Category Archives: Holy Spirit

Watering the Kingdom Garden

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” -1 Cor. 3:6-7

Today was watering day at Ebenezer UMC. I took my watering can and applied it heartily to the souls planted there in that green and growing garden. I am grateful for the privilege, for a walk in the lush abundance of God’s mercy. They are his blossoms—a heavenly-loved group of about a hundred, who cloister in that sacred space each Sunday morning. Today, God entrusted me with their care, a ministry normally reserved for my father. Graciously, daddy surrendered his pulpit to me and to my heart and granted me full rights to speak as the Spirit led.

It’s a sacred gift, especially considering that next Sunday will be my daddy’s last at Ebenezer. These are hallowed days for him, his “shaking hands with his tomorrow”, counting them slowly and lingering in their richness. A chapter in his story is ending so that another one might begin. I’m honored to have written a few closing lines in this one.

My prayer going into today was that the Holy Spirit would weed out the unessential words and empower those that were vital. By all accounts, it seems that my prayer was answered. Still and yet, upon reflection during my two-hour drive home, I recalled some words left unsaid – words I wanted to release and words that felt (to me) really weighty, really significant. Those words? Well, something along the lines of . . .

“Years of training build a soul, strengthen a stride, and foster endurance in the heart of a seasoned saint. Strength grows in the darkness.”

Words like that. But even though they were never spoken aloud (and after letting myself off the hook for not saying them), I came to the conclusion that the folks at Ebenezer UMC probably already know this about the darkness. Many of them have lived in and through the shadows of the night and have come forth as gold – strong people forged because of strong sorrow. I saw the strength in their eyes and felt it deep within – unspoken words spoken between us, spirit to spirit through the Spirit.

And therein, the soil of my soul was watered as well. Just knowing that we were doing this thing together (walking the kingdom road shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing kingdom truth at soul-level) moved me to a posture of worship on the ride home and to shouts of praise all along the I-95 corridor. I may not always perfectly deliver God’s Word to others, but I am perfectly willing to lend my heart, mind, and soul to the process when given the opportunity. There is always a great blessing that arrives on the backside of such godly obedience.

God is the grower of good things. The rest of us? Well, every now again, we get to hold the watering can that pours out his grace, truth, and love. This is holy privilege, friends. This is God’s kingdom in us and through us. Let’s not spend our days measuring the growth in the garden. Instead, let’s spend our days nourishing it with the holy waters of heaven.

This is the best we can do. We can count on God to do the rest. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

What I Learned this Year (top ten from the Lunchroom Lady)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” –Galatians 6:22-23

 

Well, it’s official. This lunchroom lady has hung up her apron for the summer. That’s what my kids call me . . . the “lunchroom lady.” I remember the moment the label first surfaced on our first day of homeschooling two years ago. I was busy tidying up the kitchen after feeding my two students in our makeshift cafeteria (a.k.a. the dining room) when I heard my son playfully utter his request:

“Hey Lunchroom Lady, may I have another slice of pizza?”

I laughed back then. But after two years of making lunches, administering educational plans, keeping records, and keeping the peace between sibling-students, I don’t feel much like laughing anymore. Instead, I feel like crying. Why? Because I’m just not convinced it’s working for us—mostly for me.

Maybe because of the guilty feelings I carry about altering their social scene. Maybe because my personality isn’t well-suited for round-the-clock, child supervision. Maybe because, at forty-eight-years-old, I’d rather be pursuing other goals.

Am I hurting them? Am I hurting me? Probably – at least to some degree, and this is a difficult wrestling. These next several weeks will tell the rest of the story—whether or not my “want to” will resurface for another year of more of the same. I can’t imagine it will, but time has a way of adjusting emotions, reshaping feelings into something lesser than what was first felt and believed. What now seems so traumatic will (in coming days) seem less severe. Perhaps then will be the time to make decisions regarding my children’s educational needs, not now while stress threatens to muddy the waters of reasoned responses.

As a parent, I have a responsibility to educate my children, and as a citizen of the United States, I have a legal obligation as well. Accordingly, I can either allow the state this role or I can assume my position as the “lunchroom lady” as well as the many other roles that naturally surface alongside as requirement—teacher, principal, janitor, recess monitor, and the like. For a variety of reasons, my husband and I made the decision to homeschool our two youngest children a couple of years ago. And today, on the backside of our 180 days of compulsory attendance, I’m wondering about the depth and the strength of our learning.

What did we learn? Was it enough? Was it worth the investment?

I can’t speak for my kids, but I can offer a few thoughts about the depth and strength of my learning this year. Here are a few “take-aways” written on my final exam, a few tips from this lunchroom lady for those who choose to follow in my footsteps:

1) Selfishness doesn’t belong in the lunchroom; be prepared to take the test anyway.

2) Not every good idea is the right idea; choose rightly and be at peace.

3) Independent learning can foster laziness; when no one is watching, it’s easier to default to lethargy rather than industry.

4) A wise lunchroom lady understands that she must feed her soul before feeding others. Living it in reverse promotes crankiness.

5) Test days make poor study days; study daily, and you’ll walk more confidently and peacefully through the exam.

6) Manners are free; poor etiquette comes with a price tag.

7) The cafeteria is never really closed; after lunch comes supper—family life after the school day ends. Keep the apron handy as well as the Kleenex.

8) Strap on the Holy Spirit; pray for his fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). It’s going to be a long day (see #7).

9) Grades are good indicators but aren’t always accurate reflectors of the rest of the story.

10) Lean into the rest of the story. This is the curriculum that matters the most.

And there you have it—a few closing thoughts from the lunchroom at Peace Academy. As you can tell, my kids weren’t the only ones who learned something this year. I was a student as well; truth be told, I probably failed more exams than either of them combined. It’s a sobering thought and, perhaps, a driving force behind my tears in recent days. At the age of forty-eight, I never imagined this would be my classroom—the curriculum that God would use as the crucible to refine and purify my heart. It’s my strong impression that we still have some work to do.

What did I learn? Was it enough? Was it worth the investment?

Time will tell, but until then, I must lean into the rest of the story . . . my story; read some more of the text and add a few lines of my own. This is the curriculum that matters. This is the course of study that counts for the kingdom, and this is the life I have chosen. God has generously laced this journey with his marvelous grace so that, no matter the grades on my report card, there is more than enough mercy and love to pass me through to forever.

Grace is not an excuse for failure—for not showing up to the classroom, not listening up to the teacher, and not living up to my learning. But grace is what it has always been—available. Available to catch me, cradle me, renew me and reshape me when I fail. Grace keeps me in step with God’s Spirit and, every now and again, he uses me as his conduit therein. Because of this truth (this overriding understanding that I am duly enabled by God’s grace to be a dispatcher of his Spirit), I am able to move forward beyond the stressors of this academic year and to consider a next one.

Maybe right now, you’re in the midst of a difficult learning season. You didn’t plan on adding this curriculum to the heavy course load you’re already carrying. Instead, it added you, and you cannot imagine making it through to the exam, much less passing it.

Take a moment to breathe. Take a moment to read, again, the ten tips from this lunchroom lady. Take a moment to pray over each one, and then take more than a moment (take two or ten or twenty) to consider #10. Lean into the rest of the story, and see if God doesn’t have something further to say to you. What you hear in those moments might just lend you enough strength and depth to walk the curriculum through to the finish.

Keep in step with the Spirit and keep company with his available grace. Against such things, there is no law. Instead, because of such things, there is life and, every now and again, there is laughter.

“Hey Lunchroom Lady, may I have another slice of pizza?”

Maybe, Son. Just maybe.

What difficult classroom are you experiencing in this season? Is there one particular tip from the list above that God is using as a prompt in your heart? Never underestimate the rest of the story. It just might be the best of your story in the end.

Click here to learn more about Beyond the Scars – a tool to help you or someone you love examine the rest of the story under the lens of grace. Peace and prayers, friend.

Photo credit – Copyright: chris_elwell / 123RF Stock Photo

on living the right question …

When I get to the end of all of this, when I reach the other side of the struggle that’s been weighing so heavily upon me, what do I want to see happen?

This is the question I keep asking myself. It’s the question that keeps me awake at night and barely functioning during the daytime. I scramble for answers, trying to manipulate the outcome, trying to fix a problem that is bigger than me. And I realize something in these early morning hours, really have some clarity about one important thing:

I’m not asking the right question.

“What do I want to see happen?” doesn’t get the job done. Instead, “What does God want to see happen?” seems the right fit for such a time as this.

I’ve been reading Dr. Tangumonkem’s words—a journey of simple yet profound faith. He’s my new friend, a beautiful grace from God in the midst of this ever changing saga known as my publishing debacle. We’ve done a book exchange of sorts as a way of encouraging each other in this time. From his pen he writes these words:

“The next time an opportunity presents itself before you and is more than your wildest imagination, do not get frozen in your tracks. Your boat is being rocked to loosen if from the shore so that you can move into deeper waters. Fear, worry, and anxiety are expected reactions, but do not allow them to prevent you from launching into the deep.” (from Coming to America, 2013, pg. 35)

He can write these words, because he knows them to be true. He has lived these words, one faithful step at a time. This is a man with a God-given dream, a God-given life. A man from Cameroon who never allows himself to live in the impossibilities of what God has called him to do but, instead, relies on the promises of God to make it happen. I marvel at his determined faith, and I am stretched to live accordingly.

I smile at his fortitude. Consider this man who, after being led by the Spirit of God about coming to America to further his education, saved his spare coins for an entire year so that he could pay the fee to take the GRE, thereby meeting one of the many requirements of God’s forward moving plan for his life. A year, people! Are you hearing me? A year’s worth of intentional saving so that he could take … wait for it … a test.

How different would our blessed United States of America be if we all had a similar passion and respect for furthering our education? We’ll drop a few hundred dollars on a new gadget without a second thought. Dr. Tangumonkem didn’t have that luxury and, instead, made this collection of coins his first thought, his second thought, his third, fourth, and fifth thought, one thought at a time until enough money had been saved so he could take a test. So that he could check that one requisite off of a very long list of requirements before seeing God’s dream come to pass. Again from his pen:

“Many dreams have died at inception because we focus on the lack of resources and the obstacles that oppose our onward match [sic] to fulfilling our dreams. This should not be the case, for if God is the initiator of the dream He will also make the dreams come true. … All you are required to do is believe and trust Him to lead you one step at a time. This is the one tried and true antidote that will put fear and unbelief out of business.” (from Coming to America, 2013, pg. 46).

Yes, friends, I’m asking the wrong question. Not “What do I want to see happen?” but rather “What does God want to see happen?”. This is yet to be determined. It is a matter far too big for me to get my mind around these days, my pocketbook as well. Re-publishing my manuscripts will be an expensive endeavor and one that I had not planned on. I think that God intends for me to take a page out of my new friend’s history.

I’ll trust God with the dream, and then I’ll save my spare change – even if it takes a year or two or whatever amount of time God determines to bring his conclusion to fruition. In the end, I just want to pass the test—this test of faith so that I might shine forth as gold, even as Dr. Tangumonkem shines forth as a beacon of hope for all of us in this time of sifting.

“But he knows the way that I take;

when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

My feet have closely followed his steps;

I have kept to his way without turning aside.

I have not departed from the commands of his lips;

I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.”

–Job 23:10-12

 

Kept in peace,

PS: If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Tangumonkem’s Coming to America and how you might secure a copy, please click on the link above or contact him through his email – tangumonkem@yahoo.com. I’m not sure how many copies he has left; there are nearly 2000 authors in a state of flux right now regarding our published work, but I’ll be happy to put you in touch with him.

The winner of Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God is Sharon. Please be in touch with a mailing address, friend.

Living Faith-Attentive

 

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

God’s voice couldn’t have been clearer in my spirit yesterday afternoon while I was out for an afternoon stroll. His certainty forced my immediate, audible response.

“Yes, Lord, I’ll be watching for the snake.”

One lap around the block, then two, almost three before a thunderstorm blew in and interrupted my search. No snakes in sight, just a caution in my spirit that lingered inside of me throughout the nighttime hours.

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

Morning came, this Sabbath morning. My body ached, and my heart was heavy. Not today, Lord. Can’t I just call in sick … sit this one out? I’m not feeling it. I want to live in, not out; stay close, not expand.

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

There it was again. A reminder to stay vigilant. Watchful. Faith-attentive.

And so I did something I don’t normally do on Sunday mornings. I grabbed a pen and began counting the fish—the blessings in my life. I kept writing and writing until it was time for us to make our way to corporate worship. My body still groaned its resistance, but my heart was lighter. Faith had taken the lead, while my feelings took a break.

With the van loaded and spirits lifted, we backed out of our garage. It was then that I saw it out of my driver’s side mirror. A water moccasin slithering its way across my driveway and up the Crepe Myrtle planted next to the basketball goal. I watched it for a long time. Thought about it for a long time. I’m thinking about it still on this Sabbath afternoon – a time normally reserved for napping.

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

And I’m thinking on it. Pondering snakes—the ones that slither through our front yards and the ones that slither through our hearts. How often they go unnoticed in our lives, camouflaged and quiet in their approach. Real and present danger close at hand and, most of the time, we’re caught off guard because we’ve missed the warning.

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

Oh the vigilance of the faith-attentive heart! For eyes to see, ears to hear, and a willing heart ready to receive and believe the voice of God’s Spirit as he speaks.

I don’t want an overgrown heart full of weeds and worries and wickedness that block the ear-splitting whispers of the Holy Spirit. I want the thunderous clap of God’s clarity ringing in my soul as I walk this earthen sod. I’m weary of the world’s words—those clattering, clanging, and banging cymbals of nothingness. God save me from those hell shrieks—those sounds that will never speak me into the folds of heaven but, instead, hasten me into the bowels of permanent torment.

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

Be on guard, friends. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.

It will come quietly in the night; boldly in the day.

It comes now.

May God grant you his voice, his protection, his direction, and his strength to stay faith-attentive as these days are growing shorter. The kingdom draweth nigh. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

Peace for the journey,

 

trash day…

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Sometimes we don’t have to pray this searching prayer from the psalmist in order for us to know the offensive ways of our hearts. Sometimes we just know. Sometimes it’s just that obvious.

Let me explain.

Things are breaking around my house. The washing machine. The telephone. The remote control. The doorbell. My husband’s watch. My shoes. Unanticipated collapses in and around our home, small annoyances yet big enough to foster our frustration. Not big enough to move us past the point of reasonable responses but just enough to remind us that at any given point on any given day, breakage of temporal things can and does occur. Those breakages can be managed.

But what about the other ones? The breakages not related to temporal things but rather ones related to eternal hearts? Fractures that are not easily fixed, managed, or controlled? Breakages that occur because of the carnality that simmers just beneath the surface of our skin? What do we do with those collapses when they burst forth as “unreasonable and out-of-control”?

Last night I went to bed with some breakage. So did the other members of my household. Someone spoke breakage into someone else, which in turn began a chain of brokenness throughout our household. It doesn’t much matter how the chain began. What matters is the fact that breaking words have a strong tendency to spread like a virus. Before long, everyone is infected, and hearts begin to ache for the greater good they once felt—the greater good for which God created them.

We should know better. Live better. Speak better. A better way of doing life is what God desires for each one of us. When we don’t act on that better—when we deliberately choose to live as a people unchanged by the cross of Calvary—then we continue to live as a sin-sick people in desperate need of a heart’s examination.

To know that we need one … a heart’s examination? Well, I suppose that is a good starting point. So many Christians are walking around with blinders on, unaware of their simmering sin. Worst still are those who are aware of their sin yet are unwilling to do anything about it. Those who choose to linger with yesterday’s rotten, stinking garbage and who have somehow fooled themselves into thinking that stink doesn’t stink and that the flies gathering around are an indication of some remaining goodness.

Time to take out the garbage, friends. Time to pray the prayer, to acknowledge the sin, to put away childish things. Time to stop breaking one another with angry words, forced agendas, human manipulation. Time to work from the heart outward, rooting out those carnal tendencies that simmer just beneath the surface of the skin. Time to push them out completely so that our tomorrows aren’t filled with the stench of yesterday’s struggle.

This morning, I’ve taken time to collect the garbage of my heart and hauled it to the curb of Calvary. Laid it down before the Son of God and begged his pardon for my sin. It hasn’t been a difficult collection process for me. Some stink… some sin, is just that obvious, just that offensive.

Oh for a heart that is quick to notice the quickening truth of the Spirit of God within! Oh for a heart that is willing to listen to conviction, to act on that conviction, and to move forward with repentance and grace-filled renewal! What would it take to get us there, readers? What lingering sin is still simmering beneath the surface of your skin today? If you’re willing to open up your heart for examination, then I invite you to pray the prayer that the psalmist prayed so long ago, the prayer that I prayed just moments ago. It’s time to stop breaking ourselves and those that we love with the sins that so easily entangle us.

Search me, O God, and know my heart completely. Try me, test me, examine me under your microscope, and point out my insufficiencies. Make them obvious to me, Lord, and press my flesh to the point of releasing them once and for all to the cleansing work of the cross. This is the only prayer I know to pray today, the only prayer I want to pray today. You are my standard. You have called me to holiness. Only You can bring about a change in my heart. Humbly I submit it today for your sacred scrutiny. Lead me forward in the way everlasting—the path of eternal consequence. You are where I’m headed, Father. Save me from myself, and bring me safely home. Amen.


~elaine

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