Saturday, May 1, 2010

18 miles, a new perspective and a need

Today I had to run 18 miles. It seems daunting. In fact in the first three miles I nearly started to cry at the thought of having to do 15 more.

When I started this journey, training for a marathon I knew that it would be challenging. I knew it was going to be a bit overwhelming. And yet at the very same time I knew that I was going to be able to finish.

My perspective this morning was shotty at best. I was doing whatever I could to talk myself into finishing. My friend Cristy just kept going. I was able to keep going because she was with me. I ended up running a mile past 18.

It is amazing what happens when we are with someone.
This is true in relationship too. We work so much better together. We grow up wanting to be an individual and independent. We do what ever we can to make it on our own and that fact is celebrated.

As women, we sometimes strive to be so independent cause the idea that we would need someone or something could potentially become needy. But the reality is neediness is good. We were created to need. We were created to be incomplete in some way. Think about it. In Romans 12 Paul talks about the fact that we are one body but many members and each member plays a different part. We don't have every part! We need each other!

So next time you are feeling the need to be independent or you think you should be capable of everything, remember that's not how we were created. (We were created to share, walk together and give and receive from each other.) Then call a friend and ask them to join you, maybe you too could run nearly 20 miles.

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Missional Fear

I remember the first time I heard the word Missional. It was new and shiny like a brand new car. I loved the message behind it, calling people back to mission; living out Church as the body of Jesus. As men and women of faith in Jesus we have a particular mission in the world and unfortunately much of the mission has been lost over the years. We've instead concerned ourselves with right thinking, great music, growing larger congregations of people who gather together in one room to worship God. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of the aforementioned things. But in the midst of pursuing these things we have often knelt to a lesser god.

Our focus slipped from that of the first followers of Jesus to something different.

It is out of that place where the idea of the missional church was born. A group of individuals came together wanting to call The Church back to her roots. To become a people of mission who believe we have a responsibility to love others with our words and deeds, to take our focus from being inward, to living outward. To take note that we have a role to play in the Kingdom of God today. To study the life of Jesus as our model and then jump into life with a passionate desire to follow in His way. Good thoughts indeed. Thoughts with which I very much agree.

I believe as men and women of faith in Jesus we need to be on a mission. A mission to Love God, Love others and Love our selves. This is the mission of Jesus and it is very active.

Then something happened. I noticed people saying things like, "That is an attractional church and we're a missional church," or "we are a traditional church and they are a missional something or other," sometimes you'd even hear people smugly saying, "I can't believe what this or that church is doing, they are so lost, they aren't a part of the missional church." The fact is, missional has become a brand and a dividing mark and often a litmus test for individuals to see if someone is a true follower of Jesus or is a part of the "right way" to do church.

I must admit as a result, I'm getting tired of the word missional. I also have fear that the term missional will lead people to believe that the things at the heart of missional thinking are actually a fad, rather than a way. There is a difference.

Throughout history the church has gone through many phases. In my lifetime the church in the US and other places has sought to redefine itself continually. It is as though we all know there is something broken and so when we figure out what it might take to fix it, we teach a seminar, coin a term, write a book and change the way we do things. As a result we have experienced a lot of experimental expressions of church. (again I do not believe any of this is wrong, but it can be misguided. When our desire to get people in the doors of our church out weighs the desire to see lives changed by Jesus, we've lost something)

I fear that the once shiny, brand new car word, is loosing a bit of its shine and that people are becoming less impressed by its message. I fear that as we seek to redefine church with a new vocabulary and theology we become more interested in missional ideas, than Jesus ideas. (These can be one in the same, but there are subtle twists that can make the focus about being "missional" rather than being a "Christ follower" to the hearer.)

I wonder what would happen if we took the labels off of movements and simply referenced Jesus. How are we to live? Look at Jesus. How are we to love? Look at Jesus. Who holds the truth for those who follow Him. Jesus.

I believe the message of the missional church is calling people to follow after the way of Jesus, reconnecting the church with her bridegroom and first love. I believe that the heart of the missional movement is good. I simply fear that it will become a brand or label and that in a few years something new and shiny will come along and people will leave this way to follow that way (whatever way that way is). I also fear that we are creating a new pharisaical system, a way to judge whether people and churches are using the right vocabulary to teach about Jesus, make disciples and label itself.

I wonder what would happen if we simply followed His way and didn't feel a need to brand it with anything other than His name, Jesus?

What do you think?
How do we keep the truths of a movement, without popularizing it to fad status?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

God is Good

A friend and I were once discussing the term, theophany. The word literally means a God sighting. We were wondering what exactly that looks like in the present day. It has been a while since bushes burned with God speaking through the flames.

We decided to see what we could find as we looked through Scripture to discover how we might have a God sighting today. My friend and I both happened upon James 1:17 "Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of Lights..."
If every good thing is a gift from God and God is good, then when we take time to notice the good that takes place in our lives, we are seeing a glimpse of God.

So, my friend and I decided that we needed to train ourselves to see God in the midst of the every day by taking note of the good in our days. We made a plan. She and I each got a journal and we planned to write every good thing that took place in our day. We would then meet once a week and share our lists.

The first week our lists were short. Looking for good was actually a little more challenging than we thought. You see we were out of practice. Our eyes had not been trained to see good, in fact much of the world around us, spoke to what was wrong with the world rather than celebrating that which was good. We needed practice seeing. We needed practice looking for good.
With each week that passed our lists grew in length. Soon the pages could hardly hold the good we'd see. There is good everywhere when we look for it. A beautiful sunrise, a smile from a stranger, a great conversation, an amazing meal, a new connection and the list goes on and on.

The possibilities to find good grow as we look for it.

There is a spiritual discipline that I believe is under utilized today. It is the discipline of celebration. Celebration is taking time to notice God and celebrate His goodness. I needed to train myself to see Him and that took practice. As strange as it seems, I had to work at seeing good and discipline myself to actively pursue the visible expressions of God's goodness in my every day life.

My friend and I spent months making lists of the things we'd see, smell, taste, touch and hear that were good. And a discipline was formed and I saw the goodness of the Lord.

I use that list still to this day when I forget and need to be reminded of the goodness of God.

I'd love to hear your list this day of the ways you've experienced the goodness of God in your life. Write me about it. And we can all be encouraged as we read!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Doctrine that divides

Have you ever noticed that when you get with people of other denominational backgrounds or belief systems about how the Christian faith is to be expressed that tensions can rise rather quickly. You may believe that the creation of the world took place in 7 literal days and your brother/sister thinks that the creation story took place over thousands of years, each day represents a period of time rather than a 24 hour period of time, and as you talk tensions rise and the conversation becomes heated. Your friendship actually becomes tense and now it's more like you're distant cousins rather than brothers and sisters.

Have you noticed that with that same person you can have a conversation about Jesus, the broken state of our world and how Jesus is the answer for healing and hope and end up feeling connected and brought together rather than separated. There is an understanding of a mutual longing for others to know Jesus and there is hope placed in Him.
In John chapter 17 Jesus prays a prayer for all believers starting with verse 20: My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

It makes my heart sad that there are so many things that divide us as brothers and sisters in the family of God. People allow a difference of opinion or various interpretations of Scripture to be things that divide them into segmented groups who use their various beliefs to make an us and them mentality.

Jesus was very concerned with right belief. He very much taught that He was/is the way, truth and life, He was/is the gate, He was/is our entry point to God the Father. His life represented the way to follow after and elevated love to a monumental level. Loving God, self and others was/is the heart of Jesus for the world and He desired/s the world to see that love represented by those who follow after Him. "I pray that they would be one."

I wonder what it would look like if you and I would live like Jesus and put Jesus as the center point. He would become the unifying point, rather than a belief on this or that, that divides.

I'm not saying that doctrine and theology isn't important. In fact I have strong beliefs that come out of my understanding of Scripture. But, when doctrine and theology trump relationship and people cast others aside because they don't look at things the same way, we cease to follow after the way of Jesus.

Jesus, met people where they were and walked with them to new places of belief and practice.

I have an intense desire to see those who follow after Jesus reunited, to be reminded of Jesus' desire for us to be one and put our belief in Him first. I believe that when we look at ourselves with sober judgement as Paul invites us to do in Romans 12 that we might be surprised what we could learn from those who see the practice of following Jesus with a different view.

Jesus is central. He is the answer and He is the model, the truth and the life. Dream with me for a little bit about loving a person through the eyes of Jesus, rather than through a doctrinal statement.

How would you interact differently with others who follow Jesus?
Do you have thoughts? What do you think Jesus' prayer for all believers in John 17 looks like today?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What happens when stuck...

I would have to say at the moment I am stuck. I have been on a really good kick as I've been training and dramatically changing my lifestyle. This adventure started in September of last year and really took flight when i decided to run a marathon. My life up to that point had been filled with lots of, if only and when this happens statements... but now it is filled with, I can and and I will statements.

I've seen my eating habits challenged and changed. My sitting habits challenged and changed. My walking habits challenged and changed. I have a want and that want is to be prepared for whatever lies ahead and part of that preparation lies in being as healthy physically as possible.
It is a challenge to make wise choices regularly. It is a challenge when new habits have been formed and they feel comfortable and regular, then I have a day where I give in to living in the old rather than the new.

I have seen such dramatic changes in my life over the past months. I have not only experienced body changes, habit changes, thought changes, I've also seen my views of certain things morph and change. (this I will write about at a later time.) But this past weekend and if I'm honest the last couple of weeks I have felt very challenged in my process. I have not wanted to make wise choices. I've wanted to eat foods that are not healthy and I've not wanted to exercise. I have continued to choose to be active as I have a goal I'm working towards, but I have felt motivationally stuck.

I think we all have moments where our motivation is lacking. In college one might be unmotivated to finish a paper, or perhaps one is trying to quit smoking, gossiping, swearing, spending or some other goal. When working towards a goal there are sweet days and then there are sweat days. I have been in the sweet days and currently I find myself in the sweat days.
The sweat days are the days where it all feels like work. But how do I choose to keep pressing on, when my desire is at about 0% and I'm just feeling stuck?

I've learned a few things are important when I'm feeling stuck. I thought I'd just share my list with you.
1. Remind myself of the goal
2. Tell people I'm stuck instead of being ashamed and fearful
3. Remind myself that I will not be stuck forever
4. Give myself grace
5. Take it one moment at a time
6. Don't calculate all my wrong choices, painting such a bleak picture that I can't dream myself out
7. Ask Jesus for help. Ask him to give me his perseverance and endurance
8. Ask friends to pray for me that I will grow in my endurance and that I'll make wise choices
9. Have a start over/clean slate day. (This I've decided is tomorrow.) I'm going to act as though I'm just getting started and live and learn as though I'm just at the beginning instead of the middle, with hopes that my perspective might change from drudgery to excitement.
10. Give myself a new goal to work towards. Basically I have the goal to run a marathon, but I've added the goal of doing a sprint triathlon. This will give me something new to think about while training. So even though it seems like I'm just adding on to my list, I'm actually keeping things fresh and the goals work together.
11. Don't go at it alone!
12. Find my cheerleaders
13. Say I need help
14. Keep moving forward one step at a time

This list can translate to any goal or change one is on the journey of reaching. It is part of life as we face the challenge before us. It is part of our walk with Jesus as we seek to abide in Him and live in our new self. Paul talks about this struggle in Romans 7, "that which I want to do I do not do, but that which I do not want to do, I find myself doing." There is a struggle to living into the new self in Jesus. This struggle manifests itself when ever we are seeking to make a positive life change that will honor him. It is in persevering through the struggle that we grow, change, and become.

So as I'm feeling stuck in my process, these are the things I do and think to get unstuck.

What do you do?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Because He Wants to...

A few weeks ago a friend was telling me a story. Her son is three and he is in the question phase. His favorite question, why? She'd say, "son, eat your broccoli please," "why?" he'd ask. "Son, go wash your hands," "why?" This pattern continued and still continues.

One day she said, "Son, I love you!" "Why?" he responded. She had a choice. How would she respond? Why did she love her son? She decided that she would describe all of the reasons why she loved him. He would give her a hug and she'd say, "You are such a good hugger, that is why I love you," or she'd say, "You are the best big brother, that is why I love you." For a few weeks she would continue to give him reason after reason why she loved him. The list long and continued to grow. Then one day, he says, "mom, I love you." She had her moment. She looked at her son and asked, "Why do you love me?" He paused. Looked up with a big smile and responded. "That's easy mama, I love you cause I want to!"

Amazing! The wisdom of a three year old. His words were so powerful. She was humbled by his wisdom and his gift to her as he spoke of simply loving his mom because he wants to.

A few days later, her son was singing Jesus Loves Me. He stopped and looked up at his mom and asked, "mom, why does Jesus love me?" My friend stopped and began to formulate her thoughts. She wanted to answer with wisdom and thoughtfulness. Before she could say a word he looked up and said, "I know why Jesus loves me mama. Jesus loves me cause he wants to!" He smiled and kept going about his day. His mom, left in the wake of such wisdom.

It is amazing to me how easy it is for us to make lists of the reasons why we are lovable. "I'm lovable because I am a good friend, I'm easy to hug, I'm nice, I can do this, I can think this, I can be this or that..." The list goes on and as we age, often our list grows and with it a fear that if this list were to change maybe our ability to be loved would also change.

My friend's son spoke a word that we all need to hear. We are simply loved by Jesus, just cause He wants to and nothing else. There is nothing we can do to make him love us any more or any less than he does right now.

So today, when you're tempted to think your value or lovability rises and falls on a long list of capabilities or reasons that we control, remember the words of my friend's son, "Jesus loves me just cause He wants to."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

On Running

Today I hit a wall. It was a new kind of wall. I've been running weekly since December and it is amazing to me that I still feel as though I'm just a new kid on the block. I've run up to 16 miles at one time and I find myself wanting to quit today. I only had to run 8 miles but it felt like I was going to die half way through. Thank goodness for my friend Kristen who ran with me. 
I think I've hit the hard stage of training. The marathon is on June 6 and all I see in front of me are the 18 miles, 20 miles, and 26 mile runs. Up to this point, running has been exciting, something new, I've full of this amazing feeling of gratitude and accomplishment and now dread has set in. 

Perseverance is challenging. I think it comes in at different levels. I can persevere through a 14 mile run, but 18 is asking too much of me. I've hit the point of perseverance where I really have to depend on God. My ability to persevere with human strength has ended. 

Even as I type I wonder how I'm going to make it through the next month. I wonder what it will be like to finish the race. I wonder what training has done for me and how different it is from trying. If I had just decided to try to run a marathon, I wouldn't even have started the process of preparation. But, instead I've decided to train and the training is hard. I'm tired, I'm sore, I'm battling all the voices in my mind that tell me I can't and I look to Jesus, friends, and stories to give me the encouragement I need to keep pressing forward. 

Training is hard.

Have you ever trained for something and wanted to give up?
Have you ever tried something and thought you could just do it without training? 
Have you ever had to persevere to reach a goal?
I'd love to hear your stories. It would encourage me and I think others, as we train not just for the physical challenges in life, but in all areas.