Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Seasons of a Marriage

Recently, my husband and I had the privilege to share at "The Wave", a gathering of young adults in our church. They wanted to hear our story, and more specifically about our marriage.

The whole experience was a blast and has caused me to reflect more thoughtfully on our journey together as a couple. We have always considered ourselves extremely blessed. We didn't have some of the difficult hurdles that we have observed in other marriages, but we both carried into our marriage a measure of brokenness. Retelling our story caused me to see just how much God has done in our individual lives and marriage.

Being the amazing Shepherd that He is, God brought us in to healing in many of those broken areas. Sometimes our healing occurred simultaneously, sometimes separately, but the more whole that each of us became, the better we were able to love one another.

Having the advantage of surveying 33 years of marriage, I have learned that a marriage has seasons. Some of those seasons are joyful, surprising, adventuresome, and exhilarating, and others are trying, heartbreaking, and downright humbling.

In all of those seasons there needs to be an anchor. For us, that Anchor is Jesus. I can't tell you the number of times that we found ourselves up against a tumultuous season. Together, we faced financial crisis, health difficulties, shattered dreams, personal betrayals(not with each other), and discouragement, just to name a few.

Each of these hurdles tests a marriage.  When we are secured to our Anchor, we may experience pain, but, we go through these difficult tests with a deep security. Though the sea might be raging around us, we can rest assured that we are firmly fastened in Him and He will not let us go.

We made a decision before we got married that we would never use the word 'divorce' with each other. When we encountered a test, divorce wasn't an option. We had vowed that we would never throw the 'd' word up to one another in the heat of a battle.

Our security was in knowing that the Jesus that lived in each of us was big enough to work out any differences the two of us might encounter. When we encountered a conflict, sometimes we just needed to spend time alone with Jesus. After I spent time with Him, time and again Jesus would focus on my heart and my response. I'm sure Richard would attest to the same thing.

A good marriage occurs when we are willing to humble ourselves to grow, learn, say "I'm sorry", and follow the gentle promptings of the voice of the Spirit within us. And, it greatly helps if both parties are doing this! I can't imagine attempting a marriage without His help.

I'm so grateful for the winter, spring, summer, and fall's of our marriage, and for the amazing, (and very handsome) man that God saw fit to allow me to share my life with. I'm also eternally grateful for the grace of God that has helped to mold, shape, and form us into a marriage that can glorify Him. I am acutely, and humbly aware that our marriage is a complete and total work of His grace.

And even as I close these thoughts, the lyrics and tune to a song by Hillsong surfaces,

'All of my life, in every season, You are still God, I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship'.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why I Love the Church

I know full well that the church has been a place of betrayal and hurt for many people. I wrote a blog not too long ago called "When Sheep Bite" and I found it very interesting that I had almost triple the usual amount of readers for this blog. 

Almost daily I read articles, posts or simple comments that lead me to believe that many are giving up on church as we know it. Some of that is good and a necessary part of change and transformation of the church.

But, there are elements of true church that can't be replaced by watching your favorite TV preacher, or by having lunch with a few good friends. I'm concerned that in our effort to walk away from those things that hurt us, we can also be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. 

I have had an increasing concern about what I would call a 'disavowing' of the church. Disavow is not a word I commonly use, but here it is defined:

dis·a·vow - 
defn. - to deny any responsibility or support for.

In I Cor. 12, Paul talks extensively about the church being like a body and in 12:26, he expresses, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it".  

Whether we understand it or not, we are all hurt in some way when someone walks away from the church. Each unique individual brings something different to the table. When someone steps away, we all lose out. We won't have the benefit of their unique personhood and gift mix, and just as importantly, they will not experience ours. 

As believers, we all hold a place of responsibility when it comes to the church. It's easy to walk away from the church and then talk about everything that's wrong. But, taking your place in the wall as one of the living stones, even if it's a burnt stone, takes humility, commitment, and even courage. 

The New Testament gives us some clear pointers when it comes to what church can look like, yet it is not so restrictive that all churches will look exactly alike. But, one thing is clear, churches are made up of people who have decided to do life together by loving, trusting, praying, worshipping, learning, serving, giving, crying, rejoicing, growing, and experiencing the Presence of God.

If you've been hurt by the church and have chosen the 'opt out' option, please consider reconsidering. Though not an exhaustive list, please ponder my musings on why I love the church: 

I love the church because at it's very core it is relational. This beautiful vortex of relationship found in the church is between man and God, and God and man, and man and man, all swirling together to create something uniquely divine and wonderful. It's in this cauldron of relational soup that many of our lives are shaped and formed. As we do life together, our lives coincide, overlap, and sometimes collide. Even in the colliding, we learn what is in our own hearts and we grow and become stronger as we allow the Spirit of God to do His work. He wastes nothing. He will not waste our joy or our pain.

I love the church because of the unique and powerful experience of corporate worship and prayer.  God ordained that a dynamic synergy and power is released when a body comes together in unified passion and focus.  Not to long ago, our church stepped into a new place of worship together. Though we've had some wonderful times of worship before, this was different. I felt the exhilaration of being part of a moment in time where it seemed Heaven and earth met, and dear brothers and sisters were experiencing that right along with me.  Corporate worship and prayer produces powerful and significant results.

I love the church because of the five fold ministry that works in and through the body to equip the saints for works of service. So much about the five fold ministry has not been understood, but in the last 25 years much revelation has been given to the church on the subject.

It is clearly God's plan that the body of Christ be equipped through the offices of the five fold ministry (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher) "to prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ". (Eph. 4:11-13)

We will usually receive and take on a measure of the anointing that we have placed ourselves under.Relationship, connectedness, commitment, and perseverance are all important keys in giving and receiving impartation through the five-fold ministry. When we step away from a body of believers we are also stepping away from the most practical means of receiving from the five-fold ministry and essentially shutting down the maturity that comes as we walk in relationship and accountability.

I love the church because other than through our families, it is the primary place where our character is developed. We can get used to our 'drive-through' world, where in our bubbles we are rarely interacting with those around us. We learn how to live our lives through shallow social media relationships, all the time keeping a safe distance from real people and real relationships. Yet, we were made for interaction and relationship and it is in this environment of allowing other people into our lives that our deepest needs are met and our character is developed. We tend to run from those things that cause us pain, and unfortunately, that sometimes can mean running from people. Sometimes God allows us to experience those tough situations to show us what is in our own heart so we can bring it to the surface and deal with it. It is often in the soil of difficulty that the fruit of the Spirit is cultivated.

I love the church because she is a beacon of hope for many.  In one of my deepest seasons of pain with the church, God spoke clearly to me saying that He had not given up on the church and neither should I. It was in this dark season that we found a church who knew how to love people into healing.  It is often the smiles, the encouragement, and the arms of ordinary people in the church who God uses to bring about our healing.

As believers we instinctively know in the core of our being that we are made for more. In our efforts to connect with others we can often feel lonely, frustrated, and misunderstood.  It is especially hard when this happens within the church.  But, effective change will come to the church when those who love Her resist the temptation to disavow, and link arms with other imperfect believers to become that message of hope for those who are searching.

I know what it is to long for the real. I always wanted an experience like the church in Acts who worshipped, prayed, witnessed, and experienced the reality of God's power and presence through signs, wonders, and miracles. I'm kind of like Abraham who was 'looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.'(Heb. 11:10)  I always wanted to be part of a church whose architect and builder is God. We can have that, so don't settle for less. God is moving powerfully in His church!

Though the world seems to be growing darker around us, I, along with many others, believe that the church is stepping into her finest hour. We can shift the culture when the church steps into her true and glorious identity. We've been prepared for such a time as this, so find a church and jump in. We're going to need you!