LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Month: August 2013 (page 1 of 2)

Writing Your Story

I have been listening to a number of different speakers lately that have all woven the idea of one’s story into their messages. The idea being that the narrative we live is in many respects up to us and we have the ability to write our own stories. Of course this is not a new topic or idea, but the language used; plot, narrative, meta narrative, etc gave it new life to me.

If we feel our story is meaningless or boring it is because we have written such a story. Theologically this has implications because many of us have come to conclusions that we are just waiting on God to direct us. We are then often passive characters in our own stories. And while God is sovereign and may at times have very specific parts for us to play, more often His plan is general. He desires all of us to experience love, redemption, forgiveness, to participate in His mission and be maturing followers. But as one speaker said, unless you hear a donkey talk or are a pregnant virgin, you likely are not on a specific plan.

So feeling stalled? Has your story line lulled? Begin re-imagining the next plot line. Ask yourself “What if…” questions. What if that fear was overcome? What if you forgave that person? What if you moved to a new state or country? What if you adopted a child or took in a foster kid? What if you changed careers to follow your dream? See which ones stick with after a few days and then follow that storyline out to its conclusion.

I too believe that we often feel God’s will is more specific than it is. One of my guiding verses is Psalm 37:4. When we delight ourselves in Him, He gives us the desires of our heart. The discovery of God’s will is far less mysterious than most of us make it to be.

What we need to remember, however, is that every good story has conflict that is overcome. Our narratives will not be free from failures, missteps, or tragedy. They may not even have the short-term happy endings we desire. While we are writing our own stories, we are only co-authors, and sadly God is not our only contributor. Many others are adding their stories into ours and ours into theirs.

The point to this though is that we take more of an active role in our own narratives. In creating the ending we desire. Think of your story in movie form. How is it ending as the credits roll? Along the way did you root for yourself or were you falling asleep while watching? Is it a story of heroism that inspires others or a cautionary tale?

As followers of Christ we are assured of the ultimate “happy ending” but that doesn’t prevent us from squandering the life we have until then. I reflect on Christ’s words that He came to give us life to the fullest. He also reminds us in the parable of the talents to not operate in fear of Him being a hard taskmaster and wasting the opportunities afforded us. Instead he rewards the risk taker, the one who invests and lives.

Until we are dead we have a responsibility to live. Live the fullest life you can imagine. One that glorifies Him and serves others. One that reflects justice and mercy and grace and beauty.

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A great soulful cry to trust in the strength of God!

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God is unchanging, unstoppable and unshakeable! I remember years ago when taking teams of students to Mexico, every time we hit a bump in the road on our plans that I would gather the entire group together and give a good news/bad news update. I would start with the bad news, delay of getting to location, truck breakdown, loss of supplies, etc and then follow it up with the good news, “But God is still on the throne!”

God is not surprised by anything. He never steps away from the throne to take a break. He is all-powerful and all-engaged in our lives. We can place our trust in Him and yield our dreams to Him. Believe you me, He dreams more for us and to a greater measure than we could ever imagine!

Live “dangerously” and be transformed by who He is. Shed the “first world problems” of what our lives get so consumed with and focus on the greater needs and concerns of life – the lost and broken world in need of the love and forgiveness of God.

I am not suggesting our issues are not real to us – they are. Let’s just get perspective in light of eternity and in light of a sovereign God. This is my journey as of late. To be reminded of the weightier purposes in life. To know God more intimately and thus be compelled to share Him more!

Surprised by God Once Again

I spoke a message this weekend to our church as part of our series, Roadblocks. (addressing the issues in our lives that keep us from going deeper in our faith).  My message was on the “Fear of Risk.”  I always find it amazing that as I near speaking a message God takes me through experiences which challenge me to “own” the message.  This message  topic and date had been calendared many months ago, but as we neared it I had the whole crisis of faith regarding our house sale (read the story in earlier posts).  I of course wove it into the message and I believe I was sharing truth I didn’t just know about but knew.

But in the midst of all of this I am still working out the rebirth of many other dreams.  The dream for financial and “stuff” freedom is only part of a bigger dream to live a “dangerous” gospel again.  I have felt like I personally have gotten in the routine a lot in the last few years.  I have been on a serious journey these past two years to be shaken up and out of my comfort zone.  God is working in me to dream again, to hunger for more of Him, to be used more by Him, to be more radical in Kingdom building.  Along the way I have been addressing family of origin issues that were holding me back, I have dealt with issues where I was placing my trust and finding comfort in more than God, and most recently the home sale where God was working in me to show me that not only can I hear His voice prompting me, but I can trust Him to take me through it.  But this is not the end of what is going on.

I had a meeting the morning before I spoke the message and the person in the meeting used a phrase that I had planned to say in the message.  A key phrase that God used to jolt me and confirm that what we were talking about I needed to sit up and pay attention to.  It was in the context of a growth change that I was dragging my feet on and finding ways to say, “yeah, but…”  But God took me right back to what I felt He was leading me to say to the church, “Your whole life has led to this moment to take the risk, the risk that will bring the breakthrough!”

Once again, “my” messages are really God’s message to me first.

Whatever comes my way I will trust You…

Sometimes statements like that are only seen in light of trials and storms. But trusting God during the calm and joyful times is even more important to remind ourselves to do. It is in those times when we are tempted to forget the very real presence of God who carries us. It is in those times when we may even begin to take some sort of credit and fail to give God His due.

As much as I appreciate the God who rescues, I am grateful that He is sovereign and is mighty and in control in the good times as well. He doesn’t just show up when I need Him, but is with me even when I think I don’t!

My Shortcomings or God’s Sufficiency?

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.  Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.  So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.  He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:3-8 (NLT)

How do you see yourself?  What is the tape that plays in your head?  What fears drive you?  What limits do you place on yourself?  Have you disqualified yourself from even trying to step out and trust God?  “I could never do __________ because _________.”

Here’s what I see in this verse.  God loves you and chose you!  He did this BEFORE _________________ (insert limit here).

He decided in advance.  He chose before.  He loved!  Before any of us did what we did.  And yet I still have talked myself out of trying sometimes.  As if my situation is the exception.  That somehow my sin or incompetence or fear or failure is the ONE that God can’t handle.  The ONE that causes Him to step back and say, “Oh, I didn’t see that coming.  You’re right, this doesn’t apply to you.”  The ARROGANCE!  God knew exactly what and who I would be before the earth was formed and He still loved, chose and adopted me – to be holy and blameless and part of His family.

He has showered His grace and kindness.  He purchased my freedom.  These are extravagant descriptions.  These are bold actions.  These are powerful declarations and the ONLY reasonable response is to praise Him.  And look at what it says, He did this because He WANTED to and it gave Him GREAT PLEASURE!  So what do we do?  We praise Him.  We give our lives to Him!

Am I holy? No.  Am I righteous? No! Am I anything special? No.  The answer is always no, IF it’s based on me alone.  But God loved and chose and decided that I was in fact holy and righteous and special and it gave Him pleasure to shower me with kindness and grace and freedom.  “And now I get to be what I got to be!”*  

But It’s not about ME!  It’s about who God is!  

He has declared me free and all my internal exceptions are nullified.  I don’t have a case to not step into the plans God has for me.  I need to stop disqualifying myself and instead see myself as God sees me.  To live up to who He has called and allowed me to be and become.  

And instead of spending emotional energy focusing on my shortcomings, I need to spend it focusing on God’s sufficiency.  

Thank you God for your great love and kindness.  That no matter the condition I am in, you chose me in advance to become part of your family.  Thank you for purchasing my freedom!  Please forgive me for thinking that somehow I was the exception to your grace and disqualifying myself from being more available to your purposes.  Help me to focus instead on your sufficiency!

*I heard Steve Fry say this years ago and it has always stuck with me!

I knew He could, I hoped He would, I feared He wouldn’t!

I knew He could, I hoped He would, I feared He wouldn’t!  But even still I am amazed at just how God has worked out the sale of our home.  But honestly this is not really about a house sale.  That is important, but that is not eternal.  What has been worked out are kingdom issues or faith and trust and freedom to serve and be a blessing to others and I am immensely humbled and grateful.

From the beginning…

Perhaps, as I have shared numerous times, it’s mid-life crisis, but I have been feeling the need to shed the “stuff” – the stuff in the garage, the cabinets, the debt, the mortgage, the obligations.  I want instead to be free to bless others financially, to be free to go on missions trips, to be free to respond to God’s promptings without having to reply, “But God, I have too much stuff to…”

This led us to begin cleaning out closets and considering when and if we should sell our home.  But it was still just a thought as we pondered the type of life we wanted instead of our reality.  This led us to keep an eye out for a town home in an area near the church as the only option that would make it worth our while to sell, but even then we thought the Fall would be a more likely time frame.

But God…

Just before I left to take kids to camp we discovered a town home became available and it was an updated one and worth checking out.  The rental market here is crazy competitive and so we went to see it right away.  As we were walking through it we were excited because it fit our needs and likes really well.  But here is were the God-part comes in.  The owner is a parent of a church member and when they discovered who we were our app went to the top of the list.

So while at camp I get word we were accepted.  This is July 9 and we interpret this as God’s doors opening.  I knew it was crazy to commit to a rent before our house sold, but it seemed to us as being so God-led.  So we prepared to “step out of the boat”.

The week following camp was a whirlwind of preparing our home for sale, getting it listed, having a garage sale, moving personal and extra items out to storage, home inspections, and home repairs, all while planning for 2 weeks of Day Camps, preparing for a sermon, and Diane having some medical procedures.  And the entire time we are feeling still so led by God.  As I posted earlier, we shared our plans and impressions of God’s leading with many whom we trusted to be honest and everyone agreed with us.

But fear…

As the time neared for us to move and the reality of adding a rent payment to our mortgage payment loomed.  Fear began to set in.  I began to doubt, not in God’s ability, but in my ability to discern His promptings.  Had I injected my wishes into His plan for us?  But over and over through worship and prayer, through confirmation of others we were assured we were on the right path.  But the home did not sell the first weekend or the second.  I had some fantasy that the very first weekend we would get multiple offers and a bidding war would take place.  But it didn’t.  And of course we heard of that happening for other homes in our area.  So fear was taking hold.

During Day camp I had just about lost it.  I was trying to hold it together, but I had gotten my eyes on the “reality” that in just a few days we were going to have to pay money we didn’t have with no end in sight since there was no offer on the table.  Again, I shared my fears with others, they prayed, I prayed, we felt we were doing the right thing despite it seeming like VERY unwise stewardship.  And the day we were at the emotional bottom, someone offered us a bridge loan to help us.  It was humbling as that money they set aside is for a very special and dear purpose for them.  Yet they were willing to share it with us for a while.  So now I feel like God has given us a bit of a safety net, but without the home selling, taking the loan is still a great risk.  I am then in even more debt with no sign of relief.

An out…

The weekend before the move and the third weekend of open houses I was praying for God to rescue us!  I was feeling like perhaps it really was more my plans imposed on God than His leading, so my posture had become more of a plea for rescue and less of a confident stepping out in faith.  And the possible “out” came!  There was an issue with the rental contract, an honest mistake on the landlord’s part, but one that we could take as a way to walk away.  On Sunday afternoon, Diane and I talked and prayed and we reaffirmed that it was in fact God’s leading that started all of this and we were going to “step out of the boat” officially.  The move was happening Monday morning.  It was the final and real step of faith for us.  All steps up to this point were acting in faith, but this step was the step that sealed our fates one way or the other.

As I tried to figure out the possible scenarios of ways God’s plan could work out I shared with Diane that God allowed us the way out if our faith was weak, but now as we stepped out we would get multiple offers over asking price.  I was fairly sure it was just a fantasy, but it gave me hope to think about it.

Unbeknownst to us, while we were having this discussion, a buyer was touring our home falling in love with it.  On Monday just after we finished loading the truck and were driving off, we received a call letting us know they were returning to see it again.  That night they prepared a bid that they turned in on Tuesday!  And more so, it is over asking price, with no requests for repairs or upgrades, a truly “as is” sale.  The only drawback is that it is for a closing in October.  But the amount over our price is enough to cover the extra mortgage until then!

So today we sign to accept the offer.  Today we see that God has not just rescued us, but in fact has led us to the freedom for which we dreamed.  Even though I for a while got distracted from the storm clouds and gave into fear, God showed Himself mighty.  I am amazed and humbled and of course relieved.  But as I started out with, this is not about a home sale and more about learning to trust.  Experiencing not just God’s faithfulness, but God’s creative power to change realities.  In just a short time we will be free to honor God in new ways and I am excited for the possibilities to come.

Ruin me Lord!

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide,
be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.

AMEN

A Four-Fold Benedictine Blessing by Sr. Ruth Fox, OSB (1985)

Heard this today and loved it.  I don’t want to hover above the grittiness of life.  I want to be compelled to do my part.  Not sure how that looks.  I’m not the activist type, but don’t feel you need to be to make a difference.  I think most of all, you need to be the “heart of God” type.  What breaks His heart should break ours.  The saddest state is that a person be lost to eternity with God through Christ.  But in order to get there we sometimes need to meet them at their most perceived needs.

I have heard people say, “I am ruined by God.”  A very odd statement since God is the restoration business.  He makes all thing new!  But what is meant by that is that He breaks our pride, or self-sufficiency, our self-importance so that He can use us to reach a lost world.  And to that end, I desire to be “ruined”.  It has been and once again is my prayer, “Have your way O God.  I step aside so that you may be seen in and through me.”

The first moment I heard this song at a youth leader’s conference I was encouraged to put a deeper faith in God. To be reminded of His faithfulness is so faith building. It is easy to get your eyes off of this truth and to get lost in your own circumstances. But God is faithful and He doesn’t let go.

The Faith of a Child

DSC03557As a KidMin I have a great opportunity to often see child-like faith in action, particularly when I run a Day Camp/VBS.  Having the kids everyday for a week they have huge faith steps and share great comments and stories.  This week was no exception!  We used Group’s Kingdom Rock curriculum this year and the five Bible points were so foundational and wonderful and the kids have really enjoyed it.  But because they were such basic points, they speak to me and our team of volunteers too!

  • God’s Love Helps Us Stand Strong, Psalm 18:1
  • Family and Friends Help Us Stand Strong, 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • Prayer Helps Us Stand Strong, Philippians 4:6
  • Trusting God Helps Us Stand Strong, Isaiah 26:4
  • God’s Word Helps Us Stand Strong, Psalm 119:105

As the week went on we are able to see and hear examples from the children about what they are discovering.  One day I “carried my burdens” in a dramatic way to start our large group time.  I had a huge bag full of pots and pans and selected individuals came in to add to my cares by asking me to help them.  The point of the drama was for me to give my cares to God in prayer and not worry and I played up just how hard it was to carry all these burdens.  But before I could even get anywhere near the stage to complete the point of the drama, about 20 kids jumped up to come and help me lift the bag above their heads.  They were living out the point from the day before – Friends and Family should encourage each other!  So beautiful!

I received an email from one parent thanking our team for a great job.  Her appreciation was based on a comment by her 6 year old son on Day 4 of camp as he was getting ready for bed and listening to the music, “Sometimes life is unfair, but I just am feeling good listening to music and loving God.”

The pure trust and acceptance of kids is exactly what Jesus meant when he said unless we have faith like a child we cannot see the kingdom.   Of course they aren’t perfect, but they sure seem to get this idea of letting go to trust.

Children are all about trust.  They have virtually no ability to care for themselves and so they yield to others all the time – parents, caregivers, teachers, etc.  And so when you invite them to love Jesus who so clearly loves them, they are quick to do so.  But of course as we age and become more self-sufficient and aware of our surroundings, we  wrestle back control, not only from parents, teachers, and other adults, but we often do it with God too.  The challenge for us as we “mature” is to not make the mistake that maturity means self-sufficiency or independence.  We always need someone!  God designed us to live in community with others, and significantly with Him.  And it takes the faith of a child to know when to let go and trust Him.

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