teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name... psalm 86:11

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

lessons from a christmas concert...

Last night I went to a Christmas concert. Actually, it was a regular concert in this awesomely decorated warehouse by a band that I hadn’t heard in years. This band has a passion for writing/singing songs about their own experiences of how Jesus has shaped their lives, and they mixed in Christmas songs too. They didn’t do this just because it’s the expected thing to do this time of year… they did it because the lyrics of some of the carols we sing every December are so beautifully profound in the way they describe the paradox of divinity meeting humanity. And I was so thankful for last night because in the rush and busyness of this past week, I was craving time to just pause and be and dwell. As the band passionately sang these carols, not as Christmas jingles, but as heartfelt praises to their Savior… I was moved. The lyrics came to life in a different way than usual.

There’s something universal about carols- no matter what your background or faith stance, you probably know at least some of the Christmas classics. Seeing crowds of people singing together in unison about Jesus is one of my favorite things about Christmas. But it got me thinking last night… if people realize what they are singing? If they are allowing themselves to take in the weight of the words or if they are just repeating them by rote?

Do they know that “His law is love and His gospel is peace”? Have they experienced it for themselves?

Do they know that their “hopes and fears of all the years” are seen and understood?

Do they know that “in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in,”… that Jesus is there, ready for us to acknowledge His presence and invite Him into our lives?

This question isn’t just for Christmas songs either… I started thinking last night about how many times we sing ANY song about Jesus, but allow there to be a disconnect between what are mouths are voicing and what our minds are thinking and hearts feeling. We allow this musical element of worship to become mindless repetition sometimes.

It brings to mind the warning in Ecclesiastes to “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth; do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” Are we paying attention to who we’re singing these songs to, for the promises and proclamations we declare? Are we listening for His truth amongst the lyrics or are we just babbling along in auto-pilot?

I don’t write this as a guilt trip by any means… but rather as an encouragement, because here’s what I’ve come to learn- the times when I am conscious of what I speak (or sing) before the Lord are the times when I am most blessed by His presence and His promises. The more aware I am of engaging with God, the more He pours His love, grace, and truth into my life.

As we enjoy the final days of Advent and prepare ourselves for Christmas, I pray this for anyone who might stumble across this little blog… that within the songs and traditions, you would be aware of your Savior, and that you would be aware of His presence in your life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

magnify...

I think I may have found my theme verse for 2012…

See, every year I choose a verse to summarize where I’m at and how I hope to grow. This past year the verse I claimed for myself was Isaiah 43:18-19… because it was a year of releasing things & people that I deeply loved without quite knowing what was ahead. This verse spoke of hope and newness and God’s faithfulness in the next chapter of life.

For this year, though, I want to shift the focus off of myself and my circumstances, and dwell more on the glory of who God is. And I found the perfect verse to encapsulate this while reading the story of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. In a dialogue between herself and her sister, Mary is quoted as saying…

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”
. luke 1:46-47 .


It was the word “magnifies” really that caught my eye. Such a lofty word… In old school days it simply meant to praise, but in recent times it’s taken on the connotation of enlarging your perspective of something. Honestly, I like both definitions.

It reminds me of Biology class long ago when we would get plastic slides of something that seemed like nothing, but under the eye of the microscope that “nothing” came to life as intricate, fascinating, living, moving creatures. What was invisible to the everyday eye was magnified so we could appreciate what had been there all along. When our perspective changed, it allowed us to see new & incredible things.

So I think my focus and prayer for 2012 will be to magnify and rejoice in the Lord. I want to see God where I would have otherwise overlooked Him. I want to comprehend Him in new depths that I otherwise wouldn’t have known. There’s something profound that happens within us when we allow Him to be magnified. I recently read “One of the worst things that can happen to a person is to live with a shrunken understanding of God, a shrunken soul.” Not only do I want my own view of God to be magnified, but I want to be a lens through which He is magnified to those around me too… that their perspective of who God is would be heightened… that they wouldn’t live any longer with a “shrunken soul”, but instead become alive with wonderment for this God that loves them with a crazy, fierce love.

As one year comes to a close and another one begins, may we seek to have a greater vision of who God is… and may our lives magnify to others the extraordinary God that we worship and serve…

Friday, December 9, 2011

written on His hand...

In the whirlwind of post-it note reminders and long to-do lists… especially in this crazy holiday season… there is this golden rule: If it’s REALLY important, you write it on your hand. Papers get lost in the shuffle or accidently thrown away, but that sharpie on your skin will last as a permanent reminder. {and beware- it might show up on your face at some point if you like to sleep with your hands up by your cheeks at night… just saying…} Things of the utmost importance belong written on our hands…

One of my favorite verses lately has been Isaiah 49:16… It comes from a chapter that speaks of the restoration that God brings, and after it states the fact that God does not forget His people, we read this:


The word engraved literally means tattooed… God has your name tattooed on His hand. Of course it’s a poetic description not intended to be taken literally, but it paints this picture that we are always in God’s sight and close to Him. We are loved and important in His eyes. He remembers us... and I think that’s why I like this verse. It reminds me that I’m never forgotten and always close…

This fits with the theme of this advent season… that God is near us and that He loves us with an extraordinary love that He goes to extremes to show us. Out of this love He sent us Jesus… Immanuel, God with us... who's hands would one day be pierced and nailed to a cross for us.

May we bask in this extravagent love and find peace in the knowledge that we are written on God's hands...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

the great pursuit...

Our church is spending this month reflecting on the true Christmas story, the arrival of our Savior, by viewing it through the different perspectives of those who experienced it firsthand. When we think of that momentous night and the events that followed, usually we get a picture that slightly resembles a Hallmark card. We’ve beautified and simplified an event that, in all reality, is hard to wrap our minds around… The infinite, holy creator of the universe stepped into our world… to bind, fix, heal, and reconcile… but He didn’t come with power and pomp, He came as a vulnerable infant during a lonely night in a dirty stable. It probably wasn’t the prettiest of sights as Mary gave life to the Giver of Life. But it happened…

I think we lose sight of the fact that these Bible stories we’ve heard all our lives are real… they happened… and the people in them were real people, with families and jobs and pasts and dreams and insecurities and doubts. So I like this exercise of thinking about events through the lens of how the people there must have felt and what implications these divine moments of God intersecting with their everyday life had on them.

Our pastor started out Sunday by asking- “How many ways to God?”
To which the church answered- “One way… Jesus.” [Hillsong would have been proud!]
But then he asked- “And how many ways to Jesus?”

The answer… as many ways as there are people. Because Jesus is a pursuer of souls, creative and unlimited in the way He accomplishes this. For some like the shepherds, they weren’t even looking for God… they were just living life, doing their thing… and then God shows up in a big miraculous display that they couldn’t deny. Immediately they went to see this Messiah they’d been told about and they were never the same. The Magi on the other hand had spent their whole lives searching for truth and divinity but it always escaped them. On a hunch, following a star, they embarked on a long journey across hundreds and hundreds of miles. The journey came to fruition when they finally entered the presence of Jesus. They too were never the same.

The advent candle this week was Hope. And this is the hope we have- that we have a God who loves us enough to not leave us where we’re at. He goes to any length to bring light into our lives if we would just receive it.

And while God is pursuing us, we are invited to be pursuing Him. It’s ironic that the invitation this season brings was spoken by the one man who missed it completely… King Herod encouraged others to go and carefully search for Christ, to seek Him intently, and then to go tell others about Him without ever accepting the invitation himself. [Matt. 2:8]

May we not miss it too… may we keep that invitation on the forefront of our minds as we make our way through this advent season. May we seek Jesus with everything in us, and may we be blessed when he meets us on our journey in unexpected ways.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

advent...

This past Sunday marked the beginning of the Advent season… and I have to be honest- I don’t think I’ve ever really truly paid much attention to the significance of this tradition. Shocker, I know, coming from the pastor’s wife, the one who has worked at churches in some capacity for the past ten years. This year is different though, and I’m finding myself intrigued…

Maybe it’s because this year I’m removed from the busyness and chaos of being “church staff”- the many hours of planning events, services, activities and then having to actually attend said events, services, and activities… there’s been a space created that I’ve missed for a long time… a space of reflection and quietness as we prepare for Christmas…

Really, though, I think my intrigue of Advent stems from something I read recently. Words that described the heart of the season, but also echoed the heart of my own life season… there’s a parallel that drew me in…


“Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning. Advent is the question, the pleading... Advent says the baby is coming, but he isn't here yet, that hope is on its way, but the yearning is still very real... Advent allows us to tell the truth about what we're grieving, without giving up on the gorgeous and extravagant promise of Christmas, a baby on his way.”
-Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet


Advent is joyful hope and restless longing mixed together in this beautiful way that only makes sense through the lens of faith. I relate to the waiting, anticipating, yearning… for God to act, to move, to speak… and yet I share too in the sense of resting in God’s promises, walking in the hope and joy of what is just beyond the horizon.

And that joy… that unexplainable, overflowing joy that is a gift of God… was the first candle lit this week as we began this Advent path. It reminds me of the words Peter spoke in his first sermon: “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” {Acts 2:28}  Joy in His presence… only possible because He who is infinite and incomprehensible chose to enter our world and become tangible… become Immanuel, God with us. And this is what we celebrate on Christmas.

So this year I’m challenging myself to embrace the invitation of the season… the invitation to, in Shauna’s words, “Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found…”

What an incredible God we serve.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

thankfulness & denial...

In this long weekend of giving thanks, it was fitting that my reading picked up at Mark 14… describing the Last Supper. We are told to take and eat and remember, as modeled in this Last Supper, whenever believers gather for the Eucharist… with bread and wine… and I say it’s fitting because “Eucharist” quite literally means, “to give thanks.”

So I pause and give thanks- for Jesus, for the way He makes beauty from messes, for the way He loves, and for the grace I receive from His work on the cross. I pray I would remember the weight of this and never become immune to His story or the sight of His cross.

As Jesus and his disciples gathered to celebrate this Passover meal, I imagine it was similar to the excitement and festivity that we all experienced Thanksgiving night. The meal had significance in that it was a time of looking back on God’s faithfulness and provision, thanking Him for the ways He’s blessed them and protected them. They had certain foods that were traditional to eat at this meal… probably not pumpkin pie, but I’m sure it was delightful just the same…

Jesus put a damper on the mood a bit, though, when he told the group at the table that one of them was going to betray him in a major way that night. Suddenly everyone was on edge, making sure to point out their loyalty and that surely it wouldn’t be them. More so than the others, Peter was adamant that He would never forsake Jesus. When Jesus responded by specifically telling Peter that he would deny Jesus three times that very night, Peter spoke from his heart that he would rather die than disown his relationship with him…

Jesus was being gracious here, I think, because as I read on Peter denies Jesus more than just the three times we typically hear about…

- As Jesus spends his final hours praying in the garden of Gethsemane, so distraught that he is sweating blood, he asked the three closest to him, Peter included, to keep watch and pray with him… and three times Peter fell asleep instead of holding vigil with his desperate friend.

- Then when Judas and the mob showed up to arrest Jesus, there is a brief altercation as told in the other gospels, but eventually “everyone deserted [Jesus] and fled” (v.50)… everyone including Peter.

- The chapter ends with the other three denials that Jesus had predicted earlier in the evening. Three bold questions of whether Peter was one of Jesus’ followers… and three blatant answers that he was not.

Here’s the thing… I can identify with Peter. In my excitement and passion I make lofty statements and bold proclamations of how I wish to live my life for Jesus… but then, like Peter, I so often give into my flesh and my fear. I will sing songs and pray prayers of how I will do anything for the glory of His name… and then when opportunities arise I let my own desires or doubts get the best of me.

But the hope I have is this- even though the only consistent things about Peter were his tendency to speak too quickly and bail out when things got uncomfortable, God still used him as the vessel through which His church was organized and the gospel was spread. If God can use Peter as a pillar of establishing His church, maybe just maybe He can use me too. And this is another thing that I am deeply thankful for…

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

a prayer for kindred souls...

When I began this crazy task of writing a blog a few months back, I didn’t really know what the experience would look like. My honest intentions weren’t to gain a following or be recognized in any way… I just wanted a way to process some of what I was learning and possibly be a glimmer of encouragement to whoever might read these pages.

And here’s what I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find… there’s a lot of people out there just like me.

I’ve been blessed to “meet” people through their blogs and linkups {I didn’t even know what those were until two months ago!}… and they have so much wisdom and insight to share, so much love and encouragement to pour on people like me. Sounds creepy, I know, like I’m this little online stalker… well, I guess I kinda am… but if you’re here reading this, then you probably are too!

And these people… who I have never met in person, but I feel like I know a piece of their heart… they are who I thought of when I began reading Ephesians this morning. Because I know we all have a similar struggle. We read a lot… and allow ourselves to reflect, be inspired, grow convicted, be challenged… we constantly take in, desiring to grow and influence and bring the most glory to God that we possibly can… but sometimes it’s just a lot, and we need to settle and just be. I was reminded by Steph that sometimes we need to just breathe.

So to the few blogger buddies I’ve come across so far… I pray you can stop for a moment and let Paul’s prayer settle on your heart and your mind, your stress and your anxiousness, your hopes and your joys… today, I echo this prayer for you:

“When I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn't stop thanking God for you. Every time I prayed, I'd think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask— ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!"
-eph 1:15-19 (msg)

Monday, November 21, 2011

one foot in front of the other...


Highlights of the weekend:
decorating for Christmas and indulging in a Caramel Brulee Latte…


Not so favorite moment of the weekend:
running a practice 10k to prepare for Thursday’s Run for the Hungry…

Here’s the deal- I made a “30 before 30” list, and 29 of the 30 things to do were of my own accord. But Number 5… the one that says “run a 10k”… that was ALL my husband’s doing. Truth is, I hate despise (is there a stronger word than despise?!) running. I’m all for being active… as long as it’s in any form other than just plain old running. I started “training” two months ago… which lasted about 4 weeks. Now here we are days away and I’m not sure if I can do this.

So on Saturday we set out to do a practice run… I was good the first mile… my problem was with the five that came after! Literally, by mile marker 2.5 I was having a conversation in my head that shouldn’t be repeated… In a nutshell- I wanted to quit. I was tired, annoyed, didn’t see the point of all this. In the process and the struggle, though, there was a lesson to be had (isn’t there always?!)…

The lesson was this- just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Initially I thought this just had significance with running… but then Sunday night we got an email closing the door on something that we had been really hopeful for. I was instantly overcome with discouragement and defeat again. I’m exhausted from not knowing, from all the dead ends, the feeling like we’re getting nowhere. Then I heard it again…

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ve been dwelling on this phrase since, trying to figure out what that means for life and faith and me & M… and this morning I was reminded of Psalm 119:105…“Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”

The path of life can be hard and long… and often we desire for God to point a giant flood light down our path so we can see everything between here and eternity… we want to know it all and know it now- where we're heading, the purposes along the way. We want specifics because let’s be honest, journeying down the dark, uncharted path of unknowns can feel daunting. And while God doesn’t give us that all-illuminating flood light, he DOES give us a lamp, through His word and His spirit. The Hebrew word used in Psalm 119:105 means a small handheld lantern… the kind that only provided enough light to see right in front of you.

Here’s the picture this verse paints- we walk hand in hand with God through life… us and our lamp… and He allows us to see just barely one step ahead from where we’re standing. We have the choice to focus on everything we can’t see or that which we can… we’re invited to step into that light, into His presence, and with that one step of faith comes enough light to see just a little bit more. The only way for us to not be frozen in life and faith, is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, stepping into the little bit of light before us.

So this is what I’m learning, whether in running or in life or any other journey before me, that I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other… even when I’m frustrated and discouraged… even when things don’t make sense… leaning into the promises of God and the knowledge of His love for me, I will keep going one step at a time.

May we find hope from the God who desires to lead us with His light… and may we find courage to trust Him and step into where His light is guiding us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

a work in progress...

There’s been a reoccurring theme this past week amongst conversations, readings, and my own crazy little world… letting go of perfectionist tendencies. Releasing ourselves from the pressure of our seemingly unending to-do list. Freeing ourselves from our own expectations of having it all together, all the time. Learning to give ourselves grace… and room to breathe… and permission to say no…

This battle resonates deeply with me, I know it well. In all these discussions I keep hearing the taunt of Matthew 5:48- “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This verse is like crack for people like me… a challenge to keep going going going and doing doing doing, always striving, never ceasing… but that’s not what Jesus intended these words to mean.

Isn’t that so like Satan to twist words that were meant to encourage & bring life and turn them into a burden, another chore that weighs us down?

I opened my Bible to this verse today and was reminded of grace as I read old notes written in the margins of the page. An arrow from the word perfect to my own scribbling… “the Greek word teleois means complete, full-grown, developing.” But how can you be both complete and still developing? Welcome to the paradox of faith, the mystery of sanctification.

In Christ… we are complete, we are whole, we are perfect. Our scarlet sins & failings have been made white as snow. We are new creations, welcomed to participate in the eternal kingdom of our Father without a second thought. This has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with Him.

Yet in ourselves… we are still developing, still growing and learning. We are a work in progress, battling a war between our spirit and our flesh. So even in this invitation to become more in line with the heart of God, He allows grace for the journey.

If we read this verse in the context of the words prefacing it, it’s really a call to love as God loves… to love as fully and generously as perfectly as He does, without false motives of what we can get in return. THIS is the true invitation of Matthew 5:48.

So we learn to release our expectations for ourselves… we are reminded that our value comes from who we are as a child of God, not how perfectly manicured our lives appear. We are not failures if we didn’t carry out every good intention… we are still His beloved, and we’re learning slowly but surely how to allow our hearts to be shaped like His.  We are all a work in progress...

 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

come to the table...

I’ve shared a little bit already in other blogs, but this past year has been a unique season in my life… it’s been a time of transition, of stepping back and resting, of evaluating and regrouping... One of the biggest changes for me from the life I had grown so used to is that it’s the first time in a decade I haven’t led a group of High School girls. My heart beats for these small group times… for the relationships built, the discussions had, the laughter shared, the prayers offered… it’s what brings my heart joy.

By being removed from this environment, I feel like I’ve been able to reflect on what exactly it is I “do” in these ministry settings… Certain scriptures have come to light in new ways and settled different in me now that I’m still enough to process their significance for me.

Like today, I was reading a familiar passage in Mark 7... it started with an argument between the Pharisees and Jesus about the disciples not washing their hands before they eat… I mean, really?! (Obviously, there are cultural and religious implications that run deeper than the surface would suggest) In response, Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 to them:

“These people {the Pharisees} come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

It’s easy to gang up on the Pharisees and point the finger at them for their ridiculous legalism, but that last little part of what Jesus said caught my eye and got me thinking… what if empty traditions and hollow actions were all they were ever taught? What if all they were shown by their leaders is how to go through the motions of faith, without ever actually experiencing the heart behind these traditions? These are convicting questions for a person who's been in a teaching position...

So what does this look like for today? Teaching that focuses on behavior modification rather than Jesus- instructing others on how to play church and follow the rules of being “good”… but neglecting to communicate the big picture- the heart of God, the undiluted gospel. Sometimes we as teachers get so caught up in fixing the outside that we forget it’s more important for God to do work on the inside. We need to be reminded… I need to be reminded… that true grace allows for faith that looks a little rough around the edges sometimes.  It’s more important to teach those listening to us how amazing it is to eat a meal with Jesus, than to rebuke them for not washing their hands before they eat.


Being a communicator of God’s truth is not an easy task… we’re reminded repeatedly in scripture that this role should not be taken lightly. I was encouraged this week by another verse that seems to be the perfect prayer to follow this thought up with:

“Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well,
discerning the difference between good and evil.
For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?"
~1 kings 3:9

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

but even if he does not...

For me, one of the most challenging accounts in scripture is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego during their exile in Babylon {Daniel 3}. The whole story is really quite incredible… describing persecution that is hard to relate to, here in the States anyways… and their response to the accusations against their faith is inspiring. But the part that gets me every time… like a punch to my gut… comes from just six little words that they utter before the king…

“But even if he does not…”

These words follow their boasts of the goodness of our God, His mighty power, His ability to deliver from even the most horrific of scenarios. They proclaimed that God Almighty would save them from the blazing hot furnace that was awaiting them. Bold words… but what they said next was even bolder in my opinion…

“But even if he does not…”

This was their last battle cry… What could have been their final words, their final legacy… The heartfelt declaration that even if God chose not to answer their prayers and save them from this tragic situation, they would still worship Him alone and cling to their faith in Him until their final breath. Theirs was a faith that rested not on personal circumstances, but on the character of God. Belief that He is who He says He is.

“But even if he does not…”

Right now there’s something big looming before my husband and I… it’s nowhere near the magnitude of a death sentence like our 3 friends in Daniel… and it’s not even something bad- it’s actually the potential of something really GOOD! I find myself praying a lot about it, pleading before the Lord for this thing that M and I want so desperately. But our theme has been to pray with open hands… because whether or not this good thing comes to fruition, we still want to be able to say with sincere hearts that God is good and that God is able. We don’t want faith so wrapped up in our circumstances that we lose heart in God when we lose heart in life.

So I keep praying…
With open hands…
But even if He does not answer these prayers…
I will still worship Him.







Tuesday, November 1, 2011

not about being right...


I secretly cringe sometimes when people ask me what my major was in college… not because I’m embarrassed or regret it… but because it tends to transition into awkward conversation regardless of whom I’m speaking with. I have my degree in Biblical Studies, with an emphasis in Exposition… which apparently means I’m an arrogant Bible-thumper secretly judging everyone around me (*I’m not*) and/or I REALLY love to debate theology (*I don’t*). It’s interesting how this one book can elicit such a range of reactions in people… we're talking the WHOLE spectrum…

This weekend at church we discussed how the attitude with which we approach this book can have deep implications for our spiritual lives, and how sometimes we don’t even realize the faulty views of scripture we align ourselves with. There were analogies of people treating it like a fortune cookie, a magic 8 ball, a law book, a text book, a Rorschach test, a paddle we swat people with… the metaphors were endless… but safe to say, at least one of them resonated with each person there. It’s good to evaluate our view of God’s Word. I think it can be a litmus test for our perception of who God is and the healthiness of our faith.

It’s said in 2 Timothy that the holy scriptures are God-breathed. A unique description of God’s Word. This word picture brings us back to the beginning when God created earth and man and everything in between… and how Adam was just a pile of dirt until God breathed his breath into him. With God’s breath comes life and spirit and purpose. It’s the same with what’s written in The Bible- that same divine breath that’s in us is alive in scripture too... this is why something in us is stirred and awakened if we allow ourselves to engage with God’s words!

The writer of Hebrews understood this… he says that the Word of God is alive and active- it’s not just empty words. They have relevance and power. He relates scripture to a sharp sword before which we are uncovered and exposed. Apparently, these words in the original Greek were the same words used to describe animals laid out before being sacrificed and gladiators about to be killed by their opponent. They have the connotation of complete and utter vulnerability, a matter of life or death.

BUT… and this is what I love… right after it says this in Hebrews, the writer says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence…” We have no need to live in fear or guilt or shame… the only need we have is for the grace of Jesus which He wants to shower on us.

The repeated phrase of the morning at church was that “The Bible is not about being right, but about righting relationships (with God and with others).” The theme woven throughout the pages of The Bible is one of redemption and reconciliation. It's meant to bring hope and light... not argue people into the ground. God's words should be treated with humility, not pride.

My prayer for myself… and whoever else may read this… is that we would develop a passion for God’s Word and allow it to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us so that we might be thoroughly equipped… not to argue or lecture people into the kingdom of God… but to love them and serve them, that they might desire to know our Jesus too…

Friday, October 28, 2011

our stories...


At any given moment in my purse you can find: my phone, at least 5 bobby-pins, a bandaid, a tube of lip gloss, my wallet, a tub of gum, an envelope of coupons & Groupons & such, and a book I keep just in case I get stuck bored somewhere. For the past couple months that book has been Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. I probably should have finished reading it a long time ago, but I made myself go slow with it… trying to postpone the inevitable. Well, last night, I finally finished it.

One of the last chapters of the book was Shauna’s manifesto of how important our stories are… how important it is to share them… how they are a piece of the bigger story that God is telling the world. She writes:

“We dilute the beauty of the gospel story when we divorce it from our lives, our worlds, the words and images that God is writing right now on our souls. If you are a person of faith, it is your responsibility to tell God’s story, in every way you can, every form, every medium, every moment. Tell the stories of love and redemption and forgiveness every time you experience them. Tell the stories of reconciliation and surprise and new life everywhere you find them.”


I never feel like I have stories to tell… I tend to be more of a listener than a talker. I’ve been challenged in that this past year, though, and I feel like this excerpt describes perfectly what I’ve been learning. I didn’t see the power of my own story at first… I was too lost in heartache and frustration and fear to see beyond my emotions to the story God was telling others through me. But slowly, I started listening to their comments and responses to what God was doing in me and M’s life and I saw a theme emerge. It was a theme of life from death, beauty from ashes, good coming from loss. In observing our journey, our friends gleaned hope. Walking through each step with us, their faith in God’s goodness and provision was renewed. It was nothing we said… nothing we did… it was simply the beauty of the gospel displayed in real life, together learning the relevance of Jesus.

We’re still in the middle of this story… there’s been no conclusion, no resolution. The sense of transition and unsettledness has become our norm. And that’s ok. We’re learning a lot from it. At the end of our lives, it will be just one of many stories where we’ll be able to see… to share… the power of hope, of new life, of redemption. Our prayer has always been for God to use us in some way to share His gospel with the world… I’m learning that it happens a lot through simply sharing life and our stories.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

when God speaks...


I have a pretty insatiable addiction to a little website we like to call Pinterest… heard of it?! Oh, you’re addicted too?! Glad I’m in good company… Seriously, it’s like the perfect storm of all my favorite things- it’s a pretty amazing little world. Yet I can’t help but think that when Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…”, he didn’t mean play on Pinterest for hours on end! If only…

One of my boards on Pinterest is specifically for quotes that inspire, encourage, remind… I have a lot of them… quotes are another of my guilty pleasures! This is one of my recent finds:

Two thoughts came to my mind with this one-
1. The power of our words we speak to each other.
2. The power of God’s Word over us.

I already posted a blog on the power of what we speak into each other’s lives… that our words can either bring life or death… so I’ll just let you read that one if you want rather than be redundant in my posts. I will say this, though, as a girl whose primary love language is words of affirmation- speak kindness and encouragement whenever you can to those around you. It takes very little effort but it could have an infinite scope of bringing light and life to a broken world.

So onto my second thought, the power of God’s Word over us… here’s what I love about this- God has an uncanny knack for giving us the perfect word… the perfect bit of encouragement or promise or even challenge… at the perfect time to fill the exact spot where our heart is lacking. Who better to provide nourishment for our soul than the creator of it, who knows our heart so intimately and can discern its needs better than even we can? It doesn’t have to be some new profound thought or a deep theological discourse… it’s usually just a little nugget, a simple truth, that He whispers gently to you to remind you He’s there… fully present where you are… and that He’s walking with you on this journey. This is a facet of God’s grace that I’m truly thankful for- that He speaks truth into our lives for wherever we are at.

May we have ears to hear today… and a heart open to the sweet words Jesus wants to fill it with…


Friday, October 21, 2011

disturb us, Lord...

I found this old prayer about a year ago and I remember it really struck a chord in me. It was one of the most honest and daring prayers I’d ever heard. At the time I was in a season of desperately clinging to what was comfortable and what was known… but my heart ached to be in a place where I could echo these words too. In true life fashion, I had forgotten about this prayer until last night when I randomly stumbled upon the paper I had written it down on. Reading it from the perspective of where I’m at now versus back then gives me hope… I find that now I’m finally ready to share in this plea for the Lord to disturb my little bubble and shatter my comforts in exchange for the adventure of following Jesus with reckless abandon. Thought I’d share it on here in hopes that it might resonate with others too…
Disturb us, Lord,
When we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord,
When with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst for the waters of life,
Having fallen in love with life
We have ceased to dream of eternity,
And in our efforts to build a new earth
We have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord,
To dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas.
Where storm will show Your mastery,
Where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back the horizons of our hopes,
And to push us in the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our
Captain, who is Jesus Christ.

~Sir Francis Drake (1577)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

reflections on september...

I tend to be anxiety prone… it’s ridiculous really… this moment of panic, of feeling like the time is ticking and I still have some big task to complete before that last grain of sand falls to the bottom of the hour glass. It’s completely unfounded and ridiculous, I realize… but it’s how my mind has always worked. There are two moments that get me the most- the first one is New Year’s Eve. As everyone is counting down 10-9-8… I inevitably have a momentary heart attack from feeling like I forgot something and it’s soon going to be too late. The other is my birthday, where I always feel like there was something else I should have accomplished before I add another candle to my cake, but I can never quite put my finger on it. Like I said… ridiculous.

This year, I made a tangible list I could cross off as I go… and I wanted to start the year off with something other than anxiety… hence, the September Challenge. They say that it takes 21 days to form a habit- so after 30 days, I was really hoping I would have conquered this whole “give thanks in all circumstances” thing. Now that I’m on the other side, I wouldn’t say that I’m a pro at being grateful or anything… but I did learn a few things along the way. It’s nothing profound, just lessons that take root a little deeper when you’ve experienced them firsthand…

  • sometimes the things we SHOULD be most grateful for are the things we take for granted because they’re always there and we just get used to their presence
  • every good and perfect gift is from God… not from coincidence or from good luck… but from our gracious Creator who knows what we need and when we need it
  • writing every day what you’re thankful for can be addicting… and contagious… and severely alters your prayer life
  • being thankful for a crockpot is no less holy than being thankful for a good sermon…

Some days I had to really stop and reflect on the day to wrestle up three things I could write in my journal… but other days, there were too many to count. Our perspective of blessing is an ebb and flow, a constant give and take. The overall message reiterated to my heart, though, was that whether in plenty or in want, there is always… and I do mean always… something to be thankful for. God’s extravagant love and his crazy abundant grace should alone be enough to fill our hearts for a lifetime of gratefulness.

Perspective is a choice no one else can make for us… gratitude isn’t an automatic response- we’re more prone to react with jealousy, comparison, selfishness… but like one of my favorite quotes says: “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, it’s greener where you water it.” May we learn to “water” our lot in life and cultivate a perspective of appreciation. May we get to a place of saying, “My cup runneth over”… because if we stop and think about it, we really do have more than we could ever need.

Monday, October 17, 2011

paint...

Yesterday at church we started a new series- the premise of which is to sift through the truth and the untruth in common Christian clichés… I’m kind of excited… Here’s why- I hate, loath, despise, *insert every other synonym here* the pat answers that we throw around in the raw and honest moments of life. While intended to bring encouragement and hope, these “one size fits all” statements usually end up being salt in the wounds of our confusion, pain, doubt, and struggle. They’re unsuccessful pep talks that only tell half the story.

Cliché #1… that God has a perfect plan for your life… ironically mentioned by yours truly in my last post. [Confession time- while hating said clichés, I find myself using them on a rare occasion. Forgive me.] Now some may be thinking, “What’s wrong with this statement? Isn’t that biblical?” But here’s the danger with this cliché- we get so stuck in thinking that God has a specific blueprint for our lives that we can become frozen by fear, over-analyzing every single little decision because we’re desperate not to step outside of His will and His purpose for us. Life becomes a cautious tightrope walk along the one thin path that we think God has set for us. How could living in this kind of incessant fear be the abundant life that Jesus spoke of?

Ok, enough rambling… what I really wanted to share was an analogy that was used in yesterday’s sermon because I thought it was a great picture of the gift of life and freedom that God has given us. Imagine with me, if you will, that our life is a painting…

If we fall victim to clichés such as the one above, it’s as though God has simply handed us a “paint by number” picture where the shapes have already been drawn and the colors already dictated. It’s just a matter of us going through the motions of carrying out what’s already been determined.


...instead, what if it’s more like…

God’s given us a big, blank canvas. He puts in our hands paints and brushes- the elements of life outside of our control- and says, “Paint me a picture. The edges of the canvas are the boundaries I’ve set for you, but you have the freedom and pleasure to create that which is beautiful and that which shows the world my love on the space in between. What are you passionate about? Paint it… What brings you joy? Paint it… What do you dream of? Paint it…”


This is God’s heart for his followers… He redeems our life so we can be a display of the beauty, the love, and the freedom that comes from being His child. What an honor that he would allow us to have a voice and play a part in what is created on the canvas of our lives.

May we paint a picture that shows others the heart God has for us and inspires
 them to want to paint too…
 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

still waiting...

Me and M were talking with a friend last night about the similar place of life, work, and ministry we’re all at… feeling a restlessness and discontentment with where God has us currently… trying to make the most of it while at the same time wishing desperately to be moved on to the next thing. I know it’s probably a pretty relatable season for others out there- me and M have been trying to awkwardly find our way through it for a year now… some days better than others. Last night we were talking about the frustration that comes with this season- the process of putting yourself out there, letting hopes build, only to have doors closed, all while trying to foster a sense of trust and faith that the Lord DOES indeed still have a plan and purpose for you.

Then I opened my Bible this morning to the perfect Psalm that encompassed everything from last night’s conversation. I love the honesty and emotion in the Psalms… they inspire me to have the same raw conversations with God… he already knows the good, the bad, and the ugly so why try to hide it with flowery language and carefully worded prayers? This morning I seriously found myself thinking, “Psalm 13, get out of my head!”…

It starts with questions and statements like:
  • How much longer God?
  • Did you forget about me?
  • Are you going to let me suffer from these mind games, or are you going to do something?
  • Am I going to be unhappy forever?
  • How come everyone else is being blessed and “succeeding” but me?
  • I need answers!
  • I need some direction and guidance!
Sound familiar at all? Have you been there? So after all this rambling and venting, we come across a small but mighty word that changes the current of the conversation… the word “but”. In David’s honest questioning of God, he pauses and makes a statement that seems to contradict everything he’s just spewed out and it starts with that 3 letter transition. He says, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” And that’s it. That’s the end of it.

Here’s what I love… even in David’s discontentment with his current circumstances, he realizes that God is still good, He still loves David, and He is still in control… and that’s enough for him. This world and what it has to offer is not the end all be all- it’s not what defines us- and our circumstances aren’t the gauge of God’s involvement in our lives. The Hebrew word for “trust” David used is “batah”… it literally means to attach oneself to something firm and solid. There’s a sense of safety and security, but also a confident expectation because of the object your “batah” is connected to. Here’s the thing, people are going to fail you and life is always going to be changing, but the one thing we can stop and rest in is that God is unchanging and He is faithful. His timing isn’t always the same as ours and His plans don’t always match ours which causes tension in us, but we can have hope and have courage because He is the only thing worthy of trusting in.

May we learn what it truly means to “batah” in the Lord… and may it be enough for us when we’re waiting on His plans and purposes for our lives…


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

community...

This weekend at church we talked about community. Pretty standard subject matter for the beginning of fall since most churches are kicking off a new year of small groups right about now. I have to admit, I’ve heard A LOT of talks on community (even given a few!)… and most of them have been good… but this time around it settled differently in me. Hearing about community had this fresh relevance, rather than being just words and theories about a topic. It was more personal this time around.

An old C.S. Lewis quote comes to mind- “For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.” What a wise soul. I think the difference in my receptiveness absolutely has to do with where I am currently standing and the person I am at this point in my life and faith…

This time I’m not standing in the role of church staff trying to create environments that foster community; I’m just a regular attender wanting to participate.

This time I’m not the person who knows everyone and feels responsible to connect and include them; I’m the one in the back who only knows a few people but desperately desires to be more connected.

And my heart is different, I am different… I’ve grown and changed a lot this past year… and I am at a place of rawness and honesty with others and with the Lord that I’ve been too scared and too prideful to let myself go to in the past.

So… community. The scripture used seemed random to me initially, but as we looked at it, it became beautiful and perfect to describe the essence of true community. Psalm 133 … just three short verses. Verse 1 begins with, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” John 17 comes to my mind. Jesus’ prayer for me and for you that we would be united in heart and purpose. Verse 2 compares this unity to oil poured on the head dripping down… see what I mean- weird and random and kind of gross! This analogy is foreign to most of us but it actually speaks of blessing and anointing- ancient priests would use oil to symbolize God’s Spirit over something or someone. Verse 3 gives another comparison- this time it’s the dew on Mt. Hermon and Mt. Zion. Seriously… what?! This analogy speaks of rare refreshment in a dry and thirsty region. Basically, this little Psalm says that true community is a place where there is connection, a sense of blessing and refreshing, and it has God’s life and Spirit all over it.

What a beautiful picture. We were made for this. So why do so few experience this type of community? Quite often, it’s because we mess it up for ourselves. Community is made up of people… broken, imperfect, saved by grace people… it gets messy and vulnerable and won’t ever meet the idealistic picture we have in our minds. When we find ourselves in an imperfect community, we either build walls or we bail. Here’s what we need to remember though- imperfect community is the means Jesus uses to make us more like Himself. It’s through these imperfect relationships we learn love, humility, peace, and compassion.

So I’m praying for this kind of community for me and M… not just the perfect small group where we can be BFF’s with the other people in it… but awkward, uncomfortable, imperfect community where we can grow as children of God and learn more of what it means to live a life of worship, a life like Christ.

May you get to a place of experiencing this kind of community too…


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

be still...

Go go go… do do do… cross one thing off my list before adding three more… this is the rhythm of my life. I’m awful at keeping boundaries for myself because the overachiever, perfectionist in me won’t settle for anything less than doing it all and doing it well. Some might speculate that I have a subconscious desire to earn love… effort based grace… but that’s not it at all. I honestly think it’s more along the lines of the opposite… I deeply desire to give love… and to give grace… which is why I don’t say no, and I get excited about being a part of everything! The problem with this rhythm of life, though, is that it doesn’t allow for quietness or rest because there’s always “one more thing”… and Jesus sometimes gets lost in the jumble of it all…

So, a reminder for myself today… to be still… to be present in this moment…

I’m reminded that God is called the great I AM… it speaks of his current presence, meeting us here… whispering to our souls strength and encouragement for right now…

I love the NASB version of Psalm 46:10, “Cease striving and know that I am God…” Give yourself permission to stop, to breathe, to not have it all under control… and to be okay with it, because God is here with you now and He is quite capable. Lean into His presence.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

redefining humility...


Humility… it’s a hard line to walk… lean too much on one side and it comes across as pride, but lean too much on the other side and it’s self-loathing. Neither of which are desirable. I’ve always heard “humility” defined in terms of meekness, selflessness, gentleness… very passive adjectives that always seem to elude me the more I try to possess them. So how do we develop a humble spirit? I can tell you what the answer ISN’T better than I can tell you what the answer IS… like most spiritual growth questions, the answer is not simply to “try harder.” Sigh of relief?... yes, I think so…

I recently came across a new definition of humility that caught my eye. In the amplified version of Prov. 11:2 there’s an expanded explanation of “humble” which includes “those who have been pruned.” Pruning is, in my mind, a universal analogy because everybody can relate on one level or another to feeling the loss of something in their life. In John we’re told that God cuts off dead branches- the things in our life where there’s no redeeming value, draining us without providing anything good in return. It also says that He prunes the fruitful branches- even the things full of life and growth are susceptible to God’s pruning for the purpose of producing even more fruit. Either way, we’ve all felt the pain of being “cut.” It got me thinking, though, what does this have to do with being humble?

I think the experience of being pruned challenges our false perception that we are in control, that we are the one determining growth and outcomes. It reminds us that we are the creation, not the creator… that the One with the shears knows far better and has a far loftier vision of what could be. Being pruned not only makes us more sensitive to the presence of God, but it also makes us more sensitive and compassionate towards the world around us. It evens out the playing field between the lowly and the elite because we all have pain, brokenness, loss, frustration, and sadness in common.

So let’s redefine humility… it’s the result of allowing God into our lives to grow us and prune us… it’s being vulnerable in exposing our dead branches and our fruitful ones to let Jesus have His way… it’s realizing that it’s not about us- our comfort, our success, our thriving- that there’s a bigger picture out there than just our little cameo in this world. I think John the Baptist said it best when he stated his heart and mission in life was for Jesus to become greater and for himself to become less… that's the heartbeat of the humble.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

cornerstone...

Some insight into the mind of me… I don’t like fluffy answers. I like to know the insides and out of something before I am on board. I don’t want to be a “know-it-all”, but I really wish I knew it all. These especially come into play talking about spiritual things. My mind won’t let go of something until I at least look into it a little bit to appease my curiosity. So was the case after church this week…

We were looking at the different images used in 1 Peter 2:4-10. One of the central images is that of Christ being a cornerstone. The other images in this passage I get, but this one boggled me a bit. Probably because I’m not a contractor or builder or any sort… minus one house building trip to Mexico years ago! So the last couple days I’ve been trying to figure out the significance of a “cornerstone”… here’s what I’ve found…


Nowadays a cornerstone is merely decoration, a commemorative nameplate of sorts. Back when Peter wrote this, though, a cornerstone was extremely functional. It was the piece that structurally held the whole building together. It was the first stone laid and determined the position of every stone laid after. It provided support to the whole structure- if removed, the whole building would fall apart. Worse yet, if the cornerstone wasn’t trusty enough, the whole building would be weak and topple over. The implications are so tangible! Everyone is building their lives on something, whether they realize it or not. I have this picture in my mind of people building their lives without any acknowledgement of Jesus, but when what they’ve constructed comes crashing down around them they are so quick to blame God for their ruin. The fact is, if they had placed Jesus in His rightful place as the cornerstone of their lives, then they would have the strength and support needed to endure anything. And I don’t mean in the way cornerstones are used today, as merely a decoration or simple nameplate, but rather as the core of their being.

I came across a writer who bridged the gap between this analogy of a cornerstone and the idea of the cornerstone being rejected. He wrote:

“This is a wonderful image of the Lord Jesus, when you think about it. At one level, He appears to be just another stone in the building - made of the same stuff as the rest of us stones… He is like us, and yet he is different from us because He is more central to the building, and also because He looks different, which may explain why he would be rejected! Think about it from a brick-layers point of view. You take delivery of an enormous slab of bricks at your worksite, and you’re about to set the cement-mixer to start pouring, but then you realize that one of the bricks is a different shape from all the other bricks! What do you do? If you’re an inexperienced builder, you might assume that this odd-shaped stone has just been delivered to the wrong worksite, so you’d either throw it away or send it back! Why? Because it is different!”

The “religious” of Jesus’ time rejected him because he didn’t fit their mold or their expectations. They had a set idea in their mind of what it should look like for heaven to touch earth, and Jesus was not it. We are guilty of this today too, though. We try to fit Jesus into the holes and cracks of our minds and our lives, but when he doesn’t fit we toss him aside. Reality is, instead of adding Jesus, we need to start with Jesus. Everything else will align once we have this crucial cornerstone in place.

Ok nerd alert is over! For everyone old enough… I’m picturing the cheesy PSA’s that used to be on TV with the shooting star tagline: “The more you know!” :) It’s been a good reminder, though, of the importance of keeping Jesus my first love… the foundation of all I say and do… my cornerstone…

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

memories...

I don’t know if I’m the only one who feels this way, but… I love how every song I hear has a memory attached to it. Or a story. Or a person it reminds me of. Seriously, EVERY song. Who needs scrapbooks when you have a radio… it evokes the same nostalgic feelings and it’s cheaper. I’ve been realizing lately that somewhere along the way, scripture started doing the same thing. There are certain passages that have inconspicuously adopted to themselves memories of my past that I can’t help but be reminded of when I read them. Sometimes it’s something that happened, a season I went through, a conversation I had, or a person I’m reminded of. I love it though… in the vast sea of scripture, it creates a sense of belonging and settledness.

Today I experienced a moment like this… an instant trip down memory lane… when I came across the “don’t worry” passage of Matthew 6. As I was reading these familiar words, I was instantly brought back to the morning I arrived in Moscow… it was the summer of 2004… I had just graduated from college with a gold sticker on my diploma, but no clue what to do next in life. The only thing for certain was that I was spending the summer in Russia. I had been there many times before but it was always with groups... and an itinerary… and I only stayed for 2 weeks tops. That morning reality sank in that I was halfway around the world, alone, not really sure what I was supposed to be doing there and how to survive regular day to day life… so on my little apartment couch I had a minor freak out session.

God led me to this exact passage in Matthew 6. I know theologians often argue over whether to interpret scripture literally or figuratively… but let me tell you, in that moment I was claiming these words as literally as I could! Because one of my main concerns for myself was how on earth I was going to stay fed. I was living near a forest on the outskirts of Moscow, so I very well couldn’t take the metro into town to get a cheeseburger at McDonalds every time I was hungry! God met me on that couch that morning with his promises of provision and care. And here I am seven years later remembering that moment like it was yesterday.


Here’s the cool thing, though, about being on the other side of the experience now- the memory allows for sweet feelings and smiles rather than the fear and anxiety that swallowed me that morning. Because I know now how things turned out… how amazing that summer ended up being, the incredible ministry God allowed me to be a part of, and that there was absolutely no reason at all to fear the details of living during my summer there… looking back, my mini-freak out seems so unwarranted! That’s the beauty of having memories attached to scripture I suppose- it’s a personal reminder that God’s words are true, that we've lived them firsthand, and that we can rest in His promises. They’re not just empty words- they are meant for us!

I hope that you can have some of these sweet moments too… remembering times when God’s word came alive in a very real and memorable way. May we never forget where we’ve been and the lessons we’ve learned along the way… and may these memories encourage us when we need to be reminded of how good God is…

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

a sacrifice of thanks...

I’m learning that gratefulness is something that needs to be cultivated… intentionally and aggressively. I’ve had seasons where being thankful came easily and naturally. But then I’ve had seasons where living in gratitude felt forced and insincere. We always talk about getting to a place where our faith isn’t based on the circumstances around us, but rather on the character and promises of God. Well, I want to be at a place of gratitude that is not circumstantial either. There’s always something to be thankful for.

It’s interesting to see how thankfulness is presented in the Bible. I hate to use the word demanded because the choice is always ours in what attitude we possess… but let’s just say that, in the New Testament anyways, it’s highly recommended. We read things like:

Let us constantly and at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15)
Always give thanks to God for everything (Eph 5:20)
Give thanks in all circumstance, for this is God’s will for you (1 Thes. 5:18)

I think the coolest depiction of gratitude, though, is how it is presented in the Old Testament. Giving thanks to God was done through making a sacrifice to Him at the temple of one of your best animals. I’ll spare you the graphic-ness of the process, but there really are some rich parallels between this Thanks Offering and cultivating thankfulness in our lives today. The animal being offered would be split up between what was burnt on the altar to God, what was given to the priests for food, and what the person making the offering would take back home with him. It was the only type of offering where you didn’t go home empty handed. You got something in return, and that something was meant to be shared with others. The one making the offering would take his portion back home and enjoy a meal afterwards with family and friends where the spirit of giving thanks to God would overflow and continue with everyone present.

Other than the animal being killed and all (praise God we don’t have to do THAT anymore!), sounds pretty kumbaya-ish, right?! But what about those seasons where saying thanks to God is painful and hard? When you don’t feel thankful? When life has the sting of bitterness? I love what one commentator said regarding the passage of Leviticus that describes these Thank Offerings-

“Notice this verse calls this the sacrifice of thanksgiving. We need to sometimes give a sacrifice of thanksgiving. There will be times when turmoil, doubts, or tragedy may rob us of our joy and we may not feel very thankful. But the thank-offering was to be a sacrifice to God. Sometimes we need to sacrifice to God- sacrifice pride, sacrifice emotions, sacrifice material goods, sacrifice time, sacrifice commitment. A sacrifice is not a sacrifice if it doesn’t cost us something.”

Being thankful really is a spiritual discipline, requiring effort and commitment. It may not be a literal sacrifice these days, but it’s a sacrifice nonetheless. That is why, with my birthday coming up, I’m challenging myself to begin year 29 in a spirit of fostering thanksgiving in my life. On my list I wanted to choose a month to write down 3 things every day I’m thankful for- so September is going to be the month. I would love it if people would join me at my table and share this meal with me for the month… lets encourage each other to have a perspective of gratitude, k?! We really do have so much to be thankful for…
I will post every Sunday my list of things I'm thankful for for the previous week... would love for others to join with me and share things they are thankful for too... whether its one thing or one hundred things! I just think it'd be a cool experience to share together... :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

surrendering...

For the entire second half of last week, I had the same conversation running through my head. It was a conversation with a high school girl I’d just met where she reluctantly told me she was atheist… reluctance partly because she was at a church event and partly because she has a tender spirit that was afraid of offending me. It was a short but honest conversation, mostly her talking and me listening. I've had many conversations like this before, but for some reason the mental replay of this one became more and more discouraging to me as the week went on…

For those of us who thrive on being the fixer, the teacher, the encourager… these dead-end conversations kill our spirit and our confidence. As the interaction would replay in my head, I fell into these mind games of what I could have said and how I should have responded… as if there was some magical answer that would have instantly broke open her heart for Jesus. I should know better by now than to succumb to these mind games because they only leave you feeling drained and depleted. Discouragement is not a holy place to camp out- God is the giver of life, not defeat…

This past weekend, though, I received some aptly timed encouragement that spoke truth into this area of my heart. We had small group training at church where we discussed the raw and honest realities of ministry and the things we need to remember as spiritual leaders. There were some incredible people there and I appreciated the candid dialogue of what being a leader in a ministry involves … Two things in particular spoke to me, probably because it’s the areas I experience the most frustration…

1...   Transformation of others is not our responsibility. Period. We are invited to play a part, but creating change in others is not it… neither is manipulating a need for a Savior in others. We are called to pray, to serve, to be open to God’s work in our own life and authentically live it out for others to see… but we are not the Holy Spirit. HE is the wooer of souls, the one who softens hearts and opens minds, the one who convicts of sin and righteousness. His work is not dependent on me having the right words and the correct answer in a certain situation. He is far more capable than I. And this is incredibly freeing.

2...   There is a tension between grace and truth that we need to be aware of. Both are equally important and equally needed in our relationships… if we allow one to overpower the other, then we’ve been compromised. The problem with this, though, is that we tend to fall more on one side the spectrum than the other. Personally, I tend to lean more on the side of grace… which in a weird way I always felt was the holier side… but I was reminded this weekend of the power in truth and that there are times when I could stand to be more bold in declaring it. How will people know God’s heart in things if we never speak it. For me, I allow fear to stop me because I so desperately desire for people to know my love for them… but sometimes sharing truth is the most loving thing I can do.

So this is where I’m at and what I’m learning… and I share the challenge in it with you. May we all surrender control and allow GOD’s transforming power to work in us and in others around us… may we strive to walk the balance of grace and truth… and to love without an agenda…

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I see you, I hear you...

My senior year of High School was monumental for me… it was a year of new friends, new experiences and a lot of growth. That was the year I discovered the value of true fellowship and the value of studying the Bible. I became part of a small group and we did a study on the Names of God in scripture. Through this study I fell in love with the character of God and the nearness He has with His creation. With us. It allowed me to see Him as personal and not just some distant cosmic force…

I’ve been reminded of this study… inspired to maybe do it again?!... as I’ve been reading through Genesis because so many of the names used to describe God are first encountered in this book. Genesis is a book of beginnings and introductions, so it’s only natural that through the telling of history unfolding, God’s presence in this world would also unfold. There are names like Jehovah-Jireh (“the Lord will provide”), El Elyon (“the most high God”), El Shaddai (“God almighty”), and Elohim (“Creator God”). These are names of God that I know and have clung to in the past. There is something old and comfortable about them.

This time, though, I’ve been intrigued with another name of God in Genesis… one that I haven’t really noticed before… it’s a name that Hagar calls Him during one of the lowest and loneliness times of her life. She calls God El Roi, which means “the God who sees me.” The original Hebrew connotation for the word “sees” runs deeper than mere visual acknowledgement, though. It literally means that He knows and understands in a deeply personal way. Hagar felt rejected, abused, unloved, and completely distraught… running from her past, but hopeless about her future… she was stuck. God met her in that desert place to speak to her fears and insecurities. Her response was one of awe and relief that she wasn’t alone after all. The living God not only saw her pain, but He was meeting her in it.

It’s ironic that in an age where we’re more connected to each other than ever… cell phones, email, facebook, texting, twitter… there’s still this prevalent feeling of being alone and being misunderstood. We crave relationship and we crave value. God longs to meet these two basic human needs if we would just stop running and look to Him. He is El Roi… He sees us, He knows us, He understands where we’re at and what we’re going through. We are always seen, and we are always heard. What a beautiful thing.


May we be encouraged by this facet of who God is… He is the God who sees us. He is always present… always engaged… and always wanting to answer the silent prayers of our heart.

Friday, August 19, 2011

this is the way...

just wanted to post something I was reminded of today...

Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear a voice behind you saying,
"This is the way; walk in it."  isaiah 30:21

am I taking time to listen for it? are you? what does God's voice sound like in your life?



Thursday, August 18, 2011

words...


Every morning I have the same routine when I get to my desk- check the headlines, check my email, and then read a chapter of Proverbs (there’s 31 chapters and usually 31 days in a month, it’s perfect). I’ve always known there to be great little nuggets of wisdom in Proverbs, but this month I’ve been super struck with the amount of them having to do with our WORDS- both the quantity and quality of what comes out of our mouth. I have to admit, it’s been incredibly convicting!

When we’re little we’re taught that silly rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…” Such lies- words DO hurt! Harsh, critical, destructive words… or in some cases just the sheer lack of positive, encouraging words… create deep wounds in us and leave us with carefully constructed walls up. These careless words flung around are what break relationships, feed vicious cycles of pain, and often hinder people from experiencing true communion with others and with God!

There are four proverbs (12:6,18; 15:4; 18:21) in particular that have been really sobering- each of them present the idea that our words fall into one of two categories… they either hurt and kill or they heal and bring life… there is no middle ground. I know we live in a culture that promotes authenticity and tells us our feelings are valid- which they are- but this doesn’t give us a license to run our mouth on the basis of it being our opinion or our experience. Our words have power and we can’t ignore that.

Churchy answer, but look at Jesus- He is THE word. He of all people had the right to be angry and frustrated and to call people out. And he talked… a lot… and people listened. So what kinds of words did he speak? He spoke words that were full of Spirit and life, full of grace and truth. The only harsh words recorded of Jesus were saved for those who oppressed others with their words and opinions- something worth taking note of! Our words reflect what’s going on in our heart, there’s no way around that fact. When we speak words of bitterness, anger, and pride- it shows the ugliness inside US more so than what our words were intended to be about. But when we speak grace, truth, and life like Jesus did, it shows God’s work of transformation in giving us a heart like His.

So I’ve been praying for more of a filter, that I would think before I speak… and that I wouldn’t let the gossip, criticalness, and sarcasm around me influence what comes out of my mouth… because scripture clearly says that I am accountable for my words (Matt. 12: 33-37). There are a few proverbs that really resonated with me, so I’m claiming their truths and trying to apply them:

- kind words clear the air, mean spirited words just add to the drama [10:32]
- the wise accumulate knowledge before speaking rather than rambling about nothing [10:14]
- negative talk kills relationships and community [11:9,11]
- a gossip won’t be trusted with anything [11:13]
- a gentle response diffuses anger [15:1]
- gracious words are good for the soul [16:24]
- the wise count their words rather than ramble on and on like a know it all [10:19]
- irresponsible talk makes messes, but honest words can bring healing [13:17]
- your words affect your reputation [16:21,23]


May we learn to ask ourselves first if what we are going to say is kind… wise… helpful… encouraging… true… inspiring… necessary… And if it’s not, may we learn the spiritual discipline of staying silent.