Solutions for Shattered Times

2chron714We live in shattered times. Our nation argues over politics and policies. Our churches are segregated by race, music style, and secondary theological issues. Our families are strangers in their own homes as they live in their personal worlds of social media, pornography, and virtual reality. Addiction, self-harm, depression, and suicide are rampant. We debate over statues when we should examine our stone-cold hearts. Our first-world problems are killing our souls, and we passively partner in our own demise.

What can we do about this? I’ve been pondering this for years. Second Chronicles 7:14 (NLT) says, “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”

Notice it doesn’t say that we are to straighten everyone else out. We don’t have to convince the unbeliever to change his wayward habits. We don’t even need to convict our spouse or our Christian friend, because that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. We must start with ourselves. Looking at 2 Chronicles 7:14 again, it says, “if my people … will humble themselves … and turn from their wicked ways … ”

As Christians, we are called first to get the planks out of our own eyes (Matthew 7:4), to check our own habits, to be in tune with the Holy Spirit, to be living according the Scriptures ourselves. If I’m living a sinful lifestyle, I have no right to pick at you about your lifestyle, let alone that of the unbeliever.

Once I’ve checked myself, though, I’m not free to stop there. Jesus said I’m to remove the plank from my own eye before removing the speck of dust from my brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:4-5). Like Paul, I must be qualified to boldly say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I must be willing to disciple other believers and to encourage and admonish them to good works. (Hebrews 10:24).

Second Chronicles 7:14 not only calls us to humble ourselves, but also to pray, and seek God’s face. We need to get to know God, to have a relationship with Him. Knowing God, loving Him, turning from our own ways and following His—those are the things that will change our hearts and will heal our land. Notice there is nothing mentioned in 2 Chronicles 7:14 about what the church should be expecting unbelievers to do.

Christians have a place in the culture at large. Our duty is to be the church. I’m not advocating that we abdicate our responsibility to be the moral conscience of our society. Scripturally, we will not be held guiltless if we allow oppression in our midst, if we allow the innocent to be slaughtered, if we fail to speak up for the marginalized, or if we refuse to care for the orphan and the widow. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.” We must be the voice for the voiceless, and act on behalf of the weak and marginalized, and brothers and sisters, we must start by serving our fellow man, not by criticizing him or ridiculing him. We must reject the urge to be greedy or self-protective. We must follow in the footsteps of our Savior, just as 1 John 2:6 states.

Can you imagine our community, our state, our country, and our world, if the true believers followed these principles? We would be so changed that we wouldn’t even recognize ourselves. And the revival that would take place would solve so many of the problems that plague us, because the world would see the true meaning of service, of worship, of Christianity, of discipleship, and of love. The world would see who Christ really is, and we all would be transformed.

 

 

 

Empty Places

18519930_1375503069197376_5749210635434995505_n-e1502742680730.jpgThis is a very different first day of school.

That’s because there are a couple empty places in my heart. Big empty places.

For the first time in 18 years, I woke up without my second-born daughter under my roof. Of course she has spent the night away from home before. But for the first time, this is not a sleepover. We said our goodbyes yesterday as she began her college career. What a bittersweet time. There is sadness of knowing there will be an empty place at the table, but an even greater joy at knowing that she has a foundation in Christ and that she is working toward her dreams.

And then there’s another empty place.

For the first time in eight years, I’m not decorating a classroom, planning first-week-of-school activities, outlining classroom expectations, working and reworking seating charts and floor plans, and preparing for open house. For the first time in four years, I’m not in charge of the school I founded. I’m not coordinating opening programs and answering last minute emails.

These are wide-open empty places. Give-me-a-home-where-the-buffalo-roam kind of empty places.

Places where God is preparing to write new stories, to draw new pictures, to create new masterpieces, to compose new melodies. But right now, those places seem a little stark, a little bare, a little bland, a little … well … a little empty.

In the next few weeks, I’ll begin the homeschool journey with my boys, and I’ll get baby Emma into a routine (hopefully), and I’ll find my place God’s place for me, and those empty places will become beautiful, abundant, joyful places in His time and in His way. You see, empty places aren’t void of life and goodness, and if you look hard enough, you’ll see that they aren’t actually empty. They’re full of possibilities and grace, just waiting to blossom, if we’re still enough to wait.

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The Sifting

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We don’t know how much time we have, but if we relax and listen to God, if we are still enough and if we acknowledge that He is in control (Psalm 46:10), then we can trust that there truly is enough time for His plan to unfold in His timing. We don’t have to be stressed, to overanalyze, to force things, or to make things happen. We can listen to His voice and follow His plan, and if we do mess up, we can trust Him with that too. He is able, more than able, to handle anything that comes our way.

This is a lesson I have had to learn over time. God has graciously been teaching me in many ways. He has sent wise people into my life to gently attempt to steer me the right way. He has given me His Word and His Spirit. He has allowed me to see the positive and negative outcomes of others’ decisions and lifestyles. Yet, like most people, I’m a hands-on learner. The most powerful way I’ve learned the hard lessons has been through my circumstances. And like many other people, I’m also a slow learner, so I haven’t learned through the first hard thing, or the second, or the third. No, it’s taken several serious difficulties to get my attention.

A little more than two years ago, I was watching a Beth Moore Bible study, in which she discussed a period of “sifting” that took place right before her public ministry took off. As soon as she finished relating her sifting journey, I heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit say, “You’re about to be sifted.” Honestly, I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but I did take it seriously.

Within two weeks, I discovered I had a life-threatening and heart-breaking ectopic pregnancy and had to have emergency surgery. During the following year, I had many struggles in my full-time ministry. It seemed we were relentlessly attacked by the enemy. The next year I became pregnant again, and we now have a healthy, sweet baby girl, but I developed a postpartum condition called PRES, which involved a blood pressure spike, a brain hemorrhage, a Grand Mal seizure, and many after effects, and which also kept me away from my ministry for longer than anticipated. When I returned to work, I fell and broke my ankle within a week and had to sit out for another couple of weeks. Since then, I’ve had simple partial seizures on a regular basis.

Through all of this, I kept hearing God say, “Be still and know that I am God.” And I kept saying, “Yes, God, I will.” And I kept returning to the hamster wheel of being busy and thinking I had to do it all myself.

At the end of the school year, circumstances made it clear to me that it was time to move on from the ministry that I had founded four years earlier. This was not what I had planned, but I knew it was the right thing. The timing seemed bad,  but in retrospect, I can see God at work.

Again, I could hear God say, “Be still and know that I am God.” And I said, “Yes, God, I’m going to take the summer to be still. Just let me put in my resumes and I’ll be still right after that.” OK, so I didn’t exactly say that, but that’s what I did. I put in resumes the day after I resigned. I had four interviews and had three offers within a week. I accepted a position at a wonderful school and was so excited, and then I proceeded to be still–relatively at least. And it was a good thing, because God really did have an opportunity to speak to me over the summer, because I could finally hear Him. I was going at a more reasonable pace, and it felt good. I had time for relationships–both with God and others.

But there was something nagging at my soul. I kept hearing, “Be still and know that I am God.”

And then last Thursday happened. I suddenly ended up in the ER, wondering once again if I would live to see another day. And then it clicked. It’s time to “be still and know that (He is) God.” He wants me to slow down, take care of myself, pay attention to the people closest to me, and listen to His voice before making major decisions. He wants me to have enough time to be in His Word regularly so I can learn from Him. He wants me to let go of my pride and impulsivity and self-sufficiency, because He is my all in all and He can take care of every detail of my life. There is nothing He can’t handle, so He doesn’t need me to take over His position. He simply wants me to accept His provision and direction.

He wants me to stop doing, and start being, so He can stop sifting.

What Does it Mean to Be Like Christ?

By Heather Walton

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Have you ever prayed to be like Christ? Have you ever prayed to know Christ? Then what have you prayed for? Can you relate to any of these? (According to Isaiah 53 and many other Scriptures)
 To be unattractive
 To be despised and rejected
 To suffer
 To endure pain
 To have others hide their faces
 To be despised
 To be looked down on
 To be betrayed by those closest to you
 To have those close to you think you’re crazy
 To have those who know you lose heart and abandon you in your hour of need
 To bear great responsibility
 To teach people who won’t listen to you
 To have one of your closest friends betray you, then refuse to accept forgiveness
 To not receive the glory due you in this life
 To completely trust the Father when it doesn’t look good
 To have Satan gloat over your “defeat”
 To be alone
 To not indulge in things you have a right to
 To not claim your rights
 To go up against the religious authorities
 To hang out with people the church looks down on
 To be considered radical
 To have even your family think you’re crazy and abandon you
 To have no place to lay your head
 To have to put up with people who think they’re great, when they’re so clueless
 To be so afraid and grieved that your body has intense physical symptoms
 To not make a move without praying and listening to the Father’s voice
 To have to fight off the greatest temptation, which is to do something you’d be completely justified to do and are completely entitled to
 To have those who should be singing your praises actually mocking you and calling for your death
 To be humiliated and embarrassed publicly
 To be falsely accused
 To be punished for doing the right thing or being right
 To be beaten within an inch of your life
 To be poor
 To be hungry and thirsty
 To be misunderstood
 To be without honor
Think of the opposite of each of these points. Isn’t that what we normally pray for? For example, don’t we normally pray for things like being loved, not suffering, being understood by those close to us, and having our needs met? There is nothing wrong with praying that way, because God tells us to bring our needs to Him. However, how many of us have prayed to be like Christ, but then we protest when God allows difficulties to come into our lives? I know I have. Instead, we need to appreciate the opportunities we have to be be conformed into our Savior’s image. So the next time we go through something tough, let’s try to remember to thank God for giving us an opportunity to be more like Christ. It will likely change our perspective, and help us to grow more in our Christian walk than we would have otherwise. I know this is counter-intuitive, but it is the truth.

Finding Freedom from a Frazzled Fate

By Heather Walton

Author’s Note: I wrote this originally in June, just before resigning from a ministry I founded. Since then, I have continued a quest to learn how to live authentically and passionately to fulfill God’s purposes, and His alone.

20170804_163841God does not call us to live frazzled lives. He calls us to peace, to quietness, to prayerfulness. It has often been said that if the devil can’t make us bad, he’ll make us busy. Why? When we’re too busy, we can’t even hear God guiding us, and we make decisions, big and small, in our own strength and intelligence, rather than in the wisdom and foreknowledge of God.

We think we are making decisions in God’s will, because they seem to be Godly decisions. And even if they’re not, we can justify those decisions as Godly because we do not know the Scriptures or the power of God (Matthew 22:29). When we are spiritually anemic, it’s pretty easy to think we are doing God’s will when we are not.

I have been in full-time Christian ministry for four years. During that time, I have gone from running a ministry in the power of the Spirit to the ministry running me, draining me of power I don’t even possess. The result—there is some fruit because God’s Word will not come back void; however, the main result is that I am burned out, I have no joy from this ministry anymore, and this ministry isn’t as effective as it once was or as it could be. Not only that, but I regularly neglect my family. So, can I really call it ministry?

Why are so many Christians and churches virtually ineffective? Because there is little to no time for relationships. We go to church like it’s a club—we get to see some of the same people week after week, but do we KNOW those people? For the most part, no we do not. People don’t let us into their lives because our relationships are inauthentic. We don’t have TIME for real relationships. We are too busy!

It’s time to change the tide. I can’t do it all and do any of it well, much less all of it well. I’m exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And I’m teaching my children to imitate me. That may be the biggest reason to slow down the pace: I am to live in such a way that I can say to my children, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1). But I can’t possibly say that. I don’t want my kids to live the way I do. I don’t want them frazzled and ineffective. I want them to have time for daily Bible study and prayer time. I want them to have some down time. When they have families of their own, I want them to spend both quality and quantity time with their spouses and children. I want them to be able to sleep at night. I want them to be able to be “all there” for their relationships.

One of my life verses is Psalm 46:10, which says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Some translations replace “Be still,” with “Cease striving,” or “Relax.” For much of my life, the past two years included, I have felt the need to go at a frenetic pace. I have worked so hard to do a good job for God. But that’s not what God requires. He wants us to be still, to cease striving, to relax—not to slack off—but to rely on Him to do the work through us. Yes, He wants us to work with all of our hearts, but certainly He doesn’t expect us to make bricks with no straw.

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” Jesus said. (Matthew 11:30). These days my yoke feels cumbersome and my burden feels like a ton of bricks. The Lord calls us to work with all of our hearts, as working for the Lord, not for men. Part of my problem is that, in many ways, I have been working for men. I have been trying to keep people happy, and in doing so, I have lost the time and energy to seek the face of God regarding the ministry with which He has entrusted me.

I’m ready for an easy yoke, a light burden, a passion for ministry, a renewed enthusiasm for my relationship with the Lord, and more time and energy for my family. I’m exhausted. It’s time to rest. I’m suffocating. It’s time to breathe. I’m parched. It’s time to drink from the well of living water, the well that never runs dry.

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I find myself thinking, “He was with me all along and I didn’t recognize Him!”

 

 

Rest and Call for Help

By Heather Walton

rest and call for helpToday I sit in a hospital bed. Again. In the past three years, I have been hospitalized for life-threatening conditions multiple times. One of my life verses is Psalm 46:10, not because I’m good at being still, but because I’m very, very, very bad at it. So over these past few years the Lord has taken the liberty of requiring me to “be still and know that (He is) God.” Directly in front of my bed, there’s a board with information, such as the nurses’ names and my room number. It has these instructions written in the middle:

  • Rest
  • Call for Help

Looks like a paraphrase of Psalm 46:10 to me.

Oh, and to drive the point home, there’s an alarm on my bed so if I ignore the sign and try to do anything on my own, everyone within a three-mile radius will know and someone from the hospital staff will come to my aid. Know how I know this? Because I just tried to get up and get something a few feet from my bed. No independence for me today.

I have read several blog posts lately from people who are deciding to get off the first-world roller coaster of frazzled living. I believe I’m ready to join them. I’ve been so afraid of missing out on something that I may be missing my life. My real life. You know, the one with the relationships. The one with the family. With the game nights, the read alouds, the good-night prayers, the walks in the park, the Bible studies, the journaling, the bubble baths, the long talks that take you down a million windy paths, that kind of stuff.

I tend to be an independent person. But after an ectopic pregnancy, a brain hemorrhage, a broken ankle, and epilepsy … well, it’s harder and harder to be independent stubborn. I’m learning that it’s necessary to be both dependent on God and interdependent with those close to me.

First world life has lots of conveniences, but I believe our conveniences have complicated our lives and weakened our relationships. Many of us live such fast-paced lives that we watch it all go by in a blur. I’m ready to get off the roller coaster and enjoy a walk in the park. And maybe, just maybe, sit down on a park bench and enjoy the view for awhile.

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