Getting to Know God Better

We only know — what we know — when we know.

A split-second explosion came from the direction of our garage. After checking and finding nothing peculiar, my son and I shrugged it off as odd.

Later that evening, my husband and I find glass across the garage floor. We examine windows and vehicle mirrors for cracks, but see nothing broken. Suddenly recalling earlier events, I mention the noise. Puzzled, we look around and then up. There, high above, we see the remaining jagged edges of the garage door opener’s light bulb.

At our house — maybe yours too — despite an extensive collection of light bulbs, we never seem to have the right replacement. So, while shopping online for a bulb to match the broken one, my husband discovers light bulbs specifically made for garage door openers. These bulbs resist shattering due to constant vibrations, and they interfere less with radio frequencies from opener devices. Huh. This is good to know.

After nearly twenty-seven years of marriage in six different homes, one expects to know this information, yet we are genuinely surprised. We only know — what we know — when we know. Right?! Now garage door opener light bulbs belong in our collection.

I keep thinking about the ordinary bulb, and how we did not know any better. It seemed to work fine. Why would we change it? Improvements are usually sought when things stop operating properly or when someone shares learning from their own experience with us. 

Faith seems to operate in a similar way, doesn’t it? It seems good enough, until it’s not. Illness, addiction, grief, divorce, financial problems…crises force us to examine our faith. We are comfortable with what we believe, when we pray, and how we worship until life shatters in some way. Sometimes we may look for sources of the “noise” and attempt to fix things without God. Or, maybe we avoid and dismiss the issue. But, our problems, they tend to boomerang, don’t they? Breakage begs to be noticed; it keeps showing up under our feet.

While picking up the pieces of brokenness, we question the comfort and complacency of a status quo faith. Maybe we need to know more? Investigating leads to new discoveries like light bulbs…and deeper faith. Surprised, we realize, in spite of our years and experience, there is a lot we do not know. A lot we wish we had known sooner.

Our God is not surprised by our lack of knowledge, shortcomings, or regrets. He loves us right where we are, and right as we are. He wants to be known by us. When we know we need to know God better, he rejoices. 

A new drive to learn and deepen our knowledge about faith can overwhelm us. Where do we begin? How do we learn more?

Learn about Jesus

Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 NIV

Jesus is the center of Christianity, yet many Christians avoid talking about him. Maybe Jesus makes people uncomfortable because the Trinity concept (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) can be difficult to understand. Or, perhaps the world’s different views about the purpose of Jesus’ life here (Savior or Prophet) make belief difficult. When we lack a comfortable level of knowledge about something, we tend to avoid it.

The Bible, however, tells us we cannot sidestep Jesus and still get to heaven. The only way to God is through Jesus. The first step in getting to know God better is understanding who Jesus is and what his sacrifice means.

Study Scripture

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 NIV

Many say the Bible is God’s love letter to us. As such, its contents reveal his power, promises, and will. The Word is alive and active in that it changes us as our faith grows. The Bible is not a book to be read once, understood and finished. Scripture meanings deepen and offer different interpretations throughout our life journey.

The Scripture above likens God’s Word to a sword. Cutting through our spiritual life, the Word lays out before us our own light and darkness. It guides and reassures as needed. Studying the Bible requires more than reading its stories, and understanding its characters and lessons. Scriptures help us make daily decisions and walk God’s path for our life.

Pray

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 NIV

Prayer is a conversation we have with God. Telling him our hopes, dreams, concerns, and fears brings him closer and welcomes his wisdom into our lives.

Prayer provides space for confession and redirection. It provides more confidence and peace. As we spend time in prayer, we begin seeing more and more of the ways God is working on our behalf. Prayer builds trust in God’s character, anticipation for his blessings, and thankfulness.

Be led by the Holy Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

Being led by the Holy Spirit requires embracing the concept of surrender. Recognizing there are circumstances out of our control, we seek God’s help and direction. God works inside of us through the Holy Spirit, producing results or “fruit” in our lives. For example, the Holy Spirit provides patience in difficult situations, peace in trouble, motivation for God’s work, and prayers when we can’t find words.

Throughout our lives, the Holy Spirit plays many roles such as conscience, counselor, and protector. The Holy Spirit even teaches us how to share God with others. As we grow closer to God, we naturally follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance more and more.  Jesus referred to Holy Spirit as a helper who guides us through life (John 14:26). Human desires can be selfish and idolizing, but the Spirit’s inclinations are never sinful and always line up with what we learn from Scripture.

Fellowship

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Spending time with others growing in faith sharpens knowledge and broadens experience. Worshipping at church services is important, but our complicated lives are too much for a Sunday sermon to handle alone. Sermons teach us about God; fellowship helps us apply our learning.

Our faith naturally deepens when we exchange experiences and learning with others. Supportive friendships are built which foster unique ideas and opportunities to serve. In Scripture, God calls us to work together and sharpen each other’s knowledge and talent. Using our various gifts to support each other we can find ways to model Jesus’ life and to spread the Good News (John 3:16). Fellowship brings us close to people who nourish our faith through the giving and receiving of God’s love. 

Now, please excuse me. The new light bulbs for our garage door opener have arrived. Discovering the protection this “light” provides, over all our comings and goings, has taught me nothing less will do. When we know — what we need to know — we know. Press on in faith my friends.

Dear God,

Thank you for opening my eyes to the things I do not see. When life moves along comfortably, I think the faith I have is all I need. But, you graciously teach me to never stop striving in my quest to know you better. You patiently wait for me to discover the pieces at my feet and unlock new learning. You show me ways we operate stronger together. Help me seek more time to learn about your Son and to study your Word. Remind me to pray throughout my day. May the Holy Spirit’s guidance within me overshadow the inclinations of this world. And, may the people I surround myself with encourage my faith to grow deeper still. In Jesus’ Name, Amen 

Other Posts About Growing in Faith:

Living Unashamed of Faith

A Fit Faith 

Living Like a Superhero

Making Pie with the Holy Spirit

A Few Recommended Resources:

Lucado, Max. He Chose The Nails / What God Did To Claim Your Heart. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2000. Print.

Strobel, Lee. Case for christ. Place of publication not identified: Zondervan, 2016. Print.

The Gospel of Mark, John 18-21

Devotional books such as: Jesus CallingBedside Blessings, Earth Psalms, Draw the Circle, or Closer to God Each Day

Online Bible study groups such as: faithgateway, Proverbs31 Ministries for Women, He Reads Truth for Men 

Got Questions Website

Photos courtesy of Pixabay, except the last.

Some clowns showed me how to “BE the church”

Un payaso para Heydi

Did you know that clowns can be messengers of God’s Word? (I’m not talking about preachers you don’t like.) I’m talking about actual clowns with white faces, big red noses, enormous shoes, and funny hats delivering messages from the Bible. Yes, it’s true!

Clown ministry groups in churches across the country teach important Biblical truths through light-hearted skits. Their performances include messages like: God loves you, he has plans for you, and he expects you to care for others.

Most clown ministry members do not have professional training. They simply want to give it a try. Existing clown ministry groups, and even professional clowns, help new ministries learn skits, make-up application, attire, and etiquette.

I have always enjoyed watching clowns capture attention through laughter. So, when an opportunity to wear a rainbow wig came my way, I jumped aboard.

Sunny the clown-that’s me

Clown ministries, like the one I was part of, perform at church services, vacation bible school events, nursing homes, and hospitals. Some of the groups use words to convey their messages, but ours used only props and mime. As the youngest clown in our ministry, I was “capably” assigned all stunts and somersaults.

Lately, I have been thinking about the popular phrase “BE the church”, and it occurred to me that my clown experiences had something to teach me about this.

Are you familiar with the phrase “BE the church”? These words are used to motivate people to serve their communities like followers of Jesus. In this sense, a church becomes much more than just the brick and mortar of a building, or the lessons taught inside such a building. Being the church means people take the responsibilities of ministry upon themselves – they represent and share the teachings of Jesus in their everyday lives (whether they attend church or not).

Here’s what some clowns showed me about being the church:

  • Actions speak louder than words about God’s character. Clown ministry does not deliver sermons, shame people, or try to “save” people. The actions of the characters demonstrate virtues such as love, kindness, and humility. In much the same way, being the church means we also reveal a great deal about God’s character to others simply through our attitudes and behavior.
  • Laughter creates receptiveness and fellowship. Skit messages from clowns connect with people emotionally, in a way that is different from the pulpit. Humor helps people lower their defenses, thus opening their minds up to see something godlike in a new way. Laughter brings people together, creating friendships to rely on in harder times. Being the church can mean simply sharing a laugh with a neighbor.
  • Interpreting the Bible does not have to be intimidating. The language of the Bible can be hard to understand. Clown ministry skits work at making the Bible more relatable. In a similar way, being the church means helping others interpret the Bible by sharing our own stories and the tools we use for better understanding.
  • Take God seriously, not yourself. Not all churches support clown ministry; they see it as disrespectful and unholy. For some, perhaps it is not a good fit. In my opinion, clown ministry skits honor God while seeking to teach his messages in creative ways. We can do the same! Many church clowns believe they reach people that were unreachable before because of the playful and humble nature of their performances.
  •  Everyone is worthy of God’s love. Clowns are the ultimate misfits; their clothes don’t match, they get confused, and they fall down a lot. And, clown ministry performances use these characteristics to portray God’s unconditional love for everyone. Being the church means letting God’s love invade your own heart and offering acceptance to all.
  • No matter what you do, some people will not like you. Some people have a genuine fear of clowns (coulrophobia). Others just feel uncomfortable around them, or find joy in other ways. The same is true about religion. Many people turn away from religion because they have had a negative experience with it. It makes them uncomfortable. Some will seek enlightenment in other ways. In order to be the church, we must be willing to offer every person love and respect for the place they are at on their journey.

It’s been quite some time since my last clown gig. Back then, I did not think much about why I was clowning, and certainly not about what it meant to “BE the church”. I just enjoyed being a clown. That was what my journey called for at the time. I think it’s interesting how reflections and lessons sometimes come much later.

Life’s like that, right? You never know when your past might circle back around and teach you something new. Hey, wait a minute…that sounds a lot like a somersault. Ha! I think maybe God’s being funny now.

Scriptures to Apply:

“For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:9 New International Version (NIV)

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.'” Psalm 126:2 (NIV)

“But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.” New Living Translation (NLT)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV) 

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for guiding me along this journey of life. I am grateful for the people and experiences along the way that have helped mold me into who I am today. Show me how my past can better my future. Help me think about what it means to BE the church and how my life can serve you in this way. Teach me to be brave in my endeavors for you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Resources:

Learn more about clown ministries here

Our clown ministry group
The clown ministry group I was part of at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church, Edina, MN

A New Kind of Resolution

2014 NYE in Times Square

Ahhhh, a new year! January 1st. Just speaking the date invokes a sense of renewal, doesn’t it? A time to evaluate priorities, nurture goals, and begin a quest toward organization. Like a schoolgirl in fall, the outing to purchase my new 2016 planner is a mission in itself. It must be a certain size, with tabs (very important) for each month, a section for future year plans, and pages for notes.

These requirements are non-negotiable. I have tried to manage with different formats in previous years, and well, the frustration…it’s just not worth it. I have a system to my madness; and for the year to start right, I must sort through shelves of calendars to find just the right one. A beacon in the piles of planners, it shines through, offering up its guarantee for a successful year. Do you understand this feeling? Maybe instead, you prefer sorting through the latest calendar apps on your phone, but, you know too, you will feel elated when you find the ONE certain to make this a great year.

We all have our tools and idiosyncrasies which we believe help us accomplish our goals for the coming year. Year after year, however, I learn that being organized and well-intentioned still leaves me falling short of achieving some goals. Over the holiday season I did some thinking on why that is.

I started by thinking about the goals I have set for myself in the past, which ones I was able to accomplish, and which ones I did not. Of course, sometimes I set myself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations like exercising every day and eliminating sugar (really, no way!). But, assuming realistic expectations, what did I find was the difference between achieved and unachieved goals?

Other people.

Whoa, you may say, she’s blaming other people for not allowing her to reach her goals! No, no…quite the opposite. I am taking responsibility for not involving other people in the pursuit of accomplishing my goals. You see, when we look at it from a scriptural point of view, the Bible tells us:

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 New International Version

Throughout the Bible, it becomes clear that God intends for us to thrive through fellowship with others. Too often in our busy lives, we fail to engage with the people around us. Absorbed with discovering our own talents, we easily forget that working together yields greater results for everyone.

Over the past several years, I have set a goal to deepen my faith. I received daily email devotions, attempted to understand the Bible, and tried to attend church more regularly. I convinced myself I was meeting my goal, but something still felt unsettled. This past year, I stopped taking baby steps and leaped into several classes with others who wanted to explore their faith.

Admitting my lack of Biblical knowledge was somewhat intimidating. And, putting a voice to the questions and doubts that plagued my sense of reason made me feel exposed and vulnerable. I quickly learned, however, that I was not alone in these feelings. Other people had them too. And, they brought life experiences and learning to the table that I had no way of imagining on my own.  So, through the give and take of conversation, we learned from each other and deepened our faith in ways none of us could have alone.

Evaluating my other goals, I started to see a pattern. Whenever I sought “advisers”, I was more likely to reach my goal.

After years of pathetic attempts at strength training on my own, I found success by enlisting the help of someone with years of experience (see post: A Fit Faith). Making good choices about food became easier once I started reading books and attending classes taught by a few well-educated and trusted health crusaders. Joining an online training community for writers this fall provided knowledge from a team of experts on how to improve. And lastly, participating in a supportive forum for parents with college-aged kids, helped me revamp my changing role as a parent.

In all these areas of my life, from faith to health to vocation to family and so on, pursuing fruitful relationships with others helped me grow beyond any measurable goal I could envision. In return, I discovered unique contributions I could offer these individuals or my community as well.

So, in 2015 I finally learned something really big that has always been right in front of me, but never completely apparent. The load for achieving my goals does not rest squarely upon my two shoulders. Actually, my goals cannot even be achieved to their greatest degree by me alone. As I write down my 2016 New Year’s resolutions, an overriding tenet will be remembering to surround myself with others who excel where I falter.

Seeking help from wise counsel always promises to bring forth God’s best work in all of us.

Prayer for the Week:

Lord, Thank you for the blessing of another new year and the opportunity to start anew. Help me set goals with realistic expectations, and bring me solitude to consider my relationships with others. Show me ways we can rely on each other to achieve results beyond measure. Teach me to listen for your guidance on seeking counsel, and lead me in becoming a trusted adviser for others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.