TAKING THE PLUNGE

 

By Lisa Huddleston

“Do not neglect the gift that is in you … Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:14).

At a recent two-day training event for Christian coaches, I was asked a really tough question by another coach.  It was during a practice session, and I was the person being coached.  Since we are always asked to use a real topic to be coached around, I was telling him about my difficulty in choosing the best place to serve in my church.  I talked for a while, and he asked a couple questions, but spent the majority of the time listening to what I had to share about myself, my strengths, my gifts, my passions, and so on.  Finally, he looked at me and carefully asked, “Could it be that this is really a question of obedience for you?”  In other words, I knew how God had gifted me, and I could see avenues through which I could use these abilities, but I was still hesitant to actually use them.  Was I telling God no?

But I had great excuses for why I couldn’t serve.  I’m an introvert, and I hate to be in front of people.  I get really nervous teaching.  I don’t have enough training or enough information to be “the expert.”  And besides, no one had specifically asked me to serve, and there were other people already working in the same areas I would fit.  I wasn’t really needed.  The list was pretty long—that is until he asked that question.

Wow.  Was it really so simple?  Was I disobeying God by not using the gifts he had given?  I felt the truth of his question as it pierced my heart and settled in with a thud.  Yes.  There was really no way around it.  I’m not sure why it took me so long to see it.  Why, as I told my fellow coach, was I waiting for lightening to strike to show me when and where to get to work?  But in that moment, I knew it was true.

And, oddly enough, lightening did strike.  Just before that practice session, I was invited to help with an upcoming leadership event and amazingly I didn’t say no or even that I needed to think about it.  And then during supper at church that evening, I was approached about facilitating a small group study.  Again, I knew that my answer was yes.  Maybe that doesn’t seem miraculous to you, but it was a real shock to me.  Just as clear and illuminating as actual lightening.

How am I feeling today?  I have to admit to some “buyer’s remorse.”  Do I have what it takes to do what I’ve been asked?  What if I do a terrible job and embarrass myself in front of a group of strangers or, even worse, my friends?  What if I’m never asked to do anything like this again?  I guess that’s just a part of it.  But I do know that in that moment of clarity when my coach asked me that question, I felt the truth of my situation, and I didn’t like what I saw.  Obeying God is more important than saving face any day of the week. 

So here goes.  I’m taking the leap, and it really is a leap of faith.  I’m going do what I can not to neglect the gifts that God has given me.  I will be more conscientious about practicing these things and more committed to using them both for myself and for those who will hear or read the words God gives me to share.  And when I fall, as I’m pretty sure I will from time to time, I’m trusting my Father to catch me and lift me right back up on my feet ready to serve again.

Do you know the gifts that God has given you to use?  Are you doing what you can to keep that flame alive (2 Tim. 1:6)?  If not, why not?  Is it a question of obedience for you as it was for me?  Let me encourage you.  There’s no time like the present. Don’t you think it’s time to take the plunge?

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MEANINGFUL MEMBERSHIP: WORTH THE COST

By Lisa Huddleston

 “The king answered Araunah, ‘No, I insist on buying it from you for a price, for I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing’” (2 Samuel 24:24).

There was a time when choosing to become a member of the early church could cost you everything.  Men and women knew that choosing Christ meant that they may lose everything else—even their lives and the lives of their families could be part of the price they would pay.  They faced torture, persecution, and isolation.  Yet, they deemed it worth the cost.

Even later, the cost of being a disciple of Christ could be high.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  For Bonhoeffer this call was fulfilled literally as he took a stand for Christ against Hitler and Nazi Germany and faced death by firing squad in a German prison.  But even the 1940s seem a distant memory to us today, almost irrelevant in our comfort and assumed freedom.  We marvel at the courage of those who faced the ultimate test, but fail to connect it with what we know about church membership.

Yet today in many parts of this world, there are people who still face the terrible price of choosing to align their names with the body of Christ.  Joining a church costs them their jobs, their families, and unbelievably to us, their lives.  When they choose to go public by putting their name on a church roll, they become marked men and women.  Yet, the cost is still worth it to them and amazingly churches in these dangerous areas of the world are growing!

Here and now, I often feel like King David did when Araunah offered to provide him with the place, the oxen, and the wood for his sacrifice to the Lord.  Every week, or at least those weeks that I don’t have anything better to do, I show up for worship.  The sanctuary has been decorated and cleaned.  The air conditioner is running.  The music has been rehearsed, the Sunday school lessons prepared, and the sermon written.  All I have to do is walk in the door and sit down in my cushioned pew.  Whew!  What a sacrifice.  And amazingly, sometimes I act as though it really is.  I complain that the songs weren’t to my liking or that the lesson was shallow.  I gripe over the temperature or the length of the service.  I feel that I’ve paid quite a price by giving my whole Sunday to Jesus and go away feeling justified.  Yet, I have offered burnt offerings that cost me absolutely nothing!  And I am ashamed.

What is the cost of being a member in the body of Christ today?  What does God bid me to come and do in his church?  I know it has to be much more than I am doing.  Has he gifted me to serve others in a special way?  Is there a class that I need to teach?  Is there a committee on which I need to work?  Is there a place for me that is going empty week after week because I don’t think it’s worth the cost? 

Forgive me, Lord, for counting your church as unworthy of any cost to me.  I know that grace and church membership are free, but I also know that they came at a very high cost to you.  Help me to offer sacrifices that are pleasing and worthy, Lord.  Sacrifices that actually cost me something—some discomfort, some time, some money, some dying to my selfishness—something!  I know that it is worth everything to be counted as a meaningful member of your body.  Here I am, Lord.  Use me.

THE WAY IT IS

 By Lisa Huddleston

“There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1).

Last Saturday the daughter of some very good friends got married.  It was a day she and her family had planned for and anticipated for many months.  They had made all the preparations, and everything was lovely—just as they had hoped.  However, it was also the day that the rains that flooded Middle Tennessee began to fall. 

What did one event have to do with the other?  Was there any connection?  Why didn’t the sun shine?  Didn’t God care that it was a special day?  Just to be clear, I didn’t hear anyone from this sweet family voice these thoughts.  It’s probably just my strange brain at work, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry and even a little angry over it.

I pondered these negative questions as we drove through the flooding Lebanon square and headed west to the reception.  On the way, I noticed a wedding at another church in town and recognized that there were others who were experiencing the same disappointments.  It really wasn’t all about us any more than any other day was.

As we carefully made our way home that evening, barely getting over the one lane bridge to our house, it began to dawn on me how serious this event really was.  I could see houses in danger and roads being closed.  Things were getting worse, and the next day the rain kept falling.

Sunday was Senior Recognition Day.  Again, I was struck by the fact that the rain seemed so indifferent to our plans.   We took another road to town avoiding the swollen creek that now ran over the bridge and managed to arrive safely.  I felt soggy and irritated by the inconvenience and the low attendance.  After all, it was a big day for my son and his friends.  But again, it humbled me to hear of the struggles others were experiencing—the loss of homes and even deaths.  I remembered it had nothing to do with “our day” and everything to do with God’s glory.

How in the world could this devastating flood be involved with bringing glory to God?  I wondered the same thing in my self-pity attacks over the weekend, but as I heard story after story on the news and in person, I knew that the flood—as all things—was under God’s rule and designed for His purpose.  As carefully as I can write and as gently as I can say it, if God is God then even this flood was from Him. 

I can see at least three perspectives from which suffering glorifies God.  First and most immediate is the perspective of the suffering Christian.  I read a quote from Nancy Leigh DeMoss this morning that said, “Whatever draws us closer to God is a blessing.”  I am sure that I do not always respond in happy acquiescence to such a positive thought.  However, I have been so blessed to hear the accounts of those who have lost all their material goods and yet are praising God.  One young couple told of being caught  in rising water on their way to church.  They were forced to climb on the roof of the car, and finally realizing that there was no way for them to be rescued, they let the water and God carry them to safety.   Did they know that they would be safe?  No way!  But they did know that they were no longer in charge.  Their words pointed me to Him and He was glorified by the telling.

A second perspective to suffering is that of those who are not directly affected.  As devastating as the flood has been to so many, there are many of us whose property and families have been kept safe and dry.  How can we respond to the suffering of others in a way that will bring God glory?  Again, I can recount tale after tale of ways that people have reached out to help.  Some risked their own lives to rescue those who were trapped.  Some have donated money, time, and goods to help.  Some have just shown up to clean businesses and homes of complete strangers.  By being the hands of Jesus to those who are hurting, Christians are sharing God’s love and bringing Him glory.

The third perspective that comes to my mind is the one that I least understand.  It is the perspective of God.  Do I know why God would let the rains fall so hard and so fast?  No way—and I have to admit that it really bothers me.  But I do know my God.  I know that He loves me and all His children.  I know that He is a Father who gives us what we need and that He always hears and cares for us.  And I know that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  And His purpose results in His glory.

For now as we see through this glass darkly, the rain may appear random and the floods indiscriminate, but we have a God who knows us personally and has a plan.  Does this mean that we will never suffer?  Consider His servant Job and know that we will.  Look at His precious Son and remember that suffering is part of who we are.  And whatever we do, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in suffering, may we as the bride of Christ do it all for the glory of God.