Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Contentment in the Fire

One of my favorite passages in Scripture comes from the Apostle Paul:

The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5b-7 (NASB)

Did you notice that first sentence? Ahh. This is good stuff. But keep reading, and you come to verses 11-13, which is a tough cut of meat:

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

This passage has become personal for me over the last ten years. I now have a glimmer of understanding about what Paul meant when he wrote these words.

Have you ever noticed that God's provision usually looks nothing like we expect?

I worked as a copywriter for an in-house advertising agency for several years. The environment was a toxic combination of tight deadlines, micro-management, intra- and inter-departmental power struggles, brown-nosing, corporate ladder climbing, re-organizations, and a company relocation that offered no assistance to the plebes. Millions were spent on consulting companies, just to re-arrange our office for the umpteenth time. Several people told me that the stress had driven them to anti-depressants. One day, while faced with a crazy deadline and one of several managers with double standards and unrealistic expectations, I suddenly couldn't breathe and thought I might be having a heart attack. Turns out I had experienced my first ever panic attack while sitting at my desk.

I wanted out. And I wanted out right then.

I went home that evening and told my husband I wanted to quit my job. The thing was, I couldn't quit my job without another job in line. But there were no other jobs to be had. This is what you face when you live in a small town with only one large business and lots of factories. And as much as I hated to admit it, I knew that where I worked was better than the chicken factory.

I prayed about it, agonized over it, despised where I was and my helplessness to change it. I asked God repeatedly to let me leave. Each time He said "not yet." My joy was gone. My own attitude slowly grew toxic, and I felt like I had nothing positive left to give in my work, which just added to my misery.

I cried out to God. "Let me leave!"

He answered, "No."

"Why? Why do you keep me there? Why can't I leave?!?"

"You must learn to be content, no matter your circumstances."

I really hated that answer. I was angry, with myself for being so weak, with God for requiring me to stick it out. I hated it.

This was, spiritually, the driest point of my life so far.

Or so I thought.

After a few weeks, I realized He was serious about His requirement, that I really would have to be content there before He would let me leave. So I started praying, asking Him to help me be content.

Within a month or so, I found myself saying, "Okay, I'm content. You can let me leave now."

"Not yet."

Sigh. Another couple weeks would go by. "Okay, this time I really am content where I am. I'm going to start looking for another job."



This went on for about six months. Then I met someone at work — a Messianic Jew named Sid. I kinda sorta knew Sid's wife Patty from prayer counseling training years before. Yeah, at that point I wasn't exactly applying the things I'd learned. Oh, the lessons in that alone. But I digress.

Sid invited us to attend a Messianic congregation about 45 minutes away from our home. We did. And our lives were changed forever. Doug and I started attending this congregation regularly. We learned all kinds of amazing things about Jesus Christ (Yeshua haMashiach). We fell in love with our Messiah all over again. We learned about the Torah (the books of Moses: Genesis - Deuteronomy), which is a Hebrew word that means "God's teaching and instruction," and how to see Christ in that Torah. We realized who we really are in Scripture and who we are in Christ. Identity is a priceless gift from Him. We learned some Scriptural truths that amazed us, shook us, stretched and challenged us. Grew us. Changed us.

And the next thing I knew, another six months had passed. And I realized that when I got my eyes off my circumstances and really submersed myself in Him, God was able to change my heart, my desires.

Don't get me wrong. Work was just as stressful as before. Same deadlines. Same ladder climbers scrambling over me and my other co-workers. Corporate life was still all that it's cracked up to be (pun very much intended). None of that had changed.

I had changed. He had changed me.

I looked around my cubicle, now a different cubicle from the one where I'd had the panic attack. And I realized that I no longer resented being there. I no longer dreaded coming to work. I could not say I loved my job. But I could say that I was content right where I was. Content.


I was there for a reason. God had kept me there, in that miserable work environment, because that was where I needed to be to meet Sid. To be invited to that little Messianic Jewish congregation. To meet my Messiah on a totally different level. To be refined. He had great blessings for me, but I needed to walk through the fire to experience and appreciate them.

Within a week of that epiphany, the Lord opened the door of a lifetime. He told me to apply for a job at Samaritan's Purse. I did. And I was hired. I had gone from the worst work environment I'd ever experienced to the one that was better than I had ever hoped for. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by other believers, many who had been through the refiner's fire in their own ways. My new employer started off each day with organization-wide devotions and prayer. Our motto, hung above the phone at each desk, was "pray first."

Was this a dream? Tears come to my eyes still today when I think about it. I worked for Samaritan's Purse for two and a half years, was promoted to a supervisory role, before I chose to leave the best job I'd ever had and stay at home with my newborn daughter. That was almost five years ago.

Every time I think about Samaritan's Purse, I remember the job before it. And I can honestly say I'm thankful for the experience.

I wish I could say that I'm a master of contentment now, but that would be a lie. I can, however, draw on the truth I've known when I face new situations of discontent. And while I do feel restless and dissatisfied from time to time, I have found that He is still faithful. And God's provision is always there, ready for the taking. I just have to recognize it for what it is.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Where is the Modesty in the Body of Christ?

I don't even know how to begin to write on this topic. There's so much of me that screams, "careful, Renee, you don't want to offend anybody." But there is another part of me that knows offense will come anytime you address an issue that folks don't want to deal with. And I think it's far beyond time the Body of Christ got past our sensitivity to being offended and got really serious about our desire to be less like this world and more like our Messiah. So let's just cut to the chase.

I am shocked at the immodesty within the body of Christ. On any given Sunday you can see strappy tops or plunging necklines that display excessive amounts of cleavage. If you sit in the back of the church, behind the youth group, you'll be surprised at the plethora of girls who actually appear to be topless because of their strapless and backless clothing. When sitting in the pews (and most pew backs are not particularly high -- they don't cover the shoulder blades on an average-built person) some girls appear to be completely nude.

I would like to think that these girls are unchurched, that perhaps this inappropriate dress is the result of living in an environment devoid of Christ. But I know that is not the case. Sadly, many girls who dress this way are long-term attendees or members. So the question begs to be asked, "Why?"

Perhaps the wearers of such garments suffer heat stroke if they wear sleeves or any form of cloth on their chests, backs and mid-riffs. Maybe unknown medical conditions require that large areas of their skin breathe at all times. Perhaps some sort of epidemic requires clothing to be painted on or poured into.

Okay, I think we all know those excuses are ridiculous, and I'm just being silly and more than a little sarcastic. So now that we've cut out all the absurdity, let's look at the real motivation for dressing in such attire. I think it has a whole lot more to do with a girl's desire to fit in with the latest fashions, with her desire to attact the attention of others (particularly boys), and maybe a touch of rebellion.

Taste bitter? Yeah, sin usually does.

Sound harsh? Okay. It's about time somebody just came right out and said it.

Now, moving on: what kind of attention do girls think they'll attract by wearing garments that leave disgustingly little to the imagination? It certainly does get the attention of the surrounding males (of all ages). Yeah. And for what reason? I can guarantee when a guy sees a girl dressed like that, he's not thinking, "Man, I just want to be closer to Christ." He's not telling himself, "Wow, I'd love to read my Bible right now," or "That girl makes me want to be a more godly man." I guarantee he's struggling to keep his thoughts from drifting in the opposite direction, if he's even fighting it at all.

Many girls would say, "It's not my problem guys can't keep their minds out of the gutter." But I have something different to say about that. I have a correction, an exhortation, and a challenge for every female who is part of the family of God. Ready for it? If you thought I could be tough earlier, buckle your seatbelts:

How you dress when you go to work or school is another issue, I suppose ... although I have a hard time reconciling provocative clothing with godly living in any situation. But let's get down to the truth. Who do you think you are, displaying your body, dressing provocatively in the house of God? If you don't respect your brothers in Christ enough to conceal the things that entice them and pull them away from God, then you should AT LEAST honor God enough to avoid distracting folks from Him -- from worshipping Him, hearing His word preached, and encouraging each other in a closer relationship with Him.

Provocative dress has NO PLACE in the church. Where is the church leadership in this matter? Why don't youth leaders aggressively address this issue? Years ago we attended a church with a different approach. If a female showed up there with inadequate clothing, female ministry team leaders approached her with a shawl and asked her to please wear it while she was in the presence of the congregation. Sound offensive? It's not. That church had a deeper understand for what it meant to protect the minds and thoughts of those who were present. They knew that they had to protect the hearing of the Word of God. What's offensive is showing up to a worship setting, parading your body like you're in a strip show, and then acting like there's something wrong with folks who are distracted by it.

I'm being pretty harsh, I know. But I'm angry, because a lot of the females I see doing this SHOULD and DO know better. And if they don't, they have either silenced their consciences (the Holy Spirit's voice, in that aspect) by ignoring the promptings of modesty and self-consciousness, or they have been taught that this sort of dress is okay.

Since when was self-consciousness a bad thing? Geez, ladies! Put your clothes on! Leaders, stop condoning it by remaining silent to it! Parents, take control of your households!

I am pretty sure when the Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:9 that women should "... adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly ..." that he didn't have belly shirts or boustiers in mind. Likewise, when Peter said that women should demonstrate "chaste and respectful behavior" (1 Peter 3:2), I'm confident that he did not envision them wearing pants tighter than their skin, short mini skirts that barely cover the derriere, and clingy, cleavage-popping tops.

It's time we moved past the "all-inclusive" rhetoric and started striving to be that city on a hill, that salt of the earth, that peculiar people who are in this world but not OF it, whose minds are not on the things of this world, but are on the things of God. Sorry, but public nakedness doesn't fit into God's agenda. Those who think it does must be reading a different Bible than I am.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Dandelion Giver

I always notice dandelions. They make me feel homesick sometimes. Sounds strange, I know, to get nostalgic over a lawn-ruining weed. Bear with me.

Okay, so the flowers in this picture aren't really dandelions. But they look like them to me. These little guys were growing in a huge circle around a rose bush at Ridgecrest, the location for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I passed these cheerful yellow flowers at least three times a day for four days. And every time they reminded me of Doug. And then I'd get homesick for him and the kids. See, the first flower Doug ever gave me was a dandelion.

I snapped this picture to remind myself about home, not what or where, but who my home really is.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


I returned home today from the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Anybody who's been to a writers conference knows how overwhelming they can be. By the end of each day, your brain is at maximum capacity, unable to retain another crumb of information. Combine that with the emotional highs and lows of networking and fellowshipping with other writers, agents and editors, and by the time the conference is over, many of us are simply wiped out.

Functioning on three-and-a-half hours of sleep and a general numbness after four days of being overly-sensitized, my drive home was excruciating. But all that slipped away into nothingness when I pulled into my driveway. My four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son were playing in the front yard when I got home. I could read my daughter's lips as she said, "Mommy's home!" and then bounced up and down. She raced to the picket fence gate, her little brother close on her heels. I was barely out of the car when she threw her arms around my legs. "Mommy!" This time I got to hear her sweet voice. My son echoed her excitement. I grabbed them both and just held them tightly for a moment.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Respecters of Persons

Galatians 3 has spoken to me on several levels lately.

I'm at a writer's conference tonight. I'm tired. It's late, after eleven, actually. I'm in the lobby, near a fireplace, surrounded by other writers and a few agents. We're just hanging out tonight, chatting...setting aside for a while the mental hierarchy imposed by the world and our flesh. You know, that distinction the attendees make between the successful and the aspiring.

Though some would deny it, there's a sort of attendee caste system here that separates the first-timer from the seasoned conference vetter. The unpublished from the barely-published. The successful from the aspiring.

No wonder Father feels the need to remind us there's no difference between Jew and Greek, and that He's not a respecter of persons.