Monday, January 30, 2017

Don't Summon the Jury

Several years ago, I served on the jury of a murder trial. It was complicated and difficult to call. From the start, we didn't agree on the conviction. But the one thing we did agree on was that no matter how long it took, we would come to a unanimous decision. Too much had been invested in this trial, including six weeks of our time, to allow for a mistrial. 

So we deliberated for three days until we agreed (we found him guilty on lesser manslaughter charges).

Today, I thought about that word--deliberate

It's a word "we jurors" throw around a lot. But what does it really mean?

In its verb form, it means to engage in long, careful consideration (Google).

That's exactly what we did as a jury. We took the time to carefully consider the evidence, testimonies, and circumstances until each of us had no reasonable doubt. 

I love this word, because it's also an adjective described (again by Google) as something done consciously and intentionally.

And when we do something intentionally, we do it on purpose or deliberately. We put long, careful consideration into it. 

There is usually a purpose or reason behind intentional action.

Because spontaneity is part of my personality, my "long and careful" might not be as "long as careful" as my husband's, who is more of a planner. But that doesn't mean my intentional actions are any less deliberate. 

If the Holy Spirit whispers, "Buy that person's coffee," to me at Dunkin Donuts, I might only have a few seconds to decide to intentionally bless that person or let it slip away. There's no time for long and careful consideration. Intentional and deliberate action has to be quick and without thought.

Because if I think too much, I'll summon the jury in my head, and they'll come and deliberate:



"What if they think I'm nuts?"
"So what? You'll never see them again."
"What if they say no?"
"Who would say no to free coffee?"
(And my favorite):
"What if it's not God telling me to do this?"
"Then you blessed someone anyway. You can't go wrong."

If I allow them to convene, the opportunity has just paid for their own coffee and walked out the door. 

Each day, we get to decide how we'll live: our own way or God's. Paul counseled the Galatians (and us) to live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness (Gal 5:16-The Message).

But what's in it for me?
(Ah, the ultimate selfish question!)

Let me rephrase that:

What's the purpose, the reason for living with intention? 

What happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard--things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity (Gal 5:22, The Message). 

Paul tells us in Gal 5:17 that we constantly battle our evil nature. Our natural desire is to do the things that aren't good for us, and the good things we do when we follow the Holy Spirit go against our nature. If we follow our own inclinations, we live a life of lustful desires, hatred, idolatry, jealousy, anger, complaining, envy, self-righteousness and so on (see Gal 5:19-21).

We must make a deliberate and intentional choice each day to live God's way. To starve our selfish compulsions. To decide on purpose that we will listen to the Holy Spirit's voice and not our own. 

Each morning, when we awaken, we must carefully consider the cost of following our own selfish thoughts or the blessing of following Jesus. The blessing of an abundance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control overflowing in our basket of life.



And that abundance of fruit will naturally overflow into the baskets of others. By focusing more on Jesus and less on ourselves, we are better equipped to intentionally and deliberately see the needs of others.

So in those early morning hours, when you first rise, don't summon the jury. They'll only deliberate and keep you from being deliberate. You don't have time for long and careful consideration. 

You need only listen to One Voice to make one choice. 

Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve...as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15)

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Undignified Worship

I will become even more undignified than this. (2 Sam 6:22)

Last Sunday, a few residents of the Matheny School visited our church. For my readers who are not local, The Matheny School is a private school for children (and adults) with a diverse range of medically complex developmental disabilities (taken from the Matheny School website). 

One young man sat in his wheelchair, smiling, clapping, and shouting praise in a language that only he and his Creator understood. But I'm sure God was pleased. 

I couldn't take my eyes off him, because he worshiped with abandon.

I was reminded of King David, when he brought the ark of the Lord from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David (see 2 Samuel 6). 

From a window, King David's wife, Michal (daughter of Saul) watched him leap and dance with all his might before the Lord--in nothing but a linen ephod. Basically, in his underwear. 



If that were my husband, I'd certainly be embarrassed. But scripture says she despised him in her heart (v16). And when he got home that night, she lit into him for his unacceptable, vulgar, no-at-all-kingly behavior (I confess, I might have done the same).

His response?

I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this (v21-22).

I watched this young man worship with that same abandon and said, Lord, I want to become undignified.

Or, as I just read in Timothy Keller's The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, I want to get to the place where I can say, I don't care what you think. I don't even care what I think. I only care about what the Lord thinks (based on 1 Cor 4:3-4).




Then Communion time came. A time of quiet, serious reflection and prayer. Unwelcome sounds might disturb others. Certainly, it's frowned upon, right?

Maybe for some. But not for this young man, He kept clapping, moving his head back and forth, and smiling. He wasn't as vocal as he was during worship; perhaps the music fueled his passion. 

His caregiver politely attempted to silence the clapping by placing his hands in between the young man's, but that frustrated him, and he pushed his caregiver's arms away, as if to say, "Let me celebrate before the Lord!"

As we grow, we learn to suppress our emotions, thoughts, and desires so we can assimilate nicely into society.

But those we consider undignified speak what they think. Like children who haven't learned to filter their thoughts. 

The other day a little girl in front of me in a checkout line was observing another little girl, then turned to her father and said, "Daddy, that girl has a pony tail, like me."

She spoke what she thought. 

No wonder Jesus told his disciples, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them (Matthew 19:14).

We are taught to silence ourselves. So we come to God in the same manner. Politely. Dignified. Hindered.

We learn to behave ourselves. Especially in public. Definitely in church.



But I don't want to be dignified or polite in my worship. I want to be unhindered, like a child. Like our visitor.

What will it take for me to get beyond What will people think? What will it take for me, like Paul, to say, 

I don't care what you think. I don't even care what I think. I only care what the Lord thinks.

If I listen to What Will People Think (Dennis Jernigan), it would take total surrender. 

Total surrender. To all that you are.
Total surrender. Of all I am to you.



I confess, I'm not there. Not totally. I'd like to say I'm all in. I want to be. But I'd be lying. Sadly, I still care. Because it's hard to take the risk of looking foolish among your peers. 

So I pray these words from Dennis' song:

Well, I no longer care.
Let the whole world see that I love you.
Let them see in me what love can do
Take my life and show them love worth dying for.

And I pray the Holy Spirit moves upon my heart, loosening the hinges that hold me all together. 

So I can dance like David danced. 
Think like Paul thought. 
Sing like Dennis sang.

Undigified.
Unhindered.
Unhinged.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare

PS--Interestingly, I just came across a book by Lisa Harper called Untamed: How the wild side of Jesus frees us to live and love with abandon. Needless to say, I bought it, and am soaking up every word!. 

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Resting From Resolutions

Did you make New Year's resolutions? How's that going for you? 

Maybe you resolved to lose weight. Work out. Eat healthy. Spend more time in the Word. Be more generous. Enjoy your family more, and work less. You’ve tried before and failed, but this time, you’re determined to succeed!

What if, instead of being determined, you decided to be intentional?

A resolution suggests a conflict that needs to be overcome, a solution to a problem. You need to re-solve the problem you originally had that didn't get solved the first time. I’m overweight—that’s a problem. I resolve to exercise more and eat less. There’s the solution. But what’s the plan, the purpose, the real reason for it?

Making a resolution focuses on the difficulty, and declares with pride, “I’m going to do this!” We have a goal, and we work toward it, but when we hit a stumbling block, we often give up. We feel like we’ve failed, so we go right back to the habit that gives us comfort, the very habit we tried so hard to overcome.

Being intentional cultivates a purpose. To have intention is to have meaning. Not just a plan, but a reason for the plan. And it invites others to take part.



In the first chapter of Genesis, God repeatedly used the word, let, as He formed the earth and everything in it. The Hebrew word for let is from the root, amar, which means to declare, appoint, say, speak, utter, or…intend.

God purposed each piece of His creation into being. 

He didn’t throw together the heavens and the earth as a solution to a problem. He’s God—He has no problems. He didn’t swoop His hand out by accident and…whoops…there’s the world!

He cultivated—nurtured and helped His creation to grow out of love. Not pride or selfish ambition.

Love.

When He had finished letting everything be formed, the Creator turned to Jesus (who was the Word and was with God—see John 1:1), and the Holy Spirit (who was hovering over the waters—see Gen 1:2), and said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness (Gen 1: 26).

It was a collaborative effort of intent. 

They weren’t determined by hook or by crook; they didn’t make a resolution to try harder, give more, or take less. 

God created man with intention. 

He had a purpose—to create a being that would reflect and spread His glory.

Instead of making us robots, He gave us the ability to make choices, some of which would result in turning from Him. So, as part of the Divine Plan, Jesus would be sent to redeem us.

Being fully man and fully God, I believe that Jesus chose the moment of His death. 

He intended to suffer so we wouldn’t have to. 
He intended to endure the shame so we could overcome ours. 
He intended to carry the guilt of sins that weren’t His so we could be forgiven of ours.

Jesus could have said, “It is finished,” long before He even went to the cross. But He chose the specific time to utter those words, not with resolve, but with intent

He intended to carry out His Father’s will, whatever the cost, because He loved his little likenesses.

Can we do the same this year?

Instead of making a resolution, trying to stick with it, and giving up when our efforts are thwarted or when we fall off the wagon, what if we accepted the invitation to be intentional about our efforts?

Instead of making lofty resolutions that fizzle out, what if we resolved to allow ourselves to fail, but to refuse to allow ourselves to feel like a failure? If we decided to cultivate a purpose to those habits we’d like to change or that extra weight we desire to lose?

What if we accepted the finished work of Christ, and allowed that collaborative effort of the Trinity to infuse us with Divine Love? How would that change our lives this year?

What if we allowed God to disrupt our lives with His intention instead of trying to re-solve those problem areas by doing things by ourselves and for ourselves? What if we let others who have walked our road to help us? What if we reached a hand out to those who struggle with what we’ve overcome?

What if we gave up trying so hard and let go of our pride and selfish ambition, and let God take over?

We might be surprised at the result. 

And we may discover that resting from our resolutions may give us the freedom we need to live a life worthy of God’s intentions.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Project Intentional Fruit


I don't need a new year to know that I begin strong and have a tendency not to finish what I've started. Especially if it gets hard or I get bored--which happens more frequently than I'd like to admit. Except that I just did. So I stay away from things like New Year's resolutions.

I tried the word thing one year when it was the "in" thing. I didn't want to feel left out, so I asked God to give me a word too. I waited for His booming voice to inform me of His choice. 

But, like Yukon Cornelius--the guy from Rudolph who chopped at the ice, looking for gold and kept coming up empty, I tasted (aka listened), then replied, "Nothin'!" (view video)



Then as if by magic, a word popped into my head. I'm not entirely sure it was God, but I went with it. Maybe I was nervous. After all, if I didn't "get" a word from God, where would that leave me? I think I may have induced it. The word was mentor

"Could I have a different word, please?" I asked nicely

I didn't like that word. So, maybe it really was from God. If I were to manufacture my own word, I'd prefer something like rest or play.

I tried to find a suitable young woman to mentor. Again, I tasted (stalked sought out young women in my church). I had to have a connection with someone.

"Nothin'!" 

I thought, Maybe it wasn't God. Or maybe I failed...again.

I can't even remember last year's word, phrase or resolution. I think I sort of gave up on all of that. Ironically, it turned out to be a pretty productive year. I got healthy. I wrote a novel. I even discovered that a young woman was plopped into my life who has become a sort of spiritual daughter. 

So, going into the end of this past December, I had no expectations. No intention of choosing a word or a phrase. No lofty resolutions to make and break.

Then I got somethin'! I hadn't even struck my pick to the ice. I hadn't asked or prayed. It just appeared in my brain. Could it be God?

Intentional fruit.

Huh?

What would happen if you exhibited one fruit a month? 

Oh, I thought. That's interesting. That might be kind of cool. Maybe even fun!

Then I realized that it might not be as easy as I think. Exhibit love or joy? Piece of cake. Exhibit gentleness? Well, that'll be a stretch, since I'm not exactly Mary Full of Grace. Self-control? Okay, now we've gone to meddlin'!

It would have to be intentional.

Oooh...now I get it.

God works in mysterious sneaky ways. See, He knew me before I was in my mother's womb (Jer 1:5). I'm no surprise to Him. He knows that I don't like resolutions. He knows that I start things and fizzle out. 

So, He gives me this project instead. I like projects. And the great thing is that it's really not about me. Well, it sort of is, but mostly isn't. 

Exhibiting intentional fruit means I have to give. And some amount of thought has to go into it. After all, fruit is meant to be consumed.

Give love.
Give joy.
Give peace.
Give patience.
Give kindness.
Give goodness.
Give gentleness.
Give faithfulness.
Give self-control.

Yes, I realize there are only nine fruits and twelve months. I've got it covered. 

See, we can't give unless we first receive. How can I give the fruit of Spirit of God that is love unless I first accept that God loves me? How can I love my neighbor unless I first love myself? And how can I love myself unless I accept God's love for me?

How can I know what the fruit of the spirit even is unless I first understand what it isn't? 

And what about intention? I cannot exhibit intentional fruit unless I first know what it means to be intentional.

So, since this seems to be my "project" for the year, you (my dear reader) get to be part of it! 

I "intend" to devote January's blogs to intention. What does it mean? How does it fit in to our daily living? How is it different from resolution?

Since February is the "love" month, that will start the ball rolling with the intentional fruits. One fruit a month. 

I know I said I had the whole year covered. I lied. Sort of. I have some ideas that I'm sure will come together as the year progresses and the fruits flourish. Besides, a good writer always holds onto a little secret, right?

See, there's a little catch. I don't think these fruits stand alone, like the cheese in the game, The Farmer in the Dell (watch video).

No, I think it is God's intention (hey, there's that word again!) that each fruit builds off the previous one. Like the Twelve Days of Christmas (Don't worry, I won't make you watch that video).

Trust me. I know what I'm doing. as I trust God. He knows what He's doing.

I hope you'll join me in my journey. What would our sphere of influence look like if we all exhibited one fruit for the whole month? Do you think we'd have it down by the end of the month, like something we could check off our to-do list? 

My guess is that we'll discover that it's more difficult than we realize, and that no matter how hard we try, we'll always come up short.

But God...

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

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