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Perfect In Love

I spent several hours today with my good friend Bonnie.  Whenever I spend time with her, I walk away feeling like I have just been in the presence of God.  Her life radiates God’s beauty in everything she says and does and in all that she is.  I wish everyone in the world could meet her.  What a rare jewel she is, and all who know her are aware that this is true.

There is no one that I know who has a deeper relationship with God.  The way He speaks to her and to others through this humble lady just blows my mind.  She is full of grace:  giving mercy where it must go and holy correction where it must be heard as well.  It is the kind of contagious love that leaves me warm but inspired and challenged to walk deeper with God as she does.  If I have a hero in this life, it is her.

There is nothing especially spectacular about her that draws me to her.  Rather, it is the fascinating and genuine fulfillment of purpose that I see when I look at her.  When I am with her, it is obvious to me that she has become everything that God has desired for her to be.  She uses every gift she has been given to further the Kingdom and encourages others to seek God above all else.  She exhibits peace amidst whatever painful or difficult circumstance she may be facing.  When I am around her, I can cry, laugh, and experience deep rest…and I am not in the least bit ashamed to do any of it.  What a beautiful woman of God!

Probably the thing about her that inspires me most is her dedication and life lived in prayer.  Her heart is constantly open and attentive to the voice of God.  She fights fierce spiritual battles in her kitchen and her bedroom as she intercedes for those God brings to her heart.  She truly dedicates herself to pray for all who are in her sphere of influence, and her prayers yield powerful results.  God speaks to her in real ways, and miracles happen because she knows what it means to believe that anything is possible.  There is no place that she will not go in prayer for someone else.  Her prayers are simple, yet they come from a heart that feels deeply the pain and struggle of those she is praying for.  I see in her what it means to hunger and thirst for more of God.  I have so much that I am constantly learning from her.

As I describe my friend Bonnie, I’m sure that most people probably think that such a woman could not exist.  That kind of relationship with God happened a long time ago to people in the Bible and is imaginary or exaggerated at best.  However, I know that walking side-by-side with God everyday in complete and whole relationship is possible because I know Bonnie and I have seen it in her life.

As I talked with her today, I was overwhelmed by the desire to love others as she does and to walk very closely with God as she does.  I want to learn how to pray with passion and sincerity for those in my life.  I want to fight battles fearlessly for Jesus no matter where I might be.  I want to be so in tune with God that He knows that He can pull me out of an activity or wake me up in the middle of the night when someone needs my pleadings to God for help.  As it stands, these moments are rare in my life.  I want to live so fearlessly for God that the world around me can’t help but change because of His unmistakable presence.

So many people I know have such shallow relationships with God.  They only pray when they need to ask God for something.  They only turn to Him when things get difficult and they need help with something.  They can go for days without really thinking about God, and though they serve on every committee in the church, know virtually nothing about what it means to walk with Him.  They see their salvation story as a prayer they prayed years ago and as long as they continue with church and a passing prayer here or there, they will hopefully never have to pray the salvation prayer again.  They avoid extremes in their lives, always seeking the middle and safe ground.  They long to be unique, but they are simply copies of every other nominal Christian out there.  They all do everything and nothing at the same time.  They are content with their predictable lives and their predictable god.

The problem is that a predictable and safe god does not exist, and the real God is not predictable nor is He safe, but as C.S. Lewis has said, “He is good.”  So many who claim to know Christ are still asking the question, “Isn’t there something more to life?”  ABSOLUTELY!  Truly following and knowing Christ is the most difficult path that we could choose, but it is ultimately the most fulfilling thing we could ever do.  There is never a dull moment in Kingdom work.  There is NOTHING like living life in vibrant relationship with God.  In light of that, nothing else in life holds a candle in significance.

In the past, I would probably say that I wanted to be just like Bonnie.  I wanted to do the things that she did and reach out to others the way she did.  I am learning, however, that God did not make me just like Bonnie; He made me just like Chelsea.  I used to think that was such a bad thing, consumed by my perceptions of all the things I could not do, rather than knowing and building upon all that I could do.  If I believe the Bible to be true, then I would learn to accept its truth that I have been given all that I need to accomplish the tasks for which God has created me.  I spent years of my life trying to be like someone else or wishing that I was someone else.  However, God gave me such an incredible gift:  my unique personhood and a lifetime of choices in which to become…me.

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says that we should be perfect just like our Heavenly Father is perfect.  Growing up, I saw this standard of perfection as “without mistake” and concluded that I was flawed and broken.  No matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t get the notes to the piano song right, and when I organized an event, invariably, no one would show up.  I asked God more times than I could count, “What is wrong with me?  Have you really not chosen me to do something for Your Kingdom, because I could have sworn that’s what I heard…?”

I once heard someone tell a story about two hammers.  The first hammer was new and shiny.  Its owner hung it on the wall for all to see.  People would walk by and marvel at the beautiful hammer and how it shined in the sunlight.  Day after day the hammer hung displayed for the world to see, never leaving its post of glory.  The second hammer was old and rusty, covered in nicks and scratches.  It was not much to look at, because its history was long and toilsome.  Its owner did not place it on the wall for display, but instead it laid on the workbench available for the owner to use as he worked in his shop.  The question was asked to the audience:  which one was the perfect hammer?  Well, it’s obvious that it was the second.  The first hammer could pass as a decoration, but it was never used for the purpose for which it was created.  The second hammer, however, served its purpose every day of its existence, laying on the master’s bench, available for whatever need might arise.

As I heard this story, it revolutionized my understanding of perfection.  God wasn’t asking me to be perfect at everything I do; but rather to be perfect in love.  He created me to be in relationship with Him.  He created me to know Him.  He created me to love Him with all my heart.  Anything short of that, and I am rolling on the ground asking, “Is there anything more to this life?”

Likewise, God has created each one of us uniquely to serve in His Kingdom.  1 Corinthians 12 talks about the different parts of a body and how each part is important.  The ear cannot tell the eye that it is not needed, nor can one part of the body decide that it doesn’t want to be part of the body anymore.  God created each of us with a set of talents and characteristics, and perfection happens as we accept and grow into our place in His Kingdom with all enthusiasm and trust.  There is nothing better than an ear that hears everything well, or an eye that sees 20/20.  When each part truly becomes everything it was meant to be, the body as a whole becomes everything that it was meant to be.

I struggled so much for years with the Church and all the brokenness I saw among its members.  Many groups of Christians that I have known have not functioned well as the body of Christ.  The ear is criticizing the eye, the foot is telling the hand what to do, and the nose simply can’t stand the bellybutton.  However, truth be told, each part was created by God and given its function by God.  The problem came when the different parts became so preoccupied by the imperfections of all the other parts, they had no time to function as they themselves were intended to function.

All of this could lead one to throw up their hands and say, “Why not give up on the body altogether?”  If the body is not functioning right, then what is the point?  As I wrestled in prayer over this very issue, God reminded me of His love and passion for the body.  He created it!  Not only did He create the body, but He created its parts!  How could I, who claims to be in relationship with Him, turn my back on something that God loved and created?  In fact, the whole purpose of God sending His Son to die was to bring restoration to His creation, to reconcile everything back to Himself, and to once again call His body to be all the He created it to be.  God showed me that just as there is hope for me, there is hope for the entire body…and whether I like it or not, I’m a part of it.

When I look at Bonnie, I marvel at what a perfect part of the body she is.  Sure, she still makes mistakes and she still struggles and wrestles with some very real things.  However, just as the perfect hammer was fulfilling its purpose in doing what its master created the hammer to do, Bonnie fulfills her purpose by doing everything her Master created Bonnie to do.  I have learned that the greatest thing that I can do for the Kingdom is to take my eyes off all the other parts of the body I either want to criticize or idolize, and simply focus on becoming everything that I was meant to be in Christ.  A true tool being used by God does not glorify itself and cause all the other tools to be like itself.  A true tool of God, like Bonnie, inspires all the other tools to fulfill their own God-given purpose in Christ.

All this begins and is founded in relationship, and a relationship with God is established, maintained, and grown in prayer.  As I draw closer to God, His Holy Spirit molds and shapes me as He desires.  He calls me to step out in faith, often involving certain gifts and talents He has given me and desires that He has placed in my heart from the beginning.  He calls me to sharpen my skills and gives me strength as I journey down that road and work through the challenges it brings.  He picks me up when I fall, and encourages me when I feel that I have failed.  One thing I have learned is this:  there is no such thing as failure in obedience to God.  The act of obedience is the success, and success in God’s Kingdom does not depend on results, because its purpose is relationship.  Perfection, therefore, does not depend on our performance, but rather on our love.

There is so much more that I could say, but the heart of this message is this:  do not seek to be perfect in performance, but rather seek to be perfect in love.  Don’t waste your time evaluating those around you; rather, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).”  Pursue God, and when you come to the point that you realize that it is really Him who is pursuing you, don’t be afraid to let Him overtake you.  He will take you on a challenging and amazing ride, but when you surrender your whole self to His will and nurture a vibrant relationship with Him, the result is perfection.  I can’t imagine how incredible and overwhelming it will be to someday stand in God’s presence as my life is brought up on the big screen.  The words I want to hear more than any others are these:  WELL DONE.  I may not have mastered every task given to me, and I may still have been stumbling along the way to the throne room.  However, it is not the success of the actions that God looks at, but rather the heart.  Is everything in your heart His?  Have you surrendered yourself to the Potter’s hands?  I don’t know about you, but someday I want to be perfect:  perfect in love to my Savior.
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To Be Called

I was talking this morning with a fellow missionary, and we were discussing the question that we have been asked by many people, including leaders in the church issuing our licenses.  The question is:  Is there a verse that sums up your calling to missions or that helped confirm your calling?  Talk about one of the most difficult questions to answer!  We both agreed that there were times in our past when our inability to answer this particular question made us doubt our calling (or our grasp on the Bible as part of our calling).  What a tragedy this is!  I know that this is not the intention of our advisory boards, but we must make sure that our calling is Biblical.  Although for us, to sum it all up in one verse or passage was nearly impossible, I have come to understand that this is definitely something that everyone entering ministry should spend significant time thinking and praying about.  It is also important to understand that just as one verse or passage may inspire us, we must learn to see that passage in light of God’s story.

As a writer, I am fascinated by the Bible.  Only Almighty God could orchestrate such a beautiful plot throughout a history that spans thousands of years, beginning in a garden and ending in the throne room of God.  Only He could take a man named Abram who did not know anything about Him from His home country and create a nation for Himself that survived for many generations through impossible trials, all from this man who was a century old and a wife who could not have children.  Then Jesus came from this same nation to fulfill and renew the same covenant made thousands of years before to this very man.  There are so many subplots played out throughout the generations such as kinsmen redeemer, rescue, and sacrifice.  From the very first story of the Bible until the last word written, God is telling His story of love and redemption.  What an incredibly beautiful and fantastic story it is!  No author in the world could create one better.  It is impossible to describe without writing thousands of books about it.  Frederick Lehman said it best in his song The Love of God:  “Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry.  Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.”

It is important to understand the Bible as God’s story.  Seeing the big picture of His fantastic love causes all the parts of it make sense.  Then we make the difficult transition of what is written in the pages of this book to our lives:  what does it mean for us?  Acts 2:38-39:  “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’”  When we stand before Christ and accept His forgiveness and redemption, we learn that our story is not really our story at all.  It is God’s story.  His promise is to give us the Holy Spirit, that He might live out His purposes through our lives.  We are ALL CALLED to be a part of His story and mission in various ways and in various places.

If I were to describe my calling to you, there would be no way that I could explain it outside of the context of God’s story and His Word.  Is there one verse or passage that sums it up?  The answer would be both no and yes.

I was called as a child to be a missionary to another country somewhere in the world.  The question I have been asked so many times is:  how were you sure that was your calling?  Well, I don’t know how to answer that.  For me, I just knew.  There were other options for what I could be when I grew up, and no doubt my family helped and encouraged me to explore all the different options.  At several different times throughout my life I wanted to be many different things.  However, I kept coming back to missions.  I couldn’t get away from missions.  When a missionary would come and speak in our church, my heart burned with passion.  Even though every missionary knows that the life is anything but romantic and fantastical, there was always an element of fulfillment in the possibility of total surrender when I imagined myself leaving everything I knew behind and following God.  When I heard the call of Christ, “Take up your cross”, I knew that there was something reverently literal in that message for me.

As a child, I loved the story of Samuel and his simple response to the Lord’s voice in the night, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3)  So many times I recognized distractions in my life that crowded out God’s voice.  I wondered if I would hear Him if He spoke.  Through reading His Word, understanding His character, and building my relationship with Him I learned to tune my ears to hear Him despite all the other voices in my life.  I wanted to jump up and run to God when I heard Him speak, eagerly willing to listen to whatever it was He had to say.

During that time, Jeremiah chapter 1 captured my heart as well.  I desired for the Lord to say to me, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations (v. 5).”  I loved God’s response to Jeremiah’s doubt, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’  You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you (v. 7-8a).”  In the midst of Isaiah’s incredible vision of the throne room of God in Isaiah 6, I wanted my response to God’s question, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?” to be, “Here am I.  Send me (v. 8)!”  God took that desire of my heart and made His deep call clear to me, even when I was young.  Through every doubt and fear that I have faced over the years, He has given me the strength to respond to each step just as Isaiah did.

1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”  My dad is a youth pastor, and he always told me growing up that I should never let people treat me as incompetent just because I was younger than them.  He cautioned me, however, that in order to earn that respect, I must always set the example of Christ and maturity in every area of my life.  This is such an important lesson to learn, especially in this day and age when people are demanding respect but living in immaturity.  As I walk forward in ministry, I always remember this lesson that my dad taught me that as I set an example through my life, I should never let anyone discredit my calling or my relationship with God especially because to them I seem young.  I must live in obedience before God and serve Him courageously through every season in whatever way He asks me.

Jeremiah 29:11 was every teenager’s favorite verse, and for me it was no different.  However, as I have grown older, I have begun to understand the verse more in context as I have witnessed God’s redemption story being played out in my life.  In big and small ways, God has shown me that there is no room in my walk with Him for prejudice, pride, or apathy.  Whatever it takes for Him to melt us down and refine us of these things, our loving Father will do because He has incredible plans for us:  to prosper us and not to harm us.  The nation of Israel needed a similar lesson.  They had grown apathetic and prideful in their hearts.  They needed a wake-up call and a cleansing of the sin in their lives.  Just like He offered to them, He offers us hope and a future!  He will bring us back from the exile where He refined us.  His promise in verses 12-14 are as follows:  “’Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.  I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity.  [There’s that redemption story.]  I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’”  The definition of redemption is restoration.  Just like Adam and Eve had perfect communion with God in the beginning, so God desires that we have perfect communion with Him.  Through all the refining that He does in our hearts, the purpose is to bring us back:  to restore us to right relationship with Him.

For much of my life, I identified with Moses.  God called Him divinely through a burning bush and Moses threw every possible excuse at God why he could not fulfill His call (Exodus 3-4).  There was a time when I was living in Ecuador during college that I had a similar experience.  I battled mightily with my calling because all I could see were all the problems I brought to the table and my inabilities to do any of the things I knew God was asking of me.  My burning bush moment happened when all of this came to a climax and before God and a trusted friend I gave up my calling to missions.  I sat in a church service wishing to be anywhere but there.  As I threw every possible excuse I had at God, each verse that flashed on the screen were God’s words spoken contrary to my excuse and affirming His hand on my life.  This happened repeatedly for an hour until I had nothing left to throw at God and the tears streamed down my face.  I ran out of the building before anyone could notice I was gone and met God on the mission steps.  It was then I realized, just like Moses, that it was not anything that I could offer God that caused Him to choose me for this particular task.  He chose me because He wanted me.  He chose me because He is God and He can do anything He wants.  All my imperfections, chips, and cracks were exactly what God wanted.  Paul says it well in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  God knew that in this highly imperfect jar of clay He could best show His perfect love.  May He be brought glory through my life!

I went through a season in my life for about nine years where I struggled a lot with my health.  Looking back, I see myself identifying a lot with the story of Job.  Throughout the process, like Job, I found myself trying to explain God’s reasons to those around me for why He was allowing me to go through that season.  In the end when I cried out to God, the answer He gave was not the answer to “Why” but rather “Do you understand who I am?”  I was reminded that God never owes me an explanation for why He brings me through certain struggles or difficulties, yet He is big enough to handle my questions.  In the end I stand humbled before God, praying that I might faithfully trust Him regardless of His reasons or the pain.  I do not remotely understand why He has allowed me to struggle so much physically, but I don’t need to.  I know that He is good.  That is sufficient.

About a year ago, I felt God leading me somewhere else.  As I explored the options, I felt His blessing leading me toward Nashville.  Through the process of moving to a city where I knew virtually no one, I clung to the story of Abraham as God led Him to a country that he had never been.  I heard God’s promise to him, “I will bless you…you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2).”  Just as God made a covenant with Abram (that was his name at the time), for the first time I sensed that I was making a covenant with God.  I promised before Him that no matter what I must sacrifice for Him, even if it was everything, that I would in love give it to Him.  I heard Him say to me, just as He said to Abram, “Do not be afraid…I am your shield, your very great reward (15:1).”  What a rich thing it to cast everything off, knowing that no treasure could compare to knowing God!  There is no blessing that God offers as a reward.  The reward is Himself!  HE is my shield, my very great reward!

God led me to the Appalachian Mountains for a weekend this past Spring where we dove deeply into the forbidden book:  Song of Solomon.  As I sat next to a waterfall listening to His words of passion over me and relishing in His sweet embrace, His words took my breath away:  “My lover spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.  See!  The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.  Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come (2:10-12a).”  The past few years had been anything but lovely.  I had no recollection of the sunshine.  Even now this verse brings tears to my eyes as I remember Him taking my hand and leading me into the light where there is freedom and air.  I wrote all the things that I had been holding onto from the past on leaves and I dropped them one by one into the water carried quickly by the current to who knows where.  More than anything I wanted to lose myself in His love.  I wanted every part of me to be a part of His Kingdom.  I wanted my story to be His story.  God used that time, in ways that I did not expect, to soften my heart and align my will to His.

In February I had started wrestling again with my call to missions.  Especially in April as I started considering moving overseas to do mission work with Extreme Nazarene Ministries, I was also wrestling with many of the things Jesus said.  In a lot of ways I still am.  I know that Jesus’ words mean different things to different people, but He has led me to a season in my life (and perhaps it will last my whole life) where I am taking His commands as literally as one can take them.  The call of Jesus to follow Him leaves no room for anything to remain the same.  Verses such as, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:37-39).”  And, “…Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (8:20).”  I pondered the stories of the treasure and the pearl of great price as I dove into understanding what the Kingdom of God is:  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought the field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (13:44-46).”  It brought me back to the story of Abraham, when God said to him, “I am your shield, your very great reward.”  I couldn’t help but realize that the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price was God Himself.  There was nothing in the lives of either of these men that was worth the treasure of knowing and having God.  When we think about following Christ, we tend to focus on the cost, and for good reason, because in order to follow God, it will cost us everything.  However, it was transformational to look at it from the perspective of the pearl of great price.  The Scripture says, “…in his JOY he went and sold all that he had…”  As God asked me to lay down all that I had in order to move overseas and serve Him, I could not help but remember that it was not only a sacrifice as I left it all behind, but it was and is something I am doing in JOY that I might have GOD!

Most recently I have been studying and identifying with the life of Paul, and it is a scary thing to think about.  I read through the book of Acts the past couple days, and there is no question that Paul had a difficult calling and path.  He went through a lot of painful things and suffered greatly.  Yet, despite everything he went through for the cause, he proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ boldly everywhere he went.  No matter what he was feeling or experiencing, He never wavered in his resolve to follow and know Christ and represent Him well to all who observed his life.  The book of Philippians has spoken deeply to my heart over the years and especially now.  Paul did not necessarily have a home, but claimed his citizenship in heaven (3:20a).  Paul summed up his life this way and I would say if I could sum up my life and calling up in one passage, it would be Philippians 3:7-14:

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Many people with many different callings have chosen this passage as their Scripture to live by.  How could this serve as my particular life verse and reason for what I am doing?

More than anything that I am called to DO in this life, I am called to KNOW Christ and be found in Him.  It is one thing to know a lot of things about Him.  I could quote Scripture all day long but not know Christ.  Jesus said to the Jews in John 5:39-40:  “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  I do not want to be guilty of having only head knowledge.  I want to KNOW Christ.  He is my shield, my very great reward!

Just like the men who sold everything they had to buy the field and the pearl, I want to see Christ in heavenly perspective.  Nothing in the world could compare to Him, and anything I have apart from Him is rubbish.  There is no way on this earth that I could be right before God on my own.  It is only through Him that I can live a life that is blameless and fruitful.  I must come to the end of myself to understand where true life begins.  I don’t only want to know Christ when it feels good.  True relationship with Christ requires total surrender of my will and my life.  I must know Christ in His death before I can know His resurrection.  With this goal and prize in mind, I run forward as fast as I can toward Christ.  I follow His example and I live by His strength.  This is what it means to follow Christ.  This is what it means to be called:  that we do whatever it takes to know Christ and be found in Him; that we learn to hear His voice and obey; and that we so identify with Christ that all that matters to Him is the only thing that matters to us.

Do you KNOW Jesus or do you simply know ABOUT Him?  You are called…you are chosen…you are loved.  Would you like to talk to someone about this?  Message me or talk to a pastor that you trust.  Don’t wait another day.

Soaked

Last night I attended a worship service and Bible study with my friend Melissa.  She had told me about her church and how fantastic the people were, and I was excited to meet all these people I had only heard about and communicated with through the internet.  They were all just as wonderful as she said they were!  We studied Acts chapter five and dove deep into what it means to be Spirit-filled in boldness and worship.  I can honestly say that in the faith tradition that I grew up in, this is a rare topic to hear a sermon on.

I was convicted of so many things as the pastor spoke.  I wondered how often I really desired and prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Honestly, the thought is kind of frightening.  I have seen many things over the years in different services outside of the denomination I grew up in:  falling on the ground, shouting, speaking in tongues, etc.  Sometimes all of these at once.  My style of worship and communication with God has always been calm and private.  Growing up, everyone else worshiped the same way.  If you were super spiritual, you would raise your hand in the air (possibly two if you were really having a moment), but it is only acceptable at certain points in the song.  If you venture outside that place, people start staring at you like you’re a freak.

Lately I have been contemplating many things about my worldview and asking the question, “What if I’ve been wrong?”  I have started praying in different situations that are uncomfortable or abnormal to me that God would show me His truth through His eyes, not mine.  My eyes would see a passionate style of worshiping as wrong, because it’s not what I’m used to.  What if I’m wrong?  What if God desires that I come to Him jumping and shouting, falling down on the ground before Him?  Have I been holding out on Him?

The idea of being Spirit-filled has been tainted for me, I believe, by the worldview that I have had growing up.  In many ways, we left that job for the crazies and we moved on to live holy lives.  We desire to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, but only when it’s comfortable, safe, and doesn’t disturb the people standing next to us.  Looking at that concept objectively, it makes absolutely no sense.  If we are filled with the Spirit, we don’t care what is comfortable or safe.  We have the power of God!  Who in heaven or on earth do we have to fear?  What reputation we have with other people could be more important than being filled with the presence and person of Almighty God?  And how can we be filled with the Spirit and not disturb the person next to us?

The pastor used the illustration of a person jumping into the pool and being soaked.  Every part of him is wet.  What happens when he hugs someone who is dry?  He cannot help but influence that person.  The evidence is on that person’s clothes!  Could I be soaked in the Holy Spirit?  Could I be so covered and filled with Him that when I go out into the world to live a life of love for God, that I would get some of Him on everyone around me?

I love Jesus and I have dedicated my entire life to Him.  I have a relationship with Him.  He speaks with me and I speak with Him.  However, I sense that He is asking me to dive much deeper with Him in learning what it means to worship Him and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The person who is filled with the Spirit is bold, confident, and passionate.  Too often I see myself as cowardly, insecure, and dull.  Deep inside, I know that I am called to so much more.  I desire a richer relationship with God. 

The pastor said, “The Kingdom of God doesn’t advance by the death of others, but by the death of ourselves.”  Have I truly died to myself?  I have noticed so many things about myself lately that prove to me that I value safety more than devotion.  Especially in worship, I have a hard time truly letting go of myself, even if everyone around me is going nuts in God’s presence.  I feel like I have to keep my dignity.  I am reminded of the David Crowder Band song that says, “I will dance, I will sing to be mad for my King.  Nothing, Lord, is hindering this passion in my soul.  And I’ll become even more undignified than this.  Some may say it’s foolishness but I’ll become even more undignified than this.  Leave my pride by my side and I’ll become even more undignified than this.”  I recognize in myself a lot of pride.  I don’t want to look weird.  I don’t want to be ridiculous.  The fact that this is a concern for me shows me that I do not truly know and understand God like I should.  If I fully recognized how holy He is and how great His love is, surely I couldn’t do anything but go crazy in worship.

True worship comes when we eliminate ourselves and are totally immersed in God’s presence and holiness.  There is nothing dignified about that.  This worship should be an attitude of the heart and spirit 24/7; it goes beyond the worship band, sermon, and fellowship times.  It reaches into our jobs and social life.  It penetrates the deepest parts of us when we are alone and no one is watching.  How many of us carry within us the reality of God’s Spirit everywhere we go?  This Spirit is unmistakable!  No one in the world should wonder Whose you are.  It should be obvious by that fact that you are totally soaked!

In my mind, I have always seen total surrender to God as a process that happens over time.  To a small degree this is true.  However, it rocked my world to think that God’s presence could fill me in a moment and His Spirit could cover me with power and boldness every day, regardless of how long I had been seeking Him and growing.  It is not a point that we work toward with God; it is His desire that we be filled with Him every day of our lives.  What would happen if I dared to pray to be filled with His Spirit?  Could I put aside my fear about what that might look like, eliminate myself totally from the equation, and live in worship to Him?

I have made so much of my relationship with God intellectual.  I have put Him at a distance so I can observe Him and analyze things about Him.  I’ll talk to Him and I’ll obey Him.  However, I didn’t realize how much I kept God at arms length.  I am afraid to touch Him, and for good reason.  He is holy and I am not.  Could I let the gush of His love overpower me and soak me through and through?  Could I allow Him to wash me clean?  The Bible says that only those who have clean hands and a pure heart may stand in His presence.  I want that!  Holy Spirit, make me whole!

My faith has been wimpy.  Recently, I have found myself in certain situations where I am torn in how to respond.  I am afraid of stupid things.  I back down when I should stand.  I wonder if I am smart enough to discuss certain things with people, or if I have a right to take part in certain things.  How Holy Spirit-less have I been?  This is the opposite of the fruit that I should be seeing in my life!  Time after time when the Bible tells of someone who is filled with the Spirit, they are given boldness, courage, confidence, and joy.  There is a part of all of us that knows we are meant to live this way.

Everyone has heard the story of the prodigal son, but there is an element that I had never heard before.  When the father in the story saw the son from a distance, he broke every cultural rule by running to his son and throwing his arms around him.  The Scripture says the father fell on his son’s neck (a tight and overwhelming embrace).  The word used for the father falling on his son’s neck in this story is the same ancient word used when the Holy Spirit fell on those in the upper room in Acts chapter two.  This falling of the Holy Spirit caused all in that room to start speaking in other languages, drawing a crowd to observe what was happening.  Peter spoke with boldness the message of God and about 3,000 people were added to the Body of Christ that day.  The embrace of God is a powerful thing.

The pastor said, “Worship has nothing to do with how we feel.  It has everything to do with God and who He is.”  He read Psalm 8:1-2:  “O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!  Your glory is higher than the heavens.  You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you.”  Even when children speak praise to our Lord, the Enemy is silenced!  Nothing shuts him up more than worship to Almighty God.

May God continue to teach us more about what it means to worship Him in everything we say and do.  May we not be afraid to be filled with the Spirit, but rather seek it with everything we have.  May we eliminate ourselves from the equation so that we may embrace who God is.  May we not be afraid to be undignified in how we approach the throne of God and our neighbor.  May we jump into the pool of His Spirit and be totally immersed in His power.  May we be soaked through and through with Him!

Living the Story

I’m not going to lie:  I hate fundraising.  Honestly, I don’t know too many people who really like it.  That’s encouraging.  All in all, it is a huge struggle for me.  I can definitely see the philosophy behind it (besides the need for money):  it gets people involved when they invest in someone, builds relationships, helps the missionary know there are people standing behind him, allows a blessing to be given to the person giving, etc.  The list could go on and on.  That’s all great, but when you’re sitting across the table from someone that you have known for a long time (or not long at all) and you start to ask for money, the all consuming fear washes over you, “I hope this person doesn’t think that our whole relationship and my reason for seeing them today boils down to the fact that I need money.”  Some people are really offended when I ask.  Others are really honored.  No matter how gracious a person is, it’s still awkward, uncomfortable, and nerve-wracking.

My family instilled within me a strong work ethic.  In fact, this is the American dream:  that you can work for everything you get so you never have to ask for help.  Well, that’s the actual American dream even though it’s turned into:  that you can have everything you want and never have to work for anything.  It’s interesting how the Kingdom of God works so differently.  It’s not about self-sufficiency; but rather, it’s about the Body of Christ giving back the resources they have been given to supply the needs of the Body of Christ.  It is about working together to reach the world, sending out those who are called with a blessing.  This is not natural for any of us in the United States to think that way.  That’s why it’s awkward to ask, but also awkward to give.

Anyone who has ever fundraised understands that it is an emotional process.  There are highs and lows and they can happen so fast.  Someone will be extremely generous, and I am humbled beyond words.  Happiness floods my thoughts.  “God’s got this,” I say.  Then, just a few minutes later, I get an email from the field, “Your numbers are really low.  We need to have more so we can book your flight.”  Totally understandable, but then I am plunged into despair and think, “Don’t they know that I am eating, drinking, and breathing this right now?  I am doing everything possible!”  Then I deal with frustration, anger, and disappointment.  Through this whole process and with every emotion (because that is only what it is, emotion), I try to fold it up and lay it before God.  And walk away.  It is so hard.  It is also hard to admit that I even struggle with this.

Emotions are just that:  emotions.  They are temporary, fleeting, and not worth basing anything on.  Sometimes they can seem more real than faith.  They are not things that we can just decide to leave behind (and if you are one of those people who can, more power to ya!).  We must work through them.  I guess it’s part of the surrender process.  It’s hard in the moment to see this in perspective.  When all we are is frustrated, it is a huge temptation to not only despair but to also act out in that despair.  I am finding that I must keep myself in check that I do not misrepresent Christ in any moment, whether I am happy or sad.  As Christians, we want to be honest and transparent with those around us, but we must learn to differentiate between feelings and truth and we have a responsibility to convey that truth despite what we are feeling or tempted to do.  I am learning how to say and really mean it, “I am struggling right now with trusting God, but He has always been faithful and He will be faithful now.”  Every day I fall before Him and say, “Lord, help my unbelief!”

I told my friend yesterday, “It’s fun from the outside to watch God at work in someone’s life, and it’s fun in the end to tell the story.  However, when you’re living the story, it’s really difficult.”  We all hear tales from great people of faith about some of the things that they have gone through, and I think most would agree:  they are full of joy that God came through, but there was a significant time before that when they really struggled to trust.  It seems that we often either have short-term memory loss with God’s faithfulness or we see the next thing coming up as so much bigger than anything God has done for us in the past.  “Maybe God did this and this and this for me, but what is happening now is so much bigger and scarier and much more impossible!”  God has to have a lot of patience with us and love for us or else He would have destroyed us long ago.  I can just imagine how frustrating we can be at times to Him.

I am learning, however, that faith is a choice.  Sometimes it is a choice that I need to make every day.  Lately it has been a choice I need to make every five minutes.  Before I left Nashville, my pastor preached a sermon that I needed to hear.  He said that God doesn’t just work miracles out of nowhere.  He calls us to take a step of faith; to give something of ourselves first.  Then He takes what has been given and does infinitely more than we could imagine with it.  When we give God the best of what we have, He can work in amazing ways in our lives and in the world.  I apply that not only to myself, but also to the people who have so generously invested in my life and calling as I move to South America.  I can’t wait to see what God will do for all of us.

I had a tough day with my emotions yesterday.  As I sat down with my friend and talked to her about it, she told me, “You know, it’s all ok, because it’s not your problem.”  I realized right then that I have been continuously taking back all that I have been giving to God.  The truth is, He has called me to do this.  I know without a doubt that He is leading me to do this.  My friend said, “You know He’s not going to ask you to do something and then not come through.  God’s right on time.”  Simple truth, but it was exactly what I needed to hear last night.

So today, I am getting up, getting dressed, and living the story.  GOD’S STORY.  Little by little I’m learning to let Him have everything:  my joys and my frustrations.  It’s not my problem.  It’s His.  And He will come through.  I have enough to concern myself with by being obedient each step of the way.  It’s not an earth-shattering thing, but a daily surrender in giving to God what is already His.  When I look at it that way, living the story isn’t so much of a burden as it is a privilege.  You mean, God would live out HIS story through ME?  Whoa.

Only God

The day I move to South America to do mission work is getting closer.  Two days ago I ran my final errands in Nashville and my family arrived late afternoon to pick up the U-Haul trailer we were using to transport some things that we are planning on keeping in the family.  We packed up and cleaned up and slept on an air mattress for a couple hours in between.  Yesterday morning I turned in my keys at the apartment complex and we started our 13 hour road trip to Kansas.  Normally the trip takes about 10 hours, but we had to drive slower due to the U-Haul and I led everyone on an excursion through St-Louis that we all later regretted in an attempt to find a restaurant.  After deciding that people in St. Louis either don’t eat or all belong to a secret society in order to eat, we moved on and ate later on down the road.  We arrived late last night in Kansas City and crashed as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

My aunt and uncle and my mom left this morning to drive another 9-10 hours back to Nebraska and I stayed behind in Kansas City.  For the first time in several weeks, I am taking a few hours to sit down and process things.  I feel like I have been moving at the speed of light, and because of this everything has been very business-like and informational.  It wasn’t until my mom and I had time to talk yesterday and I finally have some time alone that it is starting to hit me emotionally everything that I am doing.  I will not be going back to Nashville, at least not for a long time.  After August 15th, I will not be in Kansas City for a long time.  After September 20th, I will not see my family or friends for a long time, and certain family members and friends I may never see again this side of heaven.  I have weddings that I will miss and babies being born that I will not see.  Some people might read this and say, “Well DUH.”  However, until you’ve done something like this, you don’t understand that these are things that take time to process.

I moved to Nashville on August 20th of last year.  Looking back at where I was at that point in my journey and all that has happened this past year, I am amazed at all the things that only God could have done.  Last year in August I was burnt-out with ministry and church, very insecure, lonely, and needing a change in so many ways.  I decided that moving to Nashville and starting a Masters program at Trevecca Nazarene University was the way to go, and I set out knowing that God was supporting this decision.  Although I had several interviews lined up, I didn’t have a job yet.  So much was unknown.  It was a leap of faith, and I was trusting that God would come through.

I probably didn’t realize at the time how many miracles God worked for me.  I found an apartment complex that allowed me to move in without employment, which is basically unheard of and for a rate that the people in the office were astounded at when I turned in my keys and broke my lease.  God provided a job with a bank about a month and a half into living there (and believe me I was starting to panic, but God always shows up on time).  He Divinely led me to meet a wonderful lady named Derri Smith who heads up End Slavery in Tennessee, and I had the opportunity to be a part of some things they have done over the past few months aiding victims of human trafficking.  I learned so much from everyone there.  I discovered a little group of young adults that have so much fun together.  I found a wonderful church and a very supportive Sunday School class that showed Christ’s love to me in so many ways.  These are just a few of the big things that happened in just the first couple months of being in Nashville.

In January, I found out that I was not doing well in the Master’s program I was in.  School has always been a struggle for me, and working a full-time job while trying to do graduate school proved to be extremely difficult.  I came to a crossroads where I had to decide if I would take two accelerated classes at once (one was a retake) or postpone graduate school and re-evaluate God’s direction.  After praying a lot and seeking advice from friends and family, I made the decision to postpone graduate school.  This was one of the most difficult things emotionally for me to work through, because I am not a “quitter”.  Even though I knew that it was the right decision for many reasons, it was hard to see anything other than the fact that “I quit.”  Satan of course used this against me, telling me that I could never accomplish anything or stick with anything.  He almost convinced me that I was a failure.  Although I didn’t really talk about this with people, it was a really hard time in my journey.

I continued to volunteer with End Slavery in Tennessee and work at the bank.  I liked my job well enough, but it was not my dream position.  Although I gave it everything I had, more and more I was reminded that my heart was in another place.  In February, God began to stir a longing in me again to do missions.  I was frustrated with Him for doing that, because I loved living in Nashville and I loved my new friends there.  At this point, I had only lived there for six months and had only been at my job for four months.  “Maybe,” I thought, “God is reminding me that someday He will call me to do that.  Perhaps He is just aligning my heart again.”

The desire didn’t go away.  In fact, it grew stronger.  I was kind of on a kick where I wanted to do something outside the Church of the Nazarene because I realized how little experience I had with other ministries and denominations.  I contacted a couple other organizations about possibilities, but the more I prayed about it, the less I felt led there.  Finally, I gave up trying to find an opportunity to do missions and told God, “Look, if You want me to do this, then You’re going to have to make it happen.  Just stop bugging me about it if You’re not going to DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.”

Well, it was late March by this time and I came to my Sunday School class basically in tears, sharing about how I had felt for some time that God was leading me toward missions, and I had no clue what He was up to.  He wasn’t opening any doors that I felt led to walk through, but He wouldn’t let it go either.  They prayed for me that day and continued to pray in the following weeks.  One of my friends in the class approached me and asked if we could get together sometime to talk more about it.  I agreed, and Jared and his wife Sarah Jo met me for coffee.

It was early April when Jared first pitched the idea of Extreme Nazarene Ministries to me.  At the time, I was pretty resistant to it because it was a two and a half year commitment.  Part of my hesitation came from knowing that I just stepped down from what I thought would be a two year commitment at Trevecca.  I wasn’t sure if I could do that.  Another part of the hesitation was knowing that we would do evangelism, discipleship, and church planting, and I never in a million years saw myself doing something like that.  In fact, the idea of doing something like that totally freaked me out.  Much of the hesitation, if I will be honest, came from a selfish desire I had to have a boyfriend and get married.  After all, that’s what everyone else in my life had done years ago.  Now they’re all having babies.  I really thought that I was ready for that, but God showed me quickly that He had other things in mind for my immediate future.  All of these things led me to tell Jared, “I will think about it and pray about it and let you know.”

Well, many people throw around the phrase “I’ll pray about it” and move on.  I have tried to not be that type of person, although I knew that praying about something like this meant that my desires and reasons for hesitating might be wrong.  They, in fact, were.  As much as I tried to put Extreme on the back burner of my mind, it kept creeping its way into all the areas of my life.  I then started trying to make it go away, throwing it here or there, and it kept coming back until I never thought about anything else.  I finally decided to stop fighting God and began the rigorous application process required for the program.

As time grew closer to the interview, I noticed that my anticipation was starting to grow at the possibility.  My family was struggling with the idea, and I was struggling with their struggling with the idea.  I had a lot of doubts and questions myself, and this was clearly the biggest decision that I had ever considered making.  I was unsure of God’s desire for me to be a part of Extreme until the morning after the interview.  I was standing in church in a very normal service.  Pastor’s sermon didn’t even have anything to do with me.  I was searching for assurance of some sort; peace of some sort and it was nowhere to be found.  Not even a line in a song broke through.  Then, out of nowhere (and I mean nowhere), the assurance came.  It did not come through anything someone said or anything I read.  It simply came.  In that moment, I had peace that God had called me to do this.  The amazing thing to me is that no matter how difficult things have become since that moment, that peace has never left.  Only God could have done something like that.

Once I accepted the position with Extreme, so many things in my life started to make sense.  I looked back and saw how God had been preparing my heart for YEARS to work not just in missions, but also specifically with Extreme.  I had been asked more than once in college and beyond to consider Extreme, but I was not ready for something like that.  I tried my absolute best to not end up with a degree in Spanish (now that’s an interesting story) but God orchestrated things so that the only way that I could graduate from MNU was if I earned a degree in Spanish.  I tried all through college to move to other places, specifically Romania, Thailand, and Egypt.  God closed those doors and opened up the doors for me to move to Ecuador and to the Dominican Republic, both Hispanic cultures.  He allowed me the opportunity to travel with a marimba ensemble for several years to Hispanic congregations.  No matter where I tried to go, God brought me back to Hispanic culture and He put up with my bad attitude about that for years.

Then, when I graduated from MNU and accepted a position at College Church of the Nazarene, I started working just for Compassionate Ministries and Bus Ministries.  Shortly after I started working there, the executive pastor stepped into my office and informed me that because of my experience with the Spanish language and with the Hispanic culture, I would also be the new Hispanic ministries office assistant.  I grew to enjoy with all my heart working with Pastor Eduardo, although my fear of speaking Spanish or doing much with it consumed me in irrational ways.  It seemed that no matter where I went or tried to run to, God was always bringing me back to His calling for me to work in this area.  I always knew that He had plans for me there, and no matter how much I wanted to do something else…anything else…God always brought me back.

Then I moved to Nashville.  I decided that I would be obedient to God’s obvious desire for me to work in a Spanish context and try to help out with a Hispanic congregation.  I interviewed with the pastor, and things went well.  However, for some unknown reason, it didn’t work out.  Looking back, I see how I was trying to make something happen that God didn’t ordain for the time.  It was my plan, not His.  He must make things happen, not me.  Surely I would have learned that lesson by now, but I can be a difficult student.  So, I settled into my little English-speaking job in my English-speaking city and enjoyed my English-speaking Sunday School class.  I really do enjoy speaking English.  However, God didn’t leave me there for long.  Only God would Divinely place a guy named Jared in my Sunday School class (or maybe God Divinely placed me in HIS Sunday School class) and only God would cause our paths to cross in such a way that just a few quick months later, I would be giving in and saying, “Yes” to God’s call to serve with Extreme Nazarene Ministries in South America.  Only God.

When I came to Nashville, I was struggling with a lot of internal emotions and insecurities.  I prayed constantly that God would work in my heart and heal some wounds that I had been carrying for far too long.  He completely honored the desire of my heart, although through much of the process I was unaware of what He was doing.  It is only in looking back that I see how far I have come.  My friends started noticing the changes that were taking place as I truly spent this past year drawing closer to my Savior and growing in His love.  I learned so much about God’s truth and learning to see myself in that perspective.  I grew in confidence and in my faith that God really is active and at work at all times.  I think often about how much can happen in such a short time.  Not only did so many circumstances in my life change in just a few months, but I have changed so much and continue to do so every day.  However, none of this I could have thought up.  I could never have made myself grow up.  Only God could do something like that.

As I was meeting with my counselor a few weeks ago, she made the comment, “Only God would have led you to Nashville to prepare you for South America.”  What a true and revolutionary statement!  If I would have sat down several years ago and planned out my life on paper (actually I did, several times), I would not have put any of these things on the itinerary.  Logically, how do these things even fit together?  You couldn’t make these things up if you tried.  Yet, it seems that every day another piece falls into place and I just shake my head at the things that God does and has been doing for so long.

Here’s a story.  In my junior year of college, I had to make a decision:  stay in college for a 5th year or drop my double major of Intercultural Studies and simply graduate with a degree in Spanish.  Literally, to the credit hour everything lined up to graduate with only one major.  As I researched things, I discovered that a Bachelor of Arts degree is simply a Bachelor of Arts degree, no matter how many emphases are put on it.  There was almost no point in paying for another year of college.  I was encouraged by advisors to drop the half of my degree that I absolutely loved (Intercultural Studies) and spend the last year in mostly Spanish classes.  Begrudgingly, I did it.  I would only discover why God did this later.

Here’s another story.  For several years in college and after, I had been in the ordination process for the Church of the Nazarene.  This required me to log hours of service and also to take classes in ministry as well as interview with church leaders.  In doing this, I had many awesome opportunities for internships and I met several people that have become advisors and good friends of mine.  Just after college ended and while I was working at the church, I sensed that God was leading me to take a break from the process.  I didn’t understand this at the time.  Being called into missions is an interesting thing related to ordination, because it is not a requirement to be ordained to do missions.  I obeyed God and took a break.

Here is the conclusion of both of these stories.  Literally an hour after the church service where God confirmed His desire for me to work with Extreme, I walked into a training session where I was told that while we were fulfilling our responsibilities for ministry on the field, we would be taking classes toward a degree in Intercultural Studies and also ordination in the Church of the Nazarene.  At the end of our two year commitment, we will have finished half of these programs and possibly have the opportunity to redeploy for another two years to finish.  I literally almost passed out.  I started shouting (no joke) and everyone looked at me like I had lost my marbles.  I didn’t care.  That was my moment with God.

When I lived in Ecuador several years ago, I came face to face with my struggle to follow the call of God on my life.  It was the story of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint that first awakened my heart to the call, and walking the same streets as they walked in Shell and seeing the inside of the Saint’s house stirred the feeling that I had nothing to offer God.  I actually gave up my calling for a day, and God pursued me in a miraculous way and brought me back.  That encounter with Him forever changed my life, because I discovered that God in fact did not need me.  He is Almighty God of the Universe, and I could not offer Him anything that He could not do Himself or call someone far more qualified than me to do.  He showed me that He wanted me…He desired me.  I am His delight.  His love finds the lost cause and creates a masterpiece.  He wants the world to know that it was Him and only Him that created the miracle.  I was His lost cause.  I was a mess.  He found me, is changing me, and is creating a masterpiece through my life that will cause people to say, “Only God could have done that!”  I’m good with that.

I have learned a HUGE lesson in all of this (well, many, but we’ll stick with this one for now):  “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  (Romans 8:28).  The Message version always puts things in an interesting way.  This is what it says:  “He [God] knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”  I am so glad that through all of these times of decision and many more that I will discover later that I have been obedient to God, even when I didn’t understand why or when it was painful to put on hold something that I truly loved and wanted.  It was so hard for me to leave Nashville, but looking back on all the ways that God has worked everything out, I know that He always knows what He is doing and we can be confident that He is up to something good.  Though His plans may be more challenging, they are always bigger and better than our own…even when it seems like ours are so enormous and impossible.

I look back on this whole journey and the only phrase I’m left with is, “Only God.”  Only God could have orchestrated everything to turn out the way it is.  This past Monday, I went to a young adult service and the pastor was preaching his last message to us.  He talked about how God had worked things out in His life, and he spent some time talking about certain moments that we often brush away.  It may be a conversation we have with someone, or an event that occurs.  To us, it may seem like a random encounter or a chance happening, and we move on with our lives.  At some point in the future, sometimes years down the line, God brings us back to those key moments and suddenly we are aware of His activity through it all.  I absolutely have found this to be true in my life.  Those isolated incidents when I had to choose to drop a major or a simple leading to take a break from ministerial training seemed so confusing to me for many years.  Now those things have come together to be so much better than I ever imagined.  The thing that blows my mind even more is knowing that several “random” people along the way, even those who did not work with Extreme Nazarene Ministries directly, had passing conversations with me about going to South America with the organization.  This happened over several years.  Every time I said no, God planted another seed.  Now, He has opened the door for me to go, and this is the fulfillment of a plan that was so much bigger than any of us involved.

Obey God.  Obey Him in spite of your desire to understand.  We get so focused on our lives and putting everything in its place that we forget that this is not OUR story; it’s GOD’S story.  My little dinky plan for my life four years ago would have been alright, but it wouldn’t have been AMAZING like God could only make it.  Even now, He is writing a chapter and painting a picture.  Someday we’ll be able to see the book and read what’s on the pages.  Someday we’ll see how each color fit together.  I am so thankful for those times when God allows us to see just a little bit of what He’s doing.  Who knows what He has planned for the future.  The truth remains that in everything we can trust Him and know that He is good.

For those of you who were wanting to know a little bit more about why I am moving to South America, this is just the part of God’s story that I can comprehend at this moment.  I can’t imagine how much more wonderful it will be as time moves on.  What a rich thing it is to serve Christ for many years.  Knowing Him has been the greatest thing, and I can’t imagine why anyone would want anything else.  What an honor it is and a humbling thing it is to be chosen by the Creator of the Universe.  He doesn’t need me, but He wants me.  I can say with all my heart that I WANT HIM.  More than anything else.  More than anyone else.  There is no one else for me; only Jesus.  In a world that constantly wants more and more of everything, I only want more of God.  With a story like this, why would I want anything else?
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