Saturday, May 30, 2015

Out of The Ashes, Beauty will Rise...

  Something that I really enjoy about my relationship with God is how honest I can always be with Him.  I can tell him the truth about myself, because he already knows it.  And I don't have to be worried about what His response is going to be, because He's already chosen to love me at my worst.  There's such comfort in that, especially since we live in a world that can be so opposite....even in Christian circles.
  Yesterday was one of those days where I just needed to be with someone who would listen to me bellyache, without judgment and without trying to fix anything.  I needed to vent my frustrations and discouragements and be free to be real, to be human, to let go of the feeling that as the "missionary" I have to have it all together, and just be myself.  (I really need to learn to live in that place!)
   Thankfully God knows me well, and He's placed friends in my life who know how to do that (even across the miles).  He's also given me people to who I look up to, that can speak words of wisdom into my life, in order to help me see the truth of God, His Kingdom and even myself. (Shout out to those amazing ones!  Thank you doesn't even really cover it!).
  But God also does something even more wonderful at times (okay, probably way more than sometimes), not only does He choose to listen to me and allow me to come to Him with my somewhat "whiny teenager" self, but He also waits on me, until He knows I'm ready, and then...He speaks.   Did you catch that?!  The God of the universe, who has the right to do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, chooses to wait on me.  Not only that, but then, even though He could straight up be annoyed and walk away, letting me do my own thing....He chooses to stick around, to just be there, and when He knows that my heart will really take it in....He speaks.
  The thing is, God doesn't have to do this....and to be honest, sometimes I wonder why He would.  But He does it anyway....out of His great love and all surpassing knowledge, He waits on us, comes to us, and speaks to us.  What kind of God is this that would basically humble Himself to man, in order to show man just how much He loves them?!?!  This is our God....this is my God!  It's what He did on the cross and what He continues to do every day of my life.
  I think we could all (especially me) learn quite a bit from Him in terms of how to be there for each other and how to relate to one another.  I guess that's another great reason why He is God....He's our perfect example.  I want to be more like Him.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Where is the Fruit?!?!

  This is one of those blog posts that has the potential to get me into "trouble".  I can sense red flags going up and people getting all concerned because of my words and I think my honesty may even make some people uncomfortable....either in themselves or with me....but...that's just going to have to be okay.  Because I just need to get this off my chest....and who knows, maybe I'm not alone!
  Over the past few weeks I've been thinking a lot about the role of a missionary.  As someone out there on the "field", I often wonder if I am doing enough or if I'm trying to do too much.  I wonder if it's worth it for people to send all this money month after month to sustain me here, if I don't really have a lot of fruit to show for it, even though I know it's not about what I do but rather my obedience to God.   I have built relationships here and I've watch God move thru our children's ministry and use me in different ways, so maybe I shouldn't over analyze things...but, I have to wonder,....where are the lives coming to Christ, where is the transformation of families by the gospel, why does it seem like nothing is really changing?!?! 
  The truth is, I know that this is God's work and that for the time being He has me here to be a part of it.  Even more truthful is the fact that time and time again I have sensed that my job here is nothing more than to plant some seeds and water the ground as part of a long line of people who will move thru this place with the Gospel, and  I may never see the fruit of my labor.
  But, I want...more than anything....to see people transformed by the Gospel.  I want the youth we work with to grab hold of the true message of Christ and let it transform their hearts.  I want the children we share with to grab a hold of these stories we tell them about Christ and come face to face with the person they are really about.  I want my friends and those I come in contact with to experience the love and joy and hope of the Father like never before....and I have to believe that God wants this for them as well!  So how come we're not seeing it?!
  I know I can't change anyone or anything.  While I love God and want to obey Him in everything, it's not my job to "save" anyone in His name.  That's His job.... He is the savior of the world.  I am just a speck in the continuum...here today and gone tomorrow...doing my part in this great commission.  But if I, having such a small role, can so desperately desire for this village to experience the transforming depths of God's love and mercy and grace.....how much more must He, being creator and lover of all, desire it?!?!
  I keep telling myself that obviously He does desire this, but He also knows people's hearts and thus He knows when and how best to move in order to reach them.  I just need to be patient and obedient and trust Him.  But it's hard.  In fact I tend to swing back and forth from being content to pray and believe God for great things, knowing it's His work and thus it needs to be done His way, to wondering if my obedience really is doing anything at all besides allowing God to work in me and change me (not that that's a bad thing).
  I guess I just wonder if we are missing something, if my ears haven't quite tuned into God or my heart hasn't fully surrendered to Him.  I wonder if I will ever see lives really changed here or if it will be another 50 years before people really grab hold of the Gospel.  And I wonder if maybe I am not meant to see transformation here, and if why I thought God sent me here for this time was for a completely different reason than I thought.
  And I guess for now, I just need to sit in that wonder, sit in the longing, and let it permeate in my soul.  And then I need to let go and Let God do His thing, trusting that since it's never been about me, it doesn't matter if it all turns out how I expected.  It's for Him and for His glory and out of love I can obey Him, even if I don't understand and even though it's hard.  Pray for me in that..  Amen

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lessons from "Follow Me"...

  My teammates and I recently started reading the book "Follow Me" by David Platt, together.  I like David Platt.  I like his writing style and the way he makes me have to think.  And since I knew I would probably end up reading this book in the future (As I tend to read every book ever written by my favorite authors), it worked out perfectly to start it with my team!
  One of the things I like most about Platt's writing is that he always comes up with these metaphors and/or stories, that either I have never thought of before, or if I had, I never thought of them to the depth in which he describes them.  In the second chapter alone he shares three such metaphors/stories...
  The first one is about adoption.  Now, all of us who have grown up in the church or have been church committed for any number of years, knows that we are adopted by God as His children. But in the book Platt talks about going to pick up his own adopted son in Kazakhstan and how while he and his wife had loved this kid for years prior (without even knowing him) and how they did all the work to be able to adopted him, their son didn't do anything and prior to them showing up to take him home, he didn't even know them.  This is just like us and our relationship with God!  As the Bible says, He knew us before He formed us...He loved us before we even came into being.  God even did all the work to make sure that we could spend eternity with him!  We did nothing, he did it all! As the book also illustrates, we were dead in our sin and dead people can't do anything (but that's a whole nother blog!).
  The second story he tells is about a discussion he had with a taxi driver about what would happen if he disrespected him, his family, his boss, the police, the king!  As the driver responded the "penalties" of such transgressions got bigger and bigger until finally he said, "You'd be killed!" (mind you this was in a non-western country!).  The point he was making is that the weight of sin is dependent on who you are sinning against!  Now, for me, I tend to look at my sin sometimes and think "I didn't mean it" or "Well I didn't do anything that bad".  I justify my sin based on me, how I was feeling, what I really meant or what I did.  But if the weight of my sin isn't based on me, or even on what I did, but on the one whom I have sinned against, that changes everything!  For me, that openness my eyes to see how I've hurt God, how I've offended Him, what His thoughts and feelings must be....and that brings true repentance in me.
  The final story (although not the last story in the Chapter...I don't think), is about the first conversation he has with his translator when he went to go pick up his son in Kazakhstan.  The translator asked him what he does for a living and he responded that he was a pastor.  The translator, in response, shared how she felt religion is for the weak!  And David responded, "I know.  I am weak!".  I love this story so much because the truth is, I am weak too.....I just hate to admit it!  I grew up in the United States....it was ingrained in me from the time I was little never to show weakness! I don't like people to see my weaknesses, to point them out to me....and I certainly don't like being the one to tell others that I am weak.  But God already knows I am weak and that I need Him....and deep down I know it too.  So when we admit to God our weakness, we actually step into strength....His strength.  It's one of those upside-down, backwards kingdom principles we all know about but just don't line up with what we see in the world around us.  Weakness is admitting you can't do it....and that's so contrary to what the would tells us to do... but in so doing it we find the one who can and who did do it all!  People who don't admit their need for God will never come to Him!  If we never show our weakness before God, if we always try to act like we have it together, why would we ever turn to Him?!  So yes....God is for the weak....and that is a good thing, considering that I too am weak!
  Anyway, I definitely didn't do as well of a job as Mr. Platt in explaining the impact of these stories....and for that reason all I can do is point you to the book and tell you to read it for yourself.... but really I guess what I wanted to do with this blog post is write down what I have been learning so that I can look back on it when I start to forget.  So yeah, this is a reminder to me....but hopefully this is also a reminder to you!  God chose to adopt and loved us from the beginning of time.  He did all the work, even going so far as to send His son to die for our sins so that we could still spend eternity with Him inspite of our unrighteousness!  When we sin, we are sinning against God, first and foremost (as of course we are also sinning against others and/or ourselves).  The truth of that statement....of whom we are transgressing against....should matter to us, should make a bigger difference, should lead us to repentance.  And finally it's okay to be weak, because it's only in admitting our weakness that God can enter in and show us just how strong He is!  Amen 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Find me in the River....

  There's this story in the Bible where one of the religious leaders of the time asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is.  He was trying to trip Jesus up, but Jesus responds to him, none the less, and says, "You must love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  And the second is just like it.  You should love your neighbor as yourself.  No other commandment is greater than these".  In one statement, Jesus takes all the religious rules and regulations of the time and boils them down to one word... LOVE!  That's what He asks of us, that it what He requires of us, and that is what He constantly shows us!  So why is it so hard to do it?!?!
  When I think about my own life and the attitudes and actions I have carried out in the past week alone, I have to admit that while I want to be a loving person, while I want to love God with everything I have and love others the way I know Jesus would want me to....I'm honestly not that good at it.  I try....I do.  And sometimes I get it right.  But more times than not, I get so wrapped up in myself that I forget that I am not the center of the universe and before I know it I am exuding selfishness and self-centeredness and everything that is the complete opposite of love.
  And don't get me wrong, I know the very ability to love others come from a place of knowing you are loved, and that when we understand how truly loved by God we are...and how freely and unprovoked, He shows us His love....then the gratitude of it all gives you the ability, the inspiration, the desire even, to love others.  And yet, sometimes...over and over again...I forget the magnitude of the Love of God...and everything else just goes to shambles.
  Why does that happen?!  How is it possible to forget the fullness of the love of the very one who gave his life for us?!?!  How does the love of God become something that we know in our heads, but don't allow to really impact our hearts?!?!  And I know I am probably just thinking about myself here, cause nobody else who calls themselves a Christian ever struggles to keep God on the throne and ourselves bowed before him (I'm being sarcastic).  But when it happens what do we do?!
  Well for me,  I'm starting to relate to God in a whole new way.... a way that is completely open and transparent and says, "I know I don't have my act together, but I also know you love me"...and thus I find in those times when I've fallen again in my own pile of poop (metaphorically of course), that instead of running away, I need to run straight into the arms of my father.God who is holding out His arms to me.  I need to run to Him to remind me again of His grace and His mercy and His love.  I need to let myself sit there in his presence and just soak in the reality of a God who is not just some "big guy in the sky", but whose a Daddy, who loves to be with His children. 
  It's in the presence of God that I am reminded of who He is and who I am.  It's in the presence of God that I feel loved and accepted and know my place in the world.  It's in the presence of God that I understand once again His great love for me, and the weight of this love transforms my heart. I don't want to come off sounding religious and like I'm just saying the words I think you need to hear.  I'm speaking the truth from my heart....from my life...this is real. 
  And that's the thing about God's love....it's bigger and more real than we could ever imagine.  It's a river that when we get caught up in it, we lose all control and find a new way to live that's not about us, but rather the current of the water.  And it's in that flow, when we stop trying to swim against the stream and we learn to just rest in the waves, that life becomes what it's suppose to be.  We stop striving, we stop trying to make it on our own, and we just surrender.....and the love of God washes over us, it fills us up and it begins to pour out of us into the world.
  So,  I don't know what the next week holds, what the next months or even the rest of the year has in store for me....but If you need me, as Kent Henry sings, you can "Find me in the River"...I hope you'll join in to...I think that's where true life begins and real love flows.  Amen.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Looking for the Blessing in the Flaw...

   I’ve always been a Highly Sensitive Person, and while it makes me unique (as only about 20% of the population is as such), I’ve often struggled with the implications of it in my life.  Growing up my sisters (and sometimes my parents) would get annoyed because of how hurt I would get by what they saw as “the simplest things”. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been made to feel even worse about myself by people who tell me I just need to “toughen up” of “Have thicker skin”.  And while I’ve become quite good at acting the part and pretending to be unaffected by things as I’ve grown older, sometimes my heart just wants to bust from all the stuff I end up having to hold inside.  The thing is though that  even though the world (in general) doesn’t seem to appreciate this specific characteristic, I think it’s something that God does appreciate….and it’s something He puts in some of us because He can use it.
   I’ll be honest, one of my least favorite things to be described as is “sweet” (I’m NOT candy!), but I think the reason most people tend to call me that is because they sense the part of me that can really empathize with them and what they are feeling.  In fact I was reminded just the other day, when someone was sharing a bit of their life story with me, just how easy it is for me to literally take on the pain of others.  It’s not even something I really need to think about; I just instinctively pick up on the emotions of others and before I know it, I am feeling how they feel (which is why I can walk in a room completely happy and then sense the stress or depression or struggle of someone else in it and all of a sudden start feeling less okay…. It’s also why I get overwhelmed by large groups and parties; there’s just too much emotion in on place and there is only so much I can take it before it takes me over).
  The thing is, while I’m starting to see how God can use this to help me connect better with people and minister more effectively (I can’t tell you the amount of times people just open themselves up to me even though they don’t even really know me), I definitely still struggle with it.  I get why the world wouldn’t understand and why they would see this side of me as a character flaw…..it’s hard to understand something that you haven’t experienced yourself (although that’s not a reason not to try).  And while I wish that nobody ever had to notice this side of me, deep down I know that would only make things worse.
  So what do you do when you struggle with something that is so a part of you that it actually shapes the kind of person you are?! I guess, you start trying to see the good sides of it.  Instead of denying it, you learn to embrace it.  And you stop allowing the opinions of others to matter so much but instead you look to God and ask Him how to teach you to properly use this gift He’s given you! At least that’s what I think God is saying to me.  It seems that He’s trying to show me how to stop complaining about it and instead to see the purpose behind it.  And I think in the end,  that will make all the difference!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

We is the Church...Insights from reading, "Searching for Sunday"...

  I remember when I was in high school, there was a woman who started attending the church I was a part of, who rumor had it, had formally been a prostitute.  When I was informed about this detail, about a women who in no real form or fashion I actually knew, it was said in such a way as to warn me to stay far, far, away from her...that she was bad news and if I wanted to stay on the Christian straight and narrow I needed to keep my distance from her.
  Fast forward several years later, but still in the same church, and I remember inviting a friend to come to church with me, who upon arrival felt so outcasted by others because of her blue hair and propensity to want to smoke, that I soon found, within a few weeks of trying to force herself into the Christian mold, she decided to run in the completely opposite direction and  stay as far away from that building as possible from there on out!
  Then jump ahead to several years ago, when I started working at a new job and met one of the nicest, funniest, most intelligent people I have ever known.  He was/is by far one of the most down to earth and accepting people I have ever met and oozes love more than any Christian I've known,  either in or outside of the church walls, in most of my life!  Yet, he would never call himself a Christian and he tries to keep his distance from the likes of "us" because of all the gay bashing, criticism and judgementalness he has to deal with in order just to live his life.
  I could go on, naming more and more stories of people or situations like these....moments in my life where I've been left to wonder, "Is this really what it means to be Christian?!  Is this the kind of Church Jesus died for?!".  And  I would be the very first to admit that I don't have perfect theology, but it's strange to me to think that a God who taught "love one another" would condone a Church body that so often is more concerned that people "get it right", than about showing them to Jesus.
  I guess that's why I like authors like Rachel Held Evans so much.  Reading her works makes me feel less alone in this Christian life, like someone else gets it, someone else understands, and that maybe I'm not the only one who thinks that maybe we're missing what the point really is!  So of course, I just had to get my hands on a copy of her newest book "Searching for Sunday" and honesty, I was in no way disappointed in reading it!
  This new book is about the Church, or more specifically the authors roller coaster relationship with the Church  (loving, leaving and finding the church, is the books tag line after all).  But honestly, I think her story could be any one of our stories.  I know for me, as someone who grew up in the church, then left for a bit, only to come back and now has to deal with the struggles of being part of this community, I could relate to so much of what she said and what she had gone through.
    I guess one of the best reminders she shares in her story is that "what makes the gospel offensive isn't who it keeps out, but who it let's in" and that "The Kingdom of God is like a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes...and there's always room for more"!
  In the chapter on "Dirty Laundry", Rachel quotes Walter Brueggenmann who says, "Churches should be the most honest places in town, not the happiest place in town".  And she follows it up by stating that the Church should function much like "a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.  Sometimes the truth is we have sinned as individuals.  Sometimes the truth is we have sinned corporately, as a people.  Sometimes the truth is we're hurting because of another person's sin or as a result of forces beyond our control.  (And) sometimes the truth is we're just hurting, and we're not even sure why".
  That's what I long for...a church that real about who we are as individuals and a body....a church that doesn't keep the "sinners" out, because we recognize we are all sinners....and a church that isn't afraid to have those tough discussions about life, love and taking up our cross.  Yet, I  also know that this kind of church is messy....maybe even more messy then then current church!....and I am not all that sure that humanly speaking, I am ready for that.... I'm not even  sure I am ready to claim my part in the current mess!
  So for now, I guess what's best is just that I remember that I am not alone and that in terms of the Body, "all we have are imperfect people in an imperfect world doing their best to produce outward signs of inward grace and stumbling all along the way.  All we have is this church...this lousy, screwed-up, glorious church...which, by God's grace, is enough"!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sometimes We All Just Need to Snap Out of It...

  The past few weeks have been emotionally hard for me.  I've missed my family and friends back home (like crazy much!), I've felt like a 3rd wheel on my own team and I've beat myself up time and time again for either  expecting too much out of people, being too sensitive or judging others based on how I think they should live out their Christian life.  It had been a whirlwind of emotion with not much relief and I was starting to think that this hole I had some how fallen into, didn't come with an escape route, but I was wrong (thankfully!).
  God always has this wonderful way of bringing me back to the truth...sometimes in flashy ways and sometimes with a hit to the back!  And that's exactly what happened the other day.  There I was, struggling once again, but trying to muster my way through it (cause that's what good Christians are suppose to do right?!  NOT!), and then my teammate accidently hit me with the door to the truck of the car.  As the pain literally went screaming down my back and not a single person seemed all that concerned with the fact that I was actually hurt, it's like God opened my eyes and reminded me of something so vitally important to this life....and that is that God should always have the most power in my life and allowing others to stand in the place of God for me, is only going to cause pain!
  So that night I went home and I repented and I asked God to come and take His rightful place again in my life, cleansing me from both my wrongs and the wrongs of others.  And you know what happened?!?!  All of a sudden I felt free again; lighter and like nobody could hold me back!  I realized once again, in that moment,  who God says I am, and that when I stop allowing how other people seem to be treating me, speak louder than His voice of truth, I have nothing to fear and nothing to hold me back.  I woke up the next day feeling like myself again...and it's been GLORIOUS!
  Another thing that God reminded me of though, is that no matter how others act, no matter what they do or don't do, no matter if they walk out their humanity as I would or not....I'm still called to love them and respect them and treat them as brothers and sisters or even friends.  I guess this isn't really a lesson I had forgotten.  Part of my grand ability to beat myself up for not being perfect comes from knowing that in the Kingdom of God, we're not suppose to treat others as their sins (or perceived sins) deserve.  But can I just be honest here?!  Sometimes, this is down right hard work and it doesn't come with ease and it's not comfortable.  So I needed that reminder and the reminder that when Christ is first in my life, He fills me to be able to do those tough things (although it would be totally sweet if being God, he could make the hard stuff easier!).
  Anyway, I guess I share that not to say "look at me!  I'm so spiritual!  I can go through hard times and find the God in all of it!" but  rather to admit that, yes I am a Christian, yes I love God with all my heart and want to seek and honor Him in all I do, BUT I'm also human and life isn't always easy, I don't always respond the right way and sometimes even I need a wake up call or something to snap me out of it!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Back to the Beginning...

  Incase you haven't noticed, I've been kind of on a blogging hiatus for a bit.  In some ways it hasn't been all the intentional, considering I've actually been pretty busy.  However, in other ways, it's been a pretty conscious decision. 
  One thing I didn't want when I took up blogging again, was for me to start writing for other people.  While I often share my blog postings on my Facebook and twitter page, I didn't want to fall back into the trap of censoring what I was saying or how I was wording things in order to please other people.  I wanted to be real and authentic and to not hold back just because I was worried about what other people would think.  Well...basically..those are exactly the type of things that started happening, so I took some time away. 
  The truth is I've never posted anything here that I didn't mean, although I definitely worded things a little more carefully then I would have liked to.  However, I can't tell you the amount of times I written something and then deleted it cause I felt like, if I posted it  others wouldn't understand or  someone might take offense or raise an objection or be concerned.  And while there's been times that I've still gone ahead and posted those things (without really "advertising" those particular postings), I've more often than not chipped away parts of my real self in order to present an online personality that is more....shall we say agreeable.
  I'm done with that.  There's no point of having a blog if it's not going to be real....if I have to fake who I am or how I'm feeling just so I don't lose readers.  I didn't start this blog to gain readers in the first spot.  This has never been about having a spotlight.  I started this cause I  wanted a space where I could share what's going on in my life and what God's teaching me through it....a plot of land where I could lay down the tracks of my glorious unfolding (even if it doesn't always seem so glorious).
  So I guess it's time for a take 2....for a refocus and a remembrance of what this is all about.  I can't promise you that I will be the most consistent writer, as life as a way of catching up to me and sometimes even running me over, but when I do write (which will hopefully be more often) I do promise to be more real and honest and uninhibited by what I'm "suppose" to say and think and feel.  I hope you'll continue to follow along with me....who knows maybe something I share will open up a conversation or two that really needs to be talked about.... but ultimately this is for me, to share myself with my future self, so that I can look back and see where I've been while on my way to where I'm going.....after all, this is MY glorious unfolding!