The Journey is Over…the Journey Begins

In early August of 2009, Julie and I wrapped up more than two decades of life at Eastside Christian Church in Fullerton, California. In early October of 2010 (14 months later!) we were invited to become part of a new family: Garden Way Church in Eugene, Oregon, where I will serve as the Preaching Minister.

And so the long journey of sabbatical and waiting and searching is over…and a new journey begins. A new life in a new place. A new ministry among new people, with new challenges and new opportunities.

I can hardly wait to begin.

But this month is a season of closure as we pack up our home and our life here in Fullerton. As Julie noted in her last post, there are losses - necessary losses - associated with new beginnings. Moving away from friends and familiar things is not easy, yet it is the joy of the new journey ahead which fills us with hope…and which allows us to grieve in a healthy and healing way.

When we moved to our home on West Avenue in Fullerton in February of 1985, we had one simple prayer: “Lord, would you please provide us with a home where we can raise our children?” The Father graciously answered that prayer with a resounding “Yes!”. Later that year, Karina was born, and all three of our children have grown up in this home. Here in this place they have been molded through infancy and childhood and adolescence, and have been launched into adulthood.

Needless to say, this place is filled…filled…with memories. We honor these memories, we celebrate these memories, and we leave this place behind with full hearts. Grateful hearts. Thankful hearts.

Because of the breadth and depth of these memories, we encounter poignant and tearful moments as we pack: when we hold a particular memento, or look at a particular picture, or reflect on a particular season of life that we have experienced here. Yet these moments help bring closure to this season of life – a quarter-century in one home in one community – and help prepare us for the next season of life.

So as we reflect thankfully upon the past, we also gaze expectantly into the future. While I pack boxes, I find myself prayerfully pondering future sermon topics. I find myself thinking about the staff and elders and deacons at Garden way; wondering what this person or that person is doing today; wondering about the challenges and opportunities and joys and hopes and hurts that our new family members may be experiencing. Wondering how God will choose to use me to help encourage and strengthen this particular part of His family.

This is the adventure that awaits us.

When we leave here on November 1 we will head north as changed people because the last year has been one of personal transformation. We simply are not the same people we were 14 months ago. A deeper hunger for God has been birthed within us, and we have new insights about what it means to “live by faith”. We are more committed to prayer; to sitting quietly in His presence with our Bibles open and our hearts open and our minds open so that we can more clearly hear the voice of our Father.

This lengthy journey has had many ups and downs. There were numerous days when it seemed as if heaven was silent, and we wondered when God would finally say “Go!”. But now, at the far side of this season of waiting, we find ourselves saying “thank you” to our amazingly patient Father for the challenges and opportunities of this past year, because the14-month journey that is now coming to a close has prepared us for the journey that lies ahead.

The journey is over. And the journey begins…

- Bruce

Accommodating…or Filling?

Recently, I find myself pondering this question: Am I accommodating God’s presence in my life…or am I filling my life with God's His presence?

When I was young, I clearly remember lunchtime in the school multipurpose room. We were required to be “orderly” as we filed into the room and sat down. Lunchroom monitors roamed the room to make sure that our behavior was appropriate. One of these monitors even had a “stop” sign she would hold up. When we saw that sign, we knew that the lunchroom noise level had become too loud…and we had to STOP.

Each day as I sat down to lunch, I would hope to be able to sit with my friends, because of course I wanted to surround myself with people I liked. Periodically, though, someone I didn’t like would come up and ask if I would make room for them at the table. My response? I would grudgingly accommodate them.

I’ve held that image in my mind – the image of grudging accommodation – to help me think more clearly about my relationship with God. I’m sorry to say that there are times when I merely “accommodate” His presence in my life. But there are other times when I willingly, gladly, make room for Him to sit with me; to fill my heart, my mind, my soul, and my world with His presence.

Why do I have these differing attitudes toward God? Why wouldn’t I want to continually allow the Father’s presence to fill my world?

As I reflect back on that school lunchroom, I’m able to glean some insights. The people I would accommodate, rather than welcome, were those with one or more of the following characteristics: I didn’t think they were nice. The things they said made me feel uncomfortable. They weren’t part of “my circle” so they were not familiar to me or my group. They were socially awkward or uncool in some way, and I was afraid of what my friends would think if I allowed such people to sit with us. When these kinds of people were around, lunch time was not as much fun.

And what about the people I welcomed? Sometimes, the people I welcomed were “popular”, and I wanted them to notice me and accept me as their friend. But more typically, I was surrounded by my friends. I liked what they said, because we talked about things of mutual interest. Our time together was encouraging and fun.

In these interactions of my past, I see glimpses of how my behavior causes me sometimes to welcome the Lord, and sometimes to accommodate Him. When He tells me what I want to hear and when He makes me feel good, then of course I welcome Him with open arms. But when He makes me feel uncomfortable or pushes me to do something that I would rather not do, then my tendency is to accommodate Him…rather than welcome Him.

As Bruce and I prepare to leave our home in Fullerton after 25 years and move to Eugene/Springfield, Oregon, I sense that we are not just packing up our belongings…we are packing up our life. Our world is changing, and what we have known and experienced is being dismantled as we follow God into a new season and a new adventure.

There is emotion and turmoil in the midst of this change, and it reminds me of my deep need for God. But because change brings both “gain” and “loss”, I find myself vacillating in my responses to the Father: sometimes accommodating; sometimes welcoming. When I dwell on the physical task of moving our belongings and setting up a home in an unfamiliar place…when I think about the friends I will leave behind…I find myself, at times, merely accommodating the Lord. When I think about the wonderful people we’ve already met in our new community…when I ponder the beauty of the place where we are moving…it’s so much easier to welcome the Lord and follow where He wants to lead me.

I recognize that I need to welcome God into both aspects of this change, because He wants to help me grieve my losses in order to bring closure to our life here. The grief and the loss are necessary, because without them there cannot be a new beginning. So I must welcome Him into the hard places and the hard moments of life, because these losses are part of His plan.

And so as shelves are being emptied; as files, books, and dishware are being packed; as the trappings of my life here are being stripped away; I find myself welcoming God in a whole new way. There is a new “space” within me that is ever more open to His presence, ever more welcoming to His presence. I find myself asking Him to fill this space. To fill me. Not just to calm my anxious heart, but to fill my life with Him.

When we settle into our new place – our new home, our new church family - my prayer is that I will continue to make space at my lunchroom table for the Father. Every day. Not with grudging accommodation, but with open arms of welcome.

- Julie

Give Me Clarity…Now Give Me More Clarity!

I often think, “If I just receive clarity from the Lord, I will gladly obey.” But in our recent journey, I’ve realized that fear can keep me from moving forward, even when God does provide clarity.

In Judges 6, we see a man named Gideon struggling with this same issue: receiving clarity, but still afraid of moving forward in his circumstances. How I can identify with Gideon!

An angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and tells him “the Lord is with you.” What more should he need than that kind of overt confirmation? Yet, Gideon questions that statement, feeling as if the Lord has abandoned him and the people of Israel.

The Lord then tells Gideon that he will be given strength to save Israel. But Gideon questions the angel of the Lord once again, and he does so by pointing out his unsuitably for the task: he’s weak, he’s young, he’s inadequate. The angel of the Lord reminds Gideon that God is with him!

I’m just like Gideon. I desire clarity…God gives me what I ask for…but then I doubt and ask for more clarity. Again and again.

Later on in Gideon’s life, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him as he prepares the Israelites for battle. And despite God’s earlier faithfulness, Gideon once again questions Him, looking for assurance that the Lord will keep His promises to Israel.

As a way to confirm God’s will, Gideon places a wool fleece on a threshing floor, and offers a prayer. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then he will know that the Lord is faithful. God graciously gives Gideon the sign he is looking for…yet Gideon continues to doubt. So he prays again, this time asking that the ground will be wet with dew and the fleece will be dry. God…ever gracious, ever patient…once again responds to Gideon’s request.

God is providing Gideon with incredible clarity about his direction, but – at almost every step - Gideon hesitates. He struggles with doubts; he offers excuses; he delays moving forward by asking questions. Why does he do this? Because he feels inadequate for the tasks ahead, even though he has been personally selected for those tasks by God Himself! Gideon is afraid. And his fear results in hesitation.

I understand exactly how Gideon feels, because God has given us tremendous clarity in recent months as we have waited upon Him. We certainly do not know all that the future holds, but He has faithfully given us clarity and direction at each step of our journey. We have learned that we do not need to understand all the steps that lie ahead…we just need to know the next step. And God has made the next step clear, time after time after time.

I love to analyze and compare and evaluate; I love to be in charge of the details of my life. So as Bruce and I prayerfully searched for a new church home, I wanted God to give us two or three or four or more options from which to choose.

But I was praying daily for clarity, so God directed us to one…and only one…church. You see, our loving Father knew that too many choices would not only muddy the water, it would cause us to think that we were in control. Instead, we had to rely on God. We had to trust His choice for us, rather than (as is usually the case) ask Him to bless the choices we make.

When we visited the church that God had picked out for us, I felt in my soul that He was confirming and clarifying His plan for us. So how did I respond? Did I react with faith and trust? Sadly…no. I responded just like Gideon, with doubts and questions and fears.

I felt inadequate. I questioned what it would be like to move to a new place with new people. Like Gideon, I wanted to ask for a re-check; to clarify if God really was speaking to us; to clarify that we actually understood His plan correctly.

Why the questioning? Why the doubts?

Fear. Just fear. I was afraid that I could not do what needed to be done; that I could not be who I needed to be.

However, as I pondered and prayed, I realized that Gideon and I both were looking at our challenges from the wrong angle. We were focusing on ourselves. We were struggling with our perceptions, our capabilities, our plans, our desires. By bringing me to the story of Gideon, God reminded me that the journey of faith is not built upon what I can do. It is about listening to God, hearing His voice, and following Him. Yes, I am weak and not always capable. But God is strong, always capable, and always faithful.

It was comforting to read Gideon’s account of his dialogue with God. For as I recognized my own fear and offered it to the Lord, His peace descended upon my heart…my mind…my soul. And I realized that it really is better not to know everything about the future. All I need to know is the next step.

All I need is clarity – just enough clarity – so that I can move forward in faith, following the Lord wherever He leads me.

- Julie