The Table and Why We Gather

My friend Tim is a creative genius who writes, builds, makes good music and other stuff telling the story of God. When he was single, he spent many nights around our dinner table. The table we had at the time was an old traditional looking piece the previous homeowner left for us when we moved in. One night, after some good food and conversation, Tim declared he actually hated our table. The next day, he showed up with a stunning handcrafted table made out of reclaimed wood he had in his garage. It was indeed a labor of love I will never forget.

Several years later, that table wore out and another good friend, another mom of boys who knew we love to have people around our table,  gifted us their table. In the words of my five-year-old, it’s a “ginormous” white farm table that comfortably seats ten.

Some of my favorite moments around tables have been in my home with friends, talking about Jesus. What we think of Him, what He is teaching us in His word and how He is shaping us. For a couple of years, a group of sweet women would show up at my house on Monday mornings and together we studied and wrestled through the Proverbs, the Sermon on the Mount and other places in Scripture that widened our view of God and what we think about Him.

I’m currently going through Beth Moore’s Entrusted, a Bible Study on 2 Timothy. At the end of the first week, her daughter Melissa writes about the value of intellectual community as we study the Bible, discuss theology and “join a collective struggle for truthful speech.”

She quotes Benjamin Myers:

“Theology… is not a private table for one but a rowdy banquet of those who gather, famished and thirsty, around Christ.”

Elsewhere she quotes from author Shauna Niequist:

“We don’t’ come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, ongoing longer and faster, on going without, on power through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.”

We live in a time where we have more access to information and resources than we ever have before. And yet, our literacy of the Bible is dipping and our value of its truth and relevancy is largely debated. Many churches are trying to figure out how to disciple their people, how to remain relevant, and how to draw people in. There are varying opinions about whether or not we should have men’s ministries, women’s ministries, groups, and programs. Many people have given up going to church or come reluctantly. Their walls are up because they have been hurt by their past experiences with leaders and church people.

Think through the above quote. How can this simple, age-old tradition of being together around a table be rekindled in our purposes for gathering in Spiritual settings no matter how we go about them?

People come to a table expecting a feast. Give them Jesus. 

They come prepared for a conversation. Let us create safe spaces where it’s okay to voice doubts, cynicism, and fears along with hopes, dreams, and experiences of the goodness of God.

There is power at our tables to bring nourishment, comfort, stimulating conversation and the ability to build relationships.

In order to revive the beauty of a table, we serve without expectation. Invite people to lean in and feast. Create meals that are unforgettable and cause them to accept subsequent invitations. Leave them with a nourishing and satisfying taste.

Too often people come to the table feeling like they have to leave their masks on. Or they can’t say what they really think because it might be wrong or offensive. Manners, behaviors, and traditional thoughts trump authenticity. What if we who host and lead, created spaces where all those anxieties could be left at the door. Gathering spaces that are not only sacred but also safe and fully welcoming. 

Safe and welcoming enough to receive you the way you are but not leave you there.

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Acceptance, Surrender and a New Posture of Prayer

Acceptance surrender psalm 28:7 the lord is my strength and my shield

Last month I had coffee with my new friend Teresa. Her mom also has MS so we had much to share about our experiences growing up. We marveled how remarkable it is, despite all they have endured, both moms have remained extraordinarily joyful.

When Teresa asked how she does it, her mom said: “I stopped praying for God to take it away and started asking him to help me accept it.”

Acceptance. 

You may be familiar with this prayer:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The definition of acceptance is The act of taking or receiving something offered.

Recently, my mom and I were listening to Charles Stanley preach on suffering. He said when we suffer, there are two responses. We either walk away from God or we run to God. I watched as she laid in her bed and nodded in agreement:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  {2 Corinthians 12:9-11}

My mom told me she clings to this because it is true and therefore she can actually give thanks for her suffering.  Give thanks. Clearly, her response has been to run towards God.

She gives thanks because she has accepted what life has given her and can trust God for all that she has and will receive in spite of it.

People have argued for centuries about whether or not suffering, illnesses and tragedies come from God. Maybe in midst of these arguments we’ve missed the entire point that it’s never just about the event or situation but everything cultivated through it and from it. God with us, helping us become who we already are.

I have much to learn about what it truly means to give thanks in all circumstances. There are things I desire and want to be different for me and my loved ones. My prayers are heavily focused on these.  I pray the same things over and over again.

There are situations laced in these prayers I cannot change. My prayers have become complaints and requests which are not bad in and of themselves. Even the repetition isn’t inherently bad. The problem is, I’ve become stuck in what hasn’t changed and my prayers haven’t moved past the point of complaint toward actual submissions surrendered to God. I’m going to the altar with all my baggage but not leaving any of it there. While I want God to help me accept the things I can’t change, what I’m longing for more is Him. I want to believe Psalm 28:7:

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.”

Lord help me accept what I can’t change and surrender all my desires around these things and trust You for all I can’t see just yet.

Surrender: to yield (something) to the possession or power of another; deliver up possession of on demand or under duress

I was not in a great place at the beginning of 2016. When it came time to choose a word, mine was “Whatever.”  I told my friend Janna who is an artist with a gift of creating beauty with words. She sent me a hand-lettered paper with the word, “whatever,”  and Proverbs 16:9:

“The heart of man plans his ways, but the Lord establishes his steps.” 

“Whatever,” was my negative, ticked off like a high schooler slamming doors response to  God asking me to live 2016 with “surrender.” The heart of my #oneword365 last year was meant to be surrender because God is continuously showing me how yielding to His power can, in fact, produce joy. Not a giving up attitude or complacency but authentic joy. Belief in the immeasurable greatness of his power produces a countenance reflecting the knowledge He is working in his great power as He did when He raised Jesus from the dead. The same power at work then is also at work now and in the future.

Lord, help my unbelief.

In 2017, I want to CREATE space to cultivate a practice of praying and living with complete confidence God is who He says He is. Faithful, true, all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign over all things. I want to pray out of the depths of my heart with confidence God hears and is working on my behalf.

 

One Word for 2017




This time of year I am always thinking about one word for the new year and anticipating what the next season will hold.

We were driving through the country when Steve asked if I had any goals for this week between Christmas and New Year when I am off work. I shared my desire to make a plan for writing, resurrect my blog and revisit a book I started writing last year.

He suggested my one word for 2017 should be Create.

I sunk back into my seat because honestly, a word for the year hadn’t even crossed my mind. For the past few years, I have prayed and sought after a word I believe God wants to use as a theme for my life: areas I need to grow in, things I believe He is teaching me. Words like Whatever (more appropriately – Surrender),  FunBe, Faithful, and Peace.  They were all formative and I learned so much about who God is and who I am becoming.

But this December, it wasn’t even on the radar.

Shortly after the sinking, it was like someone poured cold water on my face and I realized I need to wake up. I’ve been head down, trying to move forward for the past I don’t know how long. Just doing what needs to be done in order to survive and get everyone ELSE where they need to be and forgetting about where I want to be just short of daydreaming.

I’ve neglected my own soul care, the things I am passionate about and have lost my way.

How gentle and sweet of God to bring this to my attention through my husband.  Because of his motivation, this week has been awesome. I’ve gone back to what I know. Creating space for creativity. Creating space for time with my Jesus. Creating great meals and moments for my boys and their friends. Steve is right. 

I thrive when I make space to create. What makes YOU thrive?

At the end of this post, I want to share with you a resource that I’ve used myself throughout the years that I’ve dusted off and reworked for myself and for you in 2017. It’s a way to think through what you want life to look like in this next year and actually make it happen.

I don’t know about you, but when I make goals, resolutions or come up with new ideas, they typically fizzle without a plan. This resource makes it easy for you to make a plan for your dreams so you can actually make them happen.

Dreams about your relationships, your work, your passion, your body, your soul care. Make it happen with me in 2017 and start coming alive again.

Use this guide as you think about the New Year and what your word is or what your goals and dreams are for the year. Revisit it monthly as your reflect and respond to new things that come up and make adjustments along the way. Hopefully, you will be encouraged by your successes and come alive as you make your hopes and dreams more of a reality.

I’d love to hear about your word for the year, your hopes for 2017 and where God is leading you. Please feel free to share, post, and pass this along to those who may find it helpful

Happy New Year!
Suzie


 

What Does It Mean to Be in the Presence of God?

adobe-spark3

Christians have this weird language. Some of it is birthed out of tradition and culture but some of the words we use are actually found in the Bible. Those, especially those require interpretation. Many people (including ourselves) have no idea what we are talking about when we say certain words or phrases and it’s important for us to know what we mean so we can mean what we say.

Recently, a dear friend asked me to explain what it means to be “in the presence of God.” She knew the answer but was asked by a new believer and wanted to process how to explain it. I was so thankful to have been asked. Because although it’s something I talk about and pray about, it’s been a while since I’ve actually sat down to think about it means.

Immediately Psalm 139 came to mind. King David speaks about the presence of God being inescapable. He is everywhere at all times. Not only is he in every physical space, he is in our thoughts and knows them from a place that transcends space and time, before a word is even on our tongues.

In my words, this presence of God is when we are awakened to the reality of Jesus in our lives.

It could be a sweet awakening or a swift smack upside the head that begins with some sort of crisis. Regardless of how, the presence of God awakens us to something bigger than ourselves and leaves us longing for that bigger thing. A longing that is Jesus and a longing he desires to meet with himself.

It is awareness of grace and mercy. It is found in the love of a friend, the forgiveness offered to us, or the unexplained forgiveness we have to offer those who have hurt us.

It is peace. At times an unexplainable peace that makes no sense considering the situation we find ourselves in.

The presence of God can also explained in John 4 with the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well. As the conversation progresses Jesus reveals himself to her.

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26)

The presence of God reveals the person of Jesus as God and man, meanwhile revealing who we are without him and who we are meant to be with him.

We are often aware of it in the company of others which is why we are encouraged to gather together. It is sensed in the awe of his creation when you drive into places like the valley floor of Yosemite or the central coast of California, or surf the big waves of Hawaii. Yet we can become acutely aware of it in the silence of our loneliness, on our knees or in the darkest hours of the night.

Yes, the presence of God is being awakened to all of this. The reality that Jesus lives, breathes life and moves among us. Not just one time, one Sunday morning, one tearful night, but anytime you suddenly know that He is here and in the depths of your soul you know can no longer ignore Him.

Our journey of understanding, like so much our faith, grows deeper as we walk forward together. I would like to learn from you…How would you explain it?

Trusting What’s In You

You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:15-17

Several years ago, a dear woman I look up to was listening to me lament about my fears over my children not loving Jesus. She looked at me with that look that older and wiser women have when they realize you are freaking out over something you have no reason to at the time. Her words have stayed with me since.

“Your son has Jesus in Him and the Spirit of God is going to convict him, lead him and comfort him throughout his life. You can trust that.”

The words have stayed close, but I often forget the truth behind them. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

My kids stories are not my stories. Though they will always feel like a part of me they are apart from me and have their own path to walk. Whether they make the same mistakes I did or not is out of my hands. I can’t orchestrate their love for the Lord and their choice to live the life God has for them or go their own way. I can only live that way myself and guide them and encourage them to do the same.

As my boys get older, the more I realize this is so true. The less I want to control and the more I want to pray (in theory – let’s be honest). I guess a better way to say it is that I’m realizing my prayers and the way I live my own life with them is more powerful than any perceived control I have.

If our children have confessed Christ as Savior, then according the Jesus, His Spirit, the Helper, dwells within them just as He does in us. None of us will ever love Jesus perfectly and keep His commandments perfectly and yet by His grace and incredible mercy, He remains within us forever. His words, not mine.

May we trust the Spirit of God within us and those whom we love.

He is near.