Serenity in the Midst of Great Change

Serenity is the ability to accept change as from the hand of God.

Perhaps many people have said something similar as the above, but my family and I are currently living it. This year has brought sweeping changes to our careers, locations, and family dynamic. We have endured job changes, empty nest a year early, and a gigantic move from Alabama to Michigan. No wonder my head is swimming!

There have been many days that I have thought to myself, Was this all necessary? Why couldn’t we have kept things as they were? Have I made a huge mistake in all of this? Only time will reveal the mistakes I may have made, but, for now, we are here. The house down South has sold and we have purchased a new one here. The child is stepping into early adulthood and making many of her own decisions. The new career is underway and new benchmarks are being set. It is all completely out of my control.

Maybe that is a part of serenity, as well, realizing that very little of anything is in our control. Time marches unceasingly forward bringing many changes we may or may not welcome. Hair grays, eyes dim, and bellies swell. Okay, maybe we don’t have to let the bellies swell, but it is hard to keep them skinny. The point is that life passes. Kids grow up and we either embrace the changes as from God or we go crazy resisting them.

Serenity is an essential element of healthy living. May you find it today in whatever changes God has brought to you.

The Pursuit of Purity

“The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgement; but the sins of others appear later.” I Timothy 5:24 (NIV)

We can all list names of men (and women) whose sins were found out. Internationally-known Christian leaders who had invested their lives in building the kingdom and then who were discovered in moral failure have often left many people wounded, even devastated, and besmirched the faith to the watching world. Perhaps you have known pastors or leaders in your own community who were “outed” for one thing or another with much the same effect.

The truth is, we will all be outed one day. Paul tells us in this verse that all of our sins will be known one day, whether before or at the judgement. I’m pretty sure he meant the sins of all of us, every last one of us. The effect of this knowledge, at least for me, is the desire to be as pure as possible, but how?

Purity is a co-op between me and God. It is my job to pursue purity, but His to purify me. The connection between hope in God and purity is obvious in I John 3:2-3, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” God has provided the hope in Christ and this hope works in me the will and desire to be as He is, pure.

The good news is that “if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father” (I John 2:1). I have sinned, you have sinned, but we have an Advocate, One who stands in on our behalf before the judgement seat of God pleading our case and providing forgiveness, freedom, and purity in God’s eyes. It is this knowledge that inspires in me the desire to be whole, holy, and pure, whether you see it or not.

In the meantime, I pray often the ancient Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Identity Theft

My problem is that, wherever I go, there I am.

I take all of me with me everywhere I go. Try as I might, I just can’t seem to leave parts of me behind, especially the parts I don’t like and would rather live without. Wouldn’t it be convenient if we could lop off negative experiences and leave them back in, say, 1967 or 1972? What if we could just exercise our will to not think like we’ve ever thought or to not act like we always seem to act?

The forgiveness of sins is one thing. The habitual patterns we seem to carry with us–negativity, fearfulness, anxiety–are another thing. SO, if we must carry who we are with us always (and we must), how will we live with ourselves? I think the secret is Colossians 3:3, “For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Transformation doesn’t seem to happen all at once like BOOM or KAPOW, but a little at a time. Maybe realizing more that whatever I am, sins and all, is hidden in Christ can make the daily stuff a little easier to manage. Maybe realizing a little more that what I consider worth being anxious over today is nothing, literally nothing, to God could help me be a little more okay with myself.

In the end, I must fight to hold onto my identity as a hidden one in Christ.

The New “Normal”

Our friend, Carol Kent, once referred to “the new normal” after her son was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. She and her husband, Gene, had to adjust to the reality of their and their son’s life situation (you can read their story in her book When I Lay My Isaac Down by Tyndale House Publishers). Rarely are our own circumstances as dire as the Kents, yet we all face life changes that require adjustments and new attitudes to survive them.

Among our extended friendships is an older couple who are both dealing with cancer. She was first diagnosed and then he suddenly discovered that he also had cancer throughout many parts of his body. The new normal for them is chemo, radiation, and extensive doctor visits and hospital stays. Many of our friends and acquaintances have suffered financial setbacks due to the inescapable economic climate, or the new normal of America’s financial woes. All of us must deal with the adjustments that time brings our way and the decline of our physical bodies and the new normal of dimming eyesight and graying hair.

The new normal, however, has a positive side. Each transition represents a loss and an opportunity. In letting go of what was, we are free to embrace what can be. Prison terms become ministry opportunities. Failing health becomes an opportunity for healing, for patient endurance, or even heaven as the ultimate healing. Financial loss may lead to new freedoms, rediscovering first loves, or the blessings of a simpler lifestyle. While these all may be gross generalizations the principle is true: transitions require adjustments in our thinking, but may be hidden opportunities for great things.

Whatever your “new normal” is today, be encouraged! God is with you!

Pure Michigan, but I’m Cold…

Okay, so we left the Gulf Coast and moved north. Way north. What were we thinking?! I got a great job as Pastor of Celebration Arts at a great church called Fair Haven. I went from being charismatic Anglican to the Reformed Church of America. What was I thinking?! We sold a beautiful Pottery Barn-type dream house just 45 minutes from Gulf Shores so I could live in someone’s basement for six months til we could buy something else. What were we thinking?! We left 20+ years of relationships in the Mobile area to meet up with a buch of Dutch folks in western Michigan just a few miles from the “big” lake. What, please tell me, what were we thinking?!

God. That’s all I have to offer on this one. Just GOD. I felt GOD was in it somehow and so we took a big plunge. So far it has been wonderful and really hard. I was lonely for months without my family up here and we’re still not settled. The ministry side has been UH-mazing and awfully hard as people get used to me and I get used to them. We had to leave our dogs at the in-laws because they can’t live with us yet. The kid stayed behind to finish her senior high school year. We are empty-nesters way too early and GOD is still somehow in it all.

I think about Paul, the apostle, a lot. That guy was beaten, shipwrecked, stoned (as in hit on the head and all over with rocks by angry mobs) and left for dead more than once. What can a few northerners do to me?! So they don’t say “ya’ll” and they don’t know what grits really are and they do seem a bit abrupt at times. They mean well. Bill showed me his 1926 Model A this past Sunday and then he and I danced in the back of the church to the last song by the student band. I make the rounds of the back few pews each Sunday morning to talk to all my senior friends who think it is always too loud and that we never do enough hymns. I love on the facilities guys because they are rock stars.

All in all, what is pure about Michigan is that GOD wanted us here. Forever or for not, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes pure faith feels really mixed up and confused, maybe like Paul after a severe beating. But one-step-at-a-time faith, the kind that doesn’t need all the answers right now, might be the purest faith of all. Bring on the *banket and the blanket. Welcome to pure Michigan.

*banket is a Dutch pastry made with almond paste

Transformation by the Inch

You suffer a setback, a slip, a fall. An old addiction crops up. Your New Year’s resolution takes a nosedive. Instead of losing fifteen pounds you gain twenty. Instead of getting better, things get worse. Instead of winning friends and influencing people positively, it seems more enemies pop up each day. The depression lingers and the fears grow. Where is the change? What happened to the metamorphosis of the Spirit in you? Why does it seem like real Christlikeness is so far out of reach?

Truth is, real transformation is more often gained an inch at a time than by a mile. Though great strides may come from time to time, God’s instrument of perfecting us is often time itself– time in the furnace, time in the dungeon, time in the trials that perfect and refine. What is it about a hard-won victory that is so sweet?

James reminds us to “count it all joy”  (James 1:2) when we encounter the drudgery of trials and the endless miles of the marathon. The result is a steady faith that is not easily shaken. There is a crown of life (v. 12) that awaits us if we endure the tests and trials, a crown that you can see on the heads of those who have endured great suffering and trial in this life; orphans, widows, refugees, prisoners.

God’s ultimate purpose isn’t our comfort, but the “perfecting of our faith” , i.e. the purifying of our relationship with Him and distillation of that precious gold by the ounce. Transformation is costly. The miles often seem as if they are ticking off an inch at a time, but the result is more precious than silver or gold.