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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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Faith and other ramblings...

All of my couch cushions, save one, have been peed on at least once in the last twenty-four hours. They are now soaked in rubbing alcohol in a desperate attempt to prevent any urine smells. As you can see, potty training is going well.

We had tacos for dinner last night.

I spilled tea on myself twice just this morning, and on my remaining dry couch cushion.

Those are some random facts of our life in Indiana. Engaging, I'm sure.

In actuality, people have been curious about the differences between Indiana and Oregon and here is what I've noted so far.

1. Indianians (okay, that's awkward, which is probably why they refer to themselves as Hoosiers) don't know how to drive. If you thought Californians were bad, this is worse. Much worse.

2. Red lights and speed limit signs are apparently only a suggestion here.

3. People are ridiculously and genuinely friendly. I'm thoroughly enjoying the social aspect and getting to know people. And it's genuine. It seems as though community is highly valued and inclusive of newcomers. Oregon is much more individualistic, but community is still a real and thriving thing here.

4. Apparently the weather isn't always this nice, but it has been a perfect 70-ish degrees since the first week we arrived and I feel like I might be dying of happiness.

5. People sit on their front porches and get to know their neighbors. Since you can't see my face, it is an expression of happy awe and pure shock.

6. Birds don't just cheep here, they actually serenade you. It's hard to describe, but the birds just sing differently and it's so soothing and magical.

In spite of all this, I'm beginning to miss "home" and my people. It's been wonderful getting to know new people, exploring, and enjoying all that Indiana has to offer, but there isn't a replacement for the people who are already in your heart. We're transitioning out of feeling like we're on vacation in a new place, to really settling in, and I'm finding myself waking up missing my family and my people. I'm grateful for facetime and phone calls and getting to share our hearts with one another even from a distance.

God has been teaching me so much recently. I wrote a list in my journal, but the one that seems to keep coming up is faith. Our house in Oregon hasn't sold yet and I have been really struggling with frustration and impatience with this issue. But on Sunday, as Andy led our little family in "church," we looked at a passage in Hebrews where Paul commends Abraham's faith. He talks about how Abraham followed God initially because of faith, but he had to continue living by faith even in the land that was promised to him. It really struck a chord in my heart because I realized that we made this journey in faith and yet we must continue in that same faith even as we live in the place that God has called us to.

I spent some time on Sunday afternoon, asking God what that looks like, and I realized in so many ways that faith and surrender must always go together. That it is our faith that allows us to surrender because we believe that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do. We cannot have surrender without faith. So I surrendered what I thought ministry should look like here. I surrendered our financial situation to God. I surrendered my hopes and dreams to him. Everything and anything that I was worried or struggling with was laid at His feet in surrender. And then peace came flooding in and the ability to pray, "Your will be done," was genuine and brought so much comfort to my heart because I knew I could and can trust Him to do what is best for His kingdom and our lives.

I don't want to control God's work in my life. If he would have us poor for His kingdom, then I will be content in that. If He would have us live in a beautiful home, then I will be content in that. If my ministry is homeschooling and loving my husband, then I will be content in that. If my ministry is teaching and preaching, then I will be content in that. Whether I or my children are healthy, I will trust Him. In all things, I long to say, by surrender through faith, that I'm content in whatever circumstances that God leads and calls me into.

It is by faith, through grace, that we are saved. If our salvation started in this way, it must also continue in this way. Trusting and surrendering to Him all that we are and all that we desire in confident expectation knowing that He is faithful to us in all circumstances and that ultimately His will for us is good, even if it is also, at times, hard.

Faith is the evidence of things hoped for - and do we not hope for Him? I've been baffled by this verse at times (Hebrews 11:1), wondering if faith is being confident that God will do what I want, but I've come to the conclusion that faith is being confident that I belong to Jesus and that He is mine also. That desiring Him, hoping for Him, is where you find faith.

It's amazing that when we take our eyes off of what we hope for, what we plan for ourselves, and place them squarely on the person of Jesus and His love and power and goodness, that we find the tangible substance of our faith. He is the evidence of our faith because He is who we place our hope in. He is the author and perfecter of our faith because He is also the object of our faith.

And yet we continue to pray for our home to sell because know His great love for us and His concern for His people. We've been asking Him to sell our home, but our hearts add a "Your will be done because we trust You in this," knowing that He will work all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

Our faith is more precious to Him than solid gold (1 Peter 1:7), so we pray most that He would refine our faith. Surely, we desire far greater riches than what will come from the sale of our home. We seek after heavenly riches which are only given by grace through faith. Like Abraham, we wander through the world as strangers because we are waiting for a "better place, a heavenly homeland" (Hebrews 11:16). And so, like Abraham, we also seek to live this life in faith trusting His promises because "God has far better things in mind for us..." at the end of this journey (Hebrews 11:40).

All that said, we would still love for our home to sell. Would you be willing to pray that it would sell and that God would strengthen our faith in the meantime? Please pray that we would trust in Him and put our hope in Him, regardless of our circumstances or desires?

Praise Him for the peace He has given us in the meantime, and for wisdom as we move forward in our life here. Please pray for the people we've met here that they would come to know Jesus personally or that they would grow in their faith also. We are getting to know our neighbors who are all such wonderful people and we would love those relationships to deepen and the gospel to permeate them in every way.

May we all grow in faith together, knowing that our Father is good and that He loves us.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Learning to Dance: An Ode to a Friend on Discipleship

I remember the day I heard her name. I wandered into a Bible Study and was handed a beautifully made bible study book with a woman's feet sunk deep in ocean waves. I hadn't been to a women's bible study before. Ever. This workbook was handed around the room and I held it in my hands and thummed through it and there her name was, written in the corner. The woman who had put this whole thing together.

I passed over her name quickly and dove into my first women's bible study and the beauty of scripture. Walking in Freedom, I think it was called, and my heart craved the nuggets of truth it helped us uncover as we dove into the scriptures together. My soul began unfolding like a flower as her words drew us to scripture and the truth that we are free from performance and from needing to be good enough. There was grace and we couldn't be perfected by our own efforts.

Then, months later, an invitation came through facebook to a young women's retreat from this lovely woman. We had met, I had seen her face around church, but I remember this retreat so vividly. We walked into her family's home in the country and her bright smile made me feel welcome and loved immediately. She hugged me and laughed and welcomed me, and though I didn't know many women, I immediately felt drawn to her. She was beautiful inside and out. She taught that weekend, opening the scriptures and sharing her heart and all that God had taught her. I drank in her words and God's words through her. One small phrase, possibly said off-handedly, changed my life.

"If you read the scriptures for five minutes a day, you'll finish the bible in a year." What? I realized I didn't know whether I had ever read through all of scripture. Most of it certainly, but all of it? I didn't know. "You can do almost anything for five minutes a day." How many other things did I waste five minutes a day on? Too many. And this was important. I made a commitment that day that began to change my life - to read through scripture daily.

The retreat ended and life went on. She continued to follow Jesus and I continued to watch from afar, picking up bits and pieces here and there. She wrote a blog that I began to follow - the only blog I've ever followed - and her words daily felt like they were written just for me. As if the Spirit had authored those words in her specifically for me. Sometimes, it felt as if she had read my thoughts and my struggles and was laying them bare with her words and then offering me the solution I didn't have the wisdom yet to find myself.

I was asked, one day, who were people I trusted to give me council on my life, and I realized, though I had little relationship with this woman, that she was on my "board of directors," as they called it. She didn't know it, but Jesus in her life was changing my life.

Then an announcement on Sunday at church, this woman and her husband were going to plant a church. Our church sent them with love and support and I felt a sudden need to somehow support them. We didn't know what that meant, but Andy and I both knew immediately that we either needed to give to the church or go with them to start it.

It ended up being a bit of both. We joined their church plant and stayed at our other church (which was a bit complicated, but God worked it out in the end!) and this woman and I began to develop a friendship.

We did bible studies together and our children played together. We announced the pregnancy of our second child and they rejoiced with us. We prayed and walked with them as they had a woman who lived on the streets come and live with them. We became closer friends and began meeting regularly to pray and share our hearts with a couple other women from our church.  We led bible studies together and I shared hard things from my past with her that brought freedom to my life. We learned about healing and deliverance together. We learned about prayer together. We grew in the knowledge of Christ and His love for us together. Their church became our home and they became our family.

And through the years we've spent together, I've watched and learned. You see, after all these years watching this woman and learning from her, I've realized something about discipleship.

Following Jesus isn't something you can learn.

Before you throw me under the bus for that statement, please keep reading. Following Jesus isn't something you can learn, it's something you can do.

Please hear my heart - having good theology is essential, but all the head knowledge in the world won't mean anything if it doesn't translate to what we do.

A verse in the bible says, "Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."

I grew up in the church, watching people who just listened to the word and who were themselves deceived. You can listen to the word and know the truth, but it means absolutely nothing if you don't live it out in your life.

I watched this woman live her life for the past 6 or 7 years DOING what the word said. It captivated me in a way that nothing else in this world has. For so long, I had only seen people who knew what the word said, but I hadn't met someone who so radically DID what it said. I started following her because she was actually and literally following Jesus.

Paul says, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." In so many ways, we need less learning in the American church and more people imitating Christ. But it is a hard jump from normal daily life to imitating the God of the universe, which is why I think He gives us other Christians who are following Him to imitate. I "learned" more about following Jesus from watching her follow Jesus than I have from anything I've ever read anywhere.

I saw her suffer for His sake, and give radically and joyfully for His sake. I got to see her faithfulness in showing up when it was hard or didn't have any immediate rewards. I watched her faithfully obey His quiet directions to her to buy or not buy certain things, to eat or not eat certain things, to do or not do certain things, to pray, to fast, to give, to serve, to love, to share, to teach, to train, to hug, to speak truth in challenging situations, to surrender, to honor, to build up. Her life was a constant picture to me of how to listen to God's Spirit and apply His word and to live for Him.

It changed me in ways I don't even have words to describe - far beyond probably what she has any idea.

But it wasn't my dear friend who changed me - it was Christ. Her yielded submission to Him became the model I began to imitate and as I learned His rhythms, I began to find a new place of freedom in Him. Where I started imitating her, I ended up imitating Him. Where she inspired me, He took reign.

Slowly, like learning the patterns of a complicated dance, I began to grow confident in the steps. I had leaned on her in the beginning to show me how the steps went from theory to practice, but I was developing my own strength and beginning to dance out the steps with God Himself.

You see, I think this is how God intended discipleship. So often we think head knowledge is enough to equip someone .to follow Jesus, and maybe for some with the partnership of the Holy Spirit, it is. But more often than not, it seems to me, that God chooses to use people surrendered to Him to teach the steps through their own life to those who are just learning the ways.

You can grow up in church all your life and know the Bible, you can even preach the Bible, but until you learn the steps, until you learn to do what the Word says, you aren't dancing. You aren't following Jesus until you start moving. It's so easy to deceive yourself, that you are living according to the word - we're not bad people after all - and that's a sobering thought. But when we see with our own eyes someone dancing to the rhythm with God - someone living in complete surrender to His will - we can see clearly that we aren't dancing like that. When you see how beautiful it is to dance with Him, it creates a longing in our hearts to join in and to learn the steps.

This is discipleship, and it is beautiful. May we all join the dance.

{To my dear friend, Kari, on Mother's Day: 
words are not enough to say thank you for leading with your life} 

Photo by Lacey Meyers Photography

[Update: This dear friend recently released her book, Sacred Mundane,
and I highly recommend everyone order a copy.
It is a book worth reading from a life worth imitating.
I pray it impacts you as much as it did me.]

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Jesus-Centered Church

It was a year ago that I sat on my couch one evening in prayer and suddenly, my mind came alive with inspiration and started whirling with a crazy idea. I grabbed my journal and began wildly scribbling thoughts as they poured into my head. It was called Novo, and it was a church, but really it was the Church.

You see, since I first started diving into the scriptures as a young adult, I began to see something of a discrepancy. Every time I read the book of Acts, I was confronted with the reality that my churches didn't look like the Church described in this book. It shook me up as a young person and even made me question whether I wanted anything to do with going to church in our modern-world. I wrestled with questions about whether a pastor was a biblical thing and why our churches felt more like performances than Christ-centered people building each other up and taking the gospel out. Over the years, God began to show me that He loved His church - it is His betrothed after all - and that if I am of Him, I must also love His church and His people. So we got involved in a wonderful church and joined a church plant several years later and I have embraced His people with a passion and a heart to see them know Christ and make Him known.

And then one day, quiet on my couch, head bowed in prayer, this radical idea of a church that looked like the first church in Acts idea could be a real possibility. I know this isn't new. In fact, the more I dive into this idea, the more I keep seeing it being lived out around me. Home-groups and Life-groups and House-churches and Missional Communities. So many names and diverse cultures, but the heart is the same.We've been involved in many of these and my in-laws have even started a house-church movement of their own.

And I'm coming to realize, that this idea that God planted in my heart has been planted in the hearts of so many who love him across this expansive nation of ours. I'm beginning to see churches leave programs and christian culture for a more radical Christ-following life-on-life style of ministry. I'm excited to join what God is leading in the hearts of so many of my brothers and sisters. I know what we are doing isn't going to be unique to us, but rather is just a small extension of what the Spirit is doing in the lives of many believers and churches across our nation and throughout the world.

I don't know that we'll be different from so many of these beautiful churches and home-groups, but here is what we will be:

We will break bread in our homes and eat together with glad and sincere heart. Acts 2:46
We will be a people who pray. 2nd Chronicles 7:14/1 Thess 5:17-18
We will have no one who is called by a title of Pastor/Teacher/Father/Master. Matthew 23:8-10
We will be led by a group of godly men, called Elders who share in teaching, nurturing, shepherding, and discipling the spiritual lives of those who become part of our church family.
We will be Word-centered and, therefore, Christ-centered. John 1:1
We will be led by the Spirit. Romans 8:14
We will be a family of missionary servants, modeling our lives after Jesus' life and living in relationship with Him, His people, and inviting the world into the joy of knowing and following Him. 

This is a starting list of our foundations and I'm sure we will be much more than these things and we may struggle in many of these areas, but this is a starting point for our little home-church.

As I prayed a year ago, I had this beautiful picture in my mind of a church that met in homes, and businesses like coffee shops and restaurants, and was led by God's Spirit and gave space for people to grow in their spiritual gifts and be discipled in the truth. It was warm and inviting and relational and people who didn't know Jesus felt at home with us and intrigued by the love among us and the Spirit of God at work in us. It was a place where people experienced spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical healing. It was a place where people met Jesus, maybe for the first time, and constructs of religion fell away to give a place for relationship with God our Father. It was a family - growing and changing and making room for more - but it was God's family being created among us and God, our Father, instructing us, loving us, and changing us. It was centered on Jesus, and full of Jesus, and brought Jesus glory and honor on earth and made his name known.

A verse in the old testament says that the people perish for lack of vision. It may take us a lifetime to see something that looks like the above. It may cost us everything to see it happen - it certainly cost Jesus everything. But it is something worth living and even dying for. Without this vision - the vision that Jesus cast for His church - the people perish. I long to see churches revived, people revived, christians revived, the world revived by Jesus' vision for His church and I long to see His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. So we pray for that and we live for that and we let Him lead and accomplish the work in us and through us and in the church and through the church.

Will you pray with us? Pray for our little church, pray for the big Church, pray for His kingdom to come, His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven? Will you ask Him what role He would have you play in accomplishing these goals and what vision He has for your life and what purpose He has in mind for you in this grand vision of His?

He who started this work is faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Let it be.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

7 Joys to Share

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and I feel like I'm just getting settled into a rhythm of life again. Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us and this journey we are on. I can feel your prayers and I see the fruit of them! Since many of you are joining us on this journey through your prayers, I wanted to share some praises!

1. The plane trip was far better than expected. Our gate happened to be right next to the only playground in the airport (I didn't know they even had one!), so the kids were able to get all their wiggles out before flying.  Samuel fell asleep in my mother-in-law's arms on the first plane and spent the second flight treating me as his personal jungle gym, but there was very little fussing and no crying, so I'm calling that a miracle!

2. We were SOOO blessed by the homeschool community we're joining here in Fort Wayne. We told them we were coming and they offered hands, and help, and meals, and we felt so embraced and overwhelmed by their generosity and kindness. The first two days we had families from the community bring us dinner and donuts and dessert and helped move our furniture into the house and so much more. I was near to tears with gratitude and I'm still reeling by what a blessing they've been to us! Also, these donuts are called "Amish Crack" for a reason. :)

3. We live down their street to an amazing homeschool family who has a little girl who is 6 years old. Her and Isabel made an instant heart connection and everyday Isabel asks, "Can we play with Lucy today?"  The fact that Isabel has one person she's excited to see and play with warms my heart and gives me a joy I can't describe. The view from our yard:

4. Our rental home has been absolutely lovely. I love the layout and the space and the neighbors. We've been spending the last couple days lounging in the front and backyards eating watermelon, catching bugs, picking flowers, and getting to know our neighbors. AND the family we are renting from is fabulous and I've had so much fun getting to know them. I think we may be kindred spirits. :)

Our fabulous rental home:

5. The library!!! Oh seriously, this is probably my favorite part of Fort Wayne so far. Their library system is seriously fantastic and THERE. IS. NO. BOOK. LIMIT. Oh my goodness. I feel like I fell into homeschool heaven. Plus you can check out homeschool curriculum at the library and they have a whole section of their library devoted to homeschool curriculum and support. Seriously, I was not expecting this and I can't explain the level of giddiness I feel at thinking of all the homeschooling resources available to us here! Logic of English, here we come. Eeee!

6. The zoo is mind-blowingly awesome! I wasn't expecting it to rival Oregon's zoo, and while they do have less animals, I would dare say that I enjoy their zoo better. There are so many animals you can interact with (ie. petting sting rays and feeding giraffes!) and the zoo is much more interactive and engaging.

7. Church Planting has been a surprising blessing also. At this point, it has been only our immediate family worshiping and learning together, but I was praying about what God wants this whole thing to look like and He reminded me of the verse that talks about how if an elder can't manage his home, how can he care for the church? The Lord showed me how this time is like taking a magnifying glass to the church within our home and building a strong foundation with the bare minimum, so that as God adds to our church family, we are fully equipped to lead, disciple, and care for the people God brings to us. As the Church, we are a family of missionary servants and it is no surprise that God is strengthening our immediate family in gospel rhythms before others are brought into our home and life and family to join along.  I am eager though to have fellowship and times of prayer with adult believers though, so please pray God brings people who would be willing to be a part of our little church family and/or who would be willing to meet weekly to have prayer and worship together.

Andy leading us in worship Sunday morning:

Thank you to all who have been praying for us! Everything has been so smooth and I feel so at peace being here. There are so many unknowns at this point, but we are taking it one day at a time and just embracing the moments, the place, and the people right in front of us each day and asking God for opportunities to speak and share His love with others.

Two quick adorable photos to leave you with of our little two splashing in rain puddles in our alley behind the house: 

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