Monday, May 30, 2011

Happily Ever After

It took me by surprise when my husband said that Disney Corporation would no longer make movies about princesses because their research showed that little girls no longer dreamed of a prince would come to fight for them, and be victorious over some evil in their lives. They no longer believed in “happily ever after.”

As a mother of three girls, this made me sad. But as a spiritual mother of women within the body of Christ, this made me heartbroken.

A couple of years ago, I shared a hotel room with another woman in fulltime vocational ministry. I had never personally met her, but she was a college friend with a friend of mine. Within moments of meeting her, she stuck her finger in my jello, so to speak, and I should have realized then what a hurting and disillusioned woman she was, but I was too shocked by her rudeness to catch it at first. That evening, after a beautiful time of praise and worship, where the Spirit of God just enveloped the room, God spoke one word to my heart: mercy. Little did I know how quickly I would need to put the word into practice.

Within moments of returning to our room, she blurted out, “I hate songs that make Jesus sound like He is our boyfriend or something. The whole thing is ridiculous!” I silently listened as she went on and on about how modern songs took Jesus and reduced Him to a man that we could love romantically, and how disrespectful that was.

As she spoke, I furiously prayed for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. I didn’t want to inflame the situation, but she was missing a vital part of the relationship God wishes to have with each of us.

So I started asking questions; “tell me your story” type of questions. In her answers she revealed the hidden hurt and disillusionment she felt over the cards she had been dealt in life. Her husband was a chaplin within the prison system where politics and violence reigned. She had three special needs children--two adopted and one biological—with one demanding 24-hour care to do everything, and with no hope of any significant progress in the future. They pastored a very small church of mainly senior citizens who complained and criticized because she missed so many services due to the children’s issues.

As I listened, I heard more than she wanted me to. I heard her heart say, “God couldn’t truly love me and allow me to feel so alone. God couldn’t truly love me when my life hurts this much. God’s Word says that He loves us, but it must be from afar, because I don’t know if I’ve ever felt Him close to me. I have not personally experienced God’s unconditional love for me, so it must not exist at all.”

She no longer believed in “happily ever after” either. And truthfully, who of us hasn’t asked God, “Where are You in this? Don’t You care that my heart is breaking?”

In the midst of our pain, it is often so difficult to grasp how much God loves us. Oh, we can quote John 3:16, but it often doesn’t move from God loves the world to God loves me.

But, friend, let your heart soak up these words: He sees you. He hears you. He knows you. He. Loves. You. And if you were the only person in the history of the world to not believe in Him, He would have still sent Christ to die for you, and you alone. He loves you.

In Deuteronomy 6:5, God tells His children to love Him with all of our heart, soul and strength. This word love is translated as “delight, desire, be beloved.” Now it may make us feel uncomfortable, but God wants to be our first Beloved. My commentary went on to say that this word “denotes a strong emotional attachment for and the desire to be in the presence of a person.”

When my husband and I were dating and first married, I desired to be in his presence—no matter what he was doing. In those days he traveled a lot, working several Christian artists, and I would go with him. He would virtually ignore me for hours at a time while he intently worked, but we were together, and that was what mattered.

Is that how we feel about Jesus? Do we understand, truly understand, that is how He feels for us?

In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus repeats the command given in Deuteronomy, and goes onto say that the entire Law of the Prophets hang or hinge on the following of these commands: Love God and love others. 1 John goes on to say that we can love others because we have received and comprehended the love of God, and that if we don’t love others, we can’t say we love God.

We can’t begin to love others until we get how much He loves us. And not just collectively, but personally. He wants to have a relationship with you, an intimate relationship with you.

In nine different places within the New Testament, Jesus is called the Bridegroom and the church is the Bride. This isn’t a marriage of convenience or a political pact—this is a description of a marriage of love! This unconditional love, that defies our limited understanding, covers our sin and creates within us a purity and confidence in the One who loved us first. From that confidence in Him, we desire to respond with the only thing we can offer: our whole selves. He loves me so much that my only reasonable response is to love Him back with all that I have and all that I am.

Even as ministry leaders, I believe that we must keep coming back to this concept of love and relationship. We continue in ministry because we are called, yes, but ultimately it must stem from our deep, unshakable love and affection for God. If it does not, ministry to others will become an arduous, unfulfilling burden.

We can believe in “happily ever after”, because that is what Revelation 18:6-7 tells us will happen. The Bridegroom will come for His Bride, our Prince of Peace will ride in on His white horse, and we will live with Him forever. There will be no more sin, no more pain, no more questions. And that is the best definition of happily ever after that I know!

In pursuit of zoe,

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Least of These

Pastor Robbie, the youth pastor at our new church, preached a fantastic sermon tonight based on Matt. 25:31-46. Although the passage in my Bible has the title of “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats”, the words that jump out at me are “the least of these…”

In some circles, I am now the least of these. I no longer have a ministry position, I am unemployed, and my future seems uncertain at this point. Some people I respect and care about seem to not see me anymore; it appears that I have become invisible.

In Matthew 25:44, the group of people identified by Christ as the “goats” ask Him, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” And the answer is simple: they didn’t see Him, because they didn’t see anyone. They were blind to the people in need all around them.

Which begs the question: who am I not seeing? Who needs me, but I’m too busy, too distracted, too selfish, too whatever, to stop what I’m doing and put someone else’s needs before my own?

Our former church has had a food pantry and distribution center for several years that reaches out to our local community. I volunteered mostly every week, not necessarily because they needed my help, but because I truly love the people. I received many complaints that I “held up the line”, because I stopped and talked to the people, hugged them and learned their names. I’m not trying to brag; I simply wanted my neighbors to know that I saw them as people, not just numbers on our “Families Served” list.

But I can’t just say that my church feeds the hungry so my responsibility is completed. I need to do more. We volunteer at our girls’ school, but one day a week doesn’t relieve my responsibility either. Is the answer more days a week? More volunteering? More social type work?

No, the answer is to see. See the people around me. See the kids in my neighborhood. See the people in the grocery store. See the people in my church. To look at my life, my circumstances, my situations like Jesus would. To respect people just for whom they are, not what they can do for me. To talk to people I come in contact with, not just the ones in my circle of friends. To remember the power in physical touch and eye contact.

Will you join me in asking God to open your eyes to see the people we would normally walk by? Will you ask Him to allow you to truly see the ones who have been praying for someone, anyone, to notice them? You will be doing it for Jesus, not just the least of these.

In pursuit of zoe,

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Many Roles, One Call

We just returned from District Council where I saw some dear friends, colleagues and ministry leaders. For the ones who already knew about our present situation, person after person asked the same question: “So what are you doing now?”

Such an interesting question. No harm in the asking, no malice intended, but my answer seems so sad and lame to my own ears. We don’t seem to be doing much of anything right now, or at least that is how it feels many times.

Then this morning I received a copy of the Pentecostal Evangel featuring Dr. Beth Grant. Across the front of the magazine are written the words, “Many Roles, One Call.” As I read Dr. Grant’s story, I felt the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper asking, “What did I call you to do?” I stopped and pondered that for a moment. Being a pastor for the last nine years, my calling has been wrapped up in my occupation and vocation. So being unemployed right now, my calling must be put on hold too, right?

But God’s callings are irrevocable, correct? (Rom. 11:29) So where does that leave me, and others in my present situation?

Several years ago, God asked me to read and study Isaiah 61:1-3—really study it. At the time, I thought it was to describe the feeding ministry at our church. But as time went on, I realized this was the calling for Mark and me, not necessarily our church at large.

As the years have gone on, this passage has become more and more dear to me. “God has anointed me to preach….” What a concept! The Maker of the universe anointed ME, simple me, to preach, to speak, to lead!

So right now I lead from my pew, my computer, or my phone. I preach through my blog, my emails, my conversation, my smile, my hugs, my touch. Right now my platform has been removed in the way I was used to, but my platform will never be gone.

Just today I read this additional verse: “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills His purpose for me.” Even in this time when I seem to be jobless, I am not purposeless! I’m still anointed! I still have purpose!

How about you? Are you feeling like your calling has become vague or even misplaced? Don’t despair—you too have purpose! You are not forgotten and neglected by God. What can you do to live your calling, your anointing, your purpose out loud?

My role is definitely changing, but my calling hasn’t changed. Many roles, one call.

In pursuit of zoe,