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Are You Excited?

In the process of preparing to move to South America as a missionary, the one question that every single person has asked me through fundraising or simple conversation is, “Are you excited?”  I couldn’t figure out for the longest time why that question bothered me so much.  I felt weird saying “Yes” but at the same time the answer wasn’t “No”.  It seemed like those were the only two possible answers, and neither really fit what I was feeling.

Throughout this whole process, I’m not sure that I could say I have ever been “excited” to begin this new phase.  Other people I know have talked about being pumped up and ready to go, and I thought that there was something wrong with me.  Last night I had the opportunity to talk with a friend who is currently serving in a similar position down in South America, and it was encouraging to hear him confirm many of the things that I had been thinking for a while.

Honestly, I believe that my feelings about this are irrelevant.  In the past month I have been amazed at how quickly I can go from laughing hysterically to a mess of tears.  I have been fired up and the next moment I was considerably discouraged.  To me, the word “excited” brings the picture of a little kid at Christmastime being handed a present to unwrap.  While I know that there are many fantastic things that God will do in the next two and a half years, I am also under no presumption that it will be a theme park experience.

In fact, I think it will be the opposite of a theme park experience.  I know that it will be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life or could imagine doing.  I know that there will be days when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and shut the world out forever.  I know that I will go through many periods of time when I want to go home more than anything else.  Yesterday I received an email from a fellow missionary that I had the opportunity of meeting while I was serving in the Dominican Republic, and she encouraged me to hold onto the call of God through everything that is to come.  Sometimes that will be the only thing keeping me there.  I wish that I had known this simple fact through the past couple missionary experiences that I had, because at times I misinterpreted the humungous struggle I was experiencing.  I didn’t understand that the fact that I wanted to go home so badly was not because I wasn’t called to be a missionary; rather it was Satan trying to break me down, cause me to be ineffective, and ultimately to defeat someone who was Divinely placed there.  My friend from South America said, “We are on the front lines of battle.  This is war.  That is the reality.”

I have dealt with spiritual warfare my entire life, but I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that in this past month I have faced more opposition than all the years I have been alive put together.  There were moments when I literally almost gave up.  The temptation is nearly constantly there.  I also know that this is only the tip of the iceberg of what we will be experiencing once we reach the field, and I need to take seriously this next month and a half to prepare spiritually for what we will be doing. 

Standing in front of the Sunday School classes I spoke with yesterday, it occurred to me how irrational God is.  People have told me often, “You’re so much braver than I am.”  If I could tell the truth, I am the biggest coward of them all.  I see myself and think, “God, what on earth did you choose me for?  What good could I possibly do You?”  As much as I try to sell myself to those I will be serving under on the field or to those who are and will be supporting me financially, I realize that I am not the world’s most logical choice to do something like this.  I recognize in myself the absolute inability to take on this level of responsibility and fight on the front lines of the war for souls.  Left to my own devices and depending on my own strength, I will never make it.  In fact, I would not have made it this far.  I can claim nothing except the grace of God that has been preparing my heart and continues to work in me through all that is happening and all that is to come.

I am so thankful for the people in my life who are not afraid to tell it like it is.  To be serving Christ in any capacity is not easy.  In fact, that is a wimpy way of putting it.  There’s no way to truly describe what it’s like.  Jesus calls us to a life of total surrender.  It’s not a question of what God will ask us to give up; but more a question of how we will respond to the call He has already placed on our lives to give Him everything.  The thing about having a true and raw relationship with God is that He is always working in us to make us more like Him.  Sometimes He comes in with a knife to cut away all that doesn’t belong in our lives; other times He sends in the fire.  Sometimes we nearly drown in the cleansing flood.  It is never comfortable, and what I love about Jesus is that He never pretended that it would be.  He said up front what the cost would be.  He said up front that following Him is not for sissies.  He is looking for and seeking out people who are willing to leave it all behind.  He challenges anyone who would come after Him to take up their cross.  Much of our philosophy of the Christian faith and ministry comes from a more padded version of Christ’s call.  The real Jesus left no room for question.

I was asked a couple questions yesterday about my qualifications such as speaking Spanish or past missionary experiences and I was able to answer positively and confidently.  However, they resonated deeper inside of me a more serious question that I needed to answer:  is there any qualification that could prepare me for this real-life spiritual war?  Absolutely not.  It is a reality check that anyone going into ministry needs to have.  There is not a human on this planet that can come face to face with Satan and live.  There is not a human, called or not, that can face the attacks that will come in ministry and be left standing.  This battle is more serious than any of us take it, and we cannot afford to walk into the battlefield with our eyes closed.  We cannot afford to be confident in ourselves or any ability we might think we have.  When push comes to shove, we all become the scared kids hiding in the corner.

If you were to sit down with me and ask me, “What makes you think that you will be able to fulfill this contract in South America?  Why do you think you can do it?”  I would respond, “I don’t think I can.”  This is the undiluted absolute truth.  “Are you excited?”  “No.”

With that said, I will share with you what it is that keeps me going.  It is nothing other than the grace of God.  I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I have been called by Him to do this.  It is only His grace that keeps me on many days from throwing my hands in the air and saying, “I give up!  I’ve had enough!”  I am terrified beyond belief when I think of all it is that God has called me to do, but it is His love for me and my love for Him that carries me through times of doubt and discouragement.  I have surrendered my life completely to Christ without condition.  I made Him a promise and I have pledged my loyalty to Him above anything or anyone else in this world.  There is nothing that God cannot ask me to do because I know that there is nothing that is impossible for me to do with Him living and working through me.

The prayer that I have been praying is this, “Lord, strip away anything in my life that is not of You or from You.  Take away my pride as I stand naked before You.  If anything should stand in the way of total surrender to You, send it away as far as the East is from the West.  Give me the strength and the courage to lay everything down at Your feet.  Everything that I keep from You is sin, and in sin I cannot stand in Your presence.  Do not shield from me the reality of what that means for my relationship with You.  When times get difficult, it is You that will hold me together.  Remind me of Your faithfulness.  With the measure of love that You give me every day, may I return that love faithfully to You.”

Am I excited to move to South America to be a missionary?  Excited is not the word.  Perhaps I will use the phrase “full of joy”.  I am filled with joy at the thought of living my life in obedience to God.  I am filled with joy as every day I come to know God more, and I know that as I continue to be obedient to the things God asks of me, He reveals Himself more to me in incredible ways.  I look forward to seeing what God can do with my little basket of five barley loaves and two small fish.  I want more than anything else in life to bring Him glory in everything I say and do.  By myself, I can’t even comprehend being able to give Him my life.  It is His grace every day that gives me the strength to give Him more and more.  It is His grace that gives me the courage to say, “Yes, I will follow You!”  I pray that through all of this, I will never look to the left or to the right but keep my eyes on Christ.  I pray that God would break down any pride in me that would say, “I’ve got this!”  Without Him, I am utterly incapable.  May I always transparently show Jesus who lives in me to the world.  Lord, don’t let me get in the way.
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When You’re Not Enough

For many years I struggled immensely with depression and self-esteem issues.  It was a darkness that I couldn’t shake and something I couldn’t seem to rise above.  No matter how hard I tried, it seemed that I plunged even deeper into the hole I found myself in.  I hated myself for hating myself.  I hated who I was becoming and the person I believed people saw when they looked at me.  Most people would say, “Hate is a strong word.”  Yes, it is, but it fully describes how I felt.

It wasn’t until the past couple years that God started to bring me to a place where I could begin to see His truth.  One at a time, I discarded a lie here and there that I had believed for so long.  Each lie debunked was a victory.  Each truth believed was a step toward peace.  Although the road has not been easy, it has been a wonderful time of growth and sunshine.

I have come to find that God leads us through seasons, and many of those seasons are meant to prepare us for His will.  This journey out of depression for me was one of those preparation seasons, but now He is leading me into an entirely different season of service and faith.  In many ways for these past couple years, God has shielded me from the majority of the attacks from the Enemy as He healed some very wounded areas of my heart.  I believe a time has come in my journey now where He has lifted His shield of protection and said to me, “You are ready.  Go!”

Every day there is a new lesson to learn and a new struggle to overcome.  I have found that I often have flashbacks to the person that I used to be.  These are no accident; they are intentional bullets from the Enemy of my soul, intent on destroying what God has made whole.  Satan knows that a child of God who has learned to see himself/herself as God sees him/her is a very dangerous thing to his plans.  He will do anything to take away truth and replace it with a subtle lie, and often the lie is easier to believe than the truth.

In my life personally, Satan wins battles easiest when he brings an onslaught of fear and inadequacy.  He reminds me often of the times that I have failed in the past.  He whispers in my ear, “Who are you to think that you can do that?  Look at all these character flaws that you have.  See how irresponsible you have been.”  Often he defeats me with the game of comparison, “These people you are serving with are much more equipped than you.  They are much more charismatic than you.  They are effective in their ministry, and what do you have to show for it?  You obviously aren’t meant to be doing this.”

These voices for many years did not have a source.  I believed they were true because I could see the evidence in my life.  It wasn’t just an accusation to me that I was a failure; I really had failed!  I was irresponsible.  I was serving with people who had more charisma than me.  Who was I to even be there?  Who was I to dream or believe that I could be anything?  How could I possibly be an asset to the Kingdom when I had so many problems myself?

The absolute most life-changing thing that has happened to me is break-through of the light of God in my life. Psalm 18:28 says, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.”  God’s light shined on the lies and showed them for what they were:  lies.  I learned truth that revolutionized the way I saw the world and myself.  God loves me!  God believes in me!  God has saved me!  God is creating a new thing in me!  In Him, I can do all things! 

We say these things in church all the time, and we sing songs as little children of this truth.  However, somehow when we get older, the belief that we are not enough crowds out the truth that in Christ we are made whole.  It is easier to believe that I can never do anything than to step out in faith and believe that I am chosen and called.  When I believe that I can never do anything, I never have to do anything.  All I do is live in a pity party of “Woe is me”.  Yeah, that doesn’t make us very pleasant people to be around, but it is comfortable and it feels safe.  I lived there for YEARS.  However, the grace of God and the truth of God call us to something greater, something more challenging; something that is ultimately fulfilling.

Satan loves the darkness and hates the light.  In fact, he runs from the light.  In dealing with spiritual warfare throughout my life, I have learned that whenever the accuser comes, I must run toward the light.  I run to God’s Word.  I claim His truth.  Light is stronger than darkness.  When there is a battle, light always wins.  The darkness is a dreadful place, but it is no match for the light of God.  From Him the darkness flees.

As a Christian, we must always be seeking the light.  When we are seeking to be filled with the light of God, there can be no darkness in us.  We debate theologically over so many things and use big words to prove our point, but truth is simple.  When we make the light that is in Christ our only treasure, sin has no place.  Darkness cannot stand the light.  John 3:19-21 says, “This is the verdict:  Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

When we are truly serving God and seeking His will for our lives and for the world, we can be sure that we have the attention of the Enemy.  As Christians, we should not be surprised when we face difficulties along the path where God is leading.  Satan knows our weak spots and he knows our history.  We can have no doubt that he will be doing everything in his power to disrupt the work that God desires to do in us and through us.  We must always be aware of his schemes and armed with the truth of God.  God’s truth is light and that light is the only thing that is stronger than darkness.

Know the Word of God.  Spend daily intentional time soaking in God’s truth.  There is no point on the Christian journey at age 8 or age 80 when we have already gained all that we need from Scripture.  In fact, with every new step on this journey with God it becomes increasingly imperative that we are filled with His Spirit and covered in His truth.  You will find many points in the battle with darkness when you discover that you are not enough, and you will be right.  You alone are incapable of defeating the darkness no matter how mature you may have become or how much faith that you believe you have.  It is the light of Christ in you that has won the victory.  Do everything you can to pursue and be filled with the light of God.  Know the Word of God and His truth.

Pour yourself into building your relationship with God.  Make prayer the key of the morning and the lock of the evening.  Make it your constant throughout the day.  When you live your life in the presence of Christ, His truth becomes the dominant voice of your life.  Satan’s whispers that say, “You’re a failure, you’re inadequate, you’re out of place” are drowned out by God’s explanations, “I love you!  You are chosen!  In me, you are enough!”  In Christ, it is not the past that defines us nor is it our fear that determines our future.  Through Him we discover that His desire for us and His power to transform us are everything we need to do all that He has dreamed for us since the beginning of time.  What love is this that He would believe in who we are before we came to be!  What passion He has for His children that He would continue to pursue us with His grace though we deny Him a thousand times!  The amazing love of God shows us that there is no place that is too far or beyond the reach of His arms and there is no pit so deep that He cannot scoop us out and make us new.  Stop making excuses that you have fallen so far there could be no hope.  Embrace His truth that in Him you are enough.  Welcome the light into your life and watch the darkness turn and run!

For those of us who struggle at times with feelings of inadequacy, here are some truths to claim:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” –Colossians 1:21-23a

“And we pray this in order that you may life a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way:  bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”  -Colossians 1:10-12

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” –Ephesians 1:13

“But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me…” –Galatians 1:15-16a

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”  -John 15:15-16

“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” -2 Thessalonians 2:13

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  -1 Peter 2:9-10

Read this one as many times as you need to:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  -Ephesians 2:1-10

There is not a person on this planet who is not desired, pursued, and chosen by God for a purpose that He set forth before time began.  Every one of us is called by His amazing love and equipped through His amazing grace to know Him and serve Him.  Many of us know this in our heads, but when the Enemy comes, he attacks the core of our understanding of who we are in Christ.  Satan knows that if he can convince us that we are not enough to serve God, He has us defeated.  It is this false humility and simple lie that creeps so silently into our hearts and holds us back from becoming in Christ everything that He created us to be.

There are moments, like last night, when I was tempted to be defeated.  I took my eyes off Jesus and started looking at the waves.  I saw all the difficulties around me and all the ways that I believed I was inadequate.  Once again I accepted the lie that I was useless.  I believed that I was not enough.  However, through God’s truth, I recognized Satan’s attack for what it was.  I ran back to the light, and the darkness turned and ran away.

There is encouragement in taking time to look back and see how far we have come.  When we remember who we once were, we can see clearly that who we have become could only have come about through the amazing grace of God.  Left to our own strength, we are powerless to change ourselves or our situation.  Alone, we can only sink deeper and deeper into darkness.  It is the light of Christ and His truth that shines into those dark places and frees us from all that once held us in bondage.  It is this light and this truth that I cling to in every situation.  It is God’s love that has called me forth.  He has given me everything I need to serve Him.  He is at work preparing me and growing me into maturity in Him, so that when I stand before Him, I will lack nothing.  When the accuser comes, I turn around and look him in the face.  I stand tall because by the power of Christ I am more than enough.

Come Follow Me

This morning I was reading the first couple chapters of Mark and God brought something to my heart that I had never noticed or thought about this way before.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He was always going around, finding people where they were, doing whatever they were doing and saying simply, “Come follow Me.”  You know what’s crazy?  Many of them actually did.

I wonder, what is different between them and us?  They had families, jobs, and responsibilities.  I am afraid that the Church that we know today in the Western world has so watered down the call of Christ to follow Him that many believe that the Christian faith has become irrelevant.  And they would be right.  The version that we believe requires us maybe to go to a service for a couple hours on Sunday, and the really holy ones go on Wednesday night and Sunday night and give their tithe to the congregation.  Our faith, in essence, becomes something that we add to our schedule rather than a passion that consumes every aspect of our lives.

I wonder, what have we left behind for Christ?  We who call ourselves Christians and who say that we long for those who don’t know Him to come to love Him and follow Him…what have we given up?  If my faith is simply a belief system through which I filter the things that happen to me, is it really faith?  Can I truly walk around doing the same things that I did before with a few added service projects to ease my conscience and call myself a follower of Christ?  When Jesus walked up to someone and said, “Come follow me,” He wasn’t just meaning, “Believe that I am the Son of God and tell other people that I am the Son of God.”  He was calling people to get up from whatever they were doing, leave the boat and the tax collection booth behind, and give Him every part of their lives.  He made no bones about it:  it would cost them everything.  And they stood up, left it all behind, and followed Him.

You see, being a follower of Christ isn’t a call to simply be a good person or to do good things.  It is a call to total surrender.  Right now, for me, I am selling basically everything I own, I quit my job, and I am moving to South America.  People look at me like I’m either a lunatic or some fantastical person of faith, but the truth is, there is no other option in my life than to give everything for Christ.  I have come to understand that the faith I had before was wimpy.  It had no power and no relevance.  It basically served as a way to occupy my time and wear me out.  True faith in Christ doesn’t leave you wondering at the end of the day if there is something more.  It doesn’t drain you dry and leave you empty.  True faith in Christ is a deep and constantly renewing joy.  It is a well that never runs dry.

The truth is, the more I surrender to Christ and the more time in my days that I give to building my relationship with Him, the more I discover an incredible adventure that I had been missing out on.  I had been holding onto so many meaningless things, thinking they were so important.  I had been hiding in insecurity and fear…and it was at this place that Jesus stepped into my life and said, “Come follow Me.”  “But Jesus,” I said, “I am not good enough for you.  I love the life that I have.  What You’re asking me to do is so impossible!”  “Come follow Me.”  “But Jesus,” I continued, “You’re asking me to give so much.  This hurts!  You want me to leave everything that is safe and familiar and to do something that I don’t have the money for?”  “Come follow Me.”  “You mean that you want me to give up the things I own, my family, my job, my country, my language, my entire understanding of how the world works and who You are…just leave it all behind and chase after You?”  “Yep.”  “Awesome.”

Some people tell me that I have the type of relationship with God that they wish they had.  Honestly, I do not have an extra dose of faith nor have I been given a special talent that others do not have.  I simply have heard the call of Jesus, “Come follow Me,” and I said yes.  I got up from my rotting boat, laid my stinky nets down, and ran after this curious guy that captured my heart in a single moment.  What have we as the Western Church been missing that has caused our young people to leave in droves and look elsewhere for truth?  I honestly believe it is because we have made Christianity a drive thru coffee shop on the way to work.  We have placed ourselves in the middle of the world, not to meet people where they are at, but rather to be more convenient for those who have busy and complicated lives.  We are afraid to ask too much of others or even of ourselves.  The thing about Jesus that is so convicting to me, is that He could care less what He found people doing as He walked through the streets.  He met them, saw them, and challenged them, “Come follow Me.”  He didn’t say, “Meet me at the synagogue at 7 every Wednesday night for prayer meeting.”  He didn’t even say, “Feed the homeless once a week down at the mission.”  He said, “Come follow Me.  Give me everything.  Give me you.”  Then He went on His way and in a flash came the choice:  do I stay where I am or do I follow Him?  Nothing has changed from then until now.  The choice is still the same and there is no middle ground:  do we stay where we are or do we follow Him?  Don’t take too long thinking about it, because He is on His way down the road.  You don’t want to lose Him in the crowd.

God makes it clear in Scripture how He feels about lukewarm people.  These aren’t the people who don’t believe in Him.  These are the people who do believe in Him, but have carefully fit Him into the cracks and crevices of their lives and schedules.  They feel like God should thank them because they have made sure that He has a spot on the day planner.  They don’t drink, smoke, or hang with boys who do.  They even save sex for marriage and stay away from parties with loud music.  They lead Bible studies and teach Sunday School and sing on the worship team.  They are nursery directors, pastors, and even missionaries.  Look at all these things that we do for you, Jesus!  Look at us.  Check out our holiness!

There is one thing that I am finding out about the true and undiluted call of Jesus to follow Him:  there is no room for a lot of things.  There is no room for pride, selfishness, or sin.  There is no room for comfort.  There is no option to hang onto anything that is not of Him.  When He says that this call will cost everything, it does not simply apply to one or two categories of life.  He means everything.  Although it may seem like total submission and surrender to Him is an enslaving concept, there is nothing in the world that is more life-giving and liberating.  In Him, I have the freedom to not be concerned about things that don’t matter.  Every moment I live and everything that He calls me to do have eternal meaning and significance.  He has brought me out of fear and insecurity and has given me a new name.  He has made me His and His love has so filled me that I cannot imagine living any other way.

I share these things from my life not that you will think more of me.  Truth is, probably most people I know will think that I am being ridiculous and radical.  That’s ok.  They can think that.  I share these things in order to say, “There is nothing hidden in my life.  I desire for there to be no darkness in my life, but only light.  As I live my life in total surrender to Christ, I want to be an example to others of what it looks like.  This is my journey, and perhaps God will use it to impact your journey too.”

Lately, there have been many “of course” moments.  If God so loved the world that He gave His life, of course I should do the same.  If He calls me to sell everything I have and move to another country, of course I will.  If He asks me to give up my lunch today to pour out my heart in prayer for the people of Ecuador, asking Him to give me a love and passion for these people for whom I will soon be living with, then of course I will do it.  There is no area of my life that He does not have access to.  My entire being is His.  I have made my decision:  I am ALL IN.  This following Jesus thing is a pretty radical call.  He has stepped into my life and said, “Come follow Me.”  Of course I will, Jesus.

Could it be that we have been so flaky with our faith that it has lost its meaning?  We are afraid to ask people for too much, when in reality we are wired to desire a life of complete devotion to God.  Anything less seems fake.  Anything less is fake.  Our generation more than any other is longing for and searching for something REAL.  We hold in our hearts the greatest reality and truth that could ever exist.  We live for and serve a God who is so passionately in love with people that He would do anything to reach them.  He would go to any length and give anything to see His creation come to know Him and understand His love for them.  He has proven this in so many ways.  Why would we, who claim to love Him and who have been called to follow Him do anything less than everything that is necessary as well?  Drop everything and follow You, Jesus?  Of course I will!  How could I do anything else?  How could I possibly give You anything less than all of me?

Jesus has said to you, “Come follow Me.”  How will YOU respond?

Did You Expect…?

Tonight I texted a friend as I headed downtown to a young adult worship service, “Please pray for me tonight…I’m tempted to be very discouraged right now and this is not of God.”  I was coming off an amazing weekend with my best friend who had come to visit me from Michigan before I leave Nashville and ultimately the country for an extended period of time.  Rachel is one of those friends that loves Jesus and wants to know and serve Him just as much as I do.  I can’t say that I have known and connected with many people like that.  The past few days have been filled with studying the Scriptures, debating spiritual topics, and praying together for those we care about and for each other.  I took her to the airport this afternoon and almost immediately following set out once again to work on fundraising and preparations for moving overseas.  It was in these moments that Satan once again pounded at my resolve and tried to bring me down.

He has been relentless since God has brought the opportunity to go back into missions.  Everything that could possibly go wrong and not possibly have gone wrong has gone wrong, and the Enemy of my soul has thrown everything at me he can.  Everyday.  All day.  What a fantastic encouragement and confirmation it has been to me that I am following Christ and that my life is significant in the Kingdom of God.  Through every blow and obstacle, I have felt God calling me onward, commanding me to press through.  Already, before I have even come to the point where I can move, God has created such a testimony of His faithfulness through the struggle.

There are times, however, when I get tired and another blow knocks me over for a bit.  Tonight I fell down for a while.  Discouragement set in, and I was nearly ready to give up the fight.  I stepped into church just wanting to sit down and stare at the worship band.  The topic of the message tonight was the Villa Dolorosa:  the Way of Suffering.  We talked about the story behind communion and the importance of taking it seriously.  It was this very thing that I had been contemplating just yesterday.

As the pastor started talking about Jesus’ journey to the cross, I began to write in my Bible the things that I felt Him clearly saying to my heart, “Did you expect that this would be easy?  Did you expect that it would be painless?  Did you expect to keep anything, least of all your pride and your small and childish expectations?  Did you expect Me to make sense?  I care about what you deeply need and what the world deeply needs more than what you want or what makes you feel comfortable.  Trust Me even now.”

The thing about giving everything up that you have to go serve God, forsaking all that you had grown to hold dear is that it hurts…much more than you would expect.  It’s not just the stuff, but it’s the time, relationships, and dreams that you had.  It’s giving up the security you took comfort in and stepping into the air, hoping that God will put some kind of solid ground there before your foot steps all the way down.  Reckless trust doesn’t happen at a pace that we feel we can handle, but rather God asks us to take leaps forward and to the side.  Sometimes we don’t even know where we’re going to land.  I told Rachel last night as we stood on a bridge overlooking Nashville, “It’s a scary thing to place your life in the hands of God, because you literally have NO IDEA what He is going to do with it.  Our God is so big and so much greater than our understanding that even if we were to come up with and be satisfied with 1,000 ways that God could move in our lives, He would find the 1,001st and lead us in.  My entire life is upside down right now.  Everything that I ever believed about God is open for Him to change.  He is rocking my world.  I’m not quite sure how to handle it.”  I told her, “I feel that God wants me to just take off running toward Him.”  She responded, “Well, you kind of are…”  Tears started rolling down my cheeks as I stared at the beautiful skyline of buildings lit up against a black sky, “Not fast enough.”  I muttered quietly.  “Not fast enough.”

I was driving home tonight and I glanced over at the short section of the interstate that runs alongside the city where the skyline is clearly visible to the left.  As I drove past the beautiful lit up buildings, I felt God impress upon my heart, “I love the people of this city.  I love my children.  I love the people of the world much more deeply than you can imagine.  I am asking you to walk this road with me, the road to the crucifixion.  I want you to feel the pain with me as I lay down everything that I have for my children.  I gave my life.  Will you give yours?  My heart breaks for my children every day.  Will you let your heart break as well?  I want you to feel the weight.  I want you to struggle under the pressure.  I want you to know me like this.”

How could I give my Lord anything less than all of me?  There are so many petty things that I wrestle with from day to day.  I’m not allowed to date for the next several years and should I sell the seasons of my favorite TV show or not?  What kind of tangent have I allowed myself to get off on?  What do any of these things matter?  God has never stopped loving the world with an everlasting love.  He has never stopped gazing at the city lights thinking about how much He loves the people standing on the other side of each illuminated window and sleeping on each bed hidden within.  He has never stopped crying for the orphan lying on the side of the road on the brink of death because she has no one to care for her.  How could I be concerned with such little things like a TV show or my selfish desire for a relationship?  How could I let something so small consume any part of my heart?  Where did I lose my soul?

I have perhaps said 1,000 times, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks Yours.”  How many of those times have I really desired that?  How many times have I been willing to carry the weight of the cross on my shoulders, the blood of Christ dripping down my face?  How many times have I shed tears, sobbing deeply from the soul for the orphan longing for a home and for someone to love her as Jesus does?  Maybe I have a few times in the past, but I have not cared often enough.  I have not let her pain touch my heart deeply enough.  I have not loved as Jesus loves.  I have not been broken as He was.  I have not died with Him because I so loved the world as He did.

As I took the bread and dipped it into the juice tonight, I prayed that I would hold onto Christ and stand firm in Him to the end, whatever that may be.  I prayed that He might take my hands, feet, body, soul, and spirit and make me one with Him.  I prayed that I might count everything as loss compared to the privilege of knowing Christ and being found in Him.  I prayed that I might love as He loves, laying all that would hold me back at His feet.  How could I give my Lord anything less than all of me?  How great is His love!  Whatever it takes, whatever needs to happen for me to be fully surrendered to Him…I must do for the love I have and desire to have for Him.

My discouragement over simple finances seems so petty in comparison to God’s great love for the world.  It is He that has called me to go into the world and love.  How could I doubt that He will come through to get me there?  It is literally not even worth thinking about.  I may have no idea how things will work out.  How irrelevant is my struggle for understanding from God’s perspective?  His words ring in my head, “Did you expect that this would be easy?  This is the road to the crucifixion!  Come, follow Me.  Leave your small concerns in the dirt as you take up my cross upon your shoulders.  Get your footing as you lift the heavy beams into the air.  Watch your step, lest you trip on a stone in the way.  Let’s climb this hill.  Feel your muscles burn as the steep path becomes rugged and perilous.  Breathe in deeply as the air becomes thin and they lay you down on the rough planks.  Feel the fear as you see them raise the hammer in the air and it starts to come down.  Scream into the sky as the searing pain rushes through your body.  Feel it again and again.  As they lift you up before the people and the physical strain becomes nearly more than you can bear, note the humiliation you feel as you hang naked and bleeding before those who came just to see the show.  Hear them laugh and mock you, calling out for you to come off the cross if you really are who you say you are.  Feel the sadness of God the Father as He turns His back on You.  Experience the alienation of true separation from Him as you carry in your being the sins of the whole world.  Breathe in deeply your last breath and let it out with a great cry.  This is what it means to know Me.  This is what it means to follow Me.  This is what it means to truly be found in Me.  I so loved the world that I gave my life.  Did you expect that this would be easy?”

I came face to face tonight with a reality that was so much bigger than the reality that I had allowed myself to get used to and be concerned with.  Such petty and meaningless things consume my days.  Where is the love of God in my life?  Sometimes I forget that HE SO LOVES THE WORLD.  He walked the road to the crucifixion and endured its excruciating suffering because HE SO LOVES THE WORLD.  I should so love the world too.  I should so love the world that I do not even give a second thought to leaving my petty concerns in the dirt as I take up the cross of suffering and love.  Maybe I expected a less treacherous road and a little less pain.  However, God incarnate did not skimp out when He gave His everything.  Neither then should I.

Center of the Universe

My friend posted a picture today on Facebook that said, “I don’t understand why I’m considered arrogant for thinking that I am temporary, insignificant, I’m a blink in the cosmic eye and that it has existed long before me and won’t remember me very long.  I’m arrogant for that but the Christian who claims that he is the reason the universe exists is humble in his ideology.”

Wow.  Where have we Christians gone wrong?  When did we become so full of ourselves that we have convinced so many people that we see ourselves as the reason that the universe exists?  Perhaps many of us do see it that way.  We need a good knock in the head.

I have been convicted lately of how much I use the word “I” in what I talk about and write about.  I get really frustrated with hypocrisy, and I never want to be guilty of pointing a finger at someone else when I have issues in my own life as well.  Since when has it been my job to point a finger at anyone else anyway?  My job as a Christian is to proclaim truth and to live out that truth in my life.  Just as I have been given grace, I need to learn to handle myself with grace toward other people as well.  It is often hard to not lash out at the many comments sent my way, and I often want to defend myself when I know that wisdom calls me to a higher standard.  I would never want to destroy a work that God is already doing in someone’s life.  Who knows what lies behind the comments and accusations?

We humans are not the center of the universe.  Our lives are temporary, and the universe has existed long before us.  Most of us will die and the generations after us will soon forget about us.  This is the fact and circle of life.  However, one thing about this statement that is very untrue is the claim that our lives are insignificant.  Without Christ, this would be true.  However, because our Creator loves us, we have significance.  He is the Center of the Universe.  Everything was made for Him and it is only in Him that we have life.  In the grand scheme of things, we are small…much smaller than we would like to be or admit.  However, as His children, we have significance and purpose.

This same person posted another picture that said:  “When you finally care more about this (picture of a poverty-stricken child holding a baby) than this (picture of an embryo), then you can call yourself ‘pro-life’.”  She has hit the nail on the head of something we really need to pay attention to.  How many of us have stood on the side of the road holding a pro-life sign, yet cannot call to mind when we have thought seriously about adoption ourselves or taken it upon ourselves to walk with someone in real physical need?  I have been reading the Gospels lately, and Jesus condemned the religious leaders and know-it-alls because they so readily protested moral “rights” and “wrongs” but never lifted a finger to do anything about it themselves.  They sat down on their thrones overlooking the world and enjoyed their comfortable position.  Heaven forbid this picture would be what people have in mind when they think about the Church today.  I think this may be the case to some.

However, before I take this to the level that many radical Christians go these days in condemning the Church and calling everyone who is a part of it ignorant and hypocritical, I must call to mind the many thousands of Christians throughout the world who are truly following Christ and doing what He said.  They do not take for granted the resources they have been given, but have willingly shared them with those in need.  Many have abandoned a comfortable life to live among those in poverty and to give aid wherever they can.  To say that all Christians need a reality check is a huge ignorance in and of itself, and I would challenge anyone who bashes Christians to pause and research the many stories that do not make the national news headlines.  How often we glory in bad news, and how rare it is for an enriching story to be told!  I have known many people who have been aware of their smallness, yet have chosen to care for the widow and the orphan’s needs above their own anyway.  The result has been incredible because it is not their efforts that have brought about change, but rather the love of Christ that flows through them that gives hope to those living in despair.  Much of the change that has happened has occurred at great cost to the giver.  Many have sacrificed their lives.  Not every Christian is a hypocrite, and I pray every day that I would be as genuine as they come.  May I never misrepresent my Lord.

It is true that many people in the Church have a long way to go in their understanding of what it means to be Christ followers.  We forget sometimes that we have just as much need for grace as those we tend to judge.  We fight for things that we aren’t willing to back up with our lives, and we say a lot of things that we aren’t willing to sacrifice for.  However this does not define all Christians by any stretch of the imagination, and I hope that through my life I can be faithful to live out the things that I profess with my mouth.  I am as far from the Center of the Universe as I can get, but I serve the one who is the Center of the Universe.  May I always hold true to this perspective. 

God-Given Authority

I read Matthew 10:1 today:  “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”

There are so many things about this verse that fascinate me.  First of all, who are these disciples?  Second of all, why did Jesus give them authority to do these big things?  Third, what does this mean for us today?

It is important to remember that these twelve guys that Jesus chose as His disciples were simple fishermen, tax collectors, and common men that Jesus found wandering around doing their thing.  Their lives were normal, predictable, and safe until Jesus came in and shook things up.  All of a sudden, they were chosen for a purpose by the Creator of the Universe; these simple men were no longer simple men.

How they found themselves in this situation was only by the initiation of God.  They didn’t go out looking for Him or accidently see something that they shouldn’t have.  God stepped into their world, took them by the hand, and led them into a Kingdom much bigger than the little world they had known.  He walked with them, talked with them, and showed them things they did not know.  He called them to find others just like He found them, and He sent them out.

Then this day came when He gave them authority to do the very things that He had been doing all this time:  to drive out evil spirits and to heal disease and sickness.  Why would God entrust His authority to such common men?  Were they special?  Did they have extraordinary faith?  I am not sure.  Perhaps it was for no other reason than the fact that they were chosen and that they obeyed.

Oftentimes, we long to be able to do extraordinary things, and we wonder why we can’t.  Then we look at other people’s lives, seeing how they are doing these things and we wonder what they have that we don’t.  We must remember that it is God who gives authority to whomever He has called to certain situations.  Who can begin to understand the mind of God and why He does the things He does?

I do know, however, that God only entrusts Himself to those who surrender themselves completely to Him.  It is not the people with one foot in the water and the other foot on the shore that He allows into the deeper places of His heart.  It is the people who are ALL IN that He shows Himself to, and until we allow ourselves to be lost in Him, we will be standing on the sidelines wondering what we could have been in Him.  No matter what He entrusts to one person or another, the truth is the same for all who would give everything:  it is a fantastic ride; a grand adventure.  Following Christ with everything I have has cost me everything, but I do not regret it for a second.  The only regrets that I have are the times when I have held back.  His grace has picked me up, and once again the rollercoaster takes off.

Why not let go of everything that you are holding onto?  We do not seek the gift, but the Giver.  Throughout the journey you will face incredible things.  Life as you know it will be gone.  However, a life lived in the power of God will blow your mind.  It will cost you everything, but you will be given far more than you ever gave up.  What you receive in return is not useless stuff that fades away with time.  These things are forever things.  I want to surrender myself completely to God.  I want to experience what it means to be entrusted with something of His.  I want to know His heart and capture His dream.  God has chosen me for a Divine purpose.  I choose to obey.

Do You Believe I Can Do This?

When something impossible is placed before me, often times I think about and vocalize my doubts perhaps more than I should.  Especially during this phase of my life when I am fundraising and really taking a step of faith that God will come through when I have placed everything in His hands, I have expressed a lot of concern as to how, when, or if He will come through.  I am a transparent person with those around me, and I am not regretting having shared the things on my heart.  However, I regret having doubted God so much.

I read Matthew 9:27-30a this morning:

“As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith will it be done to you’; and their sight was restored.”

One thing about faith that is so interesting to me is that God does not generally come through until we are in a moment of crisis and have expressed our unwavering belief in His ability to deliver us.  Many great moves that He makes come after our declaration of trust.  He doesn’t boost our faith by simply showing us an impossible situation and how He can handle it.  Rather, He brings us to a difficulty, waits until we say with shaking voices, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are able to do this” and He comes through in whatever way He sees fit.  The first step of faith must be ours.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:  David’s declaration to Goliath before he kills him, the march around Jericho for a week before the walls came down, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace, Daniel and the lion’s den, etc.  These are just a few examples of the people of God having to take the step of reckless faith into an impossible situation and finding themselves in the middle of it before God came through and saved them.  Oftentimes God will lead us to and into a time of struggle, allowing us to feel the pain.  He asks us the question, “Do you believe I can do this?”  We then take our mustard seed of faith and reply, “Yes, Lord,” and hold on tight.

I sense that God is asking me this question now, “Do you believe that I can do this?”  In the midst of all the uncertainty that I am feeling, I remember the things that I am sure of:  God brought this into my life and He called me to it, He has never failed me and He can do anything.  Therefore in faith, I choose to answer, “Yes, Lord, I believe with all my heart you can do this.  I look forward to telling your story of deliverance!”

Not an Easy Road

If anyone wants a life that is predictable, safe, and simple, I do not recommend Christianity.  True Christianity, that is.  Jesus ruined my life.  I had a good thing going.  Then He invaded, and literally no stone has been left unturned in my once peaceful and well-planned out life.  And just about the time that my life tries to enter a sweet and comfortable place, in He comes again to stir up the once-stilled waters.

Less than a month ago, I accepted a position to move to South America to be a missionary for a few years.  In less than a month, my life has literally turned upside down.  I went from having a cozy apartment and a reliable full-time job to a near-empty apartment and the job status of “unemployed”.  Today was my last day of work, and once again, reality has hit hard.  I texted my friend and said, “I quit my job today.  Reality is hitting.  I’m scared to death…I kinda want to cry but I’m at Starbucks and that’s probably not socially acceptable.”  He responded with some Bible verses that helped me process through some of the things that I am feeling.

Nothing has gone smoothly with this process.  Absolutely nothing.  If something could go wrong, it has gone wrong.  If it hasn’t gone wrong yet, I’m sure that it will.  Not only has this whole process been a huge step of faith, but every stumbling block that could be thrown in my way has been flying through the air.  I think I have a few bruises on my spirit.

Even things that I thought could not possibly have gone wrong have happened.  Probably the easiest thing to do through this whole journey is to get discouraged.  And I would be discouraged, if I wasn’t aware of what was really happening.  I may not know much about life or why things happen the way they do, but I know enough about spiritual warfare to understand that rather than be discouraged right now, I should be rejoicing in all that I am witnessing.

Satan and I have an interesting un-relationship.  Since I was a small child, in a variety of supernatural ways, he has tried to discourage me and claim victory over my life.  He taught me lies about myself that I believed for a long time.  He has known since the day that I was born that God has big plans for my life in what He desires to do through me, and Satan has wanted for nothing more than to keep me from all that God might do.  I struggled for over 10 years with deep depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues, suicidal thoughts, etc.  I hated who I was, and for a while, Satan had a hold on me that greatly limited what God desired to do in my life.

However, the power that is in Christ is stronger than the darkness of evil, and when His love broke through in my life and I began to understand His truth over the lies that I had believed, so much changed in me.  I no longer had to be afraid and I started to realize that God’s salvation and purpose for my life had the power to transform the mess of a person that I had become into the masterpiece that God had planned since the creation of the world. 

Lately I have come to recognize the stumbling blocks that have fallen in my way as attacks from the Evil One meant to discourage and deter me from following God and seeing this through.  I know how he works, and I used to be terrified.  There are still times, like today, when I am tempted to melt into a puddle of fear.  However, I also know how God works.  I know that He has called me to do this, and I will not back down.  My coworkers asked me today, “What happens if you don’t raise the money and you can’t go?  What is your plan B?”  Honestly, the thought had not even crossed my mind, but the answer I would give them is this:  There is no plan B.  I am all in.  I will follow Christ, and I will trust Him to see this through.

I would like my coworkers to hear these verses from 2 Corinthians 4:7-11:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.”

This passage means so much to me at this point for this reason:  God chose to live out His purpose through very imperfect people living in a messed up world.  I am a jar of clay, easily broken and covered with chips and nicks that reveal a life that has not been easy.  Of all the ways that God could show His love to the world, He would choose a jar of clay.  He would choose me.  Why?

I am not perfect.  He is.  I am fragile.  He is strong.  Though it may be obvious to the world that I am the worst possible jar that God could have chosen to fill with His glory, at the end of the day it is increasingly obvious that it is Him and not me that is holding me together.  Because His strength fills me, my once fragile being is hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, but not destroyed.  I am not crushed beneath the pressures that Satan may bring upon me, because it is the power of God that has won the victory over my life.  I do not despair, because my hope is in Christ and not my circumstances.  I am never abandoned.  No, not ever.

I have found that especially when we are following the will of God and desiring it above all else, the road we are traveling is not remotely easy.  Things we never imagined we would encounter along the way seek to destroy our faith.  There are many times when we feel that we could not possibly take one more thing.  However, when we choose to keep our eyes on Christ, we find that our simple and fragile jar of clay is still filled with His power.  We still are held together by God’s strength, and nothing can destroy a jar of clay that knows the heart and hand of its Maker.

I am facing discouraging times right now as I seek to follow the will of my God.  Others that I know are struggling as well as the unknown lingers before them on their journey and forces much stronger than them seek to crush them under the weight of discouragement.  I want to encourage them with this word from Joshua 1:9:  “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  There is absolutely nowhere that we are and nowhere we will go that God will not be walking alongside us, filling us with His strength.  Although the future seems daunting and many impossibilities flash before us, we can press on knowing that our God loves making possible what was before impossible.  He created the universe out of nothing, and every day He continues to make a way where there used to be no way.  He can and will come through in His time in our lives.  He loves us with an everlasting love that we could not even begin to understand in a thousand lifetimes.  He will not let us fall.  He will always provide for His children.  This I have found to be true in every circumstance in my life, and I have complete confidence that it will be true in every way in the future. 

Keep the faith.  God is creating in you a testimony of His faithfulness and glory.  Be strong in Him.  I pray every day that the love and power of God would be so evident in my life, that those who look at this jar of clay see only the beauty of Christ that is within rather than the rugged insufficiencies of the container.  Could I trust Him that much?  Although following Christ is by far not an easy road, there is no other road that I would rather be traveling.  I long to know Christ and everything He is.  I want to know His power and majesty.  I want to be found complete in Him.  Whatever it takes, Lord, to make me wholly Yours, I surrender.  May You be brought glory in my life.

Meaningless

Lately I have been going through the Refiner’s fire.  It seems like it is just one thing after another.  Thursday night through last night I spent a significant amount of time going through everything I own and boxing up all that I was selling (which is about 90% of the things I own).  I boxed up my movies just like God asked me to and some friends came over and helped me move everything over to another friend’s house for a garage sale this morning.  I think I have been through a whirlwind of emotions.

So I set up for the garage sale early this morning and when I was almost finished setting up (which took me an hour), the rain started pouring down and didn’t stop until the garage sale had ended and I was on my way home.  Part way through, a couple friends came and joined me and I was there for a total of about five and a half hours.  We had ONE CUSTOMER.  He bought my bike and some Lego’s.  Everything else is still at my friend’s house.

Part of me was so angry at the whole situation.  I went through a myriad of emotions just working through the concept of selling all my things.  I’ve told several people that I feel like I’m digressing back to college life.  I graduated from college and accumulated the normal things for an apartment, and now I am selling all my things to live in a dorm again.  Until you have actually done something like this, you have no idea how difficult it is to do.  I am ashamed at how difficult it has been to let certain things go.

Then I got to the point where I could have the garage sale, and the whole morning was filled with torrential downpour. For a couple hours I sat on the couch contemplating what on earth God is doing.  This instance alone was not nearly as big of a deal as it is combined with so many other things.  A couple days ago, my car battery died.  My internet in my apartment stopped working.  The internet on my phone was in and out as usual.  The car charger for my phone stopped working.  Friends committed to helping me and at the last minute backed out.  People committed to certain purchases and then later backed out.  People keep forgetting to call me about stuff.  All these little things over the past 24 hours added up this morning and I sat on the couch today feeling the loneliest that I have felt in a long time.

I told my friend this morning that I feel like God is ripping away pieces of myself; a chunk here and a chunk there.  It’s a mess.  I can only hope that when He’s done, all that is left is all that really matters.  Honestly, if I have learned anything in the past few weeks, I have learned that I have no clue what is going on.  I have learned that I have so much to learn and understand.  I have also learned that there is much that I cannot understand about God and about myself.  I have found that in certain moments I will be under the impression that I am completely fine, then a comment will come out of my mouth and I’m left thinking, “Where on earth did THAT come from?”  It’s a scary feeling when you realize you’re so overwhelmed that you weren’t even aware of it.

Part of the struggle has been that I am still working full-time while moving and going through things and fundraising for support.  I leave the States, Lord willing, two months from tomorrow and God is slowly working His miracle.  The last week of any job is difficult, because your heart has moved on already, yet you still feel the need to give that 110% to what you are doing.  It takes twice as much effort as it used to.  My life never stops, and my brain never stops, even in the middle of the night.  I haven’t slept a full night in I don’t know how long…definitely have not had more than four or five hours of sleep in a night for at least two weeks.  The other night I dreamed that I was dreaming and I had to wake up twice.  I am an introvert, yet I have had to spend nearly every waking moment in the past week communicating with customers at work or supporters on the phone.  It is easy to get discouraged right now as I have no idea how much support I have and it seems so insufficient so far.  Waiting and trusting is tough, and the deadline is looming.  I have been working at it night and day.  I am exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally.

A couple tears escaped my eyes this morning.  I was trying so hard to hold it in.  I didn’t know what I wanted (besides sleep).  I am not very good company right now because I’m so wound tight, and while I am so tired of communicating constantly, I still want someone around.  I figured out that I really needed to take the time and listen to what God might be saying.  I needed to keep the ears of my heart turned in.  God showed me over the past couple days how much of what I valued and desired is meaningless.

The main thought in my head as I was going through my things was the conviction that I had been living in sin by having so much stuff.  That sounds very extreme to Americans who will quickly say, “It’s not the stuff that is the sin, but the love of stuff.”  I wonder, however, how many of us Americans can really separate ourselves from our stuff?  I thought it would be a fairly easy thing to put things in boxes and send them on their merry way.  I really believed that.  I was so wrong.  Today I thought back to the story in Matthew 19 about the rich young ruler:

“Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’

‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied.  ‘There is only One who is good.  If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’

‘Which ones?’ the man inquired.

Jesus replied, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’

‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said.  ‘What do I still lack?’

Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.’

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’

Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’

Peter answered him, ‘We have left everything to follow you!  What then will there be for us?’

Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.’”

This was the command that Jesus gave the rich young ruler:  sell all your stuff and give to the poor.  THEN come follow me.  That is the command that He gave me.  I’m trying to do that.

In the middle of all this that I am personally going through, God showed me part of the bigger picture today.  One of the friends that came to help me out today at the garage sale went home to find her apartment flooded.  Right now she and her husband are going through their stuff.  Much of it is ruined, I am sure.  Then, a good friend of mine from back home was taken to the emergency room this afternoon.  They’re running tests, and we are praying that they come back alright.  In perspective of these things, I am ashamed at how selfish I have been.  It seems pointless.  It seems meaningless.  I have been wallowing in my own problems and issues. 

God has pointed out something that I must remember from now on in my life:  real life is difficult, messy, full of ups and downs, but worth it.  Stress isn’t worth it.  It’s amazing how easy it is to get caught up on the small things.  I am the type that likes to plan ahead in order to be sure that all the bases are covered.  However, things rarely happen as we plan them and are rarely as bad as they seem.  One step at a time.  Allowing myself to become overwhelmed is meaningless.

Because real life is difficult, messy, full of ups and downs, but worth it, I must learn to see whatever happens as normal.  Sometimes I can get so caught up in comparing one situation to another and giving myself an excuse to be concerned about it.  Well, this thing is so much bigger of a problem than this thing…etc.  However, whether I am here in the States handling a garage sale or working overseas with orphans who have life-threatening illnesses, I must remember that this is life:  plain and simple.  I should not take pride in any situation but rather see it as just another day and another opportunity.

So many things that have mattered to me are meaningless, and it is all about perspective.  The things that I own or do not own is a meaningless thing, and until I learn to view it that way, I will not be able to serve Christ well.  The things that I do for God have no ranking as better or worse than other things I could be doing.  Selling all my things is not anything special, it is just another thing I am doing for God.  I have been making such a ridiculously big deal about it.  I need to let it go.  I must live my life in such a way that every decision I make, whether big or small is met with the same intensity of devotion and love for God above anything else regardless of my attitude or struggle with the situation.  All that I am doing, no matter how glorious or mundane these things may be, are simply the things I am doing for God, nothing more.  There is nothing romantic or exalting about it.  I am helpless without God.  I am nothing without Christ.  In Him, I have the honor to serve and to love.  It is only by grace that I have or am anything, and it is only by this grace that anything I could possibly do for God matters.  To see it any other way is to enter into the meaningless.  The only thing in life that has meaning is God’s love and how I live my life in response to that love.  Audrey Assad says in one of her songs, “All my pride, it doesn’t stand a chance against the way You move.”  I need to get myself out of the way so God may enter in and do the work He longs to do.

What happens to myself is meaningless.  I remembered that when those I care about went through some difficult times today.  I started reading the book Kisses from Katie and I was convicted of how comfortable I have become in my selfishness and how much I have lost sight of the spirit of prayer I must have.  I can talk day after day about how I want to serve God, and I can make it sound all flowery and pretty like I have it all figured out…and then suddenly I realize that I haven’t sat down and truly spent time with God in a while.  Talk is cheap on any level, especially when I haven’t taken the time to truly back it up in prayer.  The longer I go without spending deep intentional time with God, the less passion I feel in my heart for the things He has called me to do and the more selfishness and hypocrisy I see creeping into my life.  Tonight I seriously need to repent…I need to ask God for forgiveness once again because I have been allowing other things to distract me and to matter to me more than my time with Him.  It doesn’t matter what it is; when it stands in the way of my relationship with Him, that is sin.

As I am going through this time in the Refiner’s fire and God is literally ripping away parts of myself that need to go, I am learning so much about what is important and what is meaningless.  It is a process, and I am sure that some of the things I have learned today, God will sharpen, hone, or maybe even change my view.  I give Him permission to do that.  I am such a small child in His arms, and my understanding of His ways are childish and developing.  I will never have it all figured out, and I am not trying to have it all figured out.  I am simply trying to learn as much as I can every day that I am on this journey with Him.  I want Him to use my life as best He can with as little resistance as possible.  It is a daily struggle and surrender, but in all things, deep joy. 

The Rocks Cry Out

I was on the phone with a friend of mine last night and in the course of the conversation we began to read from Luke 19.  We had been talking about worship and the different ways that we were being called into a deeper understanding of what it means to cry out to God and sing praises to Him.  My mind was immediately drawn to Luke 19:37-40 which says:

“When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’
‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’”

The thing that stands out to me about this passage is the absolute necessity of God’s creation to worship Him.  How great and mighty is our God that His very existence demands the worship of everything that lives and does not live, breathes and does not breathe.  In Israel, stones are a dime a dozen; they are everywhere!  Jesus said that if His followers were to cease their worship, the common and unimportant rocks would burst forth in adoration, doing what they were created to do:  bring glory to their Creator.  How much more are we called to do the same?

What also struck me is that all of this praise on this hill called the Mount of Olives occurred at the same place that less than a week later would witness the betrayal of Jesus into the hands of His executors.  In Luke 22:39, Scripture says that the Mount of Olives was a “usual” place to which Jesus went to be with His Father; a place of rest and safety.  It was in this place and nowhere else that Jesus sweat drops of blood in agony as He prayed, knowing all that was ahead of Him.  It was there the same disciples who were singing His praises kept falling asleep on the most painful night in prayer that Jesus had ever had.  It was a hill that saw many deep moments of joy as well as sorrow.  However, through every season of emotion and struggle, Jesus understood the concept of living every moment in worship.

What is worship?  It is the attitude of my spirit on its knees before God, every moment and through every circumstance that comes my way.  It may be a wondrous time of praising God with many others, or it may be a time when I find myself all alone, crying out in agony to God about all that is to come.  However, through it all my heart will stay true in submission to His will, whatever that may be.  I may witness betrayal into the hands of my enemies by those I love and have served alongside for years.  My Mount of Olives will see many a joy and many a sorrow.  However, I cannot cease praising Him, or the rocks will cry out in my place, for Creation must bring its Creator glory.  It must worship Him continually.

I want to discover more each day what it means to worship Him with everything in my life, big or small.  I want to bring Him glory as I proclaim His goodness.  I will not give the rocks a reason to shout.  I will glorify His name!
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