Fearless Preaching

I watched a video by Francis Chan this morning and there was something that stood out to me as I am preparing not only to present two very important topics at our Encounter this weekend, but also as I am wrestling with what it means to follow God’s calling of speaking publicly in the future.

In a nutshell he said:  When we are nervous in standing before a crowd, that is a sign of sin.  It means that we are far more concerned about what the people think about us than what God thinks about us.  It is about me, me, me, me, ME…when it should be all about Him, Him, Him, Him, HIM!

He told the story of a friend of his that died while preaching.  His friend shared the Gospel message and told them that they never know when God might call the time for them to stand before their Father in heaven.  Are they ready?  He then sat down, keeled over, and died.

Thinking about this transforming message of God that we have been entrusted with should humble us to the point that there is no room for selfish fear or selfish excuses.

If God has called me to do something and I have fear, I need to think, “Where is the sin?”  God did not call me to fear; He called me to live victoriously and powerfully in Him and for His Kingdom.

I want Him to shake my world and touch my heart so deeply that His message rings out loud and clear from my life.  No fear.  No excuses.  Lord, let Your glory shine out today!


More Than You Know

Why is it that we don’t share with people how we feel about them?  Well, the positive at least…

I was talking to my friend this morning and I caught myself saying to him, “I really appreciate your friendship…more than you know.”

Then I began to wonder, “Why doesn’t he know that?  Why shouldn’t he know that?  Why haven’t I shared this more often?”  I am notorious for having amazing thoughts about people and NEVER saying them to the actual person.

When I talk to people and I say to them, “Really, you have no idea how much this means to me” or “You will never know how much you mean to me”, I am just being ridiculously ignorant.  Why shouldn’t I just tell them how much that meant to me?  Or why can’t I spend my life showing that person how much they mean to me, rather than telling them they will simply never know?

The Bible says that we are to encourage each other every day.  Why should anyone ever have to wonder how we feel about them?  Why should anyone have to live another day without knowing the truth?

Who doesn’t know in your life?  You have someone on your mind right now.  Just go for it.

A Lesson In Humility

This life is full of oxymorons (and I don’t mean morons).  I am referring to the fact that we are surrounded by glorious contradictions.  Probably one of the greatest of these is realizing that the things that bother me most about other people are also characteristics that I possess.  For example, I can be frustrated with someone for not being a good listener, but the whole reason that frustrates me is because I want to talk and be heard.

I think that’s why Jesus included Matthew 7:1-5 in His sermon on the mount.  This is what it says:

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.  For you will be treated as you treat others.  The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.  And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?  How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

It is easy to look at someone else and come up with a list of things that I would like to change about them.  However, it is much harder to ask God to honestly show me what needs to change about me.  It is humbling to come face to face with the brokenness inside of me and realize that I, just like everyone else, need grace.

The Bible has a lot to say about humility.  1 Peter 5:5b-6 says:  “And all of you, serve each other in humility, for ‘God opposes the proud but favors the humble.’  So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor.'”

Probably one of the greatest values of NorthAmerican culture and well-being is having good boundaries and healthy standards for how we allow others to treat us.  I am not saying that idea is wrong in and of itself.  However, I do believe that we can take that value to an extreme that becomes a barrier in our relationship with God and our relationships with others.

When I attempt to educate God on how unfair life and people can be sometimes, He simply directs me to 1 Corinthians 13.

I realize often that I am a little off-track in the things that I want to be a part of my life.  I want to be full of the Spirit, to prophesy in Jesus’ name, and to know the heart of God.  I want my life to be a sweet perfume of sacrifice to God.  However, one quality that I often forget is love.  This chapter clearly says that I can be perfect in all these other areas, but if I do not have love in my life, I am just a super-obnoxious noisemaker that does nothing and is nothing of value.

What a conviction verses 4-7 are:  “Love is patient and kind.  Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

It is amazing to me how I can sometimes act completely opposite of these verses and feel totally justified in my actions and feelings.

Verse 11 says, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.  But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”  Have I truly disregarded the childish ways of responding to hurtful situations?  I have learned that being right is not necessarily the highest value; being loving is.  There have been some big times in my life when I have definitely not been right nor was I loving.  However, it is always my responsibility to give grace to others, regardless of my circumstances or my feelings in that moment.  This is an area of my life that God will be perfecting for a long time.

If I say that I am living for eternity, then I should be seeking things that will not fade away or change with time.  Chapter 13 says that prophecy and knowledge only show part of the picture and will one day become useless, but love will last forever.  In fact there are three things that will last forever:  faith, hope, and love – “and the greatest of these is love.”

It is a lesson in humility when we are called to put love into action.  It is a lesson in humility when we are called to consider others above ourselves.  It is a lesson in humility when we realize that we are not looking through perfect lenses at others, and that the Bible has a point when it says that we will be judged with the measure we use to judge others.  So it is best to not judge at all.  It is a lesson in humility when I realize that I don’t always have to be right – and often I am not.  What matters most is the way in which I am treating another child of God.

Love is not a feeling; but rather it is a choice.  I choose to be patient and kind.  I choose to not be jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  I choose to not demand my own way.  I choose to calm myself down and not be irritable and I choose to throw the list of offenses in the trash can, whether or not that person ever fully realizes “what they have done”.  I choose to rejoice in truth.  I choose to never give up, to never lose faith, to always be hopeful, and to endure through every circumstance.  It may sound impossible, but do you know how it is possible?  This is the same kind of love that we have received from Christ and continue to receive each day of our lives.  As I am filled with His love every day by spending time in His presence, I am able to pour it out on those around me, even when from a human standpoint it may seem hard or impossible.  Even when it breaks my heart.  Even when I fight feelings that say it is simply unfair.  Love isn’t concerned about fairness; rather it is concerned about truth.  And the truth is that love should win every battle we face and should pour out of us in every situation.

There are some things in this life that are not my responsibility.  I am not responsible for the actions of others, and I cannot change anyone.  I am, however, responsible for my actions, and I am responsible for my own personal growth and relationship with Christ.  It would do me a great deal of good to take my eyes off others and their faults, and simply fix my gaze on Jesus, who in perfect love gave His life for me when I least deserved it.  He bridged the gap I could not cross.  This perfect love wants to sand down the rough areas of my life – the ways that often I still do not deserve His love – so that I might be a healing balm to this world rather than an obnoxious noisemaker.  If I want my life to truly make a difference, I need to learn the lesson of humility and find out what it means to love as Christ loves me.

A Year Later…

A year ago this week I was finishing up raising $37,000 and leaving the United States on a grand adventure.  I say that I cannot believe it has been a year, not because it has gone by fast for me; but rather because I can’t believe so much could possibly happen in a year.  In many ways it seems like three years all wrapped into one, but I am thankful for the time I have had so far in South America.

In this past year, I moved to Arequipa, Peru and met the 3 other NorthAmericans that would be on my team.  Together we went through language school and were a part of the ministry at the Cercado church plant.

Then in January, the four Ecuadorians, Peruvian pastor’s family, and the NorthAmerican cluster support family joined us in Arequipa for 40 days in the desert, a program of intensive classwork and spiritual disciplines.  It was quite an experience for all of us.  Leaving Peru was sad, but we were ready to move on to the next step.

In March, we moved to Cali, Colombia for three weeks of training at the largest Church of the Nazarene in the world.  We learned about the Master’s Plan and were trained in how to establish the program in the church that we would be planting.  I had a crazy Holy Spirit experience in the living room of our hosts’ house.  Then we left Colombia to start working our way toward our final destination:  Ambato, Ecuador.

After spending some time in Quito and Riobamba, we arrived in Ambato at the beginning of April and began to move into our apartments.  We started outreach and hosting events in order to make contacts.  At the beginning of May, we launched our inauguration service, started online seminary classes, and moved out of our apartments and into a house all in just a few days.  Now, we have been in Ambato for five and a half months and had the church going for four and a half months.  Yesterday, we had 80 people present in the church service.  We are preparing for our second Encounter weekend.  Crazy to think that we only have a year and five months left before our contract runs out and our lives change once again.

While it is true that my purpose in coming to Ecuador was not about me, it would be crazy to not acknowledge that God has done a great bit of changing in my life.  When I first came to South America, I was very shy, self-conscious, insecure, and in many ways, unhealthy emotionally.  Once someone has walked through an experience like 40/40 (my title in Extreme), it is impossible to not come face-to-face with all of those things.  In our job, we are expected to know how to do and be willing to do every type of thing.  My shyness has almost completely gone away, I am not self-conscious anymore because I have now made a million mistakes in front of people and lived, I am very confident in who I am in Christ and who I am called to become, and through constant iron-sharpens-iron experiences, I am able to emotionally deal with situations in a much better way than in the past.  However, we all know that there is always room for improvement in these areas.

There is something about living in community and that brings out the best and the worst in you.  I know myself so much better now, because I now see myself through the eyes of 15 other people who are very different than me.  I am constantly working on improving my communication, because it really is central in all aspects of ministry and family life.  I am learning the importance of being grounded in who I am and what I need, and I am learning how to explain that to the people around me.  Most of all, every day I am learning more and more about what I don’t know.  I am learning that no matter how much you think you know someone, they can still surprise you, and that I really do need each and every single person on my team.  It is humbling to be accountable to others, especially people that you spend 24 hours a day with.  I think I realize more and more each day how self-centered I have been and still am.  It is a constant process of leaving behind more and more pride every day for the sake of the Kingdom and for those around me that I have come to love dearly.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it is going to be like in a year and five months when we all go our separate ways.

Evangelism and discipleship were really not things I had done before, but rather things that I had learned about in my college classes.  Putting it into action is both challenging and rewarding.  It is challenging because it causes me to live the part before I can tell others to live the part, and rewarding because I get to see God literally transform people’s lives.  I have seen simple faith move the heart of God to action, and I’ve seen more miracles take place in this one year of learning and ministry than I ever have in my entire life.  I read the Bible with brand new eyes and the words of Jesus cut me to the core like they never did in the past.

Even with all of these things that I have learned, I know that this coming year will hold even more.  I am forever grateful to God for calling me to be a missionary in Ambato, Ecuador and I am thankful to my many sponsors for not only helping me to achieve the money to be here, but also being attentive and active throughout the journey and being willing to give even more.  I love you all so much!  Thank you for making a world of difference in my life.  I pray that your investment in me will be in turn a huge blessing to you and to the Kingdom.

A Thousand Barriers

We all face obstacles every day; some are bigger than others.  For some of us big obstacles may be communication issues in a relationship; for others it is financial debt.  Some struggle with illness; for others it is an addiction that they simply cannot shake.  It is also true that the number of things that can stand in the way of a great relationship with God is endless.  In fact, anything can stand in the way if we let it.

We live in a world full of people who give excuses.  We hear it every week when we ask our contacts why they didn’t come to church:  “Well, you see, my friend came into town” or “We overslept” or “I have a cold” (one of the most common excuses I hear).  People also have excuses for why they don’t read their Bible:  “It is so difficult to understand” or “I left it in the truck and my wife has the truck” (for an entire week?) or “We’ve been really busy”.

Our lives are full of decisions, and the same is true in our relationship with Christ.  I don’t serve Him because I have to; I do it because I want to.  I also decide who I want to be in this world, and within that are a thousand other decisions to get there.  If I want to be a woman of integrity that changes the world, then I need to grow within my life a hunger for the Holy Spirit and the discipline of intentionally placing myself in the transforming presence of God.  It is imperative that I become a lover of His Word.  There are no shortcuts.  There is no other way.

Everyone has the same 24 hours in their day as everyone else.  I choose how to spend my time.  The world is also full of people who are living average lives and only achieving a small percentage of their potential.  Do you want to be one of those people?  I think you don’t.  Therefore, how should you reorganize your time to make the most of your moments and hours?  For some of us, that would mean actually organizing our time.  What are the meaningless or mostly meaningless things that you spend the majority of your day on?  What would happen if you used that time to work toward achieving God’s purpose for your life?

What about sin?  Is there an addiction that you struggle with?  Do you spend time in places that by their very environments hold you back from knowing Christ and serving Him?  Do you spend a lot of time with people who encourage you to do things that you know would not please God?  Sometimes we can be so accustomed to the sin in our lives that we excuse it away by saying, “Oh, it’s not that bad.”

Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.  And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame.  Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”

When I think about stripping things off in the context of a race, I see a guy who is running hard to win a thousand dollars and he is sweating like crazy as he is realizing that he shouldn’t have put that jacket on in the morning.  I see him tearing it off as quickly as possible and tossing it aside, still running because he doesn’t want anything to slow him down.  He wants to win that prize.

My dad always taught me that the secret to running a race is having something central to focus on.  Otherwise we are focused on other things, like how tired we are, how thirsty we are, and how the other runners are doing so much better than us.  If we don’t have a good focus, it is easy to become very irrational and think of amazing reasons why it “wouldn’t be so bad to just quit right now.”

This passage says that the way we can run with endurance the race God set before us (this life and our ministry) is to keep our eyes on Jesus who is already a champion.  It is in Him we put our faith, and if we allow Him, He is constantly perfecting it.  And what on earth is the author talking about when he said that “for the joy awaiting Him (Christ), He endured the cross.”  What joy could a cross possibly bring?  Well, it brought us salvation, and because of that He can be in relationship with us.  He gets to journey with us.  That was what He deeply desired!  What greater joy could there be?

In this life, we may have a thousand barriers.  However, the key to running the race successfully and to overcome all that stands in our way is to keep our focus set on Jesus and who we are called to be in Him.  We must learn to recognize the things that are holding us back, and like the runner, rip it off and toss it aside, still running toward our goal.  This life is too short and there is too much at stake for us to be flaky and give excuses.  I’ll let the world be full of people who are living average lives, but that will not be my story.  I want the pages of my life to display passion, integrity, and miracles.  I want to arrive before God one day and hear Him say, “Well done, my faithful one!”

What about you?  What will be said of you?  What decisions must you make differently from this day forward to achieve the life that God intended for you?

The Little Girl With the Smile

I am the piano player in our church’s worship band, and this morning I was standing up front like I do every Sunday.  Today I was a little distracted but also focused on trying to remember the entrances to the songs.  I took a few seconds to look out into the room to see who had come, and my eyes stopped on a girl in the second row.

I know this sweet little girl.  She doesn’t say much, and when she does you have to be about three inches from her face to be able to hear her.  As my eyes met hers, she displayed the biggest smile on her face with a look of admiration that said, “I want to be just like you.”  My heart melted as I once again remembered my purpose for being here in Ecuador and was challenged to step up and be the woman of influence that God is calling me to be.

It is easy to say that we have come to Ambato, Ecuador to rock the city for Christ.  We want our church to grow and we want to reach thousands of people.  We want Ambato to look radically different when we leave than when we came, with a well-established group of leaders that will continue to bring Christ’s transforming grace to their neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers.

However, we can’t forget the little girl in the second row with the smile.  We can’t forget that each person we reach out to is an individual life with a story.  This little girl has dreams.  She has experienced pain.  She has felt joy, and when invested in she will be like a brilliant flower that will bloom and show the world her beauty.

I am here so that this little girl might know Christ and see Him in me.  I very well may be the picture that comes to mind when she thinks about Jesus.  I want her to know as she grows up that someone loves her and believes in her.  I want her to grow up and serve God.  Who knows?  Maybe someday she will be a missionary too; or maybe a doctor, a teacher, or an engineer.

Urban missions is a powerful thing.  We live in a city of over 300,000 people.  Those are a lot of lives to touch.  However, I must remember that just like it changed my life when people took the time to see me amidst all the people in the crowd and believe in me and my dreams, this little girl needs to know that she is special and precious to God.  She needs to know how much she matters and how much God wants to use her to change this world.

Who in your church or your community tends to go unnoticed?  I challenge you to reach out to that person this week in a special way.  Dare to imagine how much God loves that person and desires to be in relationship with them.  Dare to imagine how this child of His could be the surprise the world is waiting for.

Into Your Hands

Are you going through a difficult time right now?  Does trusting in God seem like an impossible task?

The other day as a team we were talking about the crucifixion of Jesus.  Even though Jesus was the Son of God, while He was on the cross He felt abandoned by God (and truly, because of our sin, He was).  In a cry of desperation, He shouted, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Have you ever wanted to cry that out to God?  Does He seem far off?

Jesus’ faith in God was solid even in His most excruciating moment of abandonment on the cross.  He was obedient to the end.  Despite everything, He still shouted as He breathed His last, “Father, I entrust My spirit into Your hands!” (Luke 23:46)

Jesus had to endure the pain of the cross to bring us salvation and restoration.  Because of His sacrifice, we are able to come to God.

If we are to live like Christ, we must understand that difficulties and trials in this life will still come.  We are not excluded from pain.  We may be suffering with our health, fighting to make ends meet financially, walking through the pain of a broken marriage, experiencing the rejection of our family because of our faith, or enduring persecution for the cause of Christ.  Whatever the struggle, God can use our most difficult circumstances to bring others to Him.

Because of what you suffer today, tomorrow God could use that experience to bring others to Him.  Who knows how He might use your story to touch the lives of those around you!

You might feel abandoned and lost right now, but take heart!  God is not far off!  Jesus knew that He could trust His spirit to the hands of His Father.  So can you!

2 Timothy 1:12 says, “That is why I am suffering here in prison.  But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the One in Whom I trust, and I am sure that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until the day of His return.”

No matter what you are facing right now, you can entrust your spirit and your heart to God.  His hands are strong, and they will hold you.  Trust Him in the fire and allow your life to be a testimony to the faithfulness of God.

Lord, today I entrust my spirit into Your hands.  They have carried me safely this far and will never let me go.  Thank You for all that You will do for Your glory because of my circumstance now.  I know that it is achieving an eternal reward that far outweighs the pain of the moment, and for that I praise You.

Jello Cups and Llamas

So I’m not going to lie to you.  Spiritual warfare exists.  I have lived it for the past three days.  Today the battle hit its peak and I was nearly overcome with the pressure.  I couldn’t stop crying all day long, and I was saying things to people in a way that I never meant to say them.  More than once today I shut the door to my bedroom and cried hard.

Then this afternoon, we left to lead a Bible Study.  My partner was the one teaching this week, so all I had to do was welcome the people, take prayer requests and lead the song.  This was our third Bible Study this week, so I had already heard the lesson a few times.  However, the message hit me again in a new way.

As we were talking about being conquerors and valiant in our faith, God began to light the fire again in my heart.  Suddenly I remembered that anything is possible with God.  I remembered that I am His child and I am infinitely loved.  Looking back through the last few days, God has shown me His mercy in small ways…like a little llama keychain given to me by a friend.

As I sat on my bed tonight eating Jello cups, I thought about all of God’s goodness and what an honor it is to be called by Him to serve in His Kingdom.  My God is a God who saves, and He is stronger than any enemy.  I choose to walk every day of this life in victory!

And you know what?  God’s goodness is something worth proclaiming.  So I will do it every chance I get.

Sometimes He Does Use Billboards

This morning God cancelled a meeting so that we could spend time together.  I woke up feeling pretty low, so I went down to the outdoor basketball/soccer courts and pulled out my notebook.  I started to tell God what I thought was a lot of things, but it was actually pretty short.  I told Him that I can be so stupid, that I want to enjoy this time together, and that “I need clarity and peace and forgiveness and direction and oh my gosh”.  (I pray in run-on sentences.)

I sat for a few minutes just listening to the sounds of the city, letting peace sink in.  Then I happened to look down at the court and immediately in front of me was spray painted the words – I ❤ You .  In English.  I cried.

Wow, God.

Thanks for reminding me.

The Lord My God Lights Up My Darkness

I don’t know why exactly, but the past two evenings (and some other certain moments) I have struggled with being depressed.  I think it is because I have been working toward a certain goal, and with pushing forward I am facing a lot of insecurities that I have held for a long time.  I believe it is all rooted in the fact that I am not trusting God as much as I should be.

I really struggled to get up for my prayer time today.  I could hear God literally begging me to get up and spend time with Him, but deep inside I was arguing with Him.  I am like the stubborn wife who is breaking her husband’s heart.  “I want to spend time with you.”  “Well, I really don’t.”  Gosh, sometimes I can be so insensitive to God.

And yet, He loves me anyway.  I get up this morning, and He brings me to some verses in Psalm 18:16-36.  The passage talks about how God drew me out of deep waters and rescued me from my enemies that were too powerful for me.  He rescued me because He delights in me.

Verse 18:28 says, “You light a lamp for me.  The Lord my God lights up my darkness.”

That’s where I have been finding myself often lately – in darkness.  That’s where I found myself this morning.  However, my God who cares for me so well knows what I need.  I need His love.  I need to be rescued.  I need a light to illuminate my darkness.

Psalm 18:29, 32-35 says:  “In Your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall…God arms me with strength, and He makes my way perfect.  He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.  He trains my hands for battle; He strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.  You have given me Your shield of victory.  Your right hand supports me; Your help has made me great.”

This passage was a great reminder to me that God is not calling me to do something that He will not train me to do.  He is the ultimate expert on all things, and sometimes I forget that.  There is no obstacle or wall that I will run into that He can’t help me overcome.  He will train me, He will strengthen me, and He will give me victory.  However, I need to hold up that shield of victory.  It does no good on the ground.  And when I cannot stand on my own (because sometimes I just can’t), God’s right hand will hold me up and His help will make me great.  I can trust in Him and I can rest in Him.

Thank You, Lord, for caring for me even when I resist You.  Thank You for being persistent with this stubborn soul.  I know You won’t give up on me.  This morning, just let me rest in You.  Let me fall into Your arms.  Let me depend on You.  This morning, You rescued me.  This morning, You lit up my darkness.  Please fill me now with Your peace.

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