Tag Archives: love

Holidays in Ministry

I remember coming home from Palm Sunday service in April, with a full and exhausted heart. I shuffled through the front door of my college house, hands full of overflowing tote bags, into what was an equally full kitchen. I remember being greeted with a dozen high-pitched welcomes and rapid-fire questions that I’d grown to expect (and now miss): How was church? Were you teaching? How’d it go?

The conversation quickly shifted back to the previous topic: the sweetness that everyone had experienced at their Palm Sunday services. Friends talked about how they’d cried when the children skipped down the aisles, waving palm branches. They commented on how moving the presentation of the story had been, how tangible the Spirit was during worship, and how relevant the sermons had been. Partaking in communion during holidays usually carries a different weight.

I just listened, laughing to myself. That hadn’t quite been my experience…

I don’t know what our palm processional looked like because I was in the back, consoling a crying toddler and convincing my middle schoolers that waving palms was still cool. I found myself in the middle of a palm branch duel between brothers, being smacked by the branches as I threatened to take them away. I ran, in my heels, to find extra palms (or, let’s be real, probably a stick from the parking lot) because, inevitably, someone didn’t get one.

For everything that’s moving, beautiful, and meaningful in a church service, there’s someone behind it who’s making it happen.

I’m specifically talking about ministry-related events here, but the principle extends further: at stores, restaurants, events – whatever it is that we’re experiencing, there’s someone on the other end who is doing all they can to make it happen.

That isn’t to say they don’t love their job. It isn’t to say that people are bitter about what they’re missing or that they are dying to be appreciated (if they are, maybe it’s time to give them a break). This isn’t a complaint about spending my Palm Sunday morning playing games with pre-teens; believe me when I say I loved every bit of it. My Christmas Eve will be spent as the liaison between the middle schoolers who we’re letting plan the program and the kids they’ll be directing in it. But I’m pretty sure I’m living the dream here. I’m choosing to have youth group on my birthday because I love what I do. 

I love my students more than I ever thought possible. I love watching them fall in love with Jesus. I love watching them play stupid games, care about re-decorating their youth room, or hanging out with each other after service. How can this not be the best job in the world?

It’s not a complaint.

It’s just a reminder not to forget.

Don’t forget the people who are working behind the scenes. Don’t forget that the things you enjoy, the things that are causing you to meet Jesus – they don’t just happen.

For every beautiful children’s program, there’s a tired, overworked (and probably really happy) children’s director. For every craft or candle that gets passed out, for every giving tree tag that you pull off, there’s someone behind the cutting, glueing, and assembling. For every moving sermon and powerful worship set, there’s a pastor, worship pastor, and any number of people running the AV system. For every service that is made reverent and special by the removal of your kids, there’s someone whose missing service to watch and teach them. They’re probably missing the holiday, or at the very least, the church service, with their family.

It’s lesson planning, lots of Dollar Tree runs, papers all over the bedroom floor, too many questions and decisions, weekend work days, justification for buying reusable tote bags every time you stop at the grocery, and too many hugs, laughs, and sweet moments to count.

It’s a whole lot of the faithfulness of the Lord. And a whole lot more of His grace.

If you’re in ministry, I hope that you love what you do. I hope that it feels like the very gift that it is.

We wouldn’t trade it for the world.

And, we love hearing that you find what we’re doing meaningful and moving. Just don’t forget that we didn’t experience it like you did. Be gracious in the way you speak and be cognizant of the subconscious reality of making those in the background feel like they’re missing out. We may not talk about the sermon, the program, the worship, or the processional, but it’s encouraging to hear that you met the Lord in it.

We’d also love to talk about our students, the craziness of the morning, or that we met Jesus too, if you’d like to listen. Sometimes, all we need is someone to get as excited about memory verses, new technology, or an injury-free event as we are.

With another busy, holiday season, where things in ministry tend to pick up instead of slow down, remember to be kind. Encouragement, gratitude, and just simple noticing goes further than you might think.

There’s a lot that goes into the 5 minute video that you’ll see on Sunday morning. Someone is making a last minute sprint into the grocery to pick up items for communion. The handouts that you’re getting, the graphic on the screen, and the quietness of a service sans children – yep, someone is behind all of that.

Managing the program. Putting together the videos. Troubleshooting the unforeseen challenges. Teaching students about what it means to love Jesus. Sometimes it feels rewarding, sometimes it feels thankless. Sometimes we come through that door on cloud nine, amazed at the works of the Lord, and sometimes we come ready for sweatpants and a nap, unsure if we’re making a difference.

Holidays, when your life is ministry, can look quite different. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

When Jesus Speaks

It’s no secret that I’ve done a lot of prayer these past few weeks regarding where the Lord is leading me. Specific, bold, expectant prayers for clarity and provision. There’s been a lot of asking, listening, and keeping an awareness of His voice throughout the day. What country. What people group. What city. What timeline. What organization. What are you doing, Jesus?

Sometimes, I slip into a mindset that says the more others-focused my quiet time is, the holier it is.

Intercession has a place and a critical one at that. It deserves more energy and attention than we often give it. I need to spend time everyday praying for specifics and going before the Throne of Grace on behalf of others.

BUT, that is not the point of my intimate time with Jesus. I go to Jesus to just be with Him, not for the sake of getting answers about my life. The idea isn’t to walk away with some revelation about what He’s calling me to or where I’m going (although, that’s often a part of it). It’s not to figure things out for someone else. It is literally to just be with the God of the universe and savior of my soul. To read His Word, to worship Him, and to hear His voice.

I go before the Father to hear what He thinks about me, because my soul needs to be reminded who I am and who He is.

May the magnificence and the humility of that not be lost on us! That we get to approach the Maker and Sustainer of the world with boldness and in our brokenness because He wants to be near us. He chose and chooses still to be near us. Over and over again in Scripture, even with the separation between God and the people in the Old Testament, we see Him drawing near to His people. His judges, kings, and prophets speak words about the compassion of God again and again.

Don’t forget: He cares way more about His will and His glory than you do. He’s not going to withhold specific answers or prayers that will disrupt His glory (as if that was possible). It’s okay for your time with Jesus to be selfish, in the sense that you sit with Him to hear His heart for you. It is from that place, of knowing our belovedness, that we become generous in giving, convicted in sin, abounding in service, overflowing with grace, and aware of His work in the lives of others. It doesn’t replace intercession, it needs to be what it flows from.

We hear our God telling us, not in a trite, cliché sort of way, just how much He love us and is for us. And we are, in turn, able to worship more fully the God who loves us enough to walk among us, to indwell us with His spirit, and to sing His faithfulness over us!

The other night, He was clear, in the classic “gracious but firm” sort of God-way, that my orientation and questions have been a little off in my recent moments alone with Him:

You hear me clearest when you hear me saying I want to be with you. I delight in you! I love you. I love being near you. I love watching you draw near to me. You move my heart. I see you – I redeem you! And I take delight in that. You ask to hear me for clarity and you will; you do. But clarity on the specific things you ask comes in a moment. My love for you is everlasting. Knowing what country I’m sending you to is one thing, but knowing just how deeply I take delight in you is another. That’s what you need to hear. It’s what Israel needed to hear. Over and over and over and over – I’m never going to stop reminding you, never going to stop singing it over you because there will never be a time it won’t be true. There will never be a time where you won’t need to hear it. I want to make you glorious! I want to make deserts into gardens more beautiful than you’ve ever seen. I have compassion, such compassion. I have more mercy, grace, and justice than you could ever even comprehend. My plans are good, my hand is strong, and I do not fail. I am your God, I am here, and you are mine. As a treasure, as my beloved, as my delight! Feel my heart for you, read about my heart for you, hear my heart for you, because it overflows and it will never stop. Know, deeply and daily, that I love you.

Let us not forget – our holy, holy, holy God, the Almighty on the throne, not only allows but delights in our approaching Him. For love, for compassion, for grace. Ask Him what He’s doing, ask Him for specifics, but don’t forget or be afraid to listen to His heart for you. Ask Him what He thinks of you. And sit in His presence, letting Jesus speak words of love and delight over you. Open the Scriptures, notice the Holy Spirit. Let Him love you with His everlasting love.

Because when Jesus speaks, things change. Because when Jesus speaks, people are seen. Because when Jesus speaks, His sheep know it. Because when Jesus speaks, it is good. Because when Jesus speaks . . . there is love.

Abba

As a Christian Education and Ministry major (the best decision of sophomore year), I have the privilege of going to department chapel in the Billy Graham Center museum. We meet in the rotunda, a dimly lit circle where we congregate to worship, pray, and listen to a 30-minute message, tailored to us as CE students. It’s one of my favorite chapels of the semester. Although, it should be; if any department would know how to do chapel right, it’s the one devoted entirely to cultivating spiritual formation in students.

Last semester, our chapel speaker was an education professor who works with special needs students. He is also a messianic Jew. Drawing from his roots, he spoke on the shema and the significance behind that prayer. It was a beautiful talk, but then again, we have lots of those at a place like Wheaton College. You could say we’re a little spoiled when it comes to the breadth and variety with which we hear and engage the Gospel.

While what he said was interesting and thoroughly presented, and I still have his beautifully printed handout hanging on my wall, months later I don’t remember the specifics of what he said. It wasn’t the uniqueness of his message that touched on a deep heartstring. It was how, or better yet where, he delivered it from. He sat in the middle of the rotunda circle. Sat, not stood. He planted his PhD, tenured professor rear end in the middle of a circle of undergraduate students because that is where his son was sitting. This professor had brought his entire family along to chapel, a wife and several kids. They helped him lead worshipped and proceeded to work on felting craft projects as their dad spoke. All except for the youngest.

boyscoloring3

Probably two years old, the youngest little boy, with his curly blonde hair and toddling legs, found himself thoroughly amused with the marble slab in the center of the rotunda. Toddling on unstable legs, he’d dance around a bit until losing his footing and falling over. A little crying, a little laughing would ensue in the distracting show that this little fellow was putting on. The undergrad students were giggling under their breath too. The irony of hearing about this reverent prayer on God’s holiness, albeit a communal one, was not lost on us students.

Growing up in contexts where kids are often viewed as nuances or distractions, I was subconsciously prepared for one of two responses: either this professor would just ignore the shenanigans of his child, waiting until he got bored with being the center of attention and rejoined his older siblings (all the while, secretly hoping students would retain something from his presentation that we obviously weren’t focused on) OR he’d motion to his wife to take the unruly child out of the room (another classic response in my heteronormative church experiences).

Yet, this professor did something that I hadn’t anticipated. He went and sat down next to his child. Putting his arm around the squirmy two-year old, the education professor shifted his tone, his attention, and his gaze to his child. Speaking in smaller words, looking at his son, he began directing parts of his talk towards the two year old. Words about God’s love for us. His nature as One. The call to bind His words on their bodies and doorposts.

wilkesdoor

It was in that moment I understood the shema like no lecturer had explained it before. No longer was I focused on the words or the Hebrew, but I was getting a tangible example of what it looks like to be loved by the God of the universe. To have Him come and sit next to me in my mess – with all it’s joy and all it’s pain. To have Him speaking both to the entire nation, entire body, entire community and to just me simultaneously.

Because the Lord, our God, the I Am who I Am, is also our Abba. And he loves us so very, very much. It’s not always about my deep processing or fully understanding all that He’s doing – sometimes, in my desperate, and often prideful attempts for Him to notice me, to be pleased with me, He invites me to just be with Him. To just be near my Abba because at the end of the day, that’s all my soul is really aching for.

Definitely Talking About Me

I’ve been reading through the Bible over the past few months, but during the past week of spring break, I took a little hiatus. Galavanting across Europe and changing hostels every night made it hard to find moments alone with the Lord, much less in a state where I was awake enough to pay attention to a text. With the phrase “your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness stretches to the skies” stuck in my head, I decided I’d spend the next week meditating on whatever psalm that was from. It would be a nice change of pace from my four chapters of Old Testament a day (currently in the middle of Numbers) and manageable, given the pace of our travels.

Turns out, that phrase is from Psalm 36.

1 I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes.

2 In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.

3 The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful; they fail to act wisely or do good.

4 Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong.

5 Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.

7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

8 They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.

9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

10 Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart.

11 May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

12 See how the evildoers lie fallen— thrown down, not able to rise!

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St. Anton, Austria

The first time I read through this psalm, curled up on my borrowed sheets in a Brussels hostel, I found myself skimming down to verse five. After all, what had initially drawn me to this chapter was the call back to the Lord’s unfailing love. As I continued reading, I was captivated by the imagery of the highest mountains and great deep; I found myself re-reading those verses as we literally drove up the mountains of the Alps. How great is His righteousness, a word here which is synonymous with justice – and how meager is my understanding of that!

Yet, I wasn’t five minutes into my exploration of the beauty of this chapter when I was overcome with a sense of conviction. It was gracious, but firm: Maddie, you haven’t even read the first five verses. My eyes had found the word “wicked” and then immediately skipped down to “love.” It wasn’t even a conscious avoidance of the verses; I had unknowingly and subconsciously bypassed them because that wasn’t what I was looking for. I was here to sit in the love of the Lord, not read about His condemnation for the wicked – what relevance did that have to me, enjoying the spoils of a spring break with my best friends? Also, I was reading for personal meditation and communion with Jesus, not exegetical bible study or teaching; skimming over context seemed to matter less.

Imagine my chagrin when scanning back up to the first five verses, I was met with this:

In their own eyes they flatter themselves
    too much to detect or hate their sin

That describes me and the posture of my heart everyday. Not only that, it cut to the heart of why I skipped over those verses in the first place. My ability to flatter myself into thinking that I’m not capable of being a part of the “wicked” people this psalm is describing means that I’m, by definition, living into that. What’s more, I’m assuming that I can jump down to the Lord’s love and righteousness without acknowledging my own sin. Except that I can’t. It leaves me with a skimpy picture of just how deep and pervasive that love and justice is. It puts it on my terms, something that I can control and comprehend. It’s only when I realize just how deeply flawed I am, how quickly I turn from the Lord that I love, and how easily I delude myself into thinking that I have less need for forgiveness, grace, or redemption, that I better understand His steadfast love. It’s only then that I can truly look upon mountains in wonder, knowing His justice spans higher and wider. It’s a convicting reality, one that clearly I’m not always great at leaning into – but such is the nature of this journey.

What a beautiful psalm that gets at the truth of who we are and who He is (even if I was initially a little hesitant about acknowledging it).

Am I Loving Something Else More than Jesus?

We know that Christ’s proximity to us never changes, so if I’m walking through a moment, a week, or a season where He feels distant, there’s a chance there’s something going on in my heart. I question my heart when I’m feeling anxious, apathetic, or overwhelmed. If I’m wondering where Jesus is or having trouble hearing… Read more. . .

The Old, Old Story

In the beginning, God created . . . . . . and He created everything. Every star, every blade of grass, every rock that has eroded into the sea. Night and day, every animal, every insect, every wave, He created. It was all beautiful and very good. Then, He created man and woman. He loved… Read more. . .

My Dual Identity

It’s one thing to say that my identity is in the Lord. It’s another to actually walk in that. It’s yet another thing to begin fully grasping at what that exactly means. Jesus has been clear in these past few weeks that there are two pieces to who I am in Him. What’s more, I so easily confuse the two; it’s… Read more. . .

Why am I Doing What I’m Doing?

At the beginning of the summer, I had a reflection do on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus, in preparation for my summer internship (stop reading this and go buy that book right now!). A lack of awareness about the deadline and an overwhelming amount of other work on my plate, I almost… Read more. . .

What I Miss About Acworth, GA

As I’ve been thinking about how exciting it is that Christmas break is only a few days away, I’ve also been thinking about how different it will be this year. A new house with new neighbors, a new church’s Christmas Eve service, a new balcony to look over when we wake up. What is that they… Read more. . .

5 Truths I Learn When I Have a Crush

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. Basically the past ten years. I went through middle school immersed in the “true love waits/kiss dating goodbye” Christian culture, so I spent a lot of my younger years thinking that crushing on a boy was inherently wrong. In my little twelve year old mind, I often equated crushing… Read more. . .