Avenues of Grace

Seeking the Lord with Eyes Wide Open

God’s Waiting Room

“Did the doctors give you a potential timeline for how long it would take for her to pass?” I asked my mom, trying hard to steady my voice.

“No, baby. We are in God’s waiting room now, and as much as I’d like to have control, it’s all up to Him. He will do everything in His perfect timing.”

God’s waiting room. Hmmm.  I’ve spent lots of time in God’s hallways, wishing for this or that door to open, but I’ve only spent a few times in God’s waiting room.

Waiting rooms are interesting places. They are places of tears and exhaustion, places of reminiscing about good times and remembering that, despite any differences we have, at the end of the day, family comes together.  Waiting rooms are desperation; they are rollercoasters of steadiness and then unexpected free-falls. Waiting rooms are places of surrender– places where it doesn’t matter our background or our history or our societal status or position. They are level ground for all. They are the places where we come to terms with how we see God and trust that He is good even when we don’t understand.

I’ve watched my grandmother’s downward spiral for two months, and yesterday the doctors removed the ventilator. It’s excruciating to watch her try to breathe, especially knowing that her efforts will ultimately be fruitless.  She is so weak, and her body tells the tale of death, but I want you to understand that I am not afraid of her dying; I am afraid of her living.

You see, the woman lying in that bed is only nominally my grandmother.  My Memaw was not labored breathing, paper-thin skin, and weakness. She was warmth and strength and an open seat at her table with the best pecan pie you’ve ever tasted.  She was undivided attention and belly-laughs, practical advice, and dominoes.  She was fried eggs and bacon and biscuits and gravy, and she was radiant with the glow and pride of her family.  We were her life, and she was ours.  If you ever met her, she treasured you. She remembered you and held you in her heart, and if she saw you again, she’d be sure to let you know it. She loved people more than anyone I’ve ever known and used to say that she either should’ve been a nurse or owned a cafe.  There was a safety about talking to her.  Even as an adult, I’ve laid my head in her lap many times as she stroked my hair and reassured me that everything would be okay.

My grandmother was strength. She was born during the hardest year of the Great Depression, and she knew the value of contentment, family, and working hard. She never desired wealth– she desired a godly legacy and the simple things, like having her family sit with her at church or come over to spend time with her.  We loved hearing stories about her childhood, how she even lived in a tent at one point, and laughed because her sisters couldn’t get along in such a confined space.  She told us about the first time she met our grandfather– how he wanted to take her home from the cafe, but her brother wouldn’t allow it because Poppaw was too old for her.  Years later, they met again, and the rest is history.  She told us of how she cared for her mother until her dying day and did the same for my grandfather after being married for almost 60 years.  When I asked her how she kept going after he passed away, she would gaze off and tell me that life has to keep moving forward.  I think that’s why her favorite hymn was “One Day at a Time.”

I know that some of you might wonder why I’m writing this while Memaw is still with us. I suppose we all process things differently, but I don’t want to remember my grandmother on her deathbed, and I don’t think she’d want me to remember her that way. In fact, if she could speak, she would probably tell me to bring my curling iron up there to do her hair since so many people are dropping in to say goodbye.  So I guess I’m full-circle in this post– back to the not being afraid of death part.

You see, death is a gift when you know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  It is not an ending; it is a beginning. It is a promise of eternity in perfect peace.  It’s walking into the arms of Jesus. It’s finishing the race.  It is perfection.  And while I can’t imagine a better banqueting table than the one my grandmother could set, I know that it will pale in comparison to the one that Jesus has set for her.

The other night I dreamed that I was in an elevator. Behind me, a voice said, “Going Up!” As soon as I heard it, I knew who it was.  I turned and saw my grandfather standing there with Memaw.  I looked at him, confused, when the elevator doors didn’t close.  He said, “No baby. We are going up, but you have to stay here.”

I know it was just a dream, but I think it was a reminder that the Lord has a place prepared for her.  And I can just imagine Memaw and Poppaw, together again, dancing like David to the glory of the Lord.

Maybe they’ll even teach him the Jitterbug.

Missions and Measurement

We arrived home from Poland on Sunday night, and my mind has processed a thousand different emotions and lessons that The Lord taught me while there.  How do you describe the warmth of the people, the beauty of the country, the power of God’s Word, or the Spirit that flows through believers of every nation? How can I tell you the peace, the welcome, the feelings of “family” that we experienced with complete strangers or the joy of sharing with those who are considering who Jesus is for the first time?

 

You see, missions is not just about the pretty pictures or the bottom-line of numbers.  God works mightily in so many things on a mission trip, and I want to give as full of an account as I can.  So here goes:

Several years ago, Melaina fixated on a Polish missionary and began praying for her every day for more than a year. This was not our doing. It was The Lord. Only HE could call a 7 year-old to pray like that. We sensed then that we might one day go to Poland.

Fast forward to several weeks ago, and we were $3,600 short of paying for our trip. With so much going on with my family, I had no time to fundraise. The Lord quietly reminded me that HE was sending us to Poland, and He owns the storehouses. I continued to pray and enlisted my prayer warrior friends to pray with me. The Lord provided MORE than we needed for the trip!  Again, only GOD can do that.

We arrived safely and Danny preached the next morning in Olsztynek.  A younger man and woman offered to translate, but after a minute or so, they realized that they couldn’t. A visitor who came in late stood and offered to translate.  It turns out that he was a professional translator AND a pastor. He was in town for the day because his son was placed in the children’s hospital there.  At the end of the sermon, one precious woman came to the front and professed Jesus as Lord.  Just think of the odds of all that coming together at the perfect time…Ya’ll, only God can do that.

So the camp consisted of Polish workers, teams from Arkansas and Florida, and the guests who signed up or who the Polish church members invited. Our theme was the “I Am” statements in the book of John, so all of our lessons walked through those.  The camp was a family camp, so we had a variety of men, women, and children.  Each day followed the same pattern: team devotion, breakfast, worship service, crafts, separate men/women/children Bible studies, and lunch. We then had free time for a couple hours followed by games, whole group Bible study, dinner, and open discussion time.  For those that could stay up late enough, there were games until almost midnight each night.

So now that you know the format, where do I even start in telling you how God is moving?  I could tell you about the man who has battled alcoholism and was saved before coming to camp.  I could tell you how he gave his testimony that if the Bible could help him, he swore he would profess Jesus to everyone he encountered.  This man was baptized at the lake in the camp, and his girlfriend crowned him with a beautiful lei of flowers that she made.

Maybe I should tell you about the women’s group, how open the ladies were to listening to the Bible stories or how they were willing to ask questions and be transparent.  One said, “Last year, my heart was not ready, but this year it is.” Will you pray that she will fully surrender to Jesus?

Maybe I should tell you about another lady who shared the story of her dream while at camp.  In her dream, she went to the store to buy cabbage, but someone stole her wallet. On her way home, she was crying and Jesus appeared to her and gave her a new wallet that was better than anything she had before.  She told us that she believed that she had the dream because she was getting baptized, and she believed that the dream represented the death of her old life and the resurrection of her new life in Jesus. This, she told us, in a room full of women who do not yet believe.

I could tell you about the precious translator who just absolutely won my heart. She has the sweetest spirit about her, and I know that we would be close friends if we lived in the same country.  She said that she has always considered herself “spiritual” but not “religious.”  She has never believed in Jesus, but after translating, she is now interested in what we believe. Will you pray that she understands how very much Jesus loves her?

Would you pray for the precious Polish believers who war with a culture of  religion instead of relationship?  It is so difficult to break from traditions that you’ve held since birth, even when your heart tells you that they’re wrong.  One couple is confronting this now and will have to come to terms with what they believe to be true about God and His Church.  Will you pray for them?

Will you pray for the ones who had serious questions during discussion time? This was an open format for people to be honest and genuinely ask anything they wanted to know without any of us interjecting. As the Polish pastors fielded those questions, it was amazing to see the Lord move and to prompt people to give their testimonies.  One such testimony came from the pastor’s wife, a precious woman with more light in her than I can possibly describe.  She came to Christ through a vision of Him after she was contemplating committing suicide.  Isn’t it incredible how the Lord redeemed her and is using her so mightily? Will you pray for her family?

Shall I tell you about the children? They were everywhere! I absolutely LOVED the family culture.  My daughter didn’t know how to feel about being able to roam freely around camp by herself without worry.  She got to play and be a kid instead of worrying for her safety.  It was wonderful! God grew her faith, too.  She celebrated as He provided for us, and while the beginning of the camp was hard for her, by the end of the week, she managed to befriend two precious Polish twin girls.  It was wonderful to see them play, and I know she will cherish them in her heart.  It also helped her to consider those at her school who might not speak her language.  She got to experience what it felt like to be an “outsider,” and I know that this lesson will stay with her.

On the last day before we got on the plane, we had the opportunity to see Warsaw.  It was both exactly what I expected and none of what I expected. I imagined flocks of tourists and museums to remember the Warsaw Ghetto.  Instead, I saw only a small plaque on the wall of a building and a marker across the sidewalk.  It took me a moment to catch my breath, but then I realized why this was so.  Most buildings had plaques of some sort or another, some from WWII, others from Russian takeover.  In the midst of Old Town, there are remnants of the old fortress wall, and in the center stands a beautiful castle. At the end of the day, we had the chance to tour the castle.  It was incredible with ornate, gilded ceilings, massive murals and tapestries, and centuries old artwork from floor to ceiling in almost every room.  We even saw two original Rembrandts.  What struck me most, however, was the contrast: the palatial glory of the castle in the midst of so many memorials to those who were slain.  Even many of the paintings depicted the rise and fall of empires.  This was my first time seeing things so old, and doing so reminded me that everything in this life will pass away, but the glory of the Lord is forever.  In Him alone can we find safety. In Him alone can we find eternal life.

So how do I “measure” this trip?  It isn’t by the bottom-line question that so many of you will ask: “How many got saved?”  I measure this trip by the seed sown. I would love to tell you that everyone at camp accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but that is not what happened. What I can tell you is that they heard the Gospel over and over; I can tell you that God moved mightily; and I can tell you that He isn’t finished.  The campers have spiritual questions now, and those questions are the beginning of seeking Him.  Will you pray with me for the Polish believers to continue to shine their Light in darkness?  Will you pray for the Word to take root in good soil and not be choked out by the culture? Will you pray for Jesus to break down the fortress of each camper’s heart and reveal His Truth to them? Will you pray for the missionaries and church planters to seek the Lord, grow in Him, and stand firm?  Only 200 of 2400 counties have an evangelical presence in Poland.  Will you pray for more people of peace to rise up, plant churches, and see His Gospel transform Poland?

It’s hard to come to a close, but I suppose that’s because I don’t believe this is one.  The trip is only part of the mission, and the mission isn’t over.  Will you join me in prayer?

 

 

 

The War for Authenticity

I grew up in church. I was there every time the doors were open. I loved every part of it until one night at church camp.  I was broken and crying out to the Lord and felt that I needed to speak with a counselor.  While I won’t claim that I was pure in any way for most of my teenage life, I will tell you that, at this point, I was still really young and trying to follow the Lord.  When I met with the counselor, he asked that we go outside to talk. It was dark, and he began to ask me really uncomfortable questions.  As he spoke, my anger raged inside me. Maybe he didn’t intend to make me feel the way he did.  Maybe he thought I was naive enough not to notice where his questions were going. Either way, that was the turning point for me walking away from the church.

I spent the next several years going through the motions with spiritual highs and lows and times of nothing spiritual at all. My parents did everything possible to pour God’s Word into me, but when I looked at the church, I didn’t see God’s love.  I saw judgment and slander and gossip and anything but the Gospel.  For a brief time, I saw God’s love in a youth minister who I knew I could share my heart with.  He was special– when I looked at him, I knew that he knew that I was living in sin, yet he welcomed me with open arms and continually pointed me to Christ.  And then he was gone.  The church changed leadership, and in what seems like an overnight decision, he was ousted. The one who walked with us, the one who met people out on the streets and asked them to join us, the one who didn’t care about the color of our skin or our background, the one who day in and day out week after week shared the Gospel, was gone.  And that was strike two for me.

Fast forward a few years, and I had just turned seventeen and was living in my own apartment and going to college.  When I finally got the nerve up to attend a church, guess what happened? It was NOT church. It was a Republican rally.  The only time Jesus was mentioned was in the opening prayer.  The preacher (and I use that term VERY loosely here) literally ended the “sermon” of talking about the death penalty by slamming his hand down on the podium and screaming, “and I say let’s kill em’ and kill em’ faster!”

I. Was. Done.

So how on earth did I end up back here? And why on earth do I encourage people to attend the local church? How did I come to love her so much in my adult life when I found no relevance in her in my younger, more pivotal years?

The answer is simple: Jesus.

I remember the moment when I knew I must go back.  I had spent years shoving the Holy Spirit into the recesses of my being and living the way I wanted.  I was empty inside and hurting, but I was also stubborn and wanted to live my own way.  Then one morning it happened: I was in the shower, and I felt this “leaving” within me. I don’t know how else to describe it. I know the Lord never leaves us,  but I believe that He allowed me to feel that so that I would return to Him.  I remember hitting my knees and screaming out loud, “WHERE ARE YOU, GOD?!”

I have never been so scared in my entire life.  It had been years since I spoke with God, yet in that moment, I knew I would never be the same.

You see, God pursues us. He is the Good Shepherd, and He never loses one of His flock. His children hear His voice. There was no person, no sermon, no pastor, no program, no music, no graphic, no show that brought me back to Him.  It was God Himself.

This was my experience as a believer.  This was the Lord calling and my willingness to surrender.  But God didn’t stop there. He didn’t intend for me to walk alone. After years of being away from church, I had a desire to be with people of God.  But how, after my experiences, could I find an authentic church?  Did it really exist?

I share my story with you for two reasons.  I want you to understand that this is not some generic “5 Ways to Become More Relevant as a Church” list.  It is what made me listen after years of turning away.  It is also to encourage you, fellow church members, to BE The Church.  Our worship times are full of “fans” who are not actually followers of Christ, and it is hard for outsiders to differentiate.   We must be active in reaching people instead of sitting comfortably on our pews. We must live what we believe.  We must be authentic in the midst of pride, comfort, busyness, and distraction.

So now to the grit of the matter: How can we, as a church, reach the lost or even the believers who have experienced “church hurt”?

  1. We have to be relevant in the right ways. While it’s important to contextualize, we have to be careful not to simply advertise.  Every gimmick, every show, every song, and every graphic is important, but these things are ultimately just vehicles for the message.  Millennials have been sold the philosophies of postmodernism and relativism mixed with tremendous undertones of existentialism.  They question the meaning of life and whether or not life even has meaning.  They are searching for purpose in a world that doesn’t fulfill and doesn’t make sense.  They see suffering and hatred that are incomprehensible, and they are searching for peace. When millennials walk into our churches, if we don’t have substance to support the hype, they will not stay.  They can get great coffee at Starbucks instead.
  2. We have to LOVE people, not adopt “projects”. This might be the hardest part. Discipleship is not us sitting at a table and imparting our knowledge on a group of eager listeners as they highlight their Bibles and become the next Timothy.  (Okay, so maybe it can be for some, but that’s rarely been my experience.) More often than not, discipleship is MESSY. It is first and foremost a friendship.  We are all family in Christ, and we should treat each other as such.  This means sharing our burdens, warring together, praying together, and pointing each other to Christ.  It means receiving a call at 2 a.m. from a friend who has fallen into sin and telling her how much Jesus loves her and that His mercies are new every morning.  It means holding each other accountable in the Word, not condemning each other.  After all, we can’t be someone’s Holy Spirit.  We are all on a journey, and we are all being sanctified daily.  The Lord is the One who works on us. If we could fix each other with our judgments, we wouldn’t need Him.
  3. We have to get over ourselves.  We are obsessed with perfect angles and pithy quotes, but if our lives don’t reflect the Gospel, we are “stale bread” to outsiders. As we disciple each other, let it be that we point each other to what God’s Word says. Anyone can argue with our personal thoughts on a matter, or the latest celebrity preacher’s thoughts on a matter, no matter how eloquent they sound, but they can’t argue with what the Word says.  Let us be a people who abide in the Word so that it flows through our hearts and minds and out of our mouths and into our limbs! As my mom would say, “Let your walk talk what your talk talks.”
  4. We have to love ALL people.  Oh friends, if I could scream one sentence from the rooftop, this would be it.  Yes, ALL people, because God loves all people. Jesus died and rose again to pay the penalty of sin for ALL people.  You know… the ones with different skin tones, the ones with different nationalities, the ones with different backgrounds, the ones with illnesses, the ones with different religions, and even the ones with different sexual preferences!  Jesus didn’t say, “Go and share the Gospel with all nations of people who look like you and are already Christian.”  He didn’t say, “Go and sit on a pew with your best friends and form a holy hill that digs into my Word but never practices it.”  What about the woman who sneaks into the back of the church right when it starts and leaves during the offering? How will you reach her? What about the one who smells like he hasn’t had a bath in a week? What about the one who only speaks broken English? What about the one who just got out of prison? What about the one who has a bad reputation?  What about the one who is openly gay but decides to try your church? Friends, oh dear sweet friends,  we have to stop.  We have to see the unseen. We have to walk into church with eyes for the lost just like we walk into the world with eyes for the lost.  We have to do more than wave hello. Anyone in the world (especially in the South) will do that.  We have to be willing to get into people’s lives.  It can be uncomfortable. But each of us has a circle of people that we encounter each day that are totally unique to us.  What if we stopped letting fear stop us? What if we loved ALL people as Christ loves them? What if we shared the Gospel with ALL people, no matter their background?  The Gospel has the power to save! It has the power to transform! We should be a vehicle for sharing it, not a barrier preventing it.
  5. We have to be available.  Enough with limiting our hours to Sunday and Wednesday at specified times. That is NOT authentic.  Would we do that to our family members?  Would we do that to our friends? We don’t throw seed in the ground, water it once, and expect it to continue to grow.  We need each other! God is relational, and He has designed us to be relational as well.  There is no greater blessing than having a group of people to pray for us, encourage us, and continually point us to Christ.  We have many burdens in this world, and when the Body of Christ functions as He desires, the Church becomes a safe haven, a place of refuge and growth that is not limited by time or place.

For me, church is not about a building; it’s about a group of people.  I spent years without that support, and while finding it was difficult, it has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.  If you don’t have a church, I’m urging you not to give up.  Jesus loves the Church and desires for you to be connected.   If you do have a church, I urge you to take these things into consideration.  We will never win a culture in a fallen world, but through The Church, the Gospel can win a people.

 

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Worth the Risk: A Response to the Refugee Crisis

We’ve all seen the pictures—the ones of men lined up on the beach waiting to have their heads chopped off. We’ve cried through the photos of children with tear-filled eyes posing with the leaders a…

Source: Worth the Risk: A Response to the Refugee Crisis

Four Things I Want My Daughter to Know in a World of Feminism

Dear M,

You are getting older, and the world is screaming at you to step into the role of womanhood, even though you are only nine. I can no longer buy you dress shoes without heels, and I had to explain more than I cared to as we walked in the mall and you saw the ceiling-height poster of the scantily clad Victoria’s Secret model with her legs spread open. I watched the horror on your face and the roses pop up in your cheeks as you grappled with why anyone would want to show so much of her body to the world. And while I have to quell your curiosity when you ask me why you can’t search random questions on the internet and look up Google images of whatever pops into your little mind, I know this is only the beginning.

For now, I can protect you, but I know this time is running out, and inevitably you will have to decide for yourself what kind of human you want to be. The world will paint many pictures of womanhood for you, but before you buy into them, here are a few things I want you to know:

1. You are loved…unconditionally, irrevocably, forever. You don’t have to show off your body, compromise your values, or try to be something that you aren’t in order to achieve this love. Before God spoke words and created the world, He knew you. He chose you. He loved you. And He moved Heaven and Earth to save you. When you pursue love, pursue Him.

2. You are unique. There is no category or label that molds perfectly to who you are. In fact, who you are now will be very different from who you are ten years from now. Embrace the gifts that God has given you, and don’t try to fit into someone else’s idea of perfection. Of the seven billion people on earth, there is no one else like you. Embrace who you are, and walk in it with confidence. When you have doubts and insecurities, remember that God doesn’t make mistakes; you are His masterpiece.

3. You should not deny your nature. Being a feminist shouldn’t mean hating men, rejecting all traditional roles for women, or shaving a Nike sign into your nether-regions and posting it on Instagram before marching in Washington. Being a feminist should mean recognizing that all women have value equal to men, yet we are uniquely and beautifully different. I once heard someone say, “I don’t want to be equal because I am not the same. I want to be parallel.” You don’t have to reject traditional roles of womanhood to be powerful. You will be a powerful, strong woman whether you choose to run a company or stay at home with your children. Your power does not lie in your worldly position; it lies in your Kingdom position. You are a daughter of the King of Kings! There are many molds for femininity within the Kingdom of God, from faithful wives to victorious judges. When you look at the world and your role in it, embrace the beautiful qualities that God has designed in you. Your femininity is a gift!

4. You are enough. You don’t need to compare. You don’t need to keep up. You don’t need to document every aspect of your life to prove anything to anyone. You are enough. And when you reach that inevitable point where your feelings of inadequacy threaten to drown you, I need you to remember not just who you are but WHOSE you are. Forget the camera angles and the social media posts. Forget the likes or the friend counts. You belong to Jesus. You are a daughter of the Lord of Hosts. He commands His angels concerning you. When you feel like you aren’t enough, look to Him and you will realize that you never had to be enough…because HE IS.

Sweet M, so much of this world will compete for your heart, but you must be a warrior and keep your focus. God has designed you for this and equipped you to be a powerful, loving, and compassionate young woman. Seek Him with your whole heart, and there is nothing that will be able to stop you. And as always, I will be by your side, proud of the young woman that you are, and cheering on the woman that you will become.

Love,
Mom

The Dragon’s Lair

In one of my favorite haiku, Koboyashi Issa writes: “In this world, we walk on the roof of hell, gazing at flowers.” As I sat in the auditorium learning about the dragon in Revelation, this poem flooded my thoughts. This “dragon” will deceive millions, promising peace and fulfillment only to unveil his true identity when it is too late. And while the prospect of that deception weighs heavily on my heart, what strikes me most is that it is already happening.

Every day, we spend our time gazing at the very “flowers” that Issa spoke of. We need no outward showing of demonic presence in America; we only need our “stuff.” We need to keep up, to portray perfect lives full of materialistic prosperity and fabricated happiness. We can’t simply enjoy a moment; we must document it for our “viewers” on social media. We can’t have a dinner conversation because that would mean checking out of our digital relationships, and we simply can’t miss something on our news feeds. We have baby-faced teenage girls feeling the need to contour their makeup and an average credit card debt that would match a millionaire’s pocket book. We are obsessed with perfection. Don’t believe me? We even photoshop babies. BABIES!

But are we happy?

We run toward these things and miss the God who offers us the peace and fulfillment that we seek. Rather than investing our time in the eternal, we swipe our biological debit cards for momentary satisfaction that leaves us empty and craving more.

So how can we overcome the busyness, the desires, the worry, the wrong choices, and virtually everything that distracts us from the true purpose of our existence?

In Psalm 119:133, David prays this prayer: “Establish my footsteps in Your Word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.” Here, I believe, is the answer and my prayer focus for 2017.

When I think of footsteps that are “established,” I imagine hanging from a rock wall with no foothold versus the surety of steps. Established footsteps mean that someone has gone before me, that the steps were designed with purpose and lead somewhere. Established footsteps mean that I can walk confidently, free of worry and sure of my destination. But let’s go a step further in this…

“Establish my footsteps in Your Word” takes on an even more important meaning. It means that I can go deep; I can know God fully and intimately, and that I can be sure of every part of my life because my understanding is not based on the world or even my own emotion; it is based on the ultimate and unalterable Truth of the Living God. How incredible to know that His Spirit allows me to know the deepest truths of the universe, allows me to fellowship with the One who spoke words and created the world, and allows me to know how fully and deeply He loves me. There is no greater assurance than this.

Finally, David prays that no “iniquity have dominion over me.” There are so many things vying for our attention in this world. Some of them are inherently evil while others can be used by satan for evil. We must continually ask the Lord to search our hearts and reveal these things that threaten to dethrone Jesus in our lives. So often we focus more on repentance and praying for forgiveness, but David is proactive here. The Spirit gives us everything we need to live holy lives, but we MUST be in communion with Him. How can we be? Through prayer and reading the Word. Only through this can we overcome the fleshly things that war against our spirits and distract us from Christ.

So I urge you, brothers and sisters in Christ, to connect to the source of your power, your comfort, your peace, and your fulfillment. Spend time in the Word and in prayer, communing with the Lord every day. He has designed you for this, and you must not lose focus.

The shiny things of this world were never meant to bring you peace or happiness; they are but enticements into the dragon’s lair.

The Encampments of Our Hearts

We really are screwed up.

Yes, every single one of us.

We crawl, walk, run, stumble, fall, crawl again, and the cycle continues.  Just when we think we are finally steady, we miss a step.

At the beginning of this year, the Lord impressed this Scripture upon my heart:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23-24

I started praying this daily, and then one night it happened. I awoke in the middle of the night shaking and sweating as if I was having a nightmare, except the nightmare was real. Somewhere, buried deep in the crevices of my heart, was something that I hadn’t thought of…something that I hadn’t confessed. I awoke with eyes wide open to a chasm in my relationship with God, one that I didn’t even know existed. I literally shook as I prayed for forgiveness and felt the weight lift off of me.

The crazy part? I didn’t even realize that this sin was in my life. Somehow I missed it. Somehow I thought I was okay and was walking (at least to the best of my abilities) in righteousness. Boy was I wrong.

I finished reading the Book of Deuteronomy today, and as I read about the death of Moses, I feel certain he felt the same way. For decades he had spoken with the Lord, walked with Him, seen His Glory, and led His people…but somewhere along the way, even if only for a moment, he forgot. Yes, he FORGOT that it wasn’t about him, that this great deliverance of the Israelites had absolutely nothing to do with him or his righteousness and absolutely EVERYTHING to do with God’s relentless love.

I’m sure it was accidental. I’m sure his intentions were good. I’m sure that he regretted what he said the moment that it slipped from his mouth. But even so, he forfeited his ticket into the Promised Land. He was allowed to see it only from a mountain top before he died.

We are no different. The truth is that as long as we live in this body, we are subject to the inclinations of our flawed hearts, and those inclinations are ones of selfishness, pride, and evil. It is our nature to seek independence, to credit ourselves, and to try to blaze our own paths. It is our nature to want what we want without consideration of consequences. It is our nature to war with the new self that Jesus creates within us. Taking our eyes off of Him for even a moment is all that the enemy needs to trip us and cause us to stumble.

I share this because we need to be honest with ourselves. We need a right view of where we stand before God. We need a right view of His relentless love and glorious grace. It’s not about our titles, our social media facades, or who the world thinks we are. It’s not about how we’ve walked in the past or what we’ve seen the Lord do.  It’s about RIGHT NOW.  It’s about asking the Lord to show each one of us where we stand before Him and taking the time to LISTEN. It’s about asking Him to search our hearts because sometimes we are so flawed that we can’t even see our own sin until it spews out of our mouths from some ugly place in our hearts that we didn’t even know existed.

A dear friend once told me that we should rejoice when we are under conviction. (I can think of many words to describe conviction, but “rejoice” is certainly not one of them!) Then he asked me: How many times do you think you’ve sinned today? This week? This month? This year?  I shook my head with wide eyes. He replied, “God doesn’t lay all of that on you at once; He gives it to you one piece at a time. So when He brings up sin in your life, you should rejoice because He loves you enough to mold you into the image of His Son.”

So I challenge you to ask, to dig, to search, and to pray. There are many encampments in our hearts, encampments that wage war against the Lord and encampments that wage war against the flesh. Jesus IS the Victor and the Savior, but is He really your LORD?

 

Photo via Visual hunt

Alaska and the Piece of My Heart That I Left There

I’ve been asked approximately a hundred times this week: “How was Alaska?” I don’t know why, but every time I try to answer, I get a lump in my throat.  I guess writing about it is my best bet, so here goes:

Alaska is a place of extremes: extreme terrain, extreme brokenness, extreme weather, extreme people, extreme lostness, extreme love, and extreme possibility.  When I heard that where we were going was the least evangelized place in the nation, many things went through my mind. I imagined stories from our friends who are church-planting in Brooklyn, the look of hatred on people’s faces when we went door-to-door in Spokane, the man cursing my husband at the top of his lungs at a market in the French Quarter.  I braced myself for extreme rejection and the heaviness that accompanies the dark places in our country.

But that’s not what I found.

You see, most places in our country have experienced a movement of Christianity, and that movement has started to pass. Some would even say the Bible Belt is “post-Christian.” But Alaska isn’t like that. When you look around, there are a few churches sprinkled here and there, but overwhelmingly the church is just absent. It never came to have the chance to leave.  Because of this, I expected extreme rejection. While our trip focused on service, I did notice this: The people of Alaska (generally speaking) are NICE! Many were very appreciative of what we were doing, and one even said, “Forget our differences; I’m just glad you guys are here sharing the love of Christ.”

Now THAT is not what I expected.

While most of our time was in Anchorage, we spent one of our nights doing ministry in a laundry-mat in Girdwood. While there, I had one of the most horrific migraines that I’ve had in years. I was almost an hour away from where I was staying and had no access to a vehicle. A complete stranger offered his van, and being desperate, we took it. When we got in, it was not just his van– it had a mattress and all of his stuff in it. I was overwhelmed that the Lord would provide through His people in such a way that a man would offer all he owned to me just because I was sick. This, for me, spoke volumes about the heart of the people there.

But it wasn’t all roses, and I don’t want to paint any false pictures. There is extreme lostness and extreme spiritual warfare there, too. When we arrived, we learned that the head church planter had unexpectedly resigned, leaving Jason (the Girdwood planter) and a team of interns with a full plate, two mission teams, and one week until Easter. The leadership there was under tremendous stress, and it was incredible to see them work together to stay the course and encourage their congregations to continue in what God had called them to do. With everything that happened, our entire agenda completely changed. We learned that we would not be doing anything that we planned to do. (Gotta love mission trip flexibility!:)

While we didn’t expect service projects, doing them gave us a truthful look at the lostness of the city. We did a block party in the most diverse neighborhood in the entire country and also did some street clean-up. This was a tense time as our team members encountered lots of homeless people and saw firsthand the devastation of particular lifestyles. Likewise, some of our team got the chance to serve lunch to a center with AIDS patients, seeing again the brokenness and destruction of drug addiction and lifestyle choices. Even our donuts ministry (we took donuts to local businesses to invite them to church) provided us with a chance to truly SEE the city. I don’t think it’s an accident that the first coffee shop that we went to was next door to a Buddhist society.

In all of this, we did not get to have many Gospel conversations, but we did get to invite many people to True North Church, and being in those places allowed us to pray and know more specifically HOW to pray for the people and the church.

On our final day there, Danny and I rode with Jason to Wasilla to discuss how he believed the Lord desired to build a church there.  As we drove, I couldn’t help but think about how much Wasilla reminded me of home, except my city is called “The City of Churches.” It broke my heart to hear that members of his congregation had to drive an hour just to attend a church service. In fact, later that afternoon, someone from the church said, “I’d love for someone to plant a church in Wasilla! I have coworkers who would LOVE to go to church but can’t drive all the way to Anchorage!”

And that’s where I lost a piece of my heart. You see, many people dismiss Alaska. They imagine this frigid ice-land with some kind of cross between igloos and Sarah Palin, and neither could be farther from the truth. The people of Alaska are as diverse and transient as those of New Orleans. Out of all the people we met throughout the week, only a few were actually from Alaska. That transience makes it hard to plant a stable church but likewise opens the door to many nations. In fact, planting in Alaska provides access to 68 unreached people groups.

Did you hear me? SIXTY EIGHT UNREACHED PEOPLE GROUPS, and that isn’t counting the melting pot of travelers who come to visit and decide to call Alaska home.

Since I’ve returned to Arkansas, I’ve pondered many things about our trip, from the people of True North Church to the need for people to hear the Gospel. I wonder if we could’ve done more? I wonder how God will continue to use the core group. I wonder how the church in Anchorage will move forward after the grief of losing their pastor? I wonder who will plant in Wasilla and bring Light to it?

And then my mind wanders from the crystal blue waters of the inlet to the heights of the majestic mountains, and the picture dissolves into a white field and Jesus calls out:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Luke 10:2

 

 

 

On the Edge

We are only ever on the edge…

the edge of something new, the edge of sickness, death, success, love, temptation, destruction, healing, hope… we are only ever on the edge.

Today has been an emotional roller coaster of celebrating a reunion and God’s grace, mourning the death of a friend lost far too young, and learning that a dear sister has breast cancer.  I am both in awe and numb all at the same time. But that’s life, isn’t it?

On Christmas day, I visited a place that meant much to me during my teenage years. It was a gloomy old bridge in the middle of nowhere, and I used to go there to escape the turmoil of my world. I would sit mesmerized, staring into its black waters, and more than once I contemplated letting them swallow me up.

It was strange to visit those same waters as an adult, saved by the amazing grace of God, and see them so differently.  The black waters still swirl, but they no longer beckon me… because my hope is no longer in escaping the tough situations in my life; my hope is in Jesus.

I am aware that I am only ever on the edge in this life. This world is not my home, and every part of my physical body wars against the spirit that God has placed inside me. This world is fallen; every part of it is broken.  Everywhere is temptation, and I am only one thought, one arm’s reach, one choice away from going over the edge. God’s grace alone holds me in place.

And what of this grace? This infinite, unwavering, steadfast grace that He offers? It is the one that allows me to look at those swirling waters and see the miracle in them, the one that whispers, “You are loved; you have a purpose; and you need only look to Me.”

One of our pastors, Dan Reeves, once said, “The greatest indicator of God’s future faithfulness is His past faithfulness.” This thought has resonated with me ever since.  I remember doing Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, and he echoed that thought as he discussed the patriarchs in the Old Testament. He mentioned how every time God moved mightily in one of their lives, they would build an altar to the Lord in that place and name it after the characteristic that God demonstrated. Blackaby urged us, as believers, to make mental altars in our minds, ones that marked those tough moments in our lives when God rescued us and really showed us who He is.  In our darkest times, we can look to those “altars” and remember His faithfulness.

So when I look at the waters under my bridge, I now think “Emmanuel” because I realize how dark depression can be, and despite my feeling that I was alone, He was ALWAYS with me, directing me in ways that I could never have even imagined.

You see, God is sovereign. He is in control of absolutely everything in the universe. He knew your innermost being before He spoke words and created the world. But even more than that, He is GOOD.  I think sometimes we forget that He is not just in control…HE IS GOOD.

Whatever difficulties you face, reflect on your altars, remember His power, and know that He is good and loves you infinitely and irrevocably.

Trust Him.

The edge is not the end, and it won’t swallow you up; it’s where He will help you walk on water.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[a]
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he[b] loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

    Psalm 91

Rapture Practice: Calling All Christians

I hear it all the time. “Lord, come quickly!”

But it’s not a fervent, prayerful request or a sincere desire of our hearts. It’s usually accompanied by scoffing, eye-rolling, or perhaps an attempt to ask God to deliver us from whatever obstacle we are facing at the moment.

But I want to ask you something. What if He did return? What if He came back tomorrow at 12 pm.   What would you do tonight?

If your answer is anything other than what you already had planned,  then you aren’t ready. Neither am I.

You see, of the 7+ billion people in the world, more than half have little to no access to the Gospel.  And let’s be realistic– among those who do have access to the Gospel, relatively few choose to accept it. So I’ll ask you again…do you still want Jesus to come quickly?  Do you understand that this would mean the end for nearly 5 billion people?

When I look at the world and how far we are from the will of God, I often wonder where the wrathful God of the Old Testament is.  I wonder how Sodom and Gomorrah could be destroyed, yet we could stand through the terrors of Nero, Hitler, and more currently, ISIS.  Why would God not choose to end this?

And then it hits me.  It is God’s GRACE that keeps Him from returning. He WILL return but not until every ear has heard the Good News.  He will not give up on us, even when we are ready to give up on each other, and that should challenge us to love more deeply than we ever thought possible.

So enough with the division. Enough with the negative comments. Enough with the narcissism. Enough with the hatred. These are not of God. In fact, He gave us specific instructions for how we are to handle ourselves as we await His return.

So consider yourself cordially invited to Rapture Practice.

12 But we request of you, brethren, that you [i]appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you [j]instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. 14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the [k]unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic [l]utterances. 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every [m]form of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

25 Brethren, pray for us[n].

26 Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. 27 I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

As we enter a time of reflection before the beginning of a new year, I am asking you, fellow follower of Christ, to examine your life.  Do each of these verses describe you? If not, you may have some practicing to do.

 

 

 

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