2/28/12

Dealing with Spiritual Dissonance

I've never been a fan of jazz, because I don't enjoy some of the dissonance in the music. Some might enjoy the tension and clash of sounds, but dissonance rattles my bones.

Yet as I reacted to some disharmonious music on a television program recently, I believe I heard the voice of God's spirit commenting on some spiritual dissonance in my life. "You say one thing, but do another," the Voice said. "You tell women to be authentic, but what about this area of your life?"

A recent incident flashed across my mind ~ a situation when I didn't tell the truth. Actually, I exaggerated the truth to the point where it was a lie. We used to call this "evangelistically speaking" when I traveled with a revival team. Not a good thing. It's hypocrisy.

Truth is one of my life values, so when God pointed out the dissonance, I cringed.

My husband Bob, who works with the International School Project, speaks about one reason for spiritual dissonance in one of his messages. "We tend to compartmentalize our lives," he says, "and when we do that, the spiritual does not carry over into our everyday decisions."

It's easy to blame others for this kind of hypocrisy, but I wonder how often I compartmentalize. How often do I relegate the spiritual to designated parts of my life, and ignore it or shut it out in other areas? And what are the results when I do?

The word "authentic" crops up a lot in Christian circles these days. Authenticity speaks to the core of a person ~ being real to the true self. For the Christian, it represents alignment with core values that are based in the Word of God ~ living with character and integrity.

Authenticity means that we accept and embrace who we are, a much beloved child of God, and we live in ways that please our Father. We don't act like part-time believers, but we are wholly His ~ wholly devoted and obedient.

I believe the Bible offers us at least Five Steps in Dealing with our Spiritual Dissonance.

First, we Recognize the Dissonance in our Heart. We need to understand that we sometimes depart from fellowship with God when our hearts want something else more, at any given moment. All of us are tempted to sin when we are drawn away by our own natural desires and away from what God desires for us (James 1:14). God sees beyond outward appearance to our hearts, and we need to admit it when our harmonious relationship with Him takes on some dissonant notes.

Second, we Realize the Root Cause of our Dissonance. We have a new nature in Christ, and God is making us more like His son; but we have free will to reject God's work in our lives, too. James 1:15 tells us that our various lusts conceive and give birth to sin. We want what we want ~ things, pleasures, attention (1 John 2:16). When we want them more than what God wants for us ~ when our focus is on our wants rather than His ~ we are open to falling into sin.

Third, we Repent of Any Sin that Causes Dissonance. We don't rationalize it away or justify it; we take sin seriously. We realize that sin separates us from fellowship with our loving Father. God is light, and he cannot fellowship with darkness. Our sins are already forgiven in Christ, but we must still repent of sin ~ turning from it (1 John 1:8-10). We must be honest in dealing with God

Fourth, we Resist Temptations that Lead to New Dissonance. We use the weapon that helps us fight our tendency to compartmentalize our lives ~ the Word of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5; Hebrews 4:12). We embrace truth and resist from the enemy's lies (1 Peter 5:8). We take refuge in God and seek his "way of escape" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Fifth, we Refocus on Harmony to Weaken Future Dissonance. First, we praise and worship God ~ we renew our relationship with Him. Then, we build up the areas of our life that are weak (2 Peter 1:5-9).

Our spiritual dissonance grieves the Lord. We forget that everything we are and have is because of our Father's goodness and love. We are His, bought with a high price, and we are no longer "our own" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

God gives us complete freedom to choose; but our responsibility is to harmonize our lives with the Word of God, pleasing our Father.

A model for spiritual authenticity is Colossians 1:10: "... that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God...."

How does spiritual dissonance creep into your life? What has God taught you about living an authentically biblical life?

2/21/12

Three Benefits of Networking

I once had a plaque in my office with birds of every kind and color perched together on one long telephone wire, chirping away. It was titled "Networking." It reminded me that no matter what ministry my friends and I have, we all have the same goal ~ to glorify God ~ and we can network together to accomplish more for the Kingdom.

Networking has been a business buzzword for some time; it took a little longer for ministries to adopt the concept.

I recently agreed to lead a group called NEWIM San Diego, a chapter of a larger group, NEWIM ~ the Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry~ a caring group of women who are committed to helping California women in ministry.

For months, while I prayed about this new role, I considered some of the benefits of networking. There are many, but I want to focus on three.

In a Network, we have the understanding to ENCOURAGE. There are things that link us ~ similar struggles and blessings ~ so we're more inclined to reach out to help. We empathize. We learn to lean on each other as we grow in trusting relationships. We love and listen to each other. We enjoy the company of others in the network. No one likes to be alone.

In a Christian network, there is a bond of Sisterhood, and as Sisters in Christ we commit to some of the "one another scriptures" ~ "love one another" (John 13:34-35), "accept one another" (Romans 15:7), "encourage one another" (1 Thessalonians 5:11), "Bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2), "care for one another" (1 Corinthians 12:25), "serve one another" (Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 4:10) and similar commands of scripture that encourage devotion, humility, etc.

In Networking, we have the responsibility to EDIFY. We do this by offering resources and positive teaching. We learn from each other. There are "one another" verses that apply here, too. Colossians 3:16 tells us to teach and even admonish one another. In other words, we are to seek after "that which is good for one another" (1 Thessalonians 5:15) and build up one another in the faith (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).

The edification process is a caring work of the NEWIM organization. We care about equipping women ~ especially women in leadership ~ for the work of the ministry, and teaching them to make wise decisions.

Finally, in Networking, we have the opportunity to ENERGIZE. We motivate our Sister-Girlfriends to dream big dreams and pursue them in the power of the Holy Spirit and under the direction of God. Further, we motivate them toward good works in order to effect change. The "one another" scripture for this is "Stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:27).

In an effective network, we energize and empower the members for greater service. Although one with God is a majority, it's always easier when we have friends come alongside to help. I think of Aaron who lifted up Moses' hands in a time of weakness.

We also understand that sometimes we need to come apart for a while before we "come apart." We need times to relax, refresh, renew, and recharge (in other words, re-energize). NEWIM offers opportunities for that, too.

Who is in your network? What is its purpose? Are you encouraging, edifying, and energizing the members in your network to accomplish the goals of the group?

2/15/12

Flourishing in Life's Second Half

"I want to live to be 100," I told a girlfriend ... 50 years ago.

Now, past the half-way mark to that age, I'm not sure I have the same goal. This body of mine is not cooperating. But I'm not about to give up! I want to flourish and thrive in my latter years.

The key to flourishing is never retiring from the Kingdom of God. Until God calls us home, we still have purpose, whether it is as a prayer warrior, a witness, a servant, an adviser, or in some other capacity. We are to follow God consistently and without compromise, flourishing in the courts of God and bearing fruit in our old age. (Psalm 92:12-15)

But there are also some practical things that we can do to flourish in the second half of life. Let me use the letters in "AGE WELL" to encourage you to join me!

To age well, we first need Acceptance. We need to accept those things that we can't change or control. It makes no sense to complain about not being 21 anymore. Wisdom tells us that stressing about aging is foolish ~ we can't change the fact that our bodies are aging, and we can't control many of the limitations that are bound to come (symbolized in Ecclesiastes 12:5). Acceptance brings freedom in this special season of life.

Along with acceptance, we need Gratitude. Aging is about inevitable losses, but instead of focusing on the losses, we can focus on what we have ~ family, friends, things, opportunities that come with aging, etc. We can learn to thank God, appreciate people, and enjoy the blessings of life (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

We need Exercise. We can't neglect our bodies and expect that we will be healthy. God can sustain us (strengthen and "carry" us) in old age (Isaiah 46:4), but we need to cooperate and make wise choices, too, and not take our health for granted.

Eating well and hydration are givens, but the elderly tend to become sedentary, and that brings a variety of health issues. We need to check with a doctor first, but then find activities that encourage us to keep moving. Whether walking, swimming, or participating in classes, we can start slow and then build a healthy habit.

And we need Wisdom. Aging brings many transitions and changes, and we need wisdom to make choices. Some opportunities will be a thing of the past, but senior citizens have many opportunities these days that their parents couldn't imagine. We need to consider our physical strength, abilities, and time, and ask the Lord for wisdom (James 1:5) about what to pursue in our remaining years.

Financial decisions will continue into old age, especially if we did not make wise choices when we were younger ~ we have to figure out how to make the dollars stretch. Or, if we made wise investments and planned for our retirement and beyond, we need wisdom to allocate special funds for the Lord's work and family members.

We need Expression. Aging is not the time to wilt away, but rather to express ourselves in a variety of ways. We can express our love to family and friends with words and in practical ways. We can encourage others through volunteer work. We need to play and laugh ~ laughter is strong medicine (Proverbs 17:22a) for our mental and emotional health.

The important thing is not to shut down or become a loner, but to continue to reach out, share with others, and stay involved in the world. Consider how you might encourage, motivate, or influence others with your words, actions, or resources.

We need Lessons (new things to learn). We need to keep our minds active, and we can choose, these days, from hundreds of activities. Simple games are a good start, or crossword puzzles. Trying different recipes or taking different routes to something familiar will stretch us and keep our minds alert.

We might pick up a hobby we started as a child, learn to play an instrument, join a book club, become a computer whiz, visit a museum, or enjoy a concert. Perhaps we'll travel and discover the wonders of the world. We might even take college classes and get a degree... or write a book (like I did)!

Consider teaching others something you know, too. We always learn more ourselves when we teach others. Keep your mind fresh as you stimulate others' thinking.

And finally, we need Legacy-building. This is a way to continue to "bear fruit" in old age. We take the wisdom, lessons, and experiences we have gained throughout life, and consider how we might share them with our children and grandchildren. God wants us to declare His power to the next generation (see Psalm 9:1; 71:17-18; 78:4-6).

It might be as simple as writing in a journal; or we might ask a tech-savvy younger relative or friend to create a video of us as we share our history. Think about the things you will leave behind someday, and who should receive them. Who will get your Bible? Who will get your most valuable books or artwork? Make a list. Make a will. Make your wishes known.

We can all age well as we follow through on the things we know will strengthen our lives, bless others, and count for eternity.

2/8/12

Stewardship of 'Our Stuff'

When my little Jack Russell Terrier, Bailey, died unexpectedly a few summers ago, I was heartbroken; but God gave me a great, comforting sense that I had been a good "steward" of one of His little creatures. God reminded me that all that I own belongs to Him ~ including pets ~ and that I am simply His manager. I was simply blessed for a season to care for little Bailey.

I've had a sense of that since I served in a revival ministry, and my home church pastor speaks to our congregation about that truth every January during "Stewardship Month," too. Lately, the Lord has reminded me that stewardship isn't just about money or time or talents.

As I watched a recent television program about hoarding, I was appalled by the people who were overwhelmed by the things in their homes. In a real sense, they are buried beneath the weight of their possessions! Then the Lord spoke to me about the "stuff" in my home.

It's easy to condemn those who have gone overboard about their possessions (with little discernment about how much is too much, and seemingly no sense of how to care for what they own); but God reminded me that my "stuff" is my responsibility, too, and I'm not always making wise decisions.

The Lord directed me to my own bulging cabinets and closets. I opened each one and simply looked ... observing the contents. Discernment would come later. For the moment, God just wanted me to "see."

I think that sometimes we get so caught up in life that we don't see what we already have. A friend of mine named Carolyn Peak once told me she considered why she had so many pairs of scissors. I laughed at the time, but now, further down the line in regard to wisdom, I understand her thinking. Why do we think we need so much ~ especially when there are so many with needs?

God spoke to me about the motives behind what I buy, keep and store, as well as how I use what He has allowed me to have. I had to admit that my "want-er" was getting out of control again. It was a question of stewardship. Was I managing my stuff well?

And did I understand that it really wasn't "my" stuff in the first place? Was He really in charge? King David said, "... all things come from You, and out of Your own [hand] we have given to You" (1 Chronicles 29:14). It's all on loan from God, and we are responsible for how we use what He has shared with us.

Some might think that this is restrictive thinking, but I've found it freeing. If God is in charge of my stuff ~ if I am asking Him for direction about my choices ~ then I can relax and know that He will lead. I simply need to obey.

So now I'm going back to those same closets and shelves with an eye toward better stewardship. I'm looking at books on bookshelves, food in my pantry, home decor, etc., with fresh perspective. I'm asking tough questions, and being honest with the answers.

For one, nothing leaves this life except for the eternal Word of God and the souls of men. That indicates one priority, right there. And then, there are the commands and callings of God. I'm asking what God expects of me in regard to stewardship of things and my roles as a believer, wife, mother, grandmother, and servant in ministry. I'm even asking Him how he wants me to care for our new pup, Roscoe, in regard to good stewardship.

God wants us to make choices that are proactive, intentional, biblical, and wise ~ and this applies in practical ways to our stewardship.

What do you find are the most difficult choices to make concerning stewardship of your stuff?

2/1/12

Longing for Home

We've all heard catchy slogans about home, like "Home is where the heart is" and "Love begins at home." My favorite Christmas pillow bears one of them: "All hearts come home for Christmas."

After a marvelous vacation to Israel ~ something we looked forward to for years ~ my husband I nonetheless sighed with contentment as we returned from the airport and drove into our driveway. No matter where we roam, we love home best. Dorothy said it well in the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz: "Oh, Auntie Em ~ there's no place like home."

I know there are always exceptions, but for most people, there's something comforting about home. Beyond the bed that seems more comfortable than any on the road, we're where we belong. We're free to be ourselves. It's "home base" for everything else we do.

Usually, my husband and I travel together. But when I've traveled alone for conferences or speaking engagements, returning home is especially sweet. I'm returning to the welcome and embrace of the one I love. "I'm so glad you're finally home," he says.

I wonder if I will hear from Jesus someday ~ "I'm so glad you're finally home."

This world is not my true home, in spite of all the trinkets I've collected along the way that stuff my closets ... in spite of all the plans I make in my study and the people I entertain in my dining room. As a young girl, I sang, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through." As an older woman, I believe those words more than ever.

Jesus told His disciples not to worry when He went to heaven, because He was going to spend His time preparing for their arrival (John 14:2). Heaven is a real place the Master Carpenter is constructing for us with many dwelling places. Jesus is readying our home right now, and we will reside there forever with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As I read about our heavenly home, I am struck by its breathtaking beauty. John describes the New Jerusalem as a glorious bride dressed for her husband (Revelation 21:1-4). The ugliness and pain of earthly circumstances will be a thing of the past. The preacher R.G. Lee once described heaven as "the most beautiful place the mind of God could conceive and the hand of God could create."

I used to be upset, as a young girl, to think that God wouldn't let everyone into His heaven. But over time, I saw two things at work. God's love, goodness, and grace says, "Whosoever will, may come," but our Father's holy nature demands that only those who have their sin covered by the sacrifice of His Son may enter the heavenly home.

In my earthly home, I would not welcome someone to come into my house and then "live like the devil." It's my home; I make the rules. Even so, the Father makes the rules for entering and dwelling in His heavenly home. Jesus said it was through Him alone (John 14:1, 6). Because heaven will be populated by a holy God and His Son, and the millions of saints who are made righteous in Him, I will be able to dwell there in safety, joy, and complete satisfaction. I will join with my brothers and sisters in serving and worshiping my God and my King.

On an especially tough trip, recently, I found myself longing for my home in California. In the same way, the more I think about heaven, the more I long to be there. The older I get, the less the "trinkets" of this world pull on my spirit. The more I want to be with Jesus.

How about you?
I've been talking about longing for "home" in heaven. But more important that that, do you know you are going there for sure?

Here are some scriptures to prepare yourself for heaven, if you aren't sure:

(1) Understand that your sinful nature separates you from a holy God, so that He cannot fellowship with you. God cannot allow sin into His holy heaven (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23; Habakkuk 1:13a).

(2) Your good works and religious observances are insufficient to gain acceptance with God or admission to heaven (Romans 3:10; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). Your goodness is simply not good enough, because you are not good enough. God doesn't grade on the curve.

(3) But there is a solution ~ God's love made a way for us to have fellowship with Him and live with Him forever (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18).

(4) God doesn't force us into a new relationship with Him, and He doesn't make us go to heaven. (In fact, we'd be miserable there, if we weren't rightly related to Him!) But God does ask us something of us ~ God says we must confess our sin and receive His Son, Jesus Christ ~ to trust in His death for our sins (1 John 1:9-10; John 1:12; John 3:16-18).

(5) When we come to God His way, through Jesus, we have eternal life and a home in heaven (John 14:1-6; Acts 4:10-12).

(6) God will continue to work in us to make us more like Jesus, and ~ while we don't work to get to heaven ~ our good works after we have received Christ will bring glory to God and accomplish His purposes (Romans 8:29; 1 John 2:6; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

When we focus on heaven as described in the Word of God, our longing to live there with the One we love increases. If we're not longing, perhaps our focus is elsewhere.