journey

Oh my dear. The challenge I have set before you
is lofty indeed.
For the reward for your heroic feats of faith
is ill-defined at best.
There is no immediate applause, no kudos, no instant reward.
There is only a string of tomorrows, the same objective set before you again.
and again.
The reward for clinging to your faith,
for a job well done
is just that.
A job well done.
And if you should fall, or simply stop climbing, the only exterior result would be
indifference.
To the world you live in, there is no complement to the faithful,
and no consequence for the unfaithful.
So the monumental battle of good and evil is
fought internally, each day.
With only you and I as witnesses.

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Hide it under a bushel? No!

Hello.  My name is Marissa, and I have God-given talents.  That’s easy enough to say.  After all, I am throwing God in there, so it seems spiritual, right?  But owning my talents, being confident enough in them to be willing to use them and share them with the world?  That is a much harder prospect for me.

Hi.  I’m Marissa and I am an artist.  Harder to say.
Hi.  I’m Marissa and I am a good singer.  Still Harder.
Hi.  I’m Marissa and I love to write.  Terrifying.

Why? Why am I so scared to share the things I love to do with the world?  Well, it makes me feel vulnerable.  Although I love art, I am certainly not the best artist in the world.  Not even the best artist I know.  Same with singing.  And writing- I feel silly even attempting a blog when there are brilliant women out there like Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist who are saying the things I want to say more eloquently and to more people than I could ever dream.  My fears of not being the best- let’s be honest- of not being deemed passable or even adequate, have kept me hiding my light under a bushel.  My writing was confined to my journals, which even I was afraid to go back and read.  My art was kept as doodles, scrapped and thrown away before it was shared.  Or labeled as ‘crafts’ which seemed more acceptable.  My singing was limited to my car- even my shower seemed to public a venue.

But still, these were things I loved to do.  And as I did them, I realized that I felt more connected to God.  Even though I had never heard these disciplines spoken about from the pulpit, or written about in books on spiritual discipline, my soul sensed that these for me were avenues to my father.  And slowly (probably too slowly) God started calling me to take risks with them- to let others see.  It started with my art, a few years ago.  Then, over this summer, I led worship for the first time.  Then, a few months ago, I *gulp* started this blog.  And guess what?

The world did not end.

No one threw a rotten tomato at me, or even giggled at my untrained technique.

I had fun.

I got a bit more confident.  And a LOT more brave.

God has given us each gifts.  Ones that we use as a calling and vocation, and others that we use for joy, and to glorify God.  We live in a culture of perfection, we are surrounded constantly by images and videos of people at the top of their field.  I I think that seeing these virtuoso’s can make us afraid to develop our talent, to feel that it is paltry or insufficient in contrast.  But the thing is, only one person can be the best at something.   There is only one doctor in the world who is the best at removing a gallbladder.  But thinking that this means that he (or she) is the only person who should perform the procedure is preposterous.  Just as we need many doctors, the world also needs many artists.  Many writers.  Many runners and dreamers, and cooks, and inventors.

What do you love?  Are you cultivating a discipline of doing that thing on a regular basis?  Both for God’s glory and for your sheer joy of it?  If not, what is holding you back? I challenge you today, clear some time and go for it.  See what blessing you may gain from taking the risk….

bones

Yahweh took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of Yahweh to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 
Ezekiel 37:1-2

Have you been there? To the valley of dry bones?  Have you gazed out upon what you thought would be verdant life, only to see shriveled dreams, dust and ashes?  Has the thing you cherished, the vision you held dear, evaporated before your very eyes?

The spirit of discouragement is a powerful thing.  As Christians, we deal in intangibles.  How does one measure a soul?  How do you determine success or failure when you are operating in the realm of discipleship? Often, God does not bring growth in a linear fashion, but instead, in fits and starts.  And often, all too often, we pour time, energy, love, and hopes into something that seems to whither before our eyes.  In that moment, staring at a valley of bones (or an empty room, a rebellious teenager, a marriage in shambles) we hear a voice whisper “you have failed.”

Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
Ezekiel 37:3

Let me tell myself you something important.  When you are doing kingdom work, it is not  your responsibility to make something succeed.  You cannot do it.  We cannot white knuckle a fledgling ministry into succeeding.  We cannot convince someone to come to Jesus by a winsome argument.  You cannot cure societies ills by gritting your teeth and working that much harder.

That’s God’s job.

He may do it.  Or he may not.

So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
Ezekiel 37:7-8

This is our job.  Speaking the message.  Obedience.  Simply to take the next step.  It is God who puts the bones back together.  We humans are such silly, all or nothing creatures.  We either take on too much- trying to make water into wine through our own machinations, or we sit back and do nothing- saying that we are waiting on God to provide. The answer lies in the middle.  We must find the balance.

If God has planted a dream in your heart, or given you the responsibility to shepherd a ministry, your job is obedience.  To do the next thing.  It is only when we are faithful in our small tasks, that God brings forth the miracle.  When God tells us to speak, we must speak.  When he calls us to act, we do it. It is human hands and human voices God uses to change this world.

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”
So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
Ezekiel 37:9-10

So often, we are expecting God to do mighty things.  Heal the terminally ill.  Take a small church plant and grow it into a mega church.  Convert the jihadist.  He does that.  But he also does so much more than the grand acts.  Much of God’s work is invisible, small, mundane, and ever so much more powerful than the miraculous.  The majority of Christendom has not been created by supernatural acts, but by the faithful obedience of generations of believers.  It is the faithfulness of God’s children to live into their gifts and to offer their lives to God that has sustained our faith and transformed our world.  God creates the seeds that grow into flourishing crops.  But he allows us to plant them.

I don’t know what mountain you are staring at today.  I don’t know the vision God has birthed in your heart.  But what I do know, is that in order for that dream to happen, two ingredients are required.  God’s power, and your obedience.  Bearing the fruit is not your task.  But planting the seed is.  And if you are hearing that whisper in your ear, the one who has told you that you have failed, that you aren’t good enough, remember the valley of dry bones.  Sometimes one act of obedience, one whisper of prophecy, is all that is required to resurrect those bones into life.

Self Control

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7

This is a verse I repeat often to myself.  As I approach a meeting that I am worried about I have not been given a spirit of timidity or fear… As I walk into a conversation that I know will involve conflict.  As I look at daunting work goals.  As I put my almost 3 year old in time out- again.  My spirit is not timid.  I was not created to be fearful.

But of power, love, and self-control.

Power.  Courage and abilities, given from God.  check.

Love.  Overflowing from the Father, a blessing to others. check.

Self-Control.  I’m in charge of my life and things will go according to my plan.  Ummm… not so much.  

So often, this verse makes me feel more centered.  More able to meet life’s challenges.  And yet, for all the times I have read it and repeated it to myself, the concept of self-control is something that is sorely lacking in my life.  When I think of the concept of control, it is appealing, as long as it applies to my external environment.  If control is something I have been given to make sure that life happens according to my plans, then sign me up.

Self control on the other hand?  Whenever I say that phrase to myself, I immediately think of diets.  Of not eating delicious things.  How is it that such a powerful concept has been reduced in my mind to not eating carbs?

I read a quote John Ortberg used in his book Soul Keeping the other day.  He attributed it to an article about “How to Stay Christian in College.”

Make small sacrifices.  Make a vow to wake up and go to breakfast every morning, even if your first class isn’t until eleven a.m.  Choose a plain cheese pizza rather than pepperoni.  You’ll be surprised how these tiny sacrifices work an interior magic, shifting your focus ever so slightly away from  yourself.  Once you are a little bit to the side, God can come to the center.

This resonates with me as a deeply Christian concept.  Living a life formed with me not being at the center.  Living a legacy of small, invisible sacrifices, designed to help us be more aware of others, of our blessings, of God’s tugging on our hearts.  What small sacrifices can I begin to make, so remind myself that life isn’t about my own pleasure?  How will that practice shape my thought life?  How will it shape my actions and reactions?  Where do I begin?

Confession

So.

I haven’t posted on here lately.  I’ve been busy.  I have had sick kids, a work retreat, the list goes on.  But that isn’t the real reason.

The real reason why I haven’t posted is because I have spent no time with God.

Zero.

It wasn’t intentional.  It wasn’t as if I looked at my Bible and then cast my eyes aside and said ‘No, not today.’ Instead, it was much worse.  Days skated by without even remembering to look at my Bible.  Prayers, when said, were mentally noted in shorthand as I turned on my turn signal or drifted off to sleep.  I just missed spending time with God.

So why didn’t I miss God?

I did, on an elemental level.  A vague ache in somewhere in my chest, akin to an oncoming headache or the tingling of a limb that is starting to fall asleep.  But why wasn’t I more aware, more broken, by my disconnection?

I don’t have an answer.  Or at least, I don’t have much of an answer.

This much I know is true…

I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
Malachi 3:6-7

When I am faithless, He is faithful. Though I forget, he never forgets me.   When I am busy, when I am shallow, when I am impatient, and unforgiving, and angry, God remains true.

One time in college I was driving to the airport.  It was a foggy, overcast, drizzly day.  Everything in my view seemed flat, gloomy and tired.  But as I sat next to the window in the plane, we broke through the clouds.  In an instant, we went from a dark, gloomy midday to glorious, golden sunshine.  It had never occurred to me that the sun is always shining. Above the clouds, each day dawns drenched with light.  It is our perspective that makes the changes, the clouds that block our view.  God is much the same.  He is ever faithful, ever true.  It is our attitudes, our faithfulness (or lack thereof) that affect our point of view.

So I will try to be more committed.  I will attempt to read my Bible, spend time with the Lord, mark gratitude and blessings.  All these are good things.  But I also must remember the most powerful lesson… God is faithful.  Always.  His attention towards me never wavers.  His call on my life remains true.