Commitment and Unity

I believe if you sign up to do something (whether paid for it or not), you give it your very best. I believe that commitment means getting your hands dirty. It means making sacrifices for what you believe in. It means being on time, staying until its over, and being flexible. It may well mean you are not the person up front or that you have to get out of your comfort zone. Heavens, it may mean you have to compromise! It could mean your job may seem meaningless – like cleaning votive candle holders or holding a flashlight on a step or more visible like being a soloist, being on the Worship Team, directing logistics, teaching Sunday School or leading Bible Drill.  It means learning your part (words, choir folks words!!), being prepared and taking responsibility for yourself and maybe helping someone who does not know the ropes. It means cleaning up after yourself.  It means giving a helping hand to others.

To be committed, you have to show up and be both responsible and accountable. Commitment is acknowledgement that you are an essential part of The Body.  Commitment does not change because your BFF is not going to be there or the people out front are changing or see things a little differently than you or because you did not get a part you wanted.

Consider I Corinthians 12:34-36: But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Yes – I am struggling today with commitment. And I am really wound up about disharmony in the body of Christ. In part, I am struggling with what commitment means to me personally right now. And, I will confess, I am struggling not to judge others and how to be a part of the solution rather than the problem.

Commitment does not create disharmony. Commitment brings unity. Read Philippians 1:27 –  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.

I think about those who have gone before me and been found faithful – I will forever miss Sarah Wilkinson coming through the choir room to let me know she was “here” or Celeste apologizing for being “late” – their “ministry of presence” was so encouraging. I look at the folks right now in the choir who are showing up even though they have had better days health wise (Paula, Beth, Tess, Tom, Carol) and the people who really want to be there and cannot (Goldie and Jim, Mr. Foster, Kay). And I just pray that the rest of us can learn from them and be encouraged by them.

My prayer today is that I will be the right example to those around me and that each of those in my circle of influence will step up, too, and together with me prayerfully consider what this means. How we live out our commitment could make an eternal difference to someone else.

Change…….

Jewel Merritt told me the first year (1981) I sang in Carols By Candlelight that it helped if I could sing but the most important thing was that I be flexible!  And I have learned to be fairly flexible over time (you cannot do what I do for a living and for Carols and not be though I confess that I like to be the one in control) but I can and very often do adjust. As I have become more mature (could have just said older!), though, I find myself flexing less.

My first encounter with major change was the BC adventure in 2004 – talk about putting a cramp in your “control” mode! It did make me take a step back and realize that change was often not by choice.

Lately (like most of this year), I feel like every day there is something else changing – looking around me, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it.

I see the change in the lives of friends who are now walking a journey similar to mine with cancer.  I see the and feel the level of concern/anticipation/fear of what is coming at work with a new administration. I get slightly dizzy when I consider the magnitude of change on how financial, human capital, and procurement folks in Mississippi government will do their jobs once we complete the implementation of SAP. I even get a little freaked out when I consider that when Steve’s contract ends in January with the FDIC, he will for real be retired (or so he says – good news there is that he likes to go to the grocery store!!!). And then there is church – seems it is something different every week.

I know God did not create us to stand still. He did not ordain that I sit in the same seat in the choir loft every Sunday morning (I don’t), the same seat in the choir room each week (I do), or carve my name into a pew or a Sunday School room chair. He created us to step forward for Him and change where and when needed. That is a lot easier to say than it is to act on.

I did some looking around in my online NIV version tonight (not sure how we functioned before Google) on the word “change” and where, in context, it is found in scripture. Here are a few of the verses I found.

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? Numbers 23:19 – I think we know the answer to this question about promises and fulfillment is NO, He does not make promises He does not keep!

He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. Daniel 2:21 There is a lot to this verse. Changes to times and seasons – and I do not think the writer was wrapped up in fall colors or the move to daylight savings time!

I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Malachi 3:6 – OK – here is one of those promises He will fulfill (the words to “He Never Failed Me Yet” come to mind).

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17 CONSISTENT = GOD and the good and perfect gifts are what we need rather than what we think we want.

Finally I looked again at Psalm 51:10 – Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. That process of “creating” means I have to allow Him to change my heart.  I pray tonight that my heart, and the hearts of those around me, will not be hardened and that we will be a part of change in such a way that what matters is how we become His Church and not be so tied to what may occur inside the building or in the process. Join me and let’s direct our worship to the correct Audience and allow Him to change us all.

Stouthearted

When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.
Psalm 138:3 (NIV)
I love this verse. It came to mind when I was thinking about a friend last night who is in a position of “hurry up and wait” and as I pondered even having yet another small skin cancer removed (this time from my eyelid – not too excited about someone messing around with sharp objects around my eye but as my Mama says, “this, too shall pass.”)  Also, I have this in perspective – it is NOT breast cancer!
I think what I like is the word “stouthearted”.  Sounds sort of King James like but this translation is the NIV.  Other translations talk about God giving you “strength in your soul”.  I agree that is what it means but it just does not carry the visual of being “stouthearted”.
To be stouthearted means to be someone who stands firm on your beliefs – a faith thing – unwaivering – TOB (“tough ole bird” as my “friend” Patty has called me at times). To be stouthearted means that you are focused on the Creator thus the chief “what if” dude (a.k.a. “Satan) cannot get entrance into your heart and thoughts.

The dictionary (Merriam-Webster) defines it this way.

stout·heart·ed

adjective /ˈstoutˈhärtid/ 

Courageous or determined

Works for me. I encourage you to be the same.

CilleP.S. Breast Cancer Awareness month starts October 1. Have you had a mammogram this year?

Still Choosing Joy

I was asked to write a short article about my testimony.  Funny how something you have lived blesses you when you revisit it.  As I write this, I know a faithful choir member is on the verge of being free from the earthly suffering of cancer (may already be free). Celeste – you lived this even more than me. Your glass was always full and you ministered to so many. You amazed me when you were first diagnosed with colon cancer. You amazed me the Carols after that when you were on the ladders hanging garland and in your place every time for rehearsal and concerts. You simply amazed me. And I will miss you as will many others.

I consider myself a “glass half full person”.  My tolerance for whiners or folks who persist in looking at the dark side of every event they encounter is very low.  I was very much of that “try to see the best in everything” mindset during 2003-2004 when I decided to focus on joy. I wanted to develop my understanding that experiencing joy was a choice, not a given and not dependent on circumstance. My personal verse for the year was Philippians 2:2 (NIV): then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  
I was busy. I served as Sanctuary Choir President for the third time. Work was busy and unsettling as election years often are (I work for the State of Mississippi). Yet, I was restless. God was working in me (and in Steve) and I was struggling. Verses like Malachi 3:3 (KJV) came alive for me:  And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. You have been there, I am sure. I laugh now, but I prayed for patience in the period of refinement.  Frankly, I am not sure I will ever do that again. And I wondered since my focus was joy why pain might accompany that.
On May 18, 2004, I received that confirmation dreaded by everyone. You have cancer. That spot you came to see me about is definitely malignant. Talk about a body blow.  Steve had really convinced himself nothing was there as I underwent the testing. I think I knew all along that this might be a part of that “refinement” thing and I was going to learn a lot about choices, including the choice to be joyful. That night, we called friends who came and prayed with us. When they left, I sat down at my desk and opened my Bible and the pages fell to Psalm 34:4 (NASB): “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”  I honestly believe that God put my hand on that verse because it was not one I had marked before. And I remembered that as He delivered me from my fears, it would be up to me “choose joy”.
Cancer diagnosis and treatment is like drinking from a fire hose. You have the personal aspect – Steve could not get a grip initially; my parents were devastated – three girls out of three with cancer – why; well meaning folks offering everything from solid advice to horror stories – none of which you can process at the time; and decisions to be made. And then you have the aspect that your life for the period of treatment is very much lived in a fishbowl – especially if you chose to move forward with living in parallel to treatment.
I manage projects for a living, and this was how I approached cancer. I knew God was with me at every step – in the medical decisions, in the support structure, in teaching me I could not do this on my own.  And I was constantly reminded that people were watching me and would be impacted for Christ one way or another by how I handled myself during what I was going through. They would see my choice be it joy or be it anything else. His Word and His people sustained me. God opened so many doors through the experience for me to be a support and encourager to others who have walked that path since I did.
I would never wish breast cancer on anyone. I would also never give back that period in my life.  Jesus was, and still is, my strength. He did “calm all my fears” and still does. And because of Him, I am still choosing joy!

Whose Time Is It Anyway?

I have never done well when I have “a plan” and am working “the plan” and someone or something throws kinks into “my plan”. If you don’t believe me, ask my Mama (or any number of people who have to put up with me daily!)  Well (deep subject) – today is one of those days. Have things scheduled for tomorrow, few things I have to do today, and planned to catch up on a Legislative project on Monday while sitting in the background at another meeting (am a world class multi-tasker). Out of the shoot this morning, Steve and I get an email from his sister that they will be bringing her mother-in-law home for burial this week. Our hearts go to she, Mark, and their family and know this is going to be a difficult time logistically and otherwise (they are all in Tennessee).

So, what does that have to do with me, you ask?  It means that I got my ducks in a row and straightened up the house, asked for help from my Mom (and most of you know I seldom want help from anyone), got a big pot of red beans going, expanded the grocery list, am getting ready to go to the grocery (had really planned to leave that for Steve for Monday – he is RETIRED after all but know expanded grocery shopping is not a comfort zone) and then have to do this Legislative project and then see what goes tomorrow based on the needs of the family.

Actually this reminder is timely for me in other areas. Have really gotten wound up in “what happens next” since this is an election year and there are so many things at work (and otherwise) that I think (I don’t know) depend on that.  The whole thought process sends me right back to Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord’, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”  So what are we supposed to do as He knows and we don’t?  The next verses say it – we “call upon him” and “pray to Him” and He will listen. We will only find out what’s next when we seek Him with all our hearts. Hmm. And that means waiting on Him, too. And all of that is because it is His time, not ours.