Dusty People

Dry Earth_Dusty People

People outside the faith have no idea that we who want to follow Jesus live in constant tension. It’s the tension between the ideal of trying to live the way Jesus calls us to live and the reality that we are, most often, just like everybody else. We struggle and fail and refuse to do what we know God wants us to do. It can be a life of constant frustration and deep discouragement as we experience the reality of the traditional prayer of confession:

…We have done those things we ought not to have done

And left undone those we ought to have done

And there is no health in us.

The disillusion and failure have taken many people away from faith. Facing this reality, however, can actually deepen our understanding of grace and our gratitude to God. It can also reshape our unbiblical expectations.

The starting point is learning, in humility, to accept the fact that we are works in progress. We are not “struck perfect” simply by expressing faith in Christ. Faith is a both an act and a process:

It is an act of commitment—like a wedding,

and a process of becoming—like a marriage.

It is like the birth of a child

and the process of that child growing to mature adulthood.

Second, it helps to realize God is not surprised by our failures. That doesn’t excuse them, but it does give us hope. As I wrote in a recent blog, “Our sin spoils our fellowship with God, but it does not make God love us less.”

My “trigger phrase” to awaken humility and gratitude at the same time is that we are “dusty people.” I take this concept from Psalm 103…

As a father has compassion on his children,

    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed,

    he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14 NIV).

God knows our limitations. God knows our personality faults and the deep scars of our experience. God knows we don’t have– and cannot get— it all together. God knows we are dust. Mortal, wounded… and redeemed by grace to be resurrected in glory.

In his book, Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly frequently recognizes our imperfection and provides guidance for those who are likely to be overwhelmed by failure.

“The first days and weeks and months of offering total self to God are awkward and painful, but enormously rewarding. Awkward, because it takes constant vigilance and effort and reassertions of the will, at the first level. Painful, because our lapses are so frequent, the intervals when we forget Him so long. Rewarding, because we have begun to live. But these weeks and months and perhaps even years must be passed through before He gives us greater and easier stayedness upon Himself.

“Lapses and forgettings are so frequent. Our surroundings grow so exciting. Our occupations are so exacting. But when you catch yourself again, lose no time in self-recriminations, but breathe a silent prayer for forgiveness and begin again, just where you are. Offer this broken worship up to Him and say: ‘This is what I am except Thou aid me.’ Admit no discouragement, but ever return quietly to Him and wait in His Presence.” (p. 39)

The First Letter of John reminds us,

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 1:8-2:1 NIV).

Realistically, we will fail God daily– and often fail to recognize most of our sins. (And that’s a mercy, in and of itself!). God does not want us to punish ourselves with guilt and shame as the way of “self-atonement.” Instead, we cast ourselves on God’s mercy. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about faith embracing God’s grace.



Who do you really want to be?

I often remind myself that Jesus did not die on the cross so we could remain the same. Jesus died, rose from grave, ascended into heaven and is coming again in order to make us new creations who are living into that new life now and for eternity. Through faith in Christ, we are new creations.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17 New Living Translation, NLT).

Is that true in your experience? Are the old ways changing? What does that new life look like? Another passage from 2 Corinthians makes a breath-taking assertion and affirmation:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18 RSV).

The key to change is not simply knowing we “should” change, but firing up our emotional engagement to desire and seek change. That starts with vision. We are being changed “from one degree of glory to another!” Like Moses’ face when he experienced God’s presence (see Exodus 34:29-35). If you could really change things about yourself, what would you really like to change? If you could really experience a new way of thinking, speaking and behaving, what characteristics would be top on your list? Here’s the amazing promise of the gospel: God is actively pursuing change in us. This is not a DIY (do it yourself) project.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”  (Philippians 2:12-13 Revised Standard Version (RSV).

We often have vague ideas of the person we truly want to be, but don’t take time to get specific. When you begin to see the person you really want to be, you begin to move toward that vision. Start a list of the qualities you hope to develop, those characteristics you sense God the Holy Spirit wants to shape in you. I began a list for myself and eventually compiled it into this format. I call it “PICTURE A LIFE…”

Picture a life in which…
Joy carries you through the day,
and laughter comes as naturally as breathing.
You are not lured by that which would destroy you,
but are drawn to that which builds you up.
You can trust yourself–
having control over your thought and words,
over your responses and reactions.
You live above the distractions and deceptions of the world,
being a non-anxious, very real presence to others around you.
You have no need to hide.
You can look others in the eye, valuing them for themselves alone,
not for what they would give you.
You find courage to face every conflict honorably,
and strength to fulfill every responsibility faithfully.
You endure suffering with courage,
able to live with the questions.
You can admit when you are wrong:
You can say, “I’m sorry,” and begin again,
and are gentle with yourself,
renouncing the chains of shame, and self-condemnation.
You are connected to God who created you as you,
and are becoming all that God created you to be.
You are at peace in all circumstances,
celebrating God’s faithful provision in times of abundance,
trusting in quiet contentment in times of want.
You are free to serve others willingly,
without thought or need for thanks.
You have the freedom to live for an audience of One.

Picture such a life–
For it is meant to be yours.

(Copyright, Dr. Douglas J. Rumford, SoulShaping: Taking Care Of Your Spiritual Life, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996, pp. 60-61)

Energy comes from holy imagination. Hope comes from seeing that change is possible. Jesus Christ died so that he, by the power of God at work within us, could transform us into daughters and sons of God who live in freedom and joy, who serve in power and grace. Work in us, Lord!

Getting the Right Boss

11.3.17 Blog Banner_org chart v2
Copyright 2017 by Stephanie Curry

There was a time early in my ministry when I was overcome by the pressures of the congregation.  It seemed that I was encountering low-key opposition and resistance everywhere I turned.  The harder I worked, the more ineffective I felt. I was praying and journaling about my struggles for several weeks.  One day I began my journal entry, “Lord, I am so tired and discouraged. I know you called me to be the servant of this congregation…”

Suddenly it was if the Lord interrupted and seemed to say, “No I didn’t!”

“Excuse me?!” I replied.

“Yes, I called you to serve this congregation, but you are MY servant.  You are not to take orders from them, trying to please them in every way. You do not ultimately answer to them.  You answer to me.”

I immediately thought of the Bible verses that says, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not [your masters], knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24 RSV).

Since then, I have learned to say to myself, “I am not the servant of this congregation.  I am the servant of Jesus Christ assigned to this congregation at this time.” That simple change in perspective has had a profound impact on my sense of direction and differentiation from the congregations to which God has called me.

Now, you may be thinking, “Well, that’s great for pastors, but in the Real World, it doesn’t work like that.” First, we could have a wonderful discussion about what “the Real World” is! What’s more real than God and spiritual matters and being a part of God’s continuing work in this world — where we pray God’s “kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven”??  Still, I know what you mean: In the “real world” of institutions and organizations and people who do not operate on the plane of the highest of spiritual values and principles, this sounds unrealistic. But let’s test it out.

Whenever we consider our place in this world, we have a choice about how we “frame” our understanding. In the case or work, we ask ourselves questions like,

“Does my faith affect my work in any way? If so, how?”

“How will I honor the Lord in the everyday routine and demands of this job?”

“How does this job affect my sense of self and my participation in God’s continuing work in this world?”

I’m focusing on just one aspect of a “theology of work” here– so realize this is part of a much larger conversation. The key question is: Who’s my real Boss? That’s not just a questions for pastors and people in vocational ministry, serving churches and parachurch organizations (like Young Life, CRU, World Vision). That’s one of the implications what Paul’s advice to the people in Colossae. In the verses immediately preceding the quote above Paul said, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (Colossians 3:22 ESV).

This the exhortation to slaves or bond-servants gives us a framework for approaching our work. Our ultimate motive is honoring the Lord. That perspective brings relief, refocus and responsibility.

Relief. When this thought first came to me, I was relieved. My stress level went down because I suddenly “resigned” from having over 500 bosses to having One. I continued to give my best efforts, motivated by honoring God, not pleasing everyone.

In any workplace, it’s a relief to remind ourselves continually that we are serving the Lord and others in practical ways in and through this job. This will actually make us more effective workers, as we’ll consider in a moment.

Refocus. People-pleasing is a no-win strategy, especially when we realize the limitations of our earthly job circumstance and of our peers, subordinates and supervisors. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:10, Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.

When we live for an audience of One, we live differently. We have a different perspective on people. We value them as individuals created in God’s image without fearing them (Psalm 27:1) or giving them the power to define us. We value ourselves and work on appropriate assertiveness and boundaries. We tell ourselves, to paraphrase Rich Kriegbaum in Leadership Prayers, “This is not who I am, Lord. It’s just what I do.”

Responsibility. This posture does not make our job easier. It will likely make it more “difficult,” but in a healthy way. We actually will work more effectively and conscientiously when we keep our eyes on the Lord. We will ask ourselves important questions, beginning with, “Lord, why do you have me here at this time?” It may be as a healthy presence in the workplace, as an example of a different way to do things, as another voice to speak into the relationships. Instead of asking, “What can I get away with? How little can I do?” we will ask, “Lord, how can I do this in a way that will encourage people to think well of You?”

When we think this way, work becomes a ministry, not just a way to get a paycheck.

Ecclesiastes 3:22 says, “So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot.” Work is not a curse, but it is affected by the curse, and that affects our expectations. Remind yourself continually that, no matter where you are, you know you are working for the best, most gracious Boss of all.