caring for our calling

Living out my calling as an image bearer and partner in God’s purposes is the great life adventure. My calling has value, power and purpose. God offers me abundant life, but the enemy of my soul would like to restrict and control me. I have identified four threats I battle in order to care for my calling.

                                                          CLICHÉ: As I mentioned in an earlier blog, human-made “rules”, communicated as cliché men’s and women’s roles, can inhibit my calling. Although I do not find clearly delineated role lists in the Bible, I do find lists of spiritual gifts. These gifts do not have gender limitations; there is incredible variety and freedom, and they are very important for determining my personal calling focus.

If I am gifted in prayer, service, mercy, teaching, leadership, exhortation, evangelism, or discernment, my particular gift(s) will show up as I work out my calling – at home, work and ministry. Self-evaluations and confirmation by others have helped me know how God has gifted me. When I operate out of my gifted-ness, I experience both great fruitfulness and great joy.

CULTURE: Having lived and worked internationally for many years, I have heard cultural excuses for limiting men’s and women’s opportunities and responsibilities.  Although I have a deep respect for culture influences, Biblical truth is my greater standard. Every culture has wonderful richness that we can glean, but no culture is perfect. Some culture norms go strongly against God’s commands. Jesus acted very counter-culturally in His interactions with women, in His service to the disciples, and in His encounters with sinners. When I choose to go “against the flow”, it sometimes carries a price – from subtle scoffing to strong criticism – but my most important priority is to honor God… and sometimes I get to demonstrate a new healthy example for others also.

COMPARISON: I am often my own worst enemy. Problems arise when I compare my gifts and desire another’s, or “grade” the gifts with different values. I criticize and judge others (“It’s not spiritual to…”) or struggle with feelings of inferiority and less value (“I should do more of …”). I take sides and disapprove of contrasting work choices, roles in marriage, and ministry involvement rather than embracing differences and expressing acceptance to others. Comparison is a powerful and effective weapon of the enemy. I’ve learned that I can fight comparison by giving grace and encouraging others instead.

COERCION: The extreme side of control is coercion – abuse, violence, exploitation. While I have never experienced these extremes, others do – especially women. Anytime I attribute less value to another (jokes, insults, inequity), I disrespect God’s calling for that person and weaken defenses against coercion. I am learning to respect and defend God’s value and purpose for every person.

One last thought… I can lay down any of my gifts/abilities/passions voluntarily and joyfully for a season – moment, day, …years even, in order to care for or serve another. Jesus limited himself for a time for us. However, that decision should not be imposed by clichés, culture, comparison or coercion… and it should always be done in the context of my value as an image bearer and my calling to be involved in God’s purposes.

I encourage you to get to know your unique gifting – also consider personality, experience, stage of life, etc – and then engage wholeheartedly in reflecting God’s image to a lost world. Enjoy the adventure!

be part of a movement!

My organization believes strongly in movements, but I rarely meet anyone who has ever actually seen one or been a part of one. I have had the privilege of being a part of two – one as a key player, in the other more of a mentor/coach. Those experiences were exciting, invigorating, fun, messy, fulfilling and a lot of hard work! They were dreams come true… and I’d love to help with many more. As I was doing reading for my MA, I read a chapter on movements in The Courage to Teach, by Parker J. Palmer.  It outlined four stages of movements that I recognized right away. I think understanding them might help us see many more movements in the years ahead.

Stage 1 – No more divided life

Movements start when someone decides, “I can’t take it anymore. I can’t live a life externally that is so different from my heart convictions.” In ministry that means I will follow God’s heart and do whatever,  go wherever, it takes to win ______ (fill in the blank: women, students, professionals, students, athletes…) to Christ… because that is what He has called me to do. However that might look in my circumstance and with my gifting, I won’t let discouragement, fear, busyness, small children, organizational disinterest or criticism by others get in my way. I will not blame anyone else nor the organization for my lack – I will be true to myself! We will never see God build more spiritual movements, if we don’t individually get to this place in our heart.

Stage 2 – Support in community

The next step is to take our mustard seed of faith and conviction and share it with someone else; admit to another that I want to be and do something new. It is too easy for our enthusiasm to die away without encouragement from others. Community could be our family, our team, a few friends – any other like-minded cohorts. Our community gives us mutual reassurance (“No, you’re not crazy.”), a common vocabulary for our vision, and often skills and training necessary to make the dream a reality. Working together in a healthy, dynamic team is one of the most synergistic parts of a movement.

Stage 3 – Go public

A true movement doesn’t hide behind closed doors and manipulate its people in secret. A true movement shares its vision and resources with others, seeking feedback for improvement and partnership for impact. Sometimes it seems it would be easier to stay small and private, but then we would miss the opportunity to challenge and influence others, and we would miss the blessing of working with and learning from others. Receiving  feedback from others helps us to avoid self-righteousness, self-centeredness, self-sufficiency… and helps us become more Kingdom focused.

Stage 4 – There is nothing better

Once we actually begin to experience the fruit of spiritual movement, there is nothing more inspiring! The out-of-control multiplication, the true life transformation in our disciples, the character growth in ourselves – all bring a sense of satisfaction that says, “It is so worth it! There is no price I paid that was too great, no prize you can offer that would be worth more.”  I don’t want to invest in anything less.

Have you been a part of a movement? Please tell me about it! I’d love to learn from you…

can we overcome our pride?

Over the years I have offended and beaten up others with my nationalistic pride.   I have also taken a beating due to the nationalistic pride of others.

One day I was reading in Genesis 11: 1-9 about the Tower of Babel (emphasis mine).

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words…
They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city,
and a tower whose top will reach into heaven,
and let us make for ourselves a name,
otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built…

…”Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language,
so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”
So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth;
and they stopped building the city.

Therefore its name was called Babel,
because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth;
and from there the LORD scattered them abroad
over the face of the whole earth.

Through these verses, God made it clear to me that nationalistic pride is not something He ever had in mind or initially desired for us as a part of His incredible creativity. He originally had us all speaking the same language. The divisions we have in our world today in language and culture are a result of our sin and God’s protection against further sin. God intended for us to be scattered over the whole earth, not just building our own city and a name for ourselves.

As Christians, I believe our goal should be to overcome the barriers of language and culture in order to demonstrate the power of God’s love in us and bring His Good News to as many people as possible… all over the world. When Christians struggle to communicate love and respect to each other – despite language barriers – we are a picture of how God communicates with us… even though our human limitations get in the way.

When we yield our own prejudice, bias and selfishness
to allow people of  other cultures
to work side by side with – and even lead over – us,
we reflect God’s original design.

As a missionary, I have worked side by side with people of many cultures and languages. I have worked under leaders from many different countries. It can be frustrating and difficult and more time consuming… but also joyful and fulfilling, and I truly believe that I better reflect God’s unity in diversity… and accomplish more for His Kingdom in partnership.  I don’t want to experience more of God’s discipline because of my pride; I want to do all that I can to speak “one language” with all other Christians, demonstrating God’s Kingdom perspective, rather than worldly nationalistic arrogance.

As a receiving nation, we can also reflect God’s design by generously inviting and respectfully accepting those from other countries who are called by God to work together with us in extending His Kingdom.

As leaders, we can be an example… How can we help each other to limit our pride and work better together for His glory?