relationship

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Are You a Wedding Crasher?

Published August 10, 2017 by Dawn

“The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:29-30).

I’ve been in four weddings, none of them my own. I have thus far only been a bridesmaid. I have always loved getting the call to attend the bride in some capacity, though one thing is always abundantly clear from the get-go: it’s HER big day. Her day. All that I did in preparation for each wedding was with “her” wishes at the forefront of my mind. I wore the dress “she” picked out, put on make-up, let someone else fix my hair how “she” wanted it. I loved every minute of it.

Each time I walked down that aisle ahead of “her” big moment, I walked next to a man “she” chose (or her soon-to-be groom, as it were) and stood where “she” wanted me in the front. I was simply there to see my beautiful friend get married to the love of her life.

One thing a bridesmaid knows (or should know) instinctively is that this day is not about “you.” It’s about “her.” Wedding etiquette might be a short list, but there are definitely a few things you don’t do:

  • You don’t wear white. EVER.
  • You don’t propose at someone else’s wedding/reception.
  • You don’t argue with the bride or groom … it’s “their” day, not “yours.”

John the Baptist used the analogy of a wedding to explain his relationship to Jesus when his disciples became concerned that Jesus was stealing John’s thunder. John simply said, in effect, “it’s not my day, it’s his.” All that John did in ministry was to point others to Jesus. His heart’s desire, and great delight, was for other people to be a part of what Jesus was doing. Everything John did was for Jesus to be noticed, loved, celebrated, etc. John knew wedding etiquette and he knew his place.

Proverbially speaking, John went down that aisle first, looking, speaking, and acting just as Jesus wanted him to. But he wasn’t the main attraction. He was simply the prelude. At this point in his ministry, this was the moment when he would have been approaching the front, stepping to the side and taking his position next to the man of the hour: the bridegroom.

I’ve never seen it done, but I’ve read horror stories of brides and/or their grooms being upstaged at their wedding. Unfortunately, some people can’t stand to be in the background. I found a group of such people as I read further on in John today. Chapter 11:47-48 tells it like this: “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

You guessed it … it was the Pharisees. The Chief Priests. A little to smug in their positions, they had forgotten their calling. You see, the Pharisees had taken pride in their positions, forgetting that they were called for one purpose: to draw attention to God. To magnify God. To exalt God. To lead people to God. They had a really hard time stepping out of the way so the Lord could have a personal relationship with His people. They upstaged the bridegroom, so to speak, and it really upset them when He tried to take his rightful place. They were afraid of losing their influence in society, their positions which had always made them feel superior to the people they ministered to, and all the finery that their position afforded them. They didn’t want to be servants, because that was too humbling. They wanted the center-stage with lights, and they wanted the love of the nation to bolster their pride.

Which are you: friend or foe? Do you live to make Jesus known, or yourself? Is the ministry God has called you to “your” ministry, or His? Take this test: if God told you to step down tomorrow and live in obscurity doing menial tasks in the church – or no tasks at all –  how would you respond? Don’t hide the truth from yourself, get real!

I believe we have to ask this of ourselves often in the ministry: what is my motive in this? Who gets the glory? If the answer isn’t Jesus, we’re not being a very good friend of the bridegroom. Our callings get us up out of the pews and a little closer to the limelight, but that spotlight isn’t ever for us. It’s to draw attention to Jesus. To direct the gaze of others to their beloved groom and watch in fascination and awe when their eyes meet for the first time. If we go beyond that, we have sinned greatly against our Friend, at the least. We may lose our position in the ceremony and be thrown out, if we aren’t careful! Take heed, and be a true friend of the Bridegroom!

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Planted in Christ

Published March 13, 2017 by Dawn

It all started with an egg carton and a whimsical fancy.

I bought a tray of 30 eggs the last time I went shopping, and after using them up, I noticed that the egg carton seemed extremely useful. I was immediately sure of what I wanted to do with it, because on a whim, I had bought flower seeds just a few days before and suddenly, I had the perfect planter to start them in. I planted a different seed in each row, putting down a little bit of potting soil before dropping the seed, then covering each one with a layer of potting soil in top. Then I watered them. I measured the water with an oral syringe, making sure each seed got the same amount. That’s more care than I’ve ever put into planting. This is the third time I’ve planted flowers, and twice before, I labored for hours over the flower boxes and tossed the seeds in prepared soil while hoping for the best. This time, I was meticulous. Every day for the next two weeks, I measured out the water the same way and made sure each had a decent amount. Remembering that April showers bring May flowers, I was liberal with it. The water soaked through the soil, the cardboard and trailed along the table. Those seeds had all the water a seed might need.

I checked my homemade flowerbed every day for two weeks, watching for a sprout. Amidst all of the brown, I noticed a tiny bit of green a few days ago. My first shoot! A closer inspection before bed revealed nine more! I excitedly said to my kids, “Look what I have grown!” Immediately, my spirit was indignant.

“What you have grown?”

Ah, pride.

The Holy Spirit reminded me of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3, “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. He who plants and he who waters are one in purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor…”

Clearly, it was absurd of me to claim that I had grown anything. I had put a lot of meticulous work into the process, but although I planted and watered the seed, there would be no growth unless the life God put inside it is awakened by God himself. The growth is a miracle of which I am not capable. I am literally going through the motions if God is not doing His work. I believe the same can be said of anyone who finds themselves in a ministry of any kind. It doesn’t matter how much time, energy or thought we put in to anything. If God is not in it, creating life in the midst of our efforts, it’s all in vain.

I also took notice of the amount of water these seeds needed. Every year, the beauty of spring arrives through the coaxing of an abundance of rain. Before that seed sprouts up into something unique and wonderful, it nearly drowns underground. The beautiful thing it soon will be is delicately prepared under a lot of dirt and water. The same is true for us. The beauty that God is meticulously preparing in each of us happens in place of darkness and distress, but if we are willing to accept the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in those dark places, if we are receptive to Him, we will eventually come out from beneath the load of it and show forth a beauty that could not otherwise exist.

Another thing I have learned about plants over the past few years of breeding aloes in my dining room is that plants grow toward the light. Their shoots reach toward the sun. A few days without a light source and plants wither. All other things being the same, couldn’t it also be said of us? How can a Christian expect to remain strong without a light source? Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” We need His face shining on us, and we must behold Him daily lest we begin to falter, or cease to grow. Like plants, we will naturally yearn for our light source and reach for it. But there are so many distractions!

I have a Bonsai on my dining room table, and every once in a while, I have to dust it’s leaves because if I don’t, the tree cannot grow. Although it has water and sunlight, it cannot photosynthesize correctly if the leaves cannot absorb the sunlight without distraction. We Christians must also keep ourselves clean of distractions if we intend to grow uninhibited in the Lord.

There are many things in nature that mirror our relationship with the Lord. All the things He has made reveal who God is in our lives. He has taken great care so that we may know Him. Keep reaching for Him, be receptive to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and free yourself from distractions so that you may continue to know Him more. God bless!

 

Published August 26, 2016 by Dawn

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Since night running is no longer an option around here, I had to schedule my run during the daytime. I have not been feeling up to getting up really early, so I chose to schedule my run for right after work while the kids are at their sport practices. Turns out a really great idea as far as timing goes. The weather, however, makes it more of a chore than I anticipated. Take yesterday, for instance.

Of course, yesterday is an extreme example. There was a lot of mitigating factors going on. Firstly, I skipped lunch. I did have breakfast, but it was two poptarts, which only count as empty calories with no significant nutritional benefit to account for. I had two 8 oz. cans of V8 around lunchtime, but nothing in the way of food. My water intake was next to nil, but I still naively thought running would be a breeze. I didn’t realize the weather was also against me.

It was a perfect day … for the beach. Ninety-four and sunny. No clouds. Not even a hint of one on the horizon. No chance of rain. I went running at midday heat. Of course, I took my faithful partner along … the dog. We walked a little first, so he could do his business beforehand. Mission complete, and we were off!

It seems like all there is around here is hills. But not the kind that do down. Just the up-side of them. I don’t know how that works out but it’s a pretty amazing trick nature has played on us here. I immediately noticed that running was much harder from my new start point, but I just pressed forward, urging my pained muscles to take step after step long after I wanted to quit … five minutes into my run. That’s not even half a mile.

We were on the biggest hill when the dog made his first stop. He just needed to sniff a powerful trail. It ticked me off. Stopping is the worst, because then I have to exert more of an effort to start running again, because inertia is no longer in play. I reflexively said to my dog through gritted teeth, “Oh my gosh, I hate you!”

Don’t judge me. I was hot, I had no energy  and I was in the middle of a hill!

That was all the excuses I used to justify my heart attitude toward my dog. About a mile into our run, he began to really fatigue. I suddenly felt like, no longer was I just pushing myself to run, I was pulling my dog along for the ride. He tried to stop several times, but each time, I said something mean in a tone of voice that thoroughly intimidated him and he immediately picked up the pace again.

Two miles in, I needed to rest. The little bit of water I had brought was almost gone, my muscles were suffocating, I couldn’t breathe and we were facing yet another giant hill. I noticed a house that had a “for sale” sign in the yard and a vacancy notice on the door, so we stepped off the sidewalk into the shaded yard and rested ourselves on the front step of the house. My poor puppy sank down into the grass and panted. I squeezed the last few drops of water onto his tongue. Together, we rested for ten minutes before starting out on our last little bit.

We walked most of our last mile. I ran a few times, but at this point, the heat was really getting to me and my legs, chest and upper back were hurting from exertion. We made it back to our car much later than I anticipated, and melted into the seats while waiting for the air to cool down enough to shut the doors and hole up in our cold haven until the kids were done.

Horrible run.

I attended my mind to the Holy Spirit while I was running because it’s what I do. No sense in letting my mind wander for an hour if I can just as easily be taught in that time. So I listened. Every complication on my run had a spiritual implication:

  • I ate junk for breakfast – Sometimes, we fill up on “junk” and expect to run our race well. But junk has no value, and we find ourselves exerting so much more effort, relying on our natural selves because the junk has failed us. This junk comes from the things we watch, listen to and say throughout the course of a day.
  • What little good I had (the V8) wasn’t enough – Sometimes, the little good we take in (Sunday sermons, daily devotionals, etc.) isn’t enough. We need more substantive nourishment (ie. Time in the Word of God) to run our race with endurance.
  • No shade is a killer – “Under His wings you will find refuge.” We need to be sheltered sometimes. We need rest and retreat on our run. It’s refreshing! Don’t be afraid to duck out of the limelight and be sheltered at times. It’s often imperative to running a good race.

In addition to all of this, the Lord shared some great things about running with a partner. My life journey doesn’t include a husband yet, but it could one day and here’s what I gleaned from this run with my dog:

  • Our partners get sidetracked – My dog chases rabbits, follows scents and sometimes, just stops to “feel out” a place. It’s a selfish run if I don’t let his needs be fulfilled too. His needs matter to him as much as mine matter to me.
  • Our partners may need a break – Running is hard work. In this race called “life,” very few of us are taking it in stride. Our partners grow weary, restless, etc. just like we do. They may need to take a break and that has to be okay unless we plan on leaving them to forge ahead on our own.
  • Sometimes I pulled him, sometimes he pulled me – the lovely thing about a partnership is the shared work. I have to admit, though. I loved being pulled much more than I loved pulling. I didn’t want to drag him along, but I didn’t mind being dragged myself. I didn’t mind the extra help, just the demand on my faculties to reciprocate it. This was not a good partnership.
  • I was mean – When my dog struggled, I was not supportive. I was hateful. I told him I hated him. Called him names. Yanked his leash. Rolled my eyes. Huffed. I did not recognize his needs, or care about his desires. I had a goal and I mercilessly pursued the finish line, disregarding any trauma caused by my selfish disdain cast in his direction. Also not a good way to foster that relationship.

Yes, life is a race of sorts. In order to run well, we have to eat healthy stuff (reading the Bible, filling up on good media), take a break to rest in the shadow of the Almighty, and if God gives us a partner, be mindful of his or her needs. We should encourage those God puts in our lives and be willing to share their burdens as much as we desire them to share ours. This is how we run well.

 

Imperceptible Growth

Published August 22, 2016 by Dawn

There’s a tree on my dining room table. It’s a lovely gift from a good friend, which I received in April and surprisingly, have kept alive since then. I was afraid for a while because leaves were falling off one branch at a very rapid pace and I was sure I had somehow killed it. Even though the idea of pruning seems counter-intuitive, I thought to save my tree by cutting off that branch that was only producing death, to divert the water and food intake toward the healthy part of the tree. I gritted my teeth and snipped it off. Then came the wait.

I eagerly watched the tree, day after day, waiting to see of anything new would grow and assure me I hadn’t killed my tree. Days turned into weeks, but nothing new seemed to be growing. It was a very scary waiting time for me. I was told these trees were hard to keep alive, but I wanted it to live so badly. It’s beautiful!

A few months after clipping the branch, the inevitable finally happened. Three days ago, I noticed a small sprout near the base of the tree. Almost overnight, it seemed to have shot up and unfurled its first leaf. Two days since, today, I noticed a second shoot coming up near it, and another leaf next to the first one. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. My tree is going to live! Not only is it going to live, it’s going to flourish. It is growing!

I thought about our lives and how this tree is the perfect analogy to the inner ministry that the Holy Spirit is doing in each one of us. After Jesus gifts us back to the Father through His saving grace, we become a new creation. Our Father tenderly cultivates us so that we may grow in all the fruits of the Spirit and become more Christ-like. This includes an often painful pruning of the old, dead stuff. This pruning must be endured and surely hurts. Things that hinder our growth are removed.

Then comes the agonizing wait. We often cannot see the purpose in this pruning. We feel the pain of it, but we don’t see immediate growth and during the wait, it is tempting to believe that we have been left to wither away. It seems inevitable. But you know what is inevitable, if we trust in the wisdom of God during this process? Growth.

Having removed all the things that disable us in our walk with the Lord, He has actually redirected our attention, our energy and all that sustains us toward the parts of us that are good and capable of thriving under His delicate care. Soon, we see a small evidence pop up that assures us we are growing more and more like Christ. This small sprout will grow in its own time, often imperceptibly,  until it is as big a part of us as those things the Lord redeemed from before.

Imperceptible growth. It’s what’s happening on the inside during the waiting. You can’t see it, but it’s happening just the same. Believe it. Receive it. In Jesus’ name! Not only will we grow in Him, we will flourish!

Painting Alongside Our Father

Published July 20, 2016 by Dawn

I decided last week to paint the porch a brighter color. I picked a teal color simply because of all the half-used paint cans in my collection, I liked this one the best. Without a whole lot of careful preparation, I just got up one day and started pulling things down and washing the wood in preparation. Then I started painting.

About half-way through, I decided I wanted my kids to help me. Child labor’s nice and all, but it wasn’t even about that. It was about them sharing in the transformation of our home. I wanted them to be a part of changing things up around here. I asked them if they wanted to help and they both did, so I pulled out a few more brushes and directed both of them to a part of the porch that was specifically “theirs.”

That’s when things got messy.

What I had begun, and been careful in, had suddenly become a little more careless and chaotic. Paintbrushes were whipped about with little to no precision, leaving paint on siding and portions of the walls I didn’t intend for it to ever touch. My porch carpet became a two-toned throwback to nineties paint splatter. And near the finish line, they both called it quits and left me to finish it alone.

Want to know something? I thoroughly anticipated all of this happening. I know my kids well enough to know they are a little less concerned about perfection. They like to enjoy themselves and when the fun wears off, they head off looking for something more entertaining. They’re a little reckless, so the paint everywhere was exactly what I expected. Thank God, I’ve become so chill because my past self could not have handled all of this “help.”

As I stood with my hands on my hip on my fresh-prince carpet, I realized that this is us and our Father, working together on something He could do alone – and undoubtedly do with a lot less of a mess – but He loves to pull us into this work of changing our world. He loves to see the wonder in our eyes and appreciates the joy we receive from it. He knows some of us will get antsy and walk away from the job unfinished, searching for something else to do. He knows we’ll color outside the lines and make His perfect plan look more like a Picasso than a Monet. Still, He hands us a brush and delightfully watches us do our little portion of the work with all our hearts.

I love that about Him. God is so chill. And I love this gentle reminder because I have a judgmental side, and often the Holy Spirit has to remind me that to their own masters, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand (Romans 14:4). Honestly, I can’t tell you who got paint on the carpet, who painted the siding or who left me hanging first. That wasn’t my focus. I appreciated every moment of their time with me, and I chose to focus on what little time I had working beside each of them. I know that one day, our works will be tried by fire (1 Corinthians 3:13). I am learning, however, that Judgment Day is an appointed time, and I don’t want to live in it prematurely, tormenting myself with what God thinks of my pitiful attempts. Nor do I want to live in judgment of others any more. We are all working together toward a common goal, messing things up a little as we go and no doubt, putting a great big smile on God’s face because we have managed to be a little childlike in our feeble attempts to make a difference in the world around us.

 

Come Holy Spirit, We Need You

Published September 15, 2015 by Dawn

Suddenly, all that I know is not enough. Every scripture, every revealed word from God, everything … means nothing in this moment. I do not have a sermon in me that can fix this. I do not have a revelation that can make this bad any better. I cannot save him. I’m desperate.

More than ever, I can see the deficiency in my walk with the Lord. There is no power. There is only words. Satan has come into my home and has stripped us of peace and joy. Now he is trying to destroy the hearts, the lives of my children. Why does he feel welcome? How is it that Satan can walk boldly across the threshold of my home? Why isn’t he trembling? Why doesn’t he fear the Christ he finds residing there?

Perhaps it’s all smoke and mirrors. Perhaps I have spent so much time reading the word, studying the scriptures, but I have neglected the relationship I once had. Perhaps I have traded intimacy for passing glances and shoulder rubs that mean little to nothing. Here’s what I know: the Holy Spirit is sorely lacking.

I have turned to God in complete surrender, so aware of my inefficiency and said, “God, I’ve got nothing!” And he sighed and said, “Finally!”

Could it be that it took such desperation to get me to recognize the futility of my own efforts? Is this what it takes to recognize the necessity of the Holy Spirit?

I sat in service last week and listened intently for something to hold on to. There was nothing. Our church programs have become the foundation of all we say and all we do. We have forsaken the true Cornerstone and fitted our pews with people who only want to be tickled. Then we give them what they want. We strip the Gospel of everything that might offend people and we feed the sheep hot air.

Where is the power? Where is the anointing? Didn’t Jesus come to set the captives free? To bind up the broken hearted? Release those bound by demons? To comfort those who mourn? Wasn’t Jesus’ message more than just trite platitudes that succinctly defined the Christian faith? What did Jesus have that we don’t have?

Jesus had a relationship. More than that, a dependency. He said, in essence, “Everything I bring to you, all that I say and do, comes directly from the Father.”

Who knows the Father? Who hears His heart? Who relates His wisdom to a lost and dying world?

The Holy Spirit.

Would the message change if we knew that the men and women, and even children, who populate our pews are dying inside? Would our message change if we knew that they go home to the same demons they sought release from week after week? Would we stop talking so much and pray more? Would we press in in desperation if we knew that the blood of humanity would be on our hands come judgment day? Would we speak less from head knowledge? Would we seek to know the mind and heart of Christ?

I’m desperate. I’m desperate for my family. I’m sorry that it took such desperation in my home to make me desperate for the lost. But now I am desperate for more of the Holy Spirit. I’m desperate for God. I’m desperate to know Him. Not about Him. To know Him. There is so much in the world I could have an opinion about but what’s an opinion worth? I need Jesus in a whole new way. The church needs Jesus in a whole new way. We need the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit of God to reveal the heart of God to us so that all that we say and all that we do is worth something eternally.

People need the Lord. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, saying, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you will find life, but you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40, paraphrased)” While knowing scriptures makes you popular among men, knowing Jesus makes you known in Heaven. How many of us will come to that day and be told He doesn’t know us? We might then defend our works and the many hours spent studying, but he will say again, “I do not know you.” Because in truth, we have not taken the time to know Him.

We study Acts 2 looking for a secret formula. What made the first church so effective? Was it their fellowship? The ability to get along? Their willingness to sacrifice and give of all that they had? No. These were not the cause of revival. Each of these were the effect of revival. Before they got along, they got alone with the Holy Spirit. They pressed in in prayer and waited on the Lord. It was the Holy Spirit working in them that caused unity. It was the Spirit of God that created an atmosphere of selflessness and fellowship. The Holy Spirit was the cause of the First Great Awakening.

To that end, no amount of man’s effort can replicate what only the Spirit of God can do. We want revival? We want to see people come to Christ? We want these dry bones to live again? We need the Holy Spirit. It is the epitomy of pride to think that we can bring these things about by our own efforts or our own cleverly worded sermons. And pride comes before a fall, not before a revival.

Holy Spirit of God, we need you. Now more than ever.

The Kindness of God

Published February 4, 2015 by Dawn

My mouse hovered over the share button, and my mind raced trying to contemplate my hesitation. I was about to share a “Christian” article on gay marriage, but something in me was keeping me from hitting the button. I couldn’t figure out what it was, and so I decided it was just my own pride and fear. So I sucked it up and hit the share button …. Then immediately chased it down and deleted the post. Because I realized what it was, and it wasn’t my pride or my own selfish fears. It was discernment, and that article was wrong.

Not that the writer had misinterpreted scriptures, or even misrepresented the Word in and of itself. He had misrepresented Christ. And that’s a big deal to me. Because I’m not interested in being right; I am interested in being Christ-like. And no matter what biblical principle you are arguing (why are we always arguing?!), name-calling and condemnation are UN-biblical and serve no purpose in the kingdom of God. They do, however, serve Satan in driving others away from the truth.

The truth is, the Word of God speaks for itself. We spend an awful lot of time defending something that doesn’t need our help. Either people believe or they don’t. We are called to love. We are called to be a light. Hatefulness is dark and repulsive. We’re supposed to be compelling people to Christ. Here are a few scriptures I like to hold things to in deciding whether or not to align myself with them:

“…knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Corinthians 1:8)”

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance. (Romans 2:4)”

I especially like the second one. It is the kindness of God that leads people to repentance. The forbearance of God, that sees us as we are, and loves us through it. The graciousness of the Holy Spirit to lead us away from our sin as we follow Him. Away from our sin and into the arms of our loving Father. How wide and deep is the love of God! How unfathomable is His grace toward us! And not just to those who call themselves by His name, but to all men. Because He does not desire that any should perish but that all should have everlasting life. That all should come to repentance and the saving knowledge of Christ. And how can we share this with them if we are pushing them away with condemnation and hateful rhetoric?