Private Woman, Public Walk

Gentle Reader,

The tree just outside my window transformed seemingly overnight. Sad gray branches suddenly full of green leaves and delicate pink blossoms. Winter has finally passed. Spring, with all it’s bluster and showiness, is here to stay.

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze…

I’ve sung these words more times than I know, and yet, somehow, they remain fresh to me in ways that other words do not. Something in the poetry captures my mind. Perhaps this is because I am inclined to solitude. I don’t mind listening as the wind rustles the new leaves. I like stopping to listen to birdsong. If there’s an opportunity to watch the sun set in real time, I’ll take it. There is such complexity and wonder in nature, such a mark of God’s presence. Others can have the noise of cities and constant movement. I will sit and observe as the clouds change shape.

And yet…

My walk is a public one. My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me.

– William Wilberforce

God really does choose the foolish and powerless things of this world (1 Corinthians 1:27) through which to pour His light.

…the logic of the Gospel defies human wisdom and conventional expectations.

Asbury Bible Commentary

I don’t know what God is doing right now, what exactly He is calling me to. I do know that I am most wholly myself when engaged in ministry, whether that be through writing, teaching or preaching. Oh, yes. This shy and often tongue-tied woman has been behind the pulpit (well, music stand) before. It’s exhausting, but I like it. I like it a whole lot.

What I like even more?

Serving.

I want to be of good use in this world. I want to be helpful. I want others to see the hope and love of God when they’re in my presence. Perfect, that’s not a word to describe me, ever, and a state for which I no longer seek to strive. But consistent, constant? Those I like.

What I like even more?

Humble.

The greatest saints I know do the dirtiest jobs, and they often go without recognition. Yet their faces shine with a light that must be akin to that of Moses after he spent time with God (Exodus 34:29-35). They are full of joy, because they serve the King, who sees all. Perfect, they are not either, but definitely consistent and constant. Their wisdom impresses me. Their soft hearts convict my own that is so often hard and impatient. Their complete willingness to do as God leads stirs up a longing inside me.

A longing to be that immediately obedient.

I stood at the front of the sanctuary on Maundy Thursday, loaf of bread in my trembling hands. Thank goodness the pastor thought to wrap the base in a napkin, otherwise my clammy palms would have soaked the crust.

“The Body of Christ, broken for you,” I whispered, seeking to look every person in the eye, even as my vision blurred with tears. Blue eyes, brown eyes. Young eyes, old eyes. Eyes full of life, eyes full of pain.

Hands tore as much off of the loaf as they wanted. Smooth hands, wrinkled hands. Hands of office workers, hands accustomed to manual labor. Chipped nails, glossy nails.

Feet, in sneakers, in heels, in sandals, shuffled over to the cup. “The blood of Christ, spilled for you,” the pastor whispered. Her face, it was shining, a tender smile extended to all.

At once the fear left me and I focused simply on the holy moment. People of disparate backgrounds and experiences drawn together by the sacrament. The remembrance of Christ. The beginning of three days’ somber contemplation before the celebration. The noise of chairs, coughing, the clang of rings against the cup no longer registered in my ears. All I could hear, see, or feel was Christ and His love.

What an incredible privilege!

How wondrous it is, to be part of something logic-defying. How strange, to walk against convention. How utterly impossible, if not for Jesus.

So I will continue, one step at a time. I do not know where this bend in the road will end up, but my business is in the world. My task is among the people. And I think that, because He is a very good God and He knows that I need time and quiet, that there will be space for walking in the woods. There will be moments to feel the breeze. Somehow, solitude and service will join together in the beautiful and mysterious way that bears His mark.

I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

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Sketches: Spiritual Maturity

Mature

Gentle Reader,

I’ve needed to bump up my weights (for exercise) for awhile. Finally did so. Heavier dumbbells. The tortures of a new resistance band. I’m sure it’s good for me, but I can barely feel my arms right now.

So, let’s talk: spiritual maturity. (Prompt submitted by longtime reader and encourager Jodi. Thank you, Jodi).

I’ve sat and pondered this for awhile, for what, exactly, is spiritual maturity? Ultimately, I believe that it is the process of becoming more like Christ, also known as sanctification. In simple terms, this means to be set apart. To be different. To have all the distractions removed and rough edges smoothed so we can be the people that God wants us to be.

We cannot naturally achieve sanctification. While every human has the capacity to do good things, our nature is warped at a fundamental level. When, through the beauty of God’s prevenient grace (the grace that “goes before,” the action of God drawing all people to Himself) we come to the crisis of repentance and cry out to Christ for forgiveness, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. He begins to “unwarp” our nature. In both a moment and across a lifetime, which is a mystery and I am nowhere near smart enough to explain to you, He purifies and completes us. I suppose we could think of it as a prisoner being set free, but taking a really long time to figure out that he has been freed. He needs help in learning to drop old patterns and habits, to learn to live as a new person, in a new way.

John Wesley loved the topic of sanctification. Really loooooooooved it. ‘Twas his jam. In the opening paragraph of the sermon Circumcision of the Heart, he wrote:

…he is only preaching to them “Jesus and the resurrection,” with the necessary consequence of it, — If Christ be risen, ye ought then to die unto the world, and to live wholly unto God.

He went on:

 That “circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter;” — that the distinguishing mark of a true follower of Christ, of one who is in a state of acceptance with God, is not either outward circumcision, or baptism, or any other outward form, but a right state of soul, a mind and spirit renewed after the image of Him that created it…

And so one does not have to be in vocational ministry or in possession of a theological degree in order to be spiritually mature. Growth in grace and Christlikeness is a natural consequence of right relationship with God. We don’t always get it right. We stumble. We fall. It can take a long time for us to let go of wrong beliefs and cherished sins. In the end, though, God will have His way in us. Through the gentle yet at the same time head-walloping conviction of the Spirit, He will enable us to pry our white-knuckled hands off of those things He wants us to release (that is, if we aren’t consistently refusing to listen to Him and hardening our hearts, which is always a danger).

When talking to His disciples about false teachers, Jesus said:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

– Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

God, the Master Gardener, is in the business of resurrecting bad trees. He waters, feeds and prunes. If we submit to the process – because we always have choices – we will produce the good fruit of:

…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

– Galatians 5:22b (NKJV)

These traits are ours in an instant, yet they take a lifetime to develop. The Spirit has to train our minds to think differently and teach our hearts to feel differently. We start off as cranky little babies, focused only on ourselves. In time, with His patience and mercy, we move toward becoming the light-bearing, Gospel-breathing people He wants us to be.

Spiritual maturity has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude. It all boils down to a simple question: Do I want to submit to God in this thing or not? Sometimes it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” dance. I freely confess to you that there are days when my answer is “no.” Then I get to learn things the hard way. I get a rough lesson in the necessity of not responding to people and life like a squawking toddler. Thankfully, there is grace.

In short, spiritual maturity means that we grow up.

And boy, do we ever need to grow up.

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The Wednesday Writers: Stephanie Thompson (Again)

Back Door

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today I’m happy to welcome back my friend Stephanie Thompson.

A Place of Unexpected Hospitality

Last year, something exciting happened around here. After living here for nineteen years, we bought a new back door! It is a beautiful white door with a small window. No scratches or marks of age. New.

As a child, I could have never expected a door to be a source of fulfillment. But once you reach adulthood, you set your eyes on different “toys.” A new dishwasher? Yippee!

Our home is small and quaint. Originally we bought it as a “starter” home but due to a lot of factors since then, we are still here. And truthfully, we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. This is the place our stories have unfolded. We have hosted Bible Studies, birthday parties, dinner parties, brought new babies home. These walls have witnessed despair, sorrow, hope, celebration. God has weaved our lives together here.

The distance between the back door and the front door is fairly short. Yet, as you know, there exists a cultural nuance about house entrances. Typically, the front door is used formally and the back door for more intimate relationships. Things like:

The neighbor coming over to ask to borrow a cup of sugar (yes, we are fortunate to have those interactions in 2016!)

My kids’ friends looking for a playmate

The dogs, coming in refreshed and a bit calmer after some time in the backyard.

The Summer Parade of kids going back and forth between the inside for refreshment and the outside for watersports (hopefully not dripping). The glorious breeze and the waft of grass coming in with them.

Because our home is small, there is not a lot of space for storage. Coats and shoes find their place on hooks and a shoe bench immediately after entering the back door. And it opens right into my kitchen. Let’s just say there is always something “cooking” in there.

I’d like to say that the “mudroom” was always organized but it wasn’t.

Once I even lost a bike helmet there in plain sight!

In the summer, flip flops, packages of sparklers left over from fourth of July and swimming goggles are stored (loosely!) in this space.

In the winter, it becomes cluttered with boots. Not just our boots. The boots of those who grace us with their presence. Whose interactions are woven into our life stories. Which brings me to what I have learned from my back door.

You see, I used to be embarrassed for guests to use it. Even if I tried to cue visitors to use the front entrance, which is so much more elegant and clean, people still chose to use the back door.

Sometimes, my father-in-law would pop over on a Saturday morning to have coffee. There would be a knock on the back door. Yikes! Pancake batter adorned my counters. Dirty breakfast dishes stacked in the sink waiting to be bathed in the dishwasher. I tried to be gracious but inside I was swallowing my pride. He was seeking relationship with his son. I was focused on logistical details.

And then there was the next door neighbor girl, seeking a place of refuge from the insecurity in her own home. There would be a knock on the back door. I saw the door opening to the array of boots and coats strewn about. She didn’t focus on that. Our back entrance provided affirmation that she had value and was loved unconditionally.

So last year, when we bought a new door, there was a feeling of accomplishment on our part. Everyone likes to make their home more appealing and welcoming.We saved and bought a door that added aesthetic value as well as heat efficiency. It was nice to have something new.

But nothing else about the “back door” has changed. Except my perception of it and what it means for us.

I have learned that when people use that door, they feel comfortable. Intimate. Our front door is for people like the UPS carrier, a girl scout selling cookies, trick or treaters, or guests with whom we haven’t developed much of a relationship.

The back door crowd sees us in all our “nakedness”, and still choose to enter our home. And I need to let down my guard and accept it.

For, despite what my door may look like, it represents something beautiful.

What area of your home has become your unexpected place of hospitality?

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mudphotoStephanie is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She writes about sensing the voice of God and encountering the Holy Spirit in the midst of our everyday routines. Her pieces have appeared at Mudroom, The Mighty, Altarwork, as well as other sites. She is a writer for the Redbud Guild. In addition, her passion for those affected by mental illness finds itself woven into her writing. Stephanie lives in Mokena, Illinois with her husband and three teens.   .

A speaker as well as an author, you can connect with Stephanie at her blog and on social media (Twitter  /  Facebook).

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The Wednesday Writers: Carol Graft

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend and fitness accountability group member, Carol Graft.

The Gift and Fruit of Grace and Mercy

Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve.
Mercy is not receiving what we do deserve.

– Author Unknown

We are familiar with Galatians 5, the chapter that includes the Fruit of the Spirit passage:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

– vs. 22-23 (NKJV)

Notice that “fruit” is singular. It’s all the same value. We are to have all of the attributes. All the fruit of the Spirit should be manifest in our lives as believers in and followers after Christ. But if we are honest, we have our strengths and weaknesses in this area just as we have in any area of our life. We can get down about this.

We forget about grace.

We forget that it’s a gift. Instead, we focus on passages like this:

…for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

– 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NKJV)

I know some don’t think these words are relevant; the time for passages such as this is long gone. Given that the Word of God is living and active, not just pages of wood pulp with typeface on it, I beg to differ. (But that’s another post).

Those gifts listed above are plural, meaning multiple gifts.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has them all, though most have several, just in varying degrees. We get wrapped up in that. We focus on what we are able to do.

What about grace? Mercy? The ability to rest in Him, instead of striving and fretting?

These two things fall into both the “gift” and the “fruit” category.  Straight from the heart of God, we simply must have grace and mercy flowing in and out of our lives.

Grace: unmerited favor. Favor that we didn’t earn.

Ihis book Grace: More Than We Deserve Greater Than We Imagine, Max Lucado talks about a night in an upper room.

The grace of God.

Hours before Jesus is to be killed, to take the sin of the world then and now upon His shoulders, He shows grace, compassion and unconditional love.

John 13: the Last Supper, that last Passover remembrance.  After the meal, Jesus grabs a basin and a towel and proceeds to do what would normally be done by a slave. Wash the feet.  

Jesus didn’t exclude anyone from what He was doing.  Not the doubter Philip, not James and John who always wanted to be first.

Not Peter, who turns his back on Jesus,

We see Jesus is so full of grace that He washes the feet of Judas himself. The man who very shortly will sell Him.

Could you do that? Could you wash the feet of your betrayer? Could you wash the feet of your boss who fired you?  Could you wash the feet of _______ (fill in the blank)?

To be gracious women and men, we need to walk in Christ. To walk as if Christ’s love is surrounding us and in us.

If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.

– John 13:14-15 (CEB)

To accept grace is to accept the vow to give it.

Mercy: withheld punishment.

Scripture says we are redeemed by mercy.

In His love and mercy He redeemed them…

Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

– Isaiah 63:9 (NIV); Romans 11:21 (NKJV)

Because we have been granted mercy by God, we need to be merciful to those we meet every day. Those in our lives that try our patience. Those who don’t know the Lord.  If we only remember where we were and what we were brought out of, maybe that would soften the attitudes, the hearts of us and our judgments to others, especially those who don’t know yet the wonderful cleansing of God and His love for us.

The gifts of grace and mercy enable us to live as He wants us to. The fruit grows when we are planted deep in the soil of His love. We are changed, for:

What shall we say [to all this]? Are we to remain in sin in order that God’s grace (favor and mercy) may multiply and overflow? Certainly not! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?

– Romans 6:1-2 (AMP)

 

Remember today that God’s mercy and grace is so very, very rich.

“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”

– Ephesians 1:7 (NIV)

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Carol lives in West Michigan, close enough to the beach to chase the sunsets when she can. Married 33 years and counting. Mom to 7, mostly grown, children. 3 daughters in love, and blessed with grands. Loves hot beverages, prayer and worship. Love to teach and encourage others in this Journey with Jesus. While I think my writing is rather rusty, I am learning to lean in and follow the call, stepping out on the water.  Keeping my eyes on Jesus.

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