performance

Growing Pains

I am feeling somewhat disconcerted at the moment. I think this is in part because I sometimes when I embrace my gifting and live from  this place of favor and relationship, I feel like I’m playing dress-up with my parent’s clothes. It’s not quite my own. So, when I start to see glimpses of how others view their identity in Christ and it differs dramatically from what God is teaching me, I’m not always quite sure I have the authority or the experience to step in and exhort them in who they really are and call out their false thinking.

Recently I heard a sermon on the seventh chapter in the book of Luke. There are so many wonderful pictures within this story. We have a Roman centurion who cares enough about his ailing servant that he seeks out the Jewish Messiah to see if he can garner Jesus’ favor and have his servant healed. He is a man who has apparently honored the Jews in his community for the elders actually sought out Jesus on his behalf, imploring Him to save the soldier’s servant, declaring his worth because he was a friend to Israel and had even gone so far as to build the synagogue for And you see Jesus who openly admires the faith of a man outside the Jewish community, an enemy of Israel.

You also see that how emotional thinking can potentially get in our way. The centurion did not approach Jesus himself. Perhaps he knew he was asking a lot from a man whose people he was helping to subjugate. Perhaps he felt that as a Gentile, he didn’t have the right to ask this Messiah anything, let alone the healing of a servant. But he was worthy. He had faith and with that faith he stepped out and asked something of Jesus. Emotional thinking tells us what we feel. It does not tell us the truth. Emotional thinking told the centurion that he was not worthy to have Jesus enter his home, or perhaps to meet him face to face. So he sent Jewish leaders to implore Jesus, and friends to on one hand apologize for his impudence and on the other explain his case.

Jesus’ response to this man was wonder. Awe perhaps. Here was a man who had absolute faith that Jesus could heal at a command. He declared as much and, according to the passage, the servant was healed without fanfare.

I’m sure there are a lot of lessons to obtain through this passage alone, but what got me thinking about my lack of confidence in my calling is what I heard during the sermon. I heard this verse called out as our experience. That we are not worthy to stand before God. Now, I’ll admit I wasn’t paying full attention at the beginning of the sermon and perhaps more was said that explained what I am about to exhort.

Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house,
the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself
further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof        Luke 7:6

What I heard during the sermon was that we are like the centurion. We are not worthy to stand in the presence of God. Perhaps the man who gave this sermon was trying to say that except for the work of Christ on the cross, we would have been like the centurion. We would have been under the law and may have been unworthy to have God enter in with us. But because of the work of the cross, we are worthy. Jesus took our sin and made it His. He did this to reconcile the people of the earth to God, to himself. We are worthy. There is nothing between us and God’s love and God wants us to enter in.

But that is not what I heard. I heard we were unworthy but God wants us anyway. Oh, it’s a slight difference in phrasing but so huge a gap in meaning. If we go around believing we are unworthy, how are we going to view God? Faith? The gospel? More than likely, we are going to strive to be worthy and in the back of our minds are always going to wonder if we failed. We will be attempting to please and placate God with our actions rather than entering into a relationship with Him. Why? Because like the centurion we feel we are unworthy and will speak to God only from afar or through the voices of other people. But if we see ourselves of worthy of God’s love, there can be relationship and healing and we don’t have to strive for something we have been freely given.

One turn of the phrase and we are either living outside the Gospel message or embracing it.

What does this have to do with my lack of confidence in my gifting? The man who preached the sermon referenced above is a pastor at my church. And I have heard similar teachings from him in the past. He’s a good man trying to live out his faith. But I get this sense that he is dealing with an identity issue and is perhaps living under the bondage of the law rather than freedom in Christ. And I feel like I should, no that I must say something to him about his true identity. Yet I’m unsure how to initiate such a conversation. Then doubt creeps in; maybe I’m not hearing his sermons correctly. Maybe I’m being trigger happy and latching on to key phrases and tuning out the rest. Maybe he’s not preaching works and the law. Maybe he is teaching the Gospel.

Then I pray and know there are things God wants me to know about this man, things that are rooted in identity and I know I need to speak to him. But I drag my feet because, well, because I feel insecure in proclaiming the truth. I don’t feel bold or compassionate. I feel insecure. It’s so much easier to say things on blog where no one knows me than it is to confront someone face to face with the truth. The truth can be uncomfortable, messy. And life changing.

I think I need to take this man out for lunch or coffee and just talk to him about how God sees him. Ask him about his struggles. Let him know God has great things in store for him. Being a prophet isn’t about holding people accountable or proclaiming the problem. No, it’s about reminding people of who they are in Christ and who God wants to be for them. It’s lifting them up, not tearing them down. And now I have an opportunity to practice this, not just because God wants me to, but because this man is a friend and a leader in a community that looks up to him.

Growing and maturing is hard sometimes. The growing pains, no matter how painful or inconvenient, I think they will be worth it in the end.

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Faith and Works and Ramblings

There was a huge thunderstorm on Sunday so instead of going out and taking care of the yard, my husband and I spent the afternoon snuggling in front of the TV catching up on some of the television shows we’ve accumulated on our DVR. If you’ve read my previous post you know my husband is a task oriented man. Taking a day off of doing in order to exist and relax may not seem like a huge deal to you, but for him, it’s a monumental accomplishment. I swear, he does not feel like he’s worthy of being called an adult if he’s not doing something at all times.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why people become focused on doing instead of balancing that with being. Some people call it the Martha and Mary syndrome. Others call it being an adult. Yes, we must do things so our bills are paid, so our homes are not hovels,  and so we contribute to the good of our families and communities. I’m not suggesting we stop doing everything right now and lock ourselves away in meditation rooms so we can commune with the Holy Spirit 24/7.  What I am suggesting is that somewhere along the line, many people of faith have bought into the lie of a religious spirit and have started to equate doing with salvation and identity in Christ. That they must work for happiness, or at the very least for the worthiness of being happy.

There is this thing Claire and I discuss, sometimes tongue in cheek, called the protestant work ethic. We live in a part of the world where this is alive and well. Basically, it’s taking James chapter 2 to an extreme and equating my salvation, my faith with works.

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

One of my aunts had a working goat farm. Her family raised goats for milk and meat. They also raised Angora goats for the hair. My favorite time to visit was spring when there were baby goats. The babies would scamper and skip and prance. They were a joy to watch and in my young mind, nothing in life beat time spent with a fun-loving baby goat. Not even the chores necessary to keep the babies happy and healthy were a burden to me. I would feed them, clean their hooves, clean their pens. It didn’t matter if it was the ass crack of dawn or evening, I was there with pleasure taking care of the baby goats who gave me such joy.

My cousins couldn’t understand my willingness to assist with the chores. For some of  them, it was a drudgery. They were expected to get up before breakfast to milk and feed the goats. After school, there were more goat related chores. It didn’t end for them until the evening, when the goats were herded into their pens for the night. This was their life, day in and day out. One cousin told me that he thought the reason his parents had children was to have free labor. He felt his parents put the workings of the farm ahead of him. He was also ashamed of how his family lived. This was a farm. No matter how hard one would try, the house would smell like goat. There wasn’t money for name brand clothing. Or for long vacations. Who would watch the goats?

My cousin confided in me that he felt he wasn’t worthy of his parents’ love. He was not going to follow in their footsteps and had informed them on several occasions that as soon as he could, he was out of there, living a life in the city. And he did. But he mistook the look on his parents’ faces for judgement instead of the grief and pride parents feel when their children grow up and go on to do the things they are called in life to do.

I think we often look at God the way my cousin looked at his parents. We read the bible and we hear in sermons that we are here to work. Doesn’t the bible tell us that the fields are ready for reaping? Didn’t Paul and Peter and the apostles go out and do great things? Didn’t James write that faith without works is dead?

So we work harder and we rely on our own strength. We get tired, we burn out. But we don’t stop. Our Father will be very disappointed in us if we take that break we need. And if we want to be worthy of heaven, we work harder – we volunteer at church for committees and bible studies and work projects. We go on mission trips, or guiltily throw money at others who are doing the work we feel we should be doing. We work hard at having a good reputation and “living Christ” for everyone we meet. We pour our efforts into working hard at our professions, in our homes, at church. And we lose so much along the way.

We work to obtain what God has given us so freely – His favor. His blessing. It’s funny, but I often think we work because we don’t believe God’s promises. Or because we don’t believe He is here, present and active in our lives. How many of us picture God up there in Heaven, distant and uncaring? No wonder we work so hard at earning our way!

Hey, there God, look at me! Look at what I’ve done! I go to church every Wednesday and twice on Sunday. I bring my family. I teach Sunday School and I mentor young women. I give 20% of my earnings to the church and mission organizations. I volunteer at the homeless shelter. I have a fish bumper sticker on my car and I talk about you to everyone I meet. Aren’t I doing a great job? Oh, and I have instilled a strong work ethic in my children. You know, idle hands are the devil’s tools. We have chore charts and memory verses and they are in all these programs to keep them busy. We have filled our lives with doing all these things to honor You. Do you love me enough now? Or do I need to do more?

I’m reminded of the Greek and Roman mythologies, of gods who are mercurial and capricious, and who demanded every sacrifice from their people. If there was one misstep, one threat of insult from those people, the wrath of the gods would our down on them, in some cases destroying them. I fear this is how too many people see God. They see wrath and vengeance and capriciousness and fear that at any time He could destroy their lives. So we must be on our best behavior and work very hard to be pleasing in His sight.

But God isn’t like that, people! He’s not. I haven’t studied James in depth, but I believe what he’s saying here is that faith isn’t just belief. Even the demons believe in God. Faith proves out by what we do and who we are. If you look at the beginning of the passage about works, you see James writing about seeing someone in need and walking past them telling them to be blessed. If I believe that God has blessed me and has compassion for me, why would I in turn walk away from someone I know who is in need? Why would I not look for a way to ease that need? If I am living in relationship to God and have my arms open to receive his favor and blessing, why would I not allow that to pour out onto others in my life? Why would I horde it? I think this is what James was speaking about. Our faith, what we truly believe, is lived out in the actions of our lives. It’s not about doing more or working harder. It’s about authenticity in faith and identity and letting the spill out to the world around us.

I could be wrong. I’m not a bible scholar. But I think of the difference in my experience with the goats and my cousin’s. I took care of them out of joy and, yes, novelty. But it was a joy to care for them when I would visit in the spring. My cousin did so out of duty. There was no joy, only heaviness and resentment. I took care of the goats so I could get to know them and enjoy being with them. He took care of them because it was expected.

Then I think of what I’m learning about relationship and God. I don’t need to work to be worthy of His love. I already am. I don’t need to strive to live a faithful life. I need to receive from God, to stand between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in first love, and that will pour out as a blessing to those around me in all I say and do. The “works” in my life, that’s a result of the relationship. And it will never be a drudgery because I have to. It will be a joy because I get to. Because of my relationship with God.

I hope my husband can come to learn that. It was wonderful and refreshing to watch him rest and relax and learn to be himself. Even if just for a little while.

For What It’s Worth

If performance is not the marker of God’s love for us, what is? How do I know God loves me? How do I know I please Him?

I struggle with this. Intellectually, I know God loves me and is pleased with me because of who He has declared me to be in Heaven and because of the defining work of Jesus on the cross. I know He delights in me.  In my head, I know this. It’s my spirit that has a difficult time believing.

I think it’s because God’s love is so very counter to how our worth is measured in our day-to-day lives. At work, I am given assignments, promotions and merit increases based on how well I do my job. My great smile and winning personality might count for a very small portion of my worth to my company, but the bottom line is this: no matter how well I am liked for who I am, if I do not perform at or above the company’s expectations, I will be out of a job. In the professional arena, my worth equals my performance. I’m not saying this is wrong. The workplace isn’t often about relationship, it’s about outcomes. My integrity and personality, my strengths play into the measure of my worth but at the end of the day, it’s about outcomes.

In my relationships with family, I like to believe my worth is based on unconditional love and acceptance. Parents tell their children they will love them no matter what. Siblings may fight bitterly one moment and then embrace each other in spirited camaraderie the next. On the surface this can feel like worth is about who I am within my family, but when I dig deeper there are inconsistencies. I do something wrong, and someone may threaten to box up all their toys and take their relationship away. Or there’s the family member who will withhold any type of love or affection UNLESS I performed in a manner pleasing to them.

Then there is the spousal relationship. We vowed to love each other for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.  And we do. I love my husband and he loves me. We don’t always like each other. When I reflect on my marriage, I see two people who keep score. Who like to be right. Who, when thwarted, instead of finding that middle ground of compromise, can pull the rug out from under relationship and lord it over the other person. Oh, how I wish I could say this behavior is the domain of my other half. Sadly, I have been found guilty of this very same behavior.

In all these relationships there are moments where worth seems to be based on performance. On how well we measure up against another’s wants, desires or expectations. We get this mixed message about what it is that makes us worthy.  People, in my experience, tend to be fickle. God is not. He’s consistently and fully in love with us. With me. And my worth is not something I have to earn. Or validate. Or prove. Not to God. He doesn’t react out of anxiety or fear. He doesn’t keep score. He doesn’t take past hurts or slights and hold them against me. His love is consistent. Constant. His relationship with me is always secure. 

Intellectually, I know this. And I feel funny asking Him to show me, to write it so deeply upon my DNA that the experience of this knowledge becomes as common as breathing. I want to experience God’s love and delight so deeply, I can’t help but see others in the same way. I don’t want to confuse my worth with performance ever again. And I don’t want my love for others to be based on performance. I want to love my husband the way God loves him. I want to delight in my siblings and my parents. I want to see my friends with great compassion. I want to look at strangers with kindness.

I can’t earn love. I can’t perform my way to Heaven. But I can be with God. And I can sit at His feet and commune with Him. I can abide with God. I can enter relationship with him. I can stand between the Father and the Son and bask in their love for me while the Holy Spirit gently holds my shoulders and helps me to stay. With God, at the end of the day it’s about relationship, which is always, always secure. Always true. Always full of love and delight.

So, feeling funny or not, I ask God to show me His great love in ways that are so clear, so fantastic I can’t help but see it for what it is. And to remind me there is not need for shame or timidity or fear. Tonight I pray for signs of God’s love. For reminders of His delight for me. I pray this for you, too. We can’t reframe how we see ourselves and have that truly stick without God.