The fruit of a life

This past week I received a relatively thick envelope from a name I had not seen in years. Opening it slowly, I read the typed letter I was holding in one had, with a bundle of letters and envelopes in the other. The letter was from Dave, an old youth group leader of mine, sharing with many of those who he had mentored in the past that he was in the final stages of lung cancer. He was returning to all of us the letters we had written to him when he was deployed in Desert Storm and when he later lived in Germany, sharing how much of an encouragement they had been to him during that time.

I stared at the letters and cards I had written him my senior year of high school and first year of college, 1989-1990. I could hardly believe my eyes.

For one thing, no one else I have ever known has saved letters I have written, even though I have saved many other have written to me over the years. The other thing was I noticed (quite humorously) that my handwriting was still the same!

I looked at the weathered and tattered pages and re-read them all, for they documented for me some of the earliest years of my faith. I skimmed them some, recalling things I shared about living in Germany, tough classes I was taking, and how I tried to encourage someone who was also investing in me and my young faith. What struck me the most was a line from a letter dated January 1990:

“…I am no longer befuddled at the thought of living every single moment for Christ…”

I was still 17 when I wrote that, but the statement came nearly three years after my good friend Jill swooped in and latched onto me, a quiet 14 year old that had just left a small school in Germany and got plopped into a high school of 5000 students. I found myself surrounded by people who loved God and just invited others in, along with a few very Godly men and women who simply spoke of their love for Jesus and all they had found in him. They didn’t try to “convert” me – they just loved me, encouraged me where I was, and talked about what it was like to surrender your whole life to him.

I honestly do not know where I would be had they not invested in me. Oh, I was a good kid and so I am sure I would have done well, but I don’t know that I would be someone whose greatest joy is in helping others know Jesus.. the same thing they did for me.

I think that’s a lot of what Jesus meant when he talked about “bearing fruit”. It’s probably similar to what the world would say when they talk about leaving a legacy for people to remember you by. What works were done in your name, what stories will be told about you…

Not that any of that is bad, but the reality is unless you make some huge contribution to the world, you’re probably not going to go down in a history book, right?

Yet fruit. The reality is that Dave and others walked and talked and showed me Jesus, even when I wasn’t necessarily asking to figure him out early on. I was just there. But his life had an indellible impact on mine, as did the other youth leaders that were part of MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). Big or small, it had an impact.

As I am watching the young women in a bible study I lead surrender their lives to Jesus more and more, it leaves me dumbfounded – primarily because I know I didn’t pray for all that God is doing. Imagine that.. He has his own plans for others we know nothing about, no matter how we pray. I sit back in awe of all GOD is doing in their lives, blatently aware that it is all Him doing things. Just him. I often feel like I’m just sitting on the sidelines.

In the big scheme of things, I have to smile. That commission of Jesus in Matthew 28 where he tells his disciples to “go and make disciples” – this is exactly what that looks like, and what it’s supposed to look like (note: sometimes this verse gets a bad rap.. I wrote about it in another post a few months back). One generation helping the next to wrestle with their questions and walk along side of them to understand what it is to be in relationship with a living God, what it is to surrender and let go and trust someone you cannot see.

  • It makes me question if, in struggling with that Matthew 28 verse, we have forgotten how to pursue people? Or perhaps we either do not really trust the power of just what Jesus does when someone really seeks him and finds him, or we never really understood what the Holy Spirit does to open eyes to reveal Jesus and help people wrestle with their own stuff in the first place.
  • I’m not talking about reaching people with the “they need Jesus” attitude that people can smell a mile away, but one that just walks alongside them in the stuff of life, patiently waiting for the hunger and emptiness of life to cause them to want something real. Waiting to see where they might trust you have no agenda but to love them. Waiting for God to show you the when and how to speak spiritual truths to ears ready to hear them.
  • Sure, an inspiring sermon or blog might get people thinking, and I know God can speak through any medium He wants to. But we can’t underestimate vision casting for people what it is to really BE in Christ, to follow him and surrender and be transformed by him. When we share how he is our strength in the mess, how we struggle to trust when the trials come, but how our souls are finding rest in the journey – the Holy Spirit really does work to transform others to draw them near.

    Do we believe that any more? I hope so. But for some of you, its going to mean risking getting over your fear of knowing exactly what to say. Not everyone is afraid of talking about spiritual things – the conversations just look different now. NOTE: If you’d like to read a refreshing take on making disciples in today’s world, I’d recommend “I once was lost” by Don Everts.

  • Walking beside others to show them what it is to follow Christ isn’t just for your pastor, your bible study leader, or those with “theological training”. Its for every one of us. And good news! You are fully equipped, whether you realize it or not, to invite others into a life of faith. Giving people room to ask questions goes a long way. Think with them, wonder with them, struggle with them in their questions… and know that in all of that searching God’s right there.
  • Today I leave you with a quote I found recently online, for I think it says it perfectly. As we go, what we say, what we do, good or bad, gets woven into the lives of others. So go be an image bearer, and let your legacy be that people wanted to know Jesus because they saw Him in you.

    “What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles

    Blessings!

    Tama

    Another side of worship

    I’m in a class on worship now in seminary, and its reminding me of some things I just haven’t talked about much. But I found some old journal entries from about 3 years ago when I was cleaning out a closet, and after reading them I realized one fit perfectly.

    I have to give you some background first. I started running my senior year of high school, actually as a psychology class assignment (maybe I can explain that another time). I found I loved it, and I ran all through college. So, needless to say, the entire time I was raising my family, I ran. Three miles turned into 5, then 7 after we moved to Ohio. It became my coping mechanism out of anger, frustration and loneliness. I wrestled with God many times on my runs there. Then it turned into 13 and I realized I like distance. Then we moved to the Chicago suburbs and my goal began to be to run marathons and stay trained for half marathons in the winters. Enter the treadmill, which I hated, but was necessary due to the winters. I acquired lots of winter running gear, needless to say!

    There was a distinct difference for me between a training run and a run that I was on just for fun. I liked both of course, but sometimes they felt like runs that I had to prove myself on…. and so the runs I went on just for me, just to get out and enjoy running – were always the best. Eventually I added biking to the mix, and sometimes there were just these long rides on country roads that felt the same way. I was free. It was exhilarating.

    Side note: I know this might sound weird to most of you. Jon used to always say he never got it – he’d only run if he were being chased by someone with a machete! But that was my thing. I loved it. You probably have your thing too, where you love it and no one else gets it, but it makes you come alive in ways you just can’t explain. Maybe its quilting like my mom, or singing or playing the guitar, or painting or taking amazing pictures like a couple from my old home group. Maybe its fixing cars or tinkering around the house and making things with your hands. Maybe its planning and coordinating, or cooking or playing hockey… well.. you get where I’m going, right?

    Don’t get me wrong – my family supported me and were always there for my races, they thought I was weird but never complained. We’d go on walks together, which I loved! But because I felt like was the only one who liked being outdoors, pushing myself and being active. I have to admit there were times where I felt lonely in it.

    I remember the day when the Lord clearly spoke to me that He had made me like this, given me this love of everything outdoors and challenging. That was groundbreaking for me. The thought that God in his wisdom made me with a love of being outside and liking physical challenges??? Woah.

    Have you actually every stopped and looked at that thing that you are good at, the thing that you love love love – and considered that it is both a gift to you and a way you worship God when you do it?

    Romans 12:1 is always the passage that I come back to when I need to remember that our entire lives are an offering to God. I love how it’s phrased in the Message:

    “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering.”

    That means everything. The things we LOVE to do, that are uniquely ours and we feel like we were made to do them, and also the day to day mundane things that just have to be done because – well – its life.

    Jesus talked about how God was looking for people who would worship in “spirit and in truth”, and my friends, that has a lot more to do with our everyday life than it does with what goes on Sunday mornings. Oh, I know that what goes on Sunday is and should be worship, but we can’t mistake going to church on the weekend for the only way we worship God. You might question “yeah but how can what I do be worship?”

    My friends, when you have chosen to walk this way of Jesus, when you are trying to live this life in a way that reflects the reality of God and his grace for others, his love for people around you, and a life where the Spirit of God is evident, you need to know that it is in the very act of the offering that we worship.

    And that is beautiful to God.

    So whatever you do today, offer it to God.

    The fact you tried to get out of bed when things were hard today –

    The fact you did your best on that presentation at work –

    The fact you made your kids PB&J for lunch or did laundry or watched toddlers and taught them (or tried to teach them) how to share.. again.

    The fact you sat at the hospital with a friend or loved one going through a hard time.

    That nice thing you did for someone that no one will never know about.

    Those are all ways we worship, when we offer our lives to God.

    So offer. Thank God for what you have, right where you are, and offer your life.