Month: April 2016

Week Five: Shaped for Serving God aka “You might be a servant if…”

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Confession time: I obviously am familiar with a certain country comedian, Jeff Foxworthy, whose fame skyrocketed when he introduced a comedic line “You might be a redneck if…” as a segment on one of his shows that later turned into a book, comics, and countless internet memes and spin-offs. And while some of the additions have not been incredibly tasteful and even offensive at times, the majority of the descriptors associated with this phrase are actually quite funny, especially for those of us who grew up and take pride in being from the country (like myself).

So, although not a song, this one liner came to mind as I was reading through the fourth segment of this book where Rick focuses on our fourth purpose for living: being shaped to serve God and others. Much like the redneck predecessor, Rick takes the time to paint a picture for us of what being a servant truly looks like, and how we can know if we are operating from a servant’s heart or just waiting around to be served.

You Might be a Servant if…

One thing I love about Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy on rednecks is that his witty one-liner allows listeners to determine whether or not they would be considered rednecks based on the respective descriptors and just how much they do or do not have in common with such a group. I remember listening to many of the things Jeff would mention, like “your mother has ammo on her Christmas list” or “you have ever mowed your grass and found a car” and laugh because I knew it was a perfect description of the way I grew up and my Southern roots. Other times, I would find myself laughing because it was in no way descriptive of me, but I definitely knew someone that it fit right on. Regardless of if it fit me or not, it was both funny and helpful to use his little “test” to determine where I stood in terms of my own redneck status.

Although not as humorous but much more important, I can imagine Rick walking on stage with a thick Southern accent and starting his own segment of “You might be a servant if…” Much like Jeff, he would present descriptors of being a servant that we can apply to our lives as well as those around us to determine our own servant status. As he noted in this week’s reading, you might be a servant if:

  • Your Actions Say So (Day 33): As we all know, our actions speak louder than our words, so whether or not you call yourself a servant really does not matter if your actions do not say it as well. Actions you can be on the lookout for to let you know that you are truly operating from a servants heart include: being available to serve, being attentive to areas of need/opportunities to serve around you, doing your best with what you’ve got, being dedicated to the task at hand no matter how big or how small, being faithful to the finish and completing the task no matter how big or how small, and being ok with being in the background versus the spotlight (and vice versa depending on your comfort level; I hate being in the spotlight but have ended up there on several occasions as a part of my service).
  • Your Thoughts Say So (Day 34): While our actions are helpful in determining our servant status, they do not give a complete picture when it comes to fully understanding the servant heart. I think all of us have met a few people out there who serve with their actions, but the rest of them would really like to be elsewhere and they have no problem letting everyone know about it. Instead, you know you are a true servant if: you intentionally put others ahead of yourself both on the inside and outside, you seek to steward and not own the resources you are given (open, not closed hands), you intentionally focus on your own work and choose not to compare yourself and your work to others, you intentionally base your identity and worth in Christ and not the actual service, and you intentionally see service requests as opportunities, not obligations.
  • Your Weaknesses/Limitations Say So (Day 35): As Rick encourages, it is important for us to maximize our strengths in serving, but sometimes this is not possible and regardless, due to our lovely human condition, we will always be faced with our limitations. Like other things though, it is really how we deal with our weaknesses and limitations that shows our true colors and helps us determine our servant status. In this case, you might be a servant if: you readily acknowledge and admit your weaknesses instead of trying to hide or deny them, you find contentment in recognizing you are not perfect and that God can often show Himself more in our weaknesses than in our strengths, you intentionally seek to share your weaknesses with others as a means of encouragement and testimony when appropriate, and you intentionally view your weaknesses as an opportunity to watch God work and give Him the glory (when I am weak, He is strong; 2 Corinthians 12:10).

If you have ever been around a true servant, you can tell that their actions, thoughts, and use of their weaknesses are aligned in such an incredible way that it leaves a lasting impression. There is no doubt in your mind that they might be a servant… YOU KNOW THEY ARE. I am confident this is what it was like to be around Jesus, the ultimate servant, as He spent time continuously investing in the lives of those around Him and humbling Himself even to the point of feeding them and washing feet without grumble or complaint. What an encouraging and yet challenging role model!

How does this apply to me?

Once again, while this is nice material and yes, I can ask myself all of these things to determine my servant status, I still get stuck when it comes to the practical application and actually acting out my ministry and finding my niche for service. What does that look like? If I have determined that I am not currently a servant (and my answer to “you might be a servant if…” is a definite NO), what do I do? How do I determine where I should be serving so that I can move towards embodying all of those wonderful descriptors above?

Once again, I am so thankful for Rick and his practical, purposeful (pardon the pun) approach. In this case, he presents us with the SHAPE acronym (I LOVE ACRONYMS!!!!) to figure out how we were shaped for service and what that looks like. Let’s take a deeper look at what our SHAPE consists of:

  • Spiritual Gifts: These are the “special God-empowered abilities” (p.236) given to us for His service and are to be used in acting upon the spiritual world around us. They typically are spiritual in nature and there are some great spiritual gift listings and assessments out there that can help you determine what yours might be (but you might want to check with your pastor or spiritual leader on this one). We often have more than one spiritual gift, although there might be a primary one, but none of us has all of the spiritual gifts. For instance, I know that I am called to evangelize through the Great Commission and I do seek to do so, but it is not one of my natural giftings. In contrast, I am drawn to and passionate about discipleship, and love walking through life with others teaching them and encouraging them in their faith. This is definitely one of my gifts, and I feel like I am on fire when I get the chance to do that.
  • Heart: These would be the “bundle of desires, hopes, interests, ambitions, dreams, and affections you have” (p.237). In other words, they are the things you like and want to do instinctively; sometimes you do not even know why, you just know that you love it!! I know this might seem crazy to some, but God actually created us to LIKE serving Him and others! So, if you are dreading your current service or begin serving in a ministry and absolutely hate it, it might be that it does not fit the desires of your heart and it is outside of what your creation is. When I read this, I think about serving in the children’s ministry, which I currently do on a monthly basis. To be quite honest, and not because of anything specific to the ministry (I love our children’s ministry), I dislike my role in it. I was not meant to serve in children’s ministry, and although I try my best to make it fun for the kids and be as useful as possible, it is draining and I dread it each month. If there was not a substantial need for safe volunteers, I would not be doing it, but sometimes the need trumps our desires and I do like being able to help. In contrast, my husband and I have served in youth ministry in some capacity ever since we were youth ourselves. This is totally in line with my heart’s desires and I get energized hanging out with teens and walking through life with them (again, discipleship 🙂 ). I would hate not being able to be a part of this ministry, and this confirms for me that it is a part of God’s specific heart and service design for me.
  • Abilities: These are the natural talents we have that can be used to act on the physical world around us (p.241). Just like the spiritual gifts, there is a wide variety of abilities available to humans, and we typically have a sampling of many although one or two may be primary and no one has all of them. These abilities often influence our career or hobby choices, such as being able to sing, build things, work with words, fix things, work with blood or medical issues, dealing well with heights or water, being athletic or academic, etc. For me, this one is obvious. I have never had athletic abilities (I am very good at watching sports, but anytime I try to play I usually get hit by something in the face :)) and I get queasy at even the thought of blood. However, I have always excelled with academics, loving to learn and write and teach. These are my natural abilities that have been maximized throughout the years, and now I can use them both for my career as well as my ministry.
  • Personality: These are the unique character traits that would be used to describe who we are, such as introverted or extroverted, and that often fall in line with what we like to do (p.245). Again, there are a variety of personality traits available, and each of us has our own unique combination that makes us exactly who we are. While we might have things in common with one another, I am the only me that exists and you are the only you. When looking for ministry opportunities and figuring out what service looks like for us, we should consider our personality and what is or is not a good fit for us. For me, I tend to be more introverted than extroverted, and so I flourish in service opportunities that allow me to be one-on-one with others or even serve all by myself 🙂 I still participate in big group ministries that are great for extroverts, but this is on a limited basis and more due to need than preference. Again, as you learn more about your shape, you will be able to determine a good service fit.
  • Experiences: These are the moments and events that create your history and have influenced your unique life story. Rick categorizes these into six specific types: family, educational, vocational, spiritual, ministry, and painful (p.246). When we look back on these experiences and glean from them any lessons we can learn about ourselves and our likes/dislikes as well as how we can relate to God and others, we can use all of this information in our service. Specifically, we can share these experiences as a testimony or use these experiences to open doors for further ministry. The main thing that comes to mind for me is my educational and vocational experiences that have allowed me to serve on mental health missions trips to both India and Africa. When working with these cultures, I was able to help train medical staff and missionaries as well as provide counseling services to people with leprosy or who are HIV positive because of the training and credentials God has orchestrated in my life. I love being able to use my education and training for Him and see the doors that have opened because of them!

When we take a practical look at each of these elements, it gives us a great starting point for finding our own ministry/service outlet as well as confirming that we are or are not in the best ministry for who we are. I love the way Rick says it: “Using your shape is the secret of both fruitfulness and fulfillment in ministry. You will be most effective when you use your spiritual gifts and abilities in the area of your heart’s desire, and in a way that best expresses your personality and experiences” (p. 248).

Our Challenge:

With all of this in mind, the challenge this week is two-fold:

  1. Determine one thing you can do to experiment with your SHAPE in the coming month. I love that Rick encourages us not to try to discern our perfect ministry from the very beginning, but to just get out there and start serving and then see what works and what does not. I am all about this trial and error process, and have tried out several different ministries to get to know where I really thrive in serving (youth versus children). What is something that sounds like fun? Would you like to be a greeter? Would you like to sign-up to make meals for someone who is sick? What about serving as a small group leader or a Sunday school teacher or a nursery worker? The local church is full of ministry positions that need to be filled, so I challenge you to get out there and try something now.
  2. As you are experimenting and/or if you think you have found your ministry niche, use the above information to take inventory and see if there is legitimate alignment. Is your current service in alignment with your shape (round peg in a round hole)? Can you see the descriptors of a servant’s heart active in your life? Why or why not? And if why not, what is something that needs to change?

As we continue on our service journey and living out our shape, I do not believe any of us will really “arrive” this side of heaven, but I do believe that we can find our God-given place in His body, experience the amazing fit when our shape and service aligns, and pursue the servant’s heart we have seen in Jesus. Then, we too can laugh and smile when we hear “You might be a servant if…” because we know that we are. ♥

 

***PS: I know we are SOOO BEHIND!!! I am working on catching up! 🙂 I have one more posting for Purpose Driven Life in the works and should be posting my first posting on the Strategy of Satan ASAP 🙂 Thanks ya’ll!!! :)***

 

 

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April Book Club: The Strategy of Satan

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“You are not fighting for victory, but from victory, for Jesus Christ has already defeated Satan!” (p.x-xi)

Ever feel like everyday life is a struggle? That you are fighting an uphill battle? That you just seem to get a footing on solid ground and BAM!; something else happens and smacks you in the face or even knocks you completely out.

Sometimes, I do believe that this is just “life” and that yes, bad things happen everyday to both good and bad people. But sometimes, I also believe that there is a very real enemy waging a very real war against us and that compilation of relational, financial, and health struggles that you have been facing are a concerted attack on his part. This “him” would be the devil a.k.a Satan, who we do not regularly talk about (the church answer is Jesus right?!) but should be aware of since he is the one attacking us. Which is why getting to know him and how he attacks, or as Warren Wiersbe describes it, learning his strategies so we can detect and defeat him, is so very important.

 

Why I Chose this Book

I know that talking about Satan is often a taboo subject among Christians (weird, right?!). We can talk about God and Jesus and heaven all day, but begin talking about Satan and hell and everything gets quiet. No one wants to be the fire and brimstone pastor or the crazy Christian, and since we do not physically see demons all around us, I think sometimes it is easier to just avoid this part of our faith because it can be scary, a little out there, and not as loving or fun as everything else. However, scripture is very clear that Satan is real, that there is a legitimate spiritual battle taking place each and every moment, and that spiritual beings like angels, demons, and Satan himself are indeed real and active. Just because we cannot see them, does not mean they do not exist. And we not only need to be aware of their presence, but we are instructed to get our armor on and be prepared for this battle (not avoid it or flee from it; thank you Ephesians).

Honestly, this spiritual battle and the spiritual realm of Christianity has always been extremely intriguing to me. I used to love reading every fictional book I could on the topic (some of my favorites are Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti, and Bill Meyers) because it helped me be able to envision the spiritual reality taking place all around me and provide the motivation to be equipped and armored as instructed.  So, it was no surprise that after falling in love with Warren Wiersbe’s writing, that I would be drawn to a book about Satan and how to both detect and defeat him in spiritual war. And as usual, I was not disappointed.

This book, while no doubt of a more serious nature than the others we have read thus far, is still amazing and powerful.  As the quote at the beginning imparts, the beauty of spiritual warfare is that we already know the end result.  We already know we have the victory, even though it may not seem like it in the moment. For me, this is like being OK during the unpredictable part of a movie because I know the main character cannot die (there is a sequel LOL); I still watch it and enjoy the story, but I do not have to fret because I know he survives into the sequel. Same with this “fight” we’ve been enduring as we live under Satan’s attack; even though things are horrible and hurtful and devastating in the moment, we can hold to the hope that we already know the ending and are fighting FROM victory instead of FOR victory.

However, holding to the hope and still being a part of the fight requires understanding and strategy of its own. Thus, this book “is a manual of arms for the Christian soldier” (p.ix) that explores the truths in God’s Word in a practical and applicable manner for our fight. Much like a playbook or plan of attack, this book will help you understand why and how Satan is intruding upon your life as well as the weapons you have been divinely given to defeat him. If you have ever felt spiritually “attacked” at some point, possibly even now, then this book will make so much sense and be incredibly helpful. If you have never felt attacked, then I would say this book is a must-read, because as you continue to grow in your faith, I can guarantee the spiritual battle will affect you!

Tentative Schedule

Since we are already halfway thru April (yay Purpose Driven Life; yes, we still have 2 postings to go on this book as well), I am planning to read this book on a daily schedule. There will also be a unique posting plan, since the chapters are not naturally grouped together like in previous months. For now, my plan is to read a chapter a day starting April 15th (although as we have seen… it does not always happen 🙂 ). I will also (at this point) only be posting twice: once around April 26th to summarize and reflect on Chapters 1-4 and and once at the end of the month to speak to Chapters 5-10.

My Hope for This Experience

It has been a long time since I last read this book, but its timing could not be anymore perfect for me (surprise surprise… it seems that these books were divinely chosen for this year of my life). I am surrounded by reminders of spiritual warfare everyday: watching the struggles and trials of my loved ones, the injustices occurring all around, the crazy acts of terrorism that are happening more and more, and the lies I see plaguing both Christians and non-Christians alike. If there was ever a time to pick up a book on waging spiritual war, the time is now.

With that in mind, my hope for us as we embark on such a serious topic is that we will not do so lightly, but with a sense of the weight that comes with waging spiritual war and the focus to remember that above all else, we already have the victory through Christ. As Warren encourages, I hope that we will not try to speed-read through, but really pause, ponder, and pray through each of these points as we are reading. I pray that our eyes will be opened to the reality of spiritual warfare and the importance of understanding what that means and the part that we play. I pray that we will utilize this book and the truth it relays to equip us, empower us, and truly allow us to best utilize our armor to detect Satan where he is present and defeat the strongholds he has in and around us. May we not be overcome with fear, but press on in the hope and strength that we have access to through the Lord. “Onward Christian soldiers…”♥

Week Four: Created to Become Like Christ aka “You are What You Eat”

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Have you noticed all the choices that we have today? From what to watch to what to wear to what to eat, it often seems like the possibilities are endless. When I was growing up, we had only 2 grocery stores to choose from, cable only had 50 channels tops, and there were only really 3 restaurants in town. Now there are more than 5 different grocery stores within 20 minutes from my house, cable/satellite TV has over 900 channels (really??), and there are new restaurants opening  faster than I can count (even my parents are getting a Tropical Smoothie Cafe within 10 minutes from their house).

And while all of these options are great and definitely have their advantages, there are some distinct disadvantages that come along too. For instance, sometimes all of the choices can be overwhelming (where in the world are we going for dinner or what in the world should we watch) and lead to conflict if everyone does not agree. Additionally, not all of these options are best or healthiest for us. Included in those 900+ channels are several that I wish I could delete from everyone’s televisions because their content is both damaging and destructive. Included in those countless restaurants are fast food chains that are definitely fast, cheap, and easy, but as the picture above describes, the food does not have any true nutritional value for our bodies. We may feel full and our hunger may be momentarily satisfied, but in the end, we have not really increased our health. If we are not careful and vigilant, these disadvantages can take over and greatly decrease our health and quality of living.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives. We have so many options for what we are going to focus on, who we can become, and what we can choose to allow to influence who we are. And while many people get lost or overwhelmed among the chaos, and some choose hurtful influences over their healthy alternatives, we as Christians are given a filter to discern and provide guidance among our options. Rick calls this filter our third purpose: becoming more like Christ, and living from this perspective allows us to evaluate each event/decision we encounter and determine the best course of action. Much like choosing a specific diet or eating lifestyle (LOL) that gives us parameters for what is best to eat as well as what not to eat, focusing on becoming like Christ gives us guidelines for how to protect and promote our spiritual health. In other words, regardless of the countless choices available, when it comes to both our physical and spiritual health, you are what you eat.

You are What You Eat

OK. So I realize that my catch phrase for this section might be a bit of a stretch, but at least it is not a song, right?! 🙂 Honestly though, the more I have pondered the “you are what you eat” mindset, the more I realize it really does resonate (at least for me) with this week’s readings. As this saying implies, what we choose to eat or the diet we maintain determines a lot about our physical health and quality of life. While the occasional fast food stop is not going to cause a heart attack or severely disrupt a healthy lifestyle (and yes, I do eat fast food and am not ashamed), a consistent fast food diet has been proven to be detrimental. In contrast, if we want to have a healthy body, then we need to watch what we ingest on a regular basis. If our normal diet consists of primarily fresh foods with a variety of meats, fruits, and veggies, this will result in a healthier body and a healthier you.

As noted above, the same principle applies to our spiritual lives: If we truly want to become like Christ, than we need to be intentional about what we “eat” or allow in to our minds/souls.  This means getting to know what a healthy spiritual diet looks like so you can make the most of the “food” that is available to you. Rick does a great job of breaking down the components of a healthy spiritual diet, which consists what I will refer to at the 3Ts: large amounts of TRUTH, moderate amounts of challenges aka TROUBLE, and as little TEMPTATION as possible. Let’s explore this spiritual diet plan a little bit further:

  • TRUTH: This is our spiritual protein, and should be one of the main components of our spiritual diet.  Not only does it satisfy our hunger, but it helps us grow healthy and develop strong spiritual muscle. And fortunately, we have a wonderful, endless supply of it right at our fingertips with the Bible, now forever in my mind as spiritual steak. Since we regard the Bible as the Word of God (or steak of God :)), it is not just a an airy feeling or empty belief, but a thick, heavy absolute that we can use as a foundation to build and grow upon. Our Bibles are filled with these proteinous (pretty sure I just created that word) truths that we can name and claim for every situation we encounter. So, as Rick describes (p.190-191), we need to be intentional about taking in and digesting as much truth as possible through memorization, meditation, and application (I feel like we’ve heard this before 🙂 ).
  • TROUBLE: In addition to spiritual protein, we also need a variety of spiritual fruits and veggies, which in this case involves the challenges or troubles we face in life. While not typically the favorite of the food choices (especially the veggies) for our physical diets due to their many textures, tastes, and seasons, fruits and veggies are actually good for us and contain helpful nutrients that supplement the proteins noted above. While a person may still survive without ever eating them (I know a lot of kids and adults that try), their physical health will surely suffer without these nutrients and the benefits associated with these plant-based foods. And as we have seen before, the same principle applies to our spiritual health: although not typically the favorite and occurring on a continuum of duration, severity, and seasons, we need the important lessons and byproducts of trouble to truly grow. If nothing else, trials can produce a sense of appreciation and value (for what we do have and when we overcome) that would not be available without some sort of risk/challenge. Because trouble tests us, it allows our true nature to be revealed, refined, and redeemed. So, how do we properly digest our troubles (all I can think of is with cheese on top, just the way I like my broccoli LOL 🙂 )? Rick tells us that we can embrace our trouble and do the following: remember God’s overall plan is good, rejoice and give thanks (yes, even in the midst of the trial) as much as possible, and refuse to give up/persevere (p.197-199).
  • TEMPTATION: These are the spiritual sweets and I am not talking fruits.  I am talking the high sugar, high fat, high yummy “treats” that taste absolutely amazing in the moment but have no nutritional value whatsoever! Often they look the best (hmmm… beautifully decorated cupcake or a brown banana??), smell the best, and sometimes even taste the best, but in reality do not promote our health at all.  And what does that mean in light of both our physical and spiritual diets? It means that if we really want to maximize our health, we need to stay as far away from them as possible (unlike sweets in the real world, where it is ok to have a piece of cake every now and then, temptations are pretty much never ok). So why is it still included in our discussion of spiritual foods? Because much like the luscious culinary treats that exist all around us (cakes, cookies, doughnuts, lattes, YUM), we are also surrounded with spiritual temptations that look like treats: a “romantic” extra-marital affair, just “one” celebratory drink ten times over to help us relax, a little multiple hour long “downtime” with our favorite TV show, and the list goes on. We can try to pretend that they do not exist by not talking about them, but the reality is that if we really want to be healthy, we need to confront and conquer their existence. The beauty of this category is that while these temptations are ever present in our lives, it is actually in the saying no and choosing something else (like a healthy helping of truth; chicken anyone??) that we find victory and empowerment.  It is this choice, and what we choose to do with these “foods” that will either complement or detract from our health. As I am learning in my own physical health walk, I can be eating a healthy diet of proteins and fruits and veggies, but if I am also ingesting a large amount of sugars, I will never be optimally fit and healthy. Same with our spiritual lives, if you really want to be at your best in becoming like Christ, you will look to limit and even remove as much temptation as possible from your life. How can we do this? As Rick shares (p.204-208), we can refuse to give up or be intimidated (just because you indulged yourself with a doughnut yesterday does not mean you have to again today), recognize where your weaknesses are (mine are sweet tea and chocolate; and speaking truth not in love and trying to control instead of trust), and request God’s help (grab an extra helping of truth to satisfy any hunger/craving). I would add to this to enlist others to “eat” with you to provide encouragement, accountability and support!

Recognizing the power of these 3 T’s combined is like understanding the power of actually eating a variety of proteins, fruits and veggies, while limiting sugars as much as possible: you will experience the amazing results of a healthy, fortified physical body that can withstand sickness, physical labor, and feels energized and ready to go. When we harness their power and purposefully ingest large amounts of TRUTH, understand and embrace moderate amounts of TROUBLE, and limit our intake of TEMPTATION, we will see similar results: a healthy, fortified spirit that can withstand difficulties, maintain motivation and focus, and has an energy and effectiveness in all that we do. I don’t know about you, but I get excited just writing/thinking about it. Somebody sign me up!!! 🙂

How does this apply to me?

Wow. I will repeat and capitalize for emphasis: WOW. This section’s reading could not be more applicable to me and the season I have been in for a while now.  Not only have I been on a physical health kick and getting back to both working out and trying to eat right (which means bye bye fast, cheap, and easy 😦 ) but I have also been on a renewed spiritual health journey (ditto).

At the end of last year (which I have shared about in previous posts), I noticed that I was definitely spiritually showing what I was eating: on the regular, I was either running on EMPTY or on the verge of CRASHING!  Instead of feasting on the truth and gleaning what I could from the troubles I was experiencing, I was alternating between starving myself (too busy, too tired, too behind to try again) or giving into my temptations (things like too much TV or too much sleep or anything else to keep me distracted) for that temporary high only to experience the crash that follows. I was caught in an unhealthy cycle, a spiritual eating disorder if you will, and it became obvious that something desperately needed to change.

Fortunately, as Rick describes, GOD WILL ALWAYS PROVIDE A WAY OUT of unhealthy patterns, thoughts, and behaviors. No matter what you or I am facing, there will always be a way to rise above, to flee from temptation, and to overcome in victory. This way out always starts in our minds (we have to think it to act on it), especially when it comes to our spiritual health. The thoughts in my head at that time were all negative “I’m tired and just need a break (sometimes this is legit, but mine was over and over and over again)” “I’ll try again tomorrow (knowing that I wouldn’t; I was just procrastinating)” or “I’ll never be able to get where I want to be, so why even try (total lie here).” I am pretty sure that if you take a look at your own thought life, you could point out a few negatives that are not helping your spiritual health (maybe physical too) as well. If I chose to continue to listen to these thoughts, I would be in the same place I was then, but thankfully, I looked for a way out and God was right there waiting (same goes for you 🙂 ).

For me, this meant getting my head (my mind) back in the game. I had to take a real, honest look and evaluate my current spiritual diet, which was severely lacking in the major food groups noted above. It also meant I had to do some intentional “meal planning” for the new year, and set myself up for success by setting goals, boundaries, and enlisting the prayer and support of trusted others.

Specifically, I started by making my times with God and in His Word a non-negotiable priority that was to occur first thing in the morning. This does not always mean that I get to read an entire chapter of scripture or pray for hours (although that sounds lovely), but I want to and do my best to start my day with the Lord. I have also made it a point to surround myself (my desk, bedroom, kitchen, bathrooms) with scriptures as my helping of truths that I can snack on throughout the day. These provide the positive thoughts to replace the negatives I shared above: “In my weakness, He is strong,””Make the most of every moment/do not put off for tomorrow what could be done today,” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).”  I have also sought to eat my veggies/embrace my current troubles (my husband’s crazy work schedule, sleep deprivation with my littles, illnesses that tend to strike at the worst times, my mayhem in general) and surrender them to the Lord in prayer with thanksgiving (at least he has a job, my kids are healthy and alive at night, all of the illnesses thus far have been temporary and not life threatening, and there are miracles among the mayhem). Finally, I got serious about setting boundaries to protect and limit those temptations (no TV after 10pm unless special occasions, alarm on my phone to wake me up for quiet time in the morning, people in my life that would confront, challenge, and pray for me). It has not always been easy, and there have definitely been some hiccups along the way, but it has been completely worth it to see my spiritual health improve!!

Our Challenge:

There is so much about these readings that stands out to me, but one of the biggest takeaways is that much like becoming physically fit, becoming like Christ does not happen by accident nor is it automatic. As Rick explains, “It takes an intentional commitment. You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing” (p.179). This would be the essence of our challenge this week, consisting of the following steps:

  1. Take a look at your current spiritual diet. How would you describe it? How does it describe you? Maybe you are right on track, with healthy portions of proteins, veggies, and no sugars and are enjoying the benefits. Maybe, like me at the end of last year, you notice that you are spiritually starving and looking to those empty carbs to fill you up, when in reality you are crashing and lacking energy. Wherever you are, this becomes your starting point for the challenge.
  2. Take a look at your thoughts associated with your spiritual diet. Is your head in the game? Why or why not? If you are experiencing spiritual health, take note of the truths that have been most relevant in providing motivation, affirmation, and freedom and keep them to encourage yourself during difficult times and/or share with others that are struggling. If you are stuck in a mundane or unhealthy place, write out those negatives that are keeping you down (like I did above) and seek out some meaty truths to confront and conquer them.
  3. Take a look at the 3 T spiritual food groups described above. Is there anything missing or over-represented in your diet? Choose at least one thing you need to increase or decrease in your spiritual life right now to move towards greater spiritual health (more steak anyone) and share that with someone. Commit to including or excluding this thing for the next month, and then re-evaluate using these questions again.

Embarking on a new diet, whether physical or spiritual, can be intimidating at times, but I also find it can be exciting and refreshing when you are primed and ready for a change. I know it was for me, and I am praying it will be for you too! Because remember, when it comes to becoming more like Christ and really growing in this third purpose for our lives.. we are what we eat (is anyone else hungry??)! ♥

 

 

 

Week Three: You Were Formed for God’s Family aka “We Are FAMILY”

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Last week, we discussed our initial purpose in life: being planned for and living for God’s pleasure. Recognizing this first purpose, we understand ourselves as being made out of His love to then love Him in return. We realize that we find ultimate fulfillment and a joy of our own when we live for Him, and when we do anything and everything unconditionally… just to see Him smile (you can hear the song, can’t you? 🙂 ).

Its amazing to me that God did not stop there, that He was not selfish in this love cycle He created. Instead, He knew that we would want others like us to be around in our lives just like He has others like Him around (the rest of the Trinity) and thus, He created more than one human (it is not good for man to be alone). Enter the first FAMILY, or grouping of connected humans, and our second major purpose in life: being formed for God’s family.

Apparently I am on a song kick, because this past week as I was reflecting on this concept of God’s family, all I could think of was that lovely pop 80’s style song : “WE ARE FAMILY… I got all my sisters with me!” 🙂 I even sang it so much that my 3 year old started singing it too and now it is one of his favorites (sarcastic yay). But seriously, the point of this song (other than to be catchy and make money) was to express the positivity of having family, being a part of a family, and knowing that you have all of your family members with you for fun and support. This is what God wanted for us when He initially created the family. However, as we can see from the original family, blood relatives are not always the best (I am pretty sure Abel felt that way), and along with our souls being damaged and in need of restoration with the entrance of sin, even the family is in need of redemption and thus, God responded with HIS family… or the creation of our spiritual family through the church.

We Are Family

What do you think of when you hear the word family? There are so many meanings in today’s world, and depending on your own experience with family, your thoughts and feelings could be positive or negative or typically, a nice mixture of both. And while there are definite negatives associated with the concept of family, as noted above, those are a result of our sinful, selfish, fallen condition and not what God originally intended. Instead, He meant for the family experience to be positive, and that is why He has given us a second family, our spiritual family comprised of other Christians, in which we can choose to live out the positive aspects of family life through His redemptive guidance and power. When we join God’s spiritual family, these are the benefits we can expect:

  • Living Life Together: One of the greatest things about family, both biological and spiritual, is that it is comprised of more than one person, which means you do not have to go through life alone. You have other people to live life together with, which involves people to share in the ups and downs and provide support, encouragement, and entertainment. With our biological families though, we do not get to choose who we are related to, and so we may still experience loneliness or isolation due to unhealthy dynamics, death, geographical distance, and/or trauma. This is why I love having a spiritual family available to live life with as well. While we technically do not get to choose our “relatives” here either, there are some options as to finding Christian brothers and sisters that we connect with and a church family that we enjoy being a part of. It has been awesome to experience that no matter where I live or where I travel, I can always find extended family members (other Christians) to be “together with” and journey through life. Especially since we currently live hours away from our biological family, it is our spiritual church family that we spend the majority of our time with, share many holidays with, and endure life’s challenges and joys together. If you are feeling lonely and your biological family is either far away or unavailable, I highly encourage you to look for support from your spiritual family: is there a local bible study forming where you could get to know people? What about a local service organization where you could serve with others? If there is a church or missions organization nearby, there is never a time where you would have to be alone. Growing up as an only child, this is music to my ears (LOL)!
  • Cultivating Character Building Community: In addition to having an extended family to share life with, our spiritual family exists with a definitive purpose that many of our biological families lack (although some biological families have this as well): they exist to cultivate our character to become more like Christ. Family from this perspective is not just about keeping a name going or extending a bloodline, but it is about building each other up, holding each other accountable, encouraging each other to find freedom from our sinful past and move towards the freeing future Christ has for us, and helping each other achieve the things God has set before us.  When we live life together, we get the chance to do all of the above as well as confess to each other the things we are struggling with, proclaim the things we are excited about, observe each other as we walk in Christ, and share our convictions and constructive criticisms to encourage growth and insight. It is not always comfortable, but being in a spiritual family that cultivates your character is always beneficial.
  • Experiencing Opportunities for Growth through Challenges: While we can have fun living life together and cultivating our characters, being in a spiritual family, just like in our biological family, is not always roses and butterflies. People will still say and do hurtful things, and we will have to determine how we will respond.  Fortunately, because with our spiritual family (and sometimes in our biological family as well) we have Christ at the center, we can look at any challenges and conflicts we face as opportunities to live out His love, forgiveness, and reconciliation with each other. Using Matthew 18 and the steps outlined for resolving conflicts within the church and our spiritual family, this means we can lovingly consider, confess, confront, and continue to live life together.

While God does want us to be able to experience all of these benefits of being a part of His spiritual family, I am not naive to think that every church experience is like this. I have been involved with church families that are not beneficial, could be described as toxic, and have lost sight of Christ in the midst of everything else. Because our spiritual family is still comprised of sinful humans, we still have negative experiences amidst the positive. However, if each of us intentionally seeks to live out the benefits noted above; If I seek to live life with you, cultivate our characters to become more like Christ, and utilize the challenges we may face as opportunities for growth, then we can move towards the positive, redemptive experience Christ has in store for us as spiritual brothers and sisters. If your current spiritual family is not doing these things and you are not experiencing the benefits as listed above, then it may be time to prayerfully consider another church family that has similar goals and intents to live out the purpose and plan God has for His family.

 How does this apply to me?

This whole concept of family, both biological and spiritual, is under attack. With a variety of enemies (selfishness, pride, infidelity, revenge, manipulation, etc.), our fallen human condition is often on autopilot to destroy and divide instead of build up and unify. We can see it in our biological families as divorce and death and drama divide us, and these same divisive forces exist in our churches. I personally come from a biological family rampant with division and drama, even to the point of many of my family members no longer talking to each other and being cut off. I am fortunate to have grown up in a strong spiritual family and have always been a part of my local church, but even here I have experienced some of my deepest hurts and faced some of my most significant challenges.

And this is why I am so glad that Rick ends this section’s reading with a focus on the importance of protecting our family. I have been so convicted about this lately in my own heart and life. I know how to love God and be in relationship with Him on my own (being an only child really helped me with that), but living out this love with a family (both biological and spiritual) is totally different. Honestly, it is often a huge struggle for me. While I truly love loving others (it is one of my main passions), there are times when staying home sounds so much better, especially since any event outside of the home (or even in my home for that matter) has morphed since having kids. Not only is it difficult to make it to things, but then expending energy and effort while attending seems even more of a stretch.

However, as I have pondered and prayed, God has really laid it on my heart that there are specific things I can do to purposefully protect and prosper my spiritual family, which I believe starts with my marriage and then extends to my church family.  These things include, but are not limited to, what I am going to refer to as the 5 Ps (to help my memory):

  1. Praying: I need to be purposefully and actively praying for the family in my life (both biological and spiritual). For me, this means my husband, my children, my parents, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and the leadership at my church (elders and lead ministers and families). And while any type of prayer is helpful, I have recently felt lead to pray for each of them by name… to truly battle on their behalf through the power of prayer. While there are many others things I pray for on a regular basis, including loved ones and missions and circumstances, etc., I want to make sure that my family is included, even when they are not currently requesting or seemingly “in-need” of prayer.
  2. Prioritizing: In addition to praying for my family, I know I need to put first things first. In this case, it means making time for my home life first (and ensuring this is in order), then my church family second, and then the other miscellaneous things (like pre-school, art class, work, etc.). When I set aside time in my day or week to attend to these people first, it really makes all the difference for them and for me because they have no doubts of how important to me they are and I do not have to be “stressed” because I know that I have already taken care of what is most important. For me, this means getting up earlier or staying up later than everyone else to get my things completed (quiet time, exercise, shower etc) so that I can make others my priority when they are around.
  3. Participating: When I do prioritize and set aside the time for my family, I want to go beyond just checking that box and actually make sure there is quality time, not just a quantity of time. I love that Rick describes this with the term “focused attention” (p.127) or ensuring that you are present in the moment and attending to the person/people that are with you. For me, this means intentionally putting away my phone or computer and interacting with my children or husband during our times together so that I can focus my attention on them without the distractions of text messages or email or Facebook. It also means not worrying so much about taking pictures of every moment, but actually living those moments (as my 3 year old so often reminds me).
  4. Promoting: This is a big one for me as it means being intentional about focusing on and pointing out the positives of my family. This does not imply that negatives do not exist or that they should not be dealt with, but I find so often that if I choose to dwell on these negative reminders of reality, I miss out on all of the great things taking place as well. For me, I have to be intentional about focusing on and promoting the positives, both to myself as well as when I am speaking to others. A great example of this can be found when considering my church family: do I seek to promote the positives of what they are doing well? Or do I have a tendency to be super critical and only focus on the negatives and things they could do better? To be honest, I have been more on the critical side lately, and it has all been small, insignificant things that I have been judging. When I really step back and think about my church family, there are so many positives that I would much rather promote (the way we love, the way we reach out to the community, the way we invite in and love the broken).
  5. Persevering: I am a firm believer that once you are a part of a family (whether biological or spiritual), you are always a part of that family (although this does not mean that you never change churches; it just means that you are always a child of God at each church you attend). And this means you may at times feel stuck with certain people or in certain places, but I encourage you (and me) to persevere; to remain steadfast in our endeavors to pray, prioritize, participate, and promote with our families. For me, this means applying the 5 Ps in my marriage even when times get rough, staying and seeking to love my children even when they are disobedient and frustrating, and sticking with my church family through the great times and the difficult times (church crisis, current construction, etc.). As promised (Romans 5:3-5), I have found that this persevering results in good things… both for me and for my family!

Our Weekly Challenge:

So when it comes to our family, the challenge for this week is actually two-fold (I know… the posting was late and now there are 2 challenges, but bear with me, they are worth it!!):

  • Examine how you are currently living out Purpose #2: Being Formed for God’s Family in regards to your spiritual family.

How would you describe your current understanding of family? Is it only biological, only spiritual, or a mixture of both? How does this description match up with God’s family as described above? Do you currently belong to a church family and why or why not? If the answer is no, this is where I encourage you to start. While it is easy to find a listing of local churches on the internet, I have found that word-of-mouth is really the best way to find a church. The past two church families we have been a part of were recommended by friends, so this may be a good place for you to start as well. Or maybe you just noticed the sign or live within walking distance, and both of those can work too. No matter how it happens, to start reaping the benefits noted above, the first step is to find and get involved with your local spiritual family.

  • Once you are actively involved in your spiritual family, examine the quality of your interactions.

Are you proactively, purposefully protecting the family that you have? Are you present and participating? Take a look back over the 5 Ps noted above and determine if there is something(s) that resonates with you that you could start doing today. It may be for your husband, for your pastor and his wife, for the people in your small group, or even the lady that always sits in the second seat in the second row at second service on Sunday 🙂 Whatever it is, I pray that you and I will purposefully act to protect and promote the family God has given us… that we may be able to sing (at the top of our lungs if you would like) that… “We are FAMILY… I got all my brothers and sisters with me! ” ♥