Planted by streams of water

Once upon a time, I had a student in my first period class.  Okay, I had several students in that particular first period class; thankfully, there was only one Bud (not his real name).  I had a habit of locking my classroom door in the mornings I didn’t tutor before school in order to grab a few last moments to “prep” for the day without any interruptions.  I forgot to unlock my door one day and began presenting that day’s lesson.  Bud, a high school senior, attempted to unobtrusively sneak into class but was stopped by the locked door.  What happened next not only disrupted every classroom on my hallway, but created a memory I don’t think I’ll ever forget:

He banged on the door with both fists shouting, “LET ME IN!  I WANT TO LEARN!”

I shared my heart with my Lifegroup sisters recently about my desire to not just exist, but to Live. I don’t believe I, or anyone, is called to live a lifeless routine of working and sleeping. And yet, this is exactly what I’ve been doing.

My heart’s desire is to move beyond existing to living.  We talked about what it means to live and then discussed Casting Crowns’ song, “Thrive” and what it means to thrive.  I don’t know why, but I didn’t have a clear grasp of what the word, thrive, meant.  After arriving home, I cracked open my digital dictionary and noted the definition: to prosper and flourish; to grow; to develop well.

While the dictionary definition shed some insight, I knew … just KNEW … there was more so I checked out the “story behind the song” to dig deeper to find it’s scriptural foundation.  I am thankful I did!

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for it’s leaves remain green, and it is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. – Jeremiah 17:7-8 (ESV)

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. – Psalm 1 (NIV)

[emphasis mine]

I want to be like that!  To be like a tree planted by streams of water, my roots digging deep and drinking continually from the everlasting water of God’s Word!

The result of all this digging and drinking? Reaching out!  That’s the other desire of my heart: to share Christ with my community … my neighborhood, my colleagues.  To “be there,” to be an encourager. I believe the Lord is confirming some things for me and I’m excited!  For now, I’ll keep drinking deeply from the Word.  I can’t wait to see what He’s got in store for me!

Bud has long since graduated and moved on with his life.  His declaration, altered slightly, is now my fervent plea:

I WANT TO THRIVE!

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Compassion isn’t always convenient

I was texting with a couple of my LifeGroup sisters a few weeks ago discussing the topic of compassion. The subject came up following an opportunity our church fellowship had that morning to pack food boxes for families with the Children’s Hunger Fund.

One of my sisters commented that it’s super-easy for us to whip out our check books and contribute financially to someone in need or to help each other out when a need arose, but when it comes to us being Jesus’ hands & feet in our community we fall short.

That conversation really struck a chord of conviction in my heart and I’ve been chewing on it and sincerely searching for opportunities to serve my neighbors and those in my community since then.

There have been a couple of opportunities I’ve seized/embraced over the past week and a few others I’m still working on for our LifeGroup to become involved in.

This is what continues to resonate in my heart:

Serving others isn’t always convenient.

I have been wrestling with this since our texting conversation and I had to be truly honest and admit to being very lazy in my service to others. If I can’t afford to give out of my excess … be it time or finances, I find excuses why I shouldn’t participate.

The Holy Spirit has been shaping my heart & filling me with strong conviction because He’s teaching me …

There are times when we can help others out of our excess and there are times when service is truly sacrificial.

The key, I’m finding, is to look for the opportunities and to be available when the Holy Spirit prompts me to help others.

Have I come to the point where my service is exclusively sacrificial? No, but I hope I’m getting closer. Much of my service is still out of the excess I’ve been blessed with.

The thought of true sacrifice scares me because when I’m truly honest with myself, I have to admit something: the only way I will be able to be truly sacrificial in my service, in my giving?

By being fully reliant on God.

Does that not blow your mind? I know it blows mine.

40 Days

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22 (NIV)

This is the time of year when several of my friends commit to giving up “things” for the next 40 days. Chocolate, coffee, Facebook … I’ve seen each of these noted as items (or in the case of Facebook, habits) deemed necessary to give up.

I am doing the opposite this year. Instead of giving up, I’m committing to giving:

Time
Resources
Me

My word for 2014 is “Focus.” My reasoning? Urgent issues happen but they aren’t always important. I dedicated 2014 to focus on the IMPORTANT. Specifically, God and family.

The Lord is faithful to help me stay focused. For instance, my home church, Northeast Bible Church, started compassion challenges last week.

The first challenge was to provide a meal to an “unsung public service worker.” Personally falling into that category, I had a difficult time figuring out how to do this until I began to think about all the staff that work with me behind the scenes of education. Which led to a joyful lunchtime surprise for one of my campus clerks.

Our current challenge is a lot more challenging for me. We are challenged to write a note each day telling the person we’re writing to what we like about them. Easy enough. But wait, there’s more: we’re also challenged to write at least one note to someone we struggle to be around. Whoa. I have one of those and that note will definitely be drafted by the Holy Spirit because if I try to write under my own power, it will come out all. wrong.

These challenges are providing opportunities to be grace & compassion in action!

Wonderful news! Our Lifegroup began a new study last week titled, Love Does.

The lessons? Be there for others, take risks, follow God’s leading. Okay, wow. I’m sensing a theme here. 🙂

My big-picture takeaway from these 40 days is to not stop finding compassion challenges on Resurrection Sunday but to dedicate the rest of my life to share God’s grace & compassion with those around me.

The people in my neighborhood

It’s been nice being on Christmas break because it has afforded me time to really focus things I know are important: faith, family, fitness.

I’ve been dwelling a lot on Barry Cramm’s message this week.  (Barry was guest speaker at last Sunday’s worship.)  What I got out of his message was this: I don’t need to bring people to church, I need to bring the church to where I live and work; I should live my life like I’m on mission.

And this got me to thinking about the people in my neighborhood.

– about my next-door neighbor who we watched pack up and move his household after he sold it recently.  We never went over to see if we could help him in any way.  (When we found out this past week the actual reason was his wife had died and the house had gone into foreclosure, we were ashamed.)

– about the man with “Antichrist” tattooed across his back who walks his dogs past my house two or three times each day.  His house is along one of the routes I use when I walk the Barky Boys.  Each time I see him, either walking past my house or when I walk past his, I pray for him.  And I think about that tattoo: Maybe he didn’t realize someone tattooed that across his back.  Maybe it all happened during a night of drinking. Or drugs.  Maybe … (he growls whenever we walk past each other on the street and I’ve said hello to him; he kind of scares me, so my plan is to continue loving him from a distance)

– about the family just a few doors down that moved in 3 or 4 years ago and really seem like good folks

I confess: Hub & I have lived in our home for over 10 years and we don’t know all our neighbors.  With the exception of our neighbors on one side and the family next to them, we really know no one.  I’ve been praying about how to change this.  How do I live my life missionally in my neighborhood when I don’t even know anyone I’ve lived with for over a decade?  Looking past this, what did Jesus do?  What would Jesus do?  He addressed the physical and spiritual needs of the people.  How can I … we … bring the church to our neighborhood; how can I … we … address physical and spiritual needs?  How can we … Hub and I … be the church to our neighbors?

  • say hello to our neighbors when we see them outside
  • plan, organize, and HAVE that neighborhood barbecue my next-door neighbor & I have been talking for years about doing
  • invite neighbors over for coffee & conversation
  • invite the women of the neighborhood to join me in Bible study

My word for this year is “Focus.”  Realizing there will always be urgent issues that require my attention, my goal is to live my life intentionally focusing on the important things that will give glory to God.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

One Word for 2014

Fearless.  I was almost certain this was my word for 2014.  Almost.

I started questioning whether this was my word for me or God’s word for me about two weeks ago.  I reread One Word that will change your life and knew without a doubt that Fearless was my word for me and not His.

After a lot of prayer and needs assessing, I realized Fearless isn’t my word for 2014.

I’ve placed too much emphasis on addressing urgent needs rather than important needs.  I’ve given up important things like leading a Bible study and volunteering in youth ministry to spend almost every waking moment working on urgent issues at work.

I begrudgeonly realized as I lay in bed exhausted and sick during the Thanksgiving Break, that even if I worked 12 hour days every day of the week, I’d NEVER get caught up on all the “urgents.”  And that made me angry.

I analyzed my needs and I paid close attention to the verbs: be, focus, concentrate, improve.  I looked at the obstacles that are keeping me from addressing my needs: urgent issues, lack of planning/poor time management, ego.  Finally, I committed to letting specific things go.  First & foremost: excuses.

Which helped me see where God is leading me in 2014.

images

Focus

  • on Him
  • on what’s important
  • on my family
  • on my health

My word for 2013 was Compassion.  I learned a lot as I tried to live a more compassionate life.  Namely: when you pray to be more compassionate, He provides ample opportunities for you to learn.

Where will I be in my walk with Him on Christmas Eve 2014?  No telling.  I shared a heart cry with my Circle of Friends several weeks ago.  I remember it as vividly tonite as I did when God whispered it to me on that quiet morning: Lord, mold me into the vessel You want me to be and help me accept it. 

And tonite I add: and Lord, keep my focus fixed solely on You.

One Word: Compassion (update)

38cfaa9976d9c06975ccd5759ae93794Hub & I joined the fellowship at Northeast Bible Church a little over a year ago and have been incredibly blessed in so many ways by the people that comprise this community.  It is a family.  WE are a family: a family with a mission to reach the population of the surrounding area and share the love of Christ with them.

Hub & I are thankful for each brother and sister walking with us on this journey we call “life.”

One of my first friends at Northeast led a Bible study I attended last summer on the book of Ephesians.  I remember that at our first meeting, she asked us to share prayer requests specific to our own needs.  Mine was (and is) to share grace with those around me.  Looking back over the past 10 months of my walk with the Lord, I believe that moment was when the Holy Spirit started working with me to take mySELF off the Throne and let Him again be the Lord of my life … when the formation of my One Word took root in my heart.

These first 100+ days of 2013 have been an interesting journey: from beginning this quest as an intellectual pursuit of what it means to be compassionate, to sharing compassion with others, to one where I am now searching my heart and waiting for God’s leading on how He wants to use me in situations and circumstances around me.

Hub & I have been talking a lot about God’s will.  We both agree that it can’t be a matter of God’s will on our time but waiting and watching for God’s will on HIS time.  And this is why Corrie ten Boom’s quote above is so meaningful to me.  We don’t know what’s coming up around the bend … when the next trial will begin or when the seasons will change.  He does, and He provides all that we need to walk through this journey.

Brennan Manning went home to be with the Lord last weekend.  I never met the man in person. It’s nothing out of the ordinary: I haven’t met lots of people.  But that’s okay.  We’re not called to meet everyone face-to-face that has an impact on our lives.

While I’m eternally grateful for the privilege of meeting some and doing life with others, I meet many of these people through their writings.  And this is how I met brother Brennan.  I’m reading his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel and am being blown away at every page turn!

Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation – that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase – our spirituality often starts with self, not God.

Does this not blow your mind?  How many times have I been so impatient with His timing or silence that I’ve taken matters into my own hands?

So … what am I learning about compassion?  Compassion & grace go hand-in-hand: it’s not just about the physical activity of loving and serving others, but about the glorious gift of a Passionate Pursuer who gave everything; there is nothing any of us can do to “earn” His love.

Amazing.

Brotherly Love

Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. – Gen 43:30

I’m going about this all wrong. I thought I could learn compassion as if it were a class in school. Take one verse a week, study it from every possible angle and move on to the next verse.

If only it were that easy.

I sat with a friend in Sunday School last Sunday.  He’s not been well lately.

As we were transitioning from our small circle to the long rows for class, I asked him how he was doing. There are times when I’m so lame.

I realized my gaff and asked if he was enjoying the weather. He smiled and said he was. I prayed he understood I meant no harm.

Living a life of compassion is tough.  I can’t remember crying so much for others.  Empathy.  Stepping in to help when and where I can. I had written on my Facebook timeline that I wanted to be “Jesus’ hands and feet to the world around me.”

I never really understood exactly what those words meant …