Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Waiting or Abiding?

It's amazing what you can learn when you pick up a dictionary.  Well, okay,  it's been a long time since I've held the pages of that book in my hands...dictionary.com is my go to source anymore.  Like the encyclopedia, an actual dictionary is going the way of the dinosaur.  But I digress...

I was considering what to call this blog entry about where I've been the past month.  I typed in "abiding".  Then I thought..."that's not really a user friendly word.  Kind of 'old-fashioned' like a word you'd find in an old hymn.  Just a word that people won't relate to so much any more."  So I backspaced over it and typed..."waiting".   I really thought the words were synonyms...that they could be used interchangeably.

Then the wordsmith in me said 'look them up'.  So I did.  I think my wordsmithyness - okay that's not really a word, but, that thing in me that strives to use words that most closely and concisely convey my thoughts - that thing...was influenced by God.  Because this is what I found and it really does speak to the point I set out to make today:

"Waiting" used as an a noun means a period of waiting, pause, interval or delay.  As a verb, it means to remain inactive in a state of repose as until something expected happens.  A secondary meaning is to postpone or delay in expectation.  But "abiding" isn't ever used as a noun.  As an adjective, it means continuing without change; enduring; steadfast.   And as a verb?  To remain, continue, stay...to endure, sustain, or withstand without yielding or submitting.  Do you see the difference?

Waiting, even as an action, is passive.  Abiding requires an engagement of the senses...yes, it says remain and stay which don't indicate movement, but then it goes further.  It says 'endure'...which means to hold out against - it's an engagement of the will...'sustain' - support, hold, bear up, undergo, experience, suffer - an engagement of the body...'withstand' - hold out against, resist or oppose...engagement of the mind.  When you abide, it is no passive thing.  You may not be in forward motion, but every part of you is on alert.  You are in a fight - even if that fight is to not lose ground.  You are engaged body, mind, and spirit.

These past few weeks, my pen has been silent.  I have also stepped back from a number of ministry obligations.  But I am not in 'repose'.  Quite the opposite.  I am engaged in a battle.  It is a fight for things precious to me.  This 'down' time is not about putting my life on pause even though I'm clearing my calendar...it is about putting on the full armor of God at described in Eph. 6:10-18.

"A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere."

The passage above tells us to stand firm or stand our ground 3 times and it clearly shows the action involved in that...be strong, resist, be prepared, stay alert and be persistent in prayer. 

So while I'm going through this trial that I cannot delve into at this juncture, I am not laying back, waiting on God to move...I'm abiding in His presence, abiding in His love, and abiding in the truth of His promises.  I am actively enduring and withstanding.  Abiding is more than mere waiting...it is looking to God with hope and expectancy...abiding is not allowing the circumstances to wash over you...it is digging in your heels, eyes looking "to the hills from where my help comes". 

So I ask you...when you face troubles and trials...are you waiting anxiously for them to blow over as they put your life on pause?  Or are you abiding in God, putting on His armor, preparing for battle and standing firm?  Waiting or abiding...the difference is huge.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Rejoicing Through Service

Psalm 118:24:  "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." 

"Let us rejoice and be glad".  How do you rejoice in a day?  Did you enjoy the sunny weather? (At least it was sunny and in the high 70s here in New Jersey).  Did you relax and spend time with family?  Did you do things around the house?  Did you spend time talking to God?  Were you even thankful for the day?

For me, rejoicing in the day meant going to the local Salvation Army Drop-In center with a group from my church to serve in a program we've dubbed "Meals & More".  It's simple really.  We serve a meal and give out a little something 'more'...this time out it was a 'hygiene kit' of toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, pack of tissues, and for the ladies, some 'feminine products' as well.

While it's a wonderful way for people in our church - and sometimes their friends and neighbors - to serve others, the birth of this service project wasn't quite so simple.  It was originally meant to be a one time project but it quickly became a congregational favorite and a regular item on our calendar.

The reason it was initially a 'one time project' was because it was conceived to provide attendees of our Living Nativity last December, an 'after-Christmas' way to plug into our church and the community.  Everyone is in the giving spirit around the holidays...but once the decorations are put away and the bleak, gray skies of January take hold, doing good for our fellow man often goes by the wayside.  While I understood the concept of what church leadership wanted, I was struggling to believe that it would be well received by people who were not part of the regular congregation.  I mean, we reach out to the community, but we were being asked to help the community reach out to itself, and I confess, I was having trouble wrapping my brain around that.

The Live Nativity was for 2 weekends in December, and as I said, it was an outreach to our community.  A free and creative way for them to experience the truth of Christmas.  We asked local organizations and non-profits to participate by decorating ornaments for a 'pageant of  peace trees'...16 Christmas trees which lined the path from the parking lot to the beginning of the Nativity walk through. 

We put up signs and advertised in a variety of ways the event which included not only the outdoor, live animal and actor Nativity, but carolers and fire pits for roasting marshmallows.  Inside the church there was hot chocolate, baked goodies, a bell choir and crafts for kids to make.

CommunityConnections, the outreach ministry of our church, came up with two ideas that allowed attendees to connect with others.  The first was something they could do right there during their visit.  We provided cards and pens and encouraged them to write a message to a soldier serving overseas.  Approximately 1,400 people attended the event in 4 days, and over 500 of them wrote messages in cards where were shipped off to soldiers in Afghanistan!  That first weekend we actually ran out of cards or there might have been even more.  The second idea was to partner with the local Salvation Army and serve a meal in their drop in center.  The original name was "Soup and Socks" because it was our intent to serve soup and sandwiches and hand out a pair or two of new socks to each client of the center.  I was pleasantly surprised that more than 40 people signed up to help - almost half of them from outside our congregation.

That's when I discovered our plan had a problem.  The kitchen at the Drop-In Center is small - only about 12 people are needed - 15 at the absolute max.  And many people had signed up as families, excited that their children could learn the benefits of helping their fellow man.  Problem was, the Salvation Army couldn't have anyone under the age of 18 serving there.  It was time to develop another strategy.

We decided to make it a 'multi-tiered' participation.  Those who wanted to help, but couldn't physically go were encouraged to donate food.  Those with children came to the church to help prep - put together sandwiches, bag cookies, and open packages of socks and pair them. 

The remaining adults headed to the Salvation Army to actually serve the food.  We had provided recipes for a basic chicken noodle soup and chocolate chip cookies, so that even though multiple people were preparing the items, it was all the same thing.  In addition to those two menu offerings, we made turkey sandwiches and ham sandwiches and gave out apples and oranges.  There was bottled water, lemonade and iced tea to drink. 

We discovered that there are no meals served on the weekends in our city other than what the Drop-In Center can provide on occasion through church and other groups.  That knowledge and the overwhelming positive feedback from those who participated, led to us conclude that we needed to do this again.  So today was the third time this year we've been at the center.  And next year we're planning to do it quarterly.  Ultimately, I'd love to find some funding to allow us to do this once a month. 

Of course, once we decided to serve throughout the year, we needed a new name...'Soup and Socks' was fine for January...but June?  Several ideas were kicked around but 'Meals and More' won out - a simple yet comprehensive description of what we provide. 

And so, that's how I rejoiced in this beautiful, Fall, God-given day...fellowshipping through service with church friends, partnering with people at the Salvation Army who are living out their faith every day, and serving those who are struggling to find a foothold in a life that has handed them great challenges and unforeseen disappointments.  I hope today we gave them as much joy in receiving a delicious, home-cooked meal and some basic necessities, as we had putting it all together and serving them. 

So, how did you rejoice?

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Facebook "Maybe"

Awhile ago a friend and I were talking about our crazy schedules and how fast our calendars were filling up.  Then she lamented about people who talk to you about doing something, but never fully commit.  The problem arises when something else comes along that you'd like to do.  You can't really say yes, because this other thing is hanging out there as a possibility and you quazi-committed to it first. 

"Write a blog about the Facebook 'maybe'"she said.  "Huh?".  "Ya know, the Facebook maybe...when you create an event and people don't want you to be upset if they don't come, but they don't want to commit either, so they choose maybe - even when they have no intention of making it."

While Facebook, Evite, and all the cool sites let you do it - firmly commit to not committing, or what I'm calling the "non-choice" - it isn't a product of the social media era.  It's as old as time.  As my mom used to say "there's nothing new under the sun."

Proof of that is found right in Revelation 3:14-19 which says:  “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:  “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!  But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!  You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.  So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference."

Quite a rebuke.  It reminds me a little of when my kids were young.  They'd ask if we could do such and such and I'd reply...'maybe'...or 'we'll see', thinking I was putting them off with a reasonable response.  One day my son had had enough!  "You know that means no mom.  Whenever you say maybe, we don't do it.  Why don't you just say yes or no?"

Good question.  Why don't we just say yes or no?  The Bible was pretty straightforward about how God feels when we "non-choice" Him.  Obviously God doesn't desire a 'no' from us, but it's quite clear from this passage that a lukewarm maybe is just as detestable to Him - if not more so!  We often kid ourselves, feeling pretty good about our non-commitment...I mean, at least we're not in that group of obvious commitment phobes...the "awaiting reply" group...now THOSE folks, ha!  They're the ones with a problem - the ones who can't even choose to think about choosing...right?   Wrong.  That church at Laodicea was instructed to be diligent and turn from its indifference.  And we are called to do the same.

The passage says "I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold."  Don't hand God a maybe and think you're getting away with something or buying time.  You don’t even realize "that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked."  Open your eyes.  Make a choice...a real choice.  You've been invited to the greatest event of all time.  An eternal party.  A celebration that will never end.  He's awaiting your reply.  Commit to Him with your whole heart.  Anything else is just a non-choice.