A Christian Walk….on three different decks

The inspiration that comes from the mountains rivals none. At least that’s what I tell my husband when I get the itch to travel. He is inspired by the majestic views himself but he also knows my desire to roam sometimes transcends the truth.

However, this morning the Lord showed me something that made this vacation worth the entire day it took to get here.

Once again, we are nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains in a three-level creekside cabin. The main level, with the deck from which I’m writing now, has the master bedroom and bath, kitchen, den, and covered porches (partially screened, partial open railing. There’s a table with chairs, red rockers, and an outdoor red-cushioned rattan couch set for lounging. Bonus: there’s a pet gate so I can let the dogs out or keep them in and not have to yell their names every three minutes.

The upstairs level is just as nice, with a full bed and bath with glass and tile-shower, a bunk room with beds, two large papasan chairs and a game shelf, and a small but open sundeck with two large red lounge chairs.

The theme of Rock the River lodge is rustic wood and red, it seems, as the centerpiece of the downstairs level is a red felt-topped pool table. Two arcade games holding a variety of games in each, including the ever-popular Pac-man, sit next to the L-shaped sofa. Another bathroom, laundry room, game corner, and mini-kitchen complete this level. Outside this level is a hot tub, giant hardwood swing, red-cloth rattan wicker seating for 8, and a multi-colored hammock. Off of this deck are 200 wooden steps leading down to the rushing river below.

It is in this beautiful hammock where today’s revelation came.

I was on the bottom (terrace) level and decided to move the hammock close to the railing so I could get a little sun and read the latest Kristy Woodson Harvey novel.

The sun was too bright for reading and the hammock of my memories didn’t groan and sink like this one did. I wasn’t off to such a great start. But the sun felt great on my skin so I closed my book and just soaked it up. Because of the pandemic last year, I have only the faint tan lines of summer 2019. Once I shut my eyes, nature took over. The mighty river below combined with the dozens of species of birds making their music was nature’s playlist designed by God Himself.

But other noises kept interfering. The hot tub, for one, was churning on the setting we’d been instructed to leave on. I briefly considered turning it off to eliminate the distraction but I knew I wouldn’t. The birthday between 29 and 30 had somehow turned me from a rebellious rule-breaker to the rule police, indignantly pointing out others’ missteps. Now at 51, I’m a little less confrontational but still very conscientious. There would be no rule-breaking.

There was also a strange smell. Perhaps there was nearby dog excrement. Or maybe that’s just how the river smells. It wasn’t horrendous but for someone whose house smells like a Bath and Body Works outlet, it was distracting.

This is the precise moment I got my revelation.

You are down on the ground, in the world, He said. This is where you can do the most good. You have the sights, the sounds, the smells of the world but I have taught you how to block those out.

He was right. Our homeless ministry was a perfect example. I had to go into the dirtiest places in the world to bring the gospel. When we do funerals, we are ministering in the world but we still hear Him.

I tuned out the extra noises and focused solely on the river and the birds. It wasn’t quite so easy.

I like it better on the main deck, I’d said. It smells nice and I only hear YOUR sounds. It’s peaceful. It’s nice. I just have to give up the sun, the swing, and the hammock.

His Voice came through the breeze….Kinda like your home…..

Huh?

When you operate in your home and the church, which is literally 30 steps away, you are in a protected bubble. It’s your safe place, He explained.

Yes! Exactly!! There are things I don’t have there that I want (like a swimming pool!) but yet everything I need is there. And it’s safe and nice. I can hear You. I start each day listening to your playlist on the front porch rocker. I meditate; I write; I relax. That’s exactly what the main level deck is like.

His next words: And you spend too much time there…..

Wait, what?!

But my spirit knew what He was saying within two seconds. I do stay where it’s safe- both literally and figuratively. I spend a lot of time where it’s comfortable in my walk with Him as well as in my ministry. One of the perks- and subsequent downside- of a writing ministry is that it’s so peaceful one can easily turn agoraphobic.

Even the top deck was a perfect example of this reluctance to move out of my comfort zone.

I’d checked it out when we first arrived. It was the highest perch in the house. It was small; not many could be up there at once. It had a gorgeous view and the warmth of direct sunlight. The reclining outdoor loungers were bright and inviting. But a previous guest had allowed a large shaggy dog to sit on the chairs and there was pet hair everywhere. I tried to wipe it off with a washcloth but it was going to take more than a simple wipe. I understood why there was an extra $50 charge for removing pet hair. That was going to take some work.

Unfortunately they’d missed it and I decided it wasn’t worth the extra work to do it myself so I went back downstairs.

But lying on that hammock, I realized that this was just another example of me keeping myself stuck in the middle.

Not only did I not want to go down into the world, I didn’t want to put in the work to go UP either. (I did, however, go back after this revelation and scrubbed the chairs if only to show the Lord I was willing.)

Three decks, three levels of worship.

The down and dirty, convergence of good and bad, bottom level is where ministry and service to others resides. I need to spend more time here.

The upper level, where you are alone with Christ in mountaintop worship, requires a little extra work. It’s worth the effort. I need to spend more time here.

The middle level, in what we call the secret of his tabernacle (Psalm 27:5), is where we abide with the Lord in a place of shelter. We are set upon a rock and He watches over and protects us. This is a beautiful place and one we should access easily. But I need to spend a little less time here.

I hope your week is going well and that you take time for a vacation, even if it’s dragging your favorite chair under the big oak tree in your backyard for ten minutes and letting God show you the playlist He created just for you.

The Effects of Earnest Prayer

My husband started off last night’s sermon in the first chapter of Titus. That particular passage held no special meaning for me but the page in my Bible was the beginning of a whole new life.

You see, several years ago I was in a mess. Not the drug-fueled haze of my youth or the anxiety of a drawn-out custody battle but rather the turmoil of what’s known as the Snowball Effect.

We’ve all experienced this at some point in our lives. One thing happens, then another, then another…and suddenly, you’re trapped in an avalanche that you never saw coming.

Mine started when the kids left home. When you have kids close together in age, the time between the first one leaving home and the last one leaving home passes by in one big blur. And when you have said kids at such a young age, the adjustment from kid to mom to empty nest feels like your entire identity has been erased. Suffice it to say, I had the empty-nest blues.

Then came a move that I wasn’t ready for. It had taken me four years to adjust to leaving my hometown and it was time to move again. My new teaching job was already difficult when I got news that I needed a major surgery.

Before I knew it, I was in a very dark place. Misery may love company but company doesn’t love misery. Family and friends backed away as the black cloud of gloom surrounded me, making me feel even more depressed. (It’s easy to see when you are out of that fog, but it’s hard to understand why you feel abandoned when you are in it.)

While recovering from the surgery, I made the decision to leave teaching and took a job as a full-time children’s librarian. That job brought me such joy and being out of a failing school district relieved a great deal of stress.

But like anything, it was two steps forward and three steps back. I was still a victim of my own making, creating chaos where there should’ve been none and still biting back daily tears of regret as I rued the time I’d wasted when my kids were younger.

I was so blinded by this grief that I forgot from where my joy came.

I’d like to tell you that one day I woke up, started praising the Lord, and life became perfect.

But it didn’t happen like that.

What did happen was that I was dusting my bedroom one day and I picked my Bible up off my nightstand. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that the only time I’d even touched my Bible in months was when I dusted. Sure, I talked about God but I wasn’t talking TO Him. Task-oriented, all I wanted to do was finish my cleaning so I could watch television. But I had enough conviction that I flipped open the Bible, where it landed on Titus, and wrote, “Lord, help me. The only time I pick my Bible up is when I dust.”

I didn’t write any more; I didn’t follow up with a prayer. I didn’t join a Bible study or start reading scriptures. That’s all I said. That was all I HAD right then.

But it was enough.

That short, sincere prayer started the wheels of Heaven moving.

I’m not even sure I attributed what happened next to my little prayer. All I knew was that I started seeing light where there once was darkness. My body got stronger and my mind got clearer. I started praying again. Within six months, my husband was offered another church and I was asked to be a full-time outreach minister. This time, I was ready to go wherever He wanted me to go.

My life changed to one of service, joy, and peace. Being a full-time minister, especially in today’s times, is one of the most rewarding jobs I could have. I have the pleasure of serving side-by-side with my husband and I have been able to pursue my long-held passion for writing. I love our laid-back country life with our front porch rocking chairs and our loyal dogs, and in just a few months, Grandbaby #11 will make his appearance.

I’m not sure what trajectory my life would’ve taken without that prayer, but thankfully, I don’t have to find out.

Sometimes a simple, earnest prayer is all it takes…

How to Be a Good Minister of Christ….

Do you ever wish that you could minister to others the way your pastor does? Or your neighbor? Or your best friend?

2 Corinthians 3:6 tells us that we are ALL able ministers. Here is a quick little guide to help you become the light that leads others.

First, and most important, Jesus tells us is LOVE. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. John 13:34

You can’t pick and choose who you love, who you give grace to….you must love the neighbor who brought you the casserole when you got into a car accident as much as the drunk driver who hit you.

1 Timothy gives us even more direction as ministers of Christ. Let’s break down Chapter 4, verses 1-6:

1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

It is sad to me to have personally seen two men of God who were instrumental in my early walk with Christ to turn their backs and God and profess Buddhism or atheism now. I don’t know what happened in their lives, but I can only pray that they see the error of their ways and come back to Christ.

What infuriates me, though, is seeing “evangelists” preach the gospel and then tell viewers they can have the same blessings if they are obedient to God and send money right away. I’m not talking about 9.99 for a book or video. I get publishing costs. I’m talking about the ones who tell you not to worry about going in debt by sending $100 or $1000 because God will wipe your credit card debt away because you were faithful. SCAM ALERT! Salvation is free. God’s blessings are free!

Minister to those freely. Give freely. Don’t be swayed by those who don’t speak the truth and don’t speak anything but truth when you talk.

Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

“Do as I say and not as I do.” Yeah, right. What kid ever obeyed that? It is the same with us as ministers. We can’t act one way in church and another outside of church and expect anyone to see Christ in us.

I did business with a man for five years. He asked how the church was, asked us to put people on our prayer list, talked about God every time we placed an order. When the quarantine came and we were unable to order anything from him, his language changed considerably. The sarcasm and profanity-laden conversation completely changed my view of him. I’d always felt like I was talking to a fellow Christian. One conversation and his torch was snuffed. Now, the truth is, I don’t know if this guy was just really struggling as so many of us did during the shutdown or if the quarantine conditions caused his true colors to come out. But it didn’t matter. We found a new distributor because of it. The same will happen with you. You cannot minister to others and pop off with a bad attitude one day and expect people not to notice.

Do you have to be perfect? No. But you do have to remember there are consequences when you do not guard your words and actions around others.

3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

Let’s be frank here. We are bigger than ever. The additives, the preservatives, the supersized meals…there are more fat people in America than ever. I struggle with my weight too and it’s frustrating. It’s obvious that a plant-based diet is good for the body. There’s no doubt that an Old Testament diet is good for you as well. But this is NOT a point of salvation. God gave us meat to eat. It’s not wrong to eat it; it’s not wrong to abstain from it. It’s only wrong when you make it biblical issue. Basically, you can dine with The Beverly Hillbillies’ Granny as long as you receive your roadkill with thanksgiving in your heart.

(To address the forbidding to marry part: Timothy is referring to priests who said it is better to remain alone and devoted to God than to marry. His response is that it is not biblical to forbid marriage in the priesthood.)

If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

There you have it! In a nutshell, to be a good minister of Jesus Christ, you should speak the truth, let your light shine before men (even when darkness is rumbling in your mind), and don’t get caught up in religious rules that don’t affect salvation.