Tuesday, May 21, 2013

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

With Audacious Faith, Sun Stand Still

For the last month or so, a common theme has been ringing in my ears. I have been studying I and II Kings, reading Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick, and following my former Church home in Virginia on Twitter. Over and over again, I sense the Spirit of God calling me to believe upon Him for big things. Audacious things. Things I can’t dream or imagine. If that is true, the things I am talking about believing God for must be really big because I have quite the active imagination!

For those of you that know me well, you know that I, by nature, am a dreamer. When I was a little girl, I lived in a world of make-believe. My toys were props in elaborate play, and people were players in my imaginary world. I have always been captivated and moved by epic stories. My dream world was adventurous, and bold. I would put my Lion King cassette tape in my Walkman and color in my Looney Toons coloring book while daydreaming about a grey horse being in my backyard, waiting to take me on another adventure through fields of wildflowers. I would spend hours swinging in a tire swing singing at the top of my lungs just dreaming of the big things that life would hold.

That little girl still lives in my soul. I have graduated from my Walkman to itunes, and my Looney Toons coloring book has been replaced with my personal journal and a good cup of coffee, but I still dream big. I still cry at the end of epic movies like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and others because the idea of reckless abandon for the sake of a greater cause speaks to my core.

God is moving in my heart to not just dream, but to believe Him. No, I’m not suggesting that God is going to grant me everything that I ever wanted. He’s not my genie in a bottle that I can simply use for my own personal gain. But I do believe that God is wild, and invites us into daring adventure with Him. Like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, He is not safe, but He is good, and He is the author of adventure and dreams. God knows that we will only be satisfied by a life running hard after Him for the things that matter eternally, and He invites us into that with Him.

Many of us have read the Bible verse that says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It is really tempting to read this and think, “Ok, so if I delight myself in God, He will give me everything I want!” However, when we view this properly, what we see is that if we draw near to the heart of God, our desires will transform to align with His heart. His dreams become our dreams. His passions become our passions. When we truly encounter God’s presence, we cannot help but be changed. Our motives and dreams are a reflection of those things we love. As we grow in love with God---His person and presence---our dreams are changed to reflect that love.

So where do we start? I had the privilege to know and learn under the late Dr. Jerry Falwell. Jerry often told students, “Nothing of eternal significance is ever accomplished apart from prayer.” We begin on our knees, humbly acknowledging that our biggest dreams can only be accomplished by God; we are vessels surrendered to the hands of the Master. We ask God for eyes to see what He sees, to love what He loves, and to dream what He dreams. We obey what God has already revealed in His Word, and we wait expectantly for that which is to come. We work diligently and faithfully with what God has already given us, knowing that God cannot bless what we do not do, and that the work we have today ultimately matters along the journey. We learn to be faithful and fruitful where we are planted, and not waste today for the sake of dreaming about tomorrow. Today’s work is the foundation of tomorrow’s dream, and we are to be responsible for that.

So what is it that you are boldly asking God for? 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Valleys of Sorrow to Rivers of Joy

Dear friends, let me first just say that this post is taking a great deal of faith to write. I talk often about being “real,” about living free, about passion for Christ. This time, I’m going to open up about a very personal struggle that is requiring more courage than I can say. I believe that God wants to inspire hope in us all.

For a week I have been grasping at the wind for what to write. I’ve spent a few days tweaking an article about dreaming big, and believing God for big things, but today all I can think about are the valleys of my life. There have been dark, treacherous places in my life that only the Lord could have seen me through. Today, I was overcome with gratitude for those times. That seems absurd to some of you, I’m sure, especially if you knew the specifics of the times I am referring to. Thankful for such pain? Abuse? Heartache? Fear? Sickness?

Yes. Thankful.

I’m not thankful for the experiences in and of themselves. But I am thankful that we have God that doesn’t leave us in the middle of sorrow, tragedy, and fear. He is there with us, willing to lead, comfort, and heal us in the middle of them. It has been the darkest seasons of my life that God has shown Himself strong, gracious, compassionate, and faithful. It is the darkness that drove me to utter dependency upon God’s mighty strength and love to carry me through. It is those times that my spirit was stilled with the song of my Father’s love over me. Most recently, 2012 was a dark season that ultimately showed God’s faithfulness to my weary heart.

Today, I originally set out to write about dreaming big, audacious, God-sized dreams. That post, God-willing, will still come together. But before we get there, I want to come clean about what this last year was really like. Maybe I’m foolish for putting this out there, but that’s what this blog is all about: being real. Getting to the heart of issues, and looking them square in the face knowing that our God is greater than the struggles we face.

My most recent encounter with pain was just last year. In March of 2012 I fell into a dangerous emotional pit. Seemingly out of nowhere I was overcome with fear that gripped me at my core. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t function. I was crippled for months with such great panic, sadness, pain, and fear that I was no longer myself. I was desperate, and anyone close to me could see it. The Lord had taken me through trials and turmoil before, and in those seasons drew me closer to Himself. Last year showed me that He wasn’t finished yet. I knew that if I had any chance of being healed and getting to the other side of the darkness, I had to stick close to my Shepherd.

I cannot tell you the number of times I found myself weeping over the Word of God begging for healing. Begging for freedom. Begging to be released from the grip of such oppression. In the middle of the fight, my husband and I moved our family to another part of the country, and I was starting over building local community. It was a lonely year.

It didn’t take me too long to realize that while God isn’t the author of fear and pain, He was allowing me to experience this season. He didn’t want to torture me, He wanted to heal me of an emotional cancer that was eating at me for years without being dealt with. It had to boil to the surface for Him to carve away at it. I had to face it, and allow Him to work. I had to sit still long enough on the operating table for Him to do what only He could.

For a while I hid. I went off of social media. I quit blogging. I didn’t want to be in the spotlight or public eye. I didn’t want to be known. All of my life, I had been an extrovert that enjoyed being in front of people. And suddenly, there I was just wanting to hide away. But God was softening me. Changing me. Bringing me into a place of gentle dependence upon Him.

I read Psalm 27 nearly every day, asking God to build in me faith to believe it. Just as nighttime fades away into morning little by little, I found myself little by little being set free.

This last year, the Lord lifted my head to stare at the face of my personal “monsters in the dark,” and He showed me that even in the darkness, even in the danger, even in the thick of the shadows of our worst nightmares, He is still good, and His grace will sustain us.
So, reader, here I am. Letting go of fear, and trusting God to do what only He can. I won’t say much more about this last year, except to say that I will walk with an emotional limp for the rest of my life.  As with any major surgery, there will be scarring. But what joy I have knowing that my limp causes me to lean on Jesus even more now than ever. What joy it is to be changed to have to trust God to be in a public blogging forum rather than it being “natural.”
May the God of all comfort be with you in your trials, and your pain. And may His gracious hand cause you to lean harder on Him, to listen to His song over you, and to be greatly encouraged that these dark hours are not the end of the story, but rather darkness leading to a beautiful dawn.
“I will sing of your mercy that leads me through valleys of sorrow to rivers of joy.”
–Jars of Clay

Thursday, April 25, 2013

You're Invited!

I enjoy exercising. I have exercised regularly for years. When I was a teenager, I worked out primarily because I wanted to have a perfect body (I never got there). Over time, my motivations for exercise have dramatically shifted. I feel better when I exercise. I’m happier. I’m not as anxious. I am more alert and awake to do the other things I love. I choose to exercise because I see the evidence that it prevents physical atrophy and helps me to be a better “me.”

The same can be said of serving within my local church. Serving promotes personal growth, authentic discipleship, and prevents spiritual atrophy.

 I committed my life to following Christ and was baptized when I was 17 years old. For several years after that, I was growing and changing rapidly from the person I was before, but I never chose to step up and serve in the church. I would hear recruit teams share the needs their areas were experiencing, and I would hope to avoid eye contact so that I didn’t have to make up some reason why I couldn’t give of my time to help. Quite frankly, it wasn’t that I didn’t have time; I just flat-out didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to make the time to give of myself. I didn’t see how I could add value to my church by serving, and I didn’t see how serving would add value to my life. My goodness how blind I was!

Fast-forward a few years. I was a college student in Virginia attending a church in which “serve and be served” was a basic premise. If you called this church “home,” you were encouraged to be an active participant in the organization in some capacity. This “encouragement” didn’t come from a perspective of legalism, or expectation, but rather of love and invitation. This church really honed in on the God-given gifts and skills of the people that were there and invited them to use those skills to advance God’s kingdom right there.

How many of you out there would say that you want to be valued, part of something meaningful, and as though you “belong?” I would be willing to bet that most of you responded with an adamant, “Yes!”

During my years at this church, I began to feel wanted. I quit believing that I was expendable, and I and started to realize that as a Christ follower, I wasn’t just called to believe, I was invited to be intricately woven into God’s family. Serving wasn’t just for the people that had “arrived,” it was for me too!

I decided to sign up to work with this church’s children’s ministry. I started out just filling in when someone would be absent, and then steadily I became more and more involved. After several years, I was asked to join the part-time staff at the church. Now, years later, one of my greatest passions is God’s people---all of God’s people---evaluating their God-given skills, talents, and interests and finding a place within the body of Christ to use those gifts. Not everyone gets excited about holding babies every week. Not everyone is comfortable leading. But everyone has something to bring to the table.

I think that as people we are wired to weigh opportunity costs. We can’t have or do everything, so we make choices. Sometimes these choices are based on pure motives like what is best for others. Sometimes our choices are based on what has the most value. Sometimes our choices are just for the sake of preference and what we would enjoy the most. I know I am not the only one that struggles against the clock every day. I think that most of us would say we want our time to matter and count towards something; life is too short to waste. Some of you might be like me 10 years ago, and maybe you just don’t see the benefit of giving of your time to your church.

But what if I told you that stepping up to serve all those years ago changed me? What if I told you that for the first time, I belonged somewhere? What if I said that plugging in and intentionally saying “no” to other things (including my Sunday afternoon nap) grew me into someone that finally had a place to call home? Serving in the Church enabled me to really connect and develop relationships with people. Serving was the catalyst to me honing in on who God created me to be, and I had so hungered for purpose and meaning. Don’t we all? And what is more meaningful than owning our salvation purchased by Christ, and embracing the Body of Christ called “the church?”

Some of you may legitimately be unable to serve during traditional times like Sunday mornings. It's ok to think outside of the box on your role in your church family! Maybe you attend a house church and there isn't a major organization to jump right into, or maybe you live abroad and culturally the dynamic of church is very different than American church. To all believers reading this, I boldly declare that the Body of Christ transcends culture and time restraints. Serving means giving of yourself to meet the needs of other believers out of your abundance of time and resources. I cannot tell you what this looks like for you personally, but I certainly encourage you to search God's heart on the matter! He loves you and you were made with His purposes! 

With all of my heart I believe that we each have a vital role. Paul writes to the church in Corinth that we are all equipped with different gifts, and we are called to use them. Can you imagine if your stomach quit working because it said, “This body doesn’t need me; the lungs have got this one.” How crippling! In the same way, we are all a vital part of the global, eternal Body of Christ. You are invited to be all in and more than someone that watchers from the sidelines.

Like exercise, it may mean carving out the time because you see the value added. But I promise that God uses your energy, time, and talents to change the world when you commit them to Him, when you humbly submit your time and energy to Him to be used up for His glory. Serving impacts your community, your church, your peers, your family, and it impacts YOU! Give it a try. Commit to giving of your time in an area that you are interested in. Give it more than a few weeks---a year?—and see how your own heart changes as a result.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More than Another Bible Study

“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)

When my husband and I got married, we committed to always being engaged in a small group of believers that would intentionally gather to pray, and live life alongside of each other. Over the years, we have found that the safety net of community has exponentially strengthened, challenged, and encouraged us.  We share life with other believers, we desire to truly know others: their struggles, their joys, and to share in “doing life” alongside of one another. I am convinced that more than once our community group saved our marriage, saved our families, and pointed us to Jesus like a lighthouse guides a ship safely to shore. These friends became family to us, and they got their hands dirty investing in our lives. When we moved to another part of the country, one of the hardest parts was saying goodbye to our “family.”

My husband and I recently joined a new community group through our new church. Adam and I had the opportunity to sit down with the other couple that we are leading this small group with, and really cast a vision for where we hope to grow and what type of group we want to develop. One of the most important things that we shared during our meeting was that we don’t need to have “just another Bible study.” We absolutely should delve deeply into God’s Word; I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t. But we don’t just need another chance to read and study the latest church leader’s bestseller. Instead, we need authentic community. We need a small group of believers that seeks to meet each other's needs, to pray together for the real things in our lives and not just a quick prayer that checks it off of a to-do list. We need intentional intercession on each other’s behalf. We need God’s people in our lives so that when the bottom falls out, we have a safety net of support.  We need God’s people deeply invested in us, and vice versa.

If you are a part of a church, you may be like me: it is far too easy for me to get comfortable. It is so easy to enjoy my Sunday coffee and donut and completely miss the point. Church isn’t another club. Church is God’s people empowered by the Spirit of God to change the world for His glory. This doesn’t happen by being comfortable and being a part of a club. This happens by willingly and intentionally getting our hands dirty in each other’s lives and committing to authentic discipleship, as well as owning that the Great Commission is a call to each of us. 

As Christ followers, we are engaged in a real battle for the souls of men, and for each other. Can you imagine a Marine in the trenches eating a donut while his comrades fought on the front lines? Let’s go a step further and imagine that this marine was suited up, and one of his comrades asked him what he was doing in the trenches, and he simply replied, “I’m not called to the battlefield.”

My friend, if you have trusted Jesus, you are called: called to follow Him at all costs, called to love His people, called to serve, called to live engaged in His mission. Jesus Himself told us that the world would know Him by our love for one another. So why don't we seek out opportunities to do just that? Most of us are busier than we want to be. I get that---time is rarely on my side. But the fight needed to carve out time to be involved in authentic Biblical community is well worth it.

Within the Church, marriages are floundering. Single moms are lonely and in “survival” mode. Children are suffering. We don’t need another Band-Aid over a gaping wound; we need the Church to be the church, and we need all believers involved in the living Gospel of the Body of Christ.

In Acts 2, we see that individuals within the New Testament Church sold their belongings and gave to one another out of their own abundance. No one was left hungry or in need because God’s people stepped up and gave of themselves for the sake of others. It was because of this that the Church continued to grow in numbers every day. There weren’t always extravagant speeches. The printing press hadn’t been invented yet, so reading the next bestseller in Christian non-fiction wasn’t an option. Instead, they followed Christ’s command to love one another, and to reach out to each other, live in community, and to allow God’s kingdom to come to earth. I believe that “outsiders” wanted in because as people, we are hungry to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and yet we also desire to be known intimately and to live in the context of relationships. They saw that Christ-followers had both of those things, and they wanted “in.”

How can we intentionally live in community with one another? We live in a generation that honors and glorifies independence. We have our own houses, our own playgrounds, our own “stuff.” We juggle everything that the world tells us to juggle, and it is a shameful thing to ask for help (though I’m sure I am not the only one that needs it…often).

What if we were to allow God’s spirit to move us into Biblical community with one another? What if we went out of our way to intentionally live and serve one another the way that Christ and the early Church modeled? How would the Church be redefined? How would families grow? How much more secure would we feel, seeing faith in action in our own lives and being affirmed that there are people that would do anything to take care of us, pray for us, and make sure that we aren’t alone? I believe that living in authentic Biblical community is one of the greatest ways to overcome anemic faith, and one of the biggest obstacles that the modern church must overcome to continue carrying out the Great Commission. We must move beyond only attending “big Church” on Sundays and into the lives of other believers.

How are you “doing” community? How has this impacted you? 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Excellence Honors God

ex·cel·lence [ek-suh-luhns] noun
1.the fact or state of excelling; superiority; eminence
2.an excellent quality or feature

            When I was 15 years old, I worked at a sandwich shop. It was the 2nd job that I had held, having previously worked one summer at an ice cream parlor. I never could have guessed that when I began my new job I would experience a major paradigm shift in my thinking about work.

            You see, I had always been a good student. I earned good grades, I was in higher-level classes, I gravitated towards leadership positions, and in general I thought I was ahead in the trajectory my life was taking. Boy was I wrong!

            As the youngest employee at this local purveyor of sandwiches, I had a lot to learn. I worked with one woman in particular that I liked: a single-mom in her late twenties or early thirties that worked hard, worked honestly, and did everything to the best of her ability. I was so drawn to her. I wanted to emulate her. I took everything that she said very seriously. I enjoyed conversation with her, asked questions, and hoped that she liked me too.

She didn’t.

One of the most mortifying moments of my life came when the two of us were engaged in a conversation, and she didn’t mince words to tell me that she thought I had poor work ethic. I didn’t apply myself. I didn’t do things well or fully because I chose not to, not because I couldn’t.

Ouch! My ego took a huge hit that day.

I tried to console myself—think of all of my positive attributes, make up for this major lapse in my character, defend myself…but she was right. I was capable of doing mundane tasks better. I lazily hoped to earn money by doing things half-way. However, if I was on the receiving end of goods or services, I expected top-notch service and quality (don’t we all?).

Looking back, that woman changed my life. What she said hurt. Proverbs 27:6 tells us that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiples kisses.” John MacArthur says that “to genuinely love is to manifest the truth, even if it means to rebuke” (MacArthur, Proverbs 27:6). [1] This woman may not have enjoyed working with a young teenager that, quite frankly, slacked. She may not have liked me, but she did actively love me. She chose to not be silent in regards to something that ultimately affected my future.

I was not a believer at that time, so my motive for improving my performance was solely for the sake of myself. It would take the Lord radically transforming my spirit from the inside out for my motives to move beyond personal gain to spiritual service and excellence.

I imagine we can all share stories of situations in which we could clearly see apathetic work, laziness in others, or “service” that was greatly lacking. I cannot count the times that I have asked a cashier in a store how they are doing, and he or she replies, “I’ll be better in half an hour when I get to leave.” Yikes---not even an attempt to force a smile to a customer. I think we can all agree that this type of sentiment is seen and heard almost daily in our interactions with others, even other believers.

Work, however, is not a consequence of the Fall. God created work for man’s enjoyment (surprise)! He designed us to be productive, to enjoy the fruit and profit of labor. Sin unfortunately marred that gift from God too. We were made to work. We were made to produce, to create, to grow, and to enjoy the rewards. Our sinful pride insists that we should reap the benefits of labor without expending any energy to sow. We want without cost.

Tommy Newberry is a Christian life-coach based out of Atlanta, Georgia. In his book Success is Not An Accident, Newberry says, “Many Americans have been misled into believing they will not be held accountable for their choices and that they will miraculously harvest something other than what they planted” (Newberry 15).[2] Many of us, if not all of us, at some point have hoped to reap what we have not sown. We want the benefits of work without actually performing the job well or at all. Paul writes in the book of Galatians that we should “not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that we should all aim to be CEO’s of major companies, make millions of dollars, and bathe ourselves in the riches of this life. Life is too short for any of us to live for anything less than eternity. Many of us may never make much money or be known by thousands of people. However, those things aren’t of importance to begin with! Bringing glory to God means living obediently to the life that He has created for YOU as a uniquely and wonderfully made individual, regardless of your resume.

Regardless of worldly accomplishment, we are called to live with excellence wherever we are in life. We are to steward the resources of money, time, and energy according to God’s revealed will and to ask Him for wisdom for His personal will in our individual lives. Working with excellence is one of the primary ways that believers can live in the world, but not as part of the world. People notice excellence, and excellence is a platform for professing the love of Christ. Would you take the guy that shows up late every day, has a bad attitude, and does sloppy work seriously when he told you about his love for God? That love may very well be genuine and authentic, but if you were not already a believer, it would be very difficult to see something different about him based on the way he lives.

So what are some ways that we can practically live lives of excellence regardless of our occupations, stage in life, etc.? Here are 5 things to consider each day as you live your life:

1.    Determine the priorities in your life according to God’s word
     We can’t do everything and do it well. We must say “no” to less important things in order to do the most important things with excellence.

2.   Stop complaining.

     Some of our least pleasant experiences we have are when we are being “serviced” by a worker and we overhear them grumbling about how much they hate their jobs. Is this you? Are you lifting people up with the words you say about your job, even if it isn’t an easy or “fun” place to be? A positive attitude shines a light very differently than the majority of attitudes shown in the typical workplace.

3.   Do tasks to the best of your ability. 

     This doesn’t mean that everything you do will be top-notch, or award winning. How would we ever grow if we were already arrived? None of us are perfect, but we do intrinsically know when we are intentionally cutting corners, when we are being lazy, when we are apathetic, and when we just want the rewards without the labor. Whether you are making a bed, doing the dishes, writing a blog, giving a presentation, studying for school, analyzing Excel spreadsheets, or whatever else under the sun you do on a day-to-day basis, do it to the best of your ability (even if that isn’t a professional-level ability).

4.   Show up on time. Stay for your whole shift. 

     Do not abuse your work time for leisure. This is a form of theft known as time-stealing.

5.    Treat people the way you would want to be treated. 

      Mom was right when she repeated this over and over again. Change in a culture begins with change in the lives of individuals. Work for your clients, family, customers, and peers with the same positivity, the same empathy, and the same quality that you would hope to receive if it were you.

Working with excellence in all that we do honors God. If we are stewards of all that He has given (time, money, talent, etc.) how are we doing? Are we beacons of hope that point to a God that gave us everything in Christ? Let us run the race before us well. Run hard. Love strong. Serve and work with love, with excellence, and always pointing to the redeeming hope that is found in Christ alone.

[1] MacArthur Study Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson,        Inc., 1997. Print.
[2] Newberry, Tommy.  Success is Not an Accident. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House        Publishers, Inc. 1999. Print