Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Total oneness with God

A number of years ago, I started this journey out of religion seeking to understand my union with God.  Since then, I've journeyed through many places including grace and the love of God.  I've learned and experienced many exciting and wonderful things but recently, my thoughts have returned to the concept of oneness.  I remember being told that we're empty shells and we need a continuous filling by God because we leak. That never sounded right to me and I've now come to see that that's a very faulty picture of our relationship with God.  

While it's true that he's in us, there's a greater depth of understanding that we need to discover.  While I firmly believe that the church hasn't fully understood the truth that God is in us, there is so much more so we can't stop there. 

Yesterday, while driving to meet a friend, I began to think about the song, "Draw Me Close to You."  The first line of that song is "Draw me close to you.  Never let me go."  While it's a beautiful song with a sweet sentiment, the message it presents is a faith killer.  We don't need to beg God to draw us closer because we're already as close as we can get.  Not only is he in us but he's one with us.

I used to be confused when I read in the Bible that God is in us but we're also in him.  I couldn't understand how that was possible but yesterday, I realized that that's a picture of our oneness with him.  The amazing truth is that not only is he in us but we're also in him . . . total union! 

God doesn't just fill us like an empty shell.  NO!!! He's in us, in our very DNA!!!  We're now totally embedded in one another so there can be no separation, no leakage.  It's no longer him or me but it's now us so I no longer approach him as though he's on a distant planet.  Because he and I are one, I now accept that he's involved in my thinking and he's adding his thoughts to my thoughts and these combined thoughts have now become my normal "prayer life."

There are stages of understanding that we must pass through.  First, we need to know that God is in us.  Then, we need to believe that we're totally one with him because until we begin to live out of our oneness with him, we'll continue to be a fractured church.  Like the Corinthian church, we'll continue declaring, "I'm Baptist, I'm Methodist, I'm Assemblies of God" or even, "I'm a Free Believer."  Only when we live out of our oneness with him, can we really begin to understand our oneness as the church.  When we reach that final stage, I believe we'll finally become the Church that's fully alive with the glory of God.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Understanding My Calling - Part 3

I didn't expect to be adding a part 3 to my "Understanding My Calling - Part 1 and Part 2" posts but recently I began to once again think about what I had written.  As I processed these thoughts, I gained additional understanding and I want to share these new thoughts with those of you who read my blog.

After I finished my last post, I spoke with a couple of friends who are still involved in the institutional church.  When I explained that my calling is to encourage those who are outside of the institutional system, their response was, "Can't you do that in the church?"  Their question caught me off guard and my response was that I need to stay focused on what I was called to do and not get distracted.  Although that's true, I don't think that's the complete answer.  I suppose I could try to encourage those who are in the institutional church but I've found that they're not receptive to what I have to say while those who are outside of the system are very receptive.  As Paula White said, I need to "go where I'm celebrated, not where I'm tolerated."

The truth is we can't just change our calling simply because we choose to and, if we try, we'll never be satisfied or fully effective because a calling is something that's been placed in our heart.  It must be awakened and once it's awakened and we begin to function in it, we can't just replace it with a substitute without losing a part of who we are. 

When I wrote my two previous posts, I struggled with using the word "calling."  Unfortunately because of religious overtones, that word has taken on a meaning that I believe is far from what it's meant to be.  According to what we've been taught, a calling is a commandment from God and since it's a commandment, we're expected to obey it without question regardless of how we may feel about it.  I've even heard people say that they knew God was calling them to do something because they didn't want to do it.  They believe that a calling has absolutely nothing to do with what they want.  God simply tells them what he wants them to do and woe be it for them if they don't obey even if they don't understand what he's saying.  What a terrible picture that paints of God!  That isn't a loving father; that's a perfect picture of an abusive father.

As a result, many people spend their entire lives trying to figure out what God wants them to do, fearful that they'll miss his perfect will and suffer punishment for their disobedience even if it wasn't intentional.  They don't understand that God has already put our calling in our hearts so it's not something that we have to seek.  It's already there.  All we have to do is follow the desires of our heart and it will lead us into our calling.  Then once we start functioning in it, a substitute will never satisfy.  If someone has a calling to go to China, they'll have a passion for that country and its people and they'll never be satisfied staying home or even going to the Sudan.  While there may be people where they live or in the Sudan who could benefit from their presence, they'll continue to be unfulfilled because the substitute will never satisfy the desire of their heart.  

Unfortunately, in an attempt to "serve God," many believers choose a profession that they believe will please God which is why some go into the "ministry."  Even though they may be miserable, guilt and shame will not allow them to give up.  Many of us struggle to find our calling and some will never discover it because we've lost connection with our hearts.   We haven't been trained to hear its voice so it's difficult to recognize the desires and the passions that have been placed in it.  

What is it that we like to do?  What excites us?  What are our passions?  It's important that we find the answer to these questions because until we do, our calling will remain shrouded in mystery. However, as we begin to re-connect with our heart, its voice will become clearer and our calling will no longer be mysterious and unknowable and we'll begin to live the fulfilled lives that God has made available for us. 
  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Understanding My Calling - Part 2

In part 1 of this topic, I described my journey to discover my calling and to function in it more effectively.  However, I feel it's important to emphasize that I didn't set out to do that.  Discovering my calling  wasn't anything that I ever thought about doing.  However over time, a pattern began to emerge and, because of my conversations with Jim Robbins, I became aware of those patterns and began to observe them more closely.

Although I believe it's important to know and understand our calling, I don't believe that it's anything we're supposed to stress or worry about because as we live our lives and interact with others on a daily basis, what we need to know will become clearer.  We won't have to go searching for it because it'll be a continuous revelation that will eventually become more apparent. 

The key is to recognize those areas where we just seem to flow naturally.  As I said in my previous post, my natural tendency is to encourage those whom I come in contact with so over time, I recognized that this is a gift that I flow in without any effort.  I've also noticed that I like to administrate and this is another gift that has helped me to moderate the forum on the Free Believers Network website as well as providing another opportunity to use my gift as an encourager.  

Proverbs 18:16 says that our gifts will make room for us and I'm finding that to be true.   As I live my life doing what God is laying on my heart to do that day, he'll open doors for me without any effort on my part.  I've had opportunities to do things that I've never imagined as I've followed my heart and moved through the doors that he's opened.  Although it's not another work that we have to do, it is to our advantage to flow in each new revelation and to begin to function in the calling that's being revealed to us. 

One of the greatest benefits I found is that it removes a lot of the pressure.  At one time, my spiritual life was characterized by a frenzy of religious activity as I tried to "do ministry."  Thinking that I needed to serve God, I even forced myself to do things that I hated doing.  Although I do believe God worked through all of that frenzy, how much more effective would it have been had my energy been focused on using my unique gifts?

So, when I know what my calling is, I can focus the bulk of my time and energy on doing what I was created to do instead of trying to meet every need that I see.  There are a lot of good things that need to be done but that doesn't mean that I need to do them.  When we try to do everything that presents itself, we exhaust ourselves trying to keep up and we have little energy left for what we should be doing.  As a result, those things often don't get done or they get done hurriedly without much thought.

What wonderful freedom there is when I can focus my time and energy on my calling because I'm no longer pulled in a dozen different directions.  People have a tendency to try to pull us into their calling but now I no longer feel like I have to try to fit into someone else's mold.   Since we've been trained in the religious system to believe that "big is best," believers often think that in order to be effective for God that they have to have a BIG ministry with LOTS of people involvedAs a result, the tendency is to try to get as many other people involved in what they're doing.  If we fall for the pressure, we'll end up working in someone else's calling to the detriment of our own

When we try to function in someone else's calling, over time our enthusiasm diminishes.  Then, it simply becomes just another chore that we have to do, kind of like washing dishes or making the bed.  Our own calling, however, will produce passion and we need to take note of that passion because it's an important indicator and motivator.  Since fulfillment only comes as we function in what we've been uniquely gifted to do, it's important that we discover and follow the passions of our heart because, where there's a lack of passion, there's also a lack of enthusiasm and energy.  Passion breeds an excitement and energy that can't be contained and it overflows into all that we do.    

However, I've also learned that nothing is carved in stone so it's  possible that over time our calling or the way it's to be lived out may change.  Our heart will tell us when that happens so if we follow the passions of our heart, we'll flow in whatever we may be called to do in that moment.  I've discovered that the key to success and fulfillment is to follow the leadings of my heart and by doing that, I'll be involved in whatever I've been called to do in that moment.  I believe Proverbs 4:23 can be a guide for us as we journey through this life.  

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." - Proverbs 4:23      
    

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The 'God is Hiding' Mentality

I recently taped a podcast with my friend, Joel Brueseke.  I met Joel a number of years ago when I discovered his blog, Grace Roots.  Over the years his website as well as his blog have been a great source of inspiration and encouragement for me.  Joel also does a podcast, Growing in Grace, with his friend, Mike Kapler. 

These are all great resources to help us understand God's grace and I hope you'll check them out. 

The podcast I recorded with Joel describes the God is hiding mentality that has robbed so many of us of our security as believers.  I hope you'll enjoy it and be encouraged. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Understanding My Calling - Part 1

My friend, Jim Robbins, and I have spoken on several occasions as he's encouraged me to determine my calling.  As believers, I know we all have a general calling which is to follow God and to love one another.  However, I'm convinced that each of us also has a calling which is very specific to our individual temperaments and our unique life experiences and we'll never be fulfilled until we discover that calling and begin to function in it. 

I'm reading a book entitled "Identity: Your Passport to Success" by Stedman Graham and I'm really enjoying what he has to say.  This book has led me to once again focus my attention on discovering more about my calling and to function in it more effectively.  For years, I've known that I'm gifted as an encourager.  My greatest joy is to encourage others and to watch as their lives unfold into greater depths of understanding of who they are.  Everything I do comes out of that desire and that's why I created this blog.  It's an outlet for me to share my journey of discovery with the hope that it will encourage others who are on a similar journey.

Over time, my calling has become clearer.  Greater clarity has come little by little as I've observed the circumstances of my life and how I've responded to each one.  There have usually been long periods of time between each revelation and, at first, that was frustrating but I now see that those gaps of time have enabled me to adjust to each new revelation and to begin to live in it more fully before moving on to the next one.

I love speaking and teaching but, as I pulled away from active involvement in a local church, those opportunities came to a screeching halt.  After a time of inactivity, I became disoriented and very frustrated.  At one point, the frustration was so great that I wrote to Wayne Jacobsen to ask his advice and I told him that I felt like I needed to be doing something.

I'll never forget his response.

He said that the desire to be doing something is a tentacle from the religious system and that if God wanted me to do something, he would clearly tell me what it is rather than giving me a vague feeling that I should be doing something.  That made sense so I didn't follow through with my plans at that time.  However, the feeling was still strong so I eventually became involved with a para-church group.  Although I enjoyed getting to know the other ladies in the group, I found that I was compromising more and more what I was now coming to believe and finally I just couldn't do it anymore.  The stress was too great so I made the decision to resign my position with the group.

After leaving that group, I went back into a time of inactivity.  It was frustrating in some ways but, as the tentacles of the religious system loosened, I became more comfortable with the quiet.  As I grew more settled in my heart, I actually began to enjoy my time of rest since I was now free to set my own schedule and to do more of the things I enjoyed doing.  Also, because I was freed from dealing with the frenzy of religious activity, God was able to work in me inwardly without all of the distractions.

Some recent events have brought me back to once again focusing my thoughts on my calling.  Several weeks ago, I had dinner with a very close friend who is on an amazing journey.  She is a woman who lives from her heart and she does it while actively involved in the institutional church.  At times, I've wondered why she's been able to make such a huge impact in the local church she attends while I haven't.  Feeling guilty, I've  wondered if maybe I needed to follow her example and become more actively involved once again.

However, my role has now became more clear.  Although it's true that when I've tried to share with people who are still in the institutional church, there's been no interest in what I've had to say, it's been totally different with the church who is outside of the institution.  Those believers seek me out regularly and it's not unusual for me to get an email from someone I don't know who wants to talk to me about what's going on in their life.  Also, because I moderate the forum on the Free Believers Network website, I have an opportunity to provide a place where believers who are outside of the church system can meet with others who are on a similar journey and can share their stories and discuss what they're learning.

I believe my friend and I have a similar calling which is why we're able to support and encourage one another.  Neither calling is better nor more spiritual than the other but each one has been tailored to fit our unique temperament and life experiences as well as provide maximum fulfillment.  While she's called to encourage those who are still part of the local church and to help them understand this amazing grace that we've been given, I'm called to do the same for those who are outside of the institutional church.  They are the ones who are drawn to me and who actually want to hear what I have to say.  However, although our callings are similar, they're not interchangeable.  She wouldn't be fulfilled in my calling and I wouldn't be fulfilled in hers.

This is clearly described in Proverbs 18:16 in the The Message Bible where the writer says, "A gift gets attention; it buys the attention of eminent people."  My unique gifts and calling get the attention of the people who I'm called to encourage . . . the believers outside of the religious system.

My friend also shared with me the following quote which has further re-enforced my understanding of my calling.  "Go where you're celebrated, not where you're tolerated." (Paula White)

What an eye opener!  My calling will become clear as I see who receives me and what I have to say with enthusiasm and then that's where I need to focus my time and energy.

The apostle Paul also had to grow in this understanding because when he attempted to speak to the Jews, all he received was persecution and abuse.  However, when he spoke to the gentiles, he was received with enthusiasm.  He finally realized that his calling was to the gentiles and he declared to the Jews that from that day forward, he would go to the gentiles.  He recognized his calling and went where what he had to say was accepted and his ministry took off.  So, if it was important for the apostle Paul to discover his calling, how much more important is it for us to discover ours.    

In my next post, I plan to discuss the benefits of discovering and functioning in your individual calling but, for now, I want to leave you with two quotes that I hope will encourage you as you seek to move forward in the calling that God has given you.  

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." - Steve Jobs

"Go where you're celebrated, not where you're tolerated." - Paula White

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Killer of Relationships

Relationships are fragile and need to be protected.  Although there are many enemies that seek to destroy them, there is one enemy that is probably the greatest killer of relationships and that is expectations.  Of course, there are a few expectations that are valid such as faithfulness in a marriage however, other than those few reasonable ones, we tend to have a myriad of other expectations that can ultimately end up robbing us of our joy and peace as well as destroying those relationships.   

As I've struggled to be free from unreasonable expectations, I've found that they come in various layers.  It's always a challenge to give them up but, until we're able to give up each layer of expectations, we'll never experience the wholeness that God desires for us to have.

We all have dreams and hopes and that's good but they become unhealthy when they become standards that we use to determine how we view ourselves and our success.  My granddaughter has always had an artistic bent and she's always loved to color.  Even as a young child, she was constantly at work coloring and drawing.  Napkins in restaurants were the perfect canvas on which to display her creative genius so, as a result, we went through a lot of napkins during lunch.  She would thoroughly enjoy herself until a stray line would cause her to erupt into a flood of tears.  Even the smallest mistake was totally unacceptable.  No matter how we tried to encourage her, she became inconsolable.  We would even point out to her how the stray line could be incorporated into the picture so that it didn't detract from its beauty but it still wasn't good enough and the tears continued to flow.  This happened on many occasions and it led to a great deal of frustration and disappointment because she had set standards so high that they were impossible for her to meet.     

Even as adults, we often set standards for ourselves that are impossible to meet and when we fail, we sink into self-pity crying, "I can't do anything right!"  However, we've got to be realistic and allow ourselves to be human.  Because we're human, we'll make mistakes . . . that's a given.  Sometimes we'll even make a lot of them but we need to allow ourselves the freedom to make them and to learn from them.

We tend to have a negative view of mistakes but mistakes can actually be beneficial since, when viewed correctly, they provide a way of growth that doesn't happen when everything goes just right.  I've heard it said that if we're not making mistakes, it's because we're not taking risks and, when we're not taking risks, we'll never accomplish anything great. So, the key is to allow ourselves to make mistakes, learn from them and then move on.

Another layer of expectations that we have to give up are those expectations that we've place on God.  Anyone who's been exposed to any word of faith teaching is probably familiar with the "name it and claim it" teaching.  Although this is a very popular "faith" teaching, it puts God in a box.  Proponents of this teaching believe that because we pray a certain way and claim specific scriptures, God is obligated to give us what we ask for.  Some teachers will even tell us that we have to tell God exactly what we want.  For example, if we want a new car, we have to tell him the make and model as well as the color and all of the extras that we want.  Otherwise, he can't give us what we want. 

So, when the car doesn't arrive exactly as we ordered, our faith in God is shaken.  And, when the healing doesn't come that we've prayed for and claimed, then we're accused of not having enough faith to bring it to pass and guilt is laid on us because we're told that our failure to be healed is our fault.  However, this teaching is a denial of the fact that God knows our heart and knows exactly what we need even before we ask for it. 

God isn't a one size fits all God and he doesn't treat us all the same.  We've all been uniquely created and he respects our uniqueness so just because he did it for Jabez, doesn't mean that he'll do it for us and just because he did it for you, doesn't mean that he'll do it for me.  Instead of it being an understanding that God knows every hair on our head and knows what's best for us, faith has become a way to manipulate him into giving us what we want.

Faith was never meant to be a tool to be used in order to get our selfish wants satisfied but instead it's meant to be the result of a relationship with our loving Father.  As we come to know God and realize how much he loves us, our faith grows and we begin to trust that he's watching over us and taking care of us no matter what the circumstances may be.  This kind of faith produces peace and contentment even in the midst of troubling circumstances because the focus is no longer on us and what we want but instead it's on his love.

I think Eugene Peterson says it well when he records the words of Jesus in The Message Bible.  He says: "What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving." (Matthew 6)

The third level of expectations that I want to discuss is giving up expectations of others.  That in my opinion and in my experience is the hardest one to give up because we tend to believe that our happiness is dependent on the behavior of others.  So, we think if only they would change, everything would be okay.  However after many years of trying to fix the people in my life, I've come to the conclusion that the only person who controls my happiness is me.  I may not like the circumstances of my life but I can choose to be joyful when I'd much rather sulk and wallow in self-pity.  Is that easy to do?  No, not always but I'm learning to find those moments of joy that I can focus on instead of the things I'd like to change that I have no control over.  It's a constant battle to choose joy but I've tried the other and I've decided that I don't want to live miserable anymore.

Humans are independent beings with free wills.  God doesn't violate someone's free will and neither should we.  I've found that when I try to change someone and they don't change, my tendency is to be disappointed and that leads to complaining.  Then, complaining leads to manipulation.  It's easy to fall into this pattern especially if the other person gives in to our manipulation.  When we get our way, we'll continue to manipulate them to get them to do whatever we want.  However, when that becomes a pattern, that relationship has begun to die.  

No one likes to be controlled and unreasonable expectations will build a wall between us and those we care about.  Each expectation and attempt to manipulate adds another brick to the wall and, if not dealt with, eventually the wall can get so tall that all communication stops and the relationship dies.  The only solution is to tear down the wall but that requires a willingness on our part to give up our expectations and allow the other person the freedom to be who they've been created to be.

Learning to give up expectations has not been an easy road for me and I'm still on the journey.  However, because I've valued the relationship enough to put it ahead of my unrealistic expectations, I feel like it's been well worth the effort and, as a result, I've experienced greater joy and peace. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Understanding the Heart of "Ministry"

Ministry in the institutional church is pretty clear cut since it usually has a job description attached to it.  Ministry may be pastoring or teaching a Sunday School class.  It can also be singing or playing an instrument as a "praise and worship leader" or it can be working in the kitchen to help prepare the fellowship suppers.  In the context of the institutional church, it's varied but it's usually also highly structured and it normally takes place in the building where the group meets.

Since ministry is clearly defined, you always know when you do it.  However, once you step outside of the institutional system, ministry becomes amorphous and not so easily defined.  Since there's no job description, you often don't know when you've done it.

Ministry outside of the religious system is simple but it's also complex.  As defined by Dictionary.com, ministry is "the service, functions, or profession of a minister of religion" which is how the institutional church views it.  However, the dictionary app on my Nook defines it as "the act of serving" which I believe is a clearer definition of how ministry takes place outside of the institution.  Basically, it's the act of serving others and that's a pretty simple definition.  However, it becomes complex when we try to determine what this ministry should look like.

Although the outward situations may look the same, everyone's needs are different and that's what makes it complex.  If we'll get to know each individual as they struggle in their particular situation, we'll see differences that require different ministry in order to help them.  For example, if we probe a bit when trying to help homeless people, we'll discover that there are a variety of reasons why people become homeless so helping each person may require a different solution.  Also, needs tend to change so what someone needs today may not be what they need tomorrow.

The word "ministry" tends to have a rather mysterious aura about it but I don't think it was ever meant to be something that is mysterious and that can be done by only a few uniquely qualified individuals.  I believe it's best walked out in the every day circumstances of life by loving and serving whomever crosses our path in that given moment.  Although some people may require long term assistance, I believe it can also involve touching the life of someone in a simple subtle way.  Although we may never see them again what we do in that moment may have a great impact on their lives.  It may be as simple as offering a smile and a kind word to a waitress or a cashier who is obviously having a hard day but it may be what they need to turn their day around.  Actions like that may not get us a lot of recognition but because for that moment we've offered loving encouragement to someone who needed it, it's become loving ministry.

As we examine loving ministry, I believe we'll see several important characteristics.  Unfortunately, much of what we call ministry today is done in order to gain recognition.  However, when there's a genuine desire to help without regard for any personal reward other than the joy of helping someone else, that ministry will be effective because it touches the heart of the person in need.  Although physical needs may be met, ministry is only effective when it touches the heart so, the sole motivating factor has to be serving others, not the possibility of any tangible reward.

Loving ministry also involves having a listening heart.  If all we have is a listening ear, we may not pick up subtle signals which will lead us to respond appropriately.  When we pick up on those subtle signals, we can then offer the best possible help for that particular person.  A listening ear hears the words spoken but a listening heart hears the unspoken cry of their heart.  People don't always tell us what they're dealing with or they may not even know but, when we have a listening heart, we'll know what is needed or we'll know that we have to probe a bit more in order to effectively help and encourage them.

Sometimes, when I ask someone how they're doing, they'll answer, "okay" but my listening heart lets me know that they're really not okay.  So, I'll stop and ask them what's wrong.  Sometimes they tell me and sometimes they don't.  If they don't, I let it go but hopefully, they've been encouraged that someone recognized their pain and cared enough to ask.

Another characteristic of loving ministry is caring.  The hurting person can't just be another notch on our ministry gun as we tally up all of our ministry successes.  If all we care about is letting the world know how spiritual we are, we won't always do what's necessary to encourage and assist.  Loving and caring for a person can be messy at times, time consuming and often very frustrating but, when we love, we'll go the extra mile.  I've found it helpful to try to understand why they behave the way they do by seeing the hurting child in them and, when I can do that, I genuinely love them and patience is no longer a problem.  It's automatically there.

I've heard it said that people don't care what we say until they know that we care.  That's true because people respond better to true heartfelt ministry that's founded on love rather than on works.  Often we may see no immediate change but loving ministry still should be given with no expectation of change.  So, the final characteristic that I want to talk about is that loving ministry is ministry that is given with no strings attached.  In the end, the person may never do what we want then to do and they may never change but love requires that we give them freedom to make their own decisions and live life however they choose.

We may feel overwhelmed when we see the needs around us but if we'll remember that as children of God, love is our nature and when we follow love, we'll touch the lives of those he brings to us.  So, ministry is simply us living our lives and sharing the love we've been given with those who cross our path and that can be done inside of a building or outside of one.