October 25, 2009

Call or Ministry or Strength?

Recently I've been thinking about the differences between our Call (as Christians), our Ministry, and our Strengths. Sometimes the words “calling” and “ministry” are used interchangeably and sometimes we think our “strengths” ARE our Calling. A quick look at the definitions might help to clarify what each of these words means to us, as Christians.

“Calling” is God’s invitation by which we respond to the salvation offered in Christ. It is God requesting our response to become disciples because of the Good News of the Cross and Resurrection. This ceramic cross my husband made symbolizes the invitation of the Cross, which embodies the Love of God in Christ. Our response to the invitation is our ministry.

“Ministry” can be defined as what we do as Christians to share our faith. It is the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” We do that by using our Strengths as we feel Called by God to Ministry.

“Strength” has several definitions, including: physical power to carry out demanding tasks; the emotional quality necessary to deal with stressful situations, or stress, or an attack; it is a source of support; an intensity of belief; and a valuable, useful asset or quality. For Christians the word strength means those abilities, assets, qualities, etc. that can be used to preach the Gospel to the world.

In I Cor. 7:20 we are urged to remember that we don’t have to change who we are to respond to God’s call and be effective in our ministry. In the Letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called (KJV)." Other translations say, “Every one should remain in the state in which you were called (RSV)” and “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called. (NRSV)” We are able to serve God no matter what our vocation is.

Paul’s advice continues in verse 21-24 and encourages us to remember we can serve God no matter what our physical circumstances: “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ.” We can expand this to say..."were you a housewife, a student, an executive, a secretary, a welder, a ... (you fill in the blank) when called, do not seek to change."

The bottom line is, as vs. 23 says, “You were bought with a price [Christ’s Cross]…In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.” No matter what you do, your life can (and should) show Christ by using the abilities (strengths) you have.

St. Francis is attributed with saying “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.” This means that we need to use our abilities or our strengths to show everyone we meet what it means to be someone ‘Called’ and chosen by Christ. I Cor. 7:17 urges us to “lead the live which the Lord has assigned to him, an in which God has called him. (RSV)” The NRSV version says, “let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” We don’t have to change who we are or what we are doing, just do it to the Glory of God, knowing that “the joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Take time this week to think about your Strengths: those abilities and gifts you have that make you a unique and necessary part of Christ’s kingdom.

Consider your response to God’s invitation—God’s hand held out to you in love. Scott Peck wrote a book entitled “What Return Can I Make?” Ask yourself that question in relation to God’s Call to you.

Does your Ministry use your Strengths in active response to God’s Call?

October 18, 2009

Fall Meditations--In the Right Place

Last Sunday, I suggested you look at your life or work in terms of what your feel your ministry and/or calling is. Did you find that difficult or easy?

Identifying ministry can be an interesting challenge. Some find it easy. Perhaps you have always wanted to be a doctor or teacher or cake decorator. You put all your energy into achieving that goal. All the gifts and talents you have help you become the best in your chosen field.

More of us, I would guess based on the number of books on the subject, have a harder time figuring out what we should be doing. From “What Color is Your Parachute” to Bible studies focusing on finding your gifts, there are shelves and shelves of resources (secular and spiritual) to help us figure out just what we should be doing. And there is nothing wrong with that. We each need direction in our lives and want to know we are doing our best and using our gifts in the best possible way.

However, every so often God steps in and changes the direction of our life. There are many examples of this in the Bible. One is Esther. She had her life planned out as the nice Jewish wife of a religious Jewish man chosen for her by her uncle. ‘Good wife and mother’ was her idea of her ministry and calling. Then she was gathered up with other virgins to satisfy a foreign king’s desires.

She came to terms with her new life and as queen and favorite wife. No doubt she decided that her life would consist of being the sweetest and most gentle queen she could be in order to please him. Then she faced a test…Haman’s plot to have all the Jews in the kingdom massacred.

“Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this,” Mordecai tells Esther. He says she is in the right place to act and save her people. God has positioned her perfectly to be an instrument for God’s saving action. She has to accept her calling and act on it. So do you and I.

How we do this is not as important as accepting that we are the only one who can do exactly what we need to do in “such a time as this”. God has put each one of us in exactly the right place and this is exactly the right time to serve God. We may be the person to ‘give a cup of water’ for the sake of Christ or we may be the one who starts an orphanage. It might be that you are supposed to invite your neighbor to church or perhaps you have been asked to lead a Bible study and don’t think you can.

Your ministry and calling may change over time. I know mine have. Max Lucado reminds us, “All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and his story further down the road.” (I wish I could tell you which of his books this is in, but I haven’t been able to find the citation.)

What you have to remember is: you are in exactly the right place to “move Jesus and his story further down the road.” Like Esther, God has positioned you perfectly “for such a time as this”.

Ministry is simply “Building up the Body of Christ to the Glory of God.” It is living out the Golden Rule and Great Commandment to the best of my ability and yours. How are you moving the kingdom down the road? Remember, your gifts are just exactly the ones needed to accomplish the ministry you find in your life today.

Next week we’ll have another Fall Meditation. See you then.

October 11, 2009

Fall Meditations-Ember Day Letter

Four times a year, the Church sets aside three days to focus on God. These are "Ember Days," or Quatuor Tempora, in Latin. These dates fall close to the changes of the seasons and are meant to help us focus on God in our lives and in all creation. Ember Days are traditionally observed on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the First Sunday in Lent (February or March), the Day of Pentecost (May or June), Holy Cross Day (September 14) and December 13. 

In the Episcopal Church (and probably some other denominations), Postulants and Candidates for the diaconate or priesthood are required by canon law to report to their Bishop in writing at each of these seasons. Guidelines for these letters say, “It is not enough to say that you read a book or took a course, but how did it affect you? Did you learn something that you didn’t know before? Was it helpful or challenging? Are you struggling with long held beliefs that no longer seem tenable? If you are like most of us, your spiritual journey has ups and downs. Where are you today? What works? What is hard and why?”

During the sermon on Holy Cross Day, everyone at St. John's was challenged to write an Ember Day letter outlining our ministry or calling and how well we feel we are following it. We were encouraged to look at our lives in terms of that ministry or calling to see what works and what is not so joyful about it. (You can hear the sermon itself here: http://stjohnsabq.org/sermon_archive.php, scroll down to Sept. 13)

So, why is it important to look at our lives in terms of our ministry or calling? Putting your Rule of Life down on paper is a time honored discipline of monastic and lay orders. Most of us don’t live in monasteries and the majority are not members of lay orders, either. As the Ember Day guidelines point out, “It is important for you to know and to explain your own spiritual journey for it is in that way we begin to understand and empathetically respond to another’s journey.”

In taking up the challenge to write an Ember Day letter, I discovered that my own life is rather like a braided rope with three interconnected strands of ministry that use my gifts in different ways. There are at least 3 ways I use the gifts from God to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

One is in my work-a-day world as an administrative assistant, using gifts of organization and administration to keep the behind the scenes tasks of the Cathedral running smoothly.

Then there are the various named ministries I am involved in, such as Daughters of the King. Being chapter president involves similar gifts of administration and teaching as well as a servant’s heart to carry out the Rule of Life of the Order: Prayer and Service and Evangelism to women and girls.
My writing is another strand of the rope of ministry. The process involves being open to the ‘whispers of the Eternal’ and discovering the link between the lives of our spiritual ancestors and our faith journeys today. The gift of teaching is also involved, not only in my books, but in the studies, retreats, and even these blog postings I write.

It was an interesting process to undertake an Ember Day Letter and actually take time to look at the ministry I am involved in and how I feel about each part of that ministry. I would encourage you to take some time over the next week to evaluate your life and ministry in terms of your gifts and calling. A place to start is with the three questions used weekly by men and women who have attended Cursillo. These questions help you look at the important parts of your Christian Walk.
With what spiritual aids have you nourished your vital union with Christ? (piety)

What have you done to understand the gift of God and form your mind after the mind of Christ? (study)

What apostolic success did the Lord accomplish through you? (evangelism/action)

If you are like me, you will probably find it easiest to write these down and look at while mulling over your answers. However, some may find it more beneficial to think 'outside the box' and make a collage or draw your feelings about these topics. Maybe it will involve making something like the braided rug above. It is for your benefit, so you can do it any way that fits you.
See you next week for another Fall Meditation.

October 4, 2009

Golden Rule IV--Stretching and Sharing

GoldenRule.com is a way of learning how to live into the dreams God has for each one of us. As children we have amazing imaginations and make grand plans for what we will be ‘when I grow up.’ Most of us, somewhere over the years of growing up, forget how to dream dreams and imagine grand things for ourselves. The child who said, “I’m going to be an astronaut,” settles for a 9-5 desk job. The athlete with dreams of big name stardom may become a Little League coach.

Did Henry David Thoreau have it right when he said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them”? When we give up our childish dreams and quietly despair of making a difference, we can become indifferent to the Golden Rule. “What difference does it make [to me] if I treat others well?” we may say. “They never did anything for me.”

God had a better plan. God never gives up on us. Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."

We may not, at first, see the bigger and better plan God has in store. The truth is, each of us can make a difference where we are. And in reality, we are exactly where we are supposed to be in God’s plan. That is a comforting thought, especially when the days feel like a treadmill—we’ve all had them.

Each of us is gifted and planted by God to live into the plans God has for us. We are meant to produce the good fruit that Jesus talks about in Matthew (7:17-20) and Luke (6:43-45). He says, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

Forgetting that we are in God’s plan can lead us to drift into ways that are not God’s. Then it is simple to forget that we are supposed to be treating one another as fellow beloved children of our Father. Living the Golden Rule involves stretching ourselves and reaching beyond our comfort zone. Treating others like you want to be treated means expanding your horizons and realizing that we are in relationship with everyone else. We need to ‘walk a mile’ in each other’s shoes. Elvis Presley did a song (written by Joe South) with a refrain reminding us to “Walk a mile in my shoes, just walk a mile in my shoes before you abuse, criticize and accuse, then walk a mile in my shoes.”

The rest of the song has thought provoking lyrics as well (I’m not an Elvis fan, so I didn’t know this song existed until I did a search for ‘walk a mile’. Did you know there was a Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event to combat rape?—the internet is amazingly full of surprising trivia!) Anyway--

If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other's mind
If you could see you through my eyes
Instead your own ego I believe you'd be
I believe you'd be surprised to see
That you've been blind


Now if we spend the day
Throwin' stones at one another
'Cause I don't think, 'cause I don't think
Or wear my hair the same way you do
Well, I may be common people
But I'm your brother
And when you strike out
You're tryin' to hurt me
It's hurtin' you, Lord HAVE mercy


Now there are people on reservations
And out in the ghetto
And brother there, but, for the grace of God
Go you and I,
If I only had wings of a little angel
Don't you know, I'd fly
To the top of a mountain
And then I'd cry, cry, cry


In the second verse the powerful lyrics say, “Well, I may be common people, But I'm your brother And when you strike out You're tryin' to hurt me It's hurtin' you, Lord HAVE mercy.” GoldenRule.com is all about seeing God in each other and knowing that we are all brothers and sisters with the same Father. It doesn’t matter who we are because “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:28. Really living the Golden Rule can make a big difference in our day-to-day relationships and in the world around us. The Golden Rule is about sharing God's goodness with one another. It's as easy as my grandson telling his cousin about the fish at the zoo.

GoldenRule.com believes God is on your side.
GoldenRule.com is producing good fruit.
GoldenRule.com is seeing God in each other.
GoldenRule.com is loving one another because we are one in Christ.”
GoldenRule.com is reaching outside your comfort zone.

Thinking back over the past month, what things linger with you? Has this journey in living as GoldenRule.com changed your outlook and the way you “love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself”? Are you more aware of how you treat others? Is there a call on your heart to do more? Have you been stretched outside of your comfort zone?

You might be inspired to do something new yourself like one of these people featured by People Magazine and the Oprah Show. http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahshow/20090416-tows-heroes-help-donate. One of these people said that all we need to do is, “See the need, see what you can do to help, and have a go.”

Is there a need only your heart can fill?
For the next few weeks you'll find Fall Meditations here. During Advent there will be thoughts on preparing for Christmas, and book specials. Hope to see you then.