Go

The Friday night DVD over, Tween got ready for bed while Guy channel surfed. He landed on a food show just as they began a profile on a restaurant in the town where we attended college.

The owner couple looked round-about our age, like ordinary, friendly people with whom we – and you – would like to spend time. They smiled. They have four tween-teen aged sons. They are passionate about their shared enterprise. And not so long ago, their restaurant went belly-up and their family home along with it; this restaurant is their second chance.

Astounded, the show host asked, “What happened?”

Their church helped them out. The church had recently come into “…a big ranch with six bedrooms that was offered to us along with a job as the janitor at the church.”

The family thought their dream was over, but they had shelter and employment. And then someone offered to carry the note on a new restaurant.

Guy and I exchanged a look. We knew that church.

The church we attended throughout most of our college years and beyond didn’t own a building. They rented, and kept enough money in the bank to cover three months’ expenses. They gave away any above-and-beyond money to mission partners and trusted God to provide. It certainly wasn’t a perfect community, but it strived to be a community faithful to God and its witness to the world.

I googled the family and church names and found the (abridged) story in the local paper. Our premonition was correct: we recognized our former church by their actions alone.

I’m so grateful that God gave Guy and me the gift of that church during formational years in our lives. I’m grateful we learned the value of community, that we saw a church attempting to be different in the world, even different within church culture, in order to authentically be the church – the people – God called them to be. I am grateful for their continued health and witness to God’s gracious love.

I’m not saying that every person or family who lost a job or home while attending that church would be automatically granted new digs. I am saying that some did, that as God provided for the church the church was able to provide for others. God provided for the church, which provided for this family, who told their story to those who would listen.

Blessed to be a blessing.

I used to think the task of “Go” was given to others, not to me. I’m not an easy evangelist, or I didn’t think I was. I can’t sidle up next to someone I’ve never met and pray with them by the end of our encounter. No way, Jose! And I was beyond-a-doubt convinced that the missionary aspect of “Go” was for others, not me. I can pray, I can give, but I don’t have gifts of service to share. I’ve tried, and felt like a failure, so no thanks.

I was wrong.

God calls each one of us to be His witnesses, to tell the story He’s writing in our lives. We all have a story, lots of them actually, and in the right light so many of them will reveal His fingerprints.

If I can talk about my favorite brand of hummus (Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Hummus, FYI) or a restaurant I’d recommend or that funny comment Tween made just last night, I can also talk about that cool way Jesus showed up in my day. I get it’s not quite the same, except it’s also not all that different.

Oh, and God corralled me into what would become a life-changing mission trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. I dreaded the experience, had the best week ever, and came home asking God, “What’s next?” If He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone.

For some, “Go” may seem scary. But if you’re truly convinced you’ve got the best of something, you want to share it. When you count your blessings, when you grab hold of the adventure of life with Jesus, you want to share the goodness with others.

Let’s be convinced of God’s “unfathomable riches” (Eph. 3:8) and let’s go share them with those who will listen.

Connect
How do you introduce yourself when you meet someone new (i.e., what do you most want people to know)?

Study
Read Ephesians 3:1-12.
In this passage, how does Paul talk about himself and his task, and what might that tell us about our call as Christ’s followers?
What is “the mystery” (vv. 3-6; see also Eph. 1:9-10 and 2:12-13)?
How do each of the three terms for Gentiles – “heirs,” “members” and “sharers” – further paint the picture of the mystery of the gospel (v. 6)?
What is God’s intent for the church (v. 10)?

Live
What might it mean in your life that God is both the One who reveals and the One who is revealed?
For the Ephesians, the inclusion of Gentiles along with the Jews in God’s family was an impossible “mystery” they needed God to reveal to them. Discuss contemporary issues that render the gospel mysterious to those who haven’t yet come to Christ.
How can the unity and diversity of the Church witness to the world the good news of Jesus Christ?
How has the gospel of Christ changed your life? How might God want to work through you to share the gospel with others?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use you to share “the manifold wisdom of God” with the world.

Give

Do you know what gift(s) God has given you to build up His Church? If not, I highly recommend taking this quick test. (There’s also a test for youth if that’s you or someone you love).

Similar to family chores, we all have a role to play in God’s family and through our God-given gifts God directs us to particular works of service.

A few initial thoughts:
*God gives gifts to His children.
*God’s best gift is faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
*God intends us to use the gifts He gives us.
*Using our gifts will give glory to God and build up His Church.

It should be easy, and thankfully sometimes it is.

Prepping for this post, I had a great conversation with Tween. I asked, “What great gifts have you given and received?”

He mentioned a video game we bought him that encouraged creativity and community. And he mentioned two gifts he’d given: his well-loved but in great shape tricycle to a young friend, and “God” to his friends.

Mama’s heart skips a beat: Tween recognizes that he introduced some of his best friends to His Best Friend, Jesus.

I asked what gifts he thought God had given him to serve the church, and at first he didn’t think he had a gift, that God had skipped him or not yet come to his name on the divine list.

But as we talked, he began to realize that he has Faith, that he “knows things about God” that might not come as easily to other people (Teen took the “youth” version of the spiritual gifts test and has the gift of faith, too). And he cares deeply that his friends know Jesus. So faith and evangelism, maybe. He’s still young.

Tween decided that a great way to develop the gift of faith, to be sure he knows the Truth of God and not just his own ideas about Him, will be to keep the Bible and a headlamp next to his bed so he can read the Bible when he can’t sleep. This kid has never slept well and I can’t think of a better thing for him to do when he’s not sleeping.

Other times, evidence of the fallen world we live in, using our gifts isn’t as easy.

I’ve seen the movie “Frozen” three times, once in the theater when it first came out and twice since. It ranks up there with “The Lion King” as one of my favorite Disney movies.

New Year's Eve "Frozen Fractiles" on our windshield

New Year’s Eve “Frozen Fractals” on our windshield

The main story line centers on the relationship between sisters. But I see a story of giftedness and love, one with definite implications for God’s people.

Elsa has a gift. Fear and criticism have caused her to hide not only her gift but herself, have cut her off even from those who should be and long to be closest to her [hide the girl, the gift, and the love]. When an accidental use of her gift outs her she walks away, again, this time determined to let her gift flow free [hide the girl and the love, let the gift out]. But the gift sans love has drastic far-reaching consequences. Elsa’s gift can only be used rightly, and Elsa herself will only be free, when the girl, gift, and love intertwine.

The impossibly catchy, played-to-death song “Let It Go” says what we might like to say to our critics:

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

I don’t care
What they’re going to say…
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

In other words, I no longer care what you think! I will be myself, use my gifts, see what I can do, rules-free, to hell with your fear and criticism.

But Elsa’s plan backfires, as do our attempts to hide ourselves and our gifts because of fear and criticism.

Fear and criticism can rock us straight out of comfort and onto the ground, beat up and bruised. The temptation to dust ourselves off and walk away, to hide, to stop using our gifts, can be enormous. Likewise with the temptation to stop caring, to think we’re free sans community.

But it’s not true, folks. God designed us to use our gifts, the very gifts He grace-fully bestows upon us, to build up His church and bless the world. Only when we use our gifts with love, in community, to His glory will we truly be free.

So what do we do with fear and criticism? Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer, just some thoughts:

*We need to listen, ego aside, to the reasons behind the fear and criticism. Maybe we have used our gifts inappropriately, or untimely, or without love.

*We need to develop our gifts to God’s glory. Maybe we have used them prematurely.

*We need to pray and pray some more. Did we use our gifts prayerfully, under the Spirit’s guidance? Can we together prayerfully resolve the conflict caused by fear and criticism?

*We need to seek refuge in God alone. God will direct us to the proper use of our gifts in His time and place. Maybe God is using fear and criticism to redirect us to another ministry.

*We need to seek the Spirit of peace and unity and resist our own fears and criticisms. Why should we fear someone using their God-given gift? Why would we criticize their giftedness? Sometimes we need to bite our tongues, to step on our egos and let God do His work without our meddling.

*Finally, we need to ask the Lord for courage to be the best US He has created us to be, and to use our gifts despite fear (our own and others) and criticism, because from time to time we will face both.

Justin McRoberts sang at our church yesterday and shared with us an original song, Courage to Believe. The chorus says:

Lord, give me eyes to see
Lord, give me strength to believe
You give me all I need
So give me courage to believe.

Lord, give us courage to believe that you have given us all we need to believe and to serve You!

Alright, already, on to Ephesians 4 which has some great stuff to say about gifts. I pray that God will release you to serve Him in love and grace.

Connect
Describe a significant gift you have given or received. What made that gift special?

Study
Read Ephesians 4:7-13.
Read Ephesians 1:20-23. What light can this earlier passage from the same letter shed on Eph. 4:7-8?
How would you explain to someone the significance of Christ’s ascension into heaven (vv. 8-10)?
For what purpose did Christ give the gifts mentioned in this passage (vv. 11-13)? In other words, what is Christ’s desire for His people and His Church?

Live
God gives gifts to people and He gives people as gifts to the Church. Describe some people you appreciate as gifts from God.
Paul lists other spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30. How do these gifts add to the list in Ephesians 4? Where do you see your gift(s) listed?
What “works of service” do you particularly enjoy? Which works of service would you like to try?
How have you been equipped for service? How have you equipped others?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that your worshiping community will experience the unity of the Spirit as we each exercise works of service.

Frost made even ordinary leaves something spectacular

Frost made even ordinary leaves something spectacular

Grow

God has rarely been subtle with me. In my life, He definitely tends toward the dramatic.

Before she knew she was pregnant, God woke my mom up in a London hotel room to tell her she would have a baby girl. When three doctors told her I would be a boy (before ultrasounds, of course), she told them she had it on Good Authority that I would be a girl.

Having heard that story from an early age, I knew that God created me and had plans for me. I live God’s promise in Psalm 139:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:13-15).

When He called me into relationship with Himself, it was again with no small drama. My sister and I fought almost from the day she came home from the hospital. One day in the course of a scuffle during a mall trip with Mom, my sister managed to pull my eyeglasses off my face. They fell to the floor and broke. I was almost seven years old so my sister was just two. Flooded with shame I owned the blame; as the Big Sister I should not have been fighting with the Baby.

Surely frazzled, Mom headed for a coffee break. Seated next to her at the coffee counter, sipping my ice water, I quietly prayed. I wanted to ask God’s forgiveness, but I remembered something some Sunday school teacher must have told me: “God doesn’t have to forgive me because I don’t have a relationship with God. I need to ask Jesus into my heart.” And so I did.

Shame lifted, I leaned over and told my mom what I had prayed. Surprised, she recognized the peace of God washing over me. Many years later she told me she hadn’t experienced God’s peace quite like that ever before. Miracle of miracles, I stopped fighting with my sister, too. At least for that day.

God called me into professional church ministry through a prophetic dream. No kidding. Had you asked me before that time if I believed God still spoke through dreams, I’m not sure how I would’ve answered. But that particular morning I awoke from a vivid dream. Married just about a year, I rolled over and told my still-sleepy Guy, “Our high school director is going to announce his resignation during staff meeting this morning. He’s taking a job in Washington. You’re going to take his job and I’m going to take your job as junior high director.”

Guy scoffed, “Yah, right.”

As I left for my morning commute I laughed, “Call me after staff meeting!” He didn’t call.

But when I returned home, he had dressed to take me out to dinner. The high school director had announced his resignation during staff meeting, just like I’d seen. He was, in fact, taking a job in Washington. Guy’s job would be restructured and I was invited to interview for a staff position, one I joyfully filled for several years.

So, yes, I tend to be dramatic. But then, I am created in the image of a God with a strong dramatic flair.

Without a doubt I know God has been calling me to Himself since before I was born. He calls all of us, though admittedly He often whispers. He doesn’t always use 2×4’s and loud exclamations. Still, He loves us and wants us to know Him, to love Him more fully today than yesterday, tomorrow more than today.

Which means God also calls us to Grow in our relationship with Him.

Growth should be simple. With basic healthy ingredients – water, nutrients, sunlight, love – kids grow, plants grow, animals grow. Relational growth requires time, commitment, love. Spiritual growth requires the same – time with, commitment to, and love for God and His people. This looks like worship, study, prayer, service, relationship, and outreach. It should be simple, but don’t kid yourself that that makes it easy.

I love God and I love His Church. But I don’t always like what God asks and sometimes I don’t like the Church. Truth be told.

But Ephesians 4:1 tells us to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” And what does that worthy life look like? It looks like humble, gentle, patient, loving relationships with God’s people. It looks like unity, like making every effort to maintain the Spirit’s unity as there is only One Body despite our myriad denominations, churches, theologies and worship styles. It looks like peace, like bearing with one another, like love.

To grow in relationship with God, we must grow in relationship with God’s people. We don’t get to choose One or the other – it’s a package deal. Like it or not, Love is the answer.

And hopefully, when the rubber meets the road, when we come to life’s dark twists and turns, our investment in God’s family will hold us and keep us safe in God’s hands.

Connect
When did you first discover your professional vocation/calling?

Study
Read Ephesians 4:1-6, 12b-16.
What is the “calling you have received” (vv. 1, 4)? What does a life “worthy” of this calling look like (vv. 2-3)?
What does the end goal of our growth as Christians look like (vv. 12b-16)?
What do you think it means to attain to the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13)?
The phrase “in love” appears three times in this passage (vv. 2, 15, 16). Why is love so important in Christ’s body?
What does this passage say about unity? How is unity an indication of growth as disciples?

Live
During which time in your life have you seen the most growth in your relationship with Christ? To what do you attribute that growth period?
Where do you see examples of disunity among God’s people? In your own life?
What practical difference does it make in your life that God intends for His people to be “joined and held together,” to “grow and build itself up in love,” as each person does their work of service (v. 16)?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that your worshiping community will reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature disciples of Jesus Christ.

Gather

Some years ago I worked as a church receptionist. Lydia held a volunteer position that brought her to the office frequently. Unfortunately, Lydia was a true Grumpy Pants. Nothing pleased her and she was quick to let everyone know.

I cringed inwardly when I saw her coming. She took all my patience and then some.

Lydia also sat near me in worship. If you attend church regularly, you know that people tend to sit in the same seats week after week. I sat on the aisle, and she sat on the opposite side of the same aisle a few rows back. In a small-ish church, that made it impossible to avoid her.

I can’t remember why now (except that I will happily credit the Spirit’s motivation), but I made a conscious decision to offer Lydia a hug every time I saw her in worship (impractical in the office as I interacted with people through a sliding glass window).

I’m sure she was surprised the first time I extended my arms to embrace her, but she didn’t resist me. Better yet, she didn’t slug me. Over time, she started to smile. More time, and she not only smiled but spoke kind words.

The hugs changed us both. I overcame the resistance of my heart to hug her and saw God smiling on my decision in Lydia’s own smile. She must’ve really needed a few good hugs! Oh, sure, she still grumped now and then but she also chit-chatted. One might have even called us friends. When Lydia eventually moved away to be closer to her grown children, instead of being glad to see her go as I once might have, I felt her loss.

God made a decision to deal with our much worse than Grumpy Pants condition when He offered the outstretched arms of His Son on the cross, embracing us in love and grace. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t even know we needed it, but oh how we needed it. How we need Him.

Jesus Christ is our peace. On the cross He made peace between us and God and between us and others. Relationships that seemed hopeless have become possible, better yet, peaceful. Because of Jesus, our Peace, life can be peace-filled.

[Just for kicks, watch this video of a seemingly impossible but completely sweet relationship.]

The potential for conflict lurks any time people gather. Some shy away and prefer to do what they can to grow in faith on their own. While I’m all for solitude, it’s truly in relationship with one another that we learn to more fully love God and receive His love.

Tsh Oxenreider writes, “Being in community is about doing fun stuff together, sure, but in my opinion, the real roll-up-your-sleeves-and-share life happens with each other in the mundane. In the everydayness of life. When it’s hard, and you’ve got to collectively power through the rough stuff. Or even when it’s plain old boring.”

For those who follow Christ, the possibility of peace gives us hope. It causes us to extend our arms toward others in reflection of Christ’s arms extended toward us. It’s not easy – like Christ, we may at times pay a high price – but it is good.

Connect
Reflect on a relationship in which you have experienced hostility. What can you learn from that experience?

Study
Read Ephesians 2:11-22.
Describe the “former” relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Are there any parallels to this dynamic today?
Describe what Jesus did to change that relationship.
How is God’s “new humanity” (the Church) intended to be different from the world (v. 15)?
Culturally, Western Christians have tended to emphasize personal salvation. Where in this passage do you see individual and/or corporate identity in Christ?

Live
How does individualism in our culture create barriers to unity among God’s people?
How would someone who is not a Christian be able to tell that Christ is the cornerstone of your life?
Which of your relationships is most in need of Christ’s peace at this time? What will you do differently this week to invite Christ to bring peace into that relationship?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the peace of Christ will rule in your hearts, in your worshiping community, and in the world.