September 24, 2009

Kept From Falling

As most of us do as children, I learned how to ride a bike. I don't remember much about the process, other than it didnt happen instantly. It took quite a bit of time and patience for me to get the hang of balancing the bike and learning to peddle. It was a whole and completely different process to learn to manage and balance myself on the bike without the training wheels. The good news of it was that I didnt have to do it alone.

In truth, I think if most of us are aware of the tasks that we learned to do well, there were others assisting us in the process in some way.  For me, it was my dad running behind the bike holding the seat steady and straight so that the ground was not an option for my body as I attempted to learn this new task. I have two very clear memories of my learning to ride a bike. One of which, was my daddy running behind the bike, and as I became so proud of how fast I was going and wasnt shaking, I turned around to boast to my daddy about how well I was doing......only to realize that he was not holding on to the bike at all, but he was right there running with me. The fear of his hands not being on the bike and my turning to look behind me, was a bad combination because suddenly my riding became shaky again. But my daddy grabbed the seat again and told me to keep going. And as I did, I couldnt concentrate on enjoying my ride because my concern was now on making sure that Daddy didnt let go again. Daddy eventually convinced me to keep going that he was right here even if he wasnt holding the bike. Because I trusted him to be there, I did learn to ride without his hold on.

My second memory of this learning to ride a bike process was with my cousin. He is 12 years older than I am, but since we lived in the same house for years, he is really more like a brother to me. One day after I had gotten a little better with riding the bike, without the training wheels, but still needed some monitoring, my cousin was walking behind me with a watchful eye. I thought I was riding fast enough to get away from him, but suddenly I lost my balance on the bike. All I remember about the event was that I almost fell sideways onto a car parked on the street in front of my aunt's house, but as I looked around to see why I hadnt hit the car hard and fast, there was my cousin's hand holding the back of the bike, as it leaned at an angle with me on it.  He said, "I've got you".  I hadnt hit the car, and I was unharmed. My cousin was able to react faster than I could fall.

Most of my life, I dont recall knowing what fear of harm was really about. Just like my experience in learning to ride a bike, there has always been a steadying force in my life- both naturally and spiritually.  I truly believe that God's hands have been on my life. That is not to say that everything in my life has been 'perfect', but that I have made it through a lot to get to where I am now.

So, as I look forward to what is ahead for me, I dont doubt that God is still there with me, providing the people and care needed to keep me from falling.  I have to remind myself of this fact, because when times get hard and unexpected things happen, I start to become anxious and wonder if all is lost. But then I am reminded of my own story, and all of the places where the outcome didnt seem to match all of the factors that brought the situation to be in my life. 

From what I know about my own story, I have to come to terms with the fact that it is not with my own ability or knowledge, but with God's help that I am able to continue to move forward through the good and the bad that comes in the package of life.  As I look to new challenges, I have to remember that I am not facing it alone. And just as in the past, there is a Watchful Eye and a Protective Hand keeping me from falling.  The scares are simply my mind being pulled in the direction of the adversary, and I must focus on the God who is able to keep things on track.

One of the things that I realize to be different for myself than a lot of other African American women is the reality that I had strong men in my life protecting and watching over me. It was not until I became an adult that I understood how different my story was from many others.  This makes my frame of viewing the world different from those who have not know what it was like to have a man around that was truly a protector and provider.  So I have to ask the question:  How do you explain Faith of this caliber to someone who has not experienced such in their natural life?  It can be done. Because even when there was not protection in the natural, there was God providing the skills to survive and placing people along the way to help and guide. The stories vary, from individual to individual,  but provision came in some way, shape or form.

God is able to react faster than you can fall.

So when we talk about the interaction of God in the lives of women, we must be mindful of the perspective of God that comes in how they see their personal relationship with God. I cant help but to believe that God loves women. I have to believe that God was being intentional in the formation of femininity. I have to believe that this same God, when calling women into the ministry is going to be with these women in the process and in the challenges that women face in ministry. And just like I eventually got where I could ride my bike without someone holding on, I believe there will come a day when women will be capable of moving ahead in ministry without gender being held against us. I am confident of this because the same God who gave the call to ministry and the gift for ministry, and the desire to do great works for the Kingdom of God, has enough love and kindness to keep us.

Jude 1:24-25
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen."

September 19, 2009

Part II- Divide and Conquer

Cadence is important. If you have ever watched a military movie, then you have been given some brief insight into the effect that cadence has on an individual and on a unit. The more time and effort that the troop shares on completing common tasks, the more unified they become, and the more they become efficient.  The cadence is a song of call and response, that sets the rhythm or pace of the individuals working together. If you have ever heard a large group of soldiers marching together there is a distinct sound that lets everyone know that there is a unified force approaching.  The song in for form of a call and response my actually be about a variety of topics, but most times it is setting the mental mode of operation for the task to be accomplish or telling how the needed attention to a specific detail, and what is expected as an outcome.

Cadence is learned over time, but eventually comes naturally to the soldiers as they bond in common efforts of accomplishment. Everything is shifted if there is just one person unable to keep the pace or they rhythm, in this case, the other soldiers demand that individual struggling step in time. Why? Because it is a reflection on the entire unit. Not only when marching, but the thought is that it will manifest in other areas of the work that the unit must do at a later time. The success and survival of the entire unit depends on knowing that each individual is invested in giving their best to what ever challenges may come. This is where trust and dependability unit the individuals.  And a bond is created that grows with time and based on track record.

I speak of cadence in a military sense because that is a best example of how working as a unified group can be productive and efficient. But in truth there are a lot of situations where cadence manifest itself, just all are not as formally recognized as that of a military march. In life there are many situations that require a form of cadence call. If you have ever seen a wedding celebration where the attendants were doing the 'Electric Slide'- then you have seen this same concept in action. Trust me when I say, if you want to make enemies in a social setting- be the person who is not with the rhythm of the song or who is turning the wrong way at the wrong time.  Why? Because you are ruining it for everyone.  It is fun. But it has to be done the way that it has to be done. Now there are those who are so good at this line dance that they can face the wrong direction or add extra moves to the dance, and still stay in the rhythm and movement of the dance. This adds to the fun, unless that person is beside the person who doesnt know what they are doing, because it will completely confuse the new learner. When the others in the line dance are friendly enough, they will guide the new person, talk them through and help them get in step.  Most of the time, the goal is for everyone to have a good time. But there will be those who will just simple tell the person who just cant get in the step to remove their inability from the line dance because they are messing up the fun for everyone.

Now let me carry this concept over to ministry. When a person in ministry goes to far astray, others in ministry sort of take it personal simply because they dont want what another has done to be a reflection on them or their work in ministry. We can all think of some public scandals related to someone in ministry, and we know the ripple effect this has on us all. One of the questions asked and some times verbalized about such situations is where are those close to this person? And why didnt they help the person stay on track before the situation got so out of hand?

Over time it become more and more clear to me that we all need each other in some way, shape, form or fashion.  Many of us dont want to admit it or own it. But in truth alone is not God's plan. The entire Bible is representative of life within a sense of community. Yes, individuals have to take on certain task, at times, alone or with minimal help, but for the most part there is an outcome that is for the entire community.

I dont know if the day will ever come when every Christian will be supportive of women in leadership ministry, just like every individual will not be a soldier in the military. Let me tell the truth - I am sure that everyone will not agree on this matter. If you need proof, just look at all of the differing opinions about Communion. If you want to talk yourself in circles for a while with no conclusion to the matter, talk with people who have differing thoughts about who, when, how often, what should be the liquid, etc...........Something as foundational as the Eucharist has the ability to bring out a variety of thought about the details.  We have to realize that we will not agree on every single detail, but we should all be focused on the same Christ.

 To those who know of their calling, it is important to have other friends who are on the same journey, and who understand your motives and desire to do great work for the Kingdom of God.  You cant give you time and energy to those who are in opposition. Surround yourself with people who are willing to learn to walk in cadence for the Kingdom of God and in the effort to win lost souls.

September 18, 2009

Divide and Conquer

The concept of divide and conquer is by no means new. As a matter of fact, it would be considered an age old military and psychological strategy. It develops that kind of distraction that allows for infiltration without having to be hidden or secretive. It is amazing how the human psyche works. As much as we attempt to, and convince ourselves, that we are great at multi-tasking, the truth of the matter is that any time your attention is divided, something is getting the lesser of what you have to bring to the situation. And this is why the plan to divide and conquer has so much potential- because it keeps us from focusing on our own full potential.

In the past few years, I have been more attentive to people who deflect a conversation, instead of facing it head on, simply because it tells me something about their ability to face the topic head on. Each of us has topics that are hard for us to discuss, but at the end of it all there are some things that just must be handled out of necessity. So when ever you are dealing with a topic that seems to be off limits or inappropriate, ask yourself, what does that person or group have to gain by this subject being discussed or handled? What would change for them as an individual, if this matter was given some attention? What does this person gain by keeping us divided amongst ourselves? Why are we willing to allow this kind of division to linger?

So when you are looking at those who you feel should be your greatest allies, but feel less like they are on your team, recognize the trick of the Adversary attempting to distract you with lesser ideologies than your primary goal. I cant help but wonder if this will ever change, but what I can say is that you do have some dependable allies who believe just as much as you do and who are just at willing to be supportive of your efforts as your nay sayers are to keep you spinning your wheels. When you start to feel like enemies are all around you, pray. When you feel like you have taken all of the criticism that you can stand, pray. Once you become meditative in focusing on God, then you will develop the keen sense of awareness needed to recognize those who are attempting to divide and conquer. With this will come clarity of their motives, and what they have to gain from hindering your progress.

YOU dont have to stop or entertain those who cant figure out what to do with their station in life. You can pray for them, and you can do your best to not become entangled in the issues that are used to keep you divided from those who could be your greatest allies. Once you are able to be honest with yourself about the motives of others, you can then allow yourself to deflect efforts to divide and conquer.

I said all of that to set the foundation for the issues of women in leadership ministry. If the truth were known the greatest and loudest fighters against women in ministry is other women. Women are competitive in ways very different from men. And women, at times, have motives that have nothing to do with the real issue at hand. Let me explain. Ministry is about spreading the Gospel, bringing lost souls to Christ, and teaching others how to grow in relationship with God. This comes in various mechanism and methods, but the anticipated end result is souls for the Kingdom. Or at least this is what we assume the goal is, and expect the goal to be.......right?

If you were hungry and lost, would you turn down food and direction simply because of who it was coming from? So why would it be any different about those who need to receive the Gospel? As a matter of fact, there are some who could more effectively be reached through someone other than those who feel that they are most capable of the task. If the concern is about who- delivers the Gospel, then how much are we concerned about the Gospel being spread? And if we have more issue with who is able to lead a congregation, then is our focus really on the up-building of the kingdom?

For those women who dont want to give up their seat and their hat, to them I say you have earned your right to be in that station in life. There is absolutely a need for that kind of ministry. But the reality of the larger picture is that there are lost souls in this world, people who are crying out, and if we are not careful their blood will be on our hands if we are not careful to trust that God is doing the leading and guiding. And that that same God will also set God's own house in order much sooner than we all can imagine. Let us all be found promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us all work in the vineyard, whereever our skills can blossom.

Fear is simply about what seems to have no solution. The fear is that the flood gates will overtake the establish hierarchy of the ecclesiastical settings. But the truth be known, every woman that is called to the ministry is not called to the same type of leadership. Just like every man called to the ministry is not called to pastor. There are a lot of gifts in ministry and there are a lot of ways that we can all work together to uplift and spread the Good News. So by whom and why are we being distracted? When it is all said and done, what makes each of us so sure that we are seeing things as God sees them?