Dr. Gandhi, Yoga and a Stress Test

I took a stress test yesterday but strangely enough it wasn’t too stressful.  It might have actually been the most relaxing part of my week. 

A stress test involves getting hooked up like the Bionic man with wires and sticky patches that suck your hair right out of the follicle.  Then they place you on a treadmill and slowly turn up the pace from a leisurely stroll to a Mt. Everest run/climb.  I was holding on for dear life at the end and panting like a dog on a hot day. 

But it felt good to run hard and work off some steam.

Work has been extremely stressful, finances tight thanks to our new Lion(i.e. private school tuition for Kyle), Kolby had the hand, foot, and mouth virus all week and then there’s my pesky little heart issue –which makes me more stressed.  It’s like a slippery slope of heart palpitations, fever blisters and sweaty pits.

I know I’m supposed to give this all to Jesus but clearly I’ve been grabbing my burdens back and stuffing them in my backpack. 

My Dr. came into read the results.  He almost didn’t let me take the test because my blood pressure was all wacky when I arrived-probably because I came straight from work, but then he remembered he had the day off on Friday and he didn’t want to miss his golf game so he let me take the test.

Here’s the crazy part –after I worked out my heart rate looked all pretty and even –in nice little up and down rhythms.  Once I let go and relaxed into the run my body fixed itself. 

The Dr. looked at me strangely.  “Usually when we test, it goes the opposite way.  Which means you are stressing yourself right into a pace maker.  Do yoga, cut back on the stress and figure out how to relax young lady.”

But Dr. Gandhi doesn’t realize how much I hate yoga after a bad experience with a man in front of me who forgot his underpants and wore tiny shorts.

So, unless I want a pace maker I guess I better learn how to chill.  The funny thing is I’m a pretty mellow person and I don’t even realize I am stuffing stress.  I have a secret little pocket in my heart where I hide emotions and cram pain into a bunch of toxic ickiness.  Then it explodes into shingles or heart issues.

I keep singing “Jesus take the wheel,” in a raspy little voice hoping for a Holy Spirit band-aid when I should probably be on my knees begging for a fire-hose washing of the gunk weighing me down.

I really don’t want to go to Yoga…

But maybe I’ll try to run again and whisper to God and find my rhythm.

 

Get to Know God -Real Dude Spiritual Leadership

If Real dude spiritual leadership starts with getting to know God, then what does KNOWING look like?  I hesitate to give any sort of rules or a 3-step plan because I know (all too well) it’s far easier to check off a list than to pursue a relationship, so maybe the first tip simply is this:

1.    Throw Away the Rulebook

Religion is about rules, relationship is two-way engagement. 

Getting to know God is a lot like meeting a best friend or a spouse and the space between the initial spark and eternity.  One day you are alone and the next –a son or daughter of the King.  You have become the bride of Christ (not a super masculine metaphor here) but the point is –you enter into relationship and it is sacred and set apart and it is good.  

Getting to know God starts with a yes.  You ACCEPT his invitation.  You say giddy-up to a grand adventure.  It is jumping into a wild river and not knowing where it will take you.  Faith is your only rope to hold onto.  Grace is your life-preserver.

2.    Seek Him not Stalk Him

As a bookworm-y sort of gal, I determined to know everything about God.  So for the first ten years as a Christian I became what Bob Goff calls a Jesus Stalker.

I read through the entire bible six years in a row.  I attended two to three bible studies at a time.  I listened to preacher pod-casts (actually we called them tapes back in the day) and I memorized plenty of scripture.  I read every Christian book on the market –including the men’s section and the care section and even the exegetical section.  I had a prayer journal with pictures (I used Christmas cards and pasted them in –all pre-Pinterest).  I had a sermon journal and a reflection journal and a “I’m clearly the best Martha” journal.  I even enrolled in seminary.

I chuckle now at my incredible pursuit to learn about and SEEK Jesus –and then slightly vomit in my mouth when I think about how annoying I probably was.  I was a modern-day Pharisee in a mini-skirt running hard and fast on a spiritual treadmill trying to win the approval of God. 

3.    He’s Got Your Back

The problem with the spiritual treadmill is eventually you can’t keep running any more –usually when a monster storm of circumstances hit and you lose your footing and go flying through the air and land in a sorry heap (At least that’s what happened to me)

One day, Jesus determined I had enough head knowledge and he picked up my ordered little universe with highlighted chapters and sticky notes and chucked it against the wall. 

In this season I learned to DEPEND on Jesus and apply everything I had so earnestly learned into a real and working faith.  I learned to listen and not just ask, I learned to be still and rest in him and I learned freaking HUMILITY.  I grieved and wailed and groaned to my God until the tears ran dry and there I remained –somehow still standing before a Holy God.

And I learned he never left.

4.    Don’t be a Martyr (unless Jesus renames you Stephen)

Time marched on and then I married a pastor and we planted a church and like Isaiah I said, “Here I am God, use me.”  Only I forgot to set good boundaries and it came out more along the lines of “Here I am Church, abuse me.”

This was my entry into the Martyr season of my life, unfortunately I to had to crash and burn-out (again) before I listened to what God actually wanted me to do and not want I thought I should be doing.  I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t tell me to work outside the home and lead a women’s ministry and build a freelance writing career and raise three children and start a church all at the same time.

Only Satan could be such a masochist.

But the enemy of my soul didn’t have the last word.   Jesus picked me up –again- and gave me a lesson on boundaries and we started over.  Much of my journey has been trial and error, but certain activities do draw me closer to God.

5.    Spiritual Disciplines that ACTUALLY work

     a.    A life of Prayer

     b.    A life of Worship

     c.    Space to Reflect

     d.    Jesus with Skin On (friends who keep you accountable)

     e.    Occasional Fasting(from food, tech, muffins or anything you obsess on)

     f.     God’s Word

Here is what this looks like in my life…

 I do only what I am called to.  I say no more than yes, but when I say yes I am all in.  I mother, I write, I go to the park and swing in the sunshine, and I have time to love my husband.  I volunteer within my giftedness and serve when I see a need and where God opens a door. I lean into friendships. 

Life is much quieter now –more simple and yet far more abundant.  I pray constantly but it’s more like breathing and talking to my best friend instead of me picking verses and promises and expecting God to move in my time.  I journal when I want to probe my heart.  I read to grow deeper and I try to find solace and encouragement in the scriptures –not as a to-do list or a way to gain the approval of God.

Part of getting to know God was also getting to know myself and the depravity of my own heart. 

So when I reflect on getting to know God –I can only describe it as a long journey with a good friend who just so happens to be the creator of the universe. 

And the Real Dudes I see who are near to God seem to roll with the Big Guy too.

.

 

 

Real Dude Spiritual Leadership

When Christian husbands hear the words Spiritual Leadership they often cringe and move into an emotionally defensive ninja posture. They cover their ears and hum “nu nun nu nun” to drown out the sound of the “oh so subtle” but fully loaded assault they know their wife is about to lob at them.

“Did you hear what Pastor Awesome did for his wife for their anniversary? OMG…he flew her to a chapel in Tuscany where they ate biscotti and strawberries dipped in crème fraiche. Then he knelt before her, gave her a monogrammed gold leaf bible and prayed for world peace. Wow, what spiritual leadership!”

And then this sweet, loyal and loving husband, who goes to work every day, provides a home and provision, plays horsie with his kids, coaches baseball and takes his wife to brunch every Sunday after church hunches his shoulders, looks morose and feels completely inadequate.

And the reason he feels like a schmuck is because too many women confuse Spiritual Leadership with a cross between Fabio and their youth pastor –a Jesus-y James Bond sort of guy with a golden tongue who waxes poetic spiritual metaphors about car-care and the football draft from his pre-dawn quiet times with the Lord.

All too often, Christian wives inadvertently adopt a distorted idea of Christian manhood as a spiritual measuring stick for their husband. They take a few examples of biblical application regarding humility or faith (or any fruit of the spirit for that matter) from the pastor’s Sunday message and apply it with a broad stroke to beat their husbands up with after the service.

They don’t envision a real man, a real life and the day-to-day decisions which encompass true spiritual headship of a family. Pastors aren’t all saints or perfect husbands (although my man is a rock star) and a guy doesn’t need to work for the church to be a true minister of Jesus Christ and strong spiritual leader to his wife and kids.

What men do want to aspire to (and their wives can gently encourage them to) –are spiritual disciplines which will help them develop a closer relationship with God and therefore build strength and leadership within the marriage. So, I’ve got a few ideas culled from the plethora of awesome men I have the privilege to know (and yes…I’m talking about you Mariners MV men) . These are the traits and attributes I see exhibited in their lives which bless the socks off their adoring ladies!

Sam’s Tips to Develop Real Dude Spiritual Leadership

1. Get to Know God

2. Pray with your spouse

3. Intimacy (Christian code word for SEX)

4. Serve One Another

5. Parent with Purpose

6. Rethink Love as an Action Verb

The next six blog posts will address these traits and give helpful suggestions for Christian couples who are honest enough to pull out the jammed logs blocking their vision and get real about their marriage, the state of their own heart and what it means to love like Christ did.

And just in case you think this is a series written only for men…I want to challenge you with this.

I believe, above all these tips, the most important factor in a man’s spiritual leadership is his wife’s ability to AFFIRM, stop nagging, pray, forgive, and become her husband’s biggest champion allowing God to transform her husband into the man of her dreams in his time.

Care to join me on the journey?

Is God Real?

I didn’t grow up a Christian. Pagan might be more appropriate title. I thought Jesus was related to Santa and as far as I knew, he lived in the mythical world of leprechaun’s and Easter bunnies.

But if I’m honest, I’ve always known God. I just wondered if he knew me.

It started in high school with the Christian Club. Mildly curious, I snuck into the back of a meeting one day, but when I saw who gathered, I turned on my heels and fled. It was the goody-two shoe kids –the ones who smiled to my face and gossiped behind my back. I was pretty sure their beaming faces were not motivated by the love of baby Jesus, but were masking a snarky agenda. Beyond skeptical, I figured they were merely looking for a new sucker to clap and sing along so they could get a new patch to stitch on a shiny Jesus vest.

So I kept my distance –I played it safe.

In college, the whole Jesus phenomenon was catching on like wildfire, but once again I held back, despite being surrounded by a posse of friends all dying to drag me to the Harvest –whatever that was? But I watched those who claimed to follow Christ –like a hawk.

Secretly, I struggled with the idea of how someone could say a prayer to Jesus and then all their problems would be magically resolved. A + B = Easy Life. It seemed too simple and trite. Besides, I liked brooding, emotion and drama, and these happy Christians types annoyed me. I perceived phoniness in “my grandma died, my dog died and I ran out of money…but praise the Lord” rhetoric. I didn’t want to be anyone’s project and then there was my irrational fear of being hijacked by a cult of ghastly Sunday singers with tambourines.

I’m not musical.

But one day I ended up in church, because a guy I liked wanted to go, and it wasn’t the saccharin-y sweet crowd I expected. I didn’t have to check my intellect at the door or even sing if I chose not to. It wasn’t the Happily Ever After message –it was simple and straight forward and the words connected to my spirit.

It didn’t feel like a traditional church, but more like a movement. The people wore jeans and flip-flops and offered genuine smiles. The music was like nothing I’d heard before and formed a knot of emotion in my belly – it embraced me like a child holding out soft pudgy arms for a squeeze. And they offered to give me a free book –a big navy blue bible, which I cracked open that evening. For the first time, I tentatively approached Jesus one baby step at a time.

I was in my Jr. Year at UCLA studying history and political science with my head immersed in the postmodernists –reading Nietzsche, Foucault, and Heidegger right around the time I began this tentative dance with faith and hip Christians and wacky liberals. The cacophony of voices shouting for my attention blended into a dull roar in my head.

The two worlds of church and Godless academia could not have clashed more. Every day at school I was exposed to the belief that all truth was subjective and the study of history was not about exploring factual evidence, but rather acknowledging the perspective of certain cultures or a person throughout time.

In this scenario: NOTHING IS ABSOLUTE.

Many narratives of the same story (i.e. told by the soldier, the general, the historian and the token woman) gave credence to a historical account, but in a vacuum of certainty everything was up for reinterpretation. My paradigm for accepting knowledge was deeply shaken and subconsciously I began to question everything –not a good place to be when you’re already an over-thinker.

Postmodern thought breeds skepticism, tolerance, distrust, and disrespect for authority. In the absence of truth, faith becomes a childlike malaise that one needs to cure by throwing more knowledge at it. Reading excerpts of Nietzsche is hauntingly similar to the words of Solomon. Everything is meaningless under the sun.

But Nietzsche forgot the “Without God” part.

And that messed with me!

Postmodern thought is completely satisfied with leaving out the conclusion that nothing makes sense without God. To Postmodern teaching, nothing makes sense period!

I couldn’t sleep at night thinking my existence in life was a random accident.

I was twenty-two years old when I decided to hedge my bets on a carpenter from Nazareth. Each Sunday I drove seventy miles from West LA to Newport Beach, CA to attend Mariners Church to learn a little bit more of the person and the message of Jesus Christ. I might have been dragged there the first time but I came back because I heard something different and terrifying.

A STILL SMALL VOICE OF LOVE

I began to consider a life guided by one truth, one absolute, and one savior. Against all my faculties, my heart and mind waged war against the simplicity of the Gospel.

I had constructed a life built on achievement –do more, be more, shine the brightest (and hide the bad stuff) and this tore apart the very fabric of my foundation. I didn’t need a rescuer because I had it all figured out.

But late at night, in the recesses of my soul there was a ravaging fear that I was alone, unlovable, and unworthy.

But Jesus –not religion, or formulas, or a magic pill –changed everything.

Once exposed to the truth it chased me down. God pursued me. Even though the Bible contradicted all that I considered to be true about relativism, something within me responded when called.

I’ve been walking with God now for eighteen years and here is the ONE THING I KNOW TO BE TRUE –God’s love is radical and it’s for you and for me and the redemption of the world.

Tambourines are optional.

God’s word tells me I was created to rest and abide in a relationship with him finding value, meaning and mission. He tells me I am forgiven and loved and worth dying for.

But how do I translate the truth about this reckless love into a culture bombarded by strategic assaults on our very method of interpreting truth?

The postmodern culture or relativist pluralism that I encountered fifteen years ago in college has morphed into a similar but different animal after 9/11. The irrational idea that all opinions or views are equally valid is now juxtaposed with an emerging awareness of “being”.

Threatened with terrorism, a blatantly consumerist culture, the organic backlash of the Occupy movement, and a burgeoning environmental consciousness; modern thought has turned introspective and idealized.

While no one wants to live in dire poverty, our children yearn to live in a more enlightened state of consumption than we did. They are aware of social injustice and their place within a global paradigm. Diversity no longer means a scholarship in the NCAA, but it is the acknowledgment of the marginalized in society. Women, homosexuals, the oppressed, children in Uganda…these voices are being heard by a new generation.

Because of this massive shift, I believe the church therefore needs to adapt and catch up to the culture. It’s not that the message of Jesus needs to change, but maybe the methodology in which we articulate Christianity needs a makeover.

When we view Christianity as a movement and not an institution it changes everything. We don’t have to have all the answers or put God in a Sunday box. It means our faith is dynamic, evolving, and always in flux.

It means Christianity is like the love of a lifetime not a one night stand. It’s the high of racing down the aisle to marry my beloved and the crushing disappointment of day-to-day drudgery as life marches on. It’s the achievements met together, the shattered dreams unrealized and the weary acceptance as I realize conflict is inevitable. It’s looking into the eyes of my aging spouse and aching for something more –an intimacy dependent on the mysterious. It’s the brief moments when our souls make contact and God reveals himself like thunder and rain washing over my heart and I know I am his and he is mine.

Faith –just like love is fragile enough to be lost but strong enough to stand eternity on.

If indeed our faith in Christ is a constantly evolving paradigm, how do we, as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, walk on the rushing water of a raging river instead of planting ourselves in a stagnant pool?

These are the questions that plague me.

Join the conversation

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Recalibrating God’s Plan

People keep asking my husband and me if we are knocked up yet.  I’d bemoan the lack of modern civility but since I did post our intent to procreate to the entire internet universe –I might have to own this one and take the hit. 

So, in all honesty I’m a little conflicted now about birthing another child. 

After our recent miscarriage and the most difficult season of parenting I have ever experienced, another baby –even a blond chubby cheeked cutie –represents a future teenager.  And it’s enough for me to hide any atrophied eggs at age thirty-nine I have left when my husband gets that gleam in his eye.

We sensed God telling us to try for another munchkin and we obediently tried.  It didn’t work.  So my thinking is maybe the whole scenario might simply be about listening to God and following his direction.  PERIOD.  And maybe this is where it ends. 

Maybe tragedy can also be MERCY and maybe it doesn’t have to make sense.

Might I need a new equation?

God+ direction=obedience

(Results not guaranteed)

Sometimes the Christian life doesn’t lead to happily ever after and little bow tied Jabez-y blessings.

What if God is more interested in my knowing him and following him than the places and circumstances he leads me to? 

They say life is about the journey and not the destination.  I think it’s about staying on the heels of the trail guide no matter where he takes you.

I think Jesus is more interested in us saying YES to him when he calls, but it doesn’t guarantee what we say yes to will ever come to fruition.  

And isn’t this the mystery, frustration and beauty of the Christian life?

 

Martha’s House, Mary’s Village

 

My dear friend Bruce sent me this story in response to my post Helga the Cleaning Nazi.  It was a great reminder to keep the main thing the main thing-namely the love of Christ working through me- and to let go of the little crap that get me all riled up and cranky.

Bruce Carl Aronson is a true spiritual guide to many at Mariners Mission Viejo Church and his wisdom and heart are off the charts!  I am honored to share his story on a woman who I resemble all too often  I really want to be like Mary, but my inner Martha keeps nipping at my heels.

I hope you enjoy this as much as  did…

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Martha’s House, Mary’s Village by Bruce Carl Aronson

 

Martha was pissed.

She had to watch over her two hair-brained siblings ever since her mom, Enchania, and her dad, Syro, died.  That blighted tower that fell down in the earthquake, crushing both of the parents, and sixteen others, was the beginning of Martha’s great aloneness.  Her exacting soul found great comfort in clinging to the idea that the disaster was not the punishment of God.  Martha’s father had expected much of his first-born daughter.  At least, if I had been born a son, she thought to herself, I could enjoy that, but now it’s just a talent (for Martha a talent was not a skill or ability but a load weighing 94 pounds, in her day)Martha saw her brother and sister as hopelessly scattered, and surely without Martha they would be both homeless and starve.

She worked hard to keep a proper Jewish Home: ordered, clean, and run with a kind of autocratic authority that her sister and brother found withering. 

Now it was even worse, the Rabbi had showed up and nothing was ready.  It was okay for the men to sit around and gab, but a worthy woman washed the feet of each guest, made sure there was plenty of food and drink, and that her guests lacked for nothing.  So that is what Martha did.  It was getting hot outside as the sun was now directly overhead.  Even the cool, dark of her home was permitting some of that heat to enter.  She needed to prepare the biggest meal of the day, after which, everyone but her would take a nap.  She glanced around her home: it did please her enormously!  The family business had prospered, blessed be, permitting them, not the tiny little four room affair that most families squeezed into, but a lavish two-story (with an open third story) wrapped around a small courtyard.  Martha was in the kitchen, which opened on to the first floor looking out on the courtyard, but she could hear the laughing going on upstairs, in the dining room. 

Her hands worked steadily as she plied the pita dough squeezing it, balling it up, and smashing each ball onto the heated brazier above her kitchen fire.  She was squeezing the dough as if to strangle it and when she balled it, she smashed it on the hot metal she was using with rather more effort than the dough needed.  She had just come down from dropping off the last pita’s, butter, and wine.  The previous upstairs deliveries included olives, dates, and apples.  She was tired from carrying all that food up and down the narrow stairs that led to her dining room above.  There the Master was upstairs, on the floor in the center of the woven matt, with everyone hanging on his every word.  He was saying something profound, he always was, but the person who sat directly in front of him now really annoyed Martha.

Mary was not at all disciplined.  Martha wondered, Who would want to marry a girl who did not know her place?  Martha certainly knew her place, but it had done no good: she was now the village spinster at 18.  She had sent Mary up there to fill the water vat, knowing full well it would be a while before she ever came back.  Well, it had been more than a while.  Martha did appreciate Mary’s thirst for learning.  Like Martha, she knew how to stand behind a curtained door or half way up the stairway so as not to interfere with the men’s learning and still partake of it.  Much of Martha’s education had come from deliberately overhearing her father teach.  Now the Master was upstairs with his emissaries, and a few others.  Who was in the middle of all the men?  Mary, of course!

The fourteen year old sibling just did not get that she was not a man and should never sit with them while instruction was going on.  It wasn’t decent.  It wasn’t seemly.  And, no one was asking for her hand, in marriage either.  It was getting late for Mary too.  But, Mary was the pretty one.  Men liked her.  She got a lot of slack because she was gregarious, charming, and had a figure that could not be obscured by the robes she wore.

A cry of anguish slipped from Martha’s lips.  She had not kept her mind on her work and the side of her hand had brushed the hot metal.  She hoped that they had not heard that cry up above!  What would you say about a homemaker who did not even know how to keep herself from being burned as she cooked?  The skin was red all along the fleshy part of her hand.  This was going to hurt.  She was about to plunge her hand in the basin of water that was kept at the ready for such emergencies, when her nose reminded her that something was burning.  It was the pita on the brazier!  While she had been staring at her hand, the pita had blackened.  Now, they were smoking.  Could they smell that upstairs?  She could already hear the gossip at dawn, the next day, at the village well.  “Pitas get away from you, dearie?”  “So much food you can burn it up?  Warming the house with dough these days?”  How they loved to laugh at her!  (Of course, they were all jealous.  That’s all.)

Tears leaked down her cheeks.  Sure her hand hurt, but the shame of everyone thinking you are very competent and then you go and pull a small-minded stunt like this?  Pull it together, girl!  She swept the burned pita down off the brazier and into the fire below hoping that no one was the wiser.  Then, she looked at her hand again.  She thought, what to do?

Catching her completely by surprise, there was the Master scooping up her small hand in his great big ones! 

“Martha,” his majestic, deep voice intoned, “you are working too hard.  Come upstairs and sit with us.”

“Rabbi,” she stared up through her tears, “there is so much to do!”  She knew it was unworthy to complain, but it slipped out, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself?  Tell her to get back down here and help me out!”

He reached to her other hand and pulled her up to him, but merely said, “Martha,” as he held both hands.  Somehow his hand was cooling against her burned hand.  The pain seemed to be ebbing away…slowly. 

Martha looked down.  He did have beautiful, massive, well muscled hands.  He lightly turned her hand side up and poured a little olive oil on the burned part.  He worked it in tenderly with a gentle massaging motion.  She still fretted in her heart that he would find her unworthy and stop staying at their home when he passed through Bethany or Jerusalem.

“Martha,” he said again, with such tenderness it made her heart ache with joy.  He fixed his eyes to look squarely into hers.  “You are worried and upset about many things.”

Martha nodded, of course that was true.  She nodded fitfully that she understood.

He continued, “…but, few things are needed…”

She nodded again, transported by his gaze.  Generally, she could not say that he was a handsome man.  Yet, holding her wounded hand like this, he just seemed so beautiful.  Would a man like him ever consider…?

He smiled as if he knew her thoughts, “or indeed, only…one…”

All the cares she carried seemed to leave like smoke in a wind.  He was such a beautiful man!

He smiled again.  “Mary has chosen what is better.”

Mary, she thought, why is it always ‘Mary this’ and ‘Mary that?’  Then, Martha’s mind became clear. Mary was so deliberate about knowing the Rabbi well.  Carefully, she gleaned all that he shared.  She went out of her way to really understand everything he mentioned –even the obscure stuff.  Martha suddenly saw with clarity that it was not that Mary was younger or prettier (or luckier), it was just that she cared about relationships.  Mary was all about relationships.  Martha, realized (and it stung her) that she all about responsibilities.  Mary and Martha.  Relationships and responsibilities.

Martha lowered her head against the Rabbi’s broad chest.  He whispered in her ear, “It will not be taken away from her.”  But, she knew what it meant.  You do everything so carefully, thoroughly, and well, Martha.  Now, try Mary’s approach.  She nodded to him as if he could hear her thoughts. 

She looked down at her own hand.  The redness was gone.  The pain was gone.  And he was sliding his arm around her back and gently leading her to the narrow stairs.  Up they went.  When they reached the dining room all the men were silent and noticing how the Rabbi was walking with her as if she were an adored daughter.  People moved to get out of their way.  Mary stood and vacated her place on the mat.  Jesus pointed to that open place and indicated it was now Martha’s place.  She realized that while Mary had taken this place, the Rabbi was giving it to her.

And Mary took a tray of empty dishes downstairs.

OC Couple Fined $500 for Bible Study- Seriously?

An interesting article came across my inbox this morning from a  friend and I almost fell over. I guess the days of persecution and End Times Big Brother are hitting closer and closer to home.

September 20, 2011 – cbs2.com

MISSION VIEJO (CBS) — An Orange County couple has been ordered to stop holding a Bible study in their home on the grounds that the meeting violates a city ordinance as a “church” and not as a private gathering.

Homeowners Chuck and Stephanie Fromm, of San Juan Capistrano, were fined $300 earlier this month for holding what one city official called “a regular gathering of more than three people” that requires a conditional use permit, according to Pacific Justice Institute, the couple’s legal representation.

The Fromms also reportedly face subsequent fines of $500 per meeting for any further “religious gatherings” in their home, according to the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI).  “We don’t like lawsuits, but we have to stand up for what’s right. It’s not just a personal issue,” Stephanie Fromm told The Capistrano Dispatch. “Can you imagine anybody in any neighborhood, that one person can call and make it a living hell for someone else? That’s wrong … and it’s just sad.”

After city officials rejected the Fromms’ appeal, PJI, which represents both the Fromms and other Bible study participants, will appeal the decision to the California Superior Court in Orange County.

Neighbors have written letters to the city in support of the Fromms, whom they said have not caused any disturbances with the meetings, according to PJI.

Officials with San Juan Capistrano did not respond to requests for comment.

_________________________________________________________________

This blows my mind. A small gathering of people gathered in a home to study and worship God is breaking the law?

What about monthly poker nights, mothers’ play dates, bunko gatherings, holiday celebrations, wine groups, book clubs and my personal favorite, Monday night football groups?  Do all these count as a regular gathering of more than three people? I think so!!!!!!!

Or is it just the name of Jesus that get’s people’s panties all up in a wad?

Bit by bit, our freedom to worship God, is crumbling before our very eyes.

I am generally not prone to getting involved in politics, but I will be writing a letter to the City of San Juan Capistrano in support of the Fromms’ appeal because I certainly don’t want some yahoo calling the cops on me for my crazy Christian shin-digs; like ministry meetings, New Believers picnics and so forth. (wild…I know).

Very soon, Bible Studies may have a cover charge if we don’t stand up to this absurd ordinance. Next thing you know we will be meeting in underground house churches like the Chinese.

(Then again, maybe we need a little persecution to light the church on fire and help us remember exactly who we worship) A Very Big GOD!

Thoughts?

Beth Moore and the Bumbling Backup Leader

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Yesterday morning the ministry bat phone went off (ok, maybe it was my husband’s I Phone, but you get the point).  A red alert was issued for the women’s bible study that very night.  The leader was down, hospitalized with a vicious migraine, and backups were being called.

Back-ups, oh right…I guess that means me. Sometimes I forget that leading the Women’s Ministry also means being the understudy.

It was the very first night of the new ministry season, kicking off the working women’s study, and canceling the event didn’t seem to be much of an option.  So, I took off to work in a panic and picked up the leader guide at lunch, skimmed over it during the day, grabbed the workbooks, and then rushed home from work to throw my kids in the car and head over to the church for set-up.  Whew!

 I expected the study to be small, just a few women gathered to dive into the word, but as our church has grown, so have the studies.  Women quickly filled up the room.  Women who were all staring at me for guidance. I felt the weight of their expectations drain the lightness from my heart.

The air was thick with awkward giggles and pauses.  The very same women, who would eventually spill their tender and fragile hearts, now eyed each other with cool appraisal.  They were anticipating a spiritual giant and here stood a bumbling and unprepared third string quarter-back.

I tried to break the ice by playing a silly name game, which generally has a high success rate at connecting groups, but they were a wily bunch, and weren’t buying my juvenile ploys to get them to relax.  So, I rambled  a bit more, tried to sound like I wasn’t winging it, did some introductions, and then finally, gratefully, turned on the video DVD by Beth Moore

The women seemed to enjoy the video, but I was acutely aware that a certain element was missing.  The group hadn’t bonded and I had only fifteen minutes left.  A spirit of suspicion seemed to permeate the room.

“Oh, Lord, what do I do?” I prayed.

I sensed that prayer was the right direction, but the group was so big, if we all shared it could take hours.  So, I went out on a spiritual limb, asked the women to split in pairs and pray with each other.  I knew I was taking a risk in a group this big, not really knowing if some of the women had ever even prayed out loud. Mutiny was looming in the back of my brain.

And all of a sudden, as if a bomb went off, the room exploded in voices.  They were happy voices that rang out and reverberated off the ceiling.

I sat and watched dumbfounded, realizing a profound truth.  Even though women say that Biblical learning and instruction are a priority, from their reaction it seemed like what they really wanted was connection. And it was desperate greedy need.  

More and more often, I am confronted with the idea that our community of believers is literally starving for human interaction.  People are becoming tremendously isolated, despite the advances in technology (or maybe because of them) and working women, maybe even more so, because they miss out on the community of mothers and play dates, classroom parties and volunteering. Sitting in a cubicle all day staring at a computer does little to strengthen the bonds of communal living.  And it is eating away at our very souls.

We weren’t designed for this.  God created us to be in relationships within in a community of believers and to live in fellowship.  Our relational connection was never intended to be fulfilled with an I Phone, Face Book, and Tweets. 

And so, women come to Bible Study for far more than the Scriptures. They come to find friendship, solidarity, and support in a world that is destroying the very nature of our relational design.

Lesson learned for this Bible teacher.  Next session we do group time first, and then study time!

Intentional, interactive, chatty time that is cathartic for the soul; for a generation of women that are subconsciously mourning the loss of a shared lifestyle and needing nothing more than a smile, a hug and a little empathy from some Godly gals.

Oh, and maybe a little chocolate too.

Martha on the Hampster Wheel

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It seems like it always happens this time of year, fall burn-out sets in.  Not just general weariness, but pure debilitating fatigue that has tenuous layers of emotional, spiritual and physical exhaustion.  If you scratch the surface, of a parent or child in this state, you just might get more than you bargained for.  Raw emotions lurk underneath the realm of the over achievers façade. 

It finally dawned on me last week at the mall just how spent I was.  The sky was dumping rain and my family was ecstatic.  Wet fields meant a reprieve from the kids’ grueling sports schedule.  So after almost five hours at church, we headed off for some much-needed sustenance and a little retail therapy…my older daughter’s love language. After pigging out at Ruby’s, my daughter begged to go to Justice for girls, a shop geared for hip tweens and enabling mothers. 

So in we trooped to Justice; the baby sleeping in her stroller, my daughter shrieking at the totally cute jeggings, my son running off to Tilly’s and my husband, well…I don’t actually remember where he went. And that’s when I saw it, a music video playing on one of the ten screens placed around the store appealing to the ADHD crowd featuring Taylor Swift.  I should have walked away, knowing how utterly prone I was to an emotional hijacking, but I fell for the romance and escape of it all. And so, in my highly fragile state, I was sucked in to Taylor’s compelling story-telling lyrics. 

Alas, it was a woeful tale of a child abandoned by her father, and than growing up scared that her own husband would repeat the abandonment of her youth.  So there I stood in Justice, a cacophony of mall buzz all around me, and I lost it.  Tears began to pour down my face, big gulpy sobs for poor little Taylor’s heart, and I felt a deep well of emotion erupt from my soul.  For a moment, the world stopped and I just reveled in the release.

This is what fall burn-out does.  It takes high functioning adults, exhausted from work, kids, and sport’s playoffs and on and on… and turns them to mush, in places like Justice, no less.  I realized this was a red-light symptom indicating that my cup might be overrunning with too many blessings and leading to detrimental burn-out, not just the tiredness that makes me long for summer and more languid days.  So, I added up all the things we are involved in right now as a family. Then I looked long and hard at the list and did a little reflecting.

Pastoral ministry, running a church, leading 2 Rooted groups, teaching 2 bible studies, a career in tech sales, freelance writing, 2 online magazines, 1 blog, 2 acting classes, fall baseball, cheerleading, Mini Pearls(kids cancer research), Jr. High youth group, commuting 2 hours a day, 3 kids(1 of them a teething baby), no sleep, attempted exercise, running a women’s ministry, school, homework, a football team heading for the West Coast Conference, fantasy football commissioner, and oh yes…another fantasy team, friends, kids friends, family obligations, cheer team mom, little scholar football rep, football chain volunteer, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and oh yeah…trying to remain spiritual, read the Bible, pray, and be blessed to be a blessing.

Just my schedule alone is something like 140 hours a week.  That leaves me with an average of about 4 hours of sleep a night. Quite frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t lost it at the Grocery Store or maybe even driven my car into the grocery store.

What the hell am I thinking?

The scary part is that I am pretty sure I am not alone in my race to accomplish, achieve, and appear busy.  All of my friends are overwhelmed too.  Sometimes I feel guilty for watching TV, annoyed at my husband when he takes time out to play, and frustrated that I don’t have more time to accomplish another 400 items.  Sounds a little more like Martha than Mary, and that makes me sad because I want to be more like Mary.  But, in all reality, we live in a Martha world and sitting on the floor like Mary at Jesus’ feet is counter-cultural.  It takes an inordinate effort to swim against the current of identity defined by productivity.

What is this psychotic expectation of achievement that we have all bought into?  I thought I could confidently say that I found my meaning and significance in Christ, but if I am honest, my agenda belies my statement of faith.  Rest doesn’t feel like rest anymore, it’s more a catatonic expression of paralysis. Too tired to move, too tired to talk, we zone out and veg. 

I think it’s time to stop the madness and climb off the hamster wheel.  The hard part is figuring out how not to get thrown off the wheel.  The world sucks you in and then spits you back out.  Oh, but my inner hamster both loves and hates the wheel.  While I want to jump off it’s also scary to think of not running so fast. 

 There’s an old saying that comes to mind…if the devil can’t make you sin, then he’ll make you busy.

So busy, that I imagine he has a field day with us when our defenses are down.

If Only It Were As Simple As Having God On Speed Dial

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I have Jesus on speed dial.  When a monumental crisis is looming or I need directions for the roadmap of life, I just grab my iPhone and hit God.  Generally he answers on the first ring, but sometimes I am put on hold due to turmoil in the Mideast or the occasional tsunami. Fortunately, I have a special ringtone, so he generally gets back to me within five minutes – max. 

Yeah right!  If only hearing God’s voice was that easy.  Though we were initially designed for this type of connection, Adam and Eve, bless their sinful hearts, interrupted our ability to walk side by side in the Garden and hear God call out our name.  So, until that glorious day, when we will meet him face to face, we are left with a deep desire within to know our Creator. While this yearning is enough to motivate us into action it is often wrapped in confusion. Does God speak to His people today like he used too in Biblical times?  What does his voice sound like?  Will I recognize it? And ultimately, how do we pursue something so incredibly elusive?

What we often forget in our eagerness for instant gratification and fast answers is that all relationships take time to develop intimacy. Our ability to discern God’s voice is directly related to the depth of our relationship and the journey we have experienced with our Father. Over time, as our spiritual journey matures, our recognition of the myriad ways God communicates will sharpen.  And though we may not be able to hear an audible voice on speaker phone, we can learn to quiet our heart, open our eyes and hear God loud and clear.

When Samuel was a young boy, and God called him out of sleep to give him a message, he did not have the ability to recognize God’s voice and needed Eli’s assistance. But as he grew into a man and eventually into the judge that would lead Israel, he trained his ear to hear the Lord. The name Samuel means “listens to God.” It implies action.  Samuel was intentional.  He paused and…he actually listened!  In a world of incessant noise this may be one of the greatest challenges we face as believers.

One of the ways God speaks is through circumstances.  Doors open…doors close and opportunity knocks. Relationships develop, sparks fly, and something is created out of nothing.  Miracles happen, rescues are made and battles are won.  The first step is awareness in what the Spirit might be communicating through daily living

The other day, I had a great opportunity to hear God and it only took a jackhammer for him to get his message across.  As a busy mother of three children, time alone is nonexistent, and so I was eager to chaperone my daughter’s cheer squad for a long practice at our church, because I knew I could go off and hide while the coach drilled the girls.  I settled down in the nursery with my nine month old baby for a nice quiet afternoon, anticipating that the baby would entertain herself and I could pen about ten thousand words.

My first mistake was thinking the baby could be so easily duped by a few flashy toys and some tasty snacks, but I was determined to be productive.  I managed to write a whole paragraph when my laptop suddenly died.  Because it was plugged in to the charger, I was baffled. But, it refused to start and I was getting frustrated.  Fearing a blue screen, I checked and rechecked, only to realize that I had brought the wrong charger.  I have an HP and I was trying to connect it to my husband’s Dell power brick. OK God, I chuckled, you want me to go Old School and use a pen.  In a posture of sincere adaptability, I sat on the floor with a journal and a pen, to calm the now fussy baby and continue on my literary quest for greatness. 

One sentence in, the baby grabbed my pen and laughed. Every time I attempted to write she batted at the paper, the pen, my face…whatever she could get her little hands on.  Then she started crying.  In an act of surrender I put down the pen and asked God what he wanted me to hear.  I grabbed the bottle and a blanket and reached for the baby. She snuggled close into my arms and I began to rock, rock and rock.  Finally we found our rhythm.  As the baby relaxed and fell asleep, I knew in my heart that I needed to lean into my Father’s arms the way the baby was resting in mine. 

God was giving me a gift.  I had hours alone with my sweet angel, without distractions, time to bond, sing worship songs, giggle and play peek-a-boo. Letting go of my agenda was the only way to experience his plan for me.   Later on the day, she fell asleep again and I was able to write again…deeply humbled, blessed and cognizant of God’s love. 

Ironically, it doesn’t take much for God to communicate a message.  I heard him loud and clear through a power cord and a fussy baby.  The challenge is to be aware, because God is always moving!


First published on Everyday Christian, October 19, 2010

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