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Until I’d Go Through Anything

Me. I. My.

How many stinking times a day do I say these words? When will I get it through my head that it’s not about me?

Evangelist Todd White uses the illustration of orange juice vs. apple juice. You would think it pretty strange if you squeezed an orange and you found apple juice. It should be equally strange when the circumstances of life squeeze a Christian and anything but Christ comes out.

Life has done a whole lot of squeezing me lately. Are people getting a bunch of Jesus from me? Or are they getting a bunch of: Me. I. My.?

When work gets hard, do people hear me complaining and backstabbing, or do they see me face the challenge with humility and courage? When multiple doctors tell me that they can’t help me, and the journey drags on much longer than I ever thought possible; do those around find me hopeless, depressed and angry, or do they see a testimony of courage under fire?

Conviction.

How much do I really love Jesus?

Do I love Him just enough to pray that He would “bless” me with that new car, but I could do without the diabetes? Do I love Him just enough that I would gladly accept that new promotion, but He doesn’t dare ask me to accept the loss of a job?

Is my life really about whatever it takes to become like Jesus and show Him to a hurting world, or under the surface has a pity party turned on the music?

I have come to find that I don’t really love Jesus until I’d go through anything for His glory. Anything less, and I just really love ME.

Could you accept with grace whatever comes your way today? Is your life surrendered to HIS will, no matter what…no matter who…no matter where life might take you? Decide now.

Would you go through anything that would bring Him glory?

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Waiting for a Leader

This morning in church, my dad told the true story of a young man whose normal appearance was disheveled. His hair was a mess and he did not wear shoes. One Sunday he decided to attend a certain church that sported an entirely different dress code. As the young man made his way in, he discovered that there were no more seats left. Arriving at the front of the sanctuary, he casually found a spot on the floor and plopped down. It was an unusual situation.

Noticeably uncomfortable, the congregation watched as an elderly deacon dressed in a three-piece suit slowly made his way to the front where the young man sat. Each click of his cane made the congregation sit in anxious expectation of what would take place. After all, it was understandable what he must do.

As the deacon arrived at the front of the sanctuary, the cane dropped loudly to the floor and with great difficulty, he sat down next to the young disheveled man to worship with him. There was hardly a dry eye in the place. Greatly moved, the pastor stood up and said, “What I preach today, you will not remember. What you have seen today, you will never forget.”

What is a leader? The easy answer is this: someone that people follow. What is a godly leader? I would argue that at times it is someone that is willing to step out and do the right thing, no matter how uncomfortable it might be and despite the fact that no one else is doing it. It may mean breaking a “social rule” here and there. In the very sense of the word, it is someone who guides others with his/her example. A leader’s convictions are more important than the reputation he/she desires.

Am I a leader? This is the question I am asking myself today. I am a pastor and I am a manager, but am I a leader? You see, a certain position or earned accolade does not make you a leader. Integrity, consistency, and honor make you a leader. Position really has little to do with anything.

There are certain things that if God asked me to do them in a church service, it would make me very uncomfortable. Being the first one to go to the altar would be one of them, especially if it was not during “open altar time.” Being very expressive in worship when everyone else around me is standing still would be another one. And yet, if I cannot worship God freely and openly in church, how will I ever be bold and fearless about Him at my work, in businesses in the community, or with my non-Christian friends?

When I started to think about things further, I realized how most of us are all waiting for a leader. Think about it: a catchy song comes on at church or in a concert, and there is a little stretch of music that is uncomfortable until someone steps up and starts the clap. Then others join in and people start to stand on their feet. The rest is history.

I have also been in church services where a catchy song came on, and the uncomfortable part of the song dragged on and on as everyone wondered who was going to start the clap…and it never happens. Everyone was thinking the same thing, but no one was willing to be the first one.

I wonder how many altar calls have gone by where several would have liked to go forward but no one ever made the first move. I think about all the times that I have felt God nudge me to step out, but I was too afraid to be the first one. So I waited, and then never went.

This is such a simple example – but it has really made me think about all areas of my life. Am I a leader? Traditionally, I have rarely been unafraid of others’ opinions of me; I have been afraid to be the odd one. This is not the person that I want to be.

I want to be like that deacon who sat down with the outcast. I want to be used by God to give others around me permission to openly express their needs and their worship. And I want to have the boldness when I am outside the walls of the church to be just as passionate about my faith as I am within the church building.

If we truly want to reach our community for Christ, we need to be willing to feel uncomfortable and at times be the only one. We need to be willing to ditch our reputation at the foot of the cross, go out and simply do what is right. Our pride must die its rightful death and Jesus must be all we want.

The world is waiting for a leader. They are waiting for you and me.

The Unwanted Path

It’s not the path I would have chosen for my life. It’s definitely not the path I want to be walking right now.

Today, I wanted one thing from this specialist – for her to take me seriously. For her to schedule me for whatever tests would be necessary to put a name to this beast that I fight every day. Instead, I felt dismissed, like I was just another number.

One of the many frustrating things about muddling through the health care industry is that we as patients have to be such relentless advocates for ourselves. With normal illnesses like the flu or a cold, someone might simply say, “I’ll go see the doctor.” The doctor gives him medicine, and he gets better. Those of us with more obscure, mysterious symptoms that persist and debilitate – most often it feels like we spend all our time and energy just trying to get someone to understand the depth of struggle that we deal with constantly, somehow without coming across as a victim or a hypochondriac. No, I don’t have pain because I’m stressed. I’m stressed because I have pain. There’s a big difference.

It can feel so often like we are stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to move. It seems like we are stripped of our ability to choose how we want to live our lives. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the things we cannot do, all the trips we cannot take, and all the bills we cannot pay. It’s easy to lose sight of who we are.

I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be a victim of my illness or of the medical industry. I have never wanted that. However, in the past the decision to maintain my autonomy meant ditching health care all together. It meant dropping my meds and living in ignorance of my limitations. And it kind of worked for a while. However, lying to yourself never works for long.

 

Amy Carmichael wrote in a poem:

“Before the winds that blow do cease,

Teach me to dwell within Thy calm:

Before the pain has passed in peace,

Give me, my God, to sing a psalm.

Let me not lose the chance to prove

The fullness of enabling love.

O Love of God, do this for me:

Maintain a constant victory.”

 

What does it mean to live in victory in the middle of the storm, in the vast unknown, or in the midst of being misunderstood? What does it look like to have a joy that no one or no thing can take away? How can one have peace in the time in-between, when it seems like the waiting is excruciating?

This is what I am learning.

 

And I can say, for me right now it means this:

-That I do not allow the things that I can’t do to overshadow all that I can do

-That I do not view my illness as something that makes me incomplete as a person; but that I would see it for what it is – a challenge that I have been given

-That I would embrace this time as a precious gift – one that causes me to look deep into what it means to take care of my body and learning how to take care of others

-That I would not see this as an interruption to ministry, but rather a redirection in ministry. How many people are going through the same things? How can I be an encouragement and an inspiration to them?

-That this would cause a deepening of my understanding of the love and comfort of my Heavenly Father, who understands when no one else does and walks with me where no one else can

And I will always say: I will praise Him even now!

 

I love this quote by Ann Voskamp:

“Even if today didn’t go as planned, Lord

and if it’s not at all what we hoped,

and if “we’re” not yet quite what we hoped,

and if life’s not unfolding to our Plan A

and if it’s not even close to Plan B

and if the diagnosis is not great

and if the forecast is not good

and if not…and if not…and if not…

“You still are.” You still are Good and You still are God.

And we will be the people who will still…

The people who will still rest in and sing it into the dark:

“and if not…He is still Good. He is still God…so we can still and be and be at rest.”

 

Reflections in a Mirror

Lens

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12

Why do we hide our scars, our fears, and our questions? Maybe because we live in a world that values air-brushed beauty, reckless boldness, and self-truth.

I know that I never want people to perceive me to be an attention-seeker. I don’t desire the spotlight, and try as I might to fade into the background and keep my journey to myself, God had other plans. After all, He didn’t light the lamp inside of me just for me to place it under a bowl.

So today God forced me out of my hiding place and challenged me. Maybe what I am going through right now isn’t just for me. Really, it’s God’s story anyway.

Anyone who has struggled with significant health issues knows that the experience is nearly impossible to describe, and should we try to put it into words, a small voice inside of us tells us that no one would really want to hear anyway. But maybe that voice is wrong.

I’ve had severe chronic pain for 15 years. For the past year and a half, I have had episodes where I lose partial or total control of my body. Most of the time it affects my ability to walk, but it has also affected other things. It used to only happen every couple months, but recently it has been much of the time. I no longer trust myself to drive alone outside of town and I often call friends and family to go with me to run errands. I have had to scale back significantly on the social activities that I am involved in so that I can focus on figuring out what it is that I am fighting. My life now is Jesus, work, doctor’s appointments, and rest.

That last paragraph is terribly difficult for me to share. Why? Because I’m embarrassed. Because I feel vulnerable. Because my health issues often make me feel like a lousy human being. We’re being honest here, right? It’s not that I truly believe these things about myself; but these are the raw and honest struggles that I would venture to say many with big health issues could identify with.

And sweet, well-meaning friends and family offer advice and suggestions, and I thank them. However, there are many realities that come from being sick – minimal financial resources, minimal time, and minimal energy to see even the basic things through. So often it feels like a fight for survival, and little things are such a victory.

I don’t have all the answers for why these things happen. I do know that our society does not like to struggle. If anything is difficult, or takes a while, or there is suffering in any way, we immediately say that thing is bad. Do I believe that God wants me sick? Absolutely not. However, I am convinced that He is less concerned with my comfort and more focused on the Christlikeness that He is developing in my life.

Romans 5:3-5 says, “…we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Does suffering automatically build character in me? Absolutely not. Suffering could easily make me bitter if I wallow in it. It would be easy to live as a victim to my circumstances. Living in victory takes work. A life testimony requires consistent obedience under fire. Suffering simply provides the fertile ground for the seed to grow.

I know that God never wastes tears. A friend joyfully said to me today, “I just know that God is going to use this!” So I’m going to stop hiding under my rock, hoping that no one will find out, because I agree: I just know that God is going to use this.

I felt like I couldn’t share the struggle as long as the reason for the pain remained a mystery. What kind of testimony would this be without a diagnosis? Yet, how many people do I know who are also living in the in-between: the time in between the journey’s beginning and the clarity. I realized the greatest testimony that I could give is this: I trust my God. No matter what this path ends up looking like. No matter what I have to go through. I will hold fast to Him. He has always been faithful, He is proving Himself faithful even now, and that will never change.

It is hard to trust when the future is unclear. However, Scripture and history are filled with people who trusted God in the midst of circumstances that seemed impossible. I think of Moses as he stood before Pharaoh and David as he stood before the giant. We see how the story ended and it seems to us like simple faith. However, they didn’t see how the story would end. They only saw the challenge in front of them, and yet they moved forward as God gave them strength.

Life is understood looking backward, but can only be lived moving forward. The words of Paul ring so clearly to me as I choose to live in victory another day:

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12

And He has been so, so good to me!

Blessing in Disguise

Recently my husband and I have been hit on every side with health issues and job issues. The old adage rang true: when it rains it pours. Timing has been terrible and even though we know God will provide, we have struggled to trust when the solution isn’t visible.

However, in everything, perspective is important, and our focus so often gets lost when the wind and waves start to come crashing in. Tonight I realized that even though this season has been difficult, it has been a huge blessing in disguise for us in many ways. We have been able to focus on our health, re-evaluate what had become our priorities and what our priorities really are, and have spent more time together than we had been able to previously in our marriage. As hard as it’s been, I know that I am thankful for this hard time.

I wonder how often we dismiss a blessing as a curse, or how quick we are to forget that God can turn any desperate situation into something good. Genesis tells the story of Joseph, a man sold into slavery and undeservingly thrown into prison. Just when he thought that he had been forgotten, God raised him up to the position of second in command in Egypt, and through him saved the people of the country and surrounding areas from death in the midst of a major drought. When his brothers who sold him into slavery came before him needing mercy and food from his hand, he said this: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20 ESV)

Might I suggest to you today that what man has meant for evil in your life, God means it for good? That situation you are facing: the rejection, the rumors, the injustice against you: God will redeem it.

Who knows what God will bring out of this season, but I know one thing for sure: our eyes are on Him. He has called us to save lives for His Kingdom, and today we are one step closer to doing that!

Commit your way to Him today and trust Him for the things you can’t control. It may be a short time in coming, or like in the case of Joseph, it may be years. Do not lose heart. The Lord is your defender. He is your strong fortress. Run to Him!

I’m Over It

The big challenge that God has given me in this season is to take responsibility for my life. One of the big areas that He has called me to take responsibility is my health.

For 14 years I have struggled with chronic pain and digestive issues. It has been a ridiculous amount of pain and stress. I have had to leave multiple ministry assignments early, have been unable to participate fully in others, and even recently had to resign a job in large part because my health issues became a level of contention. I recently weighed in at 200 lbs: the heaviest that I have ever been. The brutal honest truth is this: I need to go on the offensive with my health. Something needs to change. I’m over it.

I’m tired of being held back because of my health. I’m tired of being a victim (and acting like a victim) of pain. I do not like the woman that I have become in the pain. I have surrendered for too long when God has called me to be a victor.

Two weeks ago we decided that things were going to change. We joined a wellness company that replaces the toxic chemicals in our home with cleaners and personal products that are not harmful. We started taking vitamins and exercising regularly. About a month before that we started eating vegetables with almost every meal and making sure we had enough protein in our diet. In a couple weeks I will be planting a small vegetable garden to begin eating some basic foods that are not filled with pesticides and hormones. We don’t do things perfectly, but we are on the right track.

For both my husband and I, taking care of our health has become a major priority, and I do not believe that this is in any way separated from our spiritual lives. God has given us our bodies and the ability at our fingertips to make better choices about what we consume. There are far too many things that God has called us to accomplish in our short time on earth to let things that we do have some control over be an obstacle to accomplishing His will.

So this is my statement – I’m over it. I’m over having health problems. I know that I cannot control everything related to my health or my husband’s health, but we can make better choices. And we choose to do so. Stay tuned for the progress.

Oh, and you should read this verse:

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” -1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NASB

Blame Game

It was a great Sunday of music and encouraging preaching. The service was ending, and all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere came the Holy Spirit inspired word for the Church: “You alone decide how dynamic your relationship with God is. You cannot blame anyone else for your complacency.”

To those who were listening, it came like a bombshell, and it is perhaps the most important lesson that our generation needs to hear.

How many of us have it written in our DNA to blame others for who we are, the decisions we make, and where we are in our relationship with God? The underlying issue is our lack of taking responsibility for our lives.

How many times have we used phrases like, “He made me so mad!” and “He offended me!” without even thinking? Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Couldn’t it easily be said as well, “No one can offend you without your consent”? The truth is that I CHOOSE to be mad and I CHOOSE to be offended. What would happen if I took responsibility for my emotions?

How many times have we blamed our upbringing for the ways that we fall short as adults? Maybe it is inability to cook, lack of tidiness in the house, or a struggle to connect with someone due to past trauma. Perhaps it is a fear that leaves us paralyzed and held in emotional bondage. Perhaps it is an inability to keep a budget. Maybe we struggle with submitting to authority. It is understandable for things to be more challenging for us based on past experiences, but the problem lies in choosing to stay that way for years and not grow. What if we took responsibility for our challenges and trauma? What if we reached out for counseling, mentoring, classes, or a friend to come alongside us as we grow? Maturity does not allow for excuses; maturity takes responsibility.

And what excuses do we give for our immature relationship with God? Perhaps we think we do not have the time to invest in reading Scripture or prayer. Perhaps we feel that we do not have the tools we need to dig deep into the meanings of passages. Perhaps we feel that we do not have a support system that pulls us in and encourages us to grow. The truth is, we all have the same 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. How we choose to spend that time is based on the priorities that we either actively or passively set for our lives. Why not be active in deciding how your limited time on earth will be spent? And here is an idea: YOU become the support system that encourages people to grow in Christ. YOU step up and challenge the community around you to KNOW Christ and grow in Him. YOU be the change!

I fully believe that when we take responsibility for our lives, we will not have time to feel sorry for ourselves or blame others. We will be too busy living productive and healthy lives that not only benefit us and our families, but bless those around us. Ask God to point out to you the ways that you have blamed others or your experiences for your lack of growth. Seek His forgiveness, and move forward in maturity!

Backstage Pass

*Ding*

I picked up my phone and there it was: a text from a friend that simply quoted Joshua 1:9. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The text message came out of the blue from a friend that I had not heard from in many months. He told me that he was praying for someone else, but the Holy Spirit told him that this verse was for me, and it could not have come at a better time.

“Do not be dismayed.”

With both my husband and I facing health challenges as well as career changes, we have had to choose many times a day to trust God, that He knows what He is doing and that He is working things out. Discouragement is a temptation, but we choose hope.

In the middle of this season, God has reminded me in a powerful way of His calling on my life to ministry and has sent many little reminders along the way that He is up to something; that He is planning something and that soon He will draw back the curtains and we will see that what He has been doing was beautiful and worth it.

Unfortunately, in the season, we don’t get a backstage pass. Steven Furtick says that we live life forward, but we only understand it in reverse. I believe that in heaven we will all have a big light bulb moment when we realize the depth of God’s activity throughout the journey. Until then, we trust. We trust His love for us, we trust His power, and we trust His timing.

Are you walking through a season right now that is hard to understand? Do you struggle to see how God will provide for you? Go back to His word, read Joshua 1:9. Be strong. Be courageous. Do not be dismayed. Why? Because the Lord is with you. He never left, and He never will. That’s reason enough to choose to trust Him today!

The Shampoo Bottle

We see miracles of provision in the midst of obedience, not before.

Whoever said that following Jesus makes life easier has clearly never followed Jesus. Plain and simple.

Is it worth it? Absolutely…5,000%.

Life goes through seasons, and every difficult season is difficult for a different reason. Sometimes life is difficult because of choices we have made and we must pay the consequences. Other times things are difficult because of circumstances we find ourselves in that are not our fault. Other times life is difficult because God has entrusted us with much because He wants to prove His great strength and faithfulness.

I’m currently in that third one.

Can I say right now that I am so thankful for the journey; for God’s wisdom in how He leads us and orders the events in our lives? I’m so thankful that God often didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted Him to, that He put up with my stubbornness and gently led me along the best path, even though I couldn’t see how it could possibly be good. I am learning that He truly does know best, but it’s a humbling process to not only realize that I’m not in control, but to also understand that I really don’t know what’s best. Oh how much more I see my need for Him now!

I pretty much feel every day that I can’t handle everything that I have been given. From early in the morning until late at night I zip from here to there, and most of the time I’m in charge of whatever I’m doing and there are people looking to me for leadership. To me, that’s intimidating. In the past, it’s been paralyzing, and I’d be lying if I said the temptation to freeze mid-step isn’t constantly there. What keeps me going? Grace. Beautiful, wonderful, faithful grace from God. It’s a supernatural kind of strength. It’s wisdom flowing at just the right time.

I have this shampoo bottle that I almost threw away over a month ago. It seemed like it was empty, but since I’m the type of person to try to get the very last drop out of everything I use, I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing it away as long as I could still get something out of it. So I have kept using it. Every day. For over a month.

There is no scientific reason why shampoo should still be coming out of this bottle. It really is my little miracle, and every day I take a shower and find shampoo still coming out of the bottle, I am reminded that this is how God’s strength works – best in weakness, more fully when there is nothing left of ourselves to give. Somehow in those moments, God still keeps giving. And it makes no rational sense at all.

Yesterday I was reading the story of the feeding of the five thousand. I learned once again that we see miracles of provision in the midst of obedience, not before. Jesus didn’t pray over the loaves and the fish to suddenly see a thousand baskets full of food appear before them. The disciples had to begin to hand out the fish and loaves, probably expecting a riot when five people were fed and the rest became jealous. However, they kept giving…and giving…and giving…and what on earth, Jesus? There’s still more here. And how in the world did we have more afterward than what we started with?

Well, guys, that simply how it works.

I just want to remind you today to keep pressing on. If God has called you to the position you are in, He is faithful to give you everything you need to do it – but He won’t do it until you are emptied of yourself and are totally dependent on Him coming through. Step out when you can’t see the ground beneath your next step. I don’t understand how He does it, but He always comes through. Always. Did I mention always?

Be blessed today!

More Than Enough

We say we want to see miracles, but we never want to be in need. We say we want to see God’s supernatural hand, but we never want to be lacking in any way.

Just how strong is God? Just how many times will He come through?

Whether we want to admit it or not, these questions tempt us to bail when we are faced with the decision to be obedient or walk away. I didn’t realize how much I struggled in the area of faith until the end of July when I started my position at the church. I began a season that requires intense trust, wisdom, and perseverance. Have I done these things well every time? Probably not…but I have discovered that where my ability ends, His begins.

I guess today I am sharing a testimony.

I have found myself in more moments in the last two months than ever before where I have had to step up and do something that I knew I did not have in my hands what I needed to see it through. I had no idea how things would tun out in the end. The only thing I was sure about was that God had called me to do it, and that was all I needed to know.

It has been in these moments where I have seen God supernaturally bring people around me, or give me supernatural energy, or bring financial provision, or…so many other things. The other day God asked me, “Have I ever not come through? Then trust Me through this next thing too. Just get up and do what I have asked you to do.”

This past Sunday night, God brought to fruition a dream that He planted in my heart a year ago for an authentic acoustic worship service. It was a time of simply singing and enjoying His presence, and it required being able to sing for over an hour straight. A lot of work went into the practice and preparation for it, but two days before the event I felt a cold coming on. The day of the event arrived and my voice was nearly non-existent.

I knew that God wanted this event to happen, so cancelling was not an option. Then the sweet moment came on a drive with God in my car. He spoke sweetly to my soul, “I’m going to take away everything that could possibly make you think that this event happened because of YOU. I want it to be about ME, and I want there to be no room for question.” And that’s what He did. I began singing, and my voice held through the end of the service. My friend singing with me was fantastic. God showed up and all of us were blessed. God’s 100% record of faithfulness held, and it was beautiful. Oh…and it was all HIM.

We say we want to see miracles, but we never want to be in need. We say we want to see God’s supernatural hand, but we never want to be lacking in any way. The truth is, we have to be willing to be put in tough situations for the sake of obedience. We have to be willing to be weak. God wants to make it obvious to a watching world that He’s more than enough for any need that we could ever face, and that He will come through on His Word every time.

Do you need an extra boost of encouragement to trust Him today? Whatever situation you are facing, focus on the Word He has spoken over your situation. Has He ever not come through? Then you can trust Him with this one too.

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