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Posts Tagged ‘stewardship’

Despite the title, this is not a post about faith.  Although, of course, it is faith related.  The focus of this post is actually stewardship.

Stewardship has been a buzzword in my life these past few years. Something I keep coming back to, something that reaches into more and more parts of my life.  See, I firmly believe that God calls us to be good stewards. And I’m not just talking about finances. Stewardship also includes how we make use of our time, our gifts, our skills, our resources and our bodies.

And even though it’s been a thought, a focus – a goal even – these past few years, where I struggle most with stewardship is in relation to my body. My health. Including my fibromyalgia. Knowing when to push and when to “give in” to its demands. Being disciplined about proper nourishment and exercise. Knowing how to react and treat during pains, flares and other issues.  I’ve struggled with that greatly.  I tend to either ignore what my fibro-ridden body needs and end up making myself sicker or I shrink back from doing or trying anything, giving into all its finicky demands.

A few weeks back, sitting in church (though I can not remember now when or what caused this), it suddenly occurred to me that I need to treat my body like a child.  A small child.  Sometimes even a baby.

For those who know me personally, you may laugh.  I don’t have kids at this point.  In fact, I’ve only ever babysat twice in my thirty-one years (and one was quite the story)!  But I’ve seen and picked up a few things nonetheless. I would be an unobservant idiot or an inattentive friend had I not.

So here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Babies and small children can be demanding.  They demand attention and cry for what they want.  It is the parents job to give them what they need – food, shelter, clothing, clean diapers and an appropriate amount of love and attention.  In the same way, our bodies (especially those with health issues) can be demanding.  We need to give our bodies the attention and care they need.
  • Babies and small children can throw fits for what they want, even to the point of making themselves sick.  But good parents know that they cannot always give into the child because not everything the child demands is actually needed.  In the same way, our bodies can be quite demanding and even seemingly get worse when we do not give in.  But we must discern what our bodies truly need and only provide that.
  • Babies and small children have to learn to do things they don’t like – like eating vegetables or sharing toys or taking turns or being patient during car rides and so on.  But good parents know there are some things that children must learn and they have to be firm about the child learning it.  In the same way, our bodies don’t always like when we do with/for them certain things – like avoiding excess sugars and fats and exercising.  In fact, our bodies can crave sugars, give us headaches (and other symptoms) if we try to break away from caffeine (or other addictions) and ache and hurt when we exercise.  But we must discipline our bodies anyway…
  • Babies and small children let you know when something is wrong, although they cannot always articulate exactly what it is.  A baby with an earache is mostly just fussy and school-age kids often complain of tummy-aches when it’s actually stress at school.  Good parents come to recognize and watch for the types of cries and underlying symptoms and reasons (and/or seek a doctor’s help).  They get the child the proper rest, medicine or treatment that he or she needs, rather than ignoring or pushing the child through.  In the same way, sometimes our bodies really do have times they need rest, attention or treatment and we have to learn to discern what it needs and then provide it.

Now please don’t think I’m naive and under the impression that parenting is easy.  It’s not.  Parents of a newborn can’t distinguish cries right away.  It takes time.  There’s a learning curve.  And I also know that each child is different.  Even down to the way they react and try to convey when something is wrong.  One baby may pull on his ear when it aches, another may turn or tilt her head in a funny way.  It’s a process of getting to know your child and then reacting as a good parent to supply what is needed and when.

And I think that’s the good news!  There is no pat formula for how to be a good steward of your body – one that says “ignore it to control it” or one that says “always listen and submit.”  No, it’s like parenting.  And it can take some time to get the hang of – and even then you may make mistakes – but that’s no reason to give up!  Just as God entrusts parents with children, so we are entrusted with our bodies – and they are built and wired differently.

So I am taking a new approach to being a good steward of my body.  Working on discerning my body’s true needs from what it often wants or thinks it needs.  No pat answers. No easy way out.  But I have a new frame of mind now when dealing with my fibromyalgia-ridden, sugar-sensitive body.  And I want to be a good parent.

Speaking of which, it’s past my child’s bedtime!

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With so much on my plate at the moment, why in the world am I taking time to blog?  Well, in part because I process best through writing things out.  But also in part because this thought struck me today and if I don’t write it  out it will either be lost like a half dozen other thoughts I’ve had in the past few weeks or it will get added to that hideous never-shortening list of “blogs to write” that I have – and have had for 2+ years now!

Besides, not having time to blog is part of what this entry is about!

I must confess up front that I have missed more than a few Sundays the past couple of months and so was not able to experience the full series that my Sunday School class was doing.  The series is a video series by Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church and it’s called Take It To The Limit. In short, it’s about margin.  Margin is basically what’s left after everything that is needed or necessary is done.  Like financial margin is what you have left at the end of the month when all bills and necessities are paid.  Time margin is not overloading your schedule so that when something important comes up (or a crisis), it can be dealt with.  It’s sort of like a buffer.  And it’s good stewardship.

Today was the last day and as a wrap-up they showed the introductory video because, apparently, they didn’t do it at the beginning (but I wasn’t there then so I wouldn’t know)…

In the intro, Andy took us on a whirlwind tour of the Bible, explaining how God had instructed us to set margin in our lives.  Even in the Law He gave to Israel when they had first come out of Egypt!  They weren’t supposed to live financially at their limit (100%) but were to live off a lower amount so that the margin could be applied to God and His work.  They weren’t supposed to work to their limit, but were to have a day of rest.  Even the land was to have rest at certain intervals!  And on he went…

And then a thought struck me.  Actually, it was a verse.  One he didn’t use at all.  But somewhere from the depths of my being the Holy Spirit dug up a verse I know and made it connect to what was being said.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I’ve heard this verse explained that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were the ones burdening the people with all their extra rules and that’s why Jesus said “come to Me.”  But looking at the immediate context, that doesn’t seem an obvious connection.  Not that it couldn’t be true, but I’m thinking it wasn’t just extra rules that were a burden – but culture itself pushing people to live at the limit, at the edge.  And that is a wholly unsustainable lifestyle – it’s wearisome!

If Andy is right (and I have no reason to doubt what he was saying today), then all along God has been asking us to step back, to go to Him and to live within boundaries He has set so that there is that buffer -that margin- in our lives.

Like Jesus saying, “Come to me.”

He wants us to take His yoke – as opposed to the one put on us by ourselves, or culture, or our drive to push limits.  Because His yoke is designed to fit us the way He made us.  Needing those margins and those Sabbaths.

Then I looked again at the verse.  “And you will find rest for your souls,” it says.

We tend to over-spiritualize the word “soul.”  Yes, the Greek word does include in its meaning a reference to that “thing” which is distinct from the physical body.  But another meaning in the Greek – and the primary meaning in the Hebrew – comes back to the basic idea of the “breath of life.”

So, to paraphrase, Jesus was saying, “take my yoke… and you will find room to breath.”

Because (and I know this from watching all those crime dramas) if someone sits on your chest or places something heavy on your chest and there is no room to breathe, you suffocate and die.  We need room to breathe.  We need margin.

I need margin.

Especially when it comes to my time, my emotions and my calling.  (I’ve already been working on the financial part.)

So now I need to go to Jesus.  Because I am weary and burdened (especially by all those “ought to”s).  I need to take His  yoke, follow His call, obey His commands… then I will have room to breath and will find rest!

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I see you You here, I feel Your hand.
Vast and mysterious is Your plan.
If all things start and end with You,
then I can beleive that dreams do come true.

That’s a line out of one of the songs from Sight & Sound’s production of Joseph.  I saw it last Tuesday and I haven’t been able to shake it out of my head yet.  Not that I mind, because I don’t.  I believe it was their best production ever (on so many levels) and for me even tops the Broadway version of Joseph (which I never thought would happen)!  I won’t go into detail here about the musical itself, but I would highly recommend you see it if you get the chance.

But seeing Joseph has got me thinking again.  Or perhaps “dreaming” would be a better word.  Or is it that I’m thinking about dreaming?

If you’ve followed my blogs since this spring, or even before, you’ll note that I have many dreams and I have recently wrestled with following God’s call and being on the right path.  And in many ways I still do.  Not the “where” so much as the “hows” these days.  God has given me dreams and visions and sometimes I’m not sure what to do with them all…

I’m not the first one to be given dreams and visions.  The Bible is full of people who were given dreams and visions – and hopes and promises.  And I’ve been thinking about them a great deal recently.  Specifically how most of them took years to be fulfilled.  In fact, I haven’t been able to think of any that came true instantly…  but I do know several instances in which the dreamer never did get to see the fulfillment of the dream.

Like David.  Now his wasn’t a literal dream like Joseph or Daniel had.  His was a vision.  Born out of a love for God and desire to worship Him.  He had a vision of building a temple for the worship of the God who called him, anointed him, made him king, saved him, strengthened him, forgave him and so on.  And God said that it was good that he had this desire, this vision, this dream.  But that he was not the one to see it through.  David had a vision of a temple that he would never see.  His son built it.  And David, for his part, imparted the dream and helped to make preparations.

So, as I’ve noted before, sometimes the dream or vision is given not for us to fulfill, but to make paths or preparations to that it is fulfilled in the future.

Then there’s Joseph.  Joseph was about 17 when he had dreams involving his brothers bowing down to him.  But he was probably 37 or older until that dream was fulfilled.  And for many years it probably seemed he was getting further from the fulfillment of that dream than closer to it.  His brothers sold him into slavery.  No one bows down to a slave.  Then on top of that, he was thrown into prison.  Instead of getting higher and higher into a position where people would bow to him, he was getting lower and lower.  The scripture says he was 30 when Pharaoh made him second over Egypt.  So that’s some 13 years of the dream seemingly going in the wrong direction.  Clouded, distant and with too many obstacles…. but eventually, some 20 or so years later, his brothers were indeed bowing down to him.

So sometimes the dream is a long time in coming and can seem impossible due to the way that things are currently happening.

And then there’s Nehemiah.  His also was more of a God-given vision than a literal dream.  He heard the report that though the temple had been rebuilt, Jerusalem still lay in ruins and unprotected with a broken down wall.  So with God’s guidance, favor and protection, Nehemiah was granted permission (and supplies) from the king to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall.  Nehemiah didn’t reveal all his plans at once and we can see from the scriptures that he prayed and planned as much as he acted.  We read his prayers, his thoughts, the opposition that he faced and about the completion of the walls and even other rebuilding aspects of Jerusalem.

So sometimes the fulfillment of the dream comes after prayer and planning and much hard work.

I have dreams and visions.  Sometimes seemingly grand dreams and visions.  It is highly likely that some will never be fulfilled in my lifetime or at my hand.  But the dream given to me will be passed along or somehow inspire others like a seed planted only to blossom later.  And I’m sure that some of my visions and dreams are going to require prayer and planning and hard work and perseverance in the face of opposition.  And I am in great need of having a little Nehemiah-character in my life!

But at the moment I feel more like Joseph.  My head swirling with these dreams that seem far off, remote and completely incompatible with my current surroundings and circumstances.  It seems every time I try to step forward with these dreams and visions, I am stopped short or cut down by health issues or other problems (as if my own tendency towards being distracted wasn’t enough)… Fatigue, headaches, dizziness, pain, stiffness and frequent illness and injury are not conducive to either teaching or performing mime!  So what’s a girl to do with the dream?

Because sometimes the dream is meant to be fulfilled in our lifetime and at our hand and sometimes the obstacles are more like Joseph’s (preventing the  dream for a time) rather than Nehemiah’s (to be fought through and overcome in a shorter period).

So I look to Joseph again.

He didn’t get to be second in Egypt by studying hard and working his way to the top one rung at a time.  He got there by being faithful and obedient to God.  Being a good steward of whatever he was given at the time.  When he was sold into slavery he worked hard and was a good steward of what he was given so that he ended up running the entire household!  When he was put into prison, his character and good stewardship allowed him to be put into a position of helping to run the prison!   The long and short of it?  It was Joseph’s character, his faithfulness to God and good stewardship of even the small things that put him in the position for God to use him and raise him up.

I need to be faithful to God.  I need to be a good steward of what God has placed in my hands – even if it’s not what I expected at this time.  And if you look closely, David and Nehemiah were actually being faithful and good stewards, too.  So whether these dreams are meant for someone else, to come true a long time from now or to be hard-won in a shorter time frame, it is my faithfulness and obedience to God and my stewardship to what I have been given which is what matters now and in the day to day.

Oh, God, give me a heart like David and character like Nehemiah and Joseph.

Or, to further quote from that song from Joseph,

Please make me wise, so that I might know
the will of my Lord from here below.
I see you You here, I feel Your hand.
Vast and mysterious is Your plan.
If all things start and end with You,
then I can beleive that dreams do come true.

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The two chapters I read yesterday in Rory Noland’s Heart of the Artist were not only great chapters, but in many ways they spoke to where I am, reiterated what I’ve been learning and brought back to mind various scriptures which God has been pointing out to me lately.  So I thought I’d ponder them a little more…

The artist who was given one talent was waiting by the baggage claim. “Master,” he sheepishly started, “I didn’t want you to get mad at me. I’m pretty sensitive, you know, and I don’t handle rejection very well, and it’s so hard being an artist in this cold, cruel world.  I wasn’t really good enough to make it big-time, because you only gave me one talent, so I didn’t do anything with my talent.  I hid it. Here, you can have it all back.” The artist opened his hand and looked straight down at his shoes. The talent was as new and undeveloped as the day he got it.

The old man was silent. Then he responded in a soft voice, “My dear friend, you have squandered a fortune. I gave you something that was meant to be used. The issue was not how much I gave but what you did with what you had.”

If you did not recognize it, this is a retelling of Jesus’ parable of the talents as found in Matthew 25.  Noland’s creative approach caught my attention.  I mean, I know the parable.  I know it well.  But sometimes when something is so familiar, we overlook it or take it for granted until deeper  truths are revealed by a fresh perspective.

Noland’s retelling was a fresh perspective for me.  I think the first thing that really hit home was the simple, sad statement of “The talent was as new and undeveloped as the day he got it.”  He had done nothing.  Out of fear.  Out of insignificance.  In either case, the gift was squandered.

The second thing that I took notice of was the reply of the “master.”

The issue was not how much I gave but what you did with what you had.

I have several talents.  None of them outstanding or superior or in any way fit to make me a super star.  And while a few of them could be developed much more than they are, mostly my design is such that I have a smattering of gifts which are broad but not deep.  Which has caused me (I sheepishly admit) to disparage of what I have been given and to look with jealousy or envy on others more than once.  I see others who are far more talented, far more dedicated, (far more healthy), far more successful… and though I generally rejoice in the success of my friends and others in my fields, sometimes… sometimes it’s hard.

But it’s not about me.

Or comparisons.

What matters is the stewardship – my faithfulness – with what I’ve been given.

Noland gives good advice on dealing with jealousy and envy: confess it as sin, appreciate your God-given talent and give credit where credit is due… bringing it all back to faithfulness and stewardship.  And in the process of describing all that as well as in the following chapter on handling emotions, he mentions Bible characters, stories and passages which I’ve previously connected with or from which God has recently revealed truths in my life.

Like Peter wanting to know “what about him?” referring to John who was behind them as Jesus was giving an assignment (“feed my sheep”) to Peter.  Jesus’ response? “What is that to you? You follow me.”

Hmm…

Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” seen in conjunction with James 4 “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Hmm…

He re-tells the parable of the workers from Matthew 20 using artists and arts ministry, bringing home the point with verse 15, “Or are you envious because I am generous?”  God in his sovereignty decides who gets which skills and talents and we in worship need to submit our attitudes to God’s sovereignty and be content (and faithful) with what we’ve been given rather than questioning the “fairness” of it all.

So he points to David who, though it was a “good thing to want” was told by God not to build a temple.  David’s son would do it.  He had a heart of worship and so desired to see a temple built and used for the worship and glory of God.  But he was told ‘no.’  He wouldn’t even get to see it.  But he didn’t sulk or complain.  Instead, he accepted God’s word and helped his son in preparations.

Hmm… wasn’t that a passage that God caught my attention with several weeks back?

Hmm…

Even Jonathan and David.  If anyone had a good “excuse” to be jealous or envious it was Jonathan, the king’s son, one who could have inherited his father’s throne… except it had been given to David.  But Jonathan accepted that and became a dear, dear friend to David.

Hmm…

Remember Cain and Abel?  Abel was faithful and obedient in his offering and Cain was not.  But “the Bible doesn’t say that God was made at Cain” Noland points out – in fact, he was given a second chance and God laid it out for him, “If you do well, surely you will be accepted. And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Hmm…

Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  And often as artists we are not able to be doing exactly what we want in the way we want or as much as we want.  For a myriad of reasons.  Sometimes it’s that something stands in our way (lack of skill, lack of discipline, lack of opportunity, persons or groups who will not allow or don’t want our art, etc) and sometimes it’s God standing in the way telling us to wait.  The Bible tells about a lot of people who had to wait – Noah (to get off the ark), Israel (to get into the Promised Land), Abraham & Sarah (to have a baby), Job (to hear from God) and so on!  And often we don’t understand it.  What’s the point in waiting?

Perhaps obedience.

Faithfulness.

Stewardship.

Because it’s really not about me. It’s not about my great abilities, or lack thereof.  It’s not about what God gave someone else and didn’t give me.  It’s not about being unfulfilled or disappointed or being put on hold.

It’s about stewardship, faithfulness and obedience to God… with what he’s given… in what he’s commanded…

Because ultimately, God is sovereign.  And generous.  And gracious.  And good.  And created us and knows us and redeems us and calls us.  And we can be content in that.

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