Monday, September 29, 2014

Fear in the Church

I believe because of my own struggle with fear, I can relate to the destructive personal ramifications it can have in one's life.  All reason and sanity fly out the window when fear and control become our gear shifts.

That is the funny thing about fear, isn't it?  It becomes such a strong fabric woven into our emotional DNA that we don't even realize it's right there staring us in the face.  We can't see that the decisions we make are based in fear.  We can't see that the control we operate in is based in fear.  Fear becomes our security blanket, because it deceives us into believing we have some kind of control over our environment.

This type of control is notorious in the church.  There has been a digression over the centuries from being Jesus-focused to sin-focused.  Many sermons are on lust, greed, and pride instead of Jesus, redemption, and grace.  The reason this is ineffective is because we become what we behold.  Whatever our attention is focused on will seep its way into the depths of our heart and desires.

If you are on a diet and are trying to avoid ice cream, and your focus is, "I can't eat ice cream. I can't eat ice cream. I can't eat ice cream! ... Why can't I stop thinking about ice cream?!"  Your focus on the problem keeps the problem in front of your face.  In contrast, your focus on the solution makes the pathway to victory so much clearer.

In 2 Corinthians it says that by simply beholding the Lord, we are transformed into His image.  2 Corinthians 3:18 "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 

Being transformed into His image includes not living a life over-indulging in ice cream.  It's not a striving process.  There is not a need to be controlled.  It's simply the focus on our God that causes everything else to fade away in the light of Him.  We go from glory to glory when we behold Him and not sin around us.

Here is a great excerpt from a blog that I read:

Sin is embarrassing, and embarrassment is definitely scary. But doesn't that make God's grace all the more impactful? Doesn't that help us appreciate the freedom found in God's forgiveness? Not a freedom to sin, mind you. Not even a freedom from conviction. But freedom to be fearless.  Freedom to be open and without pretense. Freedom to love and be loved in the most natural way possible. No artificial flavoring. No preservatives.

Too many people allow their fears to rob them of God's love, of even receiving the love of God's people. They walk into church with emotional flak jackets on with arms firmly folded across their bodies. Protected. They think from shame, I say from love. We've got to do something about that. -Antwuan Malone, Candid Christianity

Let's create an environment in our churches where people feel safe to share their struggles.  An environment of grace is the only place where someone will find freedom.  For too long the Church has worked to control others' behavior before allowing them to belong to their family.  Is it possible that if we invited others to belong first that their behavior might just follow suit?  That seems to be how Jesus operated.  I say we give it a try.

Living in Grace,
Melissa Wood

Monday, December 9, 2013

These Three Gifts

I love this time of year. From thanksgiving, to Christmas, to the New Year, I enjoy each with it’s own special meaning and emphasis leading up to the beginning of a new year. I want to share three traits about this season that the gift of Jesus has made possible for us to enter into.

First on the seasonal journey is Thankfulness.

Native American Chief, Te CUM sah, said, “When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”

I don’t know about you, but being thankful can be one of the hardest things to do. Something about our human condition makes it easier to see what we think “isn’t happening” instead of all the good things that are happening and for which we can be thankful. I know there are many of you who have mastered the art of being a Thankful person. Keep it up. We need a reminder! So I encourage you, in all the hustle and bustle. In all the traffic and family crowds. Even in some of the loneliness or sadness, Let’s ALL Try to be more Thankful. Sometimes It takes a mental effort to be thankful, so I challenge you: Find three things a day for which to be thankful.

Next, this is a season of Joy. It is indeed better to give than receive. Who doesn’t love the look on that special someone or someones face as they open a gift you picked out just for them? As a Father, it is especially fun to see your children be excited to open gifts, taste foods, give gifts, and see far away family members.

Marianne Williamson said, “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”

As we move into the season where we received the greatest gift of all in Jesus, let’s not forget that Joy itself can be a gift. Just like thankfulness. As you are running around, doing life, planning, packing, wrapping, and cooking, Give away Joy. A smile. A compliment.

Tell those you love, appreciate, or admire how important they are to you. Tell them how they increase your joy.

Laugh and have fun - after all, Laughter is the best medicine! Don’t let anything rob your joy! I tell the people in our congregation when you allow someone to affect your emotions, you have put them in charge of you. I want to be the only person in charge of me! So to, when we let people or other things rob our joy, we put them in charge of us. Don’t do that this year! Let’s spread the Joy - to friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers. Your smile, laugh, or kind words may be the only ones some of us receive that day, week, or season. Give away Joy!

Finally, this is a season of Hope. With each New Year, we have a chance for new beginnings. I know that for many of us making New Year’s resolutions hasn’t been the most effective way of change. That 20 lbs is still there for me, BUT, what resolutions do is remind us that change is POSSIBLE - that their is always hope. Hope is not wishful thinking, but rather confidant expectation of good.

Nothing expresses hope like the Son of God who came to save the world. A gift of such hope brings increase to our own. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

We can change. We can grow. Things can get better. Relationships can improve. Even in the tough things of life, there is always a ray of hope. Grab the thread. Don’t let go. As Dr. King said, we are all going to have times of disappointment. One of the best things we can do is to recognize when others are having one of those times and be a hope carrier for them. I know that I will need that one day. I know that you will need that one day. We are not on this journey called life alone. When one needs hope, another should have some ready. My wife and I have an agreement. We are not allowed to have a bad day on the same day. One of us has to carry the hope for the other on tough days. What if we did that in our little community? What if we made a conscious decision to release hope the same way Jesus did and still does today?

May this be the most thankful, joyful, and hopeful holiday season for you and yours. I declare that this thankfulness, joyfulness and hopefulness will carry over the 2014 and our community will be an even better place to live than it is now.

Enjoying these gifts,

Monday, July 22, 2013

Apathy Vs. Action

The more I invest in personal growth and in the personal growth of others, I realize that we only have 2 options in every area of our lives:
1) Do nothing.
2) Do something.
We are always doing one or the other: nothing or something.  And it's really easy to do  developing your furthering your work displaying love for your growing in intimacy with serving your church and community.  Doing nothing, especially if the "something" you did previously did not pan out the way you hoped, can be seen as the seemingly best option.

Now when I say, "Do something.", I don't mean strive or go force things to happen.  What I mean is, "What has God said is the next step of investment in a certain area and have you done that?"  Sometimes the step is simply resting.  Sometimes the next thing is getting some time in the Presence.  If that is next, have you done even that? (I'm speaking to myself on that one)

The problem with doing nothing is that apathy inevitably sets in.  You depend on others to move things forward and your heart begins to turn towards criticism because you are not seeing destiny fulfilled.

With apathy comes settling for easy answers.  But the temporarily-easy solutions are usually the worst solutions long term.  Band-aids don't change things.  They only cover up what needs to be dealt with.  Time, energy, and investment will bring about growth, fruit, and results in your life.  Investment is the path to the true desires of your heart.  Jesus' life is a pretty good example of that too.

Finally, generosity breaks the mindset of poverty.  Where are you most impoverished in your life, and are you generously investing in that area?  Give into the area where you lack most, and watch things change and multiply.

Centuries ago, a little boy invested his entire sack lunch and 5,000+ people were fed because of it.

So what's your choice today: Apathy or Action?

Making choices myself,

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Culture of Investment

This Sunday I shared a message on my heart about the missing element of learning to invest in the areas we long to see growth.  We have found ourselves in such an instantaneous, "microwave" society, that the true value of investing...with time...with energy...with resources...with commitment...has been diminished and in some ways lost.  The best result comes from the greatest investment.

My husband was recently given some bonsai trees from a dear friend's "grandma" who passed away.  Bonsai trees take an enormous amount of work and investment.  There is rigorous and regular pruning, strict lighting regimen, various techniques for growing, and then, of course, time...years, actually.  But the value of the Bonsai is tremendous.  One tiny plant, about the size of your foot, is on average $80.  The most expensive Bonsai tree ever sold was $2 million.  I am not kidding.  A culture of investment has been developed around a small tree, which has in turn, created enormous value.  The risk has been worth the reward for the Bonsai.

So, take a moment and look at your life.  What is important to you?
     -your marriage?
     -your kids?
     -your health?
     -your spiritual life?
Then ask yourself, am I seeing the "reward" I desire to see in those areas?  If not, evaluate the level your investment has been.  Have you gone "all in" with your investment in those areas.  I promise you, the risk is worth the return.

I could say much much more about this, but instead, here is the link to message I shared on Sunday:  It's titled: A Culture of Investment

Risking more,

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Naturally Supernatural

    I was asked by and old friend what I meant by the term “naturally supernatural.” So instead of just shooting her an email, I thought I would make this a blog post!

    Living naturally supernatural first means that I live with an awareness that I am not “merely human.” (1 Corinthians 3.4). I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17)! I have been “born from above” (John 3.16). When I said yes to Jesus, I became new. Altogether different. I became a Jesus/human hybrid. I became a supernatural being that is now seated with Jesus in heavenly places (Eph. 2.6).
   Secondly, being naturally supernatural means I get to do the things Jesus did, because He lives in me. Jesus said in John’s gospel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” So, I am learning that means I get to (am expected to) do the things Jesus did. I know I read that verse my entire life, but for most of my life I thought it meant going to church and getting people saved. But what did Jesus actually do? And what does it mean to do the works He did and does? I’m not even ready to think about greater things than he did!
So what are the things Jesus did?

  1. Healing - he healed all those who came to him. Physically. Spiritually. Mentally. Emotionally. Sometimes the healing looked like #2 on the list.
  2. Severed demonic oppression - He cast spirits/demons out. Whether they were possessed or oppressed doesn’t really matter to me, the results were the same. The people who were afflicted by demonic influence were miserable and needed freedom. Jesus gave it to them.
  3. Challenged religious thinking - Jesus put the focus back on relationship with God the Father. He came to make it possible. In the process, he decimates religious thinking and behavior as the means to salvation. 
  4. Worked miracles - water into wine, walking on water, etc. 
  5. Taught the Truth of the Word (he is the Word). He set himself up as the both the true Word and the interpretation of the written word.
    The temptation is to just chalk all these up to Jesus being Jesus. You know, he’s perfect and all that stuff. Of course he did that! Philippians tells us that, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus divested himself of the power as God to do powerful things. He had to rely on the Spirit of God to do what he did on earth. He did the things mentioned above as man, not as God, while remaining God. (So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5.19)
   Basically, it doesn’t get me off the hook! I don’t get to say, “I can’t.” Jesus came so we could!
   So, being naturally supernatural simply means, I live my life like Jesus lived his. I value and receive love from my connection with the Father, which then leads me to value and love others, which leads to healing the sick, bringing freedom from demonic oppression, challenging religious thinking (in myself first, then others in love), expecting the miraculous, and leaning on the Truth (Jesus) to understand the truth (Bible).

    I may look it, but I am no longer “merely human!”

Naturally supernatural,

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Community Crash Course

I promised I would discuss more about community.  It IS the Year of Community at our church, so that only seems right.  But something in me fights talking about the subject.  Probably because the lessons learned in Community can ONLY come from experience...which means I need to

Here are the 3 things that are the WORST about community for me so far:

Confrontation - It's uncomfortable.  It means someone is being called to growth and change.  It means I'm probably being called to growth and change.

Vulnerability - It's uncomfortable.  It means you are going to see ME, not just the facade.  It means I have to exercise some level of trust.

Time - Community takes time, sometimes excruciating amounts of time.  It will build patience in you.  It doesn't happen overnight.  People need your mental and physical energy.

Here are the 3 things that are BEST about community for me so far: (see if you see any similarities)

Confrontation - It makes me a healthier person.  By confronting in love, I can prevent poison from developing in my soul towards someone.  By being confronted in love, I know where I need to grow in a relationship with someone.  There is no second guessing how they feel about me.  There are no weird stares or strange presences.  There is honesty and clarity and a foundation to grow closer.

Vulnerability - It has allowed to me to accept the truth that people actually like me, even though I'm not perfect.  It has removed fear of perception.  It has allowed me to be a more "real" me.  And honestly, my ability to lead is stronger, because people feel like they can actually relate to me.

Time - I am a task-oriented person.  There is no question about that.  But as I spend more time with people, I'm learning that there is no time as valuable as time spent with someone or time spent considering someone.  The mental energy and physical energy bring a joy unexplained.  Even the time for difficult conversations results in greater levels of love in the relationship.

The longer I soak in the reality of what Community means for me and the relationships around me, the more I actually understand Jesus.  When He endured the cross for "the joy" that was set before Him, I believe that joy was Community.  Reconnecting us to God, to him, to one another.  He was wiping away the barriers of disunity to reunite us into a powerful commUnity.

And I also see why loving others is the second greatest commandment listed in the New Testament.  Because next to loving God, there is nothing greater than loving others.  I might have argued the truth of that a few months ago (maybe even a few weeks ago), but today my feelings are catching up with that truth.

A word of loving confrontation to those reading this: Don't let your past hurts, abandonments, and fears keep you from loving others and allowing yourself to be loved.  A very high price was paid so that you would never have to be alone.  You are that valuable, no matter what you've been told.

Living to love others,

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Prayer, What's It Good For?

Depending on your upbringing or relationship with church and religion, prayer can often be a daunting, strange task. See, I just did it there. Task. I used the word task. Do I consider having a conversation with my wife a task (only sometimes)? Most of the time I look forward to my times of communication and connection with Melissa. Though she is a natural introvert, when we spend dedicated time together I love to hear what’s on her heart. I love to listen to her talk. Dream. Plan. What I am saying is, usually, it is not a task. It is a connection.

That brings me back to prayer. Prayer is a funny thing. At it’s core, it is connection. Connection with God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is about “tuning” in, first and foremost to the frequency of His love. I imagine and dream that my prayer life would be something like the Taos Hum (a persistent, mysterious, low-frequency hum). I want a low-frequency, “hum” of prayer bubbling under my surface. A connection that I can hear and be aware of. It doesn’t matter if others can hear it (only 11% of the population can hear the Taos Hum), but I want to hear it. I want to know it’s there. Funny thing is, that I do have the Taos Hum. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Romans 8.34

So the intercession of Jesus is my Taos Hum Prayer. He is always constantly praying for me, with me, AS me! After all, I have been co-crucified with Christ. “I” no longer live, the resurrected Jesus lives in and as me!

So what about those verses of “persistent” prayer. Surely I have to work up a sweat and pray fervently. Maybe even bleed a little, right?

Somehow when we view prayer like that it turns it in to some kind of magic incantation or works-based, religious performance (speaking from personal experience).

What if prayer is connecting with the Hum of Jesus? For us and others?

Paul says in Colossians, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Some translations say “devote” yourselves. But it has more of a connotation of being connected with, aware of, or adherence to a person! The word for “watchful,” literally means, “keep your wit about you.” Permit me, if you will, to offer my own translation.

“Be aware of the connection you have with Jesus when you pray, and be ready to act on what He shows you - oh, be sure to be thankful for this connection!”

I know some may not like the “license” I take, but a few verses later (after he asks for prayer for himself) Paul instructs them in the way they should treat “outsiders” and uses similar language. “Act wisely to outsiders, and make the most of every opportunity” vs. 5 The Source translation. Sounds kind of like, “keep your wits about you” when you are dealing with people on the outside of our faith. Plus, you have to “know how to answer each individual person” vs. 6,  The Source.

I believe the entire context of this passage on prayer is: Be aware of your connection to Jesus, and be ready to release and do what He shows you. Not just for yourself, for me (Paul) as well. Oh, and be sure that you do that also for those outside of our community, so that you can give them what they need - answers from Jesus, found in your connection with Him.

Prayer, what is it good for? Absolutely something!