Five Minute Friday: Success

Gentle Reader,

It’s been almost a month since I’ve published anything.

What.

I’ve been writing – discussion posts, reading reflections, a presentation, lengthy journal entries – but have missed this place and our little community. “Real life” relationships matter, we need to be able to hug and see people, but there’s something special about the way God weaves lives together across the ether.

Kate says: success.

Go.

I had to take a ministry skills assessment for one of my seminary classes. To no one’s surprise, I know nothing about leading or organizing music for a worship service. Some people tell me I can sing, but those people are liars; I do not have a musical bone in my body. While I care about theological accuracy in songs, I’m quite content to leave the guitar strumming to the talented ones. A pastor doesn’t have to do everything. That’s kinda the point of each of us doing what God created and gifted us to do.

To my great surprise, I discovered that my greatest strength is in pastoral care. Listening to people. Praying for and with them. Being present in their lives. As introverted and easily drained of energy as I am, I thought that this would surely be far down on the list. I guess none of us ever quite sees ourselves clearly.

So when I think of success, I think in terms of ministry, and for me, that means being faithful to preach the Gospel and to love others. That’s it. I am not a success if I pack out a huge auditorium with eager listeners. I am not a success if people are willing to open their wallets. I am not a success if I get a book deal, develop a following, appear on a podcast, or show up on television. Success is found only in the hidden faithfulness, the daily grind of showing up and speaking truth, whether in word or in action.

Success lies in serving Christ wholeheartedly.

Stop.

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Five Minute Friday: Distant

Gentle Reader,

No idea where the last two weeks went. Hours lost to the same black hole that eats socks and hair accessories, I suppose. I thought I’d have a lot of time for writing, but nope. Here, there, and everywhere went I, and any moments left over have been dedicated to sleeping, because summer camp is next week and sleep is not a thing I will not likely do for four nights.

May the odds be ever in my favor.

Kate says: distant.

Go.

Part of my heart has been roaming around Utah, Arizona, and California, traveling with my beloved youth group. They explored Arches National Park, attended a conference with 8,000-plus other teens, participated in service projects, spent two days in Disneyland, splashed around in the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach and are now making their way home. I didn’t get to go on this trip, as I stubbornly dragged my feet in responding to God’s leading, but I thought I was okay with that until the vans pulled out of the church parking lot two Sundays ago.

It wasn’t the trip itself I minded missing, because I am not a woman who ever wants to go hang out in the desert in the middle of summer. It was them. I missed them.

And so I am thankful for the beast that is technology, because

Good news from a distant land is like cold water to a parched throat.

– Proverbs 25:25 (CSB)

They kept me in the loop. Shared pictures, stories, and videos. Called me a few times, both to vent about things that would make anyone cranky when it’s 114 degrees and you’re operating on very little sleep, and to share their joy as they began to hear God’s voice. That, indeed, is the best part. God is still speaking, still working. Still drawing people in.

My dear ones learned that they are not the future of the Church, but that they are the Church right now. I am delighted that they heard this message and I can’t wait to see how they begin to take ownership of their place and role. I am excited to walk alongside them as they continue to grow.

Teens are not a lost cause, you see. They aren’t useless. They can be used by God to impact their communities for His glory and everyone’s good, just as adults can. Yes, I am human and no saint and there are moments when it’s awfully tempting to walk away because they can test you like nobody else can (especially middle schoolers), but they need me. And they need you. They need those of us who are a little farther down the path to hold out our hands and pull them up alongside us. They need us to show them how and why to follow Jesus.

I am excited for them to return from the distant land. Excited to hear all the details of their grand adventure. Excited to hug them. Excited for new relationships began with Jesus and old relationships deepened.

That, I think, is one of the little miracles, the subtle touches of God’s hand, that we don’t always notice. A year ago I would have never imagined I’d feel this way or be so invested in their lives. I had purposefully distanced myself from many people because of deep hurt. I can’t say that I’m completely healed, but I can say that the in-process work of the Spirit lies in bridging the distance, in moving me toward when I want to pull away.

Simply, God is good. He has given me a beautiful, complex family, one for which I never thought to ask.

Stop.

Five Minute (Saturday): World

Gentle Reader,

Have you hugged a children’s ministry director lately? Brought him or her a very large coffee? You should. I don’t know how they do what they do, apart from the empowerment of God. I spent 8 hours with a group of elementary students on Thursday, filling in for a counselor at my church’s summer program, and I’m wiped out.

I may not be able to tell you exactly where this calling of mine is going to end up, but I’m pretty confident that it won’t be in the children’s department. I’ll take 50 hormonal teenagers who just broke up with their significant others over someone screaming at me for no apparent reason (translation: they need a nap) any day.

Kate says: world.

Go.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the humanitarian crisis at the United States-Mexico border.

We can argue with each other all day long about immigration processes. And I do actually believe that there should be a process; I really don’t know anyone who is for the idea of “open borders.” The problem right now is that the system is broken. Blame the President, blame Congress, blame whoever. But that misses the point.

We have people crossing the border, some through official channels and some not. Whether you think they should be doing so or not doesn’t matter. The reality is: They are here. And we are not treating them as fellow human beings.

Particular sorrow wells up in my soul when I think of the children who are being taken from their families. (Yes, some children are being trafficked. That makes my heart break and blood boil and I very much want the perpetrators of this evil to be brought to justice. But, let’s be real, every child who comes to the border is not a victim of trafficking, and using that as an excuse to separate families is wrong). Government officials claim that it’s not necessary for children to have access to things like soap and toothpaste, because these things do not fall under “safe and sanitary” regulations, displaying an incredible lack of common sense. Prominent evangelical leaders wonder why we can’t just send these people back where they came from while in the next breath claiming their hearts are broken for them, displaying an impressive cognitive dissonance.

This isn’t a political issue. I don’t care what side of the aisle you normally sit on, what party you identify with, or who you voted for in 2016. It’s a waste of time and breath to argue about minutiae and legalities. Further, it’s an attempt to escape responsibility, because we who follow Christ, who truly know Him as our Lord and Savior, know that we have a holy obligation to care for others. No, not an obligation, a privilege. The whole of Scripture repeats this command over and over again. God does not take kindly to the oppression and marginalization of the least of these.

And if children aren’t the least of these, then who is? If people fleeing violence aren’t the least of these, then who is?

I know, I know. Some of you reading this want to tell me that we should care for our own fellow Americans first. If I may step on your toes a little harder, we, the church, as a whole, aren’t doing that, either. We are stuck in a mindset of occasional handouts and hoping that problems will magically disappear. Because caring for others, really caring for them, involves relational investment. It takes time and the giving up of our own agendas, which we don’t want to do. And I’m right there with you; I struggle just as much as you do to surrender my will and take up the will of the Father.

Once more, this is not political. Our inability to address these issues appropriately arises when we think of them as merely political, when we cast fellow image bearers into the “other” category and deem them enemies. This is a Jesus issue. How would He have us bring light and love into this chaotic, dark world?

The words at the end of a well-known parable echo in my mind:

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

– Luke 10:36-37 (CSB)

What does it mean for you to “go and do the same” today? What does it mean for me? Let’s wrestle with this together, and then do as God leads.

Stop.

Please read this letter and consider adding your name to it. Doing so may not feel like much, but it’s something. Then, join me in praying that God would grace us all with compassion and wisdom, from those in positions of power in the halls of government to those in the smallest communities around the nation.

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Five Minute Friday: Question

Gentle Reader,

June in North Idaho is a strange month. Monday the temperature reached into the upper 80s. Today it’s been clouds and rain.

Kate says: question.

Go.

“You want to be a pastor?”

Want might be too strong a word. I identify strongly with the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, neither of whom were initially thrilled to receive the call. In fact, I just finished reading Ezekiel recently, and this verse had me laughing aloud:

The Spirit lifted me up and took me away. I left in bitterness and in an angry spirit, and the LORD’s hand was on me powerfully.

– 3:14 (CSB)

Commentators are split as to whether his anger and bitterness was in response to the sins of his people or in response to being commissioned to do a thankless job. I suspect it was probably a bit of both. When God, in His kindness, confronts us with our sin, we rightly feel a rush of emotion. When God, in His wisdom (and honestly, sometimes with His sense of humor), guides us toward the path He wants us to travel, we wrongly get mad and stubborn.

At least I have.

I don’t like getting up in front of people and talking. A lip sync battle, sure, because that’s funny. A part in a play, fine, because that’s not me; it’s a character. Just myself, Marie, behind a music stand, daring to declare that God has given me something to say…wow. That’s a lot.

But like I said, God has a sense of humor. I think He gets a kick out of using unexpected people in unexpected ways, because it brings Him glory and creates goodness in our lives.

Do I want to be a pastor? Truthfully, I’m not quite there in the wanting department. Still a lot of fear to overcome. The better question is this: Do I have to be a pastor? Yes, I really do. Absolutely no idea what that’s going to wind up looking like. All I know for right now is that I’m meant to keep showing up for our youth and I’m supposed to go to seminary. (Yeah, I just signed away at least four years of my life).

The real question, the one that circles ’round and ’round my mind, the one spoken in the quiet yet authoritative voice of the Holy Spirit: “Will you obey Me?”

Even though I don’t know where this path is going.

Even though it scares me to the point of tears.

Yes. I’ll obey. Not because I’m awesome, but because my God is. Because when I stand up there, longing for nothing more than to run away or to disappear, a greater longing overtakes me. I want these precious and wild young people to know just how deeply they are loved. I want them to understand the glorious Gospel that sets them free. I want them to meet Jesus. I want them to grow in relationship with Him. I want to see them grab hold of transcendent truth, to be enraptured with their Creator – and then to go out and set the world ablaze as they live in grace.

Stop.

Side note: Super weird to have people start referring to me as “Pastor Marie.” Pretty sure I’m not ever going to get used to that.

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