“You’ve been assigned!”

For the record, I am not the best math student. By not the best math student I mean that I failed Algebra three times in high school.  I know it is an embarrassing and slightly ironic confession coming from a high school English teacher, but it’s true.  I was, and still am, broken mathematically.  I use my fingers to count, I struggle with fractions, seven times eight will forever give me problems, and square roots still cause me a bit of anxiety.

I remember very vividly retaking and failing Algebra my sophomore year, not only because I sat behind my future husband, who I was secretly in love with, which is an entirely different story; but because it solidified my adolescent belief that math and I would never be friends.   You see, I was an honors student with a poor work ethic; all the ability and none of the drive.  So there I was, a failure at the one thing I was suppose to be good at.  The thing that always came easy, school, was now another testament to my averageness.  Yes, I know averageness is not a real word, but you get the point.

Everyday, second hour, in Ms. Erickson’s class, the assignment  read something like this:  Please turn to page 432 and complete 1-30 odd.  Remember to show all your work.

I hated those assignments.  In fact, it would take me another year and a half of failure, before I would realize the importance of those assignments and more specifically the value of the words:  Show all your work.  You see, the practice made permanent the lesson my teacher wanted me to learn.  The practice, the work, was the secret to understanding.  The assignment had more value than I knew and my participation was vital to my future growth.

Fast forward to senior year, I found myself sitting center stage in a predominately freshmen filled Algebra class.  My teacher, Ms. Boykin, was my OBI-WAN, my only hope.  Graduation was on the line and Algebra would no longer come between me and my academic success.  The sudden sense of urgency pushed me to change and I did every assignment as well as retook every quiz/test I failed.  I struggled and grappled with equations and expressions until math and I were not friends, but at least polite acquaintances.  I did not accept less than a C on any assignment and I earned a B-, 80% to be precise, in the course.  The secret to learning turned out to be thoroughly completing every assignment.  To accept the assignment with hope, was to not expect failure.   I began to understand that easy was empty, and the work was well worth the cost.

Last week at the CCB Women’s Retreat, the speaker, Debbie Bryson reminded me that I’ve been assigned.  You see, God has assigned me certain people in my life, and He has assigned you certain people in your life.  Assigned, meaning we didn’t all meet happenstance, but rather that we have been precisely placed by the maker of the universe to know certain people; to live and work in close proximity, to be family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, offspring, siblings, etc.  Before the foundations of the Earth, our God saw fit to not only create us, love us, save us; but also to assign us.

The assignment reads something like this:  “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  Ephesians 2: 8-10  

Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that our works do not save us, but they bring a fullness to the life God planned for us.  Unlike my Algebra homework, these assignments are not about passing and failing, but about growing and finding an abundant life in this troubled world that we can never find apart from God and His plan for us.  When we as believers submit to the plan God’s made for us, we learn that easy is empty and the lessons are all about accepting the assignments.

Paul himself experienced God’s “good works He planned for us long ago”.  Paul, the man who would suffer prison sentences, ship wrecks, snakebites, public humiliation, loneliness, isolation, doubt, loss, and the like; believed all of these trials were nothing in comparison to a life lived for God.  You see, these trials allowed for Paul to witness to prison guards and speak before giant crowds; to travel to far off places while writing letters that would reach the world for thousands of years.   God’s plan reaches so far past our comfort and our personal gain.  As we follow our maker, the practice makes permanent the lesson our teacher wants us to learn.  The practice, the work, is the secret to understanding.  The assignment has more value than we know and our participation is vital to our future growth.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”  – Paul  (2 Corinthians 13:11)


Dandelions: Flowers or Weeds?

Last spring I was walking with my youngest daughter past a sports field on the school campus where I teach. It had been a particularly long day at work and I was just tired, tired of everything: the wind spring brings, the temperature that felt too cold for the season, the coats we were still wearing from November, the homework that needed to be graded, the waking up to an alarm every morning, the staff meetings, the computer screens, the backpacks, the laundry list of it all.  Basically, responsibility of any kind felt like a weight around my neck.  My yoke did not feel easy and my burdens were not light.  My full life, and all the expectation in it, had me feeling a bit down and in that moment, feeling sorry for myself felt not only appropriate, but necessary.   

Thankfully, my silent pity party was interrupted by the voice of my little girl.  She looked at the same field I was looking at and declared that is was a garden; a garden filled with a thousand yellow flowers.  I looked up and saw nothing but grass that needed mowing and a ridiculous amount of dandelions.  Immediately upon her declaration, she dropped her backpack, ran out into the field and started picking flowers.  Where I saw weeds, she saw beauty.  Where I saw another unmet expectation, she saw opportunity.  Where I saw another thing to complain about, she saw something to be grateful for.

The truth is gratitude changes everything.  In Philippians  4, Paul writes:  “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

If I am honest, I struggle to practice an attitude of gratitude.  When I look at the big picture that is life I am easily overwhelmed and have a hard time finding thankfulness in my heart.  You see, I can fake it.  I can look thankful and act grateful; however, God knows my heart and He knows that in the secret and quiet places I am neither.  This lack of thankfulness, this sin, quietly robs me of the joy of the Lord. I’ve learned through trial and error that faking it is exhausting.  Suffering silently is not what I am made for.  I am made for freedom through repentance.  So I repent.  I repent of my ungrateful heart.  My heart that can’t see the gift in the small things and the miracle in the big.  My heart that screams I want it my way. My heart that sees weeds, when I should see flowers.   

The truth is in this crazy world filled with exhausting expectations, God gives us a recipe for peace and joy in Philippians 4.  He says if we will rejoice in Him, tell Him our needs through prayer, and thank Him for all He has done in our lives, His peace will protect both our hearts and minds. Even though I have not mastered the art of thankfulness in all things and I still have exhausting days;  I am learning to move quicker towards gratitude in Christ and I am experiencing His peace more often in my life. I am learning to think small about all the gifts He gives each day, to cultivate a perspective that sees a garden where the world sees weeds.  Developing a perspective of peace through a relationship with Christ may take a lifetime, but His way is so much better than mine.  

Did you die in the water?

By: Pastor Jackie Roberts

Did you die in the water? I know it’s a strange question, right; however, if you keep reading it gets stranger – I had a dream – (told you) – In my dream I was baptizing myself in a pool somewhere. The man in my dream didn’t look like me but I just knew it was me. (I told you it was weird, right?) So in my dream it was night.  I could see other people there near the pool, but I am not sure they were there for me. I jumped in the water and had this feeling that I must stay at the bottom of the pool for a long time. Have you ever felt how peaceful it is under the water, no noise just perfect silence and peace?

Anyway, the next scene in my dream is the man that I know is me, but doesn’t look like me, being held between two other men while they carry me/him off to the looney bin.  I watch in my dream as he/me is carried off screaming over and over, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die!”  Suddenly, I hear a narrator’s voice, clear and deep  ask the question– “Did you die in the water?”

Immediately, it was like someone turned the light on and I could see for the first time in a long dark night. Images were flashing through my mind, things that I previously had not understood, I see clearly, maybe for the first time. I was no longer asleep but awake, I was awake to something that I believe the Spirit of God was showing me.  If you keep reading, I will try to relate what I believe the Spirit was impressing on me. I know it doesn’t make sense yet; however, if you just come along with me, I will show you what I mean.

Paul said in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Jesus promises us that if He begins a good work in us He will complete it. I believe a big part of that is dying. I have watched people be baptized for better than 20 years and I believe I have seen those that died in the water and rose with Christ; however, that was not me. Let me tell you my story…

I grew up in the church, I have always known John 3:16, I have been grounded in scripture from my first memory. I was baptized in church as a child, with childlike faith and it was a beautiful thing. I served Christ as a child and young man traveling with a group called, “Encouragement.” We traveled all over California to smaller churches that needed encouragement and we gave testimonies, concerts, and shared the Word of God with any that would listen. I would say that I was the poster boy for sold out, trusting, abiding, non-compromising, disciple. This was the end of the beginning, but not the end of the story.

A few years later everything changed. You see God allowed something in my life to show me what I still lacked, but instead of pressing into him I shouted, “This is not what I want in my life, this is not part of my plan, this is not what is best for me!” I rebelled against Him and was filled with wrath. I wanted everyone to hurt like I hurt. This rebellion lasted for 13 years and caused a lot of damage in my life. Rather than receiving the potters plan for me I took up the sword of destruction and went on a rampage hitting everything I could touch. No one that knew me was left unscathed if you were close to me you were at best witness to the destruction and at worst one of the casualties. For 13 years I flung destruction in my frustration against what the potter allowed in my life, but I never got anywhere. Life was moving from one hurt to another until I ran into an enemy I knew I couldn’t defeat.

I will never forget the single wide trailer in Midway Park in Jacksonville, North Carolina where I knelt before my potter and died. Finally, I was crucified with Christ and now I could live by faith in the one that loved me and gave Himself for me. It was then I began to see –

A rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him a question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ The young man said, “I have done this from my youth” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. What Jesus was telling this young man had less to do with money and more to do with his life. In Gal 2:20 Paul states that he has been crucified with Christ, that is what Jesus is asking the rich young ruler – “Will you trade your wealth for an old rugged cross? Will you die to your dreams, desires, your life, so that I might raise you up a new creation? Will you let go of all you have, to hold onto me?”

Sometimes we come out of the water of baptism and we have given intellectual assent to the idea that I am crucified with Christ and because God loves us, just like the rich young ruler, He will show us what we lack. I am convinced it all comes back to the question: “Did you die in the water?” I was not willing to die to what I thought was best in my life or what I wanted in my life.  I was not willing to die, and like the man in my dreams, for 13 years I cried, “I don’t want to die!” while destroying everything I touched. But on that floor in the single-wide, I told Jesus, “I’m ready to die.  My dreams aren’t your dreams. My ways aren’t your ways.  My desires aren’t your desires. I need to let go of it all to lay hold of all of you.”

There is no greater feeling than to be crucified with Christ. To relinquish all control into the hands of the one that was beat by the fists of men. To the one that gave Himself for me. To trust the one that has defeated death and offers me life. I praise God for 13 years of devastation that led me to the most pivotal seasons of my life – to die with my savior so that I might more fully live.