His Call. His Time.

In my trek to read through the Bible again, I have (after over a year) reached the book of Jeremiah this morning. I love Jeremiah chapter 1: God’s call on a man’s life. The verses simply ebb and flow with the substantive strength and undergirding of the Lord God. Truly, Jeremiah must have felt encouraged and emboldened as God spoke His part into Jeremiah’s life.

“…I formed you…”

“…I knew you…”

“…I consecrated you…”

“…I appointed you…”

“…I send you…”

“…I command you…”

“…I am with you to deliver you…”

“…I have put my words in your mouth…”

“…I have set you this day over nations…”

“…I make you this day…”

“…I am with you…”

Wow!

According to His words of commission, God has placed Himself as the driving force over Jeremiah’s call. Granted, God intends for Jeremiah to speak out when commanded, but He does not expect–nor does He even attempt to imply–that Jeremiah should feel compelled to speak or act on anything outside of those commands.

God created him for a purpose. God called him to that purpose. God desires for him to fulfill that purpose. That is enough for God.

And Jeremiah’s purpose? God gets to use him as a megaphone to speak judgment over the evil actions of His people. (Hint: Jeremiah’s life will get very, very uncomfortable.)

But here’s the pivotal verse that stuck out to me regarding this call: “And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land” (verse 18).

Hmmm…I can’t help but wonder how many times Jeremiah had to speak back to himself and encourage himself yet again in his call. “I am ‘a fortified city…an iron pillar…bronze walls…’ God made me thus.” I wonder how many times he didn’t feel like any of those things. (Say, when he was in stocks, or in the dungeon, or in the cistern.) How many times did Jeremiah have to remind himself of whom God made him…regardless of circumstances.

Sometimes the call of God places us in situations that don’t seem to match up with the vision. Those positions require a deeper determination to hold on to His words–to choose to allow His words, and not what we see or feel, to direct our course and steady our thoughts.

This aspect feels quite personal to me this morning. Having arrived in our new home near Little Rock, fresh and eager to start a new church, we find ourselves still settling in–wondering if we’re doing enough toward that end–pondering whether we should stop settling in and start to make that church happen. And yet God has not given my husband clear direction on the particulars. Ideas. Thoughts. But not clear and distinct direction. So we pray. So we wait. So we settle.

And yet the call on my husband’s life to be a pastor remains. He has been created, consecrated and appointed to be a pastor. He simply is one. And a pastor without people can feel a little at sea–just like a shepherd with no sheep. Ministering to people throbs within his heart and soul.

Therefore, keeping our vision focused, we remind ourselves of the call. The story of its inception. The steps God worked out so clearly to get us here. The verses and words of encouragement others have spoken into our lives. We recollect God’s faithfulness and His character to always, always fulfill His Word.

We choose to walk in His word and wait on His ways.

We choose not to run ahead of God, trusting that–like with Jeremiah–the One who called us will be the same One who will command us.

Our God.

His word. His call. His purpose. His time.

“…I am watching over My word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12b).

Praying for our people in our city from our porch.

Praying for our people in our city from our porch.

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Mercy and Goodness for Every Day

I awakened this morning before dawn, my heart brimming with anticipation. After an hour of laying in bed, I determined that to be awake and with coffee sounded much, much better than simply being awake. So I got up.

Despite the very overcast sky, one thought purposed itself to rise above the rest: “God is good.”

God is good.

He is good on sunny days. He is good on stormy days. And, just like today, he is good on overcast days.

God is simply good. Everyday.

And like His goodness rings out across all manner of days, His mercies are also new…regardless of weather.

And circumstances.

You see, today my husband and I begin a new journey to start a church in Little Rock, Arkansas. In but a short time, we will get in our car, take our final look around, and drive away from our home, our church, and our dear ones.

And because I’m excited to my innermost being over this next stage in our journey, I want my weather to reflect the excitement of my new adventure. Sunny!!!

But it’s not.

It’s thickly overcast.

Thankfully, though, the weather does not determine God’s goodness. He’s still good. His gift of this morning is good. And His call for this journey is good.

Much like the daily weather does not alter God’s goodness, neither do circumstances alter God’s mercies. Each day awakens with the promise of new mercies, which overflow onto my life regardless of health or wealth. They simply abound each morning.

Isn’t that grand?

In short, God does not need my circumstances to determine who He is.

Merciful.

Good.

Faithful.

Loving.

When I can acknowledge that despite my circumstances–despite my weather–He is good–He is merciful–I can embrace each new day with the gratitude He deserves.

I’m thankful for this day. This heavily overcast day.

I’m thankful because the power of the sun exists beyond the clouds.

I’m thankful because the power of the Son exists beyond my circumstances.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

My Quiet Place of Strength

In God’s hand, a yielded weakness has greater power than an unyielded strength.

Because of my daily struggle with ME/CFS, I often live out my life in baby steps. Take tonight’s taco dinner, for example. Yesterday I browned and spiced the meat. This afternoon I prepped the cauliflower to steam for my “rice”. Finally this evening, I will pull it all together to serve buffet-style as a tasty meal for my family. (And they will do the dishes. Bonus!)

Managing a lifestyle around a frequently debilitating health issue requires loads of thought and planning. Absolutely everything I do comes with a trade-off. If I do “A” I cannot count on doing “B”. My life gets plotted and lived out in segments of days rather than just today. What I hope to accomplish tomorrow must get accounted for in today’s activity as well as the day following.

Can you imagine how discouraging and small my life must seem at times?

I’ve thought about this several times lately as our home has become a bedlam of activity. First came the demanding renovations, followed this past week by the stop-everything-and-pick-up-the-house-and-quickly-vacate mode of open houses and private showings, all while tackling some packing.

Or rather…Brad tackles the packing.

I rest and regenerate between activities.

We’ve discussed this–my beloved and I.

God has given to each of us our strengths and weaknesses–and then He paired us with each other in the most wonderful and remarkable of ways. My husband, thankfully, just happens to have enough energy for the both of us–God’s gift to him (and me!).

The odd thing about strengths and weakness and human behavior is that we tend to do one of two things: 1) evaluate others on their strengths while we evaluate ourselves on our weaknesses, or 2) the other way around.

I tend to view my husband through his assets (probably best for the marriage that way!). I see the energy he brings into the required busyness of renovating, selling and packing a home. And then I see myself on my comfy brown couch. He hustles and bustles. I sit. He takes care of business. I lounge.

Quite the discouraging disparity, don’t you think?

Well, I suppose it would be if God didn’t have a say in the whole thing.

But His word speaks. And, boy!, did it encourage my heart this morning! “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning (repentance) and rest you shall be saved (delivered, set free!); in quietness and in trust shall be your strength‘” (Isaiah 30:15a).

God has greatly used ME/CFS to cause me to “walk humbly before my God.” I literally can place “no confidence in the flesh.” After years of striving against what was happening to my body, I have learned to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, follow Him in quiet trust and rest in His plan to set me free (either on earth or in heaven–she said with a grin!).

This is my “in the pocket” place.

This quiet nook of a restful, trusting heart is my strength–God’s gift to me.

“I will go in the strength of the Lord God; I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only” (Psalm 71:16).

Pensive Ponderings of a Church-Planter’s Wife: His Helpmate Suitable

Several years ago, just before Brad went on staff at our church, I experienced an “oh.my.what.have.I.gotten.myself.into” moment. Also known as a moment of unexpected panic.

Prior to that instant, I had trotted along–simply content that the man I respected and honored would soon serve our church body as an associate pastor with the gifts God had given him. Content, that is, until that one moment in time when a dear man grinningly proclaimed, “So! You’re going to be a pastor’s wife!”

What?

I am?

I totally understood God’s call on Brad to become a pastor; after all, I knew how he lived. But, me? A pastor’s wife??

Goodness gracious! When did that happen??!!

With images of perfect women now running amok in my brain, I stuttered out a rather nebulous reply and wandered off to the lobby, where I gratefully ran into a sweet and no-nonsense older woman, who had stood with and supported her dear husband–another associate pastor on staff–for many a ministerial year. After explaining to her my confused state of mind, she offered me the lifeline of sage advice and joyful hope, all wrapped up in one short and practical conversation.

Me: “J. just said I’m going to be a pastor’s wife! I’m not sure I can do that! I understand Brad as a pastor! I just don’t think I’m a pastor’s wife!”

She: “Well, who did you marry?”

Me: “Brad.”

She: “Well, just keep being Brad’s wife! You didn’t walk down the aisle and say your vows to someone named “Pastor.” You said them to Brad. You just keep being Brad’s wife, and the rest will take care of itself.”

That fleeting yoke I had strapped on fell right off with those words. I only had to be Brad’s wife. Easy-peasy! I had been Brad’s wife for years, and simply loved my role.

Brad’s wife.

His “helpmate suitable.”

Let the joy of the journey resume!

As we embark on this new adventure, I couldn’t help but recall this conversation which brought such relief to my soul a decade ago. For in a vulnerable moment a couple of weeks back, another random comment caused all those feelings of inadequacy to rush forth and challenge my impending role as Senior Pastor’s Wife. With an “Oh, dear! How can I do all those ‘church planter’s wife’ kind of things?” and a “What if I can’t meet expectations?,” I felt my heart sink within me.

Cue the images of a pastor’s wife overseeing children’s ministries while trying to initiate a women’s ministries program. Not to mention making coffee and playing hostess at Bible studies.

Um…did God happen to remember that I’ve spent the past three years trying to figure out how to even get to church, let alone try to oversee or initiate any ministry?

And the answer is, “Yes.” God did indeed remember.

I had forgotten.

Through a brief conversation with my match-made-in-heaven, God reminded me that my primary role had never changed: I was still his “helpmate suitable.” Despite my health issues, I alone gave to Brad the three things he valued most in a wife:

  1. Someone who prayed intimately for him and our body.
  2. Someone who encouraged the call God had placed on his life.
  3. Someone who stood “all-in” with him.

God knows my shortcomings, just as He knows the shortcomings of every other single person in history whom He has chosen to use…including church planter’s wives.

And He has a plan. A plan that either includes a “strengthened” me or offers another dear child the opportunity to grow.

And He has abundant love for me. A love that remains mindful that I am “but dust,” and yet delights to show His glory through such a weak vessel.

You know what? I can hardly wait to see how my God gets the glory through my humble offerings. All I have to do is surrender myself to God and trust Him to do the work.

And joyfully remain Brad’s “helpmate suitable.”

“O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works” (Isaiah 26:12).

Pensive Ponderings of a Church-Planter’s Wife: Leaving People

As I curl up on my comfy brown couch this morning, I cannot help but reflect on how after over a year of praying, praying, and praying some more, my husband and I sit on a brink of change. With great diligence and extreme fortitude, Bradley has completed the renovations on our home of 22-years.

We will meet with the realtor this afternoon.

We will put our home on the market.

We will move forward.

What has felt so surreal for such a very long time now enters the birth pangs of intense reality. Much like an expectant mother “knows” she’s pregnant for months, so have I walked in this indefinite time of awareness: both she and I understand a great change is upon us, yet neither she nor I can fully comprehend the impending truth until…

…one day…

…the reality sets in.

That moment when a woman realizes that far sooner that she can accomplish her to-do list, her life will absolutely and irrevocably change.

And for me, this is my morning of reality.

Far greater to me than any to-do list, however, sits my people list: my precious list of the dear and sweet people who have supported my husband and me over the years–those who particularly have encouraged us during these past three years. My heart aches to spend time with them–each and every one–before we leave.

As well as managing social engagements and preparing to move…all with a vastly limited energy base.

And take care of my medical appointments.

And normal shopping and laundry and housework.

All while my list grows with each tender remembrance of kindness.

And as others realize that our days tick down, they also hope to spend time together.

And the list grows.

Until my heart grows…anxious.

What if I can’t accommodate everyone? What if, because of my health, I have to cancel on  someone–and I can’t reschedule? What if I hurt someone’s feelings?

Yet I cannot live in anxiety. Neither can I make right and just decisions when my heart and mind become enshrouded in apprehension.

I go to the One who treasures and cherishes each person on my list–the One who designed and is, therefore, intimately acquainted with each of their ways. I go to God.

In the sweetness of His presence, my soul finds rest. The grasp of anxiety loses its stranglehold on my heart as His truths settle across my spirit like a warm blanket.

Truth #1: I don’t have to meet with everyone on my list today. Whew! What a load off! One reason a list can feel overwhelming lies in that sensation that it all has to get done today. Sometimes a list does have to get conquered in a day and, although this list does have a timeframe, that timeframe is not today.

Truth #2: God won’t hold me responsible for what He doesn’t equip me to do. God will provide the energy and time I need to accomplish what He has planned for my days. If He does not provide the energy to meet with a full list of people, He will not be the one to condemn me.

Truth #3: My husband will cover and support me. After walking through the past fifteen years of ME/CFS with me, Bradley understands that my energy level can deplete quite rapidly. Although his priority for me during this season allows me to invest the best of my vitality in time with loved ones, he also will stand as a shield should my inadequacies not meet someone else’s expectation

Truth #4: Those who love me will truly understand. Over the past several years, I have had to cancel, reschedule, or simply not get scheduled many, many social engagements. I even have a history of trying to follow-through on an event, only to leave minutes after arrival. When those situations involved a true friend, each and every time the response was love and concern. And although we face what may now be our final good-byes, I know that those who love me most–that I love most–will walk through these next few weeks without condemnation.

Truth #5: God will guide me with His wisdom and surround me with His peace. As a daughter of God, I don’t have to walk through these weeks alone. Like every other aspect of my life, I get to lay out my plans before Him and merely follow in His steps. Many a time have I upheld my own plans and felt the dread of disappointment thrash my desires to the ground. Yet each time that I simply surrendered my desires I found a path of peace unfold before my very eyes. I could stroll through my day with the joyous comfort of accomplishing all that was on God’s heart. Therefore, each day before we leave I can live as just another of those wonderful, peace-filled days.

I love people. I love the ones who fill the nooks and crannies of my life. The ones who peak around all my corners. The ones who share their smiles in darkness and their pains in private. My heart longs to reach out and hold each and every one before we move away.

And I will. If only in my prayers.

“…always offering prayer with joy, in my every prayer for you all…” (Philippians 1:4).

The Sweet Joy of Obedience

Believe it or not, last week I floundered in my desire to follow-through on a commitment I had made. Have you ever done that? Of course you have! Who hasn’t? You see, each week I dedicate some time to do a little behind-the-scenes work on my computer for our church. And last week–guess what?–I didn’t want to do it! I plainly and simply did.not.want.to.do.it.

Yet God, with great faithfulness and kindness, reminded me of a solid, old lesson He had taught me years ago:

Joy doesn’t come with the anticipation of obedience–joy comes with the actual obedience.

Yet in order for true joy to flow, I had to remember one key ingredient: Who was I doing this for anyway? The church secretary? Nope. My sweet husband? Not even. To preen the vanity of my own self? Still no. The only way that true joy–not just happiness–could sweep across my heart and spirit was if I offered this ministration as my own personal drink offering to Jesus. If I was willing to take that which had been given to me and pour it out through my service to my church, but as unto Him.

Another gentle reminder that streamed across my mind came from the example laid out in The Law: God commanded the Israelites to offer only the best of their flocks and vines. Their unblemished animals. Their firstfruits. They were not allowed to toss “any ol’ thing” upon the altar: God required that it cost them their highest as a reflection of His worthiness to receive their worship. And do you know what? I bet that the heart of each Israelite who truly worshiped Jehovah–despite any original balking–ultimately rejoiced to exalt God with such a blessed offering. For only the heart of one who has considered the cost, yet offered his ultimate sacrifice anyway, could fully enter into that joyful place of true worship.

We all have our offerings to surrender. Our sacrifices of service. Our personal drink offerings. We all know what it’s like to make a commitment, then struggle with the desire to follow through. We have all balked when we realized the true cost. Trust me, it’s rare to understand the full cost at the onset of our service. Yet God asks us to adhere to each word of commitment we have made. Not merely because of others–but for the sweet joy of walking in obedience to Him.

“But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me” (Philippians 2:17-18).

The Heartbreak of Spiritual Warfare

I had to run an errand with my husband today. (If you remember that today is Professional Administrator’s Day, then you realize how critical this was!) Anyway, while my husband paused to take a call, I noticed a man from our church with his two children. Excited to see someone I knew, I went over to greet him. I couldn’t believe how big his little ones had become! It was so sweet to my heart!

But he looked at me, smiled politely but distantly, laid his hand on his older daughter’s shoulder, and quickly guided her away from me; all without saying a word.

Bemused, I returned to my husband’s side where, after he finished his call, he leaned close to my ear and gently explained.

“He and his wife got upset with us over [insert issue] and left the church.”

“Didn’t they even come and talk with you first?”

“No.”

“You mean they heard one side of the story, decided it was true, and just left??”

“Yes.”

“oh.”

As this only happened about an hour and a half ago and, never having had someone feel the need to pull their child away from me, I wanted to write while my feelings–as confusing as they are–pulse upon my heart, because I think the destructive lies of the enemy to the body of Christ need to be addressed.

Jesus clearly stated in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” It goes to reason, therefore, that the enemy enjoys wreaking havoc in this department within the body of Christ. He thrills to stir up gossip and dissension within a church, and he’s not afraid to do whatever it takes–he actually delights in it. Using pride to cause malcontent. Taking on another’s wounds to bind someone in bitterness. Encouraging a well-placed smear campaign against a pastor. All great tactics. And, sadly, they work.

In his epistle, Paul’s words serve to remind the church that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We should stand upon these words as truth; this battle cry should reign in our mindset. Yet in spite of Biblical certitude, we continue to wrestle against our own brothers and sisters in our church family, rendering heartbreak along the way, and destroying our witness to the world.

As for today, I clearly can’t make someone listen to me who is determined to take a stance against me, but I can remember my first line of defense…and offense: prayer. I know from the depth of my being that by becoming entrapped in bitterness toward a brother in Christ, a man wounds himself more than he wounds the one he holds accountable for his bitterness. My heart aches for him and his wife, as it aches for each sweet brother or sister caught in these same shackles by the enemy. And my prayer won’t be against them, it will be for them–that God will set them free. That God would sweetly tend to their hearts so broken by the ugliness of this spiritual warfare.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting, so they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that HE may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3).