the free will of others will be impacted by blessing to blessing.

To bless, to invest in blessings, is to think generationally.

 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Tamarisk Series: Part II

Belief took a man named Abram and opened the door for him to become Abraham; believing changed him. Abram had been a drifter, a wandering man moving about from place to place, but Abraham was a rooted man; rooted in a land that would later turn into the kingdom of Judah and, with that tree, drove his stake into the ground and planted himself there just as much as he planted his tree there. He made a home, not just for himself, but for the nation that would come from him.

For us proud Americans, how did your family get here? More than likely, you are now an American because somewhere along your family line, someone paid a high price by leaving everything they knew to plant themselves in a land that would ensure a better life for their family for generations to come. You are who you are, you have what you have, because someone in your family thought generationally- because someone in your line was an Abraham.

Now I know, these kinds of investments are hard to make; no one wants to have to choose between roots or wings. But the thing of it is that wings come from roots. What gave you the strength to fly?- A strong nest, a strong home, to launch from. We think out is the only way to grow. Why not build up? Why not build upon what has already been laid out for you?

There's something to be said for the generations before us, all the way back to the early settlers, who were committed to one place. Those people had influence in their towns and held seats of position and authority. They had power and means to do amazing things because they understood that their strength didn't come from themselves alone, it came from their roots and it came from the roots of those around them who watched them grow and they the same. Never underestimate the power of being known and never underestimate the power of community; both being products of roots and commitment.

The cost of such things, well...this is the hardest thing...you have to make choices and you have to stick with them. I think this is one of the biggest steps that we can take to thinking generationally.

The term "settling down" has a negative connotation these days. We only want to "settle down" after we've accomplished everything we want to do; after we've taken hold of that career, finished that degree, seen all the places we wanted to see, "sown our wild oats". In fact, many times we are encouraged to get all such things out of our system before making lifelong decisions. We have become masters at building bridges and have lost the art of building homes. We have doctorites in the Present and, in the process, have become amateurs in History.

Yes sometimes it takes a wild and daring move, to leave all you know and plant tamarisks in a land that you must make into your home, but those aren't the only moves in the playbook. Perhaps we need to open ourselves up to that equally wild and daring move that stays and sticks with it, a move long frowned upon in the rush for independence. A move almost as foreign to us, our generation, as the places and positions we are so anxious to escape to.

This obviously cannot be a formula for all people; some will stay where they've grown up, some will move onto other towns and places and plant themselves there, others may move around like a chess piece- one strategic move at a time. The point is that, in whatever case you may be called to move, you are fully present wherever you are, committed to the land that you call home for however long you call it, bettering the land as if it were your promised land.

For some of us "puddle-hoppers" this will require some serious re-evaluation, a good hard look at what values have been driving our decisions and altering our compasses and perhaps turning in our "passports" for a while. For some this will require a re-kindling, a closer look at what has been preventing decisions and concealing compasses. And for others it will require a sharpening, going back to your tools and re-inforcing them for the work before you. For whatever is required of us, for whatever land or commitments await, I am reminded of what an old traveler once said to me, "Wherever I am is where God has placed me and that's the best place for me to be."

Be present. Be committed. Be an Abraham.

 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Tamarisk Series: Part I

I want to examine what he did, I want to dialogue through the actions we know Abraham performed that were pinnacle moments in his becoming/being generational. I immediately want to jump to the matters of the land, the children, the planting, but I cannot pass by the complexity of belief; for it is indeed the first thing he did.

"And He brought him outside and said, 'Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.' Then He said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' And he believed The Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness."- Genesis 15:5-6

This is what I have the hardest time grasping. Planting makes sense. Commitment makes sense. Raising children makes sense. They all are logical and seemingly obvious pieces in the puzzle of becoming generational. But belief? Yet at the same time that it doesn't make sense, it most certainly does. Because although I think, "How can belief change anything? Just because I believe doesn't mean that it is going to happen." I know that, although belief on its own doesn't change things, it does, however, change the way we live and move and that is what changes things.

If I believe that I am beautiful, it doesn't change my appearance, but it does change my perception of my appearance; it changes how I treat myself, how I talk about myself, how I conduct myself, and how I allow others to treat me as well. It changes things. Believing didn't change the physical, but it changed everything around and about the physical.

Abraham and Sarah were a couple of expired potential; they were well in their old age, having children was an idea that would have been easily believable 50, 60, 70 years ago. But Abraham believed The Lord. And that belief changed things. It changed his perception, it changed his attitude, it changed the way he spoke, it changed the way he lived, it changed the kind of husband he was, it changed the way he prayed, the way he thought, it changed the way he gave, it changed the way he worshipped. It changed him. Believing had to be the first step because without believing I don't think his later actions would have come about. Would God have still fulfilled His promise to Abraham? Of course because God said He would do it. But would Abraham have invested in that promise as he did without believing in its truth? Probably not.

So for us who desire to be generational, to do things that impact the generations after us, the first thing we have to do is believe that it can be done. Because after all, you may scatter the seed, but The Lord makes it grow 1. Do you believe that God can touch the generations through your life? Do you trust Him to do it? Do you trust Him as the steward of your legacy? Do you believe that he can and will do it? Do you believe that He wants to?

We have to believe. Even though we have no proof, even though we have no grasp on the future and no hold on our children's decisions, we have to believe. It takes faith to invest generationally; it takes guts and it involves much risk. If we do not believe how can we expect to arrive on a shore we doubt is waiting for us? How can we build homes on doubt, raise children on doubt, make investments in doubt, plant tamarisk trees with doubt? No. We must first believe. We must believe, not because it changes everything, but because it changes us.

 

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Tamarisk Series

In the book of Genesis you find out about a man Abram who is invited into this crazy covenant with God where The Lord God promises to make him a father of many nations, that his offspring would be as the number of stars 1. And Abram believes Him 2. He believes Him though it go against logic, science, and understanding. And so God gives him a new name 3, Abraham which means, "father of a multitude"; and He extends the same promise to his wife, Sarai, and blesses her saying that she shall become nations and kings shall come from her, giving her a new name, calling her Sarah which means "princess" 4.

When God made His covenant with Abraham it says that "he believed The Lord" 2, but we can read and know that he doubted; how could he not? Here is this incredible promise weighing against expired potential. But on some level, Abraham and Sarah had to believe for the sake of belief and regardless of the strength of their confidence, that promise was fulfilled throught the birth of their son Isaac 5.

What Abraham does, following his son's birth, is what proves, not only that he now truly believed, but that he understood what it meant to be Abraham, a father of a multitude. He makes a treaty with the king of the land in which they were living 6, swearing an oath to live in kindness with each other. They make their covenant at Beersheba 7 and the king goes his way, but Abraham stays and plants a tree- a tamarisk tree 8.

Now a tamarisk tree grows rather slowly and must be carefully pruned in order for it to develop into a tree rather than digressing into a shrub 9. What is also interesting about this tree is that a mature tamarisk can and will produce hundreds of thousands of seeds within a few months of the year and those tiny seeds are then carried by wind and water dispersing them across the land 10. Abraham didn't plant that tree that he might reap its benefits in his lifetime, but that the multitudes, the generations, after him might enjoy its shade.

Abraham got what it meant to be a father of multitudes. Abraham understood what it means to live generationally; to live a life of investment that blesses and impacts the generations that you'll never meet. He planted a tree that would serve as a living representation of both his responsibility as Abraham and the promise made to him; that with every new tamarisk shoot that pushes up from the ground, fruit of his planting at Beersheba, he may be reminded of what The Lord is doing through him- multiplying.

I want to know what got Abraham to that point. I want to know how he went from being a father of none to thinking and living like a father of generations. I want to know what got him there. I want to know how to think generationally; to live a life of investment for my children's children's children- those generations I'll never meet.

So that's what this blog series is about, hashing out those questions and seeing if we can't unveil the secrets within the stories of those who were stewards of the tamarisk. I invite you to not only take this journey with me, but to dialogue with me as we search.

 

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Melody Found In Waking

I had a serious moment of vulnerability tonight while leading worship that I didn't expect. I've been leading worship for my small group for the past year and tonight was no exception. Although tonight I did what every worship leader hates to do- I messed up.

I was transitioning from one song to the next, the next song being "How He Loves" by John Mark McMillan, and for some reason I just couldn't find the melody of the song to start singing; I tried- sang off key, I was even playing the chords wrong. I can't tell you how many times I have sang and lead worship with this song; I must be getting into the 400s by now. I've even done bloody covers of the song! So there's no excuse to choke now. I know this song like the back of my hand...

but that's just it...I know the song, but do I know it?

I had to stop playing right there in the middle of worship. I was on the verge of tears. Not because I messed up- I've messed up a 1,000xs and I'll mess up a 1,000xs more- but because as far as The Lord has brought me in this year, in the revelations of His love, I still don't know the song. I take those truths for granted. And here I was about to coast into the most powerful words a soul could hear, "He is jealous for me..." and amidst all the practice, all the times sung before, I couldn't find the melody.

The Lord had to give me a public heart check saying, "Do you know it Steph? Do you believe it baby girl? Are you aware? Are you awake to the fact that I am so deeply in love with you? Do you know it?" The song may be under my belt, but the truths within it are not. It's not my default setting to live and walk and breathe in His love for me. It's that truth that I'm used to being there that I forget how beautiful it is; it's like a ceiling fan that you're so used to being there, so used to its breeze, that you never notice it until you really direct your attention to it's detail and it's like seeing it for the first time.

Tonight I had to fix my attention to the source of the breeze. After that, the melody flowed and I found myself singing along with the powerful current of the truth within that song. "Oh how He loves us." I would rather be deaf to the melody of that song than to ignorantly coast over the immensity of His love.

Let the melody be forever found in the waking.

 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rest

Rest•less- |ˈrestləs' | adj. 1. Never resting; unquiet; uneasy; continually moving; as a restless child. 2. Not satisfied to be at rest or in peace; averse or repose to quiet; eager for change; discontented; restless schemers; restless ambition; restless subjects. 3. Deprived of rest or sleep. 4. Passed in unquietness. 5. Not affording/giving rest.

Have you ever tried to put a baby to sleep? It's so obvious when they are sleepy; they have all these tells that they begin to perform when they grow tired, however, despite their obvious signs of needing rest, they don't always want it. So you as the caregiver must pick them up and hold them close. They wiggle and writhe, attempting to break free from the hold they think binds them, thinking they know what they truly want and need. But you know what they need, and so you hold them closer revealing your strong arms. You hold them just close enough, not so as to hurt them- of course not- but for them to feel you and realize that it's better to not fight it. And lo and behold they don't struggle for long, it doesn't take them long before they find that comfort that was waiting for them in your arms and they give into the design laid out for their rest. And those strong arms relax and loosen, and move on to doing what they only ever wanted to do in the first place- comfort.

Today marks the one year anniversary of my leaving Australia. I came back with strict instructions to rest, but not knowing at all how to do so. In my heart I wanted to remember what it was like to have a "No-Worries-Lifestyle" and I wanted to have it again. In my heart I knew that everything was on the line and that I had to rest or risk loosing it all. I was restless, far too restless.

My restlessness started showing its ugly face in Australia, but it was encouraged on many levels. People told me it was "a holy restlessness", "a holy discontent" that lived within me, driving me. But it was a weed, a disease, fueled by a faulty understanding of the character and love of God.

I had this picture of what I thought was the utmost goal; it was a picture of a worn out, tattered, stained, dirty, messed up, old rag, an old rag so worn out and used that it was good for nothing else than to be tossed. And it was my greatest ambition to be like that rag, that I would be so used by the end of my life that I would be fit for nothing else than to go home. It was around the time that I stopped wiggling and writhing, refusing my rest, that I was able to hear the Father say, "That's not how I treat what belongs to Me."

I thought that contentment stemmed from apathy and stillness its kin. I had no concept of how to be a human being because my being was consumed by doing; I was a human doing. And somewhere along that road my value and my worth became tangled up in what I was able to produce. I was a machine in a factory bound to a god of industry, not a friend in a garden serving a God of Love.

What I thought was only going to be a month-long sabbatical has turned into a jubilee year, and I am neither sure nor concerned of when it will end, for I am more content now, on every seen and unseen level, than I have ever been. I am finally at peace.

To get to this point, serious alterations had to be made. First thing I had to do was STOP what I was doing.

In Genesis 2 God makes man, Adam, but Adam had something he wanted, something he felt he needed- a helper. So it says that God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and that while he slept He took one of his ribs and from that rib God made Adam's helper, Eve. In order for God to give Adam what he wanted, what he needed, Adam had to stop.

At first I didn't think I could afford to stop, but then I had to realize that I couldn't afford not to stop. If I didn't stop, I'd never get the help I needed. I was looking at the immediate present while God was looking at my life and telling me that I would ruin myself if I didn't stop now. We think we can't afford to lose what, in the grand story of our life, is only a few pages or a chapter to stillness and sabbath, but we can't afford to shorten or cheapen our story by making our life a game of endurance.

The next thing I had to do was STOP fighting. I was like a baby fighting off sleep. I had to stop. I had to stop trying to take on responsibilities that weren't mine to take. I had to stop owning social and cultural pressures. I had to stop trying to be productive. I had to stop trying to be useful to God.

The truth is that it wasn't about being useful to God, it never was; not for Him. It was about being.

I had to relearn, indeed I am still learning, what God values and why. And at the end of my strength I find time and time again that it is I whom He values simply because I am. The most supreme and indescribably precious truth anyone could know. A truth I think only can be found and understood by being craddled in His strong arms, feeling Him hold you closer, surrendering and feeling His arms loosen to comfort you- which is all He ever wanted to do in the first place. And the greatest perk to serving a God Who is outside of time, is that it never has to end.

Once we stop fighting we can find the comfort that was waiting in His arms all along and the design that was laid out for our rest and the rest, the rest will follow.

Selah

A year ago today I began a journey of rest. Today is just another page of, what I hope, is a long chapter whose emphasis and power will echo on through all of my remaining gifted pages.

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul..." - Psalm 23:1-3

"...In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength." - Isaiah 30:15

 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Making Axe Heads Float

Over and over, in the New Testament and the Old, we can see where "unnecessary" little miracles are performed; and I can only assume that they are there quite simply, and yet quite profoundly, to show the people that God cares- even about the little things.

One example I recently read of this is in 2Kings 6:1-7. These men are down by the Jordan River chopping logs, one guys axe head slips off, falls in the river, the guy freaks out, and Elisha the prophet comes over and makes the iron axe head float. And it just got me thinking, What if Elisha wouldn't do it? What if Elisha said no? What if Elisha compared the opportunities he's being given with the opportunities given to his former master Elijah?

And that got me thinking further, What if we wouldn't do it? What if we thought we were better served spending our time for bigger things; bigger than say making axe heads float?

I can't tell you how many times I've stepped out to do these BIG things- I wanted to be useful, I wanted to matter, I wanted to make a difference- and God assigns me to the "little"; showing me how all those efforts led me to a certain moment with a certain person. And we say that if we are faithful with little then we will be entrusted with much (Luke 16:10), but what if the "little" we've been assigned is the "much"? How can we afford to not be open to the very acts which opened us in the first place?

"You have been told your whole life that you can do whatever you put your mind to. So "dreaming big" has sort of become second nature for us. We are so constantly expanding our horizons, enlarging our territories, and looking toward a bright, shiny future of accomplishment that it's hard for us to see all the little stuff right in front of us..."Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom" (Song of Solomon 2:15).

It's the little foxes the ruin the vineyard. If you're always dreaming big—surveying your vineyard, plotting the next acquisition of the vineyard down the road, dreaming about all your plans for the estate—in other words, if you tend to always look beyond the vineyard and don't enjoy actually caring for the vines, you'll miss the pesky little foxes that are ruining what's right in front of you. You'll never be able to enjoy the wine of the vineyard if you ignore the little foxes. You won't enjoy the fruit of the vine if you don't tend to the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty work of viticulture.

And here's what you might not yet realize: that real joy is found right there in the dirt, in the ho-hum task of tending the plant, in cultivating the terroir that will nourish the vines that yield the fruit. While you're imagining all of the outcomes of the vineyard and all the benefits to be reaped, what might be hard for you to imagine is that some of your best days—when you feel like all is right with the universe, and what you're doing means something, and you know why you're here, and your heart swells in gratitude and joy—well, those will be days when you're mucking about in the vineyard, tending to the little foxes." - Excerpt from a graduation speech delivered at King College May 2011.

I can't tell you how thankful I am for the people in my life who have been open to the "small". Those people blessed me beyond measure and kept me going. They were the truest living examples of the hands and feet of Jesus, constantly there to remind me that He cares. Had they not cared enough to make my own axe head float, I can only tell you that I doubt the revelation I carry of His love would be so alive. I don't want my pride, my misconception of big/small, little/much, or my big dreams and expectations to get in the way of the mutual joy that awaits in muchness of the little- in making axe heads float.

 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Are You Quite Sure You're Content?

Two years ago today I wrote a blog titled, "It's All About Contentment & Service." Two years ago I was just back from New Zealand, getting ready to go back to work and to live; little did I know that I would end up going to Australia and find myself in the most discontent state of my life.

Here is an excerpt from that blog:

Are you content? If no, then look at what you've made up your mind to do. Maybe what you've made up your mind to do needs some re-adjustment. Maybe you're not giving as you've made up your mind in which case you may just need to re-focus...I think so many of us aren't content because what we've made up our minds for isn't what we want to do; we made up our minds based on security, earthly wisdom, and cultural pressures not based on who we are and how we've been made.

When I wrote these words I never expected them to ever apply to me. I thought I had found my calling, my purpose, and I was living my life to its intended purpose while the surrounding majority was lost in their discontentment. The funny thing is that I am more content now than I have ever been. I am more content now here in my home, with my family, in my country, being a nanny, a neighbor, a gardener, and one who is still searching, than I ever was overseas living the life I thought was intended, forcibly straining to give in the ways that I had made up my mind to give.

It'll be a year in June that I've been back from Australia. During this time God has done just what He promised: He has reminded me of who I am, who I truly am, and He has brought me to a place of rest and peace- a place of permenance, a place of dwelling, that none need ever leave; a place of spirit as much as a place of being.

I share my life and my struggles not for the sake of merely doing so, but because I truly hope that people would get it. I want people to be who God has made them to be and not who the church tells them they should be, not who their leaders thell them they should be, not who their culture tells them they should be, but who God has made them to be because even when I thought I was being that person, I wasn't. Even when I thought that I was living outside such pressures, I was living under them and maybe by reading of my blindness someone might gain insight.

So are you content? Are you quite sure you're content?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Reaching for Connection

In school I heard it argued that we, as Christians, ought to form an assault on the 10/40 window (a Christian geographical term for the countries which still have yet to be prostheletized) in order that all might be "reached" with the gospel so that we may finally go to heaven...

In churches I hear it argued that if I truly loved Jesus that I would be talking about Him constantly, that His message would be forever on my lips. I've also heard it argued that if I truly loved people that I would be fervently, actively and presently trying to "reach" those around me.

According to the book Louder Than Words: Non-verbal Communication by A. Barbour, only 7% of communication is verbal. The rest of communicating is made up by 38% vocal (tone, pitch, volume, rhythm, etc) and 55% body movements.

It is amazing to me that, of all communication, what you say carries the least weight against how you say it and and not near as much as to how you show it. Yet we hear so much demand on our words.

I love that word "reached". Because "reaching" doesn't imply speaking at all; in fact, by definition it is a movement, "the stretching of a hand or arm in a specified direction in order to touch or grasp something." You might even call it, "connecting."

What a beautiful picture.

What's even more beautiful about connecting is that it is a humble bond in which you are not the only giver. With every connection I find myself being fashioned more and more into that woman I so long to be.

Psalms 34:8 says, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!..." The last thing I want is for people to only know Jesus by what they've heard spoken. I want people to know God because they connected to Him when they connected to me; to be able to say that they know God because they know me, that they have seen God because they've seen me, and that they've tasted a bit of God through my hospitality.

In my experience, though limited against some, I have found that it is not what I say that impacts people, but what I don't say married with what I do that miraculously and graciously carries the affect. Every now and again God hands me a few sentences to verbalize, but more often than that I find Him bidding me sit, bidding me listen, bidding me touch, bidding me hold, bidding me stay, bidding me kiss, bidding me cry, bidding me laugh, bidding me move.

It all kinda brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, "Shut the hell up."

...think about it.

 

Friday, March 8, 2013

God's Gift to Man

"I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil - this is God's gift to man." - Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

This is not the message I have carried in my heart my whole Christian walk. I was taught to live with the mind to only please God and that in doing everything for Him I would find the only satisfaction man could have in this life.

Yet when I look back on the years I practiced this kind of theology, I'm sorry but I don't think on the seeds that were sown nor the fruit that I saw come from my toil; but rather, I remember the countless tears, the fist-waiving swearing prayers I shouted back to God, the heartbreak of sacrifice and the pain of confusion. I remember how hard it was, how unnatural it felt, and how bottomless the work made my heart- nothing was ever enough.

But, this was it- this was the epitome of life, the highest form of living; what other choice do you have? Quit?- No, not an option. And so you toil on hoping that if you sacrifice enough, take a firmer grip on your cross and make it a bit heavier, your flesh will quit making this holy lifestyle so difficult; difficulty, of course, brought on only by your sinful nature resisting your righteous call. Dig deeper and bleed the poison out.

Sure it sounds foolish, it sounds morbid and a bit masochistic, but this is what so many of us tell ourselves.

And here's the kicker: Yes, love does require sacrifice, but love also requires self.

God did not, out of love, create you a unique individual in order for you to, out of duty masquerading as love, contort yourself into a common image by way of killing all that feels natural and pleasing to you. God does not want the best for you in order that He might get the best from you. -No. He wants the best for you because He wants the best you.

This is His gift to man, that you may be joyful, do good, eat and drink, and take pleasure in your work. This was the place in which He wished for us to know His love and love Him out of; a place of joy, pleasure and fullness. If you think that you can better love your God and fellow man by way of bloodletting, then my friend you will die before ever touch it.

Do you enjoy your work? Are you taking pleasure in your toil? If not, you are missing God's gift. And if your praxy is anything like mine was then, sadly, you are rejecting God's gift.

I dated a man who was always telling me, "You know I would die for you." To which my response was never sentimental nor condoning. There is little weight in death. What is it to die?

Die for me? Why on earth would I want you to do that? Say you'll live for me. Say you'll live with me. And by that I'll know the true measure of your love.

The power in Christ's sacrifice of Love is not that He died, but that He lives. So live, my friends, as Love would have you live. Love, my friends, as He would have you love. Take hold of the gifts that He has given to, both the gifts He gave to you and the gifts He has given to mankind. Take hold and holdfast. Be joyful. Do good. Eat and drink. Take pleasure in your toil. And receive the good gifts your Father intends for you.

 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Following

As tears rolled down my face at the playing of an old familiar song, one that, not but 3 years ago, I myself was using to lead my DTS peers into worship- a song that I sang with such passion and conviction, now could only be sung by tears. Tears which revealed the distance between that girl and the woman I am today.

"I'll follow You into the homes of the broken. I'll follow You into the world. Meet the needs of the poor and the needy God. I'll follow You into the world."

Once so convinced of what it meant to follow Him, so sure of where the homes of the broken existed, and so definite of what was required to meet the needs of the poor and needy... Now all such things have been placed on the chopping block and in my hands I find such tools as fit for examining, studying, and probing rather than for fixing.

In essence, I'm re-learning what it means to follow God because He is no longer requiring of me the things I once demanded of myself. For me, following God meant being a missionary and being a missionary meant being a martyr in some distant exotic land in some glamorous and sacrificial fashion. But now I'm learning that following Him looks much like simply being myself, being myself in the truest form- being the me He dreamed.

Now to be honest, I don't know what that is going to look like; all the plans I once had, don't really stand next to the lessons I've since learned and the experiences I've since had since I first sang that song. And to be honest, I don't really know what it means, exactly, for me to meet the needs of the poor and the needy because I don't yet know the need that I was made to answer. I used to resent my teachers who told me to find one need/issue that really bothered me because they all bothered me and, truthfully, I didn't want to do the intimate searching it required to find the answer; I didn't want to focus, I wanted to go.

I'm not who I was and sometimes that is a hard fact to accept. I cried because I'm not where I thought I'd be, doing what I thought I'd do; the comparison of which attempts to leave my present in a gloomy and dull shadow. It is hard to ignore what the church demands of us, what the world asks from us and what our leaders tell us. It's hard to be okay with being a little lost and undone in a culture that expects us to have it all figured out. But I think it's hardest to ignore what we demand of ourselves, what we ask from ourselves, what we tell ourselves and to allow ourselves to be a little lost and a little undone. Yet, in the midst of all that, we can still say, "I'll follow You into the homes of the broken. I'll follow You into the world. I'll meet the needs of the poor and the needy God. I'll follow You into the world." Regardless of whether we have it all sorted or not.

If there's anything I've learned from gardening it's that you farm the soil and not the plant. That if you have good healthy soil that you will naturally have a healthy plant. Every healthy plant has something to give, some have more than others that is required, but if their soil isn't looked after then they have nothing to offer. And so I'll slow down, letting the Lord continue to tend to my soil, because I think I gave more than was required, more than was good for me, and that left me in need of the care from a wise and seasoned Gardener. I will follow Him wherever He leads, I know that He knows that, and I'll give whatever I can but it will be done out of a far different place than it was being done before.

Stephanie Past would have sacrificed it all. 'You need fruit? -Here take my fruit. You need leaves? -Here take my leaves. You need branches? -Here take my branches. You need a trunk? -Here take my trunk....' I would have given it all until I had nothing left to give, rending me fit to go to my heavenly home. But I'm in this for the long haul because I've discovered a Gardener and a Father Who is invested in me for the long haul.

And so I will follow Him even into the homes of the healed, even into the homes of rest. I will follow Him round the corner. I will learn to receive when He tells me it's my turn and I will remain vulnerable and moveable for the days and moments He says give. I will follow Him even further inwards that I may know and understand who He is and who has made me to be that I may be that woman He dreamed and love Him back in a display that is not required or demanded but that is most natural, true and lovely.

May we rest in the grace to be okay with okay for the times we need okay to get to lovely. And in that find that lovely was in the journey just as much as it was in the finishing.

 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Pause on Passion

Have you ever had a pause on passion? Where things that you were once so zealous about, suddenly you're sorta struggling to be enthused over? It kinda feels like someone took the remote and hit pause on your passion?

That's where I've been at lately and my paused passion has been my passion for social justice. It's not that I don't care, it's just not tugging and weighing on my heart recently; at least not as vigorously as it used to. When I noticed how I've almost become indifferent to the issues and work surrounding, I became worried that something was off. I became increasingly concerned for myself.

But then I remembered something; I remembered where God has me at this moment, why He brought me here, and what He's trying to teach me and give me. And, well, it's only suitable that certain elements would be put on hold so that others can grow. Those elements on hold need to rest and recharge themselves so that when the parts once again become the whole they are stronger and more equally yoked.

This happened once before, years ago. I felt like my passion, as a whole, was stripped from me; whereas I was once so vigorous and gunho, I couldn't seem to muster up anything for anything. What I only learned from hindsight was that God had put that part of me on pause so that I could grow in my compassion, something I desperately lacked. Then one day He pressed play again and gave me something to focus my compassion and passion towards. That something was social justice. And now I find that He's pressed pause again. Why?-Because something needs to grow.

We all have expectations of ourselves and we tend to enforce them on ourselves no matter the season. But remember there is a time for sound and there is a time for silence, a time for solitude and a time for company, a time for coming and a time for going, a time for doing and a time for being.

So be.