Working Out The Kinks

I became a watering girl that summer.

Not because my black thumb suddenly turned green, but because my husband had ordered a heap of mulch, and I was determined to not have a lame, mulch-focused landscaped section of our house. Mulch should be the accessory, not the main feature. My opinion.

In response to the mulch mountain, I drove my spontaneous self to the gardening store and bought some new bushes, a few flowers, and a tree. And I quickly learned that once all of said planty-purchases were in the ground, they required… gasp… maintaining so they could take root.

Totally cool… I thought, as I strapped on my big girl panties... I can do this!

So, I became a watering girl. My sunny days began with a garden hose in hand. And I loved it. The birds sang melodies in all their chirpy cuteness and the plants responded with claps of gratitude. (I seriously think they clapped… in their own way. Moving on…)

Early one morning I unwound the hose to water our small cucumber garden. Then I headed toward a few thirsty plant-friends along the fence. As I began to water, the flow trickled to a stop.

I looked up and spied my nemesis. A kink in the hose.

So frustrating.

There was plenty of water. It just couldn’t flow because the hose had flipped and kinked.

I tried to flap it out from where I was across the yard, but this kink was a good bit down the line. It required that I drop everything and address it. Once the kink was fixed, the water flowed smoothly, and the rest of my plants got their drinks.

What a picture of faith.

Just like a hose is connected to a water source, our souls are connected to the Living Water – Jesus. And though, as believers, we’re always connected to Him and always have access to the spiritual refreshment and nourishment our souls need, there are times when kinks happen and the flow stops.

I can think of a few times when, just like the hose, I flipped and kinked up the flow. Can you relate?

Our kinks come in all shapes and sizes. You and I get flipped over by disappointments, unmet expectations, other people, or simply by our own attitudes, unbelief, fears, behaviors, rebellion, or unhealthy emotions.

How can we work out the kinks of our circumstances and relationships? We can depend on the strength of God instead of our own. Go to Him in prayer. Ask for grace. Say we’re sorry. Align our lives to the teachings of the Bible. Yield to His Spirit.

The biggest of all kinks… is our own sin.

Pastor Timothy Keller said it this way; “The sin that is most destructive in your life right now is the one you are most defensive about.”

Ouch. Big kink. Right?

How can we work out the kinks of our sin? By confession. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10, ESV)

Got a few sin kinks? Sure you do. We all do. If you and I want to have a right relationship with God, we must deal with sin honestly. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, but sin sure can stop the flow of us experiencing the power of His peace, grace, strength, and joy.

We heard it in the sermon this week: Confession leads to freedom.

Freedom from guilt, torment and deceit.

Freedom for protection, understanding and joy.

Freedom to move forward.

The Lord is all about smoothing out the kinks of our sin through the finished work of Jesus. The Anglican theologian Richard Sibbes summed up this good news beautifully when he said, “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.”

I Am So Thankful.

What would it look like to let the grace of God work out your kinks today?

Dear Lord,
I’m so thankful Your mercy is greater than my sin. Please forgive me for __________ . You know my heart and You know my ways. Cover me fresh with grace today so I can experience Your joy, strength, understanding, protection and peace.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

~ Gwen Smith is an author, speaker, co-founder of Girlfriends in God and host of the Graceologie podcast.

The Goldilocks Worshipper

Our church is currently studying the topic of spiritual disciplines. One of the spiritual disciplines we have studied is the act of worship. As a worship pastor, I admit that there seems to be a little bit of a dichotomy present within the combination of the words “discipline” and “worship”.

Discipline implies obedience, yes. But it also implies deliberate training, concentrated control, and corrective punishment. I tend to think upon worship as an outflow of devotion; an action and behavior that is naturally compelled by strong emotion and understanding…not an act of duty or behavior of strategic discipline. However, as I reflected upon Pastor Dan’s sermon on the matter of worship and considered the broader scope of the topic, a childhood story came to mind.

We’re all familiar with Goldilocks and the three bears. A little girl enters the empty home of a stranger. She begins to seek comfort and hospitality without any thought of the absence of an invitation. She finds the dinner table set for a family of three. She decides she’s hungry and begins to partake in a meal that was not prepared for her.

Driven by her own appetite, she finds one bowl of porridge to be too hot, one bowl of porridge to be too cold, and the final bowl of porridge to be just right. Satisfied, she begins to explore the home. During her exploration she finds items of comfort and rest; chairs and beds. Sampling them all in pursuit of personal comfort, she finds each item to be either too big, too small, too hard, too soft, or just right. You know the rest.

I have served the local church for 27 years as a pastor of worship. It is striking to me how very much like Goldilocks the members of a church can be when it comes to our time of gathering together for worship. Occasionally receiving congregational feedback, I have been told things such as, “The music is too loud.”, “The music is too soft.”, “The music is too new.”, “The music is too old.”, “The music is too short.”, “The music is too long.”, “The notes are too high.”, “The notes are too low.”, “I can’t hear the guitars.”, “I can’t hear the piano.”, “I can’t hear my wife sing.” and yes, “The music was good today.” I’ve heard many more things about the worship service, too, but I believe you take my point with the provided list.

It is true that the self-centered ego of our human nature is our most practiced and trained trait. Therefore, I am more disciplined in the knowledge of what I want and what I like than I am in any other body of knowledge. As I go about a day’s living, I am more likely to take abundantly more pleasure in the things that are “just right” for me as opposed to thinking of the pleasure of another.

Driving to and fro, it is my destination that is the most important among all the other drivers. Pushing my cart towards the check out, it is my time that is the most valuable among all the other shoppers. Searching through radio stations and bookshelves, clothing racks and refrigerated cases, it is my interests that are worthy of perusal while everything else is simply a nuisance or a bland mystery. Additionally, when entering the doors of my church, it is my own life that I unconsciously believe that God is the most aware of…and it is our own lives that are securely at the center of our thoughts regarding giving, anxiety, anger, love, fear, convenience, desire, and hope.

Unlike Goldilock’s lack of an invitation to enter the home, I am reminded of God’s invitation to us to enter His gates and His courts. Unlike the prepared meal that was not intended for Goldilocks, I am reminded that the LORD has prepared the day and invited us to rejoice and be glad in it. Unlike the chairs and beds not offered to Goldilocks for comfort, I am reminded that Christ will feed us, gather us, lead us, and hold us to His bosom.

Am I to forget that these offered benefits were purchased at a precious price? If I do, I risk the loss of humility, gratitude, hospitality and joy as I take them. I also risk misinterpreting my own worth and diminishing the worth of others and thereby replacing the object of affection with my own appetite for familiar comfort.

Worship should be self-effacing. Like the young lady from the story, we do indeed lack the discipline of the awareness of others. We lack the ambition to prepare something of our own in order that we might have something to offer. And I believe that this discipline of being aware of others and the discipline of preparation are indeed necessary elements in wholistic acts of Christian worship; private or public.

In some versions of the little story, Goldilocks was chased from the home of the bears. In other versions, Goldilocks was eaten by the bears. In either case, the bears were angry to have found their premises and possessions used for selfish reasons.

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats
“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause “Come now, let us reason
together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah)

Discipline is, indeed, a requirement of worship. In need of deliberate training, concentrated control, and corrective punishment, I have to wonder if we ever tire of leading lives that leave a cluttered path of empty porridge bowls, used chairs, and unmade beds? If the act of worship is to be an outflow of devotion, we should first train to lives that display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

~ Jason Lanier serves as Worship Pastor at LIFE Fellowship and is also the Co-Founder of A Cause For Tea.

What Does the Sabbath Mean To You?

Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shavot which means to rest.  

For me personally, it is a day that I don’t do laundry.  For my parents, it was a day that the whole family was expected to take an afternoon nap, even if we weren’t tired.  For my teenage son, it is a day that he doesn’t mow the yard.   

Sabbath is an ongoing theme in the Bible that starts with the story of Creation in Genesis. The second chapter of Genesis begins with the Sabbath.  God practiced Sabbath. He rested from all his work of creation. (Genesis 2:3)   He wasn’t tired. He rested to enjoy his work. Sabbath rest started before sin came into the world. It is God’s ideal. When we enjoy God, his creation, and the fruits of our labor, we are tasting a bit of perfection from the Garden of Eden.  

The idea of the Sabbath is very unusual when you think about it. Most religious rituals are about doing. The Sabbath is about not doing, not striving, not earning, not harvesting. The Sabbath is a day not to do but to be.   A day to enjoy creation and appreciate your blessings from God.  

When God provided manna for the Israelites in the desert between Egypt and the Promised land, the people were to collect the manna for six days but on the seventh day; they were supposed to rest and not gather the manna.

Taking a break is nice, right?  The people of Israel could kick back in their tents and enjoy the break from gathering manna. But they didn’t.  Many people went out to gather the manna on the seventh day. They didn’t trust that God had provided all that they needed.  They didn’t understand the gift that God had given them. Not only did they have the food they needed, but by resting and enjoying what they already had, they were receiving a tangible taste of grace.

Like the Israelites who were used to working for everything they had, many of us struggle to enjoy rest.  Embracing the Sabbath requires humility.  It requires admitting that we can’t do it all.  It changes our focus from all that we have to do to hold it together to trusting God to take care of our needs, work, and family. Sabbath reaffirms the message of the Cross, just as our efforts could not save ourselves, it is by resting in God’s grace and accepting his work on the Cross that we are saved, through no effort of our own.   

Living the Sabbath is not easy.  Most of us don’t know how to rest and if we do, we have become so consumed by our leisure activities that they have become as much of an idol as our work.  As Pastor Rudolph pointed out, work and rest are good things, but we often create idols when we make good things our ultimate things.

Work is a gift. God worked and it was celebrated. As Psalm 92:5 celebrates, “How great are Your works, O LORD, how deep are Your thoughts!”  There are seasons in our lives that just require more work.  In ancient times, seasons of planting and harvesting required long hours and the entire community coming together. But after the harvest was over, God instituted weeklong sabbath festivals to celebrate God’s blessings and to enjoy the harvest.  We also have seasons that require sleepless nights and long hours. But these challenging times should be seasons, not our identity.

The antidote to unbridled work and unbounded free time is worship. Pausing for a day of rest every week, taking vacations, and enjoying God’s gifts is an act of worship. Psalm 92 provides a model for worship on the Sabbath. Focusing on God’s goodness, love, and his ability to overcome our foes will reset our minds every week.  Pausing to see his work all around us (vs. 4), to celebrate His faithfulness (vs. 2), and his justice (vs. 9) will allow us to look forward to the future (vs. 14)with hope.  Hitting the reset button by observing a day of rest every week gives our minds a chance to be renewed and refreshed.

~ Penny Noyes, M.Ed. just released her fourth book Seeing Value A Biblical Perspective on Intrinsic Value on Amazon. She also writes for Christianity.com, GracefullyTruthful.com and her blog.   She is a wife to Tom, mom to Chris and John, Step-mom to Hillary and Jeremy (son in Law) and a Mimi to the cutest grandkids ever. 

Ready for the Call, Ready to Serve

Some of you may be old enough to recall the immensely popular Bible study from the 90’s called “Experiencing God”. It was the first “real” Bible study I ever did  and I have recently revisited it after nearly 30 years.

The thread that runs throughout is that we should not focus on what God wants us to do for Him but rather be willing to join Him in what He is already doing. The ability to identify where God is at work requires an attunement borne only out of deep intimacy with Him. I can think of no clearer personification of this kind of intimacy than Carole Ward, who shared her missionary experience in Africa with us.

If you were not able to be in church on Sunday, please watch the recording or visit www.favorintl.org. What Carole shared will inspire and astound you. She prayed that God would send her where no one wants to go, and He certainly did.

The spiritual discipline highlighted this week is Service. Though missionaries are typically the Christians we imagine to have earned their “black belt” in serving, other more common ways of serving, are no less vital.  The body of Christ is the church and is made up of many members. As outlined in 1 Corinthians 12, the body is depicted as having many parts, none of which can function independently of the others. And none more necessary than another. Paul writes that “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be”.

Every Christian is a part of this body and we all have a part to play, in accordance with our gifts, resources, and opportunities. 1 Corinthians 12 concludes with a partial list of the roles in the church followed by the rhetorical question, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?”  The implication is that of course, members of the body are not called to do all of these things. But we are each called to do something. In the description of the body, there is no option to be a non-functioning member.  When we don’t play our part, the rest of the body suffers. The kingdom of God suffers.

As a LIFE Fellowship volunteer shared from the stage a few weeks ago, sometimes we serve because there is a need and other times we serve because we are called. I will help decorate the lobby for Christmas because there is a need. I write for the devotional team because I am called. But the point is to have a continual mindset of availability so that we are ready to serve whenever the Lord taps us. It may be a calling to the mission field. It may be a willingness to hold babies in the nursery. It may be a responsiveness to the Spirit’s prompting to speak up, show up, or stand up for others. It may be answering a call to prayer or a call to action. The work He has crafted for you is uniquely yours and utterly indispensable.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he admonishes him, and those who would follow, to “be ready in and out of season.” This means that whether it’s planned or unplanned, convenient or inconvenient, comfortable or uncomfortable; we need to be ready to serve. And we need to be so intimately connected with God that we hear His voice and recognize His movement. When He calls, whether it be to Uganda, to the local soup kitchen, to the church nursery, to the home of a lonely shut-in, or to our own prayer closet, may we be quick to say, as in Isaiah 6:8, “Here am I; send me.”

~ Melissa Gibbs has been a member of LIFE Fellowship for over 10 years, is the mother to four boys and widow of the late JD Gibbs.

Living On Borrowed Time

I have a confession: Ive always been a bucket list kind of gal.

I have had many dreams on that list: travel luxuriously in Paris and Switzerland, spend a month lounging in the Maldives, photograph wolves during a helicopter tour in Yellowstone, go for a snowy sleigh ride at Christmastime in Canada, surf Cloudbreak in Fiji, master the sport of ice dance, hunt for a trophy bull elk, snowboard in Breckenridge, study to become a pediatric oncology nurse…my list was endless.

It was easy to focus on my bucket list, and not always so easy to consider God’s list. How did He want me to spend my time, energy and money? Where did He want me to invest my talents? My bucket list was a reflection of my own selfish desires but the reality of chronic illness has forced the necessary lesson that kingdom riches are to be valued over earthly adventure. The things of this world have no value in the next, though we pursue them with a “you only live once” mindset. Matthew 6:19-21 cautions, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Jesus’ ministry was three short years. He was living on borrowed time from the start and as a result, lived with a focused sense of urgency and purpose. He taught His disciples to think similarly. When He sent them out on their first missionary journey, His instructions were “Do not carry any gold or silver or copper in your belts. Take no bag for the road, or second tunic, or sandals, or staff; for the worker is worthy of his possessions”, Matthew 10:9-10. They were to be unencumbered by earthly possessions and utterly dependent on God’s provision. Stripped down to the bare essentials. The only thing that mattered was the mission.

As my health has gradually worsened over the past 10 years, my mental pen has erased most of the items on my bucket list. Do I mourn the loss of my dreams? Yes, I do quite often. However, I also realize the fleeting impact those fulfilled dreams would have had on my life and more importantly, on others lives. God has taught me to focus my time, earnings, possessions, activities, and talents on building up His kingdom instead of my own.

I try to live one day at a time, not bothering much with tomorrow and aiming to use each day and its gifts for His glory. Friday payday? Tithe first and give to others. Weekend relaxation time? Set aside time with the Lord and do things that glorify Him. Cleaning out my closet? Give the clothes to someone in need versus selling for profit. Learned a new skill? Teach someone else and multiply the benefit. Have a special possession? Invite someone else to share the joy of it. We must all use the gifts in our lives for Christs glory.

All of us are living on borrowed time, and its up to us to choose how we will spend it. Will we spend our days storing up earthly treasures only to be regretful on our deathbeds? Or we will be content to live simply, willing to share our gifts and surrender our bucket lists so we can build up Gods kingdom?

~ Abi Gordon serves as Production Coordinator at LIFE Fellowship. She enjoys watercolors, photography reading, writing and spending time outdoors. She is as a native of Colorado.

But When You Fast…

My favorite meal of the day is breakfast. As a new day dawns, I need energy from a good bowl of oatmeal flavored with honey and cocoa. I also like a good bowl of cereal to finish it off. Breakfast is not just the meal but also refers to the time of day when the darkness ends and the light of day returns. The word is a combination of “break” and “fast,” simply meaning the time when the overnight fast breaks.

Jesus used meals in the gospels to illustrate deeper spiritual truths. First, we read about two separate occasions when Jesus feeds multitudes of 4000 and 5000 with just a few fish and some loaves of bread. Next, Jesus eagerly desired to share the Passover meal with His disciples before his suffering. Finally, we see the risen Christ on a beach serving up a feast of fish and bread to his disciples, inviting them to come and eat! In all of these examples, we see Jesus as the One who supplies life-giving sustenance out of what seems to be nothing. In this, Jesus reveals something about Himself that a well-seasoned Old Testament scholar would have quickly picked up on.

In the wilderness, God supplied the physical needs of His people with manna out of thin air. The rocky, harsh climate of the desert in the Arabian peninsula is unforgiving. The most cunning hunter could never survive in an environment with no natural resources for food. Therefore, they had to depend entirely on God to provide everything they needed. God faithfully fed them every day with the right amount of food to survive, and yet they, in turn, were required to demonstrate their obedience by gathering just enough for that day’s needs. Anything more would become worm-infested. God would even supply a double portion on the day before the Sabbath, requiring no work on that day.

Jesus revealed Himself as God through these miracles of providing food, and yet he instructs his disciples on how they were to fast. Did Jesus encourage fasting while He was present with these disciples? No. We only hear Jesus speaking of fasting in opposition to the examples set by the hypocrites. In Matthew 6:16, Jesus points out how fasting can be practiced in ways that draw attention away from God and onto themselves. Hypocrites seek the accolades of the people because they put on a face not indicative of the heart beneath. In Mark 2:16, the author compares John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees who fast and Jesus’ disciples who do not fast. Jesus answers that as long as the bridegroom or Jesus is with them, they cannot fast, but they will fast when the bridegroom is away.

I could only imagine what joy there would be to share a meal with Jesus. Luke tells us that when Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, he gave it to his disciples and said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Every observance of communion remembers the body and blood of our Lord – a time of intimacy with Jesus. When we fast, we recognize a deep awareness of need. Jesus meets this need is in a relationship with Him. To eat a meal in the Hebrew culture with another person speaks of connectedness. Jesus desires to share a meal with us but not with food that only satisfies temporarily. He is our bread from heaven whose life-giving Spirit supplies our deepest yearnings.

Finally, we anticipate the coming of our Lord again. As the risen Savior shared a meal with disciples on that Galilean beach, so we will join in the marriage supper of the Lamb spoken of in Revelation 19. Our fasting need not be for outward show but to draw us into deep communion and fellowship with Jesus that we may hear Him more clearly and eagerly await the time when we will finally break our long, long fast.

~ Shan Norwood and his wife Rina have been members at LIFE Fellowship for seven years. Shan is a recent graduate of Gordon Conwell Seminary and holds degrees in Biblical Studies and Christian Thought. He also serves as a LIFE University instructor and as a stepdad to Micah and Caleb Godsey.