Monday, October 29, 2007

The Transformation of Halloween

As a little girl, I always dressed up in costume, and celebrated Halloween. There was no thought put into it at all. That is what you did. We lived on a long street that ended in a cul-du-sac, and it would take a couple of hours to travel all the way up and down the street collecting candy, visiting 'haunted houses' and 'magic' shows put on by all our creative neighbors.

When I grew up and had children, I truly looked forward to sharing Halloween with my kids. I mean, you teach and enjoy your kids every day, but there are just a couple of days a year just to have childish fun. Halloween was one.

Then I became a Christian. I didn't want to be a mere 'church attendee' but a true 'Christ follower'. And there are opinions running rampant through church about Halloween. I was informed that Halloween is evil by some. I was told by others that Halloween was fine as long as your kids dressed in 'nice' costumes, not 'evil' ones. I was told by others that Halloween was fine as long as you went to a church event ie. fall festival or trunk or treat. The worst that I was told was that Halloween was not only evil, but that children born on Halloween were evil, children of the devil, with no opportunity for redemption.

I have studied my Bible profusely. I have looked into the history and lore surrounding Halloween . With opinions abounding, all I can do is practice discernment. Here is what I have decided for my family. Halloween is not a pagan holiday. True it does not celebrate Christ - neither does Independence Day, or Thanksgiving, or Valentine's Day, or many other holidays. I will never have the significance of Passover. I will never love it like passover. It doesn't serve a purpose. It is fun. It is about imagination.

Everyone loves make-believe. As we grow up so many of us allow our imaginations to atrophy. We get caught up in the cycle of living and providing, that we don't allow our imaginations to exercise. Albert Einstein said that imagination was greater than knowledge. Exercising our imaginations allows us to create and invent. To me, Halloween is an opportunity to exercise that imagination, to have fun, to play.

I used to be concerned about my girls wanting to dress as something that I believed to be 'bad'. You know, it was okay to be Wonder Woman..... but a witch? I dunno! Doesn't that fall into the evil category, right alongside vampires, goblins, zombies?! Then it hit me. I don't believe in those things. They are make believe! Just like fairy princesses, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Winnie the Poo, and Superman! They are scary, but not evil. Some people like to be scared. After all, isn't that the appeal of roller coasters? The adrenaline rush comes from fear and excitement. For now, I don't want my girls to dress scary either. They are just too young. But it is not an issue of good versus evil. Now, if they were to want to dress as the Devil, I would say NO WAY! He is real and he is evil!

I don't think my way is right or wrong for everyone. We have very close friends who don't celebrate Halloween. We still love them-and we respect them as Christians. We have very close friends who dress up and go to 'haunted trails' and 'haunted houses' for a good scare. We still love them - and respect them as Christians. God gave my husband and I only one family to manage during our time here on earth. We can only use our knowledge of the scripture, and our abilities of discernment to make choices for ourselves. Sometimes we are right, and sometimes we are wrong. Our goal is to keep traveling forward on our journey to be Christ-like.

Friday, October 26, 2007

This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land

I sit out on my porch and survey the land around me. I feel a sense of pride over the improvements we have made with our house and land over the 9 years we have lived here. I think of the camping rule - always leave the campsite cleaner than you found it. That is how I see my house. Yes, officially I am a homeowner. But is it really mine? Or is it my campsite? Is it where I am stopping for rest and rejuvenation along my journey?

My daughter often takes a deep breath when we arrive home. She tells me that the air at our home is fresher than other places. It is comforting. It is ours. It is our place for rest and rejuvenation. But is it ours?

God created the heavens and the earth. He created everything we see here today. He created the materials that we use in the construction of our houses. And then...He created us. Not long afterwards, we stepped in and started claiming ownership. But is it ours? Or are we merely the stewards?

We hear so much about being a good steward. Be a good steward of your money. Be a good steward of your resources. Be a good steward of the earth's natural resources. So, what is a steward anyways? Webster defines stewardship as "the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care". Wikipedia defines stewardship as "personal responsibility for taking care of another person's property or financial affairs. "

So, a steward is someone who MANAGES something that BELONGS TO SOMEONE ELSE. I think it is very important that we grasp that everything in our 'possession' doesn't belong to us. We don't own it. It is not ours. Our house, our land, our computer, even our family, belong to God.

Every night, when we say prayers as a family, I thank God for the family and friends that God has given me to share my time on this earth. As dearly as I love my children, I do not claim ownership of them. It sounds weird, but I assure you that if you really grab hold of the idea that your children are not yours, but merely entrusted to your care by God, it WILL change forever your relationship with them. My husband and I were entrusted to each others care by God himself. Neat huh?! I see it as just another bit of evidence that God loves me dearly.

I think that once people allow this simple fact to sink in, it will really change the way they see things around them. It really starts to chip away at the 'mine versus yours' train of thought. You can really spot people who have begun to grasp this concept. You see them as natural 'givers'. I had a friend come up to me and ask me if I had a digital camera. I said yes, and they said 'is it a really nice one?' Seems they were given one, and found they really didn't need it, so they thought they would pass it along. It was in someone else's possession within minutes. Another friend, enjoying fellowship at the home of another, commented on a big glass jar 'where can I find one like that? I love it.' The hostess said 'right here' and handed it to the admirer.

I see things like this daily! This train of thought is at the root of Koinonia Community. Mi casa es su casa (my house is your house). You have a need? I can help with that. I have a need. Thank you so much for your help.

Acts 2:42-47 NLT

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[a]), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity[
b]—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

I believe that if God has entrusted us to manage things for Him, we must be efficient managers. We must make sure that our books stay in the black, so to speak. We must keep a low overhead. What better way to do that then to share resources with other managers?

I was reading a book about debt free church management recently. It spoke of wasted church resources. Apparently many churches go into severe debt for the construction of a building. A building that sits unoccupied for much of it's existence. Think about it - Sunday morning services, maybe Sunday and Wednesday evening. Let's say you have choir or praise team practice on Tuesday evenings for a couple hours, and maybe a Thursday evening men's group and ladies group. Let's say you are a very active church and have a singles group and maybe even something for the youth on Friday nights. Your building would still sit vacant for all of Monday, 20+ hours on Tuesdays, 20+ hours on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, all of Saturday, and maybe 16 hours of Sunday. Some churches try to balance it out by leasing out use of facilities, usually for a minimal donation, to other groups and organizations. Wouldn't it be neat if more than one church could SHARE a facility?!

What about us? How many of us have a truck in our household, just for those instances when we need to haul stuff? How about a lawnmower? We use ours two hours a week (if it doesn't rain) for all but about 4 months of a year. The rest of the time is sits idle, gathering spider webs. How many of us have a garage full of tools, which we need and use, but only occasionally? What if we could pool our resources and have a truck at our disposal, a lawnmower (we could get a better one together), tools, etc. that we could SHARE. We may even, inadvertently create opportunities for fellowship. 'You need the truck to go pick up some lumber? I need some shingles. Why don't we go together.' or 'You are using the tools to work on your car? I need to change my oil. Why don't I help you get finished quicker, and you can help me. And as an added bonus, sharing resources makes us better stewards or this environment we were given to manage - fewer vehicle emissions, fewer items to fill landfills, etc.

It is my desire to be a good steward of everything God entrusts to my care. I don't always make the right choices, but I have found that the better job I do managing, the more he blesses me to manage. Jesus gave us some management training in a few of the parables he delivered to his listeners. See Matthew 25:14-30 to read the Parable of the Talents, Luke 16 to read the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, and Luke 19:11-27 to read the Parable of the Ten Minas. Jesus thought it important to instruct us on the finer points of management. Maybe we should not only store these teachings in our heart, but start putting them into practice. Now, managers, lets go out and change the world!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Importance of Fellowship

Koinonia is often translated as fellowship. How important is fellowship? How important is getting together with other people?

Scientists have studied the longevity of married people versus singles. They have found in every study that married people live longer than people that never marry. They have found that married people have fewer health problems. Now does this mean that a wedding ceremony instantly wipes away illness? No way. The root of the problem is isolation and loneliness.

Think back to when you were in high school. What was your greatest desire? For most of us, it was to belong. We wanted somewhere where we felt like we were a necessary part of a group. Why do you think kids join gangs? To feel like a necessary piece of a puzzle. To feel camaraderie. To belong.

Houses used to be built close together. They had big front porches and front lawns where entire neighborhoods would gather and chat. Folks would sit and greet their neighbors as they returned home. They would sit and share a drink and chat. They would slow down and relax, and invest in the lives of their neighbors. Ever been sick and wishing for a steaming bowl of chicken soup? Neighbors knew when someone was sick, and would look in on them.

Today front porches have been replaced with back decks. Today people want more land, more privacy, higher fences, gated neighborhoods, and bigger houses so they never have to go outside. Everything they need is at their fingertips, in their nice, climate controlled environment. Even the outside hot tub has been replaced with a jetted tub in the privacy of their own bathroom. They don't even walk out to get their mail. They drive the car close to the box, blocking traffic, so they never have to get out of their car.

We complain about how people in the stores are so RUDE. What do we expect? They have no socialization skills, because they never socialize. It is a fact that isolation builds self-centeredness. People have forgotten that other people go through trials just like they do. That is why support groups have become so popular. Deep down we all desire fellowship. We all desire to be a part of something. We all desire to share our hopes and dreams, and struggles with other people.

It was always my dream to buy a big chunk of land, and build a big log house in the middle of the woods. Ahhh, completely silent, but for the sounds of nature. But the more I think about fellowship, the more that big chunk of land and woods seems like a box to me. The thought of having a really neat place, and no one else but my family to share it with, somehow seems inadequate. And then, I think, how will I be able to teach my children about sharing and giving, if I am hoarding, saying 'all this is ours', not theirs.

I want to live close to my neighbors, and have a big front porch with a free soda machine on it. That way everyone with stop by for a drink and a chat. I hope I get so busy chatting that we are forced to eat sandwiches every night for supper, because I got nothing accomplished. That would be living life.

Lately, there have been stories of kids killing. There have been stories of kids claiming their own lives. Do you think these kids had a feeling of belonging? Do you think they had a strong history of fellowship? Do you think they sat around and chatted on the porch with their neighbors? Or do you think they felt isolated? Alone? Different? Misunderstood? Do you think they were loners who sat quietly and unnoticed at school, and came home and shut themselves in their own rooms with their own thoughts?

I want to show my children that the stories in the Bible are not mere stories of what people did long ago, but a blueprint for how we should live our lives. I want to show them that it is possible, in the modern world, to live like Christ. I want to show them that miracles can again be commonplace. I want to show them how to change the news. I want to show them that they are an important piece of the puzzle, and an impact on the lives of others. And I don't want to just tell them about it, I want them to see it in action by the way we live.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Acts of Random Kindness

We took the girls to the $2.00 movie theater the other week, and they fell in love with Evan Almighty. In fact, it came out on video, and we purchased it. At the end of the movie 'God' tells Evan about continuing to build ARKs aka. Acts of Random Kindness. Cool acronym! It got me thinking. The Bible tells us to do things for others, but to do them in secret. Matthew 6:1 says "Watch out! Don't do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven." I love the way the NLT translates that. Watch out! Like a big 'Warning! Danger ahead!' sign. Matthew goes on to tell us that the hypocrites want everyone else to notice their good deeds. That is their reward. The praise. The recognition. The attaboys. And they rob themselves of a reward from their heavenly Father.

So.........if we are supposed to do our good deeds in private, how do we become a catalyst for change? After all, no one knows what we have done. How will others be inspired to do acts of random kindness for others? By the actions of those whose lives we touch. Some of my favorite stories are those of someone whose life was forever changed by the actions of a stranger. The story reaches legend status. Sometimes the stranger transforms into a mystical guardian angel as time passes. They saved a life. They helped someone in their greatest moment of need. Sometimes they have changed the course of someones life forever with an encouraging word, or even just a smile when no one else would look their way.

What acts of random kindness do you perform? Sometimes we feel we aren't equipped to change the lives of others. We don't have the time to care for someones children or feed the homeless. We don't have the resources to pay someone else's power bill. And we haven't had an opportunity to rescue someone from a burning building or speeding train. We are over scheduled, overburdened, stressed, exhausted, broke. What do we have to offer?

I believe the greatest acts of random kindness don't take money, or even much time. They are a glance and a smile to the person on the street when you would normally avert your gaze. They are a friendly hello and look of understanding to the enraged, frazzled mom who parks her van in the fire zone in front of the store. They are a hug for the friends who we encounter and usually only take the time to cover the formalities. Or maybe us introducing ourselves to the man or woman who you see at church every week, sitting alone, and speaking to no one. They are us telling our loved ones how incredibly special they are, and how much they truly mean to us. They are listening to one's troubles instead of telling your own. Sometimes they can be as simple as taking a far away parking space so someone else can stumble upon the 'dream spot'. Or sometimes simply letting a few people get behind you in the check out line, and stepping to the back of the line, letting them all go first.

So....what acts of random kindness do you perform? What can you do? I promise you that doing acts of random kindness is the greatest prescription for anxiety, stress, exhaustion, and feelings of inadequacy that money can't buy. It will make you feel powerful, capable of impacting the lives of others, and in return, your own.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Koinonia - moving right along

Koinonia community is not just a theoretical ideal. It is going to become a reality. We are still working on selling our house. We are still looking for land on which to establish this community. I have no doubt God is going to make it all happen. But here is the catch. How are we going to be able to purchase land, and still be able to build a house to live in, and build up a community? So many people are excited about the idea, but instead of being truly 'on board' are 'sitting back and observing'.....sounds awesome......can't wait to see how it turns out for ya........So how is it all going to come together? On a farmer's income? We just are not going to walk away from the sale of our house with a bucket of cash.

But I believe in dreaming large. My bulletin board contains several scriptures, but the central message is ATTEMPT SOMETHING SO GREAT IT CAN NOT SUCCEED UNLESS GOD IS IN IT. That means, if God is in it, it can NOT fail. Just over a year ago, during a chat with our pastor and his wife, they asked Darrell and I if we could accomplish anything and money was no object, what would it be (or something to that effect). Darrell said he would like to create a company to give money to charity, like Paul Newman's company. Did you know Paul Newman's company has given over $200 Million since 1982? I said I would like to establish a true Koinonia community. What if the two are connected? What if we create a company to support Koinonia community, and enable our community to give to the greater community?

I have a passion for making things. Jewelry, ornaments, food, soap - all things crafty. What if we could establish a company for making such things, and use the proceeds to finance Koinonia Community? What if this company gave any profit for charity, scholarships, etc.?

And as a side note-what a cool homeschooling lesson that would be.

See, that is where my idea came from. My eight year old decided she wanted to raise money for construction of a new church our church is planting. So she is making hand drawn bookmarks, and laminating them (laminator donated by Grandpa :0) other supplies donated by Mom and Dad). She has been selling them for 50 cents. For every bookmark she sells, she is giving 40 cents to the new church, and keeping 10 cents. In just over a week she has donated over $20 to our new church.

This was entirely her idea. And I have to say, it rather humbled me. How can I give up? How can I say it is going to be too difficult, when an eight year old can come up with a simple plan and put it into action?

So.......I need some feedback from my blogosphere friends. Any advise? I know there are all sorts of loans available to women intending to start a small business, but I do not intend to borrow any money for this. Know of any grants I should look into? I'm not even sure how it would fit in as a 'not for profit' organization. Any knowledge of where to get this information? I don't even mind hearing if you just think I am totally nuts - I've heard it before ;-) Anyways, God doesn't choose the qualified, he qualifies the chosen.

Most of all, I need lots of prayers. I believe God wants this to happen, but it would sure make me feel better if you told him you want it to happen too. Thanks y'all! And remember, ATTEMPT SOMETHING SO GREAT IT CAN NOT SUCCEED UNLESS GOD IS IN IT!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Have you ever fasted?

I have a question (actually questions) for anyone reading:

Have you ever fasted?
How long?
Was there anything you ate or drank?
For what purpose did you fast?
Do you feel it was successful toward this purpose?
Did you follow 'business as usual' while fasting, or dedicate your whole time toward prayer, bascically taking a fast from regular daily obligations?


Monday, October 8, 2007

Amazing Grace

You must see this! This gentleman spoke and sang at the Catalyst Conference.

The New Koinonia

I am back. And God spoke to me about some changes I need to make. First and foremost is this blog. The purpose of this blog is to lead people to a greater understanding of koinonia. It is also here to lead ME to a greater understanding of koinonia. By thinking through biblical principals, and by discussing it with other people, I hope to learn, learn, learn. And by doing so, I hope to grow, grow, grow.

I don't need to speak to only mature Christians to learn and grow. Everyone is capable of providing insight. Everyone is capable of initiating deep thought, and prompting me to look deeper for answers. I have to tell you though - I am in the pursuit of knowledge, not debate. I am not a gifted debater. I am a teacher. And I spend most of my time talking to young children.

Several months ago I participated in an incredible Bible study. It brought up the following questions. These questions are ones that I try to ask myself when making decisions. I made bookmarks with them to to remind myself daily (maybe I need to tape them to my debit card). If I can get to the point where I can ask myself these questions ALL THE TIME, just think of how far I could progress.

1) Will it glorify God?

2) Will it build up my life in Christ?

3) Will it honor the Word of God?

4) Will it cause anyone to stumble?

5) Will it help me to be a better witness for Christ?

I want to ask those questions of anything I type on this blog. What I write may not be exciting or glamorous. It may not be funny. It may not tell you what is going on in the exciting and glamorous lives of my family. But I hope to open your mind and mine to the Word of God. I desire to glorify God. I desire to build up my life in Christ. I desire to honor the Word of God. I desire to lift people up, not to cause them to stumble. I desire to be a better witness for Christ.

Try to put those questions at the forefront of your decision making. Let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Try to See Behind The Mask

Alea was a colicy baby. Very colicy!!! I was still working, and she cried from just before I got home from work around 3:00 in the afternoon, until around 3:00 in the morning - with a couple of scattered hours of blessed sleep in between. I was sleeping between 2-4 hours a night EVERY night-for months. I gave up breast feeding because she would just thrash and beat against me as I would try to nurse her. She could not stand to be still. When I went grocery shopping I would put her in a sling or front carrier, and every time I would stop to read a label or get something off a shelf, she would start screaming again. When we would be driving through town, every time we stopped at a red light her tirade would begin, and continue until the light changed, and we rushed forward. I remember thinking about running the light. Surely everyone would understand! I would sit there frantically waiting for someone to let me go when waiting to turn. I remember rushing into an opening, and having horns blared and harsh words spoken. I just wanted to cry out "You just don't know what I am going through. If you did, you may understand! Maybe you have been in my shoes. What do I do?"

We all have those moments. We are going through something difficult, and still people react harshly to us, with no understanding of the the challenges we are faced with. Or maybe we have reacted harshly to others. I know I have. The person who cut me off on the freeway. The mother of five paying with five sets of WIC vouchers - in the express lane. The folks at the mall who took the parking space I had been waiting patiently for (pregnant, with a toddler, and in early labor, I might add) and then taunted me about how the exercise would do me some good anyways. I remember wishing I could find another space quickly enough that they would see me laboriously and dramatically exit my car with my enormous belly, pained look, and toddler on my hip, and slowly make my way all the way from my distant parking space, pausing now and then as a contraction hit.

1 Corinthians 13

1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[
a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages[
b] and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[
c] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

Wow! What an incredible lesson Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul's letters frequently mentioned the importance of unity. He tells us in his letter the importance of love. It will endure forever! Without it our actions are meaningless. He instructs us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, to clothe ourselves in patience and kindness, and throw away the robes of jealousy and rudeness.

When Darrell and I were married, our pastor read and explained this passage to us. Then he told us something I will never forget. He told us that our marriage vows were a vow to God, not a vow we made to each other. That really changes the way you see a vow. It really helps you to persevere when you hit rough roads. It is no longer between me and this other person, it is about the relationship between me and God.

Isn't it the same thing when we make a vow to God regarding living our life for Jesus Christ? We commit ourselves to following the commandments God outlined for us in the Bible. We are then told that all of the commandments can be covered by the command to love God, and love one another. Just in case we wonder where to go from there, Paul steps in and teaches us what love is. So, if I don't show patience and kindness towards others, I am breaking my promise to God? I hurt my relationship with God when I am rude and irritable toward one of his children. Don't get me wrong. God is full of mercy. But my witness is damaged. I think of the story of the woman with all the Christian logos on her car, who was stopped by the State Trooper. He saw her yell and 'gesture' to another driver when she was cut off, and assumed the car was stolen.

My goal, of which I constantly fall short, is to capture 1Corinthians, and store it throughout my being. I pray that whenever I face challenges in dealing with other people, that I will pull this passage to the forefront of my thoughts. I pray that I will then move outside myself, stop thinking about how these people are affecting me, and try to see behind the masks they are wearing. I desire to see them through Christ's eyes. I desire to see them with the love that He has for them. I will never know what challenges they are facing, but I pray that God will constantly prompt me to see them as children of God, hidden behind their masks.