The Gifts

It’s closing in on 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning. April in Tennessee has decided to be a snowy/rainy/wind-chill freezing kind of thing. It resembles more February than it does spring time in bloom. I haven’t showered and I have consumed two very large cups of coffee and one slice of toast. I am in my favorite winter pajamas.

I was thinking about how my singleness looks, about the contrast of life with my friends who text me photos of their kiddos or the friends I see posting about their babies sleeping through the night or husbands whisking them off to fun birthday weekend surprises. There are days, moments, times where I get that sinking jealous feeling of it all. I love seeing their lives, but there’s a small ache within of coveting, of wondering and of doubt that it will happen for me too.

But then there are moments like these, where I find the freedoms of my life to be quite nice. Where there aren’t plans for the day, or worries over planning around nap times. Singleness looks different for each person living it, just like marriage and parenting and pretty much every single thing about living life. One thing is sure though, is that this life and the time we are given for it is a gift.

This morning as I was choosing my time in the Bible I found the words of Paul to a fellow believer to be something I needed reminding of as well. Timothy was around my age as well, called to minister at the church at Ephesus at the time we read Paul’s words to him in 1 Timothy. And some of the people had taken to legalism in the church, things that were good and created by God were being used as a form of legalistic religion instead by the church to set themselves apart as more holy or more devout.

Paul works through identifying the issue and encouraging Timothy in the fourth chapter of his letter. There nestled in between how to treat church members and the mystery of godliness is a small paragraph on ministry, and this phrase: “Do not neglect the gift that is in you…” It reminded me that I too neglect the spiritual gifts given me by God, those that are specifically designed just for me by the Creator of the universe. He knew I would be the only one that could use them in such a way for His kingdom and His purpose in such a time as this.

He knew that the still-in-her-pajamas, unshowered single gal on a Saturday morning would use the gift given her for Him in the way He designed her to use it. Just as He did the friends who are married, who are parents, who are divorced, who are single too. He has given gifts that reside in each of us that I often forget and neglect, letting doubt fuel the misuse or nonuse of the gifts, letting the words of others cause my gifts to look like obligations or ones I wish I could return. But then I remember the words of James just a few pages over from Paul’s letter to Timothy:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

Inconveniences

“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25 (NKJV)

In the aftermath of traveling (by foot and ship), preaching to hardened hearts and skeptics, converting those whose hearts were opened to the gospel, and casting out demons in Christ’s power and authority. Even just one of those exhausts me in reading about it. In the midst of all this, Paul and Silas were met with opposition which took a violent turn into floggings and imprisonment. All of this after being directly guided by the Holy Spirit to go to this exact place.

And what are Paul and Silas found doing at midnight, of all times, in prison ? They are praising God and singing hymns. And the prisoners are listening to them, as one would a beautiful piece of music, with delight and intent.

I don’t know about you all but I whine and complain about minor inconveniences in my daily life. Like a busted water pipe, missing a workout, a car not starting, traffic, stress at work. I don’t automatically and with voice raised sing hymns and praise God in the midst. I admit that freely because it’s not my natural tendency.

But it should be as a child of God. Just like Paul and Silas.

They were specifically and unjustly being punished for their faith. For preaching the gospel we know today and Christ which we call Savior and King. They were experiencing true persecution, and not just inconveniences we too often feel in our every day life. And yet, they were rejoicing in the God who had led them there by His Spirit. More than that, those in the jail were listening y’all.

People are listening, watching as those of us who are believers react and respond to life, circumstances, situations and inconveniences. They see what it is we truly place our hope and faith in when we face the dark of midnight.

Paul and Silas were living testimonies that circumstances don’t define our hope, our joy, our faith, the gospel, Christ Himself. Not a bit of it weighed them down as they were bleeding and chained in that prison. They knew where God intended to have them, to use them, to spread His truth and His word at just the right time, that no one else would be fit for that time and those men in prison.

Maybe you’re not called out to international missions, but you are called as a believer to carry the gospel with you each day, in each interaction and circumstance. And how you respond to the stressors of this life could be the only glimpse of Christ a person might have, and that you were called to be in that place at that time, even if it’s an inconvenience to you, it could mean eternity to someone else.

Because when you continue to read in chapter 16 you see a jailer and his family believing and receiving Christ as their hope and redemption. That is worth the inconvenience of your time and your life.

The Legitimacy of Singlehood

I write and delete quite a bit when I am writing on singleness. Because I fear what I say will be misconstrued or even so boldly taken as offensive. But what I struggle with more is the tension I feel within the church more and more for singles. My heart is for them, because I am one of them. It’s something I have grown into wrestling with over the years and now find as I look around the landscape a desperate need for us within the walls of the church and in the community.

You’ve likely heard the statistics that people now-a-days are waiting to get married later in life (27 ain’t that late y’all) and there are more singles than in years past whether from never marrieds, divorce, widowhood.

So we’re prevalent in numbers and also in need. We are a subset based upon our marital status has left us wanting community, wanting a safe haven, a place to be. To walk out lives of faith with others. Sometimes that means with couples guiding the way, other times that’s in similar communities, and invariably it means living life with groups of the same sex because we are often drawn to what we know and do daily.

But when I look at the landscape of churches these days, I don’t see much modeled in the legitimacy of singleness in leadership. Yes, you’ll have a handful in the pre-school or nursery ministries, maybe even in kid’s ministry that are singles. You’ll have a couple of singles leading life groups that are for singles. But what you don’t see are singles in pastoral positions for the most part. (I put a contingent on there because I know of ONE) I don’t see singles in other leadership roles within a church staff.

To me it seems that we aren’t counted worthy in the church until there’s a band attached to our fingers. That we cannot be taken seriously as leaders, servants in the church, unless we have a spouse. I understand the difficulties of leading in ministry, and when you are single, the inherent loneliness that surrounds you in that. I have seen it first hand and heard from others.

It just makes me wonder what the undercurrent culture we are building in the church is saying to those of us who are single. That we aren’t worthy? That we only matter yea far and no further? That we can be responsible for babies and teaching kids, but don’t get us near a group of grown adults? Or that we’ll read Paul’s words in the Bible, learn from words given him by God and then forget that he too was single. Or that frankly Christ Himself was single throughout His ministry here with us. The Son of God brought forth here in earth was never married. In His 30s.

And yet, we can’t be bothered to consider how singles can impact the world with their faith just by pouring a bit more into them? That we’d rather discount their abilities simply out of the lack of a spouse. We’d discount their calling God has given them, their spiritual giftedness, simply due to their marital status.

Maybe this is my soap box currently. That the church has moved corporately in many ways to the family, without realizing the very definition of family was long ago crushed and restructured by Christ-brothers and sisters defined by faith and not blood. That we are all the Bride of Christ.

Anxious in Everything

Be anxious for nothing,
but in everything
with prayer and supplication,
with thanksgiving,
let your requests be known to God.

If you’ve been around Christianity for any length of time, you’ve heard this verse handed out when you say you are worried about something. It’s often given as a platitude by a well-meaning pastor or friend to easily point you to peace of mind. But I have to be honest with you that I haven’t really taken to that verse.

You see I’m quite the anxious person. I worry inwardly alot and have for years. About some of the most ridiculous things, about people, situations, words, you name it. I have worried about it. Let me be even more real with you all, that kind of worry all the time will eat you up. Mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Recently I grabbed a copy of Max Lucado’s new book Anxious for Nothing on a whim. I have only read one other book from Lucado, and it’s a small Christmas book I received for free once. As I tiptoed into the book with a skeptic’s eye on the very verse I have grown to really be irritated with, I was surprised to find that I had been looking at it with the wrong heart and the wrong perspective.

In my anxiousness I had chosen to identify with the chaos of the world instead of the sovereignty of God. I was running to tension, control and calamity instead of peace, security, and surety in Him.

As much as I didn’t this to be a book review, I have to contend that Max Lucado’s book on the verse against anxiety is one that caused me to re-examine the whole Scripture and context of Paul’s words to the Philippians. Lucado walks through the various areas Paul points out in the key verse but also lays the ground work around it, and our hearts that are so easily prone to anxiety-whether by our own doing or undoing. He also provides practical avenues of applying the words of Paul to our lives day in and day out.

Overall it caused me solely to realize that the chaos of anxiety is born out of a fallen world, and born within a fallen person…me. But I get to choose whether I abide in that chaos or the calm of the sovereign Lord each and every day. Not to be Pollyanna-ish about it, but the acknowledgement of choosing it daily is often the first step towards being anxious for nothing.

It’s About Time

Time is a precious commodity to us all. We believe we can control it but in fact we have absolutely zero control over time in general-it moves whether we want it to or not. I see posts of friends’ kids with the caption “time slow down” and the inevitable countdown to Christmas clocks as well. So you see we want both, we want it to slow down and to speed up.

timeAlong with our talent and our treasure (money y’all), time is ours to give as my pastor likes to point out. We each are given the same, but with our differing treasures and unique talents we can choose how to spend out of our time bank so to speak.

I have to say for me personally, I will choose the least productive and effective way to spend my time when I have a deadline on my writing (I currently have two). Or if I’m honest anytime I find that I could be working on my book. I will scroll through Netflix to find something to binge or go wander through thrift stores instead of buckling down to do the work. I admit that to y’all simply because I know we can’t all have holy moments of spending our time 24 hours a day, seven days a week devoted to focused spending of it. But I do feel that our culture has gotten to a place of more time wasted than ever before, and I am a contributor over here.

So when we read Paul’s words in Ephesians to “Pay careful attention, then, to how you live–not as unwise people but as wise–making the most of the time, because the days are evil,” (CSB) we find that how we spend our time is much more important than we like to believe. The days will lie to us, telling us we have more time when we don’t really know that it’s the case. In the NKJV version along with several others, Paul exhorts us to “redeem the time” and I find that a challenge. We get to choose how to invest our greatest commodity, the value of our time, and make the very most of it living as wise individuals in that knowledge.

And yet, do we?

Do you?

I know I don’t often do that…she says after watching three straight episodes of Stranger Things season 2. Instead I will waste time, spend it fruitlessly and frivolously as if I have control over how much is in my account to give. How and where we spend our time also reflects our hearts’ focus and desire, what we are valuing over everything else. Because when we spend time on things of no value or no worth, we are telling everything else to everyone else is less meaningful, that we value this so much more over that.

That realization gave me pause as I read Paul’s words once more to the Ephesians as he laid out living a life in Christ and our consistency in our lives in the walk with Him. Because I can spend it wisely or foolishly, but I’ll never get it back.

So how do I redeem my time? How are you making the most of the time you are given?

Living Sacrifices

It’s the 4th of July here in the States. A time when we celebrate our independence from that monarchy and reign of the British so long ago. I joked it was the original Brexit on a couple of social media platforms because IT WAS. We often take this time in America to show our respect for the Founding Fathers of our quite young nation (look at other countries y’all, we’re pretty green behind the ears still) and honor those who have sacrificed for our country through battles and wars.

We are very sentimental that way as Americans, remembering the sacrifices of others to give us the independence we exercise through tubing on the lake, shooting off fireworks until the neighbors call the cops, and playing Florida Georgia Line at top volume. We like that word sacrifice alot around this time of year, what with Memorial Day and 4th of July, and the regal nature in which we honor those that ultimately sacrificed their lives so that we can not be under a reign of a monarchy or dictatorship.

But I don’t think we like that word being applied to our lives, or what we are asked to do. It’s good for others, but no so much ourselves. Believe me when I say I wrestle with this just as much. Because sacrifice means something has to be given up, it has to be surrendered…or even killed. So I look at Paul’s words to the Romans in chapter 12 and start to see the bigger tension evolving.

“That you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

See we are living…breathing…acting…doing…and yet, we are to be sacrificing ourselves for God, to Him, because that is the reasonable response to the God who saves, redeems, loves and sacrificed Himself for us. It means to me I have to kill off myself in every moment, give myself over not to my whims, desires and emotions, but the Spirit within me. Not choosing this world (as Paul continues on telling us) to live into but transformed by Him in every single part of us. It is the surrender of ourselves for the sake of something better-the very best we could ever encounter, God Himself.

So when I want to dwell in this place of sacrifice and seeing how others have given of themselves I cannot help but look at the sacrifice of Christ and the daily act as this living being of sacrificing myself unto Him, His reign, His rule and His will. Not for some selfish pursuit or half-hearted liberty I can conjure up but for the ultimate liberty in Christ.  Not to pursue my own life, but one sacrificed fully for the very best thing…Christ.

Oh that I wish it were as easy as I like to deceive myself that it is. But sacrificing myself and all that selfish desire, ambition and emotion is hard. The person that says it’s easy is lying, but just because it is hard doesn’t mean I give in and lean back into a self-pursued life. It means going hard into transforming my mind, knowing my strength is not my own, but Christ’s in every. single. moment. if I but ask, seek with my heart. Y’all, this Christian life of sacrificial living isn’t easy but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to surrender my attitude, my mouth, my mind, my weakness…every single bit of me even the parts I really don’t want to give up, to know I am serving God in faith.

So where might you need to live as a sacrifice today? What area has God been hammering in on you that needs to be killed off in order to be set apart?

Over All,Even the Small

13900340_10104082817722445_3139628398277334778_n

It’s hard to fathom an “over all” ruler sometimes, especially in America where we cling desperately and aggressively to our democratic ways. We are the rulers of our choices. We are entitled to the rights and privileges, we get to vote for goodness sakes! We get a say in it all!

Believe me, I’m not advocating for a dictatorship in any way, but it’s funny how it shapes how we view so many things.

This week I have been especially drawn to the sovereign nature of things, of life, of Christ specifically. For me I see His sovereign nature as this big nebulous, orchestrating large movements and shifts in cultures and peoples. As I have dug deeper in study I am seeing that “over all” means over all. It means the big and the small, the minute detail and the largest scope of life.

Often we get it, but we don’t believe it in our daily life. We see the sovereign God of all at this 3,000 foot level where He’s reigning and weighing in on the big stuff-creation, judgement, salvation, redemption. But He’s also very present in His sovereignty in the small that I see as my life. He heals miraculously both in my broken heart and the terminal illness of another.

I often discount His character in my life, His presence of the nature that He can never not be. All of God’s character is present all of the time in the big, and my small. For He is Lord of all, meaning that decision I am making and the circumstances of my life. I see Him in the long game, but He’s in the short game as well with me.

It means He is sovereign, Lord of all, in the now of life. In this moment. In this thing. In a diagnosis. In a heart break. In an interview. In a birth. In a death. In my writing. In your hobby.

He is over it all. All.

Maybe I’m alone in realizing this, that He cares and reigns in my smallness. That is matters to Him, being over all in my small.

“In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and of Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep the command without fault or failure until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God will bring this about in His own time. He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings,and the Lord of lords…” 1 Timothy 6:13-15 (HCSB, emphasis mine)

So I look at Paul’s words now as he’s encouraging Timothy in the small of the work before him, to pursue righteousness and fight the good fight of faith. And I see these words below. The giving of life, the keeping of His commands…because He is Sovereign. He’s the God of BIG and small. In the fight and the rest. In salvation of all, and redemption of me. In each and every moment of my perceived smallness. Because He is a BIG God, He’s also the God of all..even in the small.