Thursday, February 2, 2017

Deeper

Sometimes life is about perspective and I must confess that I am an optimist. There are few situations that come my way that I cannot see the silver lining, sometimes even a greater purpose. So I guess you would call me a "glass is half full" person.

On the first day of my last trip to Haiti, God gave me one of those WOW Moments. It was a time of perspective. Our team had been coordinating for months and had everything planned out just the way we wanted it. The operative word there is "we." WE had scheduled to do a VBS. WE had chosen where we were going to go. WE had all of our activities planned. And just before we could load up on the buses to go, a bus showed up full of children. While the lady who had brought them met with the staff, we realized how awesome God is. We didn't have to go out looking for children to minister to, God brought them right up to the gate.

Now, my perspective was this, they're here, we're here, so let's do VBS! God had a plan and in spite of everything that we had put our minds to He knew exactly the children that needed to be ministered to that day. And I considered those children extra special because God brought them to the gate.

A Scripture I love is Luke 5:5. After the disciples had been fishing all night and caught absolutely nothing, their plan was to go back to shore. But then they encountered Jesus, and they came up against the plan of God. Jesus said, "No, go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish." It takes faith to obey Jesus when He tells you to go out a little deeper. Sometimes a little deeper can be unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright scary. I love Peter's response, "Master, we worked hard all last night and didn't catch a thing. But because You say so, I will let down the nets for a catch." Peter demonstrated faith and trust in the Master.

I wonder if God is giving us another WOW Moment. How many years have churches prayed to reach Muslim countries, especially those closed to the Gospel? How many years have we asked God to open a door? How much money have we raised to send translators and missionaries? Then, much like how God showed up in Haiti that day, what if He just swept away all of our plans, and said trust Me, I'll bring them to the gate. You don't even have to go searching, I will bring My lost ones to you, all you have to do is share the Gospel.

Will we respond like Peter, "Master, because you say so. . ." and see the bountiful blessings God has in store? Later in Luke 5 Jesus makes plain the spiritual application of His object lesson. Do you know what Jesus said to Peter? "DON'T BE AFRAID. From now on you will be fishing for people."

Who is God sending to the gate? What will be our response?

Click HERE for video by Jars of Clay.



Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why R U stressin'?

So it's 2:45 am. I should be in the bed asleep. Already been in the bed and was getting absolutely no sleep. So of course, that means time to read or time to write.

Today I had a fourth interview for a job. With one phone interview and three in-person interviews under my belt, it has been a process. They will make a decision in two days. But in all of it, I have tried to keep my focus on God's will.

So as I was lying in my bed trying to settle down my brain enough to stop replaying the interview over and over in my head, it occurred to me, What does God want to do while I wait?

One thing that I am sure of is God does not have incidentals. Things that just happen for no reason. Things that just fill the spaces of our lives. God is always at work. He is always working to make us more like Christ. He is always revealing something about where we are with Him or where He is trying to take us.

So what are you waiting for? And what is God speaking in that time? What is He up to? What is He working to bring about in your life?

I was having a text conversation with a friend today who is also waiting to hear back from a job interview. We both agreed that the waiting is the worse because you are left hanging in the balance.

But what I know for me is God is teaching me to just trust Him. This past Easter weekend, our family was watching an episode of "The Bible." Although we know the story, we were still amazed that Peter had enough faith to get out of the boat, in a violent storm, and began to walk on water towards Jesus. And Peter was doing just fine when he didn't pay attention to his circumstances, to what was going on around him. He just narrowed his focus on Jesus and went toward Him. But for a moment, he took his off Jesus and He began to sink.

My take away from today and the waiting is just to trust. Trust that I have a Heavenly Father who knows the desires of my heart before I even speak them. Trust that I have a Father that also wants and does what is best for me. Trust that when I have done all I can humanly do, God has the final say. Trust. In the unknown time, can I still praise God? Can I still have joy? Can I still thank Him? My answer is YES.

I don't know what will happen with the job, but God most definitely does know. I trust Him with the outcome because He is faithful.

Now off to bed. My mind is at peace. Leave your troubles with Him. God has heard your prayers. Have faith and trust.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Squash the negative self-talk

When I was a college student, I was involved in a campus ministry that hosted short-term missions trips in the summer. I went to Ocean City, New Jersey. It was revolutionary for me in so many ways. That summer we studied the Book of Romans. Our key verse was Romans 8:1, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." That summer I was taught so many foundational truths that it truly changed the course of my faith walk. Our leaders called them positional truths because they addressed our position in Christ, things that were unshakeable because they were not based on us, but started with God and His covenant with us.

I learned grace and confession and God's redemptive power. I thought I was living my life in light of those truths but recently had to come face to face with a truth that I could not ignore.

I was attending a Bible Study a few Saturdays ago and we were journaling about ways to actively engage people in sharing the gospel. And in my journaling, I begin to see a negative picture of myself that I had not previously been aware that I was painting. The writing was filled with negativity and I realized that I had been struggling with a spirit of condemnation. I had been talking the language of grace, but living the lie of condemnation. Let me explain.

You know how things happen in your life and you play it over and over again in your mind trying to figure out if you had done something different, maybe the outcome would have changed. Not necessarily something big, but maybe one small thing. One time you should have spoken up, but you chose to stay silent. One time  you should have said "no" but you did it anyway. Just one time that you should not have gone along, but you didn't want to offend. If you have had those times then you know that the regret can silently eat away at you. And you can allow internal guilt to rob you of the peace that God wants for you.

So I realized in my journaling that I had been consciously and unconsciously playing these scenarios in my mind and the more I did, the more I walked away from God's grace and instead clothed myself in condemnation. I forgot the truth of Romans 8:1, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus."

At this same Bible Study, I shared this revelation after our journaling session, and an older woman told me that the key is discernment. If that tugging at my heart is from God, it will point me back to Him, that is conviction. If that tugging at my heart, points me back to self, that is condemnation, and that is not from God. That helped me to examine my emotions and that negative self-talk I had been battling. It was a beautiful example of Titus 2:3-5, older women teach the younger women.

Just this week, I was listening to a book on tape. I would have never thought that it would be a place that I would find the summary of my situation. After a tragedy had occurred, one of the lead characters was feeling guilty over the role he played because his friend was hurt. He was told, "It happened. It was awful. You aren't perfect. That's all there is. Don't confuse your grief with guilt."

And I remember sitting in my car thinking how profound! Don't confuse my grief with guilt. The situation I had been replaying in my mind definitely involved a lot of grief. But in my grieving I had allowed the voice of the enemy to turn my grief into guilt. I was being weighed down by internal accusations that were truly, 100% condemnation and not conviction.

So I am working my way through it this week, continuing to be honest with myself and with God. I'm not perfect. I trust His grace. I need it always. But He knew that already. So embracing Romans 8:1, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." Even when we know God's Word, sometimes we need to be reminded not just to apply it to others, but to apply it to ourselves.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Tell your heart to beat again

Had not at all intended to write a blog today, but was listening to K-Love on the way home from dropping my son off to school and heard the story behind the song, "Tell your heart to beat again." When I got home, I looked up the lyrics and listened to the song and it was so fitting.

I think leaving a church is one of the very hardest decisions that you can make as a believer, especially when your church is your family. You know that in leaving you are ripping apart something that will leave a jagged edge. 

So I find myself in that position, but not just me, but many other families who made the same decision -- many people that I love and esteem who are now wounded. 

This song reminds me that yes, there is a season for us to protect our hearts while God repairs the brokenness, a season where we step back and process the pain. But we cannot be overcome by the pain, paralyzed by it, jaded by it. That would be a greater tragedy to add on to the hurt of the breaking of the bonds of church family if we added to that bitterness and resentment. 

We were not family because we met in the same building, we ARE family because we are children of the Living God, we are brothers and sisters in faith. We care about each other. We help each other. We look out for each other. We serve one another. That doesn't stop because we don't show up during the week at the same address. 

My last blog was "The God Who Sees Me." I had reached a point of emotional exhaustion in another situation. I clearly knew that God was telling me, "you can guard your heart so that you are not so exposed to the hurt, but I do not release you from reconciliation." There is still work to be done. We live to fight another day!

So yes, guard your heart for a season, but God hasn't released us from the ministry of reconciliation. He has not released us from our calling. He has not released us from trusting. 

So tell your heart to beat again! Yes, it's hard. We're there together -- having to find a new place to worship, having to learn all of those new names and new stories. But the biggest one is learning to trust someone again with your heart. You are not alone. Over and over and over again, God has told us not to be afraid. Joshua 1:9 goes even further. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." 

I will never forget. I taught a new members class once and the topic was forgiveness. A young man who was a new believer made a profound observation about the love and grace of God and the magnitude of His forgiveness. In the moment that we confess our sin, God already knows that we will sin again, and yet, He still forgives us and trusts us with His heart. He opens Himself up to love us in spite of the hurt that will come. 

Let God heal your heart, but don't stay guarded and build walls around your heart, around your children, around your family. There is hard work before us. God will be our strength. There are still people who need to hear the gospel, people that need prayer, people that need to see transformed lives and need to have their lives transformed. Tell your heart to beat again! 

Love you family! :)

CLICK HERE to watch lyric video of "Tell your heart to beat again" by Danny Gokey.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The God Who sees me

Have you ever found yourself sitting in your closet crying to God, "I can't do this anymore?" It may have been a figurative crying or, like me, it may have been a literal reaching the end of your rope. In any event, whatever your "this" was, you are not alone. I feel your pain. I was at the point of utter emotional exhaustion, knowing that nobody had the answer but God.

I love the fact that even in that most vulnerable and wounded place, my God meets me there. He sees me and He reminds me that I am not alone. One of my favorite verses comes from the Old Testament story of Hagar when she fled with her son Ishmael. Gen. 16:13, she said, "You are the God who sees me." (El Roi)

Over the summer, I traveled to North Carolina to help my mom do some work around her house. There was a ton of stuff that needed to be done and I had plans to get on the road before too late. True to my nature, I tried to fit in one more To-Do before getting on the road. I started the 8-hour solo drive at about 6 pm. I was exhausted. I had been at my mom's for a week, pulling days that started at 7 am each day and ended at midnight. Crash for a few hours. Wake. Repeat. I thought I could make it home.

Somewhere in West Virginia about 1 am in the morning, I had pulled off an exit to get something to eat and to get gas. It was night. It was very dark. It was very foggy. I was very tired.

I pulled back on to the ramp to get back on the Interstate. I had my GPS going and was listening to my book on tape. It was so foggy that visibility was extremely low. Then I begin to notice headlights coming. The vehicle passed. Later on down the road, another passed on the other side. That seemed weird. I checked the GPS again. It said I was on the right Interstate. When the next vehicle passed me, it seemed to veer around me more so than just pass me by. Then another did the same thing. I began to suspect that maybe my GPS was leading me wrong. I pulled off and checked my GPS again. And again, it said I was on the right Interstate.

I pulled back on again. And the same thing happened. Cars and semi-trucks seemed to veer around me. Something wasn't right. I pulled off again to check my GPS. I had the strong feeling that I was going the wrong way. I decided to turn around. I sat on the shoulder and sure enough the next vehicle passed going int he direction that my car was now pointed. I figured if nothing else. I would go the same direction the car had just gone and if I ended up a few miles down the road, I could just get off at the next exit. I did end up driving about 5 miles before I saw the next exit sign that revealed to me that I had truly been traveling on the correct Interstate, but in the wrong direction.

So those cars and semi-trucks that were veering to my right and to my left were not just passing me, they were avoiding me. I clearly understand in that moment that I should have been dead. And tragically, if I had collided with another vehicle, not only would I have been killed, but likely would have killed someone else. It was extremely sobering.

And for the next several miles, I prayed asking God, "Why me? Why had I been spared?" In my spiritual imagination I envisioned His angels atop my mini-van, saying "Nope" and moved that car to the left. "Nope" and moved that semi-truck to the right. Protecting both me and the other drivers. It confirmed for me that God has a purpose for me. I should have been dead, but He left me here. "What is my assignment?"

And so all the more, I am pressing toward Him, wanting more of Him, to go deeper, grow closer, to accomplish what He left me here to do.

So back to the beginning. If you have had that moment of utter brokenness and have cried out to God from that deepest place in you Spirit, He is El Roi, the God Who sees you. If you have had that encounter when you feel His power and presence at work and you are striving for even more obedience, He is El Roi, the God Who sees you.

Be encouraged! Wherever you are along the road, His hand is upon you. He has a purpose. He has a plan. And that is truly a WOW Moment!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Living by the Law of Mae’s Green Thumb

I was thinking about my grandmother, Marece Wall. Her birthday was yesterday, February 15. I wanted to honor her in remembering her birthday. So let me tell you about my grandmother.

You see, she could grow anything. She could literally pinch a shoot off a plant she liked. Then, she would place that bud in water where it would grow spindly roots like hundreds of white pieces of thread under her watchful eye. When it was ready, she would take this delicate new sprout and push it down into nutrient-rich soil. With her gentle care, she tended this young plant until it thrived.  

My grandmother understood that growth is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once, but is a natural occurrence characterized by gradual, yet continuing, changes. I learned a lot from my grandmother. I’m condensing those lessons in a six steps to help you. Think of the acronym GROWTH.  

First, give of yourself.  Many times when we want to see change, we look to our spouse and say, “If only he would do this or that” or we look at our children and think “If they only behaved this way.” Then what? The answer is we assume we would be happier or our lives would be less stressful.

In order to see growth in others, we have to start with ourselves. It may mean making changes in our attitudes, behaviors, or expectations. In some cases, it may actually mean giving more of our time to invest in our families.

Second, replenish your body and spirit. We can never have enough to give to others without taking time to replenish ourselves. That means taking time to replenish your energy, to revitalize your body, and regenerate your spirit. My friend Christina calls that self-care.

You can only be your best when you take time out each day for yourself. You have to designate time for yourself. Whether it’s a half-hour to read a book, take a bubble bath, go for a walk, even watch your favorite TV show, take time for something that personally brings you joy. It is a time to unwind and gear up for another day. Take time to meditate, write in a journal, spend time in prayer or reading your Bible to renew your Spirit.

These are ways to refill your tank so that you have more of yourself to give. None of us are at our best when we are burned out, stressed out, have not had enough sleep, or sometimes didn’t have time to eat. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of those you love.

Then, open your mind. Many of us get into a rut with our relationships. Break out of the box. Listen to new ideas. Consult friends who have older children to see what methods may have worked for them. Talk to women who have been married for some time. Subscribe to magazines that will give you parenting tips, ideas for meals, other suggestions. Use discernment. Evaluate what will work for you. Be willing to try some new things, even if you find they need to be tweaked. Since Ecclesiastes says “there is nothing new under the sun,” you may be surprised to find the timely advice that God provides if you will take the time to read His Word.

Equally important is weathering the difficult times that come with transitional periods. It is said, “A gem cannot be polished without friction.” In all relationships there are difficult times. Trials and tribulations can be the doorway that takes you to the next level in your faith, in your love, or in the development of your own character or that of those you love. Learn to weather the storm together.

Develop life strategies that allow your family to support and encourage one another during your most difficult times. That does not mean denying problems, or turning a blind eye to things that are wrong. It does mean showing your love even more when it would be easier to walk away.

Next, teach what you have learned. We grow when each of us learns to invest our lives into someone else’s. Like my grandmother, I have committed to pass on my knowledge, wisdom, and experiences and entrusting them to my children to reach future generations. Another part of this principle is gleaning from your elders. Take time out  to really spend time with your grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and other older members of your family. Don’t forget older people in your neighborhood that can also be a source of wisdom.

Finally, heal your heart. To see real growth in yourself and those around you, you need to heal: get rid of bitterness, deal with past hurts, forgive those who have wronged you, release the anger that can linger after you have been hurt or perceived that you have been hurt.

Bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, anger are all negative emotions. They can eat away at you when you harbor these emotions instead of hurting those whom the emotions are toward. In essence, holding on to these kinds of feelings does more damage to you. This is especially true within your household
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Remember the definition of growth: it’s a process, a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result or a natural continuing activity or function. The result you are looking for is to be whole, to be the best you, to have each member of your family to be their best.

My grandmother understood these principles when it came to providing love and support to a budding plant, but even more when it came to our family. “Let this mind be in you,” says Philippians 2:5 and see what takes root.  

Happy Birthday Mae!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Step into the unknown

A while ago I began to work through a book with my leadership team when I led a children's ministry called "If you want to walk on water, You've got to get out of the boat." It was a book about taking risks and having faith. But I have found that the greatest challenge to truly walking in faith each day is fear.

God has been dealing with me a lot lately about fear. He has reminded me of the numerous times that He has told us in Scripture "Do not be afraid." When I was preparing for my first missions trip to Haiti a few years ago, I began to almost talk myself out of going until I prayed. I asked God to give me a confirmation. I needed a Word from God. The morning I prayed, my devotional was Joshua 1:9, "This is my command -- be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." I held on to that verse because it reminded me that fear is not of God.

So why do we tend to be like Lot's wife? We look back in spite of how things have unfolded in our past. She seemingly did not consider that God was merciful and had provided a way for her family to escape and experience new life. The Israelites complained bitterly as they wandered in the desert and wanted to go back to Egypt. Like Lot's wife, they seemed to have forgotten that in Egypt they were in bondage. Things were so bad that they were forced to make bricks without straw, but yet still they wanted to go back.

I believe that both Lot's wife and the Israelites could not move forward because they did not know what they were moving toward. They did not trust God enough to go in obedience. They were afraid of the unknown and unwilling to let go of the familiar.

To get out of the boat, like Peter, and walk on water, we first have to recognize that it is Jesus that we are walking toward. He is the One that sustains us. And then there is that phrase again. As Jesus approaches, He says to them in Matthew 14: 27, "Don't be afraid. Take courage. I am here." Then Peter takes that first tentative step. He inquires of the Lord. Peter doesn't just jump out of the boat. He asks, "Lord if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water." And Jesus' simple reply is "Come."

Our faith is not in our own ability, but we trust in the leading of the Holy Spirit to confirm the message that Christ speaks to us, "Come." The question then is this, Do we trust the nature of Christ enough to step into the unknown?

Peter did not just get out of the boat. He stepped out of the familiar into a storm because he trusted in the One that was greater than himself.

I was in the familiar. I knew it would cost me something, actually a lot, to step into the unfamiliar, in fact into a storm of doubt, regret, second-guesses and conflicted emotions. But I inquired of the Lord, "Lord, if it is you..." and His reply was "Come."

It's still pretty scary out of the boat. Not sure I've begun to sink. Probably still taking my first few tentative steps, But I have to keep my eyes on the One that quiets that storm, The one that says to my personal storm, "Peace. Be still!"

I will not look back. I can't go back. And I don't want to. When God says go. the best thing to do is obey. I trust Him. Joshua 1:9, "Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."