Raw Reflections from the Journey

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Work Within

I've been on an unscheduled Sabbatical for three years. Brief tours of duty with two national ministries came to an abrupt halt in the fall of 2006. The shock to my system was severe. Imagine a train going from 100mph to Zero in a second. It's disorienting to say the least.

Mama always told me that if God is going to use a man that He'll crush the man. Sign me up??

So, what happens when a divine directive comes down to put you on Sabbatical from rabid "doing" for God? Answer: He begins to do a work in you. Question: Will you cooperate?

The seeming lack of productivity during such a season betrays the fact that much is transpiring within. In truth, it's a gift that few choose to give to themselves...a prolonged season of contemplation, learning, character examination and growth. Why? That's easy. Because it's so painful. Loss after loss, after loss.

Doing is addictive. The rush comes from being needed, being important, being adored, being...being...being...being somebody as validated by meaningful doing. But who are you and what is your value when that is absent? The truth is that all of those things are impostors for what we really need, and at the deepest level, what we REALLY want.

Rich Mullins sang, "What we say is that we need just one thing (Jesus), but what we mean is that we just need one thing more (possession, position, power, etc.). His satire referred to the insatiable appetite for all of the false gods that temporarily satisfy, but eventually fade. Hmmm....that reminds of a well-known verse. "Store up your treasures in Heaven..."

Every time my sabbatical has threatened to come to an end I've grieved. Something tells me that when it ends (and I do have faith that it will end) I'm going to miss it and be nostalgic for it. It's been a remarkable crucible that I wouldn't have chosen, but wouldn't have missed. There's no way I/we (yes, Father has been processing the wonderful woman connected to me) could have grown more dependent on God and learned the volumes of things we have about Him, each other, our life purpose (calling), etc.

When Papa gives us more to do there will come the question, "How will I engage doing differently?" Tom Wymore has made a significant contribution to my thinking about that question through his commitment to not do ministry on adrenaline, but rather out of peace. (www.tomwymore.blogspot.com). What does that mean? Simply stated, we won't press to do, but rather agree to do when invited and He puts His peace on it. That means lots of prayer and connectedness that we might approach the being/doing balance that Jesus modeled.

The experts say that seasons of hiddenness are followed by greater productivity than before (the bearing of more fruit). As good as that will be for the Kingdom of God, I don't want it to be the kind of fruit that satisfies my deepest hunger. Only He can do that in the deepest and best way, and that happens in quiet solitude. (Some would argue it's not so quiet when I break out in worship singing, :))

Who do I have in Heaven but You? (Ps 73), and Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere...

Learning to be content in all circumstances,


Wanting What He Wants: Aligning with Papa's Purposes

I'm pleased with a shift in my thinking.

Yesterday a friend mentioned that he is thinking about a project that I happen to be very interested in, and that he has 4-5 people in mind to invite to participate. My first thought was, "I hope I'm one of them", but then it shifted to, "But, God, what do you want?"

Several years ago I had a divine appointment with the founder of DivorceCare (www.divorcecare.com)an international ministry. I'd called on him as a provider of Christian Marriage ministry while working with The Association of Marriage and Family Ministries. Steve invited me to his office where he invested in our friendship for several hours. "As you enter your mid-forties, Jeff, you will have to begin to focus very specifically on the thing that God made you to do. Up till now you've been able to try lots of different things and probably thought like many strong and gifted leaders that you could do them all, but that's simply not the case. To make the Kingdom contribution that God has planned for you, you're going to have to focus."

He was right. Three years later I'm approaching 45, and thankfully, what I want is becoming less important than what He wants. Besides, I've tried what I want, and He has foiled my ambitions enough times that I'm finally surrendering to what He wants. At least it's close second to thoughts about what I want, as evident in conversation with my friend yesterday.

I know He works through our desires, and that the best we can do sometimes is to get our ship out of the harbor so He can steer it. Sometimes he steers in directions we didn't anticipate. That's cool. He remains all-knowing God, and the course corrections are His right, and they are good. Do I really accept that all things work together for good for those that love God and are called according to His purposes? (Romans 8:28).

It's fairly easy to ask ourselves what we want, and beneficial to ask our loved ones. But it can be scary to ask God. Why? Because perhaps he'll answer and then I'll need to make a decision to either cooperate or to resist. Still, at the end of myself and efforts to direct my life down the paths that I have wanted, I come back to the same conclusion, "Asking Him what He wants is a good first question."

Papa, what do you want?

Searching and serving,


Monday, September 14, 2009

A Brutal Assault and Naked Warriors

I found a quote today that I'm really excited about.

The story of your life is the story of a long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it. ~John Eldredge

It explains a lot, doesn't it?

I don't look for or find demons under every rock, but I don't dispute the Biblical truth that we humans have an archenemy who directs demonic legions to harass humankind, especially God's people, and especially those who know and attempt to live their purpose (calling).

How else do you explain minor relational irritations that devolve into painful silence and hopelessness? Untimely computer crashes, inexplicably lost documents, mysterious physical maladies, etc.

I know, I know. It's easy to over-spiritualize to the point that we absolve ourselves of responsibility to do maintenance on our bodies and office equipment, but it is reality that we're under attack even if we can't see the attacker, isn't it?

Eldredge's words strengthen and encourage me. While I don't like the fact that we are perpetual victims of a brutal assault, I LOVE that it is because the assailant does it because of Who we can BE in for our King and HIS Kingdom! That means my life has purpose, and that living a surrendered, consecrated on purpose life is very dangerous to our enemy!

I was reminded of the tragic suicide of my 36 year old friend (in 1997) the other day. One of the Waterboyz for Jesus, www.waterboyz.org told about a man who began attending a Waterboyz table this Spring after hearing the Annual 100-man choir. He showed up admittedly desperate, and then he disappeared...but only for a little while. Last week he resurfaced at a local Wal-Mart where he reportedly tried to call a few people to ask for help, but no one answered...then he fatally shot himself.

I was horrified. Someone reached out for help, but then effectively disappeared. Did any men from the table call to try to connect with him? I still haven't asked the man's name. In part I don't want to know because I don't want to find out that I was one of the men who dropped the ball...I'd rather think that I did, because I could have. Living apart from the reality of the continual brutal assault by the enemy it is easy to become complacent, self-absorbed, inattentive and numb. No, I want to live on the edge, just as I would if I were a soldier in enemy territory where snipers await an opportune moment to take a head shot.

I not only want to live vigilant, but also well dressed for battle. The same Waterboy who told the tragic suicide story also challenged the leadership group about going out into the battle dressed only in a loin cloth. Can you see it? Sorry. . kind of graphic...but you get the point. Unless we don the full armor of God, (the helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the sword of the spirt, etc. Ephesians 6) we are naked warriors pretty inept to respond when under assault. You get the point.

No war is won by remaining in fox-holes. Fearful troops hunkered down under cover don't take the enemy's territory. No, just as at Normandy Beach, well-outfitted warriors had to get out of the boats, cross the beach and scale the cliffs to make inroads into the enemy's encampments. And so, as Michael W. Smith sings, "this is our time, this is our dance, live every moment, leave nothing to chance."

I weary of the attacks, but I'm thrilled that Jesus always leads in triumphal procession. His armory is stocked with effective weaponry, if only we'll gird ourselves up. And then to the fight with other warriors, back to back and shoulder to shoulder.

The bad news is that the god of this age continues to attempt to defeat and destroy our King's Kingdom. The good news is that our King will win, and we with him, in the end, but even now as we fight the way he fought.

Warring on, Jeff

Thursday, September 10, 2009

There Will Always be Waves

He is a career missionary in a third-world country. He and his wife could have made it big in business in their first-world home country, but, "We had a calling."

What is a calling? "An external call that comes from God that is for others."1

"When we first went, we took a couple of suitcases and slept on cement floors...but we were happy to do it because, "we were doing it all for Jesus."

Recently, they've faced expulsion from a country that would "end" their life work (of course it would carry on in so much as they have been depositing Kingdom seeds into people). Thousands of dollars have been spent on visa acquisition that has required extensive travel and marital/family separation.

"How are you with all of this?" I asked.

"It's fine", He said. "I've decided that there will always be waves, but that I'm not going to look at the waves. I'm going to look at Jesus, and I'm going to keep doing my calling." Wow!

Clearly this man was referring to Peter, who stepped out of the boat in faith to walk on the water to Jesus.

What do you do with that story? Do you admire Peter's courage and faith? Do you snicker that He began to sink? Can you identify with his desire and temporary success after getting out of the boat?

Do you have a calling that seems to be riding on the ocean swells of life? Are you waiting for the ocean to calm, or are you keeping your eyes on Jesus and doing what He has given you to do?

Interestingly, just last night I dreamt extensively about taking White's Ferry across the Potomac River to Virginia (a short cut to a section of northern Virginia since there are relatively few vehicle bridges in the area). Interestingly it was quite a long trip in my dream (in reality the crossing is about 10 minutes).

In the dream I just about didn't make the ferry. I was the last one aboard the last ferry of the day.

Then, my car, a little red 2-seat convertible (now I know it was a dream) was dangled over the side of the ferry by a hoist and cables because there wasn't room on board. Next, the crew served a meal to the passengers, but forgot to serve me. Finally, the weather turned life threatening with 15 foot swells as if we were in the ocean. My car was dipped into the water and barely saved. The ferry threatened to capsize but didn't. Finally, we made it safe to the other side. Hmmm...

An otherwise great night of sleep ended with an exhausting adventure...but I wasn't exhausted; not in my dreams and not in real life. Why not?

In my dream I prayed through the race to board the ferry. I didn't let adrenaline take over, but rather trusted God, "I'm doing my best to get there. If I make it, great. If not, I'm sure that it will work out for good."

Next, my car dangling. "It's just a tool for transportation, Lord. I know you will provide what I need."

Then to food, and I was hungry..."There's none left, sir. I'm sorry we forgot you." Oh well, again, He will provide. Maybe I didn't need that meal. Perhaps He has one for me that will be even better. Besides, you are the bread of life and living water. Help me to continue to partake of you during this journey and I know that I won't hunger or thirst."

Finally, the waves. "They look ominous, Lord. Will you save me?" silence, but a voice, "To live is to do my will, but to die is gain and to be with me." Ok.

Eventually, the ferry reached the other side. I disembarked. Off to continue in His calling.

The way of the Cross is definitely not easy. He didn't promise that it would be, but He did promise that He would be with us, that He would never leave or forsake us, that He would provide all of our needs, and that it would all work out in the end...All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose...and, to live is Christ, to die is gain.

Have you been called? yes. all are called to something in service of the King. If you don't know it, know that it can be discovered.2

Are you serving in your calling? No matter what?

Remember, there will always be waves...

1 Tony Stoltzfus in Coaching Life Purpose, available at www.coach22.com.
2 Life Purpose coaching focuses on discovering, articulating and living one's calling.

Monday, September 7, 2009

President Obama Talks to our Kids

Our President wants to talk to our kids. Ok. What's the big deal?

Have you read his speech? http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gDqQJuGAC0Xb5hUlwfuOZ-0hr5_gD9AIL5680

I'm fine with my daughter being encouraged and challenged by President Obama. Do I agree with all of his other polices? No. But, his message to our kids about personal responsibility and becoming who they were created to be is solid.

Now, for an additional consideration...

The responsibility of those that follow Jesus is to live a life of purpose for the purposes He has for their lives. Is this a compelling idea?

The life purpose of the Christ-follower is to serve His purposes, not their own, or others (even if they are from the President of the United States).

This is the foundation of concern for conservative Christians, I think. They don't want their kids to be influenced toward temporal success when they are teaching for eternal success. Does this make sense?

How is this blog relevant to 'The Journey'?

I hope that you will be motivated to be thoughtful about the voice(s) that you follow. Jesus' voice is trustworthy, while His followers can misinterpret and misunderstand.

Can you accurately discern the voice of truth? YES! By His Spirit you can know and hear His voice!

While you listen to or read anyone's "speech", pray that Papa helps you to discern the voice of TRUTH, and to obey any directives that voice give to you.



Friday, September 4, 2009

Reaching up for Abba

"She wants you to pick her up, dad." My fifteen month old granddaughter had toddled over to me as soon as she saw me enter the room. Her arms were lifted up reaching for me, and she was smiling. What a great feeling to be wanted for love. Children are unabashed in their efforts to get and give affection. I reached down to pick her up. She leaned in to get a hug, and turned her cheek for a kiss. Amazing!

Then, I thought about our heavenly Abba...Daddy who picks us up to hold us close. I'm glad He's there, and I'm glad that I know how to reach for him.

I was as despondent as I've ever been recently. Load anyone's life with enough disappointment, discouragement, disillusionment and deferred hope and it can take a toll. The slough of despondency is only a few thoughts away. Only Jill knew that I was in despair, but not even she knew how deep.

Notice what I said about thoughts? Happiness IS a choice. How we think about things has everything to do with how we feel. Do we consider our trials as pure joy? Or do we curse them as unfortunate obstacles to add to our list of disappointments?

I reached for the phone with the idea of calling a friend to vent. Papa stopped me. "Talk to me" I heard.

I'm fortunate to have a list of faithful brothers who will be there on a moments notice if I ask to bend their ear. It wasn't that I didn't want to bother them, but rather that I needed to reach for and connect with Jesus, the friend who sticks closer than a brother. As good of friends that I have (or that I can be to them), we're really only as good for each other as we manifest the mind and manner of Christ to each other. So why not go for the Man himself? I'm not saying that should be our only mode of operation. Talking truthfully to faithful friends is part being in fellowship with the Body of Christ. Confessing to each other and bearing burdens is commanded.

The awesome thing I've learned by daring to reach for Him is that He hears us when we cry, and He answers. Different people hear him differently, but all who want to hear Him can hear. He often puts scriptures in my mind. I count on the promised work of the Holy Spirit in this regard. John 14:26 tells us that part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to remind us of all that He has taught us. Cool! On a moment's notice I can be reminded of scripture that I have ingested...who He is, who I am to Him, my future, my purpose, His promises and His plan. Now, if consideration of all that doesn't drag one's spirit out of the slough of despond, what will?

I reached for Him again this morning as I lazily pedaled my bike through river valley and sunny plateau. What a blessing to soak in warm sunshine and breath in the unique scents of early autumn.

Have you been reaching for Him? There is a lot we can reach for...created things and distractions that provide temporary pleasure, but we're really missing an opportunity to be hugged, loved on, consoled and guided if we're not reaching for Him.

When we call on Him, He will answer!