LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: faith (page 2 of 2)

“Squirrel!”

That’s how I feels these days.  Like the dog in Disney/Pixar’s UP.  I am not generally an ADHD type person, but I do tend to get distracted and caught up in my latest obsessions.  So I went through a season of posting multiple times a week to not showing up for a while.  I was off chasing other interests.  This is the way I am wired.  I get bored and obsessed easily.  This has wonderful results as I learn and experience a breadth of things.  But it also has negative fallout in living for the long-haul.

I remember in college hearing a message from our college president, Dick Foth, that the Christian life was not about sprinting or even a marathon, but plodding.  I don’t recall all the details of his message, but the word plodding stuck with me all these years.  I hate plodding.  I walk fast, make decisions fast, get distracted fast.  There is nothing remotely attractive to plodding to me.  But there is wisdom and truth to this behavior, at least where serving God is concerned.  Pressing on, leaning in, holding fast – these are marks of commitment and growth.

But as to my being regular in my blog posts, well, plodding will likely never be a good description.  I do have stuff to say and share and process externally, and so I will continue to do so.  But as God made me to be one who gets caught up in things, I will from time to time be off on my latest adventure.

My first 5K!

My first 5K!

Currently that adventure is tied into my long journey of getting healthy.  I have NEVER been one to love sport and fitness.  But I have been bit by the running bug.  Well less about running, and more about Disney’s events around running.  I did my first-ever 5K last week at DisneyWorld. It was an amazing experience.  I was personally proud of the achievement.  Again, I am 50 years old and this fitness thing is all new to me.  And because it is Disney, they go all out to create experiences; the fireworks marking your run start, the swelling soundtrack throughout the park as you run, the giant finish line with crowds cheering you on, and the draping of a medal around your neck.  It is VERY cool.  And as I am one who gets distracted, this type of event is a great tool for me to keep focused on the exercise journey.  So I am already signed up for the next run event.  On August 30 and 31 I am going to do the “Dumbo Double Dare” at the Disneyland Half Marathon.  On Saturday I will run a 10K and then on Sunday a half marathon.  So while the training regimen is boring, dare I say, like plodding, the goal is worth it.

Hey, that sounds like our faith journey, huh?  (Did you see what I did there?  😉 Flipped it right back.)  Yes, we are in our journey to live for Christ and the day to day may seem uneventful and boring, but the goal for which Christ has called us is worth it!  At least in the area of your faith journey, don’t get distracted by the squirrels, and stay the course.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.  Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)

Added Note:  My goal of participating in the run in August also includes raising money for the children of St Jude hospital.  If you would like to encourage my personal journey of getting fit AND help children get treatment for cancer, then check out my info and donation page at http://heroes.stjude.org/lenbanks

I Don’t Know What I Will Do, But I Know What I Won’t

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again.  The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”  Exodus 14:13-14 (NLT)

I was reminded of this passage again today listening to Mark Batterson share a story of feeling trapped in a Red Sea moment.  He went on to say that he had no idea what he was going to do at the time, but he knew what he WASN’T going to do; panic.

I am winding down on the sale of our home.  We are less than a week away from escrow closing and if you read some of my first posts you see that there were moments that I panicked and needed to be reminded that God was leading me through this entire journey of faith.  I in fact spoke a message to our church during that time when I referenced this passage from Exodus, so to be reminded of it today is so cool.  (Listen to the message, Fear of Risk, in my sermon section)

This week I was praying to God that I might not forget how I saw Him at work in this journey.  I don’t want to interpret this “win” experience in any way that gives me or any other man credit.  It was clearly God leading and I shamefully did not always exhibit the trust I would have liked to.  It’s easy to see the struggles and pains of life as learning experiences.  But often the wins are forgotten beyond the celebration.  But the win was not easy and matter of fact.  There was a lot of struggle and fear and doubt and twists and turns.  And because it was not in any way accomplished out of my wits and abilities, I have many lessons that I need to keep in my view for a long time to come.

I don’t think that Moses’ statement to the Israelites is a direct promise for us today.  It was for a specific time and deliverance.  But the principle of standing firm, not fearing, and trusting God are behaviors that we can count on and should strive to live out at all times.  And when we do see the deliverance of the Lord, we should be sure to give Him the honor that is due Him.

If you find yourself in a Red Sea moment and have no idea what you’re going to, at least be confident of what you won’t; panic!  God is trustworthy and able.  And if the deliverance doesn’t come in your preferred time or way, know that God still knows what He is doing and really does know what you need.  What you need is always better than what you want.

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.

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.

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.

Following God’s Leading or Forcing Our Plan?

I come from a faith tradition that celebrates the big steps of faith, the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, the denial of self and the exaltation of God. I suppose that should be the approach of all faith traditions, but the pentecostal “brand” takes it to a different degree.  I am not criticizing this in any way, just offering context for what I am about to say.  My nature, however, is to be a bit cautious and measured in my steps.  So the dance of discerning what is God’s leading and what is my plan that I am forcing God into is a hard one.  I suppose this to some degree is the age-old question, “What is the will of God?”  Each of us have those moments when we desire to honor and follow God’s leading, but are unclear if it really is His will or just our good intentions and plans.

When seeking God’s will I have generally relied on one passage that David wrote in Psalm 37:4, 5

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

Major emphasis is on the delight in the Lord part and not on the desires of my heart.  I am of the belief that when I delight in Him, my desires conform and are transformed to His desires.

But there are those times when specific plans come into play. Big life decisions.  BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals).  In those moments, are they God-lead or just my crazy plans that I step out in and expect God to show up?

I am in the middle of one of those right now.  We have decided to sell our home, which in and of itself is not a big deal.  People do that all the time.  But human wisdom says, don’t count your chickens before they hatch, which in this context means, don’t sign a lease on your next home until you sell your last one.  Which of course we have done.  So come the first of the month we will have a mortgage AND a rent due.  I knew from the moment I agreed to this it was crazy and unwise in my thinking.  But I also “knew” it was God’s leading.

I have been sensing a growing intensity to shed stuff, to downsize, to let go of the weights that hold me down.  Instead I have a growing desire to also be more generous with God’s provision, to fund projects which grow His kingdom, to be a blessing to others.  This is clearly a God-honoring posture to take.   Where we live the rental market is very tight and there was only one location we would even consider that would make it worthwhile to sell our home.  These locations rarely open up and when they do the competition to get it is fierce.  So when one opened up and it “happened” that the owner was a parent of a church member and they felt a confidence to choose us, we felt this was clearly of God’s arrangement.  So sign we did and quickly moved to put our house on the market.  All of our actions were also strongly affirmed by our growth group, pastor, and other people we trust – people who I would have expected to say, “Len, you are crazy putting yourself in a position to pay a rent and mortgage.”  Instead everyone has said your home will sell, you are not pricing it too high, this is a good decision.

Now I am only a week and half into this, so we will see.  But the storm clouds are out there.  The first of the month is not too far away.  And my “faith” is having moments of concern.  Am I forcing God to “show up” or did God say to me, “Step out and watch what I can do”?

I feel a little bit like the disciple Peter who stepped out of the boat and then sank.  But the guy got out of the boat!   He took faith steps and I think that is good.  I have no doubt that my/our heart and intentions have been nothing but pure in this.  I am certain that I felt the prompting of God.  And even if I crash and burn, even if I sink and drown, I will believe that we did this in all sincerity.

I heard recently something to the effect, “God showed me that if I take responsibility for the failures, I will take credit for the success”.  (Not sure if that was Andy Stanley or Craig Groeschel, but am sure it was said at a Catalyst Conference).   I want to see God in action, I have no desire to say that my wisdom led me here and in any way take credit should this turn out great.  But if it doesn’t, I don’t want to get in a place where I blame God for the results of forcing Him to rescue me from poor wisdom either.  I hope I don’t have to wrestle with that one.

Until then, my posture is this; “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

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