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.

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.

Psalm 139:1 NLT

The thought of any person knowing everything about me does not excite or thrill my soul. I am easily embarrassed at my myriad of shortcomings.  And I certainly do not like to have them pointed out. Yet there is something comforting about David praising the Lord for knowing everything about him, even down into the deep recesses of his heart.  And there is something just as comforting when I praise the Lord for knowing me fully, shortcomings and all.

My life has been filled with missed timing, painfully poor choices, a temper (and oh WHAT a temper!) and trying to hide from it all. I’ve always wanted to be perfectly put together, an outward appearance that would make up for all the skeletons in my closet.  To be without flaws.  Yet nothing could mask my heart, even though I thought nothing, and no one, could protect my heart – but me.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

Proverbs 4:23

I’ve continually read that verse so out of context, with much misunderstanding.  Guarding my heart is not about building a wall around it to keep others out.  It’s not about picking and choosing who to let in. It’s not about pretending perfect. Truth be told, all that really does is just keeps one trapped inside, hardened and pretending still. Guarding your heart means to listen to the wisdom of The Word and live by it.  It is finding freedom to be fully known right where you are, as you are, for who you are by The One who Created you.  To hear Christ say, “Follow me,” and abandon self, pride and all, to follow.

My identity is not found in all that muck and mire.  My identity comes from and through Christ.  His cross tells me HE is enough for me, for my shortcomings, my sins.  HIS blood covers me. He is

… the author and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2 NASB

So, in this new year, 2017, my desire is to abide in Christ, to remain in Him.  To be fruitful because I am grafted into The Vine, not hidden behind false perfection. Giving, and receiving, grace, mercy, love, gentleness, etc., as His Holy Spirit grows and changes me to be more and more like Him.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.

John 15:4 NASB

 

Obedience is a word I just can’t escape lately. It comes up at the most inopportune times and stretches me in uncomfortable ways. In scripture, obedience, to me, is best personified through Abraham. Even before his name was changed from Abram, he willingly followed this God along unknown paths to places that he’d never been and trusted Him for things that seemed beyond impossible. Abraham’s life was changed, stretched even, in ways that he could have never foreseen at the start. Over the last week I have began to study six of the names of God using the S.O.A.P. method and an outline from LoveGodGreatly.com, with a few dear women in my area. I’d like to share a little along my journey.

“So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed him…Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.” Genesis 12:4 NLT From the time Abraham was seventy-five years old, he began to follow the direction of the Lord. Moving to an unknown place, fleeing to Egypt, separating from Lot, rescuing Lot, pleading on behalf of the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah, waiting for the promise, holding and then sending away his firstborn son. Then God changed his name and the promised son arrived, nearly twenty five years from his first act of obedience to God. What was to come next was a stretch I can’t even imagine.

After years of obedience, Abraham had received the one thing he had desired of God, an heir – a son. Isaac brought laughter and happiness to his parents. Yet here Abraham was receiving instructions from God for he and his boy to go and worship. To hear something like, “Abraham, get up in the morning and take Isaac, your sacrifice, to the place I’ll point out and offer him to me there.” There are no words. I can’t imagine that I’d be able to keep that to myself. The shock, grief, despair even. However, I can find none of that in the text. Abraham had full confidence that in his obedience the Lord would honor him. The Lord, who so faithfully promised Abraham an heir all those years ago, would not break his promise. Abraham had faith and because of it was declared righteous. Once again, he held on to that faith and listened for the voice of the Lord.

In his obedience Abraham found God to be the One who will see it and provide. It being the very thing of which we have need. And he was so right. That day on the mountain God did something for Abraham, for Isaac. He provided a substitutionary sacrifice. Abraham was willing to give his desires back to the God alone who could fulfill them.

In our modern-day, instant-access, microwave society, we know little about waiting. Little about drawn out obedience. We look for God to evolve with our changing pace, changing cultures. He doesn’t change. For over twenty five years Abraham waited on the Lord. He was impatient at times, making poor choices thinking he could help God out. Living in turmoil and grief because of his actions. Still he had faith the Lord would provide. And God is faithful.

As I studied this week, there were a few things that stood out:

  • The supply for our needs, our desires even, does not come from a place; it comes through the person of Jesus Christ.
  • God is always before us, prepared to open our eyes and reveal Himself as we humbly walk in faith.
  • God wasn’t looking for a sacrifice, He provided that Himself. He was looking for a willing, obedient heart…which He found in Abraham.

My challenge is to walk drawn out obedience in faith, humbly with my God.

I am a Bible study girl. Digging into the rich text of the Holy Scripture fills me with excitement and the desire to know Christ more. I am also a too-much-is-on-my-plate girl. I enjoy digging into the Word so much that I often get involved with multiple Bible studies at once. That’s when I find myself frustrated and overwhelmed, desperately trying to understand what I am meant to take away from each one.

Recently, I had come to the point where I found myself committed to a one year Bible reading plan, a small group Bible study with my local church, a Bible study with a group of local homeschool moms and an online Bible study through Hello Mornings. All of these are in addition to teaching youth Sunday school each week, which is another study, as well as teaching my boys scripture at home.  And not to mention all the devotional tools – books, blogs, apps. Too many choices, too many chances to let someone down.  I realized that a few of these would be ending within a matter of days/weeks.  At that point, I chose to keep up with my reading plan, and my pastor (hubby) had asked me to lead a ladies small group on Sunday evenings.  Besides teaching youth, and my kiddos, my daily reading and the ladies study would be all for me.

A few days later a sweet friend asked if I would like to join her in a study through the Proverbs 31 Ministries First 5 app. I honestly struggled to tell her I just couldn’t do it. As much as I wanted to jump in and not let her down, I could feel myself crumbling under the weight of “just one more”. So I stuck with my no.  However, I do periodically read the devotional aspect of the study on the First 5 app.

This morning the words of Hebrews 2:1 were powerful and convicting.  My thoughts raced back to that manilla paper hanging on the door of my free-standing closet in my parents home. The paper that had a cross outline and the words of Hebrews 2:3a that read,

“how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”

And I think of all the ways I read that part of the scripture and judgmentally looked around at those who were not believers. I see the Pharisee me and the grace I so deeply needed. And I read the rest of that verse with hope and mercy this morning,

“This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.”

This is for the church. The encouragement and accountability we need comes from those who have heard him. This great salvation is ours and is for us to share with those around us. It is for us to confirm to others what we have seen and heard from Him. To encourage the church and build one another’s faith in Christ. To hold one another accountable to live according to what the Scripture teaches.

In order for us to encourage and hold one another accountable, we must be in The Word. Not just solo. We must be in The Word together, holding one another to what we have gleaned from Him as His church, recognizing our limitations and boundaries, and living in faith with freedom where, and how, He has confirmed to us through His Word.

How can you use the gifts He’s given you to encourage and build up the church?  Where do you need to recognize your boundaries or limitations and find freedom? What opportunities to build community/Christ-centered relationships within your local church do you need to make or take?