Selah: Ministry Priorities

Recently I was asked to list what I think are the top ten things related to ministry. My first response put preaching and teaching at the top.

I read over my written list a couple times and decided I started at the wrong place.

Hitting the delete button on my keyboard, I changed preaching to spiritual self-care and my number two to connection/fellowship with others. If I don’t take care of myself, making my spiritual growth a priority—then I will have nothing to give anyone else.

Then I saw this meme:

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Flourish.

This of course reminded me of my series on the Beatitudes, and how Jesus’ understanding and invitation to “blessed” was the idea of flourishing.

If I am going to flourish and be effective in my life and calling, I have to tend my garden first. And while you may not be called to a specific capacity or “job” of ministry, nourishing will lead to flourishing in your spiritual walk and influence.

As you pause and reflect on where your journey may take you today and this week, ask for guidance on how you will prioritize and nourish your spiritual garden. Are there weeds you need to pull? Seeds you need to plant? Flowers you just need to take time to admire?

Make your spiritual garden a priority and see what grows.

 

For meditation:

God’s blessings follow you and await you at every turn:
    when you don’t follow the advice of those who delight in wicked schemes,
When you avoid sin’s highway,
    when judgment and sarcasm beckon you, but you refuse.
For you, the Eternal’s Word is your happiness.
    It is your focus—from dusk to dawn.
You are like a tree,
    planted by flowing, cool streams of water that never run dry.
Your fruit ripens in its time;
    your leaves never fade or curl in the summer sun.
No matter what you do, you prosper. (Psalm 1, The Voice Bible)

 

 

 

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Delete the Yet.

Words are my life. If I’m not speaking/teaching with them, I’m either writing them or playing games with them. Consequently, I find myself doing a lot of self-editing to make sure my message is clear.

Editing sometimes involves correcting punctuation. Putting a comma in the right place can make all the difference in the meaning of a statement. For example, which is better: I like cooking my family and my pets; or I like cooking, my family, and my pets. Or: Let’s eat grandma; or Let’s eat, grandma.

Using words or deleting them can change the meaning being conveyed. I would like to suggest an editing correction to an old hymn that has been recently updated, and is currently playing on Christian radio.

In one of the previous churches I attended we often had hymn sings, times when the people would call out the hymnal number or title of their favorite hymn. I would cringe when I heard someone request number 443, “He Never Has Failed Me Yet.”

Yet.

And now a whole new generation of believers is hearing this disappointing musical theology.

I can almost imagine your confused looks as you read my concern. Am I majoring in minor things and making mountains out of molehills? I don’t think so. This simple three-letter word injects an enormous dose of doubt into our faith in God. Simply put: while affirming God’s got a pretty good track record so far, we’re not sure about the future. Including the “yet: implies there’s still potential for God to not come through—and that’s not possible!

Sure, we can all point to times when we didn’t get what we wanted: a job, health, money, or the miracle to save the day. But that doesn’t mean God failed. 

Tucked in Jeremiah is a verse often quoted, worn on t-shirts, or slapped on mugs. The people were in an unbelievably difficult situation—one they’d never chosen…but God did. His message: “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).” 

God has plans for you, good plans. He will not fail.

Paul, understood this, too. While in prison (talk about a situation that could seem like a God-fail), he wrote: “We know God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28, NLT).” Not everything will seem good, but God can make them work together for good. Like Jeremiah said, for His plans and purpose.

I’m not suggesting we take a marker and start crossing out all the “yets” in the hymnal, but I do believe we need to edit that kind of thinking our of our faith and our living. Drop the yet, and put a period there.

He never has failed me. And He never will.

Hopefully Devoted: Dream Small

But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered (Matthew 14:17, NLT).”

The chorus I learned as a child said, “Little is much when God is in it.” The updated version is this:

I’ve been having conversations at my church about this transition in thinking. We can chase after big and think that only doing big things matters—but there is such a special blessing in doing small and simple things in big ways…with a big heart.

Will you share a smile, hold a door, send a card, or phone a friend? Will take a coffee to a friend who can’t get out, or a bouquet of flowers to widow? Will you pull the weeds in someone’s flowerbed who recently had surgery? These things cost very little if anything, but can make a huge difference.

So what will you do today to bless others that won’t necessarily make a big splash, but plant a small seed which can potentially grow their faith in a huge kind of way?

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV).

Wednesday’s Word: BRAVERY!

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I have spent most of my life in the shadow of the Cowardly Lion of “Wizard of Oz” fame. He was afraid of everything. He spent most of the movie working himself into a state of anxiety over all the things that could go wrong.

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I get him. This is my “me too.”

Yesterday, I got a call that a family wanted me to come to the hospital to pray. The hospital is in Cleveland—somewhere I’d never been before—and the sky was threatening to dump a deluge of hurricane proportions. In my heart I was ready to run out the door, but in my mind I was seeing all the things that could go wrong.

I asked a few trusted friends to pray for me, keyed the location into my phone, and with fear and trembling walked out the door.

I don’t consider myself brave. I have to draw on other resources: God, the prayers of friends, the encouragement of my husband to do the things I would otherwise shrink back from.

Courage is not the absence of fear. According to Dorothy Bernard: “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

Many times in the movie, when the Lion wanted to run, his friends would lock arms and walk beside him into the fearfulness of the moment. God promises to never leave us or forsake us (see Hebrews 13:5ff). So there’s One who is always on our side, and at our side.

But don’t discount the friends who either by their presence or encouraging words will go with us as well.

When the situation calls for bravery you cannot muster on your own, who will you call on to help get you through?

And by the way, the hospital visit was great! There were only occasional droplets of rain. I found the hospital with no problem (parking was a little trickier, but accomplished). The family was a joy to be with. And I came home blessed and encouraged.

 

Hopefully Devoted: While You Wait

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Waiting is inevitable.

What we do with it is a choice.

Already this morning, I found myself waiting before I could go have “before-surgery-prayer” with someone at the hospital. Then on the way home, I had to stop for a school bus loading a dozen children.

Waiting is not only inevitable, it is inconvenient—we always seem to be waiting when we’d rather be doing something else.

So what can we do while we wait?

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We can read. We can pray. We can sing. We can pace (getting steps is always a good thing). We can talk to the others who are waiting around us.

These are the productive things we can do.

But we can also stew, grouse, complain, belly-ache, whine, and generally make everyone around us as miserable with the inconvenience as we are.

I know these things are options, because I’ve gone there way too many times myself.

Tucked away in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he makes reference to “redeeming the time” (5:16). This echos the Old Testament prayer of the Psalmist: “Teach us to use wisely all the time we have (Psalm 90:12).”

So how will you use your time, especially your waiting time, today?

May we all come to productive and wise usage…we’ll be happier for it…and God will be pleased.

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Sermon Seeds: Persistence in Prayer

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When I was in high school and experiencing all the typical teenage angst of relationship break-ups, peer pressure, and raging hormones, I had one encounter that forever shaped the way I move toward the future.

I felt a closeness to the the mother of one my friends…her whole family actually. This woman of faith died from breast cancer the fall of my senior year in high school—but not before imparting to me the words that became my mantra for life.

One evening, when my angst and stress was overwhelming, I went to her home. I poured out my heart, and at some point spewed my need to just give up.

She got right in my face, and quietly, but firmly told me to never, ever give up.

Here was this woman, my spiritual mentor at the time, dying from the ravages of cancer, on oxygen, barely able to move off the couch, telling me to never give up. Nothing in life comes easy, but it’s always, always, worth fighting for.

I can’t tell you how many times those words have come back to me, sustained me, pushed me, enabled me.

I apply them to work, to child-rearing, to writing, to facing the seemingly impossible.

And I apply them to prayer and my relationship with God.

The words of Jesus about prayer, “ask…seek…knock” are actually: keep on asking, keep on seeking…keep on knocking.”

Are you in a situation that seems overwhelming? Do you need a miracle? Never give up in prayer. God’s answer, his way, his truth, are worth fighting for.

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Wednesday’s Word: Trust

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I read a meme recently that said: “Whether it’s friendship or relationship all bonds are built on trust. Without it you have nothing.”

But in a day when no one seems trust-worthy—how do we do it?

Lincoln Chaffe said, “Trust is built with consistency.”

I believe it is also developed through discerning. Discerning who can be trusted, when, and why.

We trust individuals, corporations, friends, physicians all at different levels and for different reasons.

But we need first to learn to trust ourselves—our intuition, gut, intellect, resources. We need to learn to trust the process.

We need to learn to trust that the truth will rise to the surface, and that is often the process…and it often takes time to rise.

And we need to learn we can trust God.  Several times in both the Old and New Testaments there is invitation to test and trust God. Work through his promises and see if he doesn’t come through.

Trust is like a muscle. You have the potential…you just need to exercise it.

 

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