Wednesday, November 26, 2008

33 Laws of Stewardship part 1

I've started another book called the 33 Laws of Stewardship by Dave Sutherland and Kirk Nowery. To be honest, I wasn't sure about it when I first picked it up - it looked kind of slick, and I was afraid I'd picked up one of those "name it and claim it" books. Well, the old adage to not judge a book by its cover applies here. It's been a good book.

I'm going to go through it very quickly, in just three posts.

1. Rightful Ownership.

This is probably the most important thing any follower of Christ should remember: none of it is really ours. It all belongs to God.

“When we are blessed with money and material things, and when we receive acclaim for any accomplishment, we’re getting not what we deserve but what God in His grace lovingly allows us to enjoy and to care for. The essence of life is not ownership but stewardship – the faithful management of all that God entrusts to us” (10).

2. Purposeful Possession

Whatever God gives us, He gives with a purpose, and we are to use it in service to Him. A good steward doesn’t hoard those things God entrusts to her.

3. Miraculous Multiplication

God can make a lot out of a little. A few loaves and fishes fed a crowd of over 5,000, and there were leftovers.

“Trusting Him explicitly, He provides for us absolutely; and we mustn’t be limited by what we see because His ways transcend human understanding” (23).

4. Guaranteed Return

While I don’t believe in karma, this is a principle that is very similar to the concept of karma. What you give will be given back to you.

“If you give, it will be given back to you. And not just an equal exchange. The return will be overflowing, super-abundant, bigger, and better” (30).

5. Hilarious Generosity

God really does love a cheerful giver. Give because God asks you to give, but do it with the right attitude, that of one who is grateful to be able to give.

6. Faithful Dependability

A true steward is trustworthy. She is faithful in small things and can therefore be trusted with large things.

7. Paradoxical Participation

Generosity is measured by the attitude of the giver, and the biggest gifts can come from those who have given very little.

8. Supernatural Supply

We can give beyond our ability through God’s power.

“The power which God gives the believer is not natural power but supernatural power. The provision He makes is not natural but supernatural. This is an absolute law in the economy of stewardship, and it must not escape our attention” (53).

9. Eager Willingness

Good stewards choose to give, and they do so with willing and eager hearts.

10. Reciprocal Supply

When we meet others’ needs, we meet our own needs as well.

“The importance of spiritual gifts must not be underestimated because without them we cannot function properly in Christ’s body” (65).

11. Constructive Contribution

The smallest job still serves God, and is as great as the greatest job.

“Sir, we are building God’s temple. Go now and read the third chapter of Nehemiah and learn that he who repaired the dung gate was counted of as much honor as he who worked on the gate of the fountain. All did their bit; you and I can do no more” (69, attributed to John Wesley).

“The work of God is to be done by the people of God according to the will of God” (69).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Purpose Driven Life Part 6

34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[b] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[c] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matthew 22:34-40

18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Matthew 28:18-20

The Purpose Driven Life is about fulfilling all five purposes that God created us for: worship, fellowship, evangelism, ministry, and discipleship. In chapters 39 and 40, Warren talks about balancing these five aspects. The two pieces of scripture above list all five purposes. Warren dissects them this way:

1. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart’: You were planned for God’s pleasure, so your purpose is to love God through worship.

2. 'Love your neighbor as yourself.': You were shaped for serving, so your purpose is to show love for others through ministry.

3. ‘Therefore go and make disciples’: You were made for a mission, so your purpose is to share God’s message through evangelism.

4. ‘baptizing them’: You were formed for God’s family, so your purpose is to identify with his church through fellowship.

5. ‘teaching them to obey everything’ : You were created to become like Christ, so your purpose is to grow to maturity through discipleship.

We need to do all five of these things well, not just one or two. This isn’t easy. I think we are naturally given to doing one or two of these things, and letting the rest fall by the side of the road, but that isn’t how we’re to live our lives. Warren says in order to do all five things well, we need to have balance. There are two things we can do to achieve balance in the five areas. The first is to evaluate how we’re doing through journaling, an accountability partner, or the support of a small group. The other way is to craft a purpose statement for our lives.

It is good to write out your purpose. By writing something down, instead of just keeping it crammed in your brain, you can read it every day. This reinforces what you need to know. It’s sort of like taking notes from a book or lecture. Yes, you can probably remember some of the stuff you read or hear, but by taking notes, you have something to look back on. The details will be clear, not fuzzy. Sure, your purpose might be in your head, but it’s not clear until you write it down.

Writing it down also allows you to see where you’re going. It allows you to do the things you need to do and say no to the things that aren’t necessary. From my own perspective, it means I can freely involve myself in mission trips and buying food for the poor, and I can freely say no to teaching a Sunday School class or singing in choir.

This is my last post of Purpose Driven life. I’ll be moving on to another book next time.

Purpose Driven Life, part 5

Since I started in the INO program, I’ve felt the calling on my life tug in two very different directions. On the one hand, I have the vision of my working with the poor and homeless firmly rooted in my mind (a vision, as I’ve said before, I think God put there when I was 19). On the other hand, I have this interest in doing two things in the church: teaching 1) people of faith how the Body of Christ needs to be a better steward of the environment (because God created the earth and our lousy stewardship is killing the poor) and 2) spiritual gifts and motivating people to use them. In the past, I’ve tongue-in-cheek called the teaching the church thing “showing the Church how we’re screwing up.” Please note I’m not completely joking…

But I digress. As I’ve said, I’ve felt this tug in what seems like two completely different directions, though the subjects are pretty well related. I haven’t been sure how to reconcile what could be two potential careers/ministries.

Enter Day 36 of Purpose Driven Life, on which day Warren says, “God is at work in the world, and he wants you to join him. This assignment is called your mission. God wants you to have both a ministry in the Body of Christ and a mission in the world. Your ministry is your service to believers, and your mission is your service to unbelievers” (281). Ding ding ding!

This explains a lot, actually. I’m not sure how I became so textbook on this one thing in my life, but there you go.

What he says first is that ministry is about serving believers. You might be asking yourself how teaching the Body of Christ serves other believers. Put in that sense, it doesn’t. But in the sense of teaching the Body about the environment, poverty, and spiritual gifts, it’s serving believers by teaching them how to be good stewards. And by teaching people about spiritual gifts, it means other people can find and use their gifts in ministry and mission.

As I was searching for a particular Scripture, I found a web page that seems to be one of those Q&A type things. I think the Q in question here fits this ministry thing (for me) REALLY well:

Q: Does God meet ALL our needs when we give very sacrificially? My husband lost his job 5/04. I'm in my 50's disabled. We were $3000 in debt. I'd hoped yrs. for a house not renting. Now it's $20,000 debt & climbing. I've always been a great steward with God's money.

A: "My God SHALL supply all of your needs according to His riches in Glory in Christ Jesus." WHO IS IN CHRIST JESUS? The body of Christ. Why isn't your church helping you? OR individuals in your church? This is where other Christians need to reach out to you and GIVE you money and food. "GIVE and it SHALL be given unto you." WHY IS THE BODY OF CHRIST FAILING IN THIS AREA? Don't they understand they are "In Christ Jesus."

Second, he calls mission a service to unbelievers. I don’t want to imply that all people who are poor or homeless are unbelievers, or that people become homeless/poor because they aren’t Christians or have no faith in God. Please don’t take that in this context. But there are many people who, because of their circumstances, find it hard to believe that God loves them. Some find it hard to simply believe in God because their lives have been so hard, or they might blame God for the hardships they or others are responsible for in their lives. There’s a lot to be said for praying for the poor, but I think there comes a time when we have to be willing to be an answer to prayer as well. James 2:15-17 says, “ Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” I believe singer Steve Camp said it best this way: don’t tell them Jesus loves them till you’re ready to love them too. This verse sums it up for me. I think that there are many times that the only way we can speak to someone about God is to help them with their physical needs. Minister to them through their stomachs and skins. Give them shelter and a hug. Only then, once we’ve shown them that the Body of Christ loves them, can we show them that Jesus really loves them too, and wants a relationship with them.

I’m excited about this. It makes my life a lot easier, in that I feel I’m not being pulled in two different directions anymore and that these things could possibly be in harmony and unity with what God wants for my life.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Purpose Driven Life Part 4

On Day 31, Warren talks about abilities, personality, and experiences and how those things influence your ministry. He says, “God designed each of us so there would be no duplication in the world. No one has the exact same mix of factors that make you unique. That means no one else on earth will ever be able to play the role God planned for you. If you don’t make your unique contribution to the Body of Christ, it won’t be made” (241).

What abilities do you have? In other words, what are the natural talents you have that you were born with. I’ve always been fairly decent at writing, and it has always come pretty naturally to me. When I was fifteen, I decided I wanted to be a professional writer, but I’ve been writing most of my life. I have a scrapbook somewhere with a short-short story that I wrote in first grade. In fourth grade, I wrote an essay about Thanksgiving that my fourth grade teacher sent to our town’s newspaper for publishing (they did - I think that’s in the scrapbook too). In eighth grade, I won a contest for an essay I wrote for school. I wrote and submitted my first short story when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school. I’m a voracious reader, and would rather read than do anything else (most writers are). From that time when I was fifteen, I’ve developed my writing skills so that I am at this point today. I say all of this not to brag, but to tell you that this is either a huge fluke, or it’s something that God gave me to develop and use for His glory.

You have an ability that you’ve been using all of your life too, something that you’ve always done well and comes so naturally to you that you don’t understand why others have trouble with it. That ability came from God, and we all have at least one.

God also uses our personalities in ministry. Do you know what your personality type is? I’ve taken many personality type tests over the years, and none of them have told me anything I didn’t already know. I’m an introvert – also known as the quiet, shy type. If you know me, you’re laughing your head off at this part, thinking, “There’s no way in hell she’s shy or an introvert!” I can be loud, boisterous, and opinionated, it’s true. But put me in a room full of strangers, and I stay in a corner and cower. Better yet, keep the strangers for yourself and let me stay home and read a book. I hate large groups of people, and will escape to the bathroom just for some peace and quiet. I am quite happy being stuck in my office all day long talking to very few people. My husband, on the other hand, has never met a stranger. Strangers, to him, are just new friends you haven’t made yet.

God can use you, no matter how loud and boisterous or quiet and shy you are. He can use you if you’re more of a thinker instead of a feeler, or vise versa. Your personality will only affect “how and where you use your spiritual gifts” (245), not whether or not you use them.

Our experiences determine where we serve as well. Warren says we should look at at least six different experiences from your past: family; educational; vocational; spiritual; ministry; and painful experiences. All of these things combine to make us people able to serve others with similar experiences. And Warren notes that painful experiences are the ones God uses the most to prepare us for ministry. As much as some of these things hurt, as rough as it to go though them, as many times as we cry out to God, He still allows these things to pass so that we can be better ministers. And our experiences make us soft-hearted, so we can show grace and mercy to those who need it.

I have no doubt that Warren is right about the painful experiences part. I feel like I make examples of my own life a lot, but I think we learn from others' experiences, and I want to show you how experience applies in my own life and ministry. Bear with me, you've probably heard a lot of this before.

Jeff and I married when I was 19. We moved to a little town in GA called Jenkinsburg, where Jeff pastored three UMC's in the county as a student pastor. After we'd been there about seven months, we were run out of the churches by two people. This was essentially a firing, and having reviewed this situation more than a few times, I think I can honestly say that we weren't at fault here. There were some local church politics that came into play, as well as a specific situation that someone lied about. Yes, there were probably a few minor things Jeff could have done differently, but what it really came down to was church politics (and a lot of work by the Evil One). We moved to Atlanta and lived there for 6 months before moving back to Illinois and in with my parents and brother. Would we have been homeless then? If not for our parents - most certainly. Jeff's mom paid our rent while we lived in Atlanta and my parents provided us with a home until we could move to Springfield.

Yet we weren't homeless in GA, and I found it more difficult to feel sorry for myself after I saw a truly homeless person for the first time. This was a painful time in our lives, but without it, I wouldn't be where I am today. It seems so trite to say that, especially in a blog, but I think you'll find it true in your own life as well. Nothing in my family, my education, my past ministry, my plans for vocation, or anything spiritual could have truly prepared me for this particular call and vision.

So what you've learned about me here is that I can write, I'm shy, and I have a vision of working with the homeless because of being kicked out of a home once. Now I just have to think of how to really combine those things. Maybe in another post this will come together with my spiritual gifts and heart.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

PDL Day 32

Day 32 Thinking about my purpose

Point to ponder: God deserves my best.

Verse to Remember: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

Question to Consider: How can I make the best use of what God has given me?

I think that’s the question I keep asking myself. As sure as I am about my gifts, abilities, and calling, I still have those moments when I take a step back and wonder if that’s really what God wants me to be doing. How does writing fiction help the church? How does writing about the environment help the church? Would someone else be better qualified to talk to the church about stewardship than I am? Am I just reinventing the wheel and saying what Sider, Warren, others, and the Bible have already said?

I think the only thing I can do is to use what God has given me, use it to the best of my abilities, and for His glory. I think that’s all he asks.

PDL Day 31

Day 31 Thinking about my purpose

Point to ponder: Nobody else can be me.

Verse to Remember: “God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings.” 1 Peter 4:10

Question to Consider: What God-given ability or personal experience can I offer to my church?

I have a couple of these.

First, my abilities. I can write well, I’m a good researcher, and I love to learn/talk about stewardship. I think those things would benefit any church.

Second – my experiences being hurt by the church can benefit the church. People inside the church need to understand that a church is different from the outside world. Churches aren’t businesses and shouldn’t be treated like businesses. Churches ARE families, and we should treat the people in them like families. I’m not sure that has ever been my experience in a church, and it’s sad to think that others have been treated the same way I have been treated.

Purpose Driven Life Part 3

On day 30, Rick Warren begins explaining how we are made to serve God. He says that each of us is uniquely designed, or SHAPEd to do certain things. SHAPE stands for Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experience. According to him, and I think this is a really good thing to remember, it is not just our spiritual gifts that indicate where we should minister to others, but what we might enjoy doing, our skills, personality, and what we’ve done, seen, and lived.

Are our spiritual gifts the most important part of these variables? Personally, I would say yes. Determining our gifts narrows down the ways to serve pretty quickly. And yet, the other variables are almost as important in determining your ministry, because two people with the same gift might not be happy serving in the exact same place. For instance, one person with the gift of administration might want to serve in a homeless shelter and another with the same gift might want to serve at a school – the first person might be really uncomfortable around kids, while the second might not enjoy working with the homeless. But both ministries are equally as important.

For this day, he talks about the first two letters in SHAPE: spiritual gifts and heart. In discussing spiritual gifts, he points out three very important points. First, every follower of Christ has at least one spiritual gift. Period. Some might have only one, some might have three, some might have five. No person has every single gift, and no believer is without a gift. Second, he addresses two common problems: gift envy and gift projection. “The first occurs when we compare our gifts with others’, feel dissatisfied with what God gave us, and become resentful. The second problem happens when we expect everyone else to have our gifts, do what we are called to do, and feel as passionate about it as we do” (237). Third, our spiritual gifts were given to us to serve others. When some people don’t use their gifts, other people get cheated. I also want to point out that if you or I don’t use our gifts, it makes it that much more difficult for the Body of Christ to function.

Warren says, “The Bible uses the term heart to describe the bundle of desires, hopes, interests, ambitions, dreams, and affections you have. Your heart represents the source of all your motivations – what you love to do and what you care about most” (237). He also calls heart passion. What motivates you? What drives you? That’s your passion. It’s a really good indicator of where you can use your God-given gifts. God wants us to love and enjoy the ways we serve Him. Ministry shouldn’t be a drudgery, something to get out of the way because you think it’s the right thing to do. Instead, ministry should capture your heart and drive you to laughter and tears. Don’t serve just because you think you should. Serve because it is something you might be interested in doing.

The catch here, at least for me personally, is remembering that not everyone shares my passion for certain things. Taking care of the poor and homeless around the world is really important to me, and many times I get wrapped up in wondering why not everyone is doing something to combat poverty and homelessness. Conversely, there are quite a few people in this world who love ministering to single mothers and helping them take care of their (unborn) children, and they wonder why I’m not doing the same things they are. It’s not that we’re blind to some of these needs, it’s that we each feel passionate about one thing over another.

At first glance, this kind of reasoning seems contradictory to the command we all have to take care of the poor, the widow, and the orphan, but I don’t believe that it really is. The heart and purpose of ministry is about bringing people to God through Jesus, and we minister to people by taking care of their need – not just spiritual, but physical, emotional, and mental needs. Many times, I would say most times, ministry takes place in places where people are in poverty, when we show people the love God has for them by feeding, clothing and taking care of them.

PDL Day 30

Day 30 Thinking about my purpose

Point to Ponder: I was shaped for serving God.

Verse to Remember: “God works through different men in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purposes through them all.” 1 Corinthians 12:16

Question to Consider: In what way can I see myself passionately serving others and loving it?

I guess I’m fortunate that I can see quite a few ways.

First, there’s writing. Writing’s one of those things that it’s hard to get started, but once I do the words just come to me. I enjoy helping others see another side of things or feeling another emotion. And I could use it to help me…

Teach people about spiritual gifts. In one way, this serves only the church and the people in it, but in another way, it serves others because it makes them aware that they need to be in ministry to others.

Third, serving the poor and homeless and helping them make better lives for themselves.

Fourth, teaching stewardship. I think it would be the same as teaching about spiritual gifts, but followers of Christ need to be made aware of stewardship issues. It’s imperative. And it’s not just spiritual gifts that need to be taught, but people need to learn about time, finances, and the environment too.

Friday, November 14, 2008

PDL Day 29

Day 29 Thinking about my purpose

Point to Ponder: Service is not optional.

Verse to Remember: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which god prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Question to Consider: What is holding me back from accepting God’s call to serve him?


Now admittedly, I don’t think I’m serving exactly in the capacity God wants me in right now, but I’m trying to do small things along the way so that I can get there.

I think it would be so cool to do a missions small group. Instead of doing Bible study every week, the group gets together and does service stuff. I’ve wanted to do this for about two years now, and was in the process of setting it up in Alton before Jeff left the church. I don’t know what my future looks like as far as church is concerned, but I’d love to set this up. I think this is something I need to think about doing apart from a church home because I don’t know when I’ll have a church home again

Purpose Driven Life Part 2

I have a confession to make about Purpose Driven Life: I’m actually way ahead of where I should be. I decided when I started rereading it that I’d read two days at a time instead of just one. As I promised myself and all of you, I’m writing the question for every day, even if I’m not posting it to this blog. But I’m ahead of the readings, mainly because I wanted to hurry up and get to the last two sections that talked about service and ministry.

I wish I could just scan all of Day 29 here without getting socked with a copyright violation! This is the point in the book that got me so excited the first time I read this book, and it’s no different this time.

I’ve often wondered why more Christians don’t use their spiritual gifts when God gives them to us for a reason and Jesus told us to go out to all the nations of the world to tell them the Good News. But this brings up my first recollection of learning about spiritual gifts, and to be honest, I’m not sure when I first heard about them. I can only tell you that my first experience serving in the church happened before I became a Christian. When I was sixteen, the fifth and sixth grade Sunday School class at my church needed a Sunday School teacher. Don’t ask me why, at the age of sixteen, I decided to take on a bunch of ten and eleven year olds, I just did. I suspect I had my own motives for it, but I also felt a push to do it, a drive, if you will. I’ve often hoped that I did little spiritual damage to those poor kids as I rambled my way through such subjects as friendship and school.

I taught that class for another year after I became a Christian, until I graduated from high school. At that time, the high school teacher decided he didn’t want to teach anymore, so I got a wild hare to teach the high school kids for a while. Yes, some of them in my own graduating class (though all at a different high school, the one in our little town), people my age who I’d grown up with, been friends or not friends with, guys I’d had crushes on, girls I’d fought with, people I’d laughed with and at.

Have I mentioned I’m crazy?

I taught high school all that summer and the following fall. I had to give it up when I started college in Indiana that Spring Semester. I didn’t teach Sunday School again until I was 25, which is fine by me. It’s not something I ever really enjoyed a lot, but I did it because I wanted to serve and felt driven to do so in that capacity.

So I served, but I don’t remember hearing anything about this thing called spiritual gifts until I was 21 and we moved to Springfield. One of the Sunday School classes we were in at First UMC at the time had a segment on spiritual gifts. We were given a spiritual gifts inventory and told to fill it out.

I don’t think it will surprise any of you that at that time, one my gifts was teaching. It also shouldn’t surprise you that it made a huge, life-changing impact on who I am. A year later when I got hired at another church as a member of the program staff, I used what I’d learned in that Sunday School class to teach other people about spiritual gifts.

It’s spiraled from there. I’m not going to tell you that I eat, breathe, and live spiritual gifts and stewardship, because I don’t. There are times when it doesn’t even occur to me to think about either thing – like when I’m reading to Liam or making him laugh his head off, or spending time with Jeff, other family, and friends. But even in those times, when they seem so far from my mind, they are never more than a thought away for me.

Because it makes so much sense to me, and it’s RIGHT THERE in the Bible, I don’t understand why so many Christians aren’t serving in their churches and in the world. But that begs the question: do any of us really practically apply every word in the Bible? I mean, seriously. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe we think that we’ve applied the “important” parts, like the part where Jesus says we need to be saved and we need to spread the Good News. But have we applied the parts about forgiving those who sin against you (I fail at this)? Have we applied the part that says we need to tithe (hint: if we all would do this, churches wouldn’t have to do “stewardship”/financial drives every fall.)? Have we applied the part where Jesus told us to feed the widow and the orphan?

Yeah, I though not. It’s easy to apply what we learn in school. We use math to balance our checkbooks, we use science to figure out various things (I like to look at pretty pictures of planets and then help my mom figure out why it took my brother longer to get home from Germany than it did to get there in the first place – and this had nothing to do with the amount of beer he drank at Oktoberfest), we read all day long (even if it’s just comic books). It’s easy to apply English when composing a letter or out-trivia-ing your husband, but when was the last time you deliberately forgave your best friend for forgetting your lunch date? When was the last time you loved a stranger or bought a pizza for a homeless guy?

It’s not easy to apply things that demand we make life changes, and using your spiritual gifts makes you change your life, whether you like it or not. So maybe there are lots of Christians out there who have read the Bible oodles of times, and think nothing much of it when Paul mentions apostles, prophets, teachers, and healers. Maybe they think that talking in tongues is crazy. Maybe they want to be a leader or administrator instead of a giver or a helper. I don’t know the rationale behind it, I just know that there are a lot of well-meaning Christ followers out there who want to save the world and have no idea that there is a way for them to go about it. Or maybe that have no idea that being saved is just the beginning, not the end. The race starts the day you get saved and doesn’t end until you stand before the great throne of God. I can only pray that one day I will hear, “Yeah, Steph, you fed the poor, took care of the widows and the orphans. When you did these for the least of these, you did them for Me. Well done, good and faithful servant.” We all want to hear these words, but we have to obey God to hear them. And that can change our really comfortable lives.

In Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says, “You were put on earth to make a contribution. You weren’t created just to consume resources – to eat, breathe, and take up space. God designed you to make a difference with your life. While many best-selling books offer advice on how to ‘get’ the most out of life, that’s not the reason God made you. You were created to add to life on earth, not just take from it. God wants you to give something back. This is God’s fourth purpose for your life, and it is called your “ministry,” or service” (227).

Warren makes four major points for Day 29: you were created to serve God; you were saved to serve God; you are called to serve God; and you are commanded to serve God. Serving God isn’t optional; it’s in our blood, our bones, and our souls. If God made us specifically to serve Him, why would we want to do anything else? Why would we ignore that call and command on our lives?

Warren also points out that “Another term for serving God that’s misunderstood by most people is the word ministry. When most people hear “ministry,” they think of pastors, priests, and professional clergy, but God says every member of his family is a minister. In the Bible, the words service and ministry are synonyms, as are servant and minister” (229). Pastoring is a spiritual gift; ministry, on the other hand, is a command.

I mentioned several gifts above. Some of them look pretty glamorous and like they’d get a lot of attention from other people. Some of them, on the other hand, make you look like, well… a servant. You might think it’s way cooler to be an apostle than someone who helps, but that’s the world’s view, not God’s. In the eyes of God – who created all these gifts, in case you forgot – every gift is equal. Warren says, “There is no small service to God; it all matters. Like wise, there are no insignificant ministries in the church. Some are visible and some are behind the scenes, but all are valuable… There is no correlation between size and significance. Every ministry matters because we are all dependent on each other to function” (230).

I’ll talk more about this in depth, I’m sure. For now, I’ll leave you with the same question Warren leaves for his readers at the end of Day 29: What is holding me back from accepting God’s call to serve him?

Sustainability Forum at UIS 11/13/08

This week has been sustainability week at UIS, and because I work full time, I haven’t been able to participate in anything until last night’s Sustainability Forum.

I was expecting a few faculty speakers from the environmental studies department to lecture for a few hours, which would have been fine. Instead, we had what turned out to be a huge conversation, led by Drs. Ti-Fen Ting (Head of Environmental Studies), Amy McEwan (Biology), and Bill Carpenter (English). As it was one big dialogue between the professors and the students, I don’t have a lot of notes to go by as I write this, but it provoked some good thoughts.

The three professors first defined what sustainability means to them:

Ti-Fen: Three aspects must come together and be balanced for us to be sustainable – environmental well-being, social justice, and economic equity.
Amy: Any action that can be repeated over and over again in the future, from a scientific perspective, is sustainable
Bill challenged us with this Devil’s Advocate thought: What if all the commercials we see and hear about the environment and doing our part in recycling are just a front to get us to do small things that make us feel better, while getting us to ignore the larger political, social, and economic issues that are challenging people all over the world?

Dr. Carpenter’s questions prompted a great discussion, and I think it went hand in hand with the definitions Dr. Ting and Dr. McEwan gave as well. My own thoughts on this are probably pretty clear after reading through this blog, but I’ll put them out there anyway. I don’t necessarily think all the ads for being green are a front, but doing things like recycling and consuming less are sort of the easy things to do. And please don’t get me wrong – I don’t think any less of someone for doing only those things, because I think that doing those things alone saves resources and gets someone in the frame of mind to possibly make some bigger changes. If someone spends the rest of her life recycling everything she can, reducing the amount of resources she uses, and reusing other things, then she’s made a huge impact on the world in which she lives. We need to encourage people to do these things, however small they may seem, because if everyone were to do these small things, imagine how huge it would be!

But there are some people who are not content to leave it at the small things, those who want to move on to revolutionary things, like changing economic systems and the ways we think about social justice. As you can imagine, to me this is a huge stewardship issue, and I’ve written as much. Environmental health, social justice, and economic equity all feed into each other, and as such, according to Dr. Ting, we won’t have a sustainable planet until we have true balance in all areas.

This semester in my environmental ethics class, we’ve been studying the different arguments people make for saving the planet. I mention this because most of the arguments, no matter what lens one is looking at the issue through, have been about saving the environment for the environment’s sake. Last night, Dr. Ting mentioned that in one of her freshman seminars, the one thing she hears repeatedly from her students is that “we have to save the environment.” But last night, she asked us, “Why? The environment can take care of itself. The earth functions well enough on its own without humans around. So who are we really trying to save by saving the planet?”

Us. We’re trying to save our own butts. It’s all well and good to want to save the planet, but in the end, we have to realize that the beings who really, truly benefit from us trying to save the planet are the human beings. And for me, it was really good to hear professional academics say that we have to be concerned not only with the environment, but with other people in that environment, for us to be truly sustainable. It’s good to hear them say that our lack of sustainability is causing people all over the world to live in sub-human conditions, and that we need to fix those conditions while we fix the ecological issues.

I haven’t talked about the most recent election much at all, and I’m glad it’s past. One of the things that annoyed me about both of the candidates, and about politicians and the media in general, is how they say that clean coal is a great thing for our country’s energy future. Bullcrap. Coal is coal, and we don’t have the technology to sequester carbon yet. I live in Illinois. We are rich with coal mines here, and we use the coal for most of our electricity. Federal law mandates that power plants using coal have the right scrubbers to get as much of the sulfur and nitric oxides out of the emissions before we shoot them off into the air, but we don’t have anything that will allow us to sequester all the CO2 we’re releasing. Ergo, there’s no such thing as clean coal. Every time Obama or McCain brought up clean coal, I would rant about it, much to Jeff’s chagrin. But last night, Dr Ting said this: “Clean coal is an oxymoron.” Yes!

In closing, the three professors gave us their perspectives on what would change minds on the issue of sustainability. From the rhetoritician, language will change minds as we become more persuasive. From the biologist, we need to realize that we are all part of nature – we are not separate from the animals, because we ARE animals. And finally, from the environmental scientist, we need not only policy to change laws, but we need to not be so greedy and wasteful with our resources.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

PDL Day 16

Day 16 Thinking about my purpose

Point to ponder: Life is all about love.

Verse to remember: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galtians 5:14

Question to consider: Honestly, are relationships my first priority? How can I ensure that they are?

Honestly, no. Not even my relationship with my son, and I recognize my utter selfishness every day. For me, I have to remind myself that the people in my life and family are people I care about and love, and I sometimes have to force myself to spend time with them. But in doing so, I’ve not only done the right thing, I’ve connected personally to the person.

This is something I am working on, and given that I like my alone time and am becoming more and more of a hermit, it’s not an easy thing for me to work on, but I’m trying.

PDL Day 14

Day 14 Thinking about my purpose

Point to ponder: God is real, no matter how I feel.

Verse to remember: “For God has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.’” Mark 12:30

Question to consider: How can I stay focused on God’s presence, especially when he feels so distant?

Ah, this I can do, because I rarely feel the presence of God. I just keep thinking about the path He’s set me on and follow it the best I can. I try to remember that I won’t always feel His presence, but that He’s always there. At least this I can usually do.

PDL Day 12

Day 12 Thinking about my purpose

Point to Ponder: I’m as close to God as I choose to be.

Verse to Remember: “Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.” James 4:8

Question to Consider: What practical choices will I make today in order to grow closer to God?

Based on day eleven, I need to talk to God more, but I’ve known that for a long time. I just don’t know if I can talk to God like I talk to Holly or Erin or Jeff. Not that I haven’t before, but I normally “pray” instead of “hold a conversation with” God. And I know that’s my biggest problem. I wonder if I’m afraid of sharing every single facet of my life with God. I know, I know, he knows everything already, but in a relationship with God, that’s really not the point. But I have parts of my life that I don’t share, even with those people closest to me, and I couldn’t hold anything back from God.

PDL Day 8

Day 8 Thinking about my purpose

Point to Ponder: I was planned for God’s pleasure.

Verse to Remember: “The Lord takes pleasure in his people.” Psalm 149:4

Question to Consider: What common task could I start doing as if I were doing it directly for Jesus?

Again, all of them. The two things that really come to mind are work and school.

Work is a struggle sometimes. I like my job. I enjoy the research, and even if I don’t think I’m making a difference with what I write for the members, I am gaining knowledge that can help people in other parts of my life. So it’s rewarding. The problem I have is when we have slow times and I don’t have anything to do. This isn’t a problem in itself – it’s a problem when work picks up again and I get assignments. I find I get used to the slow times and doing things other than work, and I have trouble getting motivated to work when there’s work to do.

School is another area where I should concentrate more on doing it for Jesus. I think I’m supposed to be in school, but I’m not putting my whole effort into it. In fact, I’m kind of tired of being in school right now. I’ve had moments where I think I was nuts for going back for a master’s, and moments where I don’t know what I’m going to do with this degree after I’m done. I have moments where I think that maybe I should have just gone to seminary after all – but then I just know I wouldn’t enjoy seminary as much as I’m enjoying the INO program, and I wouldn’t really get the education I want out of it.

PDL Day 6

Day 6, Thinking about my Purpose

Point to ponder: This world is not my home

Verse to remember: “So we fix out eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

Question to Consider: How should the fact that life on earth is just a temporary assignment change the way I am living right now?

Well, I guess I’m trying to change the way I’m living right now and align my values to God’s. I’m trying to consume less and be less materialistic, while being a better steward of the people and things God has trusted me with. I’m trying to use the gifts He’s given me with the opportunities He’s given. I know there’s always room for improvement, but I’m trying.

PDL Day 5

Day 5, Thinking about my Purpose

Point to ponder: Life is a test and a trust.

Verse to remember: “Unless you are faithful in small matter, you won’t be faithful in large ones.” Luke 16:10

Question to Consider: What has happened to me recently that I now realize was a test from God? What are the greatest matters God has entrusted to me?

Maybe it’s because I’m a pessimist, but I think I view most every situation as a test, though maybe while I’m not going through it. As a mom, my greatest test is how I behave when Liam’s not behaving. I’ve asked God for patience many times, forgetting that God doesn’t give us patience, but gives us opportunities to be patient. God gives me a lot of opportunities to be patient…

When Liam’s having a meltdown, I can choose to let his tantrum and his abundance of “NO!”s drive me to the edge, or I can choose to remain calm and rational. That doesn’t mean I don’t punish or don’t spank, but it means that I try to see Liam’s side of the situation and don’t react like I’m angry. Wednesday night is a good example, I that he didn’t obey me, enough so that not only did he get spanked, but when he still wouldn’t change his choices (and he did get choices), he ended up with an earlier bed time than normal. While I was trying to get him ready for bed, and he was kicking and punching me, he still got spanked for his actions, but he was told why he was being punished and I was able to remain mostly calm. And he was able to calm down and turn back into the cheerful little imp we love so much.

Sometimes I fail royally with him though, and I know it as it’s happening.

The greatest matters God has entrusted to me are my family and my finances. I’m not the best financial steward, but I’m becoming more aware of my choices, and that awareness had helped me make better choices in some situations. And of course, my family is the greatest matter of all. As far as Jeff is concerned, I haven’t been the best wife, but I have stood by him faithfully through every trial he’s gone through. How I react to those trials has gotten better over the years too. I’m not sure why God gave us an autistic son, but I know I wouldn’t trade Liam for the whole world. The absolute joy he has brought us is more astounding that I ever thought would happen, and though I fail as a mom many times, I just want to be the best mom I can and teach him about Jesus.

PDL Day 3

Day 3, Thinking about my Purpose

Point to ponder: Living on purpose is the path to peace.

Verse to remember: “You, lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

Question to Consider: What would my family and friends say is the driving force of my life? What do I want it to be?

Poverty, homelessness, and the environment. Hopefully they’d also say that those things are the driving force because of the purpose God gave me.

I want my driving force to be whatever God wants it to be. Since I was 17, I’ve wanted to do nothing more with my life than what God wants me to do. I don’t see the point in doing anything else.

PDL Day 2

I'm behind in posting from Purpose Driven Life, though I'm not behind in reading it.

I debated whether or not to post this one, but thought that maybe if someone else saw the struggles that I have you might be more open to sharing your own. Please feel free to not comment on this post, or to comment critically instead of sympathetically.

Day 2, Thinking about my Purpose

Point to ponder: I am not an accident.

Verse to remember: I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born.” Isaiah 44:2

Question to Consider: Knowing that God uniquely created me, what areas of my personality, background, and physical appearance am I struggling to accept?

Most of it. I have a difficult time believing that God created me with so many physical struggles, or at least the potential to have so many physical struggles. My back is a constant worry and fear, and while I realize that much of the problems I have now are my fault, the initial problem – premature degenerative “disease” – is not. What was the purpose in creating a human body that would start to destroy itself at the age of 13? Now that I’m taking much better care of myself than I was even three years ago, it’s doubly frustrating and doubly hard to accept that I am never going to be able to do some things. I’m afraid to travel and some days, I’m even afraid to tie my own shoes.

That’s not really part of my appearance, and I struggle with my appearance as well. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I think I’m not so bad looking; I might even say I’m pretty. But then I see pictures of myself and can’t believe I ever thought I might be pretty.

I still struggle with how we’ve been treated by the church over the past 15 years. Maybe I shouldn’t struggle with it. I’m sure that other people have struggles more with the church’s action than we have. But I still hurt, and think sometimes that maybe if we hadn’t been treated the way we were by Jenkinsburg and England Chapel that maybe our lives would be a little easier right now.

At the same time, I struggle with the knowledge that we might really be homeless someday so that I know what it’s like to be homeless. Can you help the homeless and poor without being homeless or poor yourself? Can you really understand what they’re going through?

I don’t like my personality, and I’m in no mood to discuss it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008