Pain Given Dignity

I believe this is true.

“When we stay bitter, we don’t grow, and we don’t help the people around us. What God wants to do with our pain is turn it into ministry, into an empathy that will heal others. Some of the darkest seasons in your life may turn into a gift for somebody else. And if we are willing to allow our pain and hardship to be used to help others, our pain is given dignity.”

Donald Miller said it.

Do you believe it?

How To Read The Bible

Read a great post today by Kem Meyer. She lists her suggestions for the top five places to start reading the Bible.

~Acts … to learn about the Church
~James … essential wisdom for daily living
~Ecclesiastes … an expose of the arrogant and ignorant expectations we fall victim to
~Proverbs … practical quotes, sayings and images for the here and now

I thought it was great, concise advice. What do you think?

Read Kem’s entire post here.

This Is Why We Do It

These 50+ people went to the river today to be bapitzed and publicly declare that they were following Jesus. They waded into the water to stand beside one of our pastors. When asked, “What is your testimony?”, they replied, “Jesus is Lord” or “Jesus is my Savior”.

Then they dipped back into the water and came up drenched.

Some of these folks I know well. Some of them have shared their stories with me.

Some of them are acquaintances only; we worship together each week.

But we share the same community. We are brothers and sisters. And today, we celebrated together in the most amazing bonus I could ask for.

Glen Titus came up out of the water with a fishing hook stuck to his sandal. The line and a weight trailed out into the water. He unwrapped them and declared, “I’m keeping this! It’s a sign! Fishers of men!”

Jesus is Lord. There is no greater thing.

All Of My Life, In Every Season

What a weekend.

I’m sitting in an unusual pile of repressed emotions.  So much going on, so many life events and circumstances triggering varying emotional responses…I need a good cry, but I despair of having the time for that luxury.
My eldest child graduates.
My mom hosts the entire family – ex’s included – for a lunch, gracefully offering hospitality and a huge dollop of forgiveness.
One of my dearest friends and favorite musical partner ever moves out of our arena and into his own; we sang together today for what might be the last time this side of heaven.
My emotional reserves are spent, with lots of social activities and interactions.  The introvert in me is huddled in a corner of my soul, hands over her head, shaking and pleading, “No more….please, no more…”

My hormones are raging in unfamiliar ways.  Something uncontrollable seems to be happening to my body.  All the internal, physical and emotional issues aside, the primary problem is that my clothes don’t fit.  I hate it.
My life feels very cluttered and out of control right now.  I am longing for some quiet organization, some calm.
And yet – I could not ask for better circumstances.  
Isn’t it interesting how we humans can become so absorbed in the little glitches of life, missing all the level-headed joy springing up all around us? John Ortberg once said, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to take a nap.” I’m hoping that might clear out the clutter in my soul.  And I’m hoping that a little perspective will do the same.  The greatest truth I can find is in the undeniable existence of God.  Firm on His promise, I’ll stand.

This is my prayer in the desert when all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in the hunger and need
My God is a God who provides

And this is my prayer in the fire, in weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved of more worth than gold
So refine me, Lord, through the flames

I will bring praise, I will bring praise
No weapon forged against me shall remain
I will rejoice, I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

And this is my prayer in the battle, when triumph is still on it’s way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand

All of my life, in every season
You are still God, I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

This is my prayer in the harvest, when favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be empited again
The seed I’ve received I will sow

Apologetics With Mike Licona

Live blogging from the Innovative Church Network meeting at Atlee Community Church. The speaker today is Mike Licona, an apologist – that is, somebody is “concerned with the defense or proof of Christianity.” It’s absolutely fascinating to hear from somebody whose primary focus in life is to help establish formative foundational evidence for faith in Jesus. There’s a great resource here as well

Some of those most powerful take-aways from today’s talk:

You can make up for being average when you have a strong desire and passion for something.

An ignorant culture will be slaughtered by their ignorance outside of the church bubble.

We have to defend our faith firmly and confidently, but with gentleness and respect.

Early biographies of Mohammed indicate that Islam and it’s earliest followers used force and violence.

Historical evidence points to Jesus’ resurrection and is therfore a good basis for the truth of Christianity.

Licona debated Bart Ehrman regarding the veracity of the claims of Christ in an attempt to expose the idiosyncratic view of history held by this extremely influential individual. He prepared for 5 1/2 months, 50 hours a week for the first debate. Licona acknowledges that apologetics is not just an intellectual effort but a spiritual battle.

Historians can establish with certainty that Peter, James and John were martyred for their faith due to reliable historical sources.

In starting dialogue with someone about faith issues:
With an atheist, establish if it’s an evidenciary issue or one of the will. “What would it take to convince you?” Looking at the resurrection of Jesus is a defining issue for truth; there is excellent historical evidence for this event.

With the problem of evil (probably the strongest argument against Christianity) and the sheer volume of senseless evil, look at Plantinga’s Free Will Defense: God cannot do logically contradictory things. He cannot create a square circle, or a married bachelor, or do the square root of blue. These are logically incoherent. Thus, God cannot create a world of free beings, all of whom choose to do right, all of the time. Free will necessitates choice, and at least some will choose sin. His only other option would be to create a world without free will, which would be inconsistent with the true nature of love.

If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
If objective moral values do not exist, there is no basis to call something ‘evil’.
If there is no basis to call something evil, the entire basis of the existence of evil disproving the existence of God is worthless.

Personal interaction with atheists often indicate, rather than disbelief, an intense anger or injury regarding the church or Christians.

Starting the conversation with someone who has been disappointed by God requires listening. Christians are “knuckleheads” more than they should be, and often cause problems that lead others towards a form of atheism.

You can’t judge a philosophy by its abuse. Stalin was an atheist – but that doesn’t stop atheists from identifying with him. In an atheistic reality, there are no rules, so Stalin and other dictators did not break any rules. However, Christian leaders HAVE “broken the rules”.

Merely Irritating

My foot hurt this morning.  While still in bed, I realized that I kept waking up because of a recurring pain. 

Straining to wake up, it seemed like there was something on the inside flesh of my foot that hurt just enough to be annoying.
I ignored it and fell back asleep.  But every time I moved, brushed my foot against the mattress or my leg, the pain returned.
I got up, decided to ignore the issue – it was minor – and got the house going for another school day.  But every few minutes I’d bump something or brush up against something, and I’d notice the pain.  Never enough to cause me to stop, I just kept on.
I did this for a few hours, while everybody got off to school.  But when it came time to get serious about the day, the minor issue became more of a problem.  
So, I stopped what I was doing and headed for the bathroom.  Dug up a pair of tweezers.  Poked around until I found a miniscule sliver of something and removed it.
The problem was gone.
I couldn’t help but consider the personal spiritual implications.  They’re there.  Suffice it to say that there are things – tiny things that seem almost irrelevant – that I ignore until they really complicate my life.  Merely taking a few minutes to address the issue relieves the problem. Small, it’s merely irritating.  Ignored, it grows into something more potent and often dangerous.
But so often, I just can’t be bothered, or I put it off, or I just say, “Later.”
I suppose I’m not the only one who does this.  And I suppose I’m not the only one who suffers the consequences.


So much is going on in our community this week.

But I was particularly struck by something powerful in small group last night.  In a conversation that wound its way from Biblical parables to sin, grace, tithing, alcohol and everything in between, at one point somebody sucked it up and got really vulnerable.
They simply said, “Hey, I wanna be absolutely honest with you guys about something.”
And they clarified a statement, explaining the entire truth about something they’d shared earlier.  
They told the last 10%.
They gave it all up, risking vulnerability and absolute honesty.
It was a small thing, really; nothing huge in the grand scheme of life.
But it was honest.  It was the truth.

Is there something you need to be honest about?  Is there some area of life where you’re skirting full disclosure?  Are you holding back just enough to matter?

Guitar Hero?

I read this today on Steven Furtick’s blog and I was blown away. I’m re-posting it here, with all credit to him. He was targeting aspiring ministers, but there’s a hard truth here for every person who is interested in spiritual growth.

The point is – think about this, willya? And think about where you’re at in the grand scheme of things.

I know I sure am….

“If my generation isn’t careful, we may fall into a Guitar Hero mentality toward ministry:

Everybody wants to be a rock star, but no one wants to learn the chords.

It’s hard work to study God’s Word. To pray for breakthrough. To do spiritual battle on behalf of those we lead. To charge forward in faith for the cause of Christ. To run a church with the highest standard of excellence.

Be willing to pay the price. Or please go do something else with your life.”

How willing are we?

Four Small Words

Still at my parents’ house, snowed in.  The kids and I stayed up late enjoying the good ol’ cable tv.
I slept hard and deep, the particular sleep of being a child once again.  My parents are almost 70 years old, but nothing about them is “elderly”.  They are capable and active and being here always gives me a certain measure of relaxation and a chance to be something other than The Only Grown Up In The House.
So much seems to be happening in and around me lately.  Recently, I remarked that I was “struggling”.  I guess that’s a good word for it, though it feels a bit less active than a struggle.  Some days I feel paralyzed.  Others, I’m just tired.  It’s hard to be creative.  Insecurity lurks underneath the edges of daily life.  I recognize some familiar signs – isolation, fear, feeling responsible for every negative thing, seeing all the things around me that I cannot or do not do.
I know there’s some spiritual tie-in here.  The standard line is that if you’re not being with God on a daily basis, if you are not living in Christ, then you’ll struggle to maintain the daily challenges of life.  Compound that with the responsibilities of working for an institution whose primary concern is leading others towards spiritual health, and we have a recipe for some difficult days.  I will admit that I’m spending more time doing than being, although I’m trying to be.  I’m captivated by what I’m reading in the Bible these days, but the daily routine of study and reflection and prayer is haphazard at best.  It seems like there’s always so much to do, and the doing gets in the way of the being.
Yesterday, I read these words about leadership:

“Hey leader, just give up. Throw in the towel, raise the white flag, just quit trying so hard… After all, is this really worth it? Aren’t you simply tired of taking arrows in the back from your own team? Hasn’t it been long enough to try to change their minds or ways? For all the hard work you’ve been doing to try to help your organization with no one recognizing your efforts, really… just relax, go with the flow… you’ll have less headaches and your days can be so much easier.” Mark Meyer

It terrifies me to admit how much I relate to those words. 

Not so much because I’m feeling beaten up by my team; just that those words of surrender sound so tempting.
Not too long ago I was living deeply in the realization that God had led me to leadership.  I was embracing it, relishing it, and accepting the reality of where I was, how I was serving, and my capabilities.  I even wrote about it here.
The joy of that realization feels a bit more like a burden these days.  And the fact that I can’t enjoy it, live it up to it, embrace it, forge ahead – all these things bear down on me with the crushing weight of four small words that have chased me throughout most of my life.
You’re not good enough.

This seems to be the boulder at the base of my gut, the foundational core of my being.  It is fed, lately, by every mistake I make – every forgotten detail, every neglected email, every error in judgement, every single thing I could have done better.  It fuels the illusion of perfection that has dogged me all of my life.
I thought I had beaten this thing; I thought that therapy and counseling and good decisions and a healthy work environment combined to heal the rawness of this belief that has pushed and pulled me in and out of so many of my life decisions. 
I guess not.
It’s still there.
Funny, the leader in me recongizes that there’s a great spiritual application here; that the basis of my need for Christ in line with my faith system says that this is exactly where I have to start.  “I’m not good enough; I need Jesus.”  Unfortunately, this cycles back to another negative; “You know better.  You need to straighten up and fly right.  You know the answer to this problem.  You are capable of more.  Get yourself together!  Clean your house!  Get back to exercising!  Do the right thing!”
So perhaps the issue is not so much that I’m stuck in the personal negative, but that I’m not functioning clearly in the spiritual positive.  The truth; the notion that in spite of the reality of my “not-good-enough” status, there is something – Someone – greater.  The “propitiation for our sins”.
I’m tired.  I’m feeling older.  I’m having trouble keeping a workout schedule.  I’m dragging around ten pounds that annoy me.  My house is a cluttered mess.  I’m mildly anxious about my financial future.  One of my friends is moving on and it makes me very sad.  My eldest daughter is graduating.  My kids are growing up.  I am falling short in so many ways.
I hesitate to post this, because my blog now feeds into Facebook.  This confession might be read, far and wide.  Part of me struggles with the thought that people who see the “Sunday Beth” might feel cheated, knowing that the cheerful, excited, energetic piano playing Christian is, deep down inside, fighting all sorts of unpleasant battles.  The leader in me is afraid that if you see me real, you might not like me so much.  Or your spiritual life might be damaged.  But I’ve been there before, and the cost of pretending is too high.  
And aren’t you just like me, deep down inside?  Haven’t you been here too?

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. – Romans 8.26-28, The Message

God’s About To Move

I’m plowing through the Breaking Free study and really soaking in the truth I’m finding.  Today I read something so powerful:

“According to 2 Chronicles 32.1, we can be faithful to God and centered in His will, yet still be attacked by the enemy.  Sometimes our enemy attacks the weak and wandering believers because they are easy prey.  Other times he attacks competent, fully-surrendered servants of God for the challgenge and the possible contagious effect of a fall….We are wise never to consider ourselves invulnerable, so that we stay alert and aware at all times…”

The Biblical example of Hezekiah and the other kings of Israel are fascinating bits of history – but the moral and spiritual lessons seen in their humanity stick with me much more than the facts.  Going through this part of the Bible again brings back memories of different places and times where I’ve studied this before – but these days, it’s fresh.
Just last night, I was commisserating with a friend about the malaise I currently feel.  Much of it seems related to church – both the practical, work-related issues and the interpersonal connections.  He pointed out to me that difficult times like these often reflect the work of our enemy, who gets agitated when God’s about to move.
God’s about to move.

I know He’s ever-present, always there, never leaves or forsake us.  I trust His presence.  I live in that.   But I’m sensing some truth here.  God’s about to move.  I believe that perhaps all this angst is more than just my personal junk.
God’s about to move.
I’m on my knees.