Sunday, March 9, 2014

Herding marbles

Have you ever had an experience best described as herding marbles?

Dorris called, yesterday. When she wanders up to the nurses’ station and asks confusing questions, they ask her if she would like to call family. 

Dorris: Do you have an extra key to my car?

Me: You do not drive anymore.

Dorris: Then how can I get home?

Me: You are home. You have a room with your clothes, a t.v., and your own bathroom. You don’t have a kitchen because people cook for you.

Dorris: I don’t have a kitchen? Then how do I feed these young men living with me?


Me: Um, if you are talking about your sons, they are both married. I take care of Paul.

Dorris: Well, of course you do, I was talking about the next generation.

In Dorris’ current world, there are two realities: what she sees in the present, and what she sees in her memories. When she thinks of Paul and Karl, they are about elementary age. When she sees Paul in person, she has to remind herself that this is her son. It is as if she lives in the past and the present simultaneously, and the two do not match. 

It must be a bit like herding marbles on a constantly moving table. She just corrals one group of memories and then the realities of the present go careening off the edge. Grab those marbles and others drift away. You just never seem to get anywhere.

Dorris usually finishes her conversations by telling me she trusts me because I have never steered her wrong before. In the end, in a world where she gingerly steps through the present while the past dances around her, that is all she can do – trust.

My church home is going through strategic planning. We are blessed with some dedicated and visionary members who are leading this process. Today, I participated in a well-run focus group to outline a future direction for our church. It felt so good to be with the people in my group; long-time members with a genuine interest in the church and the spreading of God’s word to the world.

Much like Dorris, we gingerly stepped through the meeting while ideas for what needs to be done danced around the room. Some members want to build the sanctuary, others to clear off the debt, and another person suggested the calling of staff member to work with youth.

Here’s the thing: I understand why churches do strategic planning. I understand why churches need to create budgets and deal with debt. I even understand why we need church councils.

Although, truth be told, I will never quite understand voter’s meetings. 

The problem is, I don’t quite remember any amazing thing that ever came from any of these events.  I can think of many amazing things I have seen and heard at church, but none of them can be traced back to plans, or budgets, or meetings, or committees.

The amazing things simply trace back to God.

I get that strategic planning is all part of serving God, knowing your core values, and being good stewards, but, something doesn’t feel quite right.

I know in my personal life, the more I plan, the less I trust. When I pull back on trust, then anxiety rears its ugly head and that only works to crowd out my faith. When this happens, I spend my time herding the marbles of my fears. Just when I think I have something under control, another part of my plan goes careening off the edge.

How can I know God when I am so busy planning, budgeting, worrying, and working? I am too busy looking at my calendar to see Him. I am too busy making plans for my life to trust His plan for me. I am too busy worrying how I will accomplish what I have started to remember that God gave me faith in Him, in His plan, in His will.

My new theme word is OBEY.  God leads me to do the work He sets before me, and trust in His vision of my past, present and future.

It is not my plan to obey so that God will reward me. I know that I cannot obey without the work of the Spirit. This does not leave much for God to reward.

I obey because it keeps me too busy to groan and complain when things don’t go my way.

I obey because it turns my focus from marble herding and toward God. 

I obey because it gives me something to do while I watch His plan unfold.

I obey because I want to hold fast to Him. I want room for the faith He has given me.

I obey because I am God’s child.

I expect amazing things; traced back to God.

You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. (Deuteronomy 13:4, ESV) 

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. (Hebrews 11:8-9, ESV)

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (I John 5: 1-3, ESV)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My plans vs. God's plans

My children’s message for church got hijacked by a bowling disaster.

It was my intention to talk about marbles, salt, and confessing our sins to each other. I know, that sounds strange, but there was a plan. 

I had the verse:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16, ESV)

I had my jar with marbles buried in salt. I even practiced pounding the jar on the floor to make the marbles rise to the top. I was ready to explain that when salt does what salt is designed to do it slips around the marbles and into air pockets and this causes the marbles to rise to the top.

I was ready to explain how we are good at breaking things, like friendships and promises, but we are not so good at fixing things. But, when we do what God designed us to do, when we confess our sins and pray, God brings healing. 

The message was short and sweet and I was ready for anything except the delightfully wandering minds of three-year-olds.

An absolutely adorable child leaned toward me and said “Teacher, guess what?” 

I took the bait and the first story about bowling commenced, followed quickly by five or six more, all spoken simultaneously. 

The effect was suggestive of a preschool class speaking in tongues. There was lots of noise and hand waving. Then someone left to use the restroom. It was a five minute children’s message and I completely lost control.

Although, when you are sitting in front of church with a group of a couple dozen pre-schoolers, “control” is not usually the word that comes to mind.
I am pretty sure I could hear the pastors stifling a snicker from behind the lectern.
I scrambled to find a way to connect bowling with repentance, prayer, and forgiveness. I scrambled to no avail. And yet, somehow, God brought a message for His little ones out of our bowling disaster.  And, again, I had to remind myself that even when I am doing the talking, the children are probably still thinking about bowling and the Spirit still does His work in spite of us.

God just asks us to do what He designed us to do: repent, pray, praise, love, trust, obey . . .

I thought I had this dissertation thing planned.  I quit my assistantship at the University so I would have more time to write.

Then I lost a teaching contract and had to recruit more work.

I got a chance to teach for the University and set about setting up a schedule for writing.

Then I broke my arm.

I got the cast off, did my exercises, and started writing, again.

Now, my doctor thinks I may need more surgery to release pressure on the nerve.

I planned, by this point, to be done with my proposal and to be busy collecting data, but my plans have been hijacked by life, by my clumsiness, by my trust in my own ability to make plans happen. So, here I am with an arm that types for a limited amount of time each day, with dictation software that doesn’t yet understand psychology vocabulary (that makes two of us) and a huge project waiting to be finished. I have my own sweet version of a children’s message bowling disaster. 

So what do I do? I believe it is simple; I do what God designed me to do. I repent, pray, praise, love, trust, obey . . . 

God’s love and His will for me and my project will slip into the pockets of my disaster and lift me up to Him. He knows the plan. He knows how it will be accomplished, and even why it should be accomplished.

Lord, help me do what you designed me to do.

We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:6-8 ESV)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13 ESV)