Friday, December 12, 2014

Ever Failed Big in Ministry?

A few years ago, I had a big failure in ministry. It was a humbling time. I left that experience, thinking I was not qualified to be a minister and developed a deep lack of confidence in my own abilities.  Maybe you’ve had an experience like this in life and ministry?

It was through failing, that I realized my own limitations, weaknesses, and sinfulness. In ministry, one of the best things we can learn is that we are completely unqualified to minister in Jesus’ name. The amazing mystery is this: once we realize how lame we are at, we can actual start do it. We begin to rely on God in a way we never imagined possible and actually allow him a chance to work. In the end, it is his love and mercy that people most need and want, not our great ideas or best laid plans.

Jesus does not only call super successful, qualified, professional types. Throughout history, he seems to work with those who are lowly, inadequate to the task.  He does not desire our qualifications, abilities, or expertise. He simply wants our availability and we can revel in the fact that when we are weakest his strength shines through. 
Bundled and ready for the Park!

Last Saturday we had an outreach in a park. I didn’t want to go. We were going to give food to the homeless and we had been so busy with our small children, that we had no food ready. I felt totally unprepared. I am awkward at talking about my faith with people, much less strangers, but I prayed and the words came to me, “All you have to do is go and be available.” I went and was surprised by how God showed up and allowed me to minister; talking and sharing with people and there was plenty of hotdogs and cookies for all. God always finds a way to love his people.  

Are you feeling like a big failure in ministry? Do you distrust your own strength, knowledge, or power? Are you beginning to understand your own shortcomings? Praise God for it. Once we realize this we have never been closer to God and bringing people to our loving and tender - hearted Jesus. And, how is it, Jesus, that you can use someone like me? You still continue to blow my mind.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Guest Post: Author Betty Arrigotti "Notice God's Love"

Notice God’s Love

Betty blue bordered (2)I want to challenge you to try something. Ask God to show you today how much you are loved. Then—here’s the challenge—pay attention and notice when He does, because He will, but you might not expect the method He chooses.
Rev. Michael Harvey spoke recently about a study that showed people in other countries are more open to spiritual experiences than we are in the States. We tend to lead our lives in such a hurried, busy state that we are too distracted to notice that small miracles surround us. We are spiritual as well as physical beings. So, why is it so hard for us to believe we are surrounded by a spiritual as well as physical world? We need to practice being aware of how God touches our lives.
Sometimes God shows us his love through nature:
  • In the vastness of the ocean, or stars, or a mountain range.
  • Or perhaps in the craft of a frost-covered spider web, or the contrast of red berries next to the white bark of a birch tree.
  • Maybe you’ll be entertained by the play of a puppy, the speed of a horse, or the call of a bird you haven’t heard before.
  • Maybe your heart dances when the first daffodil or crocus opens, or daphne causes you to inhale deeply.
God can speak to your heart through other people:
  • Someone’s words may strike home and seem like a personal message for your life.
  • A friend calls or stops by to visit.
  • An unexpected kindness makes your smile reach your eyes.
  • You listen to lyrics and a melody, or see beauty in a painting and are uplifted.
  • You can certainly know God’s affection through the embrace of a loved one.
  • Or sometimes, witnessing another’s misfortune, you realize how blessed you are.
If we are alert, we see the hand of God in coincidences:
  • Uncanny timing brings an old friend across your path, or averts an accident.
  • A deadline you weren’t ready for is suddenly postponed.
  • God was definitely cherishing you the day, the moment, when you met the love of your life.
You may experience God within you:
  • Inspiration comes and a problem is solved.
  • Your prayers bring you to a new awareness of God’s nearness and love.
  • Forgiveness you couldn’t quite attain settles gently into your soul.
  • A pervasive moodiness lifts and you re-experience joy.
  • You reach a goal that had eluded your efforts.
  • You suddenly realize what unrecognized gifts you’ve been given in your abilities, or your family, or your health.
In fact, if you want to grasp the wealth of God’s love for you, list the aspects of your life that make you grateful. Look to the past:
  • Note where God has blessed, rescued, or forgiven you.
  • Remember that even the times you suffered often brought forth growth. Perhaps a relationship ended and you were devastated, but later you fell in love with someone more perfect for you.
  • Go beyond your own past and study history to see God’s hand in it. Appreciate what your ancestors risked in order for you to know freedom and opportunity.
God can speak to you in pain:
  • Ponder the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
  • Many people first find God when they are suffering, at the lowest point in their lives. When they cannot go on, they reach out to Him and experience a peaceful comfort and realize He sustains them.

Let’s open our eyes/hearts/souls to God and all the countless graces He showers on us each day and discover a critical step to growth. Once we know deep down, undeniably, that we are loved, it frees us to a sense of gratitude and an ability to love ourselves and others.
Discover what circumstances prove easiest for you to recognize God’s tender presence. For me, because I love nature, He tends to touch me in the beauty of sunshine, flowers, birds, and wildlife. I feel treasured when a flock of geese flies overhead or I spy a hidden deer. I also feel God-cherished through my family. When my husband smiles at me, or I hold a tiny baby, I connect with that spiritual world.

If you are like me, you may start out your day with the best intention to notice God’s love notes. Then the business of the day wears on and suddenly it’s bedtime and you haven’t thought about it again. That’s ok. You can mull over your day with a sense of gratitude as you fall asleep. And then you can begin again tomorrow because God will show you His love any day you choose to recognize it.
If we believe that God is love, we touch God whenever we open our hearts. Will you notice Him loving you today? Or will someone else notice because of your loving actions?

May you discover new depths of God’s personal, intimate love for you this week!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thanking God Instead of Screaming

What a face!
The last month set me reeling. I sailed the emotional highs of watching my son's face as he sleeps, the joy of watching my daughter hold his hand, and the feeling of greater completeness our family has now that Joshua is here with us. Then, there were also, those moments of staying up all night, listening to screeching cries (often crying myself), one trip to the E.R., the persistent "No!" of my toddler, and lots of mom guilt as we learn to juggle two babes. Every parent knows, it can be really, really hard. Have I wanted to scream in the past
month? Well, yes, on more than one occasion.

There is one thing that helps me and it can help us all, no matter what our current challenge is. Whether it is dealing with the trials of a newborn, financial difficulties, or broken relationships. Here it is: thank God for the challenge. Late at night, when I'm jiggling Josh to sleep, I praise God that I am going through this difficulty, because he can use it for my good and his glory. It calms me down every time and I have a little more strength to go on.

We thank him for the challenges of life, because we know he can make something new, glorious, and beautiful with it. St. Paul's spiritual medicine is best:  "...we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-5). 

Something miraculous happens when we thank God for the challenges of life, the darkness flees, the anxiety lessens, and helplessness subsides. When we thank God for our challenges, hope and peace come. And I know that we are all in need of some of hope and peace.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Is Childbirth Really a Miracle?

I am always hearing in women’s media some celebrity mom say something like, “I gave birth…it was such a miracle.” What do they mean by miracle? Is it an event in which nature is defied, a divine act, or just another way to say super cool? 
It has nearly become a cliché, because when you think about it, women have been having babies since time immemorial, and it is a pretty earthly, organic experience -- one that occurs in nature all the time. Is that really a miracle? Aren’t miracles supposed to break the rules of nature?
I am about to give birth for the second time and to be honest, I would really like to think of it in miraculous terms, but I don’t want to just say that because it is expected, especially when there is a lot of evidence pointing to the contrary. So let’s get to the bottom of it. Theologically speaking, is birth a miracle?

It really comes down to the nature of miracles themselves. There are many miracles throughout Scripture and found in Christian experience through the ages. They have different meanings and significance. In one instance, God brings forth manna for the Israelites from the sky. In another instance, Jesus heals a blind man by rubbing spit and dirt over his eyelids, incorporating natural elements. Jesus’ first miraculous act of the New Testament is to turn water into wine. He breaks the rules of nature, but in another way, he simply accelerates the natural processes that He (the Triune) God had already created – the normal pattern of fruit fermenting into wine.
It would, therefore, seem that there are distinctions or differences among miracles. In reference to God’s miracles, C.S. Lewis states, “some of the miracles do locally what God has already done universally: others do locally what He has not yet done, but will do. In that sense, and for our human point of view, some are reminders and other prophecies.” In other words, some of the miracles of Christ, such as turning water into wine, reveal the inherent miraculous nature of God’s creation, his abundance, his goodness, his blessing of providing us with food and drink. When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, however, it is prophetic. It points to the miracle of what is to come -- the resurrection of all his followers and the banishment of all death and decay. 
So, how does this relate to childbirth, because I still want to know if I am about to witness a miracle in a week or two? Turns out all those celebrity moms are right. Birth is a miracle! I would say that the creation of life is miraculous, and that in childbirth we, like our God, get to participate in this amazing miracle. Jesus being born of the Virgin Mary accelerates and highlights the miracle of the Father begetting life. What is done locally, Jesus being born of a virgin, reveals what is done universally, God created life out of nothing. Jesus born of Mary shows the elaborate and intricate process of life being created and handed down throughout the ages in a rich, complex, and mysterious process. I think one last quote from Lewis will help us put this question to rest, “Behind every spermatozoon lies the whole history of the universe: locked within it is no small part of the world’s future. That is God’s normal way of making a man -- a process that takes centuries, beginning with one creation of matter itself, and narrowing to one second and one particle moment of begetting,” (God in the Dock, “Miracles,” 30).  Childbirth is straight-up miraculous because God is at work creating life through and outside all time. He was at work in the manger in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and he will be at work in Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida, in our little hospital room. I am deeply moved and humbled by this thought. I think the words of Mary are most appropriate.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
holy is his name.” (Luke 1: 46-49)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Labor Pains: You Too May be Having Them

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22) 

St. Paul is talking about the tough stuff of life -- the ugly, crummy, miserable side, our suffering and our pain. I need not cite examples, the evidence is everywhere. In his letter to the Romans, he proclaims that, although life can be extremely unjust, perhaps agonizing, it is but a small blip compared to the endless glory, beauty, and wisdom of God -- the peace and rest we will all experience when are with him face to face. 

I have been pregnant for a long, nine months now. I got through the first part where I puked everyday and past out in exhaustion every morning. I got through the middle part, where aside from all those little pregnancy joys like swelling and heartburn, I felt pretty good. Now I am limping my way to the finish line, sweating, heaving, big as a beached whale panting for just a dollop of refreshing water on a hot, Florida beach. If you think this is complaining, you should have been a fly on my wall the last two months. I think my general crankiness and complaints reached near epic proportions, and I probably owe Lydia, Bo, and Jesus a heartfelt apology. But in all the struggles of pregnancy there is a saving grace. There is a finish line ahead, an end-point, and a very great reward: getting to see my son’s little face.

Over the course of these nine months, I have been mediating on St. Paul’s words, “all creation groans as in the pains of labor.” With labor being just around the corner it made me see his metaphor in a fresh, new way. Any mother knows, labor is painful, but it is also the most unique pain there is. It is intentional, purposeful, and most importantly, it has an end-goal and a great reward. It’s amazing, but if pain has a purpose and a reward, it is so much easier to endure. 
How does this relate to our human suffering? Many will and have argued that we suffer wantonly, without meaning. In other words, the labor pains are arbitrary. Poet Matthew Arnold suggested this most vividly in his poem Dover Beach, “We are here as on darkling plain, filled with chaos and strife, while ignorant armies clash by night.” Suffering, ignorance, and pain, it’s all chaos with no ultimate meaning. 

But to the Christian, all suffering is bundled into God’s suffering. All suffering has some mysterious meaning and redemptive purpose. We don’t know the full mystery of our pain yet, but we know that it will one day be revealed to us. God put his very life on that. The resurrection of His Son, Jesus God incarnate, is our promise that whatever we have suffered, either corporately or individually, small or large, will be redeemed. 

More than this glorious mystery, there is a great reward. For just as surely as I will look into the beauty of my son’s face, we too will gaze upon the beauty of the Son’s face.

Nine months of pregnancy and several bottles of antacids, made me think more on the goodness of God and his promises. Our suffering is meaningful and there is a great, goal in sight.  Whatever you are dealing with today, you can hand it over to Jesus and have the promise of an end, a reward, a redemptive act after the pain is over.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Guest Post: Best Selling Author Karla Akins

This week I get to share a post from best-selling author Karla Akins, known for her books in humor and historical fiction. I resonate with the open and transparent struggle in her words, and her ultimate conclusion - that we can trust God with all of it. Thanks to Karla, and please enjoy friends.
Blessings, Lilly.

Why kicking and screaming is not the best idea

On Sunday I was feeling like I wasn’t very good at much of anything I do.
Ever feel that way?
On this particular day, I felt I wasn’t a very good pastor’s wife.
It’s been a difficult year and a half or so of transitions at our church. And we’ve been through a lot of battles and broken hearts. And sometimes I think to myself, “I just can’t do this anymore.”
On Sunday I prayed, “Lord, I’ll keep doing this if you want me to, but I need your grace to do it. I’m just not feeling like I’m very good at it and I’m not sure I want keep on trying.”
You’d think after 32 years I’d hit my stride or something, but nope. I still have self-doubts. I still wonder if I’m doing something wrong.
I know that in my heart I’m doing the best that I can. But I do have a fear of growing bitter and not better with each struggle. It never gets easier. It’s always very difficult work. And God called me, the most unlikely of mortals, to do this loving-difficult-people thing. I don’t have a rhino skin. I’m a sensitive soul. Very tenderhearted. I get hurt easily.
Why on earth would God call someone like me to do His work?
Makes no sense, does it?
So I prayed and I felt the Lord nudging me. “You can trust me, Karla. I have a plan. You can’t see the big picture. I can.”
Oh, to rest in that trust.
hand of god visualisation 444IMG_0417
I tend to go kicking and screaming into rest. It’s not my nature. I’m a fixer. A doer.
Just rest in His plan?
Not as easy as it sounds.
But it’s a command, isn’t it?
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28
God never intended for me to do this by myself. He never wanted to burden me down with His concerns. These kingdom things are all His to figure out, aren’t they?
I’m still learning how to trust Him with my life even when it doesn’t make sense. I thought I’d learned that lesson long ago. But apparently, I must still need some practice.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Upon my One Year Anniversary at Christ the King Church

When your husband signs on to be the assistant minister at a new church, it is actually, pretty daunting. You don’t know what you’re in for. You don’t know what people will expect of you, what opinions they will form of you, or what they’re really like. Will they be kind and loving to you or not? I don’t think of myself as a “minister’s wife,” but other people often do and sometimes that’s a very public, vulnerable place to be in.  

This was the first gathering at our home
I remember when I showed up for my first Sunday service at Christ the King, little Lydia was only one and asleep in her car-seat. Bo was up at the front doing his thing, so I randomly picked a spot in the back. A woman turned to me, introducing herself, and then said, “Lilly, I am so happy that you are here. This is really a wonderful place for you. You will be loved and welcomed here.” She told me later, she didn’t know I was married to Bo, but she thought I was just one of the “beautiful single mothers at Christ the King.” She was embarrassed that she “didn’t know who I was,” (please like she should? Most people don’t) but to me, this made her sincere words even more meaningful.
As I walked out to mingle after the service one of the cheekiest old men, I have ever met, came over and hugged me. Bo came up and introduced me to him, “What?” he said loudly, turning to Bo, “This is your wife? My opinion of you has just greatly increased.” By the time, Lydia and I walked to the car to go home I was muttering under my breath, thanking Jesus to be called to a loving church. 
As I have settled into life with my new brothers and sisters, there have been many more stories like these. They have done big and small things to make us feel welcomed and loved and we have entered into a real fellowship with them. 
First meeting of a small group, now Sunday night service
There are many things that are said on the difficulties of being a clergy spouse and I have experienced some of these things first-hand. There are also immeasurable blessings to clergy life and I am shocked by the way a church can love and accept a clergy family. The people of Christ the King have done that for us through their words and deeds. 

I am looking forward to more years of mutual blessing with them and very thankful for a great year.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

An Honest Prayer is Hard to Find

There is a scene in the movie Signs (Shyamalan, 2002) which depicts an ordained minister who has lost his wife and his faith. One of his children is on the brink of death, and for the first time in years, he prays to God. His prayer is short and to the point. He cries out, “I hate you.” To my mind, this is a profound, righteous prayer. He isn’t indifferent and he isn’t dishonest. And paradoxically, his words demonstrate a true and strong faith in God.  He’s hurt, to the point of rage, and he wants God to know it. God can always take that kind of honesty and build on it a foundation for true intimacy with him.

I have wasted so much time and breath, praying the way I think I should rather than offering God my honest and vulnerable thoughts. When I had my come-to-Jesus moment at the age of twenty-four, my first prayers sounded more like short homilies or Theology 101 papers. I think sometimes we would like to prove we are worthy.
Saint Thomas does not hide his unbelief
So why is it so hard to tell him the truth? I think our desire to self-justify pops up even in our prayers. We would love to think that we have somehow merited God’s love and mercy, that our relationship with him is rightfully earned. The naked truth -- that Jesus irrationally and whole-heartedly loves us -- is so much more uncomfortable for mere mortals like we are, and beautiful, flowery prayers cannot disguise that.  Thank God for it, for even our best efforts and most eloquent, theologically-sound prayers fall short. It’s his love and grace, all the time. 

A Christian is marked by a relationship with Jesus.  Our prayers to God and our listening to his responses, are essential for our relationship with him, and like any other relationship, honesty is always the best policy. An honest prayer may be hard to find, and hard to say, but in the end, it is the very best.

So, where are you today? What is your honest prayer? Are you tired, confused, or angry? Are you indifferent or unsure of him? Are you angry with him or doubting? Let him know. And have faith that he is strong enough to handle your unrighteous deeds and your worst feelings, and he is gentle enough to handle your hurt and despair. He never gives up on us, even when our prayers are dismal, pathetic, or unholy. He always wants to be in an open, honest relationship.