Monday, July 10, 2017

4 Resolutions to Live By: Carpe Diem

"Resolved, to live with all my might."

The words jumped out at my from the page, hitting my heart with a palpable force, and I realized that was what I've been missing.

"Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die."

I read an article once, a number of years ago, that discussed that which people regret most; they are not often mistakes made, but are rather those things which were never done. It struck me, as I read this article, that my time is too often spent doing the things I must do, but not often enough spent savoring the moments in front of me - squeezing out of each moment all the joy and benefit that could be had from them.

What does it look like to live with all my might? What would it look like to not lose a moment of time? What would it look like to live with intention?

I grabbed my journal and furiously began scribbling away. First copying Jonathon Edwards resolutions down and determining to claim them as my own. Then pondering what a life like this would look like. What would it look like to not just endure the challenging moments of parenting, but to really enter in fully to each moment and to improve it in the most profitable way I can?  Would I feel less like a babysitter and more like I had a sacred duty to joyfully fulfill?

What would it look like to spend my evenings, creating beauty or bringing order to chaos - contributing something beautiful to my home and family rather than indulging in the unsatisfying past time of entertainment?

More than a year ago, I listened to my dear friend share her heart at a women's retreat. As she spoke on discipleship, she talked about how God had moved in her heart to turn interruptions into opportunities. When I heard her words, I realized they were exactly what I needed to hear as a mama of three little ones. The constant interruptions that come from having three small children were endless - thousands of little tasks interrupted by their needs and demands and problems and desires. At times it felt overwhelming and unmanageable, especially when the needs of one child conflicted with the needs of another. How on earth does a mom supply the needs of their children when they just don't have enough "mom" to give?

These words spoke to my heart reminding me that each of these interruptions, each of their needs, was an opportunity in disguise. An opportunity to disciple them in the truth. An opportunity to show love and patience and forgiveness. An opportunity to teach them something new. An opportunity to point them to Jesus for their needs. So many opportunities hidden beneath the guise of an interruption.

I faithfully began to apply these ideas in my parenting - reminding myself that each moment with them was precious and that it was so important to not let their needs overwhelm me, but let them instead remind me of my need for Jesus and His amazing ability to use each overwhelming situation as an opportunity to invest in my children and their future.

As time ticks by, the firmness of our resolutions can get lost and diluted. Each moment stopped feeling like an opportunity and somewhere along the way, I slipped into what I call "babysitting mode," where you are just trying to enjoy the time together and make sure everyone stays alive and healthy. It was easy to set aside the challenge of the task that God had set in front of me - to disciple and train my children in the Truth in favor of just being happy and comfortable together. Sure, we still read bible stories together and prayed together. We still went to church (or did church on our own at home).  In so many ways, I could convince myself that I was still discipling my children.

But the truth was, I wasn't. Discipleship isn't just giving your kids or others more head knowledge. It isn't just even modeling for them a Christ-honoring life.

When we look at Jesus' life, much of his daily ministry consisted of taking the interruption in front of him and using it as an opportunity to intentionally disciple and love the people in front of him. He didn't waste his time. He didn't just give people more head knowledge. He didn't even just model to them how to pray or teach or do religious activity, although he certainly did those things.

His life consisted of taking every thought, every moment captive to the will of His Father. His life consisted of not losing a moment of time, but improving it in the most profitable way possible.  He took passing encounters and through the intention and leading of His father, He revolutionized lives and villages and cities and, ultimately, the world. A woman at a well - changed, along with her whole village through a simple intentional conversation. Many lives changed and bodies healed in an instant because of the willingness to stop and seize the full possibility of using every moment to bring God glory and to take an interruption and make it an opportunity.

We too, have this choice: will we make the most of every moment and live it with all our might? Will we refuse to simply laze away our lives, but rather squeeze with intention and attentiveness to the Spirit of God the full possibility of each moment of our life? Will we choose to set aside our own comforts and entertainment to enter fully into the possibilities in front of us - refusing to simply consume life but to give life and bring life into this world? Will we choose to see the frustrations and challenges in front of us as divine opportunities to usher in the Kingdom of God more fully? Will we enter into relationships with kingdom intentionality and fully embrace and love and disciple the ones in front us to our fullest ability and Christ's fullest ability within us? We will take our God-given gifts and skills and daily strive to serve others and grow in them and seek to bring God glory with all that we are and all that we do in every moment that we live?

Will we, as Jonathan Edwards resolved, live so as we had wish we had done when we come to die?

These words are challenging and convicting to my soul. I want to live! Friends, I want to really live, and live well and with intention, to the fullest of my ability. When I get to heaven, I want to say that I ran this race with all my might and that I ran to get the prize. I don't want to simply say I exercised a bit - I want to know that I gave it everything I've got, not holding anything back.

In other words, I want to seize each moment, and with all the force and choosing power in me, live it to the fullest, contributing all that I have to improving it and living it for the sake of Christ's kingdom.

Jonathon Edward's resolutions continue and his twenty-second resolution was this:

"Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of."

Whoa. Lest this come across as selfish or un-Christlike in anyway, remember that our greatest happiness in heaven can only be obtained by living our life fully for Christ here on earth - becoming the least and the lowest in order that heaven-side, Christ might raise us up. "Whoever wants to be great among you, must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first, must be slave of all."

Jesus talks often in the gospels about the Kingdom of Heaven and he says in Matthew 11:12AMP, "the kingdom of heaven suffers violent assault, and violent men seize it by force [as a precious prize]."

If we are to seize the Kingdom of Heaven by force, as a precious prize, it means living with all the might and power we have within us to take each moment and squeeze out of it all the kingdom potential we can.

As we look at this verse in Matthew, it alludes that there is a war waging - a common theme we see in the gospels; a war is being waged against the kingdom of heaven by the enemy, or the adversary, or the devil. And yet, in this verse, and others like it, we see that a certain amount of inward determination and willpower is necessary in order to fight for the Kingdom of Heaven.  If the battle we are facing is against an adversary who wants the Kingdom of Heaven to suffer losses - which is often done through the choice of people to live for themselves rather than God - then it stands to reason that to seize the Kingdom of Heaven by force is through choosing, with all our might, to live for God rather than for ourselves.

In so many ways, living for Jesus is the crazy life of giving up your own rights for the sake of others and the gospel - the backward kingdom where we find life in death, greatness in becoming less, more in giving up, and finding in losing. It's backwards, but it seems to be the way He likes to usher in His kingdom. The wisdom of Heaven is foolishness to earthly reason, but it is life and power to those who are being saved.  Basically, these upside-down ways our King chooses to advance His kingdom might make no sense to those who don't know Him, but to those of us who have been changed by His grace and have found true life in losing our earthly lives, we know that this is the true power of God! We know that we only find life when we give our lives up and that the choice to give our life up is a daily intentional thing that requires absolute surrender to the will of God through faith and a willingness to choose, with all our might, to live for that which is not seen. It's crazy!

This is it - will we willingly choose to live with all our might while we do yet live? We only get one shot. We have but one life to live and will we choose, to live it for a Kingdom we don't yet see and for a God whose ways are foolishness to those who don't know Him? Will we die to ourselves so that we can live in Him? And will we live, with all our might and power, to take mundane interruptions and experiences and turn them into opportunities for our future happiness heaven-side? Will we have an eternal view that says that these moments, small though they are, are achieving for me an eternal weight of glory, through the transformative power of Jesus Christ and through my willingness to fight for His glory over my momentary comfort?

I read once that a priority is something you do. Until you act, it is only a wish. How true these words are!  We show our priorities in what we do. I'm choosing these resolutions because, I long to DO them and turn my life from valuing these ideas to making them a priority.

Starting right now - by grabbing my sweet children's chubby cheeks and planting kisses on their giggling faces and knowing that I only get one "now." I want to seize it with all my might, and live it for a kingdom and a King that is yet to be seen.

Will you seize your "now" and resolve with me to live each moment to the fullest, as we shall wish we had done when we come to die? Will you resolve with all your might to improve each moment in the most profitable way you can, and see your interruptions as opportunities?

Carpe Diem. Seize the Day.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

To the thirsty, nothing satisfies like water

I may have invited myself to their group. More than once.

I've been desperate for people to pray with here. Praying and worshiping on my own, while fulfilling in its own way, doesn't satisfy this deep hunger for prayer and worship with other believers. As our weeks in Indiana ticked by, I began to feel an almost desperate thirst for this type of fellowship. The hangup is that God clearly told Andy and I not to go to a church here, so I've felt stuck and this gnawing thirst in me kept growing. I recognized it as craving being a part of the corporate work of the Spirit in the lives of Christians - that unmistakable ministering to one another that can only come from Him.

As the thirst in me grew, I began to research organizations and groups online that did regular prayer. Every time I looked, which was frequently, IHOP (International House of Prayer) would come up.

During my prayer time one afternoon while the kids were sleeping, I asked God if he would provide some other believers to pray with regularly and He spoke pretty clearly and told me to call the guy from IHOP.

Our phone conversation was great. As he talked, we both realized that our hearts were united in a desire to see people live the gospel and not just go through the motions of religion and church. As we were talking, this man mentioned that his family and a handful of other Christians met to pray and talk about Jesus, and that was when the words just tumbled out of my mouth and I invited myself to join them. The question tumbled from me like a dying man's plea for water, "Can I invite myself to join you tomorrow?" He then stumbled over his words, probably as surprised as I that I had so awkwardly thrust myself upon their group, but kindly agreed. I knew I should probably feel uncomfortable, but I was so thirsty that I couldn't bring myself to be embarrassed by my need.

The day they were set to meet, I nearly texted and bailed four times. I just felt so awkward. What had I done? They didn't know me. I didn't know them. What was I thinking? I had a stressful and hard day and meeting new people sounded exhausting, especially when I had awkwardly invited myself in the first place. I felt like walking away and giving up this crazy scheme.

But I've been in ministry long enough to recognize the subtle attacks of the enemy before bible studies, prayer nights, or significant ministry endeavors to recognize this particular strain. Which is probably the only thing that gave me the boldness to keep moving forward.

Andy stayed home with the kids and I blasted the worship music as I drove - singing at the top of my lungs and praying and just choosing Jesus, over my own self-consciouness, over the enemy's lies, over everything. Keeping my eyes fixed on Him.

When I arrived, I was welcomed graciously and lovingly and I felt the instant kinship of being brothers and sisters in Christ. They talked and shared and I felt that thirst in me quench a little.

But then I did it again. This couple had a son and daughter-in-law near our ages who were leading a church-like group in our area. And I awkwardly invited our family to join them. I cannot explain it, but the hunger in me for christian fellowship was so strong that I couldn't seem to restrain myself. Little did I know, their group was in the middle of a transition - determining whether they were just a group of close friends who wanted to stay small, or whether they should branch into becoming a small home church - welcoming new people. I didn't know this when I asked, and truthfully, I'm glad I didn't, or I never would have had the courage to do so. I may have forced the issue upon them in some ways, without ever intending it, but there it was. I had done it again.

Andy met some of the men at a guys' night and loved it. He felt an immediate kinship to them all and was excited about the group and getting to know everyone.

I met the ladies at a morning backyard play-date and I loved them. Their love for Jesus radiated out of each of them so vibrantly that I felt my heart draw near, interested in hearing their stories and getting to know them better.

So, when they invited us to join them on Sunday evening for their gathering, I was excited. In some ways, the Holy Spirit had already authored a love for them in my heart even though I barely knew them. I could feel Him moving so strongly in this, I didn't hesitate in diving all-in.

Our time together was so rich, and people shared their hearts so openly and willingly with one another. We shared. We prayed. We worshiped. After our evening together, I walked away, my thirst satisfied fully for the first time in months. In some ways, our timing in joining them seemed to my human mind to be terrible - they're trying to discover who they are and the methods they should choose to follow God's leading in their lives as a group. I'm afraid I talked too much (as I seem to do too often!), but it had been so long since I've been in a group of believers talking about Jesus and life and following Him, that I'm not sure I could've restrained myself, even if I wanted to.

This blog, in some ways, has been a life-line to me - processing out loud what God is doing in my heart and life and putting words to the struggles, hopes, and desires He is forming in me. For so long, our beautiful Renew Church provided an outlet for all these things, but I feel the words and thoughts bottling up in me until they start overflowing, in letters on a blog or words in a conversation.

"Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, 'Rivers of living water will flow from his heart." John 7:38

It felt like that - as I was drinking from Jesus during my time with Him each day, from His Word and from prayer, a spring was bubbling up in my heart, bursting and needing to escape and flow from my heart out into the world. That Sunday night, it was like someone had unstopped the well and it just tumbled out into the room. I felt half-embarrassed - I didn't know them and they didn't know me. What was I doing talking so boldly about all these things? But in the same way that a river can flow within the defined boundaries of it's borders but it cannot stop itself from flowing, so were the words coming from my mouth. I could provide boundaries for where and how I share what God has been teaching me in my life, but I cannot prevent the water from flowing itself.

As we drink daily from Jesus, He starts bubbling up in us seeking to overflow from our lives like water springing up from the ground and flowing like a river through the earth. Sometimes in word, often in deed, but consistently flowing from our lives. We are too small to contain Jesus - He constantly seeks to burst out of us. His thoughts, given in prayer, shouted from the rooftops. His love, given in our need, poured out to someone else. His kindness, given when we sin, extended to others. His faithfulness, poured out in our lives becoming our faithfulness to others. He cannot be contained, and the fact that He chooses to place His Spirit in us simply means that He is constantly growing in us to pour out of us.

It says in Revelation 22:2, that a river will flow from the throne of God and on the sides of that river will be flourishing trees which grow leaves that are for the healing of the nations. I believe this is a true statement in itself, but is also a beautiful metaphor for what Jesus declares in John 7. As we believe in Jesus and come to Him to drink from the life that only He can give, He produces in us rivers of living water that will flow from our heart and be for the healing of the nations.

As I've pondered our beautiful discussion from Sunday night - what is the church and what is it's purpose - I keep coming back to this imagery. As we believe in Jesus and go to Him, He pours out from us. It isn't something we manufacture. Believe me, I've tried manufacturing fruit on my own, and it doesn't work because dead fruit cannot nourish anyone. Only healthy fruit grown on a healthy tree can offer any nourishment to the hungry.

We cannot manufacture the work of Christ in our life either - we can only go to Him and receive Him in. And its from that place that He overflows in us, for the healing and nourishing of the world.

If, perhaps, we look at our lives, and we find that our river is really a trickle, don't be discouraged! It isn't you who has to create a river of life in yourself! You don't have to be good enough or smart enough or capable enough. That is the exact opposite of what Jesus teaches. You only have to come to Christ and receive from Him. I can assure you, I am not good enough or smart enough or righteous enough to offer anyone anything. I am only one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. I don't have any greatness in myself to offer or share - I'm just hungry and I know that the Bread of Life is the only thing that satisfies.

Living water flows from the life of anyone who is surrendered to Him. It flows from us, not because we are great, or have anything to offer anyone, but only comes when we are abiding in Him. Letting Him fill us with His fullness and overflow our lives with Himself.

My great thirst was satisfied on Sunday because I was given the privilege to drink from the living water flowing from the lives of the people seated around the room. In each of their words and their love for one another and even for us, I recognized the beautiful rivers of life that can only flow from one source - the throne of God. As the life from God's throne flowed into them and out into the space we occupied together, we each drank deeply of our great need for Jesus and I walked away rejoicing in the privilege we have in satisfying one another's need from the places where God has and is satisfying our need.

They had rivers of life flowing from them that needed overflowing too. And together our streams joined into a beautiful rushing river full of the Spirit of God and the life that can only come from His throne. He alone is the one who satisfies our thirst, but we can receive from one another, the beautiful life giving water that He is overflowing from their lives.

If church is anything, it is this: life flowing from God's throne to people's hearts and overflowing to the need of one another.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.

Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”
Isaiah 55

Let us drink from the living waters that are given without cost and let us allow His word to work in us the purposes for which He sent it. Let us seek the Lord while He may be found and praise Him that we can go out in joy and be led forth in peace and that these things are His sign that His promises endure forever.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

I'm pretty much a horrible human being...

I've spent the last couple days basically being a horrible human being. Or at least, trying really hard to stop the horrible human being tendencies in my heart from popping out in my actions. Unfortunately, behavior modification only works so well - with children and adults - and eventually the heart issues have to be addressed.

During this season, God has been focused on a lesson I'm starting to think of as the "Do" vs "Be" dichotomy. I almost wrote that God is focused on teaching me to "be," but it is even less defined than that because "teaching" would imply a lesson I could conquer and learn and then move on from. Rather, it is a more subtle call to simply pull back from doing and accomplishing and achieving and just rest in relationship. It's a call to find my identity in relationship with Him rather than in how good I am or how much I do for Jesus or how impactful my limited time on earth was for His Kingdom.

And I hate it. If I'm going to be totally honest, I like finding my value in what I do. It's tangible and it's something I can hold on to. It can define me to others. I can say, "I do these things therefore I am." I lead Bible studies, therefore I am spiritually mature. I tell people about Jesus, therefore I am on mission for God. I give to the poor, therefore I am generous. Ugh! I see the pride so clearly in these things, but I am realizing as I'm meeting new people that Jesus is just going to have to shine through ME and not my resume of good deeds for Him - and I'm struggling with that. I've always wanted to be a missionary, but I'm starting to think it is, in part, the ultimate culmination of wanting to find my spiritual identity in what I do. A missionary is a professional christian in so many ways and being a missionary must mean that I really love Jesus - or at least that's what it says to others.

And while I know in my head that it is SO good for God to strip me of these things and show me this ugly pride and the identity I found in "doing," I hate it. Because it shows me who I am without these things and how I don't go to Jesus unless I need Him to help me "do." I don't just choose Him for His sake. I choose Him for how He can help me be and do the things I think I need to do. These last couple days (weeks?) have been me just wrestling against this thing in me that wants to rise up and do - to find value in working for Jesus. Join a ministry. Lead a bible study. Start a church. I want something to work towards. I want something to define me. I don't just want to hang out and love people.

And here I am dumping my sin and pride and ick on all of you, dear friends, and the tears come to  my eyes as I write these words because, in confessing it all out loud, I can see just how broken I am inside. Just how truly desperate I am for Jesus. Just how much I've been deceived to think that my doing is the definition of who I am. If I do the right things, I must be godly. If I act the right way, I must truly be surrendered to Jesus. And friends, I so needed to learn how to act the right way and do the right things at one point in my life. The Bible says the law is a tutor, and it is, it breaks us so fully of our ability to rely on ourselves to have a relationship with God. It leads us to see that it is truly and completely His grace that allows us to draw near to Him. But now His grace is letting me see, as if in neon signs, that I come to the foot of the cross needing grace and mercy not just for my "bad" deeds, but even for my good deeds.

All these years, God has faithfully loved me and allowed me to draw near to Him, even knowing my heart and my motives had some self mixed in. All these years, He saw my inabillity to just "be" and patiently bore with me through it all - never critical, never pulling back, always faithful, always there.

And somehow that breaks my heart even more. That while I was using Him, even unintentionally, He just stayed true and kind and good to me. He blessed me and loved me. He spoke to me and even told me He was proud of me.

And friends, that's grace. "It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life. He did this not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan long before the world began - to show his love and kindness to us through Christ Jesus." 2 Tim 1:9

He says that He sees us with Christ's merit  - undeserved favor from Jesus' accomplishments. And that blows me away because I want God's favor for my accomplishments and yet to Him, our good works are "filthy rags." How can this be? How can we have a God who calls us to live a holy life, but then views our goodness as "filthy rags."

I'm finding the answer is that God isn't as interested in our "Do" as our "Be." He's more interested in who we have a relationship with than how we have an impact on the world. I was the reading the Bible to the kids the other day, and read these words:

"And this is the way to have eternal life--
to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth."
John 17:3

That's it. Real life is just knowing God and Jesus. And somehow I make it so complicated - I get caught up in all the details and all the nuances and all the practicalities - but Jesus keeps it simple: know Me.

I want to know Him. But how often do I get distracted in doing for Him that miss out on just being with Him? How often do I choose distraction over just sitting in His presence?  Before Indiana, I wouldn't have seen it because I went to Him frequently because I needed his help. I had my hands in so much doing, I couldn't do it all without Him jumping in too. But now, with no doing, I have to go to Him because I want to be with Him. The difference is subtle - one I haven't  paid close attention to - but it is there.

I wonder how many of us would slowly drift away from closeness with God if we never needed Him to show up. I wonder how many of us would spend time elsewhere if we didn't have places in our life that needed His intervention?  If everything was perfect all the time, would we still choose Him?

Jesus says that it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel to go through the eye of the needle and maybe this is because we shy away from relationship with God unless we need Him for something. Jesus follows this statement with, "All things are possible with God" - which gives me hope that God can give us hearts that want Him for His sake and not for what He can do for us.

Thankfully, His love for us isn't dependent on our performance, it is simply dependent on who we know. Do we know Him? Jesus says MANY will come to him in the last day saying "Lord, Lord, didn't we do all these things for you?" and Jesus will say, "Depart from me, for I never knew you."  That's scary to me, especially consider this lesson that God is teaching me. He's more interested in just hanging out with me than He is in what I do. He's more interested in spending time getting to  know each other than in how much I read my bible or whether I am a good parent or whether I give all my money to the poor. He's more interested in a love relationship with me than whether I live as a missionary or are martyred for His name.

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." 1 Cor 13:1-3

Without love - His love for us and our love for Him - we are nothing.

I am learning that my love is small, and that while I do love Him and have loved Him all these years - that I have much to learn about love and it what it means to live in love. I have much to learn about setting aside my doing and striving and achieving to humbly be and sit with Him - soaking Him in and not just receiving His help.

I don't entirely know how to go about this, but He's always been such a faithful teacher, I'm confident He'll lead me in the paths of love and relationship. And when I struggle, His grace is there for me - catching me up in the winds of His love because ultimately, He chose me and nothing can snatch me from His hand, not even my own mistakes and failures.  Even if I continue to struggle against finding myself in what I do, He has hold of my hand and is leading me in these paths of identity.

Who am I? I am loved by God. I am His daughter. I am His friend.

And I definitely don't deserve those titles, but they've been given because of grace and love and His persistent desire to have a relationship with me and with all people since the dawn of time.

Maybe you've been defining yourself by what you do or have done or are yet to do - but I would encourage you today - to stop and sit at His feet, put the "Do's" aside and let Him tell you who you ARE - who He has made you to be. It might surprise you, but I doubt it will have much to do with what you will accomplish for Him and will have everything to do with what He has accomplished for you.

"You didn't choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever ask you for, using my name. I command you to love each other."

Let's remember this - we didn't choose Him, He chose us. The fruit that lasts is just a result of us living in Him and Him living in us.

"God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect." John 4:16b

Listen to His words - as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. Not as we learn more. Not as we do more. As we live in Him. As we love Him and receive His love for us.

Father - live in us and let us live in You. Let us draw close to you with pure hearts, and know the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Let us know You and draw close to You - allowing you to make our love more like Yours.

"He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul."

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Tending our Hearts

I walked out into the sunshine and there, staring me in the face, was a patch of twisting and sporadic green popping out from my garden beds. Weeds. Lovely. Irritation surged in me, I had spent days pulling those nasty buggers from the ground. Two weeks of taking my shovel and digging and grasping at roots and leafs with my bare hands. Two weeks of dirt beneath my fingernails, hunched over in the hot sun making room for the plants I really want to see grow and thrive.

And then in the space of a few days and a bit of rain, they all came back.

What's the point? Why bother pulling them up if they'll just come back?  Discouragement flooded in as I realized that I would be pulling these weeds again and again. If I wanted my garden plants to thrive, I needed to pull them up.  A weed will leach the nutrients from the soil that my tomatoes and peppers need to survive. A weed will suck all the goodness out and leave my precious plants struggling to produce fruit.  And while there are some tips and tricks to help prevent weeds and suppress them, weeds will keep at your garden as long as there is soil, sun, and water - things I dare not deprive my lovely garden plants of.

Years ago, with dear friends gathered in a living room studying the Word, we read this passage in Matthew 13 that talks about a farmer who planted seed; some of the seed fell on soil that was full of weeds and thorns and in the end was choked out and didn't grow to produce fruit. As we shared about this parable, and read about how the seed was the Truth planted in our life and how weeds were the concerns of this world and the love of money, we laughed about how we need to keep weeding our lives and keep our soil ready for planting and growing a harvest. We joked as each of us faced "weeds" that needed pulling in our life and laughingly called out "weed" whenever each of us was struggling with a small sin that needed pulling. 

And as I stared at this garden, full of weeds popping up again, I realized that this weeding process doesn't end. Sometimes it becomes less taxing, as we learn ways to help suppress the weeds, but ultimately, we must keep weeding because the weeds will choke out the fruitfulness of our gardens.

This week has been full of God pointing out areas in my heart that need weeding. Areas of parenting I need to grow in, places where sin has cropped up in my thoughts and attitudes, places where I need to set aside time to just spend with Jesus, choosing Him above the distractions of this world and the demands of life, and places where I need to repent of choosing myself and comfort over His Kingdom and His ways.

And sometimes, it just feels so discouraging to keep facing down the same struggles, or even those new little ones that pop up. Sometimes it just feels easier to let those weeds grow alongside the good plants. I've felt so discouraged looking at my garden and looking at my life, realizing there is still so much work to do. Sure, maybe there are no "big" sins or blackberry bushes that are taking over everything, but there sure are a lot of little sins and weeds that need attending to. In some ways, dealing with the big areas of rebellion in our life can be more satisfying - we pull them up and kill the roots thoroughly and then we move on. But the daily weeding can be so mundane and so easily overlooked for a time, that once they start overgrowing the garden of your life, it takes effort and commitment to bend over and slowly, one by one, deal with each little weed. It's not spectacular, but it is so necessary.

As I was praying over my "weeds," I asked God to point out each one, and gently as I named each sin against Him, I felt peace replace the discouragement that comes from those little buggers staying untended.

"Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24

I prayed that scripture over my heart, asking Him to reveal to me each anxious thought or offensive way, asking Him to lead me in the way of life.

And He is so faithful, and yet so gentle; He just bends down and right there beside you, He begins to pull the weeds too. Except He works so much more efficiently and He pulls up the root so they don't grow back. He doesn't just scrape the heads off the tops of the weeds (much like my children do when they help me in the garden and much like I do when I am dealing with those heart weeds), but he digs down deep and gets the whole ugly thing. He faithfully stoops beside us and lovingly works in our heart-gardens. He tends to our soul like a gardener over His crop and He loves when we yield to Him and let Him work health and life into our soil and remove all the junk that is crowding out the fruit that He wants to produce in us.

When we deal with our weeds apart from Him, we're just scraping the tops off, but when we give those weeds over to His loving care, He roots them out and makes the soil healthy again.

As I dug my hands deep into the soil again, pulling up the roots of weed after weed, the ground slowly began to clear, and hope and joy sprang up in my heart where discouragement had been. The work may be repetitive and it may be daily, but life springs up in the hearts of those who keep tending to the weeds because we can know that His grace is sufficient for us and that He is faithful to keep planting and tending and caring for our souls and our lives, and so we can bend down with Him and dig out the ugly weeds that dare to grow there, not angry or discouraged that we're dealing again with our sin, but grateful that even though He knows the weeds will come back, He keeps laboring alongside our soil, tending to it and making it ready for the seeds that will grow to produce fruit.

I made a list and prayed over it. I repented and apologized where it was needed. I committed to seek Him in areas I had excluded Him from. I committed to relying on Him to help me do what was best for my kids instead of choosing my own preferences. As these little weeds were pulled, my garden started to look healthier and feel healthier. I can feel the soil of my heart getting healthier - ready to feed that which is good and right and holy. I can feel His Spirit start taking over areas where I had left neglected.

After letting Him do His work in my heart, I sat and marveled at who He is and how faithful He is to me. At this point in my walk with Jesus, I shouldn't be surprised that He is so patient with me, slow to anger and rich in love. And yet, so often, when I bring my weedy garden to Him, I expect Him to feel the same discouragement with me that I feel with myself. And yet, He never does. He reminds me again and again that He knew all along these weeds were there and He isn't overwhelmed by them. He actually enjoys tending to my soul as much as I enjoy tending to my garden. He knows the fruit is coming and He's eager to make it as fruitful as it possibly can be. He's eager to see me thrive and these weeds aren't beyond His gardening abilities.

You guys, isn't He amazing? Let's not hesitate to bring our garden to Him. Let's not hesitate to own up to our weeds. Let's not hesitate to let Him root them out. He just wants us to thrive. He just wants us to produce fruit. He just wants to care for us and tend to our souls. Isn't that the most miraculous thing? He loves us and wants what's best for us. Will we yield to His tender care when it means digging down in the dirt with Him and pulling up each little weed that has been left untended?

Will you take time today and ask Him to show you your weeds? Ask him if there is any offensive way in you. Grab and pen and paper and write what comes to mind. Then commit those areas to the Lord's weeding and let him produce life in those areas and lead you in the way everlasting.

He is so faithful and so good and so kind. Let's let Him tend to our hearts.  

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Friday, June 16, 2017

When your life is crumbling and you don't know where God is...

My phone rang. I knew I was in no shape to be encouraging and as I watched her name flash on my phone, I almost didn't answer. I had nothing to give. But I knew she wouldn't care. I knew she would love me even if I was wreck.

She heard it in my voice when I answered and asked with a voice of true concern, "How are you doing?"

And then I broke down in tears, sharing how everything felt like it was falling apart. That morning I had woken up and looked in my fridge and realized we were about out of food altogether. And then Andy called and said we had about $20 in our account to last us the week and between that moment and then, we had two birthdays to celebrate and no presents bought and very little food in the cupboards.

We had a made a commitment when we moved out here that we would live debt free, no matter the cost. And then Isabel had a cavity that continued to get worse until it could no longer be put off. We scheduled her a dental appointment and prayed that God would provide the funds or heal her tooth before that time. The day of her appointment came around, her tooth was not healed and our finances were the same. I sobbed. We were trying so hard to honor God and take care of our family and follow where He was leading us. It felt like He had abandoned us and just didn't care.

We had gone to the appointment and she had the work done and we put it on our credit card and that's when I started to fall apart. A voice kept accusing me that we had failed. Should we have waited longer for God to heal her tooth even though it was infected and it truly couldn't wait? Why didn't he heal her? Why didn't He provide food for our family? We came to Indiana for Him, at His leading, and everywhere I looked, it felt like He brought us out here to abandon us.

Not coincidentally, I had just finished reading through Exodus and the words the Israelites cried out to Moses rang in my ears, "Why did you bring us out here to die?"

I felt my heart feeling those same doubts, "Why did you bring us out here to just abandon us?"

Does God even care about us? Images flashed through my mind of children starving in Africa, Christians being persecuted around the world, and I wondered whether He would show up for us or whether we were just on our own out here. I so badly wanted to take control right back out of His hands. Something rose up in me, angry, Fine, if You won't provide for us, we'll find our own way to take care of ourselves.

"We, our children, and our livestock will all die!" (Exodus 17:3b)

That's what the Israelites had said to Moses. God let them get there, to a place where they were facing a real possibility of losing everything, even theirs and their children's lives, to follow God into a desert with no idea of where they were going or what He would do. They weren't asking these things because they weren't comfortable, they were angry because it seemed like God had abandoned them and left them for dead. Is that what He wanted to do with us?

I knew the thoughts were ugly, and as I wrestled with them. Even with the knowledge that God did provide for the Israelites and the promises He has given us in His word through Jesus, which was far more assurance than the Israelites had at that time, I felt those feelings of doubt spring up out of me: did God care? Was He going to show up for us?

I cried hard ugly tears as I brought all these dark thoughts into the light of day with my dear friend on the phone that day. She listened and we talked and as the lies were exposed to the light, they lost their power over me. As I shared every doubt and fear, and I confessed out loud the truth I knew in my heart, it felt like chains began to fall off my heart and peace slowly trickled into the place where fear and doubt had held me hostage.

There is an amazing thing that happens when you pull out a lie from the enemy and you expose it to the light. As we know, when a light shines into the darkness, the darkness vanishes and it cannot overcome it. So it is, as we shine light onto the lies we believe, confessing what is true and right and good, those lies lose power over us and can no longer keep our hearts in darkness. As each lie I believed was said out loud, and the truth of who I knew God to be and what He has promised He will do was said over those doubts, they couldn't stand up to the Truth and they couldn't keep me bound.

I walked away from that phone conversation, faith renewed and hope restored. Peace trickled back into its home in my heart and while I had no assurances of what God would do, I had complete assurance in who He was and that He loved me, and that was enough for my heart.

We spent our last $20 on groceries and the next day when Isabel came home from VBS, she shared how they were raising money for missionaries in Russia. She wanted to give money to them. She had saved $5 and I asked her whether she wanted to use that money. She looked at me for a moment, thoughtful and contemplative, and said, "Okay, it's more important that the missionaries share about Jesus with the kids than for me to buy stuff." She grabbed her money and we ran through the house together looking for spare coins under couch cushions and in jars, laughing and talking about how exciting it was to be able to give to the work the missionaries were doing. We collected about $7 dollars and then Melody ran in with her piggy bank, "I want to give all my money to the missionaries too!" We gathered it all together and the next morning at VBS, we gave away all the money we had in the world, every last penny.

It was odd, the strange joy we all felt. From the youngest of us to the oldest. As the girls dropped the change in, happy giggles escaped their lips and the words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," flew through my mind. Truly, they were more joyful giving their money away than they had ever been spending it.

We walked away that morning feeling oddly free. And that's when God started showing off.

That same day, my phone rang - our house had an offer for $5,000 above asking price! The mail opened - a check for a $1,000 from someone who had heard through the grapevine that things had been tight. Andy called - his boss had just informed him he would be receiving a raise! All in the same day that we had given away our last penny.

I went to bed that night, a smile etched on my face, reeling a bit at how God had just parted our "red sea." We had stood, looking at the impossible situation in front of us, overwhelmed and intimidated, and He had just been waiting to show off.  Somewhere, in between leaving Oregon and Him showing up, He built in us a stronger faith and trust in Him. He came through, but after He had won the victory in our hearts first.

Because, I don't think His provision was the victory at all. I think the victory was the moment when we choose to trust Him even when our eyes couldn't see what He had planned. I think the victory was when our hearts chose to say, "Your will be done on earth, in our lives."

Perhaps, God waits to show up, so that a work can be done in our hearts first. Perhaps, He is waiting so He can show us the parts of our hearts that aren't fully trusting Him. Perhaps, He waits because it is truly what is best for us.

And while we often know those things in our heads, I think sometimes we have to take out what we believe in our hearts and let the light of His truth shine so brightly over the dark places so that even when we are facing the possibility of God not showing up, our hearts are strengthened in faith believing that He is faithful even though we are faithless, because He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:11-13). His nature is faithfulness.

If we believe that who He is is Faithful, that faithful is as much His identity as Love, we can combat the lies of the enemy that says He will abandon us. He will not show up.

"God is not a man that He should lie," (Numbers 23:19). Do we believe that? Or do we treat God and His promises as if He is like us? As if what He has said is a lie? Are we living in a way that says we believe God will not do what He says He will do? Are we remaking God into our own image -  imagining Him as faithless to us and trying to arrest control of our lives back from His hands?

He cannot deny himself - He is faithful. He will show up. Sometimes I think He waits to test the quality of our faith  - like a tempering of steel. He waits to make us stronger. He waits to make us faithful. He waits for our sake, simply because He is faithful, and our faith is more precious to Him than solid gold. It only makes sense that He would temper it and purify it so that we might trust Him more and more.

Perhaps today we ought to take out the places in our hearts that are doubting His faithfulness, and expose them to the light of His truth and let Him shine so brightly that His faithfulness replaces our faithlessness, and we become more like Him rather than trying to bring Him down to look more like us.

His Word is true, yesterday, today, and forever. Let's believe Him to be faithful. Always.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Heaven on Earth: The Church

Before we left for Indiana, God made it clear that we weren't to attend a local church here. In so many ways, this development knocked me off my feet a bit, wondering how we'd plant a church while we didn't have any other relationships here. I struggled with worry about being isolated and about not having other believers to meet with and pray with.

As I shared with Andy what God had told me, he agreed. "I think we'll get too caught up in spending all our time with Christians if we start going to a church. We'll want to get involved, but then our life won't be spent reaching out to people who don't yet know Jesus." I hadn't thought about that - how Christians feel like home to me and how easy it is just to spend all our time with them, but in doing that, we have missed out on relationships with people who don't know Jesus.

You see, while at one time, I struggled to love the church at all, God so radically changed my heart over the last 10 years that I find myself wishing to spend all my time with other believers - talking about God together, praying, worshiping, and growing together. It feels like home because it is the only picture on earth that is actually even close to my future home with Jesus in heaven.  God has placed a longing in me for heaven, and the church is the closest place on earth where we'll find that. True, the church is affected by sin and that used to be all I saw, but when God changed me, it changed how I saw the church. Now I see these beautiful people that God has created and He has given me vision to see them as they will be when we are all finally home; He's given me vision to see them as they truly are: redeemed saints.

And so to ask me to temporarily set aside my little heaven here on earth was like asking Abraham to give up Isaac. My heart and passion is the church. My home is the church. My life is about building God's church.And yet, God was asking me to set this on the altar too.

I tested the request a bit, bringing up verses like "Don't forsake the gathering together of believers." And His gentle spirit reminded me that we weren't - we may be a small gathering of believers, but we are still gathering and meeting and praying and learning and growing as a family of missionary servants. We are still holding up God's word over our life and even meeting with believers during the week and praying with believers over the phone. We hadn't forsaken His church, we'd committed ourselves to building it. And maybe from the outside that distinction isn't obvious, but it is a clear difference in our hearts and purpose.

We aren't disillusioned with the church. We are not bitter or angry or resentful. We are not exploring our identities separate of Christ and His church. We are missionaries walking in faith in a new environment, choosing to set aside the cultural norms of religion to reach people with the gospel: that the God of the universe has provided a way for people to know Him and talk with Him through His Son, Jesus.

Many leave the church because the sin in the church is too much for them. How can you love something tainted by sin? "There are so many hypocritical christians." "I was burned by this church or that church." "I was burned by these christians or those christians." Sin in the church is real. Sin in me is real. Sin in all people everywhere is real. It's a painful reality - the very reality that draws us to the foot of the cross. It's a reality the church needs to start from because it is the very place that leads us to cry out for Jesus' forgiveness. We cannot ignore the fact that there is sin in the church, Jesus certainly didn't, but we can follow Jesus' example and give our lives for that same church. We can choose to see people who are tainted by sin as people who are worth loving and giving our lives up for; it is the example set by our Savior and if we are a people who are remade to be little "christs" (christians), our lives will take on the same theme as His life. Besides, like Paul, we know our hearts and can likely cry out with him that we are the chief of sinners. We know that it is only His grace and strength that enable us to be anything other than a slave to sin.

As a christian, the church isn't something we flee. It is something we labor alongside Christ to build.

So what is the church? It's the collection of God's people everywhere. The Church isn't an institution. It's a family. It's a people-group. So, perhaps many have rejected the institution of christianity called the church, and I can hardly blame them. Religion has never been the means to knowing God and never will be. Jesus is the means to knowing God and He alone is able to bring dead hearts to life. Jesus is the one who ignited the first church (in the book of Acts) and He alone is able to keep our fires burning.

We build this church upon the rock of Christ and we labor over it like a child we've given birth to. Paul uses this terminology throughout his epistles because when God gives you a heart for the church, you cannot abandon it anymore than a mother could abandon her child. You labor over it in prayer and in love because the very heart of God labors over his church in love and sacrifice. In fact, the bible says that Jesus intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). Isn't that an amazing thought? Jesus is laboring over us in His own intercession even now!

The church is the body that Christ fills. Picture it in your mind with me now: a human body filled with God's Spirit; then expand your imagination - the person of Christ filled with all of us. It boggles my mind, but in John 14:20 Jesus says, "In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." Wow! Jesus in us and us in Him and all in God - made possible by the work of Christ on the cross and the filling of the Holy Spirit.

This is a glimpse of abiding in Christ. Him in us and us in Him and all of us in God. It boggles my mind and yet, at moments, makes perfect sense. It's above my understanding and yet God makes it a reality that I can understand and experience! This, my dear sweet friends, is the Church. Us in Him and Him in us and all brought together in love of Jesus.

How can we abandon the church when the Church lives in us and us in it?

We may be a small church gathering right now, but we are the church. Church isn't something we do, it is who we are - a people filled by the Spirit of God. And as His people, we devote not just a gathering to Him, but our very lives. We devote time day and night to pray and worship, to laugh and encourage, to challenge and rebuke (especially our children, but often our own hearts also), to teach and train in the Truth, to build up and strengthen. Our lives are characterized by the work of the church and it's size does not determine its function. The number of people gathered does not determine the strength and value of the work that God is doing among us.

"For where two or three are gathered, there I am in there midst." (Matthew 18:20)

We may only be two or three gathered, but He is here in our midst.

Perhaps what matters most is not how many gather or where they gather, but that we are a people gathered together filled with Christ and centering our days and lives around His person, purpose, and praise - giving Him glory for all that He has done for us and in us & surrendering ourselves to His work in us and in the world around us. 

To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever.

Photo by Jeff Patterson of our Church family in Oregon City: Renew Church
We miss you all!

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