Tuesday, October 13, 2009

For Better or For Worse

Twenty-four years ago, I stood facing Mark in front of our families and friends and God and made some promises. At the time, I really had only a surface idea of what I was promising. Both of us were in Christ and were inviting Him to be a part of our union, and over these years, when the promises get a little fuzzy, Christ brings them back to our memory. I can't help but wonder if we had known what we were gettiing into, if we would have been so quick to jump! You may laugh, and we are certainly more "in love" with each other today than then. But I want to examine those promises a little today.

I, Rebecca Louise Sullivan, do, this day, take Donald Mark Henkel to be my lawfully wedded husband:

This one is pretty specific about who although not so much "what." Being in Christ, I was promising to let Mark lead our home and family, spiritually as well as physically. I've not always been good at this, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, I am doing better (I hope!).

To Love, Honor, and Cherish him:

I promised to place him above ALL others in my affection and attention, including any children that may come along. To speak well of him and build him up. To desire to spend time with him and to value those times above any other activity. To forgive his faults quickly and to forget them completely. There is a lot of 1 Corinthians 13 in this phrase! Sometimes I have had to DECIDE to honor this promise, guarding my tongue and my heart through God's strength. Philippians 4:13

For better or for worse:

I believe this is the one that people tend to throw out when the times get rough. Just how much "worse" are we to endure? There is no stipulation in this promise. However, I DID vow this before God and His people, so even though people, meaning well, may tell me that a circumstance is worthy of "backing out of a promise," I must answer to the God who leads us and "stick it out." Of course, this does not preclude counseling, medical attention, or any other means to make the "worse" into a "better." In these instances, I try to remember that the Fruit of the Holy Spirit in me includes perseverance and HE is the ONE that produces this part of the fruit in me.

For richer or for poorer:

We think we know what this means, but take a good look at that phrase. Why would we need to promise to love, honor, and cherish in rich times? It seems that would be easy. I see this as distracted times. In our mid-lives--the 30's, 40's, and 50's--we can get caught up in building our homes and careers and forget the purpose of the career in the first place: our family. We can get distracted by ball games, routines, schedules, calendars, and forget to take the time to love, honor, and cherish our spouse. And in poorer times, again we can be distracted by the troubles, the struggles and place guilt and shame on each other quickly instead of loving, honoring, and cherishing until the hard times have passed. Just remember, once the kids are grown, they will leave our homes and then it will be just "He and Me" again!

In sickness and in health:

Must we be reminded of the selflessness of sitting by the side of our sick loved ones? If it were just when he has a cold or the flu, okay I can take seven sick days. What if he gets a long-term illness, a mental disorder, an emotional illness? What if I am sick and can't be the wife I want to be? The joy of the Lord is my strength! I do not need to be in a constant state of happiness to feel joy in obedience to Christ and in standing by the side of this one I loved enough to marry. Again, this does not preclude counseling and medical attention.

Til death do us part!

And the timing of which is not up to me! (That was a little joke.) How long is a life? Today the experts tell us we may live well into our 80's. Each year brings us new challenges and new rewards. Our bodies become our adversaries as they age, it seems. Aches, loss of strength, gravity takes over where you wish it would stay out of your business! However, when I look at my husband, I still see that young 20-year-old cowboy walking down the mall at our college. He can still take my breath away when he sings or plays the piano. I pray for his health and safety every day because I want to see his face next to mine in pictures for a very long time!

God makes promises and He keeps them and His example is what we are to emulate. Is it easy for God to love me with an everlasting love? I must say that without God being involved in our marriages, it is impossible to keep ANY of these promises! I am speaking directly to you who say you belong to Christ: It is a trap for anyone to dedicate something rashly and later to reconsider his vows. Proverbs 20:25

So, as we live in this world, let us not become of this world and take our vows so loosely! Christians, let's bring the glory due our God by staying together and loving, honoring and cherishing til death do us part!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sabbatical or Shmita

By the seventh day, God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. 3 God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation. Genesis 2:2-3

In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. Exodus 31:17b

I am a doer. I keep a DayPlanner on purpose. I set alarms so I won't miss appointments. "Busy" is not a bad word in my vocabulary, but can almost be refreshing for me! So why am I sitting here, day after day, doing "nothing." There have been weeks when I have not opened my DayPlanner or looked at the calendar at all. If I am gifted and called and about My Father's business, how can I justify "sitting around."

I recently read The Empty Nest by Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates. I had picked it up at a conference almost a year ago knowing that this term would soon characterize my life. I did NOT know at the time that instead of my children leaving the nest, I would in a sense "abandon" the nest by moving 850 miles away from my children! This sudden move also took me away from a very involved ministry and a career I was fully enjoying.

Wanting to help, my dear husband has suggested that I just need to get involved in something to get "back on track." To do some of those things I had been doing only in our new city. However, after reading The Empty Nest, I got a sense of God telling me to stop; take a break; be still (which I found out Sunday means "drop your hands" literally). I joined a Ladies' Bible study group this fall and there were opportunities there that I could well qualify for, from leading small groups, to teaching, to tutoring home schooled teens. And as I considered each, I again heard that Voice saying, "Be still for this time."

I was intrigued that when researching the term "sabbatical" that it actually is rooted in the Biblical concept of Sabbath. I was sent to the term "Shmita" and discovered this: Shmita in Hebrew translates "release." During Shmita, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity—including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting—is forbidden by Torah law. Other cultivation techniques—such as watering, fertilizing, weeding, spraying, trimming and mowing—may be performed as a preventative measure only, not to improve the growth of trees or plants. Additionally, any fruits which grow of their own accord are deemed hefker (ownerless) and may be picked by anyone. A variety of laws also apply to the sale, consumption and disposal of Shmita produce. A second aspect of Shmita concerns debts and loans. When the Shmita year ends, personal debts are considered nullified and forgiven. The Book of Leviticus promises bountiful harvests to those who observe the shmita and makes observance a test of religious faith. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmita)

Having been around agriculture my entire life, I understand what this is talking about. I get it! All agricultural activity is forbidden except that which is performed as preventative measures. For me, this means I can--and should!--attend worship services, Bible study, outings with friends, dates with my husband, visits with my mother, time in conversation and consultation with my children. These would all be preventative measures: those things I do to prevent the evil one from getting a foothold in my life and in the lives of those I hold dear. (No weeds!)

However plowing, planting, pruning, and harvesting are to be put aside for a time. For me, these are discipling responsibilities. Since my prominent Spiritual Gift is Teaching, I am to take a Shmita from teaching. This is my year to learn. To really set aside time just to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. Rest in Him.

My last blog talked about Busy Christians--what are we busy "doing." I still hold to the thought that we are to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. But to be a proper "doer" I have to allow myself a Sabbath to rest and prepare for the time ahead. I will not stop preventative care, but I WILL be obedient to Shmita. I will not volunteer to lead a study, add another responsibility to my plate, until my Shmita year is over.

The interesting thing to me is that we know this time in El Paso is set for a year. That's right. We are not sure where the next place on our life road will take us, but I do know that when this year ends, I will be rested and refreshed and ready for whatever work comes next. Whether we return to our children or are taken to a new place, Shmita will be over and my time to plow, plant, prune, and harvest will begin again.

The promise of Shmita is bountiful harvests to those who observe the Shmita and make observance a test of religious faith.

My prayer today is that my Shmita year will be all that God designed it to be; that I will pay attention to His Words and to His refreshing grace in my life. And as my Shmita comes to an end, I will be prepared, even eagerly waiting to see what my next assignment is!

May God's refreshing Word be alive in your heart this day!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Childlike Mind

Charles Fillmore said, "It is the childlike mind that finds the kingdom." Little girls can imagine castles and princesses, and tea parties are never boring when you can imagine along with them! Little boys are right in the middle of the kingdom battles with swords and light sabers drawn! They are imagining the kingdom and living as if they were truly there.

Jesus said, " I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15. Spend a few minutes with a child at your church and you will get a glimpse of the kingdom of God. Ask the children who Jesus loves and they will tell you with a stronger faith than you will see in all the elders. Ask them what Jesus can do and their faith will tell you in no uncertain terms, "Anything!" Because the childlike mind finds the kingdom and lives in it.

Isn't it a sad thing that as we grow in stature, we "outgrow' childlike faith? We become hardened, bitter, skeptical, and cynical about the world around us. We pick and choose with whom we share ourselves and our Jesus, but a child will walk up to anyone and tell them about Jesus' love and about their faith. Children aren't afraid to say that there are some things they just don't do because it wouldn't please Jesus. A child is ready to pray on the spur of the moment when things look scary or confusing.

One thing that I see that hardens our hearts is that children look to us to confirm their faith. They take it to Jesus, but do they see us do the same? When they realize they are the only ones looking to Jesus, they start to question their faith. Jesus had something to say about that, too! "But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!" Matthew 18:6.

I love to be around children! I like to hear them talk about what they are experiencing, what they are playing, how they see the world around them. I always learn something new when I sit with a child! Most of all, when I spend time with a child, my faith is strengthened. They don't question what they are told; they trust that God is there watching over them and taking care of them. As adults, we need to be careful of what we say to and around children. Are we talking down to them, treating them like they do not understand? Jesus says we are to welcome the kingdom of God into our lives like a little child! Trust. Obey. Too simple? Too childlike?

I challenge you to take some time in the very near future to sit and play with and truly LISTEN to a child. You will be amazed at what you learn! Then take that experience and go into YOUR world. Take the kingdom out with childlike faith that God is with you. Be intentional with your Christian walk: the children are!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What is a busy Christian?

Lately, I've read and heard messages about Christians being too busy. So I took the time to watch out for these busy Christians and see what they look like and what they are busy about. The messages say that we can spend too much time doing "good works" and not just "living our faith." You may be agreeing. Okay. However, if Christians are so busy, why do we have the infamous "80/20 rule" that says 20% of the church does 80% of the work of the church?

When I bring this up to the 20% that works, I almost always get the answer, "I enjoy doing what needs doing until God brings someone else along who wants to take over." When the 20% person is held back from working because of health or other circumstances, they feel frustrated and can't wait to get back to work. When the 80% are presented with this statistic they usually give these explanations: "I am in a down time in my personal life," "I need to get my spirituality straight first before I can serve," or the biggest answer of all: "I just don't have any spare time right now."

I am afraid the last is the main reason many Christians are not more involved in the work of the Kingdom. We have become so driven to succeed that we fill our Day Runners with activities, meetings, kids' events, family time, and the ever-present work-to-pay-the-bills. A few years ago I was introduced to a book by Richard Swenson titled Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Of all the things I read in that book, the one thing that stood out to me was the need to make room for God in my life. The need to have a bit of margin in my time of day to not just be a hearer of the word, but also a doer. If a friend were to call and say they were in crisis and needed me to come over to watch the kids while she dealt with it, would I actually have the margin in my day to do this without stealing time from someone else. If the pastor called and said a water main had broken in the basement at church, would I have the time margin to get over there and help with clean up? Many of us may just take the time from somewhere else and thus rob Peter to pay Paul. Oh yes, that is what it would be: it is akin to paying off my MasterCard with my Visa when I take the time from one committment to give to the other.

My thought today is not whether or not Christians are leading busy lives but what are we busy about? We justify our busy-ness in so many ways:
  • I have bills to pay so I need to work--a lot! Evaluate this with God one day. Proverbs 22:7 "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is a slave to the lender."
  • My kids are young and need to be active so they can make educated choices as they grow up. Ephesians 6:4 "And fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Deuteronomy 11:19, "Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." What is the most important thing we can give our children as they grow? Ask God's guidance on this, too.
  • I have already done my time in church work. Titus 2:2 - 5 "Older men are to be self-controlled, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance. 3 In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be sensible, pure, good homemakers, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered." We are not released from service until we see Jesus face-to-face.
  • When will I be "fed" if I am busy working? Hebrews 5:11-14 "We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become slow to understand. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation. You need milk, not solid food. 13 Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil."

I am thinking the end of Titus 2:5 is where I am camping in my thoughts today: so that God's message will not be slandered.

Dear Christian, what are you busy about? Are you one of the 20% that works hard at the church? Then be encouraged with this Word: Galatians 6:9 "So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up." Listen to the urging of the Holy Spirit when to say YES and when to say NO. Encourage others, new and immature Christians, to work along side of you and teach them what it is to do the work of the kingdom with JOY!

Are you one of the 80% that has been too busy to serve? Do not be fooled by those who would tell you that you will fall into a "works philosophy" if you get busy in the church. James 2:18, "But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works." Learn and embrace the gift that is in you, given by the Holy Spirit at your moment of salvation. Try different places of service until you know you are where God wants you. Pray and do not be discouraged or afraid. God blesses all who walk in righteousness.

Matthew 6:33 is my final encouragement today. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and HIS righteousness and ALL these things will be added unto you."

Go with God today, dear Christian,

Mrs. Becky

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What about my language matters?

I have heard some discussion lately about ministers who are using slang and even "cuss" words in their sermon presentations and I have taken some time to really pray about this and see if my aversion to it is just my "traditional legalism" or if this is truly offensive to God and His people. My conclusion is this: it is offensive. Here is my reasoning: God told us to be a peculiar people and we can be 'in the world but not of the world" and share God's Word and Way with non-offensive language. I also know that there is a difference between using slang terms or the vernacular of a group and "cussing."

I read in Ephesians 4:29-32 that our words should be uplifting to others and that our words can actually grieve the Holy Spirit. Specifically verse 29 reads "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." When my children were young and I would hear "ugly" words, I would ask them to rephrase their sentence using better language. There is ALWAYS a better way to say what you want to say than using coarse language.

James 3:10 reads "Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things should not be this way." Christians have a responsibility to control their thoughts and their words.

I understand that the reasoning behind the pastors who are using these words is that they think it will help them to relate to their audience or seem like they "fit in" with them better. I have always seen that new and young Christians want someone they can look up to, aspire towards; they would like to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, "that one day I can be stronger, better, like my leader/pastor". When we are raising our children, we don't try to be their buddy and expect to be any kind of authority figure in their lives. No, we gently correct and admonish them so that they can grow into responsible adults. Do we not have the same responsibility as Christian leaders to set a standard above the world's and gently correct and admonish--and exemplify--a higher standard.

Above all else, when I am wondering if a specific action will enhance or hinder my ability to share Jesus with others, I rely on the wisdom found in Romans 14:21 " It is a noble thing not to ... do anything that makes your brother stumble." Will coarse talk bring a seeker or a young believer toward Christ? Would better language, fitly chosen words, bring a seeker or a young believer toward Christ? The latter seems more fitting to me.

I'm sure there is more scripture and more to be said on this subject. Bible verses continue to come to mind as I am writing this. The point is that we ARE responsible for what comes out of our mouths and we must be salt and light to the world in which we live.

"Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things," Philippians 4:8

Friday, June 26, 2009

Faithful Friends

2 Samuel 19:1-8
Verse 7: "Now, get up! Go out and encourage your soldiers, for I swear by the Lord that if you don't go out, not a man will remain with you tonight. This will be worse for you than all the trouble that has come to you from your youth until now!"

Sometimes we need a true friend to speak to us about our attitudes. All of us have found ourselves in the midst of a pity party at one time or another. We may even have a genuine reason to feel sorry for ourselves! David sure did in 2 Samuel 19: not only had he failed his son in such a way that that son had turned against him, but now his son was dead and there was no longer a chance at reconciliation. Whether we have a reason or not, there comes a time to mourn and a time to get past it. We may not be sure when that time is, but a faithful friend will not only cry with us but help us up when the time comes to dance again.

Leaders must be careful about how they are leading, as Joab was trying to admonish David. The fact is, ALL Christians are leading someone: parents lead their families, teachers lead their students, bosses lead their employees. Someone may be looking to you and you don't even know it.

Many times over the years I have had those faithful friends who have "talked straight" to me and pulled me out of a pity-party. The blessing in it was that they never said, "You have no right," but rather, "God is not finished." Whether in marital difficulties, relocation issues, children's illnesses and accidents, or seasons of life, I have always had those around that kept me from lying in pits of despair. The problem with staying in the pit is that you keep looking down and seeing the pit instead of looking up to see the light and the way out.

Not only did Joab tell David what he needed to hear to return as King of all Israel, but David did not argue or put up a defense. David returned to his position as King and ruled with the same grace and mercy that he'd been shown by God and that characterized his monarchy before this incident. No retribution--no seeking vengeance--as we read in the rest of 2 Samuel 19.

Sure, his heart was still heavy over the loss of his son, but he knew he was annointed as the peoples' king by God and the words of Joab brought David back to himself.

Thank God for those few faithful friends who have been "real" in my life. May I be led by the Holy Spirit to be such a faithful friend to others without fear.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What am I doing for God's Glory today?

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. I Corinthians 10:31

I have to admit it: I like people! Having just moved halfway across the country, I thought it would be hard for me to make new friends in a place so foreign to where I have been for the last 20 years. I even thought I might just "bide my time" here since we may only be here for a year. Maybe just stay at home and write and take care of my own business.

God has wired me for relationship, however. Whether I am on the internet or shopping at the local WalMart Marketplace, I find myself looking for people. Knowing from my growing up years that the desert southwest can be a lonely place and people aren't as ready to give a smile as in the south or midwest, I was prepared to shop in quietness. Guess what? I can't help myself! I smiled at a child first...and got a toothy grin right back. I commented on product availability in the supermarket aisle and got a smile and a response in return. I spoke to the checker before he could speak to me...he smiled, too! And when I could not understand the Asian man, I smiled apologetically and said, "I'm sorry; I'm not understanding." He smiled and tried again with hand gestures...and I got it!

What makes the difference in what I thought I knew and what I found to be true? When I read my scripture this morning, it said to do everything for God's glory. Everything! So, if I am to be shining like a light in the universe, if I am to be reflecting the Christ Who lives in me, if I am to be known as a child of God, I cannot refuse to interact with His creation. I need to use the talent for recalling names and the need to relate to people that God placed in me for His Glory--certainly not for mine.

Moving to a new city is never easy. The older I get the harder it is. God has always gone before me and paved a way of service for me, and it is usually different from anything I have done before. And if He has us here for only one year, I pray that I can be faithful to be what He asks of me for 365 days, and that all that I do reflects HIS glory!

What am I doing for God's Glory today?