Preparation K

As in preparation Kelly. What did you think I meant?

Anywho, it seems God is teaching me about three different things right now in an effort to “prepare” me for something terrifying and difficult that is coming down the pike. I don’t know what that something is, per se, I just sense that it is coming.

So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

God is using the gym to school me in all three areas: stepping into fear, resisting equating my performance with my value as a human being, and disciplining myself to do the work when I don’t particularly feel like it.

These are some big lessons He is teaching me in this little safe, controlled environment called the gym. I feel like He is giving me a space to practice these behaviors because I’m going to need them to be second nature where He is taking me.

It has occurred to me many times in the past that my ministry role models have all gone through their own personal versions of growing in these three areas.

They have all struggled with fear in the past, learned how to handle it, and gone on to teach others how to deal with it in healthy ways. They’ve written books on the subject and shared their stories from the stage. Learning how to interact with fear is a common thread for the most successful people I know.

These people also clearly know who they are and why they are valuable and that their writing a best-selling book or speaking to 10,000 people in no way means they are any more valuable than the next person. Conversely, they know their ill-worded tweet that lands them on the social media crap list doesn’t mean their value has diminished either. They don’t tie their identities to their performances.

And they are all very self-disciplined people. It shows up in their ministries, their teaching, and the everydayness of their lives (for example, every single one exercises religiously). They run giant ministries while writing in-depth Bible studies and books simultaneously while speaking all over the world 40 times every year. Oh, and they are parents and spouses and children who strive to keep their families a priority over their ministries. None of this happens without incredible self-discipline.

So here I am, learning all these same lessons on a much smaller scale, trying not to get too caught up in what the future may hold, but curious nonetheless.

I graduate seminary, the reason for my total neglect of writing on this blog, in December. And I have no plan after that. As in, none.

Some find that nonsensical. Some find that stupid. Some find that odd. I find it to be just another day in the life of being one of God’s kids.

He doesn’t tell us the whole plan. He tells us what the current step is. And that’s usually about it. Seminary and gym lessons are my current steps. So I am focusing on being a diligent student in both classrooms so I don’t miss the spiritual and character development He is attempting to create in me.

And, by His grace, I’ll be prepared for what’s waiting for me in 2018…

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Spiritual Legacy: God Provides (Again), Edition How He Got Me a Job

I’ve been seriously looking for a job since March, 2014 (unseriously for even longer…) If you’ve looked for a job recently, you know how fun it is.

My journey went something like this:

  • March, 2014: had small crisis that was more than likely going to require a lot of money to resolve. Decided I needed to get a job to remedy the situation. Scoured job search engines for approximately 2,039 hours, only to discover 93% of the links were broken, out dated, or bait and switches. The other 7% appeared legit but didn’t list locations or pay information. In order to become privy to the name of the company, I had to register, at which time they a) signed me up for 42 email lists that didn’t pertain whatsoever to my search criteria I had meticulously entered and b) gave me the name of the company and a way to submit an application which I would never hear back about ever from any of these companies.
  • April, 2014: reached the end of the internet. THE END. Still no job, although, several applications were sent, and, I’m sure, are still sitting in some dummy email account no human will ever check. God remedied our small crisis Himself in glorious fashion. Decided it would still be wise for me to get a job in case the crisis emerged again. Told people I was looking for a job in case anyone had a hook up. They did not.
  • May, 2014: felt discouraged.
  • June, 2014: quit looking for a job.
  • July, 2014-October, 2014: ate ice cream in large quantities.
  • November, 2014: enrolled in seminary because it’s more fun to SPEND money than to earn it.
  • December, 2014: remembered the reason for the season.
  • January, 2015: began aforementioned seminary degree.
  • February, 2015: remembered I was supposed to be looking for a job. Repeated the process from March, 2014.
  • March, 2015: felt discouraged. Told more people I was looking for a job in case anyone had a hook up. They all thought, “Seriously? It’s been like a year since you started looking. Frankly, we’re tired of hearing about it.” Ok, no one said that because my friends are too amazing, but I’m sure they thought it. I was tired of hearing about it…
  • April, 2015: began to feel more in need of a job than ever due to our perceived need to and leading from God to move out of our neighborhood. Repeated the process from March, 2014.
  • May, 2015: tired of making negative zero headway job hunting, I quit again and decided homelessness wouldn’t be so bad. Especially in Florida. Looked for beachfront RV resorts to accommodate our new lifestyle.
  • Late May, 2015: decided to trust God was hand-crafting a job for me and He would bring it when He was good and ready.
  • June 1st-ish, 2015: my mother-in-law saw a small need for help where she works and talked to her boss about it. He saw a much larger need and decided now was the time to create a new position. She suggested he interview me.
  • June 3rd, 2015: had the interview. Liked the employer, felt capable of meeting his needs, and was pleasantly surprised the job was going to meet ALL of my 34 needs in a job (more on that later) as well as 5 of my nit-picky preferences.
  • June 8th, 2015: was offered the position.
  • June 10th, 2015: started my job.

I tell you all that to say this: 1) job hunting on the internet is for the birds, and 2) God knows our needs and will meet them when He sees fit to meet them, whether you hit your head against the wall fruitlessly googling “ANY JOB THAT PAYS MONEY. ANY JOB AT ALL,” or not.

(To be fair, my husband found his current job, which is a perfect fit for him, on Craigslist. Like, the first time he entered a search term. It’s a super annoying story.)

Not only will God meet our needs when the timing is best to do so, He will do so in ways that far surpass what we’d “settle for” if job search engines really worked.

Listen to this ridiculous list of non-negotiables I had (as a result of the goals we have for our own family. It’s perfectly wonderful if you don’t have the same goals for your family. No judgment here. Don’t send me emails.):

  • 20 hours/wk. No more, no less. (I need two days each week to continue seminary, so I can only work 3.)
  • Work day over by 2:30p at least two of the three days I work. (I would work anywhere as long as I did not have to put my kids in aftercare. It’s important to me to pick them up from school and have the late afternoons with them the majority of the time.)
  • Flexibility to shift days I work around so I can be free to go on field trips and attend programs and parties and other tomfoolery at my kids’ school. (Again, I would work anywhere that would allow me to do this because my kids will only want me to come to school events for so long…)
  • At least $__/hr. (We knew what I had to make, minimum, in order for us to feel comfortable moving.)
  • 30 minute or less commute. (In the Memphis area, this is totally reasonable. Add in the fact that when my kids are out of school I have to drive them 25 minutes to the baby sitter before I can even start making my way to my office, this really translates to an hour commute, each way.)

Not only could I not find a job without these specifications, finding one with them seemed impossible. But I had to stick to my guns. While I was busy running into dead ends on the internet, it turns out God was doing what He’s always doing: sitting quietly in the background, arranging the puzzle pieces of the world, including my life, one at a time. And in the case of my job, it seems He was making a more beautiful picture than I could’ve guessed.

Not only was every single non-negotiable met or exceeded, God threw in very personal “extras” just to make me happy because He loves me.

  • I’m working for a ministry. (I had basically given up the idea of getting paid to do what I love – teach the Bible. And while I am not doing that directly in this job, the things I am doing enable others to disciple and evangelize more people all over the world, and I am excited to contribute in a supporting role.)
  • I’m doing work that actually interests me. (I am assisting this ministry in web development and internet marketing, among other things. I have heavily dabbled in these areas since 2008, sometimes for pay, but mostly for fun. The dabbling has led to a fairly proficient knowledge of some of these things, and now I get to use those skills for work. I’ll also get to learn new skills that excite the computer nerd in me. There has also been talk of allowing me to write.)
  • I get to work with several people I already know and love.
  • My primary office is housed in a gorgeous retreat center that’s a relaxing environment to work in.
  • Because I don’t work with clients directly most of the time, JEANS!
  • The coffee is not awful. In fact, it is palatable. (Who am I kidding, this should have been on the non-negotiable list…)

If any of you are still reading, I’ll end with this: see? See how God knows and cares and works everything for our good (Romans 8:28)? See how God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)? Sometimes we need to hear stories like mine to inspire us to really believe those scriptures when life gets hard and those scriptures don’t necessarily feel true.

He loves you. He’s for you. He’s got you.

What is the purpose of the Church?

“What is the purpose of the Church?”

The question gave me pause. I didn’t have a memorized answer I could just spout off when I read those words a couple of months ago. I guess that’s because I hadn’t really taken the time to consider the purpose of the Church… I knew the purpose of a Christianto know God and to make Him known (Exodus 9:15-16, John 17:3, Matthew 28:19-20). That answer I had worked out long ago…

The Church is just a bunch of Christians, so I reasoned the answer should be the same: a Christian’s purpose and the Church’s purpose is to know God and to make Him known.

Eight weeks later I’ve realized that, while my answer is technically correct, it’s slightly too vague. It’s too vague for our churches to implement, and it’s certainly too vague for our post-modern world to realize it must be understood within biblical terms of who God is.

A more specific answer is the purpose of the Church is to make disciples. Unfortunately, people have wildly varying ideas on what a disciple is.

Too many Christians, even Christian leaders, confuse disciples with church-goers or self-identified Christians or people who have prayed to receive Christ as their Savior or people who have been baptized or people who know a lot of Bible stories or people who serve their communities while wearing Christian t-shirts.

To be sure, all of those things are things disciples should do (although, we could stand to leave our “Serve Team” shirts at home…), but none of those things make someone a disciple in and of itself.

Why not?

Jesus said to the original disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Do you see the part we usually skip? We may go, we may share the Gospel, we may baptize converts, but then, at least in the culture I’m in, we stop… we don’t follow through and teach new converts to “obey everything [Jesus has] commanded”.

Oh, sure, we may preach tremendous sermons and offer fantastic Bible studies – really meaty stuff that teaches people the Word – but that’s not the litmus test for whether or not we’ve taught anyone to obey everything Christ has commanded…

What is?

When our people are telling others about Christ, training them in the ways of the Bible, showing them how and challenging them to live obediently to the scriptures, we’ve made more than converts – we’ve made disciples

And the cornerstone way in which a true disciple obeys Christ is by going and making more disciples who will mature and make more disciples who will mature and make more disciples who will… you get the point.

With a weak voice I have to ask, Church, are we doing that? Am I doing that?

The stats show, as a whole, we aren’t. And when I look around my community – Bible Belt, USA – I see a lot of believers doing a lot of good things, but not many doing the main thing – making more disciple-makers.

It’s time to stop being content with entertainment “Christianity” where our churches’ main focus is making sure people have a satisfying “experience” on Sunday mornings. It’s time to stop preaching the Gospel, helping people convert, and then letting them fall through the cracks of the mega church machine, never to be heard from again. Believers, it’s time to stop being content learning more Bible but not doing anything with that knowledge.

We are fooling ourselves if we think we’re living the Great Commission but we’re not 1) currently investing time and love into a relationship with an unbeliever in which we both model the Christian life for him and, when the Spirit leads, verbally share the Gospel with him, 2) walking a younger believer through his next steps in growing in his relationship with Christ, and 3) helping more mature believers take that final step of obedience by equipping and encouraging them to reach out to the lost, share the Gospel, teach and model the scriptures to younger believers, and help equip them to duplicate the process in someone else.

In short, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we are disciples but we aren’t making any disciples.

In the words of Michael Jackson, it’s time to make that change.

If you’re interested, I recommend reading DiscipleShift for a more detailed explanation of what I’ve summarized. If you’re super interested, I recommend reading Disciple Making Is next. If you’re still interested and/or refuse to read books, shoot me an email below and I’ll send you a short paper or two on the subject. And, lastly, if you’re local to me and want to be a part of making a change in how we do discipleship in our area, let’s chat.

A Conversation within a Conversation

Have you ever prayed mid-conversation? Not out loud, but just silently in your heart? 

Have you ever been having a conversation with someone, and while they are speaking or during a pause, you start talking to God about the conversation you are having with that person?

Confused yet?

It’s a conversation between you and God within a conversation between you and another person.

There’s an example of this in the Bible that may help illustrate things.

Nehemiah, cup bearer to King Artaxerxes of Susa, was burdened that his homeland, Jerusalem, was in ruins. The sadness was so evident on Nehemiah’s face, the king noticed it immediately and asked for an explanation. Nehemiah was afraid, but he told the king about the situation in Jerusalem anyway (Nehemiah 2:1-3).

The king responded, “What is it you want?” (Nehemiah 2:4).

Up until this point, Nehemiah hadn’t expressed what he wanted to anyone in this account. Maybe he didn’t even know.

What Nehemiah did next is significant. Instead of immediately responding to the king’s question, Nehemiah “prayed to the God of heaven…” and then he “answered the king,” (Nehemiah 2:4:5).

Nehemiah stopped and had a conversation with God within his conversation with the king.  

What do you think Nehemiah said to God? Maybe he asked for favor from the king. Maybe he asked for God to order his words as he made a request of the king. Maybe he asked God what he should ask the king for. Maybe he asked for protection from the king, who, I’m sure, would’ve been well within his rights to fire, if not kill, Nehemiah for asking for time off.

At any rate, Nehemiah prayed before he responded.

And that half of a verse, when applied in our own conversations, could be a game-changer (when we remember to do it). 

I’ve experienced some “success” with this concept while witnessing.

In a ministry I work with, I do a lot of “cold” evangelism, meaning I talk to strangers about their spiritual beliefs. I don’t have a lot of time to get to know these women, so I don’t have much to go off of as far as deciding what angle to take with them.

But what I do have is the Holy Spirit. He knows these women more intimately than I ever could, and He also lives inside of me, which is convenient.

When I get to the part of the conversation that involves asking a woman to tell me about her spiritual beliefs – and when I can remember to ask the Spirit to say through me what each woman needs to hear about Jesus in that moment – some pretty cool things happen. In other words, when I remember to have a conversation with the Lord within my conversation with the woman, things usually go better than when I forget to consult Him.

I may also have tried this “praying before I respond” concept with my husband and kids on occasion with varying degrees of success, but I wonder how much better communication and conflict resolution would go with them if prayer during conversation became the norm instead of the exception.

While it’s not a formula we can manipulate God with, when done with the right heart – one of seeking wisdom from the Lord and for the Lord – I think it’s a pretty wise approach to interpersonal communication.

Ministry Update

Hey!

I appreciate each one of you reading my offerings on this blog every week, whether you’re brand new to Calculating Grace or you’ve been reading for years. I’m oh so grateful for your comments and encouragement along the way.

I want to take a few minutes to update you guys on how the Lord is working in my world.

Many of you know that in addition to writing I also teach God’s Word on a weekly basis to women at my church. It has been my desire for years to expand that teaching ministry and to become more of a speaker. It seems the Lord is putting a process in motion that could lead to more speaking opportunities for me.

She Speaks AttendeeThe first step is for me to attend a ministry conference that trains women to speak at the end of July. Proverbs 31 Ministries and director Lysa TerKeurst have been training women to communicate God’s Word at the She Speaks conference since 2001, and I am very excited that this is the year the Lord has chosen for me to attend.

This year conference attendees have a unique opportunity to apply to write for a new digital publication Family Christian Stores has started called iDisciple. To be honest, I don’t meet one of their requirements for being considered (reach 25,000 people across social media outlets). But I am going to apply anyway and see what God does with it 🙂

In addition to submitting writing samples, I want the folks at iDisciple to hear from you, my readers. If you are willing to write a few sentences (or more) explaining why you are drawn to my writing, I would be very appreciative. You can leave your recommendation in the comments section below or email them to me via the form below. I will compile them and send them to my contact at iDisciple.

Look for another ministry update sometime in August, Lord willing.

Once again, I appreciate you guys, and thank you for your prayers during this exciting time! I’ll keep you posted… literally… get it?

In Him,

Kelly

Should Church Members Be Allowed to Serve Any Way They Want To?

To save you some time, I don’t have an answer to this question that works across the board. But just asking it might inspire some beneficial dialogue about it.

Most of us have heard, as church members, that part of our job is to serve the church.

Sometimes that means sweeping a floor, working in the nursery, or folding bulletins. Some service is boring and unglamorous but necessary. Our churches need menial and/or messy tasks done, and members ought to step up and do them on a regular basis.

Other times we serve with our particular spiritual gifts and skill sets. If we can teach well, we lead Bible study. If we can sing well, we lead worship. If we love to encourage, we speak life-giving words to people. If we’re good at fixing things, we can offer our services around the church building.

There are, then, many ways to serve our church. We all ought to be able to find a handful of ways we can contribute and get to it.

But what happens when a member wants to serve in a way the church doesn’t want them to serve? Does the church have the right to say no? Can a church say no lovingly?

If you know me at all, you know I am passionate about music. And you also know my ability to carry a tune is suspect. But my heart is there. If I were to go tell the music director at church I want to serve on the worship team, can he tell me no for the sake of preserving the quality of the music? How does he tell me no without hurting my feelings?

(This is a fictitious example, by the way. The only way I am leading worship is if my mic is turned off. Which, ridiculously, is one way this problem is addressed in some churches. Sigh.)

Let’s go a step further. What if I have amazing musical ability, and I want to serve in that capacity, but I don’t look the part? What if I want to join the traditional choir, whose members’ average age is 50, and I am 15 with face tattoos and green hair, and I’m in the midst of stretching my ear lobes to the size of a half-dollar? I don’t fit the look the music director is going for, and I might be a distraction from worship… should I be told I can’t serve in the choir? For the sake of image or ambiance, is the church overstepping it’s bounds by limiting who can serve where? Or is it ok because order and uniformity enhance the worship experience?

If the church tells a member he or she can’t serve in a particular way, should the church have to explain why? Should the church come up with an alternate space in which that person can serve in the way he or she desires (for instance – let my off-key self be apart of a group of singers but never let me have a solo, or send that talented, tatted teen to lead worship in senior high, just not in the traditional worship service)?

And what should the “rejected” church member’s response be? Should he or she be understanding and look for another way to serve? Is it their responsibility to come up with an alternate way to use their perceived gifts and talents? Should they leave that church all together and go find a church who will let them serve how they want to serve?

Unfortunately, there aren’t neat answers here. More unfortunately, these kinds of situations aren’t usually handled well in churches. They aren’t typically discussed openly, which is an unloving response to our church members.

So these are my thoughts and my questions. Would love to hear any insights you might have in the comments below. We won’t solve this problem, I’m sure, but maybe we can take a step forward?

Winning at Failing

I’m not sure how it happened, but I seem to be friends with more and more people who are “green” and “organic” and “work out” and “don’t eat crap”. They never eat anything not grown in their own backyards, they make their own shampoo, and they’d have their doctorates in homeopathy if the Internet could award that sort of thing. They are amazingly energetic, focused people, and I am sincerely proud of them.

But for someone who just tries to keep her head above the ever-rising water, it can be intimidating to think about my “perfect” friends. It’s not that they ever have or ever will condemn me for my all-refined sugar diet and my synthetic-chemicals-only policy, I just feel overwhelmed when I compare myself to them. I make myself feel like a failure, and, quite honestly, from a health standpoint, I am a failure.

If health were the only area in which I wasn’t the valedictorian of awesome, that might be ok. But it’s not.

Turns out marriage is hard. I missed the pre-marital class on “putting your spouse’s needs in front of your own”. Getting this rock of a heart to accept that and implement it multiple hours (minutes?) in a row is proving difficult. Paul says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).  If the Bible is the standard (and it is), then I’d have to say I am failing at marriage too.

Apply that same verse to friendships, and I’m screwed there as well. Selfishly and vainly aptly describe how I react when friends don’t do what I want them to do. I’m not at all thinking about them and their needs, just about myself.  Again, with the failing.

How about parenting? I’m tired. “Teaching” the same lessons that never seem to stick; losing patience before breakfast is over; reacting to the ugly with ugliness of my own. I’m not going to be the poster child of a parent who does not exasperate her children (Ephesians 6:4). Not this week (year?) anyway.

There are more ways in which I fail not fit for public consumption. (You didn’t know I had that filter, did you? Yeah, add that to The Failure List).

It’s more than a pity party I’m having over here, and I’m working my way to a point, so please don’t share a “cute” Facebook image about “bucking up” and “staying positive” and various and sundry sayings that fall into the category of “not my reality”.

(I’m clearly feeling feisty today. Add that to The List, if you want.)

(I’m also using the air quotes ad nauseum. Just imagine Chris Farley reading you this post, and you’ll “feel better” about the “whole thing.”)

Who’s ready for the redemptive point of this post?

I think God brings my failures (all of them) to my attention (all at once) in order to show me a vital truth: I need Him. 

You (I) may think I already knew that about myself. And I did, in an intellectual sense. But in an experiential sense, I seem to need a tangible demonstration very a lot often. Daily, even.

Last week, when I was acutely aware of The Failure List and not so aware of my intrinsic value to God, He did some things to remind me this whole show runs on His power like a car on gasoline (or electricity, if you’re one of my green friends. Sigh.)

Two different friends in spiritual predicaments reached out to me for advice. Me. ME. The woman with The Failure List a mile long and growing. Part of me wanted to say, “I can’t help you.” And I was right, couldn’t help them. But God through me did. The Holy Spirit brought to mind what to say, and it proved helpful (so they say). (I’m such a skeptic. Where’s my list, I need to add that.)

Another friend told me she wants me to speak at a program at our church in the fall. Me. ME. The woman with The Failure List a mile long and growing. Given that my heart is to eventually speak/teach/write as a career, I found it to be so sweet of God to have my friend think of me.

Then yesterday I took my Failure List to a place I volunteer once a week helping women who find themselves pregnant and scared and hopeless. My role is to inform the clients of all their options (abortion, adoption, parenting). The bigger goal is to love them well, showing them Jesus-love no matter who they are or what decision they want to make for their baby. The biggest goal is to spend time understanding what their spiritual beliefs are and sharing with them what mine are.

In the interest of HIPAA, I can’t tell you exactly what happened yesterday, but I can tell you the Lord used my time with one client to show me, “Your Failure List is no match for My power. I can and will use you despite your failures, and I can and will bless you despite your failures. My agenda doesn’t depend on how long or short your Failure List is, and your need for Me doesn’t depend on how long or short your Failure List is.”

If I can muster up the energy I’m going to ask God to use His energy and power to help me fix my eyes on Him instead of The List. That sounds pretty biblical.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal,” (2 Corinthians 4:18).