Pragmatic Communion

pragmatic living in the presence of God

right here. right now.

Please use me right where I am, Lord.

Please use me in spite of my weaknesses and my sin.

Please reveal to me the sins I ignore and rationalize.

Please reveal to me the self-focused plans I have which don’t include You and Your story.

Please call to my attention the areas of my life that I can – and currently don’t – serve You.

Please allow me to serve You more.

May 28, 2010 Posted by | pragmatic presence, prayer, service, spiritual growth | , , , | Leave a comment

I’d like to think I would.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
Matthew 13:44

Recently, I was asked to deliver a short message about giving. The emphasis was to be on financial giving, a touchy subject for some. Especially in today’s economy. So, I got the obvious question out of the way. If I’m doing all this talking about giving, do I put my money where my mouth is? Do I give? So I admitted, right up front. We tithe.

When I first got married, tithing was a foreign concept for me, but my new husband took care of paying the bills and I was happy to be rid of the monthly guilt associated with the fact that I never opened my bank statements. I used to joke that I married him so I would have someone to balance the checkbook. And my new husband wanted to tithe. I was uncommitted. Meaning, I didn’t care.

That’s the admission. I began tithing because my new husband wanted to and I didn’t care.

Reading that back just now, it doesn’t say much for me.

Over the last twenty years, we’ve continued to tithe. We’ve had lapses, but they were more from laziness and disorganization rather than a conscious decision to hold onto “our money.” In the end, we found that the best way for us to give is to schedule our tithe on bill pay. What do I think about that? What I don’t see, I don’t miss.

But as I prepared to talk to others about giving, I was thinking I should have a better reason for doing it than “My husband wanted to and I didn’t care.” and “It’s set up so I don’t notice it.” I understand why I began tithing and the logistics of how we tithe, but why do I tithe?

Then I remembered story of Elijah and the Widow of Zaraphath in 1 Kings 17:

8 Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.”

“Commanded.” I saw that word before. In verse 4: “. . . I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.” Then verse 6 reads: “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook.”

Birds brought Elijah bread and meat, morning and night, because the Lord “commanded” them. That’s impressive provision. At my house, we feed the birds. (and the raccoons, but, I digress.)

10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

Commentator Matthew Henry describes the widow as “very charitable and generous,” saying “She objected not to the present scarcity of it, nor asked him what he would give her for a draught of water (for now it was worth money).” She didn’t tell him she had more important things to do than fetch a stranger, an Israelite, a drink of water. She didn’t make excuses because she herself was weak from famine. She just stopped gathering her sticks and went to get Elijah some water.

Would I do that? I’d like to think I would.

But honestly? If the land was in famine and I had a starving child, would I? Or would I find out if this stranger could barter anything of value so I could take care of my child?

12 “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

That we may eat it – and DIE? That’s abrupt. Brutally honest. She only has enough flour and oil to make one meal for her child and then she expects they will starve to death. But she’s talking to a prophet. Didn’t she get the memo? Didn’t the Lord “command” her?

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’ “

She’s a Sidonian. Elijah is talking about the God of Israel. What kind of faith does she have in the God of Israel? What kind of faith does she have that Elijah has heard from the God of Israel? This guy could be a nutcase. He could be desperate and willing to lie for food or delusional from lack of food and water. She just told some stranger that she had just enough to feed herself and her child and then she expected to die of starvation and he responds with “Don’t be afraid. Make my bread first and then make something your child.” This Israelite is asking her to feed HIM before her starving child. And telling her she won’t run out of flour and oil. Won’t run out. That doesn’t make sense. How is that possible? She has a starving child in a land of famine and some stranger is asking that she FEED HIM FIRST?

Would I do that? I’d like to think I would.

Would I see then, as I can “objectively” see now – from my vantage point of having well-fed children tucked in bed for the night – that one meal would not save my child’s life? Would I be able to see that one “last” meal would just prolong the inevitable? Would I look at this man, this stranger, who professes faith in the God of Israel, and tells me my oil and flour won’t run out, and do as he asks me to? Would I put my hope in him and his God?

I’d like to think I would.

15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

Would I be willing to give up everything I have and think I hold as “mine” in exchange for something greater? Would I be willing to give up EVERYTHING in exchange for the blessings of faithful provision of an all-powerful God? I’ve never been asked to give up EVERYTHING for Him.

Or have I?

Romans 12:1:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”
(The Message)

I’m asked to give up far more than my last handful of food or my last two coins. I’m asked to give myself. Do I do that? Not consistently. But by the grace of God, every time I’ve taken possession of my time, my day, myself, I’ve come to my senses, and given again. I love what Matthew Henry writes: “The meal and the oil multiplied, not in the hoarding, but in the spending.”

I believe the “treasure” in Matthew 13:44 has nothing to do with money or possessions. I understand the “treasures” of this world are fleeting. I’ve learned that joyful giving brings unimaginable blessings. And I’m also aware that you don’t get a gourmet meal from flour and oil.

This is why I tithe.

You have found a treasure: the treasure of God’s love. You know now where it is,
but you are not yet ready to own it fully. So many attachments keep pulling you away.

Henri Nouwen
The Only Necessary Thing, Living a Prayerful Life

February 18, 2010 Posted by | faith, giving, pragmatic presence, spiritual growth, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

trials often hide blessings

So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it all in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep on doing it.
1 Peter 4:19, The Message

Eight years ago, we left our previous church.

My husband had served as part time music minister there for more than 5 years. My son was born during that time. Both FirstHusband and I taught Sunday school. He even served as interim youth minister for a while. I sang in the choir FirstHusband directed and we practiced while our toddler son played hide and seek in the pews. We built Christmas parade floats, volunteered at harvest carnivals, sang and acted in Christmas plays and ate a lot of potluck dinners. We had friends there. We laughed a lot. Leaving was . . . difficult, to say the least.

I’ve seen my husband cry three times since I met him. Once at the birth of our son. Once at the birth of our daughter. And once, as he read his letter of resignation to our church family. As I stood next to him, and read part of the letter because he was unable to continue, I can tell you.

I. was. angry.

Someone was hurting my husband. And I didn’t like it.

Our first pastor, who had started this church, had accepted a position in which he would have an opportunity to help start many new churches. Somehow, I ended up as the chair of the pastor search committee.

To make a very, very, very long and painful story short, the church called a pastor that, in the end, FirstHusband and I could not trust or support. In the end, his behaviors and words were very much different from the man he represented himself to be in his interviews. We had very different ethics. We had very different goals.

FirstHusband and I had to decide. Do we stand and attempt to hold this man accountable for his actions? Or do we leave?

During the weeks before we finally made the decision, we prayed. A LOT. We talked. A LOT. We didn’t believe we could stay without causing the church to split. Somewhere along the way, FirstHusband remembered a conversation between the characters of a book written by one of his favorite authors, Will D. Campbell:

“I guess what I really believe is that neighborhoods get reissued. You know, the community.” . . .

. . . “You know what ‘community’ is,” Doops said, his voice rising with impatience. “It’s a bunch of folks getting along for some reason. Something holds them together. Generally something bad. Like me and you and Kingston. Hell, if we had met at the circus we probably wouldn’t even have liked one another. But this damned army, this idiot war, holds us together. Being miserable seems to hold folks together. But when they’re easy and everything is going right, they drift apart. Everybody goes home for a funeral and that’s all.”

Kingston dropped his head, the look on his face that of a little boy caught in mischief. Doop’s last words made him think of home, of his mother and grandfather. He felt a sadness but now he did not want Doops to stop, nodded his head for him to go on.

“And that’s all I’m talking about,” Doops continued. “Nobody needs nobody when they’re happy. But it just happens. We don’t make it. We don’t make community any more than we make souls. It’s created.”

“And you think we were around somewhere else? Some other time?” Kingston asked, looking at Doops and Model T as one, in a way he had never looked at them before. Neither of them appeared to notice.

“I said the community was around,” Doops said. “Maybe, as you put it, there a neighborhood quiver. And the Great Whoever reaches back and shoots off a dose of community from time to time when one is needed somewhere. When it fits His gameplan. You know, maybe there’s only room in the world for just so many communities. Not souls. Communities. Like, the Lord not only created planets. He created communities. A solar system and a community system. And they go on spinning. All in place. All where they’re supposed to be and when. Each one pushing the other away and holding it close at the same time. And they go on spinning. Different times maybe, but they go on.”

“What’s the difference between a community and a country?” Kingston asked.

“Size,” Doops said. He answered quickly, as if he’d been waiting for the question, wanting it to be asked. “And kings. A community doesn’t have a king, a ruler. Everybody is equal. Now, it might start out as a community. But then somebody wants to improve on it, make it better because it gets bigger. And when it starts choosing captains, whammo! No more community. And that’s when it gets put back in the quiver. Waiting to get reissued.

“Or maybe the difference between a community and a country is that a community has a soul and a country doesn’t. Because God created the community and man created the country. Some king sees all these communities around and says, ‘Hoboy! Let’s put ‘em all together and rule over ‘em.’ And then he promptly f@#%’s it up.”

No one spoke. They sat together in silence, each one staring at the space immediately in front of him.

from “The Glad River” by Will D. Campbell

We didn’t want this community to go back into the quiver.

To make a very, very, very long and painful story short, rather than following the Ten Easy Steps to Church Purity, we finally decided to follow the wisdom of Solomon. FirstHusband wrote a resignation letter that was filled with how much the church had blessed us and how much we would miss everyone – but gave no indication of why we were really leaving.

We were willing to give up our church rather than see it die.

How would things have turned out if we had stayed? We’ll never know. We only see the path we DID take. It’s a path we didn’t want to face at the time. But, in hindsight, the journey we started as we left nearly 8 years ago has been one I am grateful for. A new church, many new friends, many blessings, an annual book rummage sale I LOVE to work (and shop)! And our pastor – a Will Campbell fan too! Eight years ago, the trials were looming, hiding all these blessings! But today, from this vantage point, we can see them clearly.

This Sunday is the beginning of a new path. Our Will Campbell loving (Methodist) pastor has been promoted and our new pastor’s first day at the pulpit is July 6th. When I first heard our pastor was leaving, I didn’t want him to leave. Part of me wants to hear him preach on Sunday. But part of me is curious. What blessings are ahead?

So what happened to our “old” church? In the end, it died anyway. After splitting. Twice.

The new church building that pastor worked so hard to get, now stands empty. Ready for a new congregation. A new fellowship. A new community.

“To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering is a very different thing . . . God puts His saints where they will glorify Him, and we are no judges at all of where that is.”
Oswald Chambers,
My Utmost for His Highest,
(Selection from August 10th)

July 3, 2008 Posted by | books, comfort, pragmatic presence | 3 Comments

never going to stop trying

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:1-4 NIV

I love old books.

The dusty old book I picked up this week is entitled “What is a Christian” by A. Leonard Griffith, copyright 1962.

“First and foremost, Christianity is a relationship to a Person. In that sense it differs from great world religions like Judaism and Hinduism and it differs from Communism and other rival secular faiths that compete for men’s allegiance today. All these direct our loyalty to a theological system, a code of ethics, a philosophy or an ideology, but Christianity alone directs our loyalty to a Person. Where Christ is, there is Christianity, and the Christian is a person who tries to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

We say “tries” because no one succeeds perfectly. How very wrong to assume that either you must be a first-class Christian or else you have no right to call yourself a Christian at all. We should never adopt that attitude toward other things. We do not deny ourselves the privilege of education simply because we are not first-class scholars, or the pleasure of singing because we are not of concert calibre, or the enjoyment of knocking a golf ball because we lack professional skill.

The real zest in life lies not in achievement but in effort, not in having arrived, but in striving.”

What a humbling reminder. Being a Christian comes down to ONE thing. A relationship to a Person (with a capital “P”). It is this Person I fail when I sin, not myself. When I become disappointed or frustrated about not meeting my own expectations, I need to remember who it is I am really disappointing. If my goals are in line with God’s will, if my striving is to glorify God, whose “expectations” have I really failed when I sin?

I can’t be a “first-class” Christian. What is that anyway?

I’m going to try to follow Christ. And in this “striving” Mr. Griffith talks about, I have been able to see the sin in self-condemnation.

I will sin. Any minute now. I don’t know how, but I will. I’m human. And I don’t want to waste one minute berating myself. It’s as if Jesus is standing there, waiting on me, with scars on his hands and feet, asking me to come and I respond by saying:

“I’ll be there in a minute. I’m not finished punishing myself yet.”

If Jesus was actually physically standing there, I wonder if he would roll his eyes and say:

“You just don’t get it, do you? Come here. RIGHT NOW. Sit down. Let me explain Grace one more time.”

Instead of wasting time and devaluing Grace by berating myself, I need to sincerely repent, ask forgiveness and try again. I need – and want – to start striving again as soon as possible. Self-condemnation prevents me from doing that. Self-condemnation delays my striving.

I can’t be perfect. It’s just not possible. But I’m not going to let that stop me from trying to follow Christ. If I wander off the road, the Holy Spirit is my GPS. I will find the “right” road again. But I refuse to stand there, in the middle of the “wrong” road, whining about the fact that I got lost.


By no preachment can we really satisfy that earnest inquirer who asked,
“What is a Christian?” But I wonder if we could point him to someone we know,
someone who has responded to the Master’s call and who so tries to follow Jesus
that of him it might be said, “There goes a Christian.”
A. Leonard Griffith

UPDATE: Debbie’s comment caused me to rethink my wording – and prompted me to do a little research. Found an interesting video on youtube. A preacher talks about the idea of “disappointing God” being a lie. See my comment below Debbie’s for my thoughts on this.

May 31, 2008 Posted by | books, grace, pragmatic presence, spiritual growth, witnessing | 5 Comments

learning in flux

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-12 NIV

I don’t know about you, but change is very difficult for me. I call it “flux” and I HATE flux. You’re not where you were, but you’re not where you will be – and you don’t even know where you will be. When you combine that with God’s will and all the current emphasis on God’s “individual will” for your life in contemporary Christian writing these days , it can be paralyzing. I’ve been going through that for a few years now (my husband calls it my mid-life crisis) and am just coming to peace with it. (Not all the way there yet.) I’ve spent so much time in my life focused on gaining knowledge and achievement, that it’s a very new place for me to realize I’m now more interested in significance. I love June Carter Cash’s quote: “I’m just goin through life, trying to matter.”

If you’re like me, you seek knowledge in decision making. And for me, that always means books first. I’ve found a few recently that have really made me think. One is written by Garry Friesen, called Decision Making and the Will of God. It’s not light reading. It’s a very big book. I got it at the beginning of my search for significance.

Throughout my life, I’ve often abdicated “big” decision making to God, thinking I was seeking and submitting to his will. Often, I would pray and “lay a fleece.” Now this is weird. When I took a moment to look up “lay a fleece” on the internet so I could better explain it, this is what I found first – an example from Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen:

“We all know this one. Heck, we’ve probably all done this one in some way or another. When we “lay out a fleece” before God, what we are doing, essentially, is seeking to know God’s will in a matter by asking him to arrange circumstances to indicate his answer to our question. In his book Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen uses the humourous example of the “phone fleece”: Suppose you want to ask Gladys out, but you don’t know whether it is God’s will that you do so. You decide that you will call her up. If the phone rings and someone answers (and you hope it’s Gladys), then God is telling you to ask her out. On the other hand, if you get a busy signal, God is telling you that Gladys is not for you. (She might be accepting a date from someone else.) If there is no answer, then you will try again later. Now, be honest: This is silly. Yet you’ve tried something like this in the past, haven’t you? I have.

The idea of a “fleece” comes from the story of Gideon, which involved a literal fleece:

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judg. 6:36-40)

And so, we are told, once Gideon received the sign from God that he and his army would surely save Israel, he went out and did so. We too display Gideon’s exemplary faith when we follow his example. It sounds so pious, so spiritual, so faithful. But is it? Is this story about Gideon intended to authorize the practice of laying out fleeces to determine God’s will? I think not. Here is why the context of this story militates against the practice of laying out fleeces:

1. Gideon already knew what God’s will was. In fact, God had even sent an angel to tell him that he was God’s chosen instrument to defeat the Midianites (Judg. 56:13-16). In fact, when Gideon requested the sign of the fleece, he acknowledged this: “And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said . . .” (Judg. 6:36, emphasis added). He wasn’t trying to find God’s will, he was trying to find a way out of it.

2. Gideon’s fleece was motivated by doubt, not faith. Already knowing what God expected of him, Gideon apparently didn’t believe it though the message came directly from an angel. So he requested a sign. Then he requested a second sign (Judg. 6:39), perhaps realizing that the first sign was rather stupid (there is nothing remotely miraculous about wool remaining wet after the ground has dried, after all).

3. Gideon must have realized he was trying God’s patience. He pleads with the Lord not to be angry with him for making yet another request for confirmation (Judg. 6:39).

4. Gideon still wasn’t convinced. In fact, after explicit instructions from an angel and two confirming signs, Gideon still needed to hear from the mouths of the Midianites themselves that they feared him (Judg. 7:9-15). Spying in the bushes accomplished what three supernatural events couldn’t.

In short, this idea that Judges teaches us to lay out fleeces before God to know his will turns the meaning of the text around 180 . This is a classic example of misappropriation. The point is not that we should seek God’s will by praying for signs. It is that God, in his grace, can use even his weakest people to accomplish his plan. Laying out fleeces in fact comes dangerously close to the pagan practice of augury – telling the future through signs and omens – which Scripture forbids.”

<span So there's an example of what I was doing – right from Garry Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God. I read the first part of the book and got completely depressed, realizing the way I’d been handling decision making was . . . not supported by scripture. Unfortunately, I abandoned the book, mid read. After months of not making any “big” decisions because I felt my process was flawed, I finally went back to the book to find out how Friesen interpreted the process of biblical decision making. The short answer is wisdom. Gaining and applying biblical wisdom. Which takes time. I’m still learning how to do it. It feels like I will never get it.

Another book I’m reading is Goal Free Living by Stephen Shapiro. He talks about living life following a compass instead of a map. Decisions aren’t necessarily “wrong” or “bad” they are just decisions and the outcome of those decisions lead us to the next ones. If a decision leads to negative consequences, we learn from that and use the experience to make different (we might say better) decisions in the future. Shapiro doesn’t profess Christianity, but filtering his words through my perspective as a Christian, I can see how biblical wisdom can be applied in this process. As a Christian, I would say that within the moral will of God decisions aren’t necessarily wrong or bad.

My poor son (and husband), I’m always inflicting my learning upon them when I’ve read something which impacts me. In trying to explain it to my son (and truthfully, myself in the process) I used an example (I think it’s from Friesen): We (my husband and I) haven’t decided what you (my son) should be when you grow up. There isn’t one specific thing you are destined to do. We pray that you grow to be a god fearing, faith filled, honorable man who makes choices based on biblical wisdom. Within the moral will of God, whatever you decided to do, will be equally pleasing to us, as your parents. And equally pleasing to God.

It has been so liberating to come to this understanding. Whatever I choose to do – choose to do, will be equally pleasing to God. I get to choose!

I have to choose.

And again, with the “it takes time.”

I’m also reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, Captivating by John and Staci Eldredge, Ten Minutes from Normal by Karen Hughes, and about 10 others, so basically, I’m A.D.D. bibliophile. But it works for me.

“I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.”
Eartha Kitt

October 24, 2007 Posted by | books, god's will, patience, pragmatic presence, spiritual growth | 3 Comments