Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Perform. Perform. Perform.

I'm a performer.  Well, at least I've been trained that way.  As a musician, singer, former music teacher, performing arts has been something I've been immersed in since I began taking piano in the 2nd grade.  "Work on this.  Do it again.  That's not good enough."   All things that I've heard over and over again.  It's hard to separate all of that from your spiritual life when you've heard it enough. 

I’ve been reading “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young over the last several weeks and yesterday’s reading was written just for me.  Because of some conversations I had over the weekend at a retreat, I know that I’m not alone in this.  

Here are her words written from Jesus' perspective...

I LOVE YOU regardless of how well you are performing.  Sometimes you feel uneasy, wondering if you are doing enough to be worthy of My Love.  No matter how exemplary your behavior, the answer to that question will always be no.  Your performance and My Love are totally different issues, which you need to sort out.  I Love you with an everlasting Love that flows out from eternity without limits or conditions.  I have clothed you in My robe of righteousness, and this is an eternal transaction:  Nothing and no one can reverse it.  Therefore, your accomplishment as a Christian has no bearing on My Love for you.  Even your ability to assess how well you are doing on a given day is flawed.  Your limited human perspective and the condition of your body, with its mercurial variations, distort your evaluations.

Bring your performance anxiety to Me, and receive in its place My unfailing Love.  Try to stay conscious of My loving Presence with you in all that you do, and I will direct your steps.    
(Jeremiah 31:3; Isaiah 61:10; Psalm 31:16; Psalm 107:8)

I need to be confronted so much when it comes to my performance-driven anxiety.  I struggle with thinking I can somehow earn my way to a relationship with God.  I know that is impossible Biblically and that I understand it in my brain, yet, somehow it creeps into my everyday living.  I also begin believing my “good behavior” earns me other things that ultimately lead to self-righteous and judgmental behaviors and attitudes.  Like I have somehow earned the right to judge others because I've been "good" about something.  It's sick, I know.  

I need to remember that regardless of how good I may think I am—I WILL NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH.  Now, I don't say that because I think I'm going to have to keep striving and straining to reach the goal.  I say that because I need to be ok with the cold hard fact that I cannot possibly do anything that will earn the love of my Savior.  I need to embrace the fact that my performance and His love have nothing to do with each other.  You love me with an everlasting love—one that is not earned by conditions or merit or being good at anything.  

Why is that so difficult to comprehend and accept sometimes?

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head alike a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.   Isaiah 61:10 

Jesus, thank you for your work on the cross.  Thank you for not requiring me to earn my salvation.  I know that I would never be able to do enough good to get there.  Thank you for your gentle reminders that I do not have to work for your love.  Lead me on this journey as I learn to love you more.  Amen.  


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Remain in Me.

Lent Challenge:  Days 6 & 7

Yesterday was a crazy day.  I’m not exactly sure why, but the day seemed to just spiral out of control.  We were hosting 2 young gentlemen from Atlanta Christian College who were attending the National Preaching Summit at church.  They were fun to have here, but it made me feel very old.  And very tired, but that's an entirely separate post...

As my day was spiraling out of control (which really just means not going according to the plan that I had laid out ahead of time), I was reminded of the wonderful devotion I read yesterday morning.  I’ve been reading Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling” (which I highly recommend).  The book is a series of short messages written from Jesus’ perspective.  Don’t let the brevity of the entries fool you.  They are packed with profound thoughts.  Here’s the entry that haunted me yesterday:

“Let Me prepare you for the day that stretches out before you.  I know exactly what this day will contain, whereas you have only vague ideas about it.  You would like to see a map, showing all the twists and turns of your journey.  You’d feel more prepared if you could somehow visualize what is on the road ahead.  However, there is a better way to be prepared for whatever you will encounter today:  Spend quality time with Me.

I will not show you what is on the road ahead, but I will thoroughly equip you for the journey.  My living Presence is your Companion each step of the way.  Stay in continual communication with Me, whispering My Name whenever you need to redirect your thoughts.  Thus, you can walk through this day with your focus on Me.  My abiding Presence is the best road map available.”  (Jesus Calling, p. 13)

Scripture Verse for the Day(s)
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  John 15:4-8

Prayer for the Day(s)
Why can’t I trust you for what is ahead?  What is it that makes me want to see every step-all the twists and turns?  Help me to learn to trust in you.  Grow my faith.  Show me how to spend more quality time in your Presence.  Wake me up so I am aware of You.  Grow my roots so that I am grafted in You and not myself.  Deepen my roots so that I can bear fruit that points to You.  You are pruning me right now.  Please continue to cut down the ineffective branches that I cling to so tightly.  I want to look like Your disciple—more tomorrow than I do today.  Amen.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Everything is Permissible

Lent Challenge:  Day 4

Today has been an interesting day at our house.  Very quiet.  And incredibly relaxing.  Normally on Saturdays, the tv has been on—Abigail watching Franklin or Sesame Street episodes and Matt and I “catching up” on our DVR’d television shows.  Not today, though.  I have to say that earlier in the week I wondered what Saturday would be like because we were planning to be home all day.  Well, it has honestly proved to be a beautiful day.  Our fridge is full.  Our house is clean.  I’ve made a roast for our dinner after church tomorrow.  I made dinner tonight.  And we’ll be going to bed in just a little bit—actually leaving us plenty of time to sleep with the time change.

What a refreshing day.

Isn’t it funny how God always knows what is best for us?  We have these ideas about what we think is best, but it doesn’t always turn out that way, does it?  I’m beginning to see how this “sacrifice” of something that isn’t inherently wrong is truly a benefit.  I hope you’re discovering the same freedom.

Scripture(s) for the day:
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.  I Corinthians 10:23-24

“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.  I Corinthians 6:12

Jesus, I am always trying to justify things in my life that are permissible.  Help me to think differently so that I can live for Your Kingdom.  Please show me how to live so that I am not mastered by anything.  I want you to be my Master, my Lord, my everything.  Rid me of any other master.  Amen.  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thursdays are for TV

Lent Challenge:  Day 2

Thursdays are television nights at the Dingman home.  Usually when I get home from rehearsal, Matt and I will talk while I pop some popcorn and then we’ll watch one, sometimes two, shows together.  I’m in Lincoln this evening after a long week of class and I’ll admit, there was a part of me that, after sitting through 4 days of lectures and 3 hours of research in the library, wanted to watch something that I didn’t force me to think.

I’ve been thinking about how these 40 days will change me.  My experience with Lent (which honestly has just been watching others participate in it half-heartedly) has not made me think there would be any reason to be different after the 40 days is over.  When I think of the typical “things” people sacrifice (pop, chocolate, even tv...), I wonder whether after 40 days those habits will simply be picked back up again with no intentional change.

I’m curious as to how this will shape me.  Make me into a different person.  How will this form me?  I’d like to think that perhaps I’ll be well-rested and well-read, but will I look more like Christ?

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Prayer for today:
Show me that in sacrifice there is freedom.  Teach me that when I walk in step with the Spirit, that I am free.  Transform me into the likeness of you through the power of your Spirit.  When I am unwilling, make me willing.  Move me so your glory can be seen.  Amen.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Beginnings

I'm not going to pretend that it hasn't been over a year since I've posted anything. I'm sure there are a couple of people out there who will faint when they see that I've actually posted something new. I struggled with whether or not to put some kind of profound musings for my first post "back", but decided that if I continued to wonder what would be a worthy return post, I would simply never post anything.  Ever.

Now that I've acknowledged my lack of commitment to writing over the past year, here's my gratitude for new beginnings.

Today happens to be Ash Wednesday.  I am in a seminary class right now that is studying the Christian year.  In my experience in church, the only portions of the Christian year that we celebrated were Christmas and Easter.  Being from an Independent Christian Church that uses the Bible only (and the word Lent doesn't happen to be in the least in mine...), my thoughts of Lent are quite negative.  They are unfortunately clouded by hypocritical, shallow choices that others have made while choosing to observe the season.  When Lent is viewed as preparation for the celebration of Easter, it suddenly takes on new meaning.  New beauty.

As a project for my class, I have invited several people to join me in a Lent Challenge.  In order to prepare for the celebration of Easter, we want to somewhat identify with the suffering and sacrifice Christ endured on the cross.  We are choosing to sacrifice something of significance over the next 40 days in order to be reminded of that gift. 

This is a first for me...the whole Lent thing.  I'll be honest, I am struggling with some feelings of self-righteousness.  After all, fasting from anything is pretty spiritual, right?  My husband and I have decided to give up t.v.  That choice has been a big one.  I knew it was the right one when it made me sweat a little.  I'm praying that I can remember that my sacrifice of t.v. isn't costing me my life.

Because of the extra time that I'll have from not watching t.v., I hope to write more.  To reflect more.  I'm sending those involved in the Lent Challenge a daily "thought" and Scripture verse.  I hope to share some of those here as well.  Maybe that will force me to be in the habit of writing more....One can only hope, I suppose. 

Lent Verse for the Day:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:2-3
Prayer for the Day:
Fix my eyes on you.  Glue them there.  They look so many other places and I cannot seem to keep them there by myself.  Thank you for writing my faith, for making it right.  Help me to approach my Lenten sacrifice with the same kind of joy that you approached the cross.  Remind me of what you endured in order to redeem my life.  May that be a motivator to keep me moving forward.  Amen.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I'm a Recovering Planner

So, just three days ago I returned from a life-changing trip to southern India. I went to work at an organization called Care India with a wonderful friend of mine and her father-in-law, who is a pastor and has worked with this mission organization for over 25 years. I'm still gathering and sorting through my thoughts. So many that I can barely sift them. I thought in an effort to begin my own decompression and debrief that I would share one of the lessons that I taught while there.

One of our assignments was to teach several sessions at a seminar for the wives and their friends of the pastors who work for Care India. One morning before we left for India while I was still struggling with what to say, God woke me up with these thoughts about my need to plan and his desire to break me of that need.

I've already thought of the many, many entries that will come as a result of this trip. I'm just having a hard time right now sorting it all out in my own mind. God certainly proved once again through this trip that He is still helping me overcome my dependence on my own ability to plan and refocusing my efforts on trusting in him. Enjoy reading this and hopefully you will be encouraged to see the own places and times in your life when God has shown you that his ways are not your ways.

My name is Laura Dingman and I’m a wife, mother of a beautiful 3-year old daughter, a musician, a worship leader, and most importantly, a daughter of the King of Kings. I’m also a planner—a person who likes order, likes to know what is coming, likes to plan what the days ahead look like. This trip to your country is a part of God undoing that desire to plan and control my life that is deep within me. But this trip has not been the beginning of God forcing me to trust Him instead of myself. It really has been a lifelong process.

When I was 10 years old, I decided that I wanted to be a teacher. I wasn’t sure what I was going to teach, but that was what I was going to do. I would play school in our neighbor’s basement all summer when most kids were playing ball outside trying to forget about school. As I grew up, that desire only grew. When I was fourteen, I had narrowed down the subject I would teach to math or music. As I finished school and had to decide on my college plans, I chose music.

I grew up in the church, knowing God, with a wonderful set of Christian parents who taught me the Bible and showed me the love of God. I had a foundation laid for me that would prove to be important throughout my life. What I don’t really remember was ever asking God what HE wanted me to do. I had just decided that I wanted to be a teacher and that I wanted to teach music.

So I went to college and afterward became a music teacher. I taught for 9 years and in the last two years of teaching, God began to call me into ministry. I was not happy about this at first. The first time I was asked by our music minister to come and work for the church, I said no. I enjoyed teaching and I just couldn’t see myself doing that. What I didn’t know at the time was that it wasn’t our music minister asking me that, it was God. I continued teaching another year.

During that year, I began to really struggle with teaching. It was a difficult year. My joy for teaching seemed to be gone. I can see now that God was trying to get my attention. Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” I was choosing my own way and not God’s. I was not choosing life.

In January of that year, my husband and I began to really pray about what God wanted me to do. This was the first time in my life when I completely surrendered and said, “God, whatever you want me to do. That is what I will do.” By March we were talking to our music minister about the possibility of me working in ministry at the church and by June I had quit teaching and started ministry.

I felt completely unworthy. I had been trained to teach. I knew about music and knew that teaching it was something that I could do. I knew about God and knew the Bible, but I didn’t know anything about ministry. I had been serving in the church, but this was different. I was trusting myself and not trusting God.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” I was leaning on my own understanding, my own knowledge, my own training. God wanted me to lean on his. I trusted God, but not really for things that were within my control. That was when he began to take away that control and show His power in my life.

My first year in ministry, my husband, Matt, and I had been married for 6 years. We had been trying to get pregnant for a while with no success. In the summer of that year we went through some medical testing and discovered that we were not going to be able to get pregnant. We were devastated. Part of my plan was that we would have a family and I wasn’t sure how that was going to happen now.

Within the course a few weeks a woman who said she was trying to find adoptive parents for some babies who were in Russia approached us. She was from Russia and was an American citizen. We thought this was God’s answer to our prayers to have a family. We gave her money and met with her a couple of times. She gave us a photograph of the child who was to be our daughter and we named her Hannah Mikhayla. We continued to pray and to thank God for providing a way for us to have a family.

Over the next month, we were told various tales about when the baby would arrive. This went on and on until one morning the police knocked on our door. We discovered this woman had been lying to us about the babies so she could steal our money. She had intentionally harmed us and used our desire for a child for her own profit and gain. Again we were devastated. We just couldn’t see how God was going to give us a family.

Just like Genesis 50:20 says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Just as Joseph’s brothers intended to harm him, this woman had intended to harm us. But God had a plan to use our situation to open our hearts to something more. He had a different plan.

About 6 months after the adoption scam, we received a phone call from the father of a girl who had been one of my students. He called to tell us that his daughter was pregnant and that she had heard we were interested in adopting. She was young and couldn’t take care of the baby. She wanted us to be her child’s parents. We were very scared. Scared of being hurt again. Scared that our dream and desire to be parents would simply not ever be. But God kept reminding us of Proverbs 3:5-6.

We met with her and her father and talked, laughed, and cried. In June of that year, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who is now our wonderful daughter, Abigail.

We didn’t know what kind of healing God would send through this little girl. Her joy is unmatched. She is the kind of child who lights up a room. Even though she is not biologically ours, God knit her together. Just like He promises in Psalm 139:13-14. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

I am convinced that while he was knitting her together, he took pieces of me, of my husband, of her birthmother, Abby, and her birthfather and wove them into the beautiful, unmatched tapestry that is our Abigail Elizabeth.

Joanna Weaver, in her book “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World” says, “What is it about us women that creates such a desperate need in us to always ‘know’ , to always ‘understand’? We want an itinerary for our life and when God doesn’t immediately produce one, we write our own. ‘I need to know’, we tell ourselves. ‘No’, God answers softly, ‘You need to trust.’” (p. 26) There is a reason the Bible tells us to “Be Still, to Cease Striving and know that he is God.” (Psalm 46:10)

There are so many pieces to our story that I had no control over—things that I could not plan. God has proved faithful over and over again. When I stop striving and start trusting, He pulls through in ways that I cannot imagine.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD's renown,
for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed."

Isaiah 55:8-13

God’s promises are true. When we trust, he works. When we obey, he comes through.

What “plans” have you made that you need to give over to God? How do you need to be trusting Him more?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Are you called?

Several years ago I attended a workshop with Scott Dyer at the Willow Arts Conference. He spoke about their volunteer culture at their church and gave some great insights into the differences between being a volunteer and a called servant of Jesus. There is so much truth to this list and I recently came across it in some of my files. I thought I would share it for those of you who are either "volunteers" or who lead others.

“When God has put His call on you, woe be to you if you turn to the right hand or to the left. He will do with you what He never did with you before the call came; He will do with you what He is not doing with other people. Let Him have His way.” --Oswald Chambers
  • A volunteer looks upon rehearsal as another commitment they’ve been obligated to fulfill, but someone who is called of God looks forward to rehearsal as another opportunity to be used of God.
  • A volunteer looks upon any constructive criticism with indignation, but someone who is called of God is grateful for feedback because he wants to be the best he can be.
  • A volunteer puts in minimum effort, but someone who is called of God puts in maximum effort.
  • A volunteer sits back and complains about this and that bothering him, but someone who is called of God leads a personal campaign to improve that which needs improvement.
  • A volunteer feels threatened by the talent of others, but someone who is called of God praises God for distributing gifts and talents as He chooses.
  • A volunteer does no outside practicing or preparation, but someone who is called of God comes to rehearsals and a performance as prepared as possible.
  • A volunteer wants to quit at the first sign of adversity or discouragement, but one who is called of God digs in and perseveres.
  • A volunteer is oblivious to the needs of his ministry, but someone who is called of God prays over the needs of his ministry.
  • A volunteer is more prone to jealousy of others, but someone who is called of God praises God for distributing gifts and talents as He chooses.
  • A volunteer avoids resolving relational conflict, but someone who is called of God seeks to resolve relational conflict for the sake of unity in the Church.
  • A volunteer’s main source of fulfillment is their talent and abilities, but someone who is called of God knows that being used of God is the most fulfilling thing you can do with your life.
  • A volunteer can’t handle being put in situations where they are going to be “stretched”, but someone who is called of God responds to God’s call with humble dependence on Him.
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Ephesians 4:1 (NIV)

Are you living and serving where you are called or are you simply a volunteer?