Five Minute Friday: Influence

Gentle Reader,

North Idaho has decided that mid-January is the right time for winter to begin. Its residents have been spoiled with unseasonably warm temperatures (for the most part) and a distinct lack of the white stuff, which has been falling from the sky since I got up a little after five this morning because the dog simply could not wait for breakfast any longer. It’s pretty. I recognize the privilege that it is to sit here in my cozy house, drinking coffee while I read the book our youth group is going through. But…I’m not sure that I’m prepared for six-to-eight weeks more.

Kate says: influence.

Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching.

– Titus 2:7b (CSB)

I am the non-energized bunny, always ready for a nap or five. The odds of me taking on some great, extended adventure exist within the realm of imaginary numbers. I don’t tackle anything in life with gusto. Give me peaceful walks among the flora and fauna, a la scenes in a Beatrix Potter story. Quiet days. Interesting conversations with friends, pitched at reasonable volumes. 

Not exactly what anyone thinks of when they hear the words “youth worker.”

The first official ministry thing I ever did was run a small group for middle school girls. I still remember their names. I was so young, still discerning the gifts and passions God had given me. If time machines were real, I’m sure I’d cringe at some of the things I said to them. Thankfully, the Lord is big and kind enough to work through our missteps and mistakes.

Life went on. Marriage, work, writing, illness, volunteering. I know now that my heart is to teach Scripture to whoever will listen so that they can receive and respond to the God of, in, behind and around the text. I’ve led adult groups. Briefly served on the church board. Stood as the kid wrangler during children’s classes.

Today – full circle. With the teens again. Chris started a year ago. He knew, right away, that this was where he was supposed to be. It’s taken me longer. Some days, I’m still not sure. I’m older now (34 is practically ancient in our society), so my role has changed. Before, there was a seven or eight year age gap. Now, it’s two decades and more.

I’m stepping into that spiritual mother role. Or maybe spiritual auntie. Someone with a lot more life and lot more scars under her belt. They don’t need me to have all the answers. They don’t need me to be perfect. But they do need me to be honest. And they definitely need me to point them to Jesus at every turn.

God, let me wield this influence well.

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Whose Voice is That?

voice

Gentle Reader,

In my distress I called upon the LORD,
And cried out to my God;
He heard my voice from His temple,
And my cry came before Him, even to His ears.

– Psalm 18:6 (NKJV)

King David is one of the great authors of history. Not only is his poetry beautiful and honest, filled with every human emotion and experience imaginable, the voice in the words is unmistakably his own. A psalm of Asaph doesn’t read the same as a psalm of David. The poetry of Isaiah or Lamentations, while following the same rules of Hebrew construction and grammar, doesn’t sound like the poetry that came from the mind of the shepherd-turned-ruler. The voice of David teaches us how to cry out to God in an entirely unique way.

He makes no apologies, issues no caveats and hides behind no rhetorical devices. He knows that God knows what he is thinking, so when the words pour out of him, he sees no need for messing about. Though several of his songs are quite long, he gets to the point straightaway nearly every time – even if that point is, as in Psalm 51, begging for forgiveness and restoration following great sin.

Simply, David is just himself.

Much like Jesus, the promised Messiah who descends from his royal line, is just Himself.

There is real power in being who God made you to be. Not the kind of power that abuses and crushes others. Not the kind that clamors and scrambles for authority and position. This is the power of security, of knowing that you were designed for this place and this time, given a specific set of gifts and passions so that you can be about the business of glorifying and enjoying God. It is neither arrogant nor self-abasing. It is not consumed by anxiety and the need for self-defense. This is the power of resting in the Lord, in knowing that He is your shield and fortress.

This power is one that I have been without for too long. It is difficult to be a woman who primarily writes about theology, and occasionally politics, the two topics that most would love to ignore, without the cushion of cute kid stories or fun craft and meal ideas. I don’t fit into the generally accepted “Christian blogger lady” lane. And so, out of insecurity, I’ve often tried to smother my real voice – reflective and serious – in sarcasm sauce. My thinking has been: They may not like what I’m saying, but at least I might be able to make them laugh. While I do enjoy making people laugh, and see nothing wrong with doing so if it happens naturally, the forced attempt has been to the detriment of both my writing and sense of identity. I am neither a clown nor a cut-up.

Beyond this, I have tried to anticipate every objection. This usually comes in the form of, “yes, I know…” or “no, I don’t mean…” This, frankly, is exhausting, because, instead of focusing on the message and offering these words as an act of worship of God and encouragement or equipping to you, I wind up expending energy waging a battle that may not even happen. See? The anxiety, the need for self-defense. 

The worst thing – there are times when I’ve attempted to not “write smart.” This is something that I have struggled with my entire life; in my experience, people don’t like the smart girl, and who among us doesn’t want to be liked? The desire for connection and relationship is hardwired. Best to hide whatever unacceptable aspects you possess, and God-given intelligence and a drive to learn have both been unacceptable.

As I move forward in truth, I no longer want to do or engage in any of these things. I want to be like David, warts and all out there for everyone to see, driven to express himself out of love for the God he desperately longed to please. I want to be like Jesus, who, though sorely tempted as we all are, knew who He was and what He was about. I want to walk through this life with my eyes steady forward, quick to acknowledge and correct every misstep but always moving toward my King. 

That, I can only do as me. Trying to be anyone else effectively denies the rule of my King.

This, dear Lord, I have done. Forgive me and help me start anew.

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Beware the Line

send

Gentle Reader,

What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?

– James 4:1 (CSB)

How often do you examine your motives?

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this recently. I know that it’s unpopular, but I do believe in tone policing, to an extent; there is a way to say something in order to get the message across, however strong it is, while maintaining integrity of self and respect for the other person (which is incredibly difficult sometimes) and then there’s being obnoxious for the sake of stirring the pot. Where that line is, where we cross from attempting to communicate and into poking the bear, is different for each person, for, while we share a common tongue, we are not always speaking the same language.

Tone policing is not the same as deeming a subject taboo. It’s not the same as refusing to engage in conversation on difficult matters. It’s not something that we can do for each other, really, beyond a gentle touch on the shoulder or a low-voiced, calming word. This is all about the individual. There are things that you can say, and ways that you can say these things, that I cannot. There are people who will respond to you who won’t respond to me. Frustrating as this can be (and it is), this is simply part of making our way through this world.

Beyond considering the way a sentence is worded, however, is the deeper issue of why one is about to say or write the sentence, or, indeed, post the meme or link to an article. What is the urge rooted in? What is the goal in sharing?

As I’ve previously written, 2018 was a long, hard year. I had no sense of direction in my writing. The Lord made it clear to me in the days just prior to pulling out a fresh, new calendar that I needed to place my eyes back on Him. That I needed to dwell in and focus on Him and His truth, for this lack of dwelling and focus is what led to the lostness. As I’ve begun doing this – make no mistake, it’s a daily choice – I realized that my motives in hitting “publish” or “send” haven’t been entirely good.

This whole section has in view an acquisitive society, the competition for material things and the pleasure they bring. It begins with the manifold desires of individuals that need to be satisfied; so individuals mobilize, each one, to seize the desired object. When they step outside the self, they engage in competition with other persons, even to the point of fierce conflict. So intense is the desire for possessions that they are ready to commit murder (Barclay).

Asbury Bible Commentary

Possessions are not merely things we hold in our hands. We all, each of us, are tempted by the desire to possess authority and power. This doesn’t always look like stepping on other’s to get the corner office. This can be as simple and subtle as thinking, “Why can’t you all see? Why can’t you admit that I’m right? Are you stupid?”

An attempt to diminish the imago dei in another. If I see them as somehow less-than, then I don’t have to check my words or explore my motives. I can let them have it.

When I crossed over from “there are things that are happening and they are very alarming and we need to talk about them” and into “seriously, you’re a bunch of morons and I don’t like you,” I don’t know. I suspect I went back and forth over that line a few times. Sometimes I would communicate as well as I know how and the discussion would be fruitful. Other times I would poke the bear because I felt angry and the bear is dumb.

Oh, the humanity.

This side of Heaven, we will struggle. We are never going to get this exactly right. Yet we must not shrug and think, “Well, it’ll never get better, so whatever.” It can get better. We can get better. Not perfect. Better. We who have the Holy Spirit dwelling within are not helpless, hapless, hopeless slaves to sin.

There are things happening, in society and in our churches, and they are alarming and we do need to talk about them. In our talking, there can’t be justifying or sugar-coating. But we don’t have to go to war. We don’t have to beat each other with words. Jesus never did and He is our example. He said a lot of hard things, spoke a lot of truth that people didn’t want to hear, but He never stepped outside the bounds of love.

Lord, make us more like You. Teach us to examine ourselves, by the light of Your Spirit, not that we may engage in self-condemnation but so that we may grow into who You designed us to be. Help us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. And when we do speak, grant us the self-control to keep our tongues from lighting a deadly fire. By Your grace, in Your power, and in Your Name, Amen.

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Five Minute Friday: Better

better

Gentle Reader,

Truly glad to rejoin the crowd of flash-writers. Two months away from this blog did me good, but I sure did miss them.

Kate says: better.

Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a “law” in our colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this?

John Wesley, letter to William Wilberforce (emphasis mine)

Are all of them together stronger than God? What an excellent question, and one that Wilberforce must have contemplated on multiple occasions during his decades-long battle to bring an end to the British slave trade (and, by extension, slavery itself). One that I myself have wrestled with often. And yes, sometimes, all of them together have seemed to be stronger than God.

What villainy is this? Another great question, the answer to which may be summed up in one word: sin. The evil that humanity can do knows no bounds. That’s not just the big things. The “real sins.” How about gossip and slander, the death by a thousand piercing cuts?

But is that evil stronger that good? Are the wicked stronger than God?

No.

Weary one, lift up your head. I say this to myself even as I say it to you.

There is a better country up ahead. The road may be long, winding and filled with unexpected dangers. But you do not walk it alone. We are together, shoulder to shoulder, forging ahead to the Celestial City, though we be battered and bruised. Better yet, Jesus is with us. Every moment. Every breath.

His presence, through Spirit and through word, empowers us to go on.

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