Monday, April 27, 2015

I Just Wanna Be a Sheep

I had the honour and privilege of speaking at one of my home churches this past weekend. (I have four churches spread around the country that I can call "home" - how blessed am I?) One of the awesome and awful things about preparing a message, in my experience anyway, is that whatever it is God wants me to share, He usually makes me work it out in my own life first. In this case, that was a tremendous blessing. I was starting to forget again just who I am. I was starting to focus more on my situation than on my Saviour. The enemy's whispered lies were starting again to infiltrate the battlefield of my mind. 

And so, out of the blue really, comes an opportunity to spend hours pondering what Jesus meant when He called Himself the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. This whole experience is just dripping with grace - such a kindness from the Shepherd who tends my soul so tenderly. The following is an excerpt (slightly modified) from what I shared on Sunday. May you hear your Shepherd's heart for you in these words.

...I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus intended his audience (and us) to carry this metaphor through to its logical conclusion – if he’s the shepherd, then it follows that we are the sheep, right? There are so many truths we could mine out of this comparison, but the one I want to focus on is how highly the shepherd valued the sheep, as demonstrated in his tender care and self-sacrificing protection. The shepherd valued his sheep because they were his.

You are valued by your shepherd because you belong to him. He has called you by name and you are his. Your value doesn’t depend on what you have, or what you do; your possessions and abilities have no bearing on your worth in the shepherd’s eyes. Your significance cannot be altered. His love for you has never changed, will never change, CAN never change – because you are his. Your worthiness has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him. The shepherd gave his life to save ours – even before we acknowledged him as our shepherd! He loved us first.

There have always been those who have questioned the value of human life, who have put conditions and boundaries on what it means to be human and who does or does not meet the criteria. Today, we’re seeing it manifest in places like abortion clinics and euthanasia laws, from schoolyard and cyber bullying to terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. This is one of the enemy’s most effective tactics – to tear away at our identity until we don’t know who we are, to make us question our own worth and allow ourselves and others to be treated as though we are worthless. To bog us down in guilt and shame and condemnation and doubt and fear and anger and despair.

BUT THAT IS NOT WHO WE ARE! We are his. We are loved. We are treasured, valued, highly esteemed, cherished. NOTHING can ever alter that truth – NOTHING! Can you hear what I’m saying, friends? I mean, really hear – and believe that it applies to you – even you!? For years, I couldn’t. For years and years I was suffocating under a heavy blanket of shame – as far as I was concerned, I had no value – I was completely and utterly worthless in my own eyes. It affected every part of my life and really made a mess of things for a very long time. But my shepherd, in his great mercy and love, kept chipping away at those lies until the light finally broke through and I could see – really see. I saw that the truth had remained unchanged, that God had always been for me and not against me, that He called me beloved, precious child, daughter, accepted, chosen, favoured, redeemed, forgiven, worthy – his.

You know, there’s one thing sheep do really well – they know how to follow their shepherd. They know his voice, and they trust him implicitly to care for their every need, even to the point of laying down his life so that they can live. You can trust your shepherd. You can trust that his words are true. You can follow where he leads because he always and only has your best in mind.

 And never think for a moment that the journey is done. Our shepherd is continually leading us on to new pastures, to new scenery and new territory. He invites us to enter more deeply and fully into his amazing love so that it will eventually pour out of us onto everyone around. He challenges us to imitate him, to lay down our lives for each other out of the overflow of the love he so freely and abundantly pours out into us. Any act of kindness, any gift of love, any self-sacrifice on behalf of another – it’s all and only possible because we have the ultimate example right in front of us. It’s only possible because we ourselves are so deeply and fully loved, that we can lay down our lives for another. Because the good shepherd gave his life for us - his sheep - we can live and love without fear and without limits. Hallelujah! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I've Got Rhythm

I don't have rhythm, actually - I can't even clap and sing at the same time. I've tried using a tambourine or an egg shaker a time or two, but it wasn't pretty. And I can't dance. all. For most of my Baptist-steeped life, this presented no problems (except for when they tried to teach me the Landler in high school for the Sound of Music - now that was entertaining), but now I'm a member of a Pentecostal choir, and they've got rhythm just oozing out of them. And don't even get me started on my family! Not sure how the rhythm gene missed just me, but my Dad's a member of a barbershop quartet with moves, my Mom can dance up a storm, my brother's a drummer, bassist and guitar player, my sister is a professional bassoonist and music teacher, not to mention my husband and boys who are are all awesome musicians. Sheesh!

But you know what? That's ok. That's not really the kind of rhythm I'm looking for. What I'm earnestly seeking right now is a good rhythm for my days, one where everything important fits and there's room to pause and to ponder, to admire and appreciate life. I first stumbled upon the life rhythm image about a year ago at an intensive workshop, and it sure sounded like a good idea at the time! However, moving from theory to practice is proving to be far more challenging than I had originally anticipated. I'll come up with a rhythm, work on implementing it, do really well for a few days or weeks, then get side-swiped by some crisis, large or small, which completely distracts me and throws me off course. The important is replaced by the tyranny of the urgent and that which is good and necessary and soul-nourishing and life-giving gets dropped completely. Weeks later, I'll resurface, gasping for breath, and have to start all over again. The worst of it is, it's become a great source of guilt, since I set up expectations of myself and seem to fall short over and over again. Which is exactly the opposite purpose of pursuing this in the first place!

The most recent cycle of this really turned our household upside down for a time - and everything I'd been working to establish went right out the window. All of my energy and attention went to sorting out the crisis at hand, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. It made for some very anxious, uncomfortable, unsettled days - for all of us. (Because you know it's true, that "if Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy...)

What I really need is a crisis-proof rhythm! One that has spaces, that has some give, some flexibility. I also need to determine what are the absolute essentials, the non-negotiables, that which is necessary for peace and order and security for myself and my family. I need an ideal rhythm, one that includes everything that I've determined is important and valuable, and a bare-bones, survival kind of rhythm for when those crises come - because you know they will! Grace, that's what's needed here:

Come to me. Get away with me 
and you’ll recover your life. 
I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 
Walk with me and work with me—
watch how I do it. 
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(from Matthew 11, The Message)

Oh, "to live freely and lightly"! I think my time would be best spent learning to walk with Jesus, learning these "unforced rhythms of grace." I have a feeling that if I focus on this, everything will fall into place. What a wonder to have a Saviour who invites us to walk with Him, who cares for us so intensely and intimately, whose hand is in the details, whose plans for us include such freedom and peace and joy! Thank you, Lord!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Too Much?

I want to apologize. I think. I don't know - I'm so confused...

An innocent comment has inadvertently caused me to take a long, hard look at my life. It was something like, " I think you're at a different level of Christianity than I am". And then, a few weeks back, a friend thanked me for some encouragement I had offered, then added, "but don't overdo it." It had never occurred to me before, but putting the two incidents together, I'm cringing now to think that I might be projecting some sort of holier-than-thou, so-heavenly-minded-I'm-no-earthly-good, looking-at-the-world-through-rose-coloured-glasses vibe to people in my world. Do I overdo it? Am I too much when it comes to my faith? Do I seem insincere? Over the top? Do I encourage too much? Am I too enthusiastic, too positive, too joyful?

I'm not fishing for compliments or affirmation here, I promise... I'm genuinely concerned that what I'm putting out there might be turning people off to Jesus. Or at the very least, having my witness overlooked or passed by or dis-counted because I appear to be deceptive, devious, evasive, false, fake, hypocritical, phony or just plain silly (frivolous, childish, preposterous, ridiculous...). (Thank you, thesaurus(dot)com.)

And if this is actually the case, what in the world do I do about it? Because, believe it or not folks, it's all real. I love to encourage people. I get giddy when I get to worship. All those lovely Facebook pictures with great verses or quotes really do speak to me and challenge me. The glory of nature really does thrill my soul. I get so excited about what I'm learning that I just have to share it. Yes, I get sad and discouraged and frustrated and fearful at times, and I try to be up-front about that, too. I call this blog (the) real joy for a reason, and I'm doing my best to live my life after the same pattern. I'm not trying to justify anything here, just stating the facts.

But I never stopped to consider before what my life must look like to other people. Am I alienating people with whom I should be trying to connect? Am I causing anyone to stumble? Am I helping or hurting the cause of Christ? Does anyone actually take me seriously? Am I being a faithful ambassador? A credible representative?

Are these even the right questions? I don't know. But then there's this:

For the message of the cross 
is foolishness to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 
(1 Corinthians 1:18)

I don't even know if that particular verse is relevant to this discussion, but it's what came to mind. All I know is that I want to be all His. I want to be right in the middle of what He's doing. I don't want to hold anything back. But there is such a thing as maturity, tact, wisdom, restraint - right? 

Yes, I'm actually asking the questions. I must admit to a sort of sinking, quaking sensation when I consider the potential feedback on this post. I find myself hoping, in my most secret, insecure heart-of-hearts, to hear from at least one person in my world that I'm awesome just the way I am (smirk), but I tremble at the thought that someone thinks this is a valid concern, even if they never say so. Regardless, I believe there's value in self-examination for the purpose of self-improvement. And I believe in the value of wise counsel from fellow believers. And I believe that God reveals truth when we seek Him. So bring it on!