Four Big Questions: #4 What opportunities do I have to demonstrate God's love to others?

This is where the rubber meets the road.

If our spiritual practices and tools are not impacting the world around us - where we live and do life with others - then what good are they? Yes, we grow in our own relationship with Christ, but it doesn't end there. As Robert Mulholland writes in his book, Invitation to a Journey,

a believer is "conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others within the body of Christ and for the sake of others outside the body of Christ." 

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I think the greatest question we can ask when it comes to the fourth Big Question is this: What would love have me do today, this week, this month, this season, this year? It's a question to ask when we're engaging with fellow believers, as well as others, no matter religion, faith, gender, age, race, or culture. 

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. – John 13:34

 

 

Four Big Questions: #3 What practices or tools can assist in my growth?

While I grew up on a farm, my husband grew up around construction and carpentry, as his dad was a builder. Three out of our four grown children have picked up the woodwork side of the family and each has their own local business ranging from children's toys to wooden bowls and lamps to furniture

They all have hand and power tools specific to their creations. While one uses a saw for cutting small intricate curves to make children's toys, another uses a power machine to plane large slabs of reclaimed lumber to create a dining table. Still another uses a lathe to create a round lamp or a bowl. 

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The tool matters to the desired outcome. 

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Just as there are specific tools necessary to create a bowl, a table, or a toy, there are practices and tools available to participate with the Spirit’s work in our lives.

The Spirit does his part deep within (transformation) while we do our part (engaging the practices and/or tools). Together we work to bring about wholeness, the way God pictured us from the beginning, wholly his. (Philippians 2:12-13)

The answer to the first Big Question to Experiencing Wholeness - where is God leading me to change - should be the determining factor in choosing what tool or practice makes sense.

What is the desired outcome? What’s in your toolbox that can assist you? 

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Everyone’s toolbox has the Bible and prayer available for any situation you find yourself in. They are the essentials. God’s Word’s has authority to convict, equip, and empower towards wholeness. Prayer is the heart connecting with God, whether seeking guidance, rejoicing in gratitude, making an appeal, expressing grief, celebrating in joy, calling for protection, giving thanks, or seeking forgiveness. The Word and prayer are two powerful tools, both offensive in warding off the enemy's tactics. 

There are also other tools that strengthen the Spirit's work:

time away to focus • solitude • connecting in community • offering hospitality • loving the marginalized, lonely, and hopeless • confessing sin to God and another • writing out thoughts to process life • rest • creative drawing • abstaining from certain foods or beverages for a season to give more focus to connecting with God • scripture prayers • giving of time, finances, or service • choosing trust rather than doubt • putting off fear • developing faith and trust • acknowledging and renouncing the lies of the enemy • choosing to believe and live out truth • developing a fruit of the Spirit • shared experiences • worship • reading Spirit-led books • scripture memory • walking in nature • centering prayer • creative writing

What other tools have you used on your journey of growing in faith and wholeness?

If a certain practice or tool is not producing wholeness and Christlikeness, then consider setting it aside and ask God to highlight a different tool that will assist you in participating with His transforming work in your life. 

Tools are only tools. They have no value in and of themselves. 

Their value is in what they produce.  

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Tools assist us on the journey, but it's only God who transforms us into beautiful creations. 

Listening to the Spirit's voice, surrounding ourselves with community, and utilizing the tools available to grow are all important towards wholeness, but there's one more question that fleshes all this out. Next week we'll take a look at the fourth Big Question to Experiencing Wholeness. Transformation is not only for our sake, but for the sake of others. 

Four Big Questions: #2 Who can join or help me in growing spiritually?

Last weekend I went back home to Pennsylvania where I grew up and lived until I went off to college. My whole family still lives there. I'm the only one who ever left county, state, and country. 

I had the privilege to share at what was my home church during my teen years, and I was reminded once again how significant community is to our wholeness. 

Ono United Methodist, was, and still is, a thriving, community-centered church, surrounded by rural Pennsylvania farmlands; the village of Ono consisting of about 30 houses situated along old route 22. Just a couple miles up the road from the farm I grew up on, even now, many who attend are those with whom I went to elementary and high school. Now their kids and their grandkids go to Ono UM. 

The year I graduated from high school was the same year the church started the IF group. IF stood for Intermediate Fellowship. There were a number of young people who no longer fit the youth group age. Many of us were in-between high school and college, others were home from college, and still others had graduated from college. Some didn't have plans to go to college, choosing a farming or vocational career instead. It was a timely beginning for me, and I've not experienced anything like it since. 

 I'm taking the picture. :) This is some of our group.  Two from this picture have passed on when life was yet young.  

I'm taking the picture. :) This is some of our group.  Two from this picture have passed on when life was yet young.  

At the same time one of my classmates had a sister returning home following college graduation. Even though there was four years difference in age, Karen and I quickly became best of friends, and were an integral part of the IF group. I think we were able to offer each other something we both needed at the time. I needed to be stretched and challenged. She needed spiritual grounding. I needed her encouragement and high belief. She needed a place to belong, a safe place to grow in her walk with Christ. 

Within a mile of the church was a wooded area we called the “church grove.” Sunday School picnics were held at the grove each summer, among other activities. The IF gang camped out at the church grove just about every weekend and almost every month of the year. Sleeping around a campfire in our sleeping bags in the dead of winter. Someone would bring a guitar, we’d sing, we’d share, we’d laugh, we’d pray. It wasn't unusual for all of us to walk into church on Sunday morning smelling like campfire smoke, still in our camp clothes. Every Thursday night we’d meet up at someone’s home for Bible study. 

We’d serve together; raking fall leaves for the elderly, serving hot coffee to truckers at a roadside rest stop on Interstate 81, and leading worship for Wednesday night prayer meetings. 

In the summer, on Sunday afternoons, you could find us meeting at Jennie Wentling’s house (grandma to some of the IF'rs) to play volleyball in her big side yard.

We truly did LIFE TOGETHER.

I’m not sure that I can fully comprehend what those IF years did to shape my life. I'm pretty sure I would have never had the courage and belief that I could make it in college without the support and encouragement of Karen and the IF group.

Though there were defeats and challenges in those years, we were there for each other, and my spiritual growth took on a fresh level of exuberance and confidence. I could write another book on just those years alone!

If we think we can live this life as whole beings without relationship, we are kidding ourselves. Since those IF years, God has provided friends, mentors, spiritual directors, small groups, and counselors, who have invested in my well being, not only spiritually, but physically, emotionally and intellectually.

Even now, I meet with a friend who I just happened upon at a local Starbucks. One of the baristas, neither of us knew we both lived in the Indy area.

Terry? Gwen? We almost simultaneously said, What are you doing here!? 

Terry use to mentor my two oldest when they were a part of the youth group at our church in Michigan. Now, years later, after having both lived in numerous places, we get together weekly. We process life together (important for a seasonal person:), encouraging each other in our marriages, sharing what it is to have grown children and grandchildren, and spurring each other on in our faith. 

Community is an integral part to experiencing wholeness.

Processing life and faith, asking the deeper questions, encouraging each other, motivating personal growth, and giving hope and affirmation. We were meant for relationship. 

A couple questions to think about as you consider the community aspect of your life:

Who has been a significant person in my life?

Who can join or help me in growing spiritually?

The third Big Question to Experiencing Wholeness has to do with the spiritual practices, one element to our spiritual formation.  There are a variety of practices to choose from according to how you answer the first big question: Where is God leading me to change? Spiritual practices are" tools, not rules," according to Larry Osborne, author of Spirituality for the Rest of Us. Choosing the appropriate tool will enable you to participate with the Holy Spirit's work in your life.

Eastering

There would be no spring if there wasn't a winter. Seeds lie dormant in the ground. Buds have been waiting dormant all winter to begin their growth, blossoming from the warmth of the spring sun. To easter is to rise up out of the dimness of those things that are shaded or difficult to see due to darkness. 

The world began in darkness until God spoke life and light into every galaxy. 

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Spring breaks forth after the cold, gray days of winter. 

Chicks hatch out of eggs incubated by the warmth of the mother hen. 

Plants shoot up from seeds germinated in fertile ground. 

Tulips, daffodils, and crocuses announce the beginning of spring after bulbs lie in the dirt over the cold, winter months. 

Life gives birth after 39 weeks of darkness in the womb.

A butterfly slowly emerges after weeks of darkness inside a cocoon.

Spiritual renewal often comes after a dark night of the soul.

Jesus resurrected after three days in a cold, dark tomb. 

We wait in darkness. It is out of darkness that eastering happens.

Eastering. The act of becoming new. The hope of what is to come.

Conviction vs. Condemnation

Before I go on to the second Big Question to Experiencing Wholeness, I think It's important to understand two things when it comes to listening for God's voice when we ask: Where is God leading me to change? So, this is a bit of a Part 2 when considering the first question.

First, knowing the difference between conviction and condemnation is essential. The enemy likes to pull the wool over our eyes, making us think it's God that is condemning us. No, God never condemns (Romans 8:1), he only convicts, and there's a big difference between the two.

Conviction is always done in love, never in judgment. Conviction comes from the Father's love, to protect, to transform, to change for the better. He doesn't overload us with a long, laundry list that overwhelms us to the point that we don't even know where to begin. He gently leads us in one or two things, and then doesn't leave us to do it on our own. He comes along side of us to accomplish his purposes in our lives. His Spirit empowers and enables us to change. 

Condemnation is pointing the long, bony finger of accusation and judgment, bringing shame and disgrace to the one being charged. Condemnation stems from the evil ones plans to kill, steal, and destroy. (John 10:10) The enemy's native language is lying. How many of us walk around believing lies straight from the pit of hell? (John 8:44) Deceit is the most subtle of the enemy's tactics. You're not good enough. You're not adequate. You're stupid. These were lies I believed for years. Recognizing his lies is the first step towards freedom. Once I acknowledged the lies as lies, I could begin to renew my mind with God's truth.

He sees me as his beloved child, competent and worthy. He is proud of me and chose me to make a difference in the world where I live, work, and play.

Understanding the distinction between these two words will equip you to walk in the freedom and love of God's grace. 

Back in the day when my kids were just beginning to seriously date, I read a book, Choosing God's Best. For me (since I had already chosen God's best for me:), the big takeaway from the book was Chapter Eight: Recognizing God's Voice. In this chapter, author Dr. Don Raunikar, includes a chart entitled, God's Voice, Satan's Voice. I've shared this so many times with friends, and I'll share it with you, because sometimes it's difficult to know whose voice you are following. 

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God's voice...

stills you, leads you, reassures you, enlightens you, encourages you, comforts you, calms you, and convicts you. 

Satan's voice... rushes you, pushes you, frightens you, confuses you, discourages you, worries you, obsesses you, and condemns you.

 

 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice. –John 10:4-5

Whatever your life rhythm, you'll find the question - Where is God leading me to change? - to be pertinent to your spiritual growth. Listen for his reassuring voice of high belief, grace-filled love, and companionship. Know you are loved! 

Don't let condemnation pull you down. It's not from God. Run, run, run!!! Run away from the stranger's voice, the condemning spirit of the enemy. 

God did not mean for us to walk this life alone. Community is an important element to our spiritual formation. Next week we'll be focusing on the second of the Four Big Questions: Who can join or help me in growing spiritually? 

Four Big Questions: #1 Where is God Leading me to Change?

The first of the Four Big Questions to Experiencing Wholeness has to do with:

  • Life Reflection
  • Self-awareness
  • Truth
  • Humility
  • Transparency
  • A teachable spirit
  • Transformation

It all boils down to this one question:

Where is God leading me to change?

If we don’t know the answer to this, then it’s difficult to move forward towards wholeness in the discipleship journey.

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In his book, Failing Forward, John Maxwell provides a helpful insight into the reasons why people change. 

People change when they hurt enough that they have to, learn enough that they want to, and receive enough that they are able to.

In the first decade of our marriage, we launched a church plant in Houston, Texas. We call them our character-building years. During our Houston days, this farm girl felt like she was in a foreign country. On top of that, the church plant we felt God had called us to was slow in coming. Often we felt like we were spinning our wheels, getting nowhere. 

One day reading in James, chapter one, the beginning verses hit me:  Let perseverance finish its work, until you are mature and complete, lacking in nothing

I realized I was right in the middle of those verses, right in the middle of the troubles and trials that James was referring to. God felt silent in those years. Nothing we did seem to make a difference, but we never look back on those years with regret. We know God was doing his good work in us. I learned to lean into the adversity to learn the lessons God had for me, for us.

For the believer, it is a test of faith. How will my faith make a difference when things aren't as they should be, could be, or hoped to be. Often, adversity is the most fertile ground for growth and change. 

We have an overabundance of ways to grow and learn today in just technology alone. Google search. Wikipedia. Hey Google! Siri. Last night after attending a C.S.Lewis Society gathering, I asked Google assistant (she sits on our fireplace mantle) what year Lewis died. Nineteen sixty three, would you like to know more? 

Hey, google, sure! She gave me more details about Lewis' life. It's amazing how much access we have to information. 

Of course, there's always books, the Bible, classrooms, podcasts, conversations with others, but knowledge doesn't change us unless it turns into an ah-ha moment of understanding. It's the I-get-it factor. Wisdom comes when knowledge meets understanding, when what we know is put into action. We can eat all the junk food we want until the doctor informs us that our cholesterol levels are over the top, then we learn enough (maybe hurt enough, too) to change our dietary habits to become a healthier person. But, even then, do we face the reality enough to change!? 

Hurt enough, learn enough, receive enough. . .  but we need to get to a point where we either have to, want to, or we're able to. 

In reflection, what have been the change agents in your life, those circumstances or means by which God transformed you more into his likeness? 

Where is God leading you to change now? Perhaps it's an area that needs to be reshaped or retooled? Perhaps it's an area that needs to be renewed or refreshed? Maybe it's a barrier in your life that keeps you in bondage, like a bungee strap that never lets you get ahead, but always pulls you back, keeping you in defeat.

Ask: God, where are you leading me to change? Listen for the voice of his Spirit.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, Mere Christianity, God isn't about "mere improvement, but transformation." He makes us into new creations! 

What is Wholeness?

Before we begin delving into the four big questions, I think it’s a good idea to consider what I mean by the word “wholeness.” It may be a new word when we think about discipleship. What does wholeness look like? How do we experience wholeness?

Wholeness comes from the word “whole.” By identifying a single unit, as in “he ate the whole thing," means the all of something. It means undamaged or unbroken, as in a broken vase is no longer whole; it is broken in several pieces.  

To experience wholeness is to no longer be broken.

It's to be healthy and whole in every aspect of life. 

God made us whole beings. 

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He gave us emotions. Though perceived through animation, the movie Inside Out characterizes the reality of our emotions. The control center of our brain transmits certain emotions as we relate in life, and to life. Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness all play a part in expressing our feelings. We wouldn’t be human without them.

He gave us an intellect. We have the capacity to reason, to gain knowledge and understanding through study and life experience.

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 He gave us a physical body - both inner (what you don’t see) and outer (what you do see) that functions with such a dependency on every part in order for us to live, breath, and move.

 He gave us a spirit, ultimately desiring that we would connect with him - spirit to Spirit. The enemy stole the spiritual connection that Adam and Eve had with God in the Garden of Eden when sin entered into the heart of man. That decision was affected by the pull of emotions, the reason of intellect, and the motivation of physical desires. We can be like God. Why can't we eat from that tree? That fruit sure does look good! Did God really say...  They chose sin over connection with God. That choice impacted all mankind thereafter. It is only through Jesus that we can become spiritually alive, connecting with the One who created us and desires us whole. 

And the Lord--who is the Spirit--makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. –1 John 4:13

 

It's a life-time journey, but one that God empowers and enables so that we might be more like him. Wholeness in Christ will impact your attitude, your behavior, your thoughts, your relationships, your desires, and your heart. 

My next blog post will focus on the first Big Question: Where is God leading me to change? 

 

The Heart Cry of Discipleship

What if grace was God responding to us because he sees us whole and wants us to experience that wholeness? 

My friend posed this question to me in the middle of a conversation while we were considering what it was to have Christ formed in us. 

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I'm going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. The apostle Paul wrote these words to the believers in Galatia. (Galatians 4:19) This is the heart cry of discipleship. 

 Oh, the joy of new babes! But they don't stay babies, they grow and develop, just like new believers in Christ. 

Oh, the joy of new babes! But they don't stay babies, they grow and develop, just like new believers in Christ. 

Christ formed in me is to have Christ formed in ALL of me. 

When Jesus took his last breath, the temple curtain tore in two, opening up a whole new way to God. It was God's way of demonstrating that a high priest was no longer necessary to go behind the temple curtain to intervene on our behalf for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus did that for us on the cross. It wasn't about religious rules and regulations anymore. It was about a relationship with the resurrected Jesus, given once and for all, for all mankind, for all time. 

Jesus died so we could be whole. 

We are not only spiritual beings, but emotional, physical, and intellectual beings. Discipleship includes all of this. Christ formed in us means that it effects every aspect of life. Attitude. Will. Desires. Longings. Goals. Plans. Decisions. Past. Present. Future. 

Over the next four blog posts we will be taking a look at what I call the four big questions to experiencing wholeness. 

Join me as we explore the four essential elements of discipleship. The spiritual practices are one of those elements, but discipleship is so much more. 

Defining You!

Not everybody gets into assessments and test when it comes to self-discovery. I, on the other hand, find it intriguing.

I remember discovering my unique personality in my 20’s. It was in the day of books like Personality Plus by Florence Littauer and Transformed Temperaments by Tim LaHaye. Using animal names was one way to describe your personality: Lion, Beaver, Golden Retriever, or Otter. I’m half beaver and half golden retriever. My husband calls me a Beaver Triever. I'm loyal and enjoy relationship, but there are times when I’m on a mission when in beaver mode. Let me finish my work and then I’ll have time to sit and have coffee with you. Most of the time, though, I’m a Triever, and a golden one, at that.

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Then, there are the colors: blue like the ocean, green like the grass, yellow like the sunshine, and red like . . . well, I can’t remember! It might be fire. One day, years ago, when I was a young mom, I sat my four kids down around the kitchen table and shared which color depicted their personality and why. After a few minutes of explanation, our oldest, 12 years at the time, with a red personality said, “Mom, are we done yet?” In other words, keep it short and sweet mom, I have other things to do. Our youngest daughter, five years old, with her pondering eyes, in blue mode said, “Mom, I love you.” The kid’s personality colors were coming out in the moment. It was amazing to see their response according to their color coordinate. The oldest daughter was asking questions (green), and the middle daughter was proclaiming how fun it was (yellow).

It was in my 40’s when the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, came out with an accompanying StrengthFinders online assessment. I don’t know if it was my age or what, but the conclusions to my assessment were so defining for my life. Maybe I had lived life long enough or been set free from condemning thoughts that I was able to embrace who I was. I listed out my top five strengths with short descriptions and tacked it to my bookshelf where it became a everyday reminder. I found that my strengths overlapped with my spiritual gifts of faith, discernment, and teaching. This assessment has been one of the most defining elements of my life. If you’re curious to know, you can find my top five strengths with short descriptions here at a now retired blog.

The enneagram is fast becoming a popular self-discovery resource, at least in my part of the world. Though Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert wrote a book on the Christian perspective of the Enneagram in 2001, The Road Back to You is the one I’m hearing about lately. I have yet to read it.

I created a Life Rhythm assessment in hopes that it will be a factor in discovering your unique rhythm. Just to be clear, Life Rhythms may overlap with your personality, but it does not peg personality characteristics as much as it demonstrates your way of doing life. As a seasonal/yearly person, I am prone to changing things up according to seasons whether I’m a beaver/triever or not. The three categories of Life Rhythms is a fairly new concept, one that may need some additional research for how it might relate to personality.

Determining your life rhythm as described by the chapters in the book is possible, but perhaps an assessment will narrow it down even more. I don’t know about you, but when I see it on paper, it makes it more official. You’ll find the assessment on the menu under “book,” a free download for yourself or as a resource in counseling/coaching others.

Let me know how it works for you. Did the assessment turn out how you thought it might or was it completely different than you might have guessed? Any questions?

Self-discovery and self-awareness is a wonderful thing. It’s not about being selfish, but having a curiosity as to how God made you and knowing that you are wonderfully made for the good works that he prepared in advance for you to do. Discovering your life rhythm will help you relate to how you go about doing those good works. 

You're Too Forgiving

The summons came in the mail last fall. Jury duty. I wasn't thrilled. 

Almost 40 years ago I received my first and only other summons, but I was expecting our first child and it was too close to the due date, so I was released from my obligation. 

This time, I couldn't make the dates assigned to me again, not because of a due date:), but because I was going to be out of the country. So I requested another week when I knew I was going to be in town. That week came after the new year.

The first morning of jury duty, I drove to a city parking garage, parked the car, and walked on snowy sidewalks in frigid temperatures to the County Building several blocks away. I came in step with a middle-aged lady gingerly tracking through the snow. 

Jury duty? she asked. It must have been obvious.

Yes. I'm not really sure what to expect. First time. 

During our conversation I discovered she has been working for the county for over two decades. She was gracious to give me a mental map of getting myself to the right place in the building, and to assure me there was nothing to be nervous about. 

We entered the building together, but soon angled in different directions, her going to the employee entrance, me standing in line for security. After going through the security screening (where I lost my small nail clippers with a file that's an inch long), I headed to the elevator to make my way to the large assembly hall where all potential jurors were to show up by 8am. A feat for this non-morning person. 

About 70 people showed up awaiting instructions, half the number summoned, we were told by a kind and understanding lady introducing us to the jury process. Apologizing that we had to come out on a bitter-cold day, for the difficult downtown parking, and the cold room in which we sat (nobody took off their coats), she explained what to expect for the day. 

We watched a 15-minute video on the process of choosing jurors, then filled out a two-sided form asking various questions that would give the prosecutor and defendant's lawyer some background information on each of us. Then we waited.

Just over two hours later, 14 names were called to come forward. My name wasn't one of them. Phew! The 14 were instructed to line up to follow the bailiff to the courtroom, and the rest of us were ask to follow suit behind them. 

I had never been in a courtroom. Everything was in CSI order. The potential jurors took their seats in the juror box. Those of us not chosen took our seats in the spectator area behind the main gallery. I had never been this close to our judicial system, and I found it to be an interesting and fascinating experience. The judge, a man who looked to be in his 40's, raised the gavel, giving it a firm pound on the desk to start the proceedings. He was cordial, and I pictured him having a family that he goes home to after a day's trial for a new reality in his own world. He began by expressing his appreciation to all those who responded to jury duty. In fact, everyone in the courtroom stood when we entered the room. It was an honored role. 

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He continued to address the potential jurors, refreshing our high school memories on the constitution and the privilege that was ours to be a part of a country where fellow citizens and peers participated in the administration of justice. I had not considered this so deeply before, but sitting in the courtroom that day, watching the process of jury selection take place, I felt patriotism rise up within me. Yes, there are places in the world where there is no trial or a dictator lashes out the verdict with vengeance. I thought the defendant tuned into every word the judge said must have been thankful, too, even in spite of his circumstances. 

Then, it was time to start proceedings. The judge gave the prosecutor permission to question the potential jurors for 20 minutes. Questions were aimed at individuals or the group as a whole–questions that would weed out those who couldn't be impartial in this criminal case, those who had conflicts of interest or a background that would not lend itself to the case. As random as the first step of summoning a potential juror (the mailing notice), the process thereafter is very deliberate. The lawyer of the defendant asked her own questions for 20 minutes. Once the questioning was done, both approached the judge with their choice of jurors. 

They returned to their seats and the judge stood to announce those released from jury duty. Four exited the room. The remaining individuals were informed they are now jurors for the case, and were asked to step out to a room reserved for jurors where they would wait for further instructions. 

The judge rose calling 12 more potential jurors to come forward from the spectator seating. Gwen Marie Jackson. I let out a quiet sigh, made eye contact with a lady I had gotten to know while waiting in the large assembly hall, made my way to the juror's box, and took my seat. Once again, the prosecutor rose to question. This time he had 12 minutes.

About three questions in, he looked at me. Mrs. Jackson, you are an ordained minister.

Yes, that's correct, I replied confidently (and proudly).  

He looked me straight in the eye from where he stood. We tend to shy away from ministers. Raising his right index finger to his chin, with a tilt of his head, he asked, Why do you think that is?

My mind was filing through all the reasons that might be the case. A bit hesitant, I began to answer, We believe in right and wrong. We have values and principles we live... 

Abruptly, he interrupted my thoughts, Because you're too forgiving! His tone of voice was strong and felt almost accusing, though I accepted it as a compliment.  

Yes, that too, I said with a half-hearted giggle, triggered by both his answer and my nervousness now that all eyes were on me. 

Mrs. Jackson, how do you feel about making a judgment call on an individual?

Thinking through my answer while starting to respond, so as not to hold up the questioning, I began my brief response. He wasn’t looking for long explanations. God is the sole judge of a man’s heart. As a juror I would judge evidence and facts in this case to determine the outcome, along with my fellow jurors. Though I believe in redemption, there are consequences to a person’s actions and behavior.

You’re changing my perspective, the prosecutor responded with a slight smile. Then he moved on for further questioning of individuals.

The lawyer of the defendant took her 12 minutes for questioning, and then the judge was approached with their choices.

The judge stood and called out eight names to be released from jury duty.

Gwen Marie Jackson.

I exited the courtroom thankful for an experience that exposed me to the judicial system in a way that I had never encountered before. But, most of all, I was thankful to be called out as one who is too forgiving

Would people say Jesus was "too forgiving" to the criminal hanging next to him on the cross, certainly serving justice for his actions? I doubt that Jesus would have made jury duty. either. For all the words Christians are accused of, "too forgiving" is one that I will take. 

In this crazy and broken world, we need more people who are too forgiving.

 

When in a Seasonal Slump, Declare a Rallying Cry

October, November, and December were full months for me. Not so much because of the holidays, but for all the other things that were going on in my life. 

Here's what made up that season:

  • this website was launched (big learning curve)
  • preorders began for Unforced Rhythms
  • spoke at a women's retreat
  • podcast interviews (another big learning curve)
  • book released November 1
  • preorders shipped out, followed by more orders (and another big learning curve)
  • spoke at a conference
  • book signing at a local coffee shop
  • Nov trip to Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Hungary
  • celebrated a very important birthday
  • family Christmas (for kids/grands nearby) during 5-day turnaround
  • packages to CA kids/grands before we left on next trip
  • Dec trip to South Africa, Singapore, and New Zealand
  • NZ Christmas with more kids and grands
  • plus "just life" in between - the usual stuff like laundry, finances, household chores, and catching up with local kids/grands, and the not-so-usual stuff, like dealing with an insurance company for a totaled car (I was rear-ended in Oct and just now bringing closure to that)

I returned from NZ ready to go into hibernation, especially with the bitter-cold temperatures we were/are having in the mid-west. BUT, life doesn't allow for a dormant state. For one thing, I have a half-marathon to get ready for come May.

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Three years ago...

In May I'll be running with three out of four of my grown children. They're all hoping for a PR. I just told them to cheer me on as I cross the finish line. 

Let's do this!!

After a highly productive season, a seasonal slump can often follow. So, I'm declaring a rallying cry for February, March, and April, to change things up, to motivate. 

A rallying cry is just the sort of thing seasonal/yearly people would love. It has a start and a finish. I always think of the phrase "rally the troops" when it comes to a rallying cry, but instead of rounding up troops or forces to fight a battle, it's about focusing on a theme that inspires, revives, and motivates one to action. It could be a house project you've been wanting to get to, or a personal goal towards better health, or a focused study. 

If you've read Patrick Lencioni's book, The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family, you'll know what I mean by a rallying cry. I posted about this book back in 2009 on a blog I had at the time. Lencioni suggests a 2–6 month rallying cry. I usually make mine three or four.  You'll find posts on each of the three big questions here, here, and here. Dennis and I are empty-nesters, so I can't say we have a frantic family, but we do manage a considerable amount of travel. That calls for a way of life that is made up of packing, unpacking, time differences, weather differences, night flights, crowded jets, long flights, lots of people connections, jet lag, regrouping once home, catching up on life, and recovering from the toll of travel. 

So, today I joined the YMCA. I needed motivation, plus the cold temps and snow make running hazardous. My theme is staying healthy, which means only rewarding myself once a week with a pastry (maybe twice), and cross-training for the half. This all begins in February, so still enjoying a more than once-a-week apple fritter or sticky bun or persian pecan from a local bakery. I know, it's my downfall! I can walk through a candy store, no problem, but a donut shop. . . 

This morning it felt so good to put on my running clothes. I ran consistently in 2017, but took a 3-month break because of the above list (and my seasonal mode). I went as my daughter's guest (who joined the Y two days ago), but left as a member. I can't tell you how good it felt to run on the indoor track. And then, the weight machines to work on my upper body strength. The Y was just the motivation I needed.

 My cheering team 

My cheering team 

I'm also planning a 5-day getaway where the sun always shines for writing inspiration and spiritual renewal. A long retreat of sorts that will energize and refresh this seasonal person. 

It will be a different season than the past three months, but that's the way us seasonal people roll. We need to change things up to keep motivated and inspired. Forget a new year's resolution. Here's to a new season!

If you're rhythm is seasonal/yearly, what's your current season look like? 

Beyond Ourselves

Perhaps a painting that isn't about Christmas is more about Christmas than we realize. Rembrandt's painting, Return of the Prodigal, shows the attitude of both sons, but more importantly, the heart of the father. 

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Like the prodigal, left to ourselves, we spiral quickly. 

Left to ourselves, we are a people of hatred, envy, greed, lust, and power.

Left to ourselves, we control, manipulate, slander, abuse, and judge.

Left to ourselves, we create a world of war, racism, slavery, injustice, and oppression. 

Left to ourselves.

God knew the truth about us. He knew that we would not be happy without the freedom to make our own choices. Choices that would bring consequences. Choices that carried shame, sorrow, and pain. He knew that sin–missing the mark of what His Kingdom looks like–would bring destruction. But to do otherwise would not be love, even knowing a freewill meant his own rejection.

This love that gave mankind a freewill, a love that refused to control, provides the means by which we can be rescued from ourselves. Being the omniscient God that he is, he had a plan. It was a plan from the beginning of time, because he knew what would happen. Left to ourselves. 

In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henry Nouwen reflecting on Rembrandt's painting, writes a challenging portrayal of this story from Luke 15. The rebellious son chose to leave home and family with his early inheritance, carelessly spending it until there was nothing left. Left to himself, he ended up tending to pigs, sharing the same food he fed them. Only then did he recognize the destruction of his choices and turned his heart toward home. 

Nouwen challenges us to take a closer look at the elder son who stayed home. Truth be told, a judgmental and disgruntled attitude may describe more of us than outright rebellion (much like the Pharisees of Jesus' time and to whom he is telling the story). 

Yet, there is an element to this story that we often miss. The character of the father. This, Nouwen insists, is the crux of the story. He vividly portrays the heart of the father, who waits patiently in hope, graciously extends forgiveness, and generously bestows honor. 

What a different world it would be if we became more like the father – traits that move us beyond ourselves. 

Beyond ourselves. 

Beyond ourselves, we are a people of love, trust, generosity, kindness, and goodwill. 

Beyond ourselves, we are gracious, empathetic, compassionate, trustworthy, and respectful. 

Beyond ourselves, we create a world that is peace-loving, just, benevolent, impartial, and good-hearted.

This is why we celebrate Christmas. Jesus came to rescue us. From ourselves. From sin. From the enemy of our souls. Jesus came to set us free! 

The compelling factor that enables us to live beyond ourselves is a love founded in God through the gift of his Son, Jesus. 

A gift who gave himself "for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. - 2 Corinthians 5:15

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

My Greatest Joy

In the short time Unforced Rhythms has been released, I am encouraged by the responses from those who have read it. The highest compliment is to know that those who read the book sense my heart to relate and understand. My greatest joy is to know that others are finding freedom in God's grace.  And, the ultimate fruitfulness is to know Jesus is making himself more at home in people's hearts. 

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Here's a taste of what people are saying: 

While the idea of questioning daily devotions seemed outlandish to me, I also have struggled for my 32 years of faith to follow a daily devotional schedule. As an artist, a writer, and a creative individual, I believe that I might trend toward a more seasonal, yearly rotation, as Jackson highlights in her book. I will spend hours, days, and even weeks in a state of prayer, scripture study, or worship, and come out renewed, strengthened and restored. – M.M.

The spirit of your book so clearly reflects who you are. It may be of no surprise to you that I am a daily person, however, I love what I am reading and agree with you so much about how we often make burdensome rules for one another to carry while defining it as spiritual maturity. Thanks for taking the time to write your book and for your deep loving care for so many. – L.W. 

Great truths - practical and your vulnerability sets people free to do the same. It has much to contribute to the spiritual formation landscape! – J.L.

I am just getting into reading your book. So far, I don’t want to put it down! I, too, wrestle with the guilt of having daily quiet times. I’m excited to see how the Lord uses your words in my life. – T.R. 

Finally, someone has spoken out loud what I have been thinking/struggling with for years; I don’t do “devotions” everyday and have spent much of my life feeling like I don’t measure up. As a pastor that is an obvious wrestling match. It’s not that my relationship with Christ isn’t daily, it just doesn’t always consist of reading my Bible and spending an hour in prayer everyday. – D.B.

I would imagine any author appreciates feedback on a book they have written. I am grateful beyond measure for those who have written to express the impact of the book on their life!

My prayer for those who find freedom in the pages of Unforced Rhythms comes from Galatians 5:1 – So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law. 

 

 

It Found Me

Today I am sitting in the Budapest coffee shop where I first read Erica's email (as described in my first chapter) explaining her struggle with daily time with God. It was here, in this place, where I began to put words to paper in my response to Erica. This was the beginning of Unforced Rhythms. What began as an average email response ended up developing into an attached 5-page document. 

 Coffee shops and Budapest inspire me :)

Coffee shops and Budapest inspire me :)

Writing out my thoughts has always been something that has helped me make sense out of life. And so, as I began creating a response to Erica, the words flowed out of years of my own angst in time with God, yet I could respond to her out of a place of freedom.  

Over the years, writing a book is a thought that crossed my mind from time to time. A few people told me that I should write a book on prayer.  In a roundabout way Unforced Rhythms is about prayer, but it took on a whole different angle than I ever saw it going.

After two decades of seeking and searching for answers to daily devotions, the truths and discoveries in Unforced Rhythms found me. They came to me through the Word, particularly Matthew 11:28–30. They came to me through the gentle voice of my heavenly father telling me to "just live" in place of striving. They came to me through others, like my friend, Dave, who shared his brilliant concept of Life Rhythms. 

I've heard it said, recently, that some things find us.  

The words to Unforced Rhythms came to me like a river flowing over granite cliffs falling to the base below where the waters just keep flowing. Though I searched for answers, the book came out of the answers that brought me freedom. They found me.

Hearing "Me Too" in other parts of the world

This past weekend Dennis and I had the privilege of celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with our Egyptian friends. Sitting in the same room with key evangelical leaders from around the world was a surreal experience.  There are an estimated 250,000 evangelical Christians in Egypt, about 20% of the population.

 The Great Pyramids of Giza

The Great Pyramids of Giza

Though it was amazing to visit a city with rich ancient history, and to see pyramids dating back to 2,500 years BC, what I most enjoyed was the opportunity to interact with people. 

Hanan was our translator and so gracious to answer all my questions. Along the way she discovered that I had written my first book, curious to know what it was about. I told her the title and subtitle, pausing to wait for a reaction. She gave me a nod, with a knowing look, and so I continued on to share a bit more specifically about the book's topic. "Yes, we struggle with this here in Egypt, too." 

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I wondered if Unforced Rhythms would be a book that crossed cultures. Did Christians in other parts of the world have the same spiritual angst that I did with daily devotions or was this just a North American thing?  

A few months ago in Africa, I spoke with our Zambian leader and pastor who oversees the church planting efforts in Malawi. He, too, asked about the book. After describing the topic of the book, I ask him if he had daily devotions. "Yes, but I do good for a couple weeks and then I struggle to stay at it." I told him I understood and that I think he would find the book helpful. He chuckled and said, "Well, you are the ones that taught us to do it!" 

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Trusting God to determine the scope of influence in the message of Unforced Rhythms. 

Unforced Rhythms Spans the Generations

From millennials to retirees, the impact of Unforced Rhythms is making its mark. Much to my surprise, I am hearing from those who I thought might react to Life Rhythms.  I thought, perhaps, those who have been in the church for a long time might push back on something that goes against the grain of Christian standards. 

One retired couple reading it aloud on the 2,000 mile road trip to their winter haven in Arizona  sent me a message saying, "We are loving your book," asking to order three more copies for accountability friends. "When I read a few pages of the book before we left on the trip, I knew immediately he (her husband) would love the book." 

This is my hope and prayer, that all ages would be impacted by the message of Unforced Rhythms, and that it would be a book that both men and women would enjoy. I'm encouraged that 20% of my Instagram followers are men. And, the highest age span is 25–30. My favorite age group to connect with are young adults. Perhaps it's because my young adult years were so life-changing. It was in that season that the trajectory of my life was set.

I wrote the book with people in mind. I thought of my kids, all in their 30's, trusting that their hearts would resonate with the words. I wanted it to speak to millennials who are looking for authenticity in the church. I thought of my 86-year-old mom who suggested that I have the text font clear and crisp so she wouldn't have a problem reading it. :) I thought of my brother. who continues farming on the land I grew up on. I wanted him to believe the book worthy of a sit-down-and-read (without falling asleep) in the midst of full days on the farm. And, mostly I thought of anyone who needs to be set free from oughts and shoulds, from self-or-others imposed expectations, and those bearing heavy yokes. 

It's a book about freedom, celebrating each other's differences, and mostly, about God's love and grace.

A Year of Psalm 91

Early in January, Dennis and I had the opportunity to meet up with Global Partner leaders In Barbados. I know, not such a bad place to go in January! It wasn't the first time we had been on this gorgeous island. On a previous visit, we ask the National Superintendent (of the Wesleyan Church) and his wife if they used Fahrenheit or Celsius for their weather reading. They looked at each other considering the question. "We don't know. We never have to think about the weather." For those of us who live in the seasonal changes of summer to fall and fall to winter, can you imagine?! This little island, 21-miles long, 14-miles wide, stays a summery 70 to 88 degrees all year round. 

Since we were there over a Sunday, the leadership team spread out to preach in a number of churches across the island. Dennis and I enjoyed the vibrant Caribbean-style worship, and then I was so intrigued by what the congregation did prior to the message. The worship pastor had the congregation stand to recite a passage of scripture on the screen at the front of the church. One passage was from the Old Testament, and the other from the New Testament. These passages, he explained, were chosen as a declaration of their faith for the new year. They planned to read them every Sunday. 

As I took in the words of their Old Testament selection, Psalm 91, I decided right then and there, this was a passage I wanted to put to memory. Seasonal person that I am, I first thought I would memorize it over a 3-month period. Early on though, I decided to be creative with the passage, sketching an image that represented a set of verses, using my watercolor pencils to complete the picture. 

It has been a meaningful way to take in this Psalm, and it's going to take me the entire year to get through it. So, rather than a Psalm for a season, it has become the Psalm for 2017. That's a seasonal/yearly person for you. 

Which trail would you take?

One of Dennis' and my favorite pastimes is hiking, and one of our favorite places to hike is Yosemite National Park. The majestic granite cliffs and roaring water falls get me every time.

A few years ago we took the 5,000 foot climb up to Half Dome, the park's icon. In order to make it back before dark, we started our ascent in the early morning hours. After hours of hiking, we reached the sub-base, cautiously climbing the rock-hewn steps. The last 400-foot ascent took work gloves and upper-body strength to pull ourselves up the cables to make the 45-degree climb to the top. 

At dusk, we walked back to Curry Village, our tent area in the valley, more exhausted than exhilarated about the fact that we had made it to the top. We literally crawled into our bed that night with aching muscles that Ibuprofen barely touched. 

 Half Dome from Yosemite Valley

Half Dome from Yosemite Valley

If you were hiking and came to a fork in the trail where a sign post gave you two options, which trail would you choose, the trail of Pleasing God or the trail of Trusting God? 

It's easy to make the Christian life about what we do, striving to please God, comparing ourselves to others, making our way to the top with the effort to please. 

Years ago while reading the book, Truefaced, I learned that there are two trails we can hike as believers. For years, I joined the many hikers on the trail of Pleasing God. It was about effort, validation, and measuring up. 

My perspective changed when I realized I could take the trail of Trusting God. This trail had its challenges, but it was different. Pleasing God led to perfectionism, self-condemnation, and discouragement. But, taking the trail of Trusting God turned my focus from me to him. 

When I realized the difference between the two trails, I made a U-turn in my Christian journey, retracing my steps to arrive at the trail of Trusting God. I could trust him with my life. I was free to be who God says I am without the burden of striving for perfection in order to please him or earn his approval. I hiked empowered by the truth that I am already loved and accepted. I hiked knowing he is proud of me, his growing child. My journey became about maturity, not perfection. 

For those who hike the trail of Pleasing God, it's time to change course. You'll find God's love, grace, and mercy abundant on the trail of Trusting God. I'd love for you to come over and join me on the trail. Because, you see, it's in trusting that we please. 

 At the top of Half Dome

At the top of Half Dome