Telling the Truth

“Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before the governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it….All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. Matt 10:17, 18, 22

Today I was reading Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge. It was a chapter called Disruptive Honesty, about Jesus being a truth teller. He brought up the Matthew 10 passage.

The context is Jesus preparing his disciples for their first foray into the mission field. Eldredge sarcastically writes, “Well this is quite a motivational speech.” It’s not. If there were any hedging about going, they’d probably quit right then. Eldredge goes on to write, (and this is what got me) “But maybe this is just what they needed to hear. Consider the alternative – what if he told them, ‘Everything is going to be fine. Just love, and everyone will love you.’ Then when reality hit and they found themselves bitterly hated and persecuted, they would feel betrayed.” (p. 74)

IMG_1789

I underlined that last bit in my book. Why didn’t someone point this passage out to me when I married a pastor? When he graduated from seminary? I’ve read this scripture many times but never once did I think of it in terms of a commissioning speech. It’s not something speakers talk about when they are addressing seminary grads. But they should. Instead they say, “God will bless you.” “God’s preparing you for something special.” “It’s so wonderful that you are entering full-time ministry.” It’s nice to hear. Sometimes it’s true. Unfortunately the other side of the coin, what Jesus was warning his disciples about, is rarely mentioned.

Anyhow, it would have been helpful to have this knowledge waaaaay before now. As a young wife who happened to marry someone going into full-time ministry, I would have appreciated the warning before my husband graduated. To be on your guard. That hardships are coming, It’s a when, not an if. It’s not a message I ever received being a young pastor’s wife. It should have been. Instead conflict in the church and ministry, is hushed or ignored completely.

Maybe people are afraid we’ll run the other way, I’m not sure. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Many pastors’ wives want to talk about it. Being told the truth is way better than being told lies. It takes courage to tell the truth.  Walking into reality prepared is empowering. Stumbling along in a fantasy world, constantly asking yourself what went wrong, is not. Feeling betrayed is the worst feeling. Eldredge is right, the disciples would have come back feeling betrayed if Jesus had told them everything was going to be great. I know the feeling.

IMG_1868

There are many in full time ministry who are feeling they’ve been sold out, right about now. As well as the many lay people who volunteer their time and talents to these ministries. Why? Because if the leadership of churches and ministries are blindsided by conflict and hate, then how can they prepare their own people for it? They can’t. So everyone suffers. Leaders burn out. Marriages fall apart. People leave churches. They turn away from God.

IMG_2783

I’m not blaming anyone. People meant well. They wanted to encourage us. But in the translation, the wrong message was sent. So I feel it is important to add the warning to the encouragement. Jesus always had the right touch when He spoke truth, says Eldredge. We need to do the same with our young seminary grads and their spouses. Especially their spouses. Truth spoken with encouragement and a lot of love can better prepare the leadership for the future. Instead of sending them into some fantasy that gets shot to bits in the first few years of ministry.

If I could go back, this is what I’d tell myself:

“Be on your guard.” This goes not just for leadership but everyone who lives Jesus out in their lives. You will be targeted by the enemy and men and women. So get ready for it.

God is merciful. He doesn’t abandon us. He does redeem. Maybe not like we’d thought or like. God is concerned about your heart. He will do what He needs to do until we shine like gold. Until the rough is smooth. Open your heart to it all.

Ministry is hard most days. It can suck the life out of you if you look to the right or left. If you don’t guard your heart, soul, mind and family.

Ministry doesn’t define me. Or you.  It’s not who we are. It does not make us special. It’s simply something God has called my husband and me to do.

The bad apples make the real thing that much sweeter. Those fellow labourers who love Jesus and obey Him, are like a balm to the soul. They are reflections of the One we serve and a reminder of why we do what we do.

When Silly is Significant

Sometimes what seems silly in life is actually significant. I rode an elevator fifteen floors by myself a month back. It wasn’t one of those newer high tech ones that flash up the floors. It was an old elevator in an older building and it made some weird noises at times.

For most people this is not a big deal. For me it was huge because a few years ago I would not stay in a hotel room that was above the sixth or seventh floor. I would only take the stairs and if I had to go into the elevator I would hold my breath until I got off it while squashing down the sheer panic rising up in my chest.

What made it even more significant was that I already was anxious on this particular evening. I had left a conference dinner because I was tired, and overwhelmed with people. Normally this would have led to a freak out. I didn’t. I left calmly. I didn’t have a melt down about the elevator. I calmed myself and rode it to the top floor where our room was located. There wan not a single person around. Victory.

If you struggle with anxiety and panic attacks you know how this can go down. It can get pretty ugly, very fast. If you know someone who struggles with anxiety you’ve watched it play out first hand. My MO is to lash out (usually with my husband, sometimes my kids)  like a frightened animal. I become snarly and prickly. Once I feel safe, I withdraw. Lick my wounds. It’s no fun for anyone.

That’s why the small victories mean so much. It’s baby steps but they eventually lead to big steps, which turns into running and finally leaping. Small victories start to build a foundation in our minds that we can do this. We have done it and we can do it again. It’s a positive in a world of negatives and lies.

IMG_1423

IMG_0100

It’s not just about anxiety. Whatever you’re struggling with, small battles won are hard battles won. It’s worth getting excited about. Take a minute and savour the accomplishment. You know how hard you fought for it.

Each little victory also marks off how far we’ve come. Looking over even the last four months, there are a handful of small successes that show me the distance I’ve travelled. Things, a year ago, I would never been able to do without a fit or gnashing of teeth, have been navigated quite well. Not perfectly, mind you. Is there still fear? Yes, but it’s not the vicious dictator it once was.

Why am I writing about this? Because I want you to know that becoming healthy is a journey. It’s a long hard road that requires a lot of work. Trial and error. And patience for everyone who is involved. But it’s worth it in the end. The small victories need to be celebrated. You should be proud of yourself. If it’s a loved one who is battling, you should be proud of them and yourself. It takes courage for both parties to stay on the front lines.

IMG_1857

Small victories produce hope. Bit by bit, they also bring about change. That’s what I’m excited about. Life has changed drastically over the last three years. Instead of being a prisoner locked behind four walls of fear, anger, disappointment and depression, I have started to breathe again, take baby steps and a few running leaps. It’s a scary awesome feeling!

Yet some days I go back to that prison.  But the thing that’s changed is I know the way out.  And that makes all the difference. For me. For my loved ones.

One day I hope to lock that prison door and throw away the key. Until then I will celebrate the small victories.

 

What baby steps or running leaps are you celebrating today?

When the Faith of Your Childhood is Not Enough

Unless you live in a cave, you’ve heard what a deadly week the last seven days have been. I started last week by reading about a singer, with stage four cancer. She’s forty and has a toddler. She’s gone into palliative care.

Then there was the pastor’s wife who was shot in the head and later died. They just announced they were expecting their second child. There’s a toddler at home. She was murdered in her own home, by a burglar. That heinous act has paralyzed me. I haven’t even processed the terrorist attacks on Paris because my heart is still in Indianapolis with that young pastor’s family and the church that he and his wife planted.

Maybe it’s because she’s a pastor’s wife. A sister, so to speak. It hurts even more because I understand how badly that pastor needs his wife as a ministry partner. He actually called her his ministry partner in a statement to the media. This young guy recognizes what a lot of pastor’s don’t, that she’s his helper, not eye candy or an accessory to be shown off. Or worse, his personal ministry slave. She was his partner. These are rare people. Treasures. Now one is gone. In a statement from a family spokesperson, they said, “We have extremely heavy hearts and although we are hurting tremendously, we are still hoping and believing that great things are still yet to come.”

I’m having a hard time swallowing that one. I’m struggling to see anything good here. Where is God in all this?

If I was still relying on the faith of my childhood, I’d be done. Faith made up of cartoon figures and pat sayings. A 2D faith. A faith on paper. We haven’t owned it. We are still riding on the faith coat tails of our parents or family name. Most of it is head knowledge with very little experience attached to it. It has little relevance to us in our everyday lives. 2D faith.

That’s not to say that our 2D faith can’t point us in the right direction of growth and maturity. It most definitely can. But we can’t stay in our 2D faith. It won’t sustain us.

To withstand this kind of evil, our faith needs to have roots, the deeper the better. I’m beginning to understand that faith is complicated. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) I can believe in something not seen but to have confidence that hope will arise? Really? That’s stretching my faith to the outer limits.

The thing is, once we believe in the One not seen, it becomes a relationship. Relationships are messy, even the best ones. Just ask any parent. Or spouse.  God is God and there are things we will never understand about Him or his ways while we reside on earth. That complicates matters. Our own skewed perspectives and pain hinders us. So yeah, it’s complicated.

Does that mean we chuck it? Some days I want to if I’m being completely honest. Because I have no good answer for this past week. At. All. I don’t think anyone does.

The only answer I have is to turn back to that complicated relationship. To the Father waiting at the end of the driveway for His child. At some point our faith requires that we put our confidence, hope, in Him, if it is to grow.

IMG_2255

Our faith needs to be alive and organic. It’s always moving. Hopefully growing and bearing fruit. But sometimes it shrinks in these dark days. I think that’s okay too because God didn’t ask us to be perfect. He loved us, sent His Son to die for our sins and then gave us the choice to follow Him. Not as people who parody Him or religious elite but as His children, who are in a relationship with Him.  Following Him some days may be more of a holding on for dear life clutch of His coat, stumbling along behind.  (That would be this week.)  Other days it might be joyful running alongside of Him.

Our faith today, may look like talking to our Dad about how hard life is here some days. Crying on His shoulder and letting Him comfort us. Through His Word. Through the Holy Spirit. Through people, music, nature. However you communicate with God.

IMG_2216
Sunrise

It may look like living to our utmost because we are so grateful that today we are alive.

Sunset
Sunset

Our faith is finding joy in the midst of the rubble because our hope is Him. Because He’s promised he’s not going to leave us or forsake us. Evil and trouble aren’t going to stop but He’s going to walk us through it. We are not alone. That is the hope. It rises about all the evil out there.

IMG_3095

I take comfort in the words of Isaiah 55:8 The Voice
Eternal One: My intentions are not always yours, and I do not go about things as you do.

It’s trusting that our Dad’s got it in His hands.  Then we can get up and walk back into the dark, our lights blazing because it’s attached to the Son. Three dimensional faith.