A Lukewarm Life

We got a new coffee pot the other day. Our old one took over 45 minutes to brew a pot, moaning and groaning as it gave its last hurrah percolating that final, awful, 2/3 full pot of brown water. We knew it was time to part with the old, and embrace the new.

And what a revelation the new one is!

With our old coffee maker, we became used to coffee that was warm-ish. In fact, I would usually have to pour myself a cup, and then throw it in the microwave for 30 seconds just so it would remain warm long enough for me to drink. Now, with the new machine, the first sips of deliciousness nearly sear our lips because it is so hot! (This is a feature I love, whereas the dear husband needs to add an ice cube or two before he partakes of the dark goodness.) The new pot holds heat from the first cup to the last dregs, both equally warm. We had become so used to the old that we acclimated to it, knowing that it wasn’t exactly what it should be, but in our apathy, we accepted it anyway, unwilling to change until the machine took its final, seizing breath.

We live, we work, in a culture that hates change, that chooses comfort over all else. We have acclimated to the world around us, and, no matter how much we complain or despise it, we do nothing to change it. Because, well, change is hard. It takes work. It takes a deep conviction, and few of us have strong convictions about much of anything anymore.

With every passing day, I am realizing the apathy the North American church has acclimated to. We are no longer hot, burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit deep in our bones, passionate about spreading the Gospel message of salvation, mercy and love. No, we are lukewarm, claiming Christ, but not living in Christ. Speaking with our mouths, while our hearts grow cold, and our hands idle from refusing to minister to others.  We cast judgement upon others, while never judging ourselves for our own hypocrisy. We choose fear over faith, comfort over compassion, Facebook newsfeeds instead of the Good News of Christ. We have forgotten that we are part of the upside-down kingdom of Christ…where the least are the loved, the broken are restored, and the sacrificial Lamb is the King.

Revelations 3:15-16

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

It seems even more prudent now, in this day and age, that we live out our lives with conviction and passion and Christ-centered, holy love. Now is the time to throw out the lukewarm of our lives and be consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Now is the time to engage with the culture around us….not to combat culture, but to open up our arms of compassion and exemplify the mighty power of Christ as we lift up the brokenhearted, bind the wounded, care for the widow and orphan, doing the things Christ himself taught us to do.  I believe the only way…THE ONLY WAY…the world around us will see Jesus is if we really begin to be the hands and feet of Jesus, where our words and our actions are in accord. We can’t speak about loving our neighbor while we leave them outside in the cold, hungry and hurting. We can’t speak about being Christ-followers when we follow the world. The culture around us knows Christians…but they don’t know Christ, because they can’t see Him in us.

Church, let us no longer be lukewarm, but let us burn bright, on fire for the Lord.

Let us begin to live our lives as we were created to do…in worship to the Creator, honoring Him with EVERYTHING that we are, everything that we do, and let it be every day, every hour, every minute and not just one hour set apart on Sundays. Let our Saturday nights be as holy as our Sunday mornings.

Let the world around us see Christ in us, let them know we are truly a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), transformed by His love and grace and mercy.

Let us be a body of believers who live to serve, not to be served. Let us reach the world, not from a place of superiority, but servanthood.

Let us embrace forgiveness, let us know love as a verb, let our hearts be broken for what it is that breaks the heart of God and let it stir us to action.

Let us be careful with our words, using them to lift up another, and let our tongues be silenced when we seek to wound another. Let us speak in truth AND love, not just one or the other.

Let us love our enemy, let us know our neighbor.

Let us no longer be acclimated to the comfortable and constant, satisfying our selfish desires, but instead let us embrace change and transformation.

Let us spit out the lukewarm.

Church, it is time we rise up. Rise up and shed the coat of apathy that is weighing us down. It is time to rise up, to plant our feet firmly on the solid rock of Christ and to be bold and courageous. It is time to rise up, set down our cups of coffee and lift up our hearts to the Lord.

It is time.

5 Easy Ways to Stay Exactly the Same

Change is hard, amen?  No one likes change and everyone bucks against it when it comes.

And it does come, sweet friends. There is nothing so constant as change. It comes in the weather, it comes in the seasons, it comes in the day-to-day decisions of life.  Jobs change, friends change, people change. We are in a constant state of growth and death, of renewal and rejection. In every moment, there are ways to choose the path of growth, of health, of renewal….or the path that leads to stagnation, death, decay. And friends, it is a choice. It takes a conscious decision to continue to move forward, even in the hard times, even through the pain, even through the dark nights of the soul.

Our spiritual lives, just as our physical lives, have cycles of change and rebirth, inspiration and darkness. But if you don’t want to grow or change? Well, here is 5 ways in which you can choose to remain the same….

cracked-ground

  1. Don’t pray.   Prayer leads to a deeper relationship with God, and richer relationships lead to….work. Renewal. Walking through the valleys and the peaks. All relationships take time and effort to grow them, and it is no different with God. A rich prayer life is how we communicate with our Savior, and how He communicates with us. As you deepen your relationship with God, love will overwhelm you and you will want to act out of that love. God will stir in you a desire to reach more people for the Kingdom. Just don’t do it if you want to remain where you are at!
  2. Don’t seek. Close your eyes and turn off your mind. Don’t read spiritual books, don’t allow inspiring speech to hit your ears, don’t let music touch your heart.  And above all else, don’t pick up a Bible!  God will continue to seek you out, in order to inspire you and teach you and grow you….but ignore it the best you can. Keep your eyes downcast and focus only on yourself so that you aren’t seeing the beauty and the tragedy in the world around you. Which leads to my next item…
  3. Be self-focused. Don’t invest in others. Worry about how your needs are being met only, and not about spreading the Gospel message to those who may have not yet encountered Christ. Do not become passionate about serving the outcasts of society. Never ask a relative or friend how it is with their soul. Never invite another person to join you at your local worship service. Someone sitting in your seat? Kick ’em out. Someone else making you feel uncomfortable with their questions or comments? Ignore them. Never engage those who may challenge the way you think or the way you do things. To do so may cause you to question and wrestle with your beliefs and traditions. Gasp! Who needs that stress?
  4. Be a cultural Christian. Be nominal in your faith. Sure, if someone asks you what your faith is, answer Christian, but never live out Christian witness. To do so may deem you a “radical.”  Show up for the occasional worship service (Christmas and Easter are your best bets.) Don’t spend more than exactly 60 minutes in a worship setting, and never cultivate deep friendships with other Christians where accountability matters. Don’t invest time in learning and growing in your faith. Spend all your free hours sucked up in the latest viral videos, or social media, or binge-watching Netflix. Pay more attention to the break-ups and hook-ups in Hollywood than you do to the heartbreak God has for His people. Romans 12:2 (NLT) states: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” But what do I know? It’s only scripture….
  5. Don’t risk. You read that right. Risk can equal rewards, but it can also lead to hurt and frustration. Risk can lead us down a path filled with glory and joy, but it can also lead to some pretty dark places as we join with Jesus in setting the prisoner free. Risk can lead us down into the valley of shadow and death, and if we aren’t clinging tightly to the Shepherd, we can fall in the pit. Let fear hold you hostage. Let fear keep you from living out a life of freedom in Christ. Without taking a risk, you never need to worry about growth or change.

All 5 steps sound easy, don’t they? It would be so much easier to be stagnant, to sit and just BE. And yet, God continues to pursue the hearts of His people. God continually invites us to grow and change and be transformed, not by this world, but by His grace, mercy, and love. God doesn’t want us to stay the same. God desires our hearts. God desires our willingness to be the clay as the Master Potter molds and shapes us into the image of the Savior.

I hope you read this as being light-hearted, if a bit snarky, but it really isn’t a light-hearted subject. The sad state is that these are not crazy things you’ve read. These are all attitudes I have had at one time or another, or things I have struggled with in my own hardened heart. These are words I have heard fellow Christians say. These are the actions (or non-actions, as the case may be) of many of our churches, by many of our people. This is the state of Christianity around us. And it breaks my heart. 

Friends, Jesus came to give us life, an abundant life. It is not a life of worldly abundance of riches and ease, but it is a rich, full life.  It is a life that is better when we walk along with one another, lifting each other’s burdens, carrying one another’s loads. It is a life better lived in community, and a life best lived when we are following our Shepherd, clinging tightly to His cloak. God will never leave us, nor forsake us, but will be beside us as we live into the life He has given us.

Risk it all, pray unceasingly, love the other, seek to find God in everything, and live a life where no one doubts whom you serve.

Embrace change.

 

My 2 Cents for Ministry Families

We’ve been in this place for one year.  One year of ministry under our belts, and I realize how ill-equipped we were…and still are in many ways…for life in ministry. I am glad I was warned advised (repeatedly) that life in ministry is hard. Life in ministry is challenging. Life in ministry is beautiful. People will hurt you. People will surprise you. There are those who will support you no matter what, and there are those looking for every opportunity to find fault in everything you do. And all of this applies to both the pastor and to the pastor’s family.

We’ve spent the last year trying to learn the culture, trying to understand the people. We’ve spent the last year moving slowly, trying not to step on too many toes, treading water lightly. We’ve spent the last year in tears, crying out to God for healing of hearts, for restoration of relationships.  We have fallen to our knees, praying for growth and renewal and transformation. We have prayed for His Spirit to revive hearts. We have sought God’s guidance, we have listened for His voice. We have begged to have His heart for the people, for the church. We have spent a year hoping to see some fruit from our labors. And we have spent a year waiting on the Lord…

And so I write this blog post, knowing that I know so little, and knowing that our experiences may not be your experiences if you, too, are in the trenches of ministry. I’m writing this to encourage those who are stepping out in faith, embarking on this adventure, and for those who have been at it for years. I know that the longer our life in ministry, the more we will learn and grow and, in 5 years from now, this list may be completely different. There are healthy churches out there, along with some very unhealthy churches, and every pastor’s experience, along with their family’s, will be unique to the place they minister. Some places are easier than others, but every place will have weaknesses, every place will have challenges, every place will be hurting in some way. And in every place, there will be opportunities to see the hand of God at work, to see His redemptive power, to see transformation in the lives of the people.  In every single place, in every type of ministry, there are miracles and joys and healings and beauty from ashes. In every place, the Spirit is moving and hope is present.

Ministry families, this is for you. Know that you are not alone in your journey. The more articles I read about ministry, the more I realize how much we, along with our pastor spouse, need to be encouraged and loved and reassured that we are not alone in this craziness! I write this from a wife and momma’s perspective. If you are the husband of a pastor, I would love to know if this resonates with you also.

So, here is my advice/ $ .02/ words of wisdom (hah!), for whatever it may be worth.

  • Cling to the cross. You can’t do this without God. You need an abundance of His grace and mercy. Soak in His love.  And, if (and when) you feel your heart becoming hardened, escape for an hour, a day, a weekend, and be refreshed. Find a place to connect with your Creator and let Him love you. Let God refill your soul, nourish your heart, and strengthen your passion for Him and your compassion for others.
  • Laugh. Often. Find joy in the little things. Cherish the moments of laughter and delight.  In times of stress, my sense of humor is the first thing to go and I need to be very intentional in finding joy.
  • Remember that your spouses’ job is not your job.  I say that with a grain of salt. I often refer to my husband’s work as “our” ministry.  I truly do believe that we, as a family, are in ministry together, and it is a team effort in my husband’s work within the church.  I help with a lot of stuff in church, often spending 15-20 hour each week volunteering.  I do this because I know how important it is that I show support and encouragement for my husband. I do this so I can help him in his ministry. I do this because otherwise he would end up doing it alone, and I want to relieve some of the stress and workload from an already overwhelmed schedule. I do this so that I can spend time with him.  I do this because I believe God has called me to this, in this season.                                                                                                         However, I was not hired to do his job. He was. I do not have the authority to make decisions, change or transform anything…any more than any other member of the church. And sometimes, I have even less input than the “regular” church folks.  And sometimes, it is a hard truth, that even though I spend far more time, energy, and emotion on the church and it’s activities than most of the congregation, my voice doesn’t carry more weight than anyone else’s.
  • Keep a Sabbath. And encourage, no…MAKE your spouse take one. Keep it sacred, just as the 4th Commandment tells us to do.  Use it as a day every week to connect with God and with one another. We have failed at this one over the last year, and now are trying to regain Sabbath keeping back into our practices. Wednesdays are becoming our holy days this summer, where neither of us work and we have intentional time together as a family and “shop talk” is kept to a minimum. We’ll see how it goes. We are a work in progress.
  • Try not to take it personally.  I struggle with this one. I want to protect my husband as much as possible, and protect my family. Words wound deeply. Actions…and inaction…hurt. They matter, even when you don’t want them to. And sometimes, it is hard to remember that every other person in the church is just as human as I am, makes mistakes just as I do, and is focused on themselves and their needs, just as I am.   They are trying to protect what is important to them, just as I am trying to protect the ones important to me. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. It just stinks being on the receiving end of the hurt.
  • Pray for your spouse. Do this often. Daily. Hourly. In seasons of challenges, pray for their protection. Pray for their faith. Pray for their heart. The attacks on their character, their ministry, their integrity, their emotions, and their faith are the ways of the enemy.  Pray for your spouse, and for your marriage, and for your children (if you have them). Satan will attack everything that you hold dear. Fight back with prayer.
  • Find friends you can be authentic with. We all need a safe place to be real, to bare our souls, to share our burdens. My husband and I were lucky that we met other families who are also in ministry in our town shortly after we moved here. They understand the life we lead because they, too, are on the journey, trying their best to follow God’s call on their lives.
  • Remember why it all matters. There is a much bigger picture than any of us will ever see.  We know that God wins, but the battle can be excruciating. We know that the work we do is to bring people to Christ. It is to grow the kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  And it is hard, hard work if we are trying to do it on our own, which is why it is so important to remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Friends in ministry, you are in my prayers. Our lives are not easy ones. We have taken on a yoke that we can only get through with the grace of God. Some of us have chosen this life willingly and joyfully, embracing our spouse’s invitation by God to join in ministry. Others of us have felt pulled along by our spouse, hesitant to embrace this life of service to others. Whichever camp you fall into, I pray for grace and mercy to abound in your lives. I pray for you to find safe places, safe people, to be real and authentic with and for deep, abiding friendships to nurture your soul.

For those of you who may not be in positions of ministry, may I ask one thing of you? Encourage your pastor. Love on their families. Reassure those who minister to you. Show them grace and mercy.  I’m not saying to blow smoke, but give authentic encouragement when the Spirit moves you to. Most people do not hesitate in giving complaints or criticism, but are much more reticent in giving encouragement. A kind word given, a nod of encouragement shown, can go a long way to lessen the burden and cheer the soul.

Life in ministry is hard. It is challenging. Over the course of the last year, my husband and I have failed miserably at much all of the above. There have been times when we’ve become weary, where we’ve been overwhelmed. There is loneliness, there is isolation, there is heartache.  We’ve forgotten to laugh, and we’ve worked too much and too hard, not resting in the Lord. We’ve been hurt, and I’m sure we’ve probably hurt others. But we’ve also been shown grace and given glimpses of the kingdom of Heaven breaking through. We’ve seen healing. We have watched others grow in faith. We have delighted in the presence of the Lord, and we know that He is at work in our midst.

And we wait on the Lord, hopeful to see the fruit of our labors, but knowing that our timing is not always God’s timing and that we may be long gone from this place before the harvest is ready.

Even still, we work. We worship. We wait….