All posts by: Naomi Stephens

I have a love for trivia games and shows. Trivial Pursuit, Disney Trivia, Who Want to be A Millionaire and Jeopardy! just to name a few. For the longest time I prided myself on the amount of useless knowledge I had gained. In early 2001, a new game show caught my attention, Weakest Link. The players would work to bank money based on answering questions correctly. At the end of each round the player that performed poorly was voted out by their teammates. Each weak link would be ousted by the host saying, “You are the weakest link, goodbye.” The final round was the last two teammates going head to head with one eliminated as the final weakest link. You can guess that the remaining teammate won, receiving the banked money as their prize. This game intrigued me. I wanted nothing more than to be the best, to take my “rightful” place as know it all, and receive the biggest prize at the end of the day – in MANY areas of my life.

Years have past and I’d like to think that I’m a different person because of my relationship with Christ. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The all have sinned part I have totally believed for years and years. It is the part in bold print that has so recently stung my heart. I have fallen short. I’ve missed the big prize. I do not measure up. On my own, apart from Christ, I am a weak, sinful mess. I am the weakest link.

Once again the Scriptures have brought perspective for me. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul addresses the believers in relation to himself, dealing with unity within the body. It is no longer about one person – their actions, attitudes, attributes. It is wholly about the body of Christ.

Ephesians 2:18-22 (CSB)
For through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

I’m always intrigued by new construction. The mess that it begins as and the beautiful structure that is masterfully completed. I cannot understand why any draftsman would draw plans with gapping holes or any construction foreman would leave the materials piled without proper placement. It would never purposefully happen. And so it is in the body of Christ. The plans that God instituted, Christ carried out. Yet we, as the body, have many times refused to be built together. Each focused on the I – I want, I need, I think. Instead, Paul gives us a totally different perspective. There is one whole building and each of us belongs there. As we are being built together, we must come along side one another. No wall can stand without support. No beam can be placed without being secured. We, I, cannot stand alone. There is no ministry, no function of the church, that is solely dependent on me. And we cannot look around and boot out those we deem “the weakest link” – unnecessary, not needed. We cannot bear the load ourselves. We need one another. Where I am weak, someone else can impart their strength. Where I need wisdom, someone else has the ability to speak. Where I need leadership, someone else has been given the ability to guide. The know-it-all, do-it-all mentality is not supported in Scripture apart from the person of Christ, and still He willfully submitted to Almighty God. He has chosen to build together His Church so that His Spirit can dwell there. Don’t miss the blessing of His Spirit by taking it all on yourself, allow Him to work through others as they support, affirm and even help prune, areas and callings in your life.

2 Corinthians 9:13-15 (CSB)
Because of the proof provided by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedient confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone. And as they pray on your behalf, they will have deep affection for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

May God be glorified by our obedient confession of the gospel through whatever ministry to which He has called His church. May we have deep affection for one another because of the grace of God in our lives, knowing we don’t have to compete or stand alone, He has called and equipped us to work together for the sake of His Gospel and His Kingdom.

On the next to the last worn, wooden pew I sat last night and watched a generation of young women boldly share their struggles and their faith. Years removed from my own camp experiences, I was whisked quickly back to a faded memory of my own summers leading young girls. Only this time it was different. In my experience, camp had always been those mountain top experiences with emotional worship sets and extravagant, powerful messages. However, Last night felt like the very heart of God. Real. Awkward. Truthful. These mighty young women of God stepped up and admitted the sin that plagued them. They were beautiful, vulnerable, passionate. They showed great courage and humility in sharing how they too turn to Godly women for help. Their stories were remarkably ordinary. Yet each one owned her story, no matter how painful, embarrassing or difficult.

Nearly two decades ago, I knew the weight of my own hidden sin, the very things that were burdening my heart and my walk. However, I didn’t know the importance of community. I didn’t see the church as for the broken. then, Sunday was for the prettily put together people, for the picture perfect people. I couldn’t see past the outward appearance. but then again scripture says man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. That’s where I struggled. The Lord was looking at my heart. He saw the pride, the lust, the control, the deceit. He knew the things that I tried so hard to hide from those closest to me. Yet He called me to be holy as He is holy. Still I ended up on an island – A personal island of guilt and shame, where sin continued to reign because I continued to live under the tyranny of fear. Praise God, He provides freedom for the captives!

Somethings I took away from last night:

  • We all have unspoken brokenness, that doesn’t always have to remain unspoken. This is the point of community – to bear one another’s burdens.
  • Don’t Boast in sin. Confess it, lay it down, turn to christ, Lean into His church.
  • We need one another. Even as an older woman now, I need these Godly young warrior women in my life as well as the older ones too. Because I have need for Christ, I also have need for His Church.

In the wee hours of the morning, as I pointed my headlights toward home, it occurred to me, this wasn’t camp, it was the beginning of a new generation of biblical community in the church. It was Titus 2 playing out in the most ordinary of ways. It was the beginning of freedom for many. And it was refreshment for my parched, weary soul.

They are starting to show up again, cracks in our walls. From the corners of door facings and windows, they move along the walls in jagged lines. My son’s little finger traces over the crack that moves from one corner of his window toward his bed. The windows themselves have begun to separate from their sills. You can feel the cool morning breeze from across the room, with the window closed. Door heights have had to be adjusted so they will lock closed. These are visible signs of an unseen problem – the foundation. This house was built upon shifting ground. Though the owners had the foundation anchored, the problems persist.

Often times I see the cracks in my own life. Anger. Jealousy. Fear. Control. These cracks are evidences of the major flaw in my foundation – sin. On my own I grasp for straws wanting something solid and sure. I’ve tried to build on my own personal abilities, talents and desires – like the time I wanted to sell Mary Kay products. Boy, that was an expensive venture that went no where fast. I wasn’t in it for any reason other than what I could get out of it. Money. And less expensive make up. Truth is, I told myself it was for my family. That if I could just make enough income to work from home then I’d be happy. Isn’t that what we want? To have what we want, when and how we want it. Happiness, information, fulfillment, fill-in-your-own-blank, on our own terms. Yet, there’s that crack, leaving another gapping hole.

As many times as I’ve tried to make things right own my own, those darn cracks still show up. Just like in my house, I can patch and paint over the flawed walls, yet after time they reemerge, some not quite as wide and some in new spots. The same is true in our spiritual life. It is not a matter of just fixing the cracks in the walls, we must address the problem within our foundation. Jesus is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 7 speaking to this very subject.

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on a solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27 NLT

Notice in Jesus’ words the conditions that both houses faced. Torrents of rain come, floodwaters rise and wind beats against both houses. I’m not sure if you’ve ever found yourselves in the middle of a hurricane, but my husband and I rode out Hurricane Katrina in a second floor apartment south of I-10 in Baldwin County, Alabama in 2005. In the days and months following we saw the destruction left behind by that powerful storm. Foundations wiped clean. Lives lost. Possessions destroyed. The storm did not pick and choose which homes and families to devastate. It destroyed all that was within its path. There was not one life in it’s path that was left untouched – whether physically or emotionally.

Afterward, as we spoke with families that had been affected, we saw despair in the eyes of some and hope in the hearts of others. Why such a difference?

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Proverbs 1:7 NLT

There were many who had experienced loss of homes and possessions, even of family members, that their hope was in the Lord and in His faithful Word. While they were shaken to the very core, their foundation no longer lay within their own strength and ability but in the Lord.

Those cracks are just symptoms. Treat the symptoms and the problem still persists. The problem is in our foundation. Build upon the Rock, who is our God, and we will find true knowledge for He alone grants wisdom. We cannot depend on our own abilities and strength. His Word tells us in Proverbs 3:5-6 that we should seek Him in ALL we do. Not in half of what we do, or only when we think we need Him. We are to seek Him. Daily. Moment by moment. Worshipping Him alone. Then, we will see that what He is building is much stronger, much sturdier than anything we could build on our own.

And just in case we need a reminder, like the foundation of my house had to be anchored so that it wouldn’t continue to cause major destruction to the structure that was built upon it, we have an anchor also.

“So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”

Hebrews 6:18-19 NLT

** So thankful for a wonderful small group of women with whom I meet for Bible study.  This blog came after reflecting back over one of our recent sessions. **

I’ve always been a fan of sports. Not in the way that made me want to play as much as I enjoyed watching them. My younger brother played baseball from when he was young through high school. I enjoyed watching him play because of his love for the game. He would watch his favorite players and try his best to do as they did. And he was good at the game. Now, as a mom I have the privilege of being their biggest cheerleader when they take a field in competition.

Recently our oldest son started playing Upward basketball. Now, basketball has never been my favorite sport, but I am enjoying watching him grow in his skills, love of the game and sportsmanship. But just like anything, it’s a process. Last week, he had a pretty good game, save for the fact he kept guarding whomever had the ball instead of sticking with his assigned man. So after the game as we were walking to the vehicle I just reminded him that the coach gave him a man to guard, if he chose not to no one else is going to do his job and he wasn’t meant to do another man’s job. Which got me to really thinking…how often do we do this in the church?

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Romans 12:6-8

It is so easy to get caught up in what we want to do well, what we can’t do well, what someone else does well that we don’t see what God has graciously gifted us to do well. So many times in my life I have fallen into the trap of comparison. “But God if only I could do what this person does, then I could serve you better.” or “But God if I only had this gift, opportunity, platform, then I could serve you better.” And then there have been times of “why this gift, opportunity or platform?” I made it about me.

If only I…

Don’t we all want to ball? Don’t we all want to make the basket, hit the home run, make the big play? His word says, He has given us different gifts, for different purposes. Not to compare to the rest of the body of Christ, but to build them up. A team works best when every person does their part, guards their man, runs their route, plays their position. And sometimes that means we need to do a little self evaluation.

What are my motives for wanting to do this? Is this something The Lord has gifted me to do? Will this benefit the Body of Christ?

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

Philippians 2:3

This is the way of life for the church. And the church is not a building where the people meet. It’s not a set meeting time. It is the people of God. The way we are to live Every. Single. Day. Day after day, month after month, year after year. We live in a constant state of self sacrifice – laying our pride, selfish desires, comparisons on the altar before Christ. Daily choosing His will, His way. Which means using our giftedness for His purpose and for the building of His church and His kingdom. Oh church, that we would desire what is good. Not what we think is good for us, not what we want to be good for us, not what is good for someone else. But that we would learn to live our lives and use the gifts He’s graciously given to each of us as a means of daily glorifying Him.

Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path…

Psalm 27:11

_______________________

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

Church, when we each use our gifts, and stop desiring what was never meant for us, we will learn He is good. And we will edify the body of Christ in the process.

You know your own words will sometimes come back to bite you, right? That’s totally how I feel today after a disastrous evening yesterday.  Let’s just say coming to the end of one’s self…pride, abilities, relationships, etc….is no easy feat. It feels like stepping into the ring expecting a win and receiving a knockout in under a minute.

Last night our pastor (my wonderful husband) handed out paper to our small group and asked each of us to write these words across the top:

I am broken because…

And then to finish the sentence.  In an instant my face was flush, my pulse racing.  WHAT?!!? I couldn’t gather my thoughts. It seemed as if everything in that instant was swirling around me and I’d drown in my own words. Why would you ask me to do this?  TO NAME MY BROKENNESS.  I thought I was pretty clear in the last post (which, to his credit, he had not read) I don’t like my faults pointed out. 

I let perfectionism and control isolate me from people, often including, but not limited to, the church.

There it is. I said it. I was so angry that Anthony, the very man who loves me, protects me, trusts me, would ask me to name what is keeping me from Jesus. I couldn’t see past my husband to my Heavenly Father who was speaking through him.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

Burnout is real folks!  It doesn’t just happen in relationships or careers.  It happens anywhere we are spinning our wheels doing things our way. It happens when we are “looking for love in all the wrong places” (thanks Johnny Lee!). Whether that is in money, perfection, career, family, successful ministry, relationships, love, etc.  I’m burnt out on trying to be something I don’t have to be – perfect, having it all together.

Do you see where I’m going?  Jesus invites us to follow Him and learn the unforced rhythms of His grace.  There is no business model.  No twelve step plan. No formula to make this happen.  It is so simple…follow. Do what He did. Love who He loves. Obey what He commanded. Live by His example.

When it is all said and done and I stand face to face with Jesus, my pitiful perfection is only gonna look like garbage next to Him. He isn’t gonna weigh my good deeds against the bad. Not gonna look at any attendance record. He doesn’t keep score.

Only His blood covering me – the whole of me, the things I can see and the things hidden deep in the secret places of my heart- that’s what matters. He covers it all. Christ carries my burden. No, naming my brokenness, the broken mess of me, isn’t fun. I don’t like it, not even a little. I sure have no desire to put it out there for all of you.  Truth is, you can do, or not do, with it whatever you please. As for me, I must follow Him.

Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.

Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

– Anonymous

Oh yeah, that doesn’t mean I can go at this alone. Because of my need for Christ, I need the church too. But that’s another post for another time.