TALES, TRIALS, TESTIMONIES AND MORE FROM THIS GLORIOUS LIFE THAT GOD IS UNFOLDING IN AND THRU ME!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Struck Down, but Definately Not Destroyed...

  Today I have been hustling....like really hustling....like emailing and responding to more emails than I probably have since I first applied to be a missionary.  I feel accomplished!  And yet with every two steps forward, there seems to be one step back, for every "yes, I'll support you", there seems to be another, "No, I'm not too sure about this", and for every open door, there seems to be another one closing.  But I won't be diswayed because the truth is, nothing good in life ever comes without you putting in the work.  Plus if I gave up every time things didn't go my way...well then I might as well never get out of bed in the morning!
  I have to admit though that yesterday I was humming a different tune.  I woke up super excited to reach out to a few people about starting a sidewalk Sunday school program, and when those connections fell apart, I honestly felt like I had run head first into a wall and just wanted to lay on the floor wallowing in my concussion.  I just felt like I wasn't getting anywhere and that if this was really a God thing I shouldn't have to work so hard (HA! That's funny!).  So I complained and got all depressed and then I did what any self-respecting (or maybe God honoring) Christian would do...I prayed.  If there's anything about my relationship with God that I can be proud of, it's how honest I feel like I can be with Him.  And so, I laid in my bed last night and poured out my frustrations and misunderstandings and wonderings to God.  Then I gave it all to Him and went to bed.
  Like I said, today, I've been hustling....I woke up with a completely different attitude and all these ideas to try to get the ball rolling again. I contacted so many people today to try and get more information about starting a ministry like this and how different organizations run their programs.  And the truth is, it's not like the floodgates of heaven have flown open and I've been showered with opportunity today.  But I have made a few connections...and more importantly I found HOPE.
   I don't know how all of this is going to work out... or even if it will.  It's just a dream God gave me long ago that He's put back on my heart and told me to step into.  So I am....one step at a time.  Who knows where this will lead... I've learned not to hold on to tightly to my ideas anyway.  I am just glad to see that even when the going gets "tough"  God still nudges me to keep going....and that's exactly what I am going to do!  Pray for me!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Living on a Firm Foundation

 For the past several days now, I have been working my way through the first several chapters of the book of John. I know the Bible is the story of God and the Gospels are really the story of Jesus, but personally I have been so encouraged and challenged by the life of John the Baptist that I just can't seem to let it go. 
  Here's a guy who lives out in the desert, doesn't seem to have much of a fashion sense, and who must have been pretty controversial considering he had his own disciples but clearly didn't live by the social norms of the society, yet none of this and nobody seemed to affect him. John the Baptist knew who He was and who he wasn't. And he didn't try to be something more than he was. He was satisfied and content with his place in the world, and nothing could shake him.
  In the 1st chapter of John, John clearly states that he is not the messiah, that he is just there to prepare the way for the messiah.  He even goes as far as to point out exactly who the messiah is. Then in chapter three when his disciples get all grumpy cause more people are following after Jesus instead of John and them, John's like, "look guys, I told you, I am not the messiah....He is. I must become less, He must be greater"! That is amazing to me!
  We live in a world where everyone is always trying to stake their claim in the fame game. Everything is a popularity contest and the outcome of such things apparently points in some way to your self-worth (at least we act like it does)! But what if we all decided to stop playing along? What if instead we all just walked out in the confidence of who we are and what we are called to do?  I bet there would be a lot less fighting and whole bunch more encouraging that went on in our worlds!
  Of course to get there, we all have to start from the place of knowing who we are...and that's a huge issue in our society.  It seems like nobody really knows who they are anymore....either that or nobody is really ready to accept themselves for that person.  Why is that?  Why can't we just be happy and content and confident, like the John the Baptist was?
  I think it has to do with where the source of our identity comes from.  In fact I think majority of the world is unsure about who they are because we're all looking to other people to tell us...and well, people's opinions change daily.  I've been talking about it over and over again this month....probably cause I need to keep hearing this over and over again...but it's only when our identity is found in Jesus Christ (And in God the Father), can we really begin to live in the freedom and confidence that John the Baptist did!  When we are firmly planted in who we are in Him, it no longer matters what other people say or what other people think.  We know who we are, we know what we are called to do and nothing can shake us!  That's where I want to live! Don't you?!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Some Personal Inventory....

  This has been a pretty, shall we say, interesting year.  In particular the past few months have been...well... pretty darn hard.  But, the other day, I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel again!  I was sitting with my teammates during our team worship time and basically lamenting my true feelings about all that's gone down these past few months to God, and it's like God was right there next to me responding in the most reassuring kind of way that "What the enemy meant for evil, He will use for good"!  There's so much comfort in that!
  To be brutally honest, the last few months I have felt like I was being broken down...little by little...every single day.  Then I planned to receive all sorts of refreshing and built-back-up-ness from my friends when they came to work with my team, but ended that week not feeling stronger, just worse about myself.  During my vacation I spent a lot of time journaling and asking God "WHY?" about so many things.  Yet it felt like no answers were in sight.
  Yet, today I can sit here and say, even though I still don't know the answers to my questions, I do know that it's only in being broken that you can be built back up, stronger than before.  It's only when everything is stripped away that you realize what you really need to begin with.  And it's when you hit rock bottom that you discover there's no depth you can reach where God cannot and will not find you!
  I guess in a way I feel freer....I feel like the enemy took his best shot and tried to knock me out, but God picked me back up and is dusting me off so that we can continue on this journey together.  I guess if anything I've learned the past few months it's that God really is that friend that sticks closer than a brother and that there's no better friend/father/lord to have!  So even though it's been hard, I'm still so blessed!  His love truly never fails, never gives up and never runs dry!  Amen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why We Need the Hard Stuff...


  Getting back into a workout routine after any extended period of time away is always hard.  Technically, I'm not  officially "getting back" just yet.  I still have one more activity to pass through before my regularly schedule program continues...at least for a few months....I hope.  The truth is, summer has wreaked havoc on my workout routine.  I had finally gotten into a groove and was feeling really good about my efforts and then BAM(!) responsibility hit!  Seven and half weeks later, I still haven't quite found my footing again!
  It's kind of like what I imagine surfing would be like (since I haven't actually ever done it).  Your on your board, enjoying a knarly wave....and then BAM(!) the wave takes you under and you tumble around underwater trying to figure out what ways up before you run out of oxygen!  I guess it's also like so many other things in life as well.  You're enjoying a friendship, things are going great and then it seems like all of a sudden BAM(!) something happens and everything seems to go out the window.  You find yourself struggling to communicate with or even to care for the other person, let alone want to be around them!  Or your walking along, hand in hand with God and you feel like nothing could ever get better than this moment, and then BAM(!) it's like a wrecking ball smashes between the two of you and you can't seem to connect anymore.
  I don't know, maybe this just happens in my life, but in thinking about why it happens, I can't help but wonder if it's all for our own personal growth.  Not that I think God or even people intentionally try to separate themselves from us, but I think when things like this happen... when there is an out of the blue break in connection... it gives us two options: to give up or seek to get that connection back!  I would have to admit, that many times when it comes to my relationship with people and the BAM(!) hits, I just give up (sad I know!).  But when it comes to my relationship with God, I always come back to searching for more.
  Now, before you go thinking, "Isn't that such a spiritual answer...isn't she so cute...blah blah blah", I am not trying to be a spiritual showoff.  I am just admitting, that when that moment comes when I can choose to fall away from God or get back up, brush myself off and start running after Him again...I eventually, always come back to the place of seeking after Him.  It's not because I am spiritual, it's because I know there is no where else for me to go!  He is the answer!
  Which brings me back to the point of all this.  I think sometimes in life, God allows hard things to happen in order to draw us deeper into Himself.  He knows, as well as we do, that when everything is hunky-dorey, we ain't to app to fervently follow after Him.  We start to get comfortable, kick-back, and before we know it we've lost our way.  But when trouble comes, what's the first thing we do?!  Cry out to God (even if it's just to ask Him why?!).  Maybe God uses tough times in order to bring us back to that place of desperation.  And maybe in that place of desperation we discover more of God and more of ourselves.  And maybe through that discovery we grow closer to Him!  I guess that's how we can learn to rejoice in suffering...knowing that in the end it draws us deeper into Him!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Step One.... Pray, Pray and Pray Again...

  Inspiration and motivations can come from the strangest of places.  For my final few days of my vacation, I have been relaxing watching episodes of the Food Channel's, "The Great Food Truck Race".  I don't know what it is exactly, but I'm thinking it's watching people put everything on the line and give their all towards their dream, that has really helped to encourage me, to get out there and do the same.
  For the last 9 months or so I've done quite a bit of talking with my friends about a ministry idea that God placed on my heart back when I was in Bible College.  During that time of my life, when I mentioned the idea to my former pastors, I was told the idea wouldn't work in Connecticut and that I personally couldn't do it.  To be honest, that broke my heart and I gave up on the idea pretty immediately, burying it so deep inside of me that I almost completely forgot about it.  Then towards the end of last year, after God had spent a whole year working through all the junk and lies piled up on top of it, God brought that dream back to the surface.  I haven't been able to let it go since.
  To be honest, not all of my friends have been excited about the idea.  Some people feel like it's already been done, others knowing my perfectionist attitude (aka my everything has to go perfect or I can't be happy attitude), agree with that old pastor of mine, thinking that I might not be the person to pull this off.  But there are plenty of other people in my corner and, more importantly than that, it feels like over and over again, God is confirming to me that this is from Him and now is the time to step out in it.
  So today I sat down and I prayed and then I wrote out exactly what my vision is, what my goals are, and what I hope this ministry accomplishes.  I set time lines and broke things down into simple steps.  I basically made a game plan....albeit quite the rough draft kind...and for the first time in over 13 years, I finally feel like this is actually a  REAL possibility (CRAZY!).
  I also know, that anything that is of God...needs to follow His leading and constantly be laid at His feet.  I am not building my own kingdom here, this is about bringing Him glory!  Plus, nothing is ever going to happen unless He places His blessing upon this!  So first and foremost, I'm starting in the most humble position I can get....on my knees!  For the next several months, as I research and build up this idea, I will also be spending plenty of time covering it all in prayer.  I don't want to do anything outside of God's will, and I need plenty of wisdom in all of this, so I'm asking all of you...my faithful readers and supporters... to join me in prayer!  Pray that God gives me wisdom, insight, connections, open doors, blessings and favor...and that above all, His kingdom will come and His will, will be done, in my life through this...Amen!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Perfect is Over-rated...

  So this afternoon I began listening to the SOZO training videos produced by Bethel church out in California (I say listening because while they are actually videos, they were burned onto my external hard-drive and apparently only will play as some sort of podcast-ish thing on my computer) and as I was sitting there listening to the introductory disc, I could sense a part of me getting all tense and insecure.  It was like someone was going to try and secretly read my diary and I felt hard pressed to find a good hiding spot to put it so that they wouldn't.  I guess what that says to me, is this is something I need to hear...or at least something I need to do and be a part of.
  In the past week I have been doing a lot of journaling and time and time again I find myself admitting to God that I know I have issues but that I don't have a clue how to get past them.  It's obvious to me that I can't change myself and that it will only be the healing work of the Holy Spirit that will move me beyond these issues...but I also kind of feel like I have a responsibility to do something in that as well.  If nothing else, I need to be willing to present those issues to God as they come up.
  So when I think of the reaction that I felt myself having just listening to these videos, I couldn't help but wonder..."God, are there parts of me that I am holding back from you?".  Truth is, the more I thought about it and the more I prayed about it, I realized that it's not God I am hiding from at all.  In fact, I am brutally honest about myself with God ... it's kind of hard not to be when the guy already knows everything about me!  I am however, hiding my true self from people.
  This goes back to the root cause I've been talking about in the last several post.  I clearly want people to approve of me...I want their acceptance... and so I hide and cover up my faults as much as possible, only letting a little bit show so that people know I am human.  The funny thing is, even though I am doing this, I am constantly trying to fool others... and maybe even myself... by saying things like, "I know I am  not perfect", "I've got faults", and "Clearly I don't have my act together".  It's like I think if I address the problem in this little way, people won't go digging around to find out just how much more is under the surface.
  I guess that's why I enjoy blogging so much.  Not only does it give me a creative outlet to work through so much of my junk, but it also helps me to become more and more real with the world around me (in ironically, a pretty anonymous kind of way).  I know none of us are perfect.  I know no matter how hard I try, I can't make myself perfect.  But thankfully, I also know the One who is Perfect and who can make me whole.  I'm thankful for the work He is doing in me and for how He is shaping me more and more into His image (even though at times it can seem pretty painful).  I may not be ready to shout from the roof tops all my secret struggles, but at least I'm learning now, where my eyes tend to wander and how to allow God to fix them back on Him!  For that I am grateful! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Truth About Lies...

  I think two signs of a good book is that it makes you think and that it sticks with you long after you turn the last page.  I am sure those aren't the only two criterion I use, but they're at least two that are pretty high up on the list of importance...at least for me.  With that being said, I have to admit, I was a bit/half disappointed by Tim Chaddick's new book "The Truth about Lies: The Unlikely Role of Temptation in who you will Become".
  Now, personally I am a huge fan of pastor Chaddick.  As a missionary on a field where going to church is usually replaced by serving at church, I spend many a Sunday afternoon (or even other days of the week) listening to podcasts from his Reality LA church services.  I like his teaching style.  I like how he intertwines scripture and God truth with real life and every day situations.  Unfortunately, because I am such an avid fan, many of the "lessons" in this book, I had previously heard before from Pastor Chaddick ...in fact, I could even hear his voice in my head reading them to me! (not that a review of those lessons is a bad thing, cause it's not, it's just I guess I kind of assumed that the book would be new material, not just sermon notes complied together...and maybe that's just my bad).
   The other sad truth is, even though I just finished the book last night, and as I was reading it I was  thinking, "Yes that speaks right to my heart about this issue or that issue", sitting down this evening to write a review, I can't think of much that stands out to me anymore.  The book just didn't stick with me as much as I thought it would.  And, to be honest, maybe that's more a reflection of my heart than the authors, but it feeds my disappointment none the less.
  But now let's get to what I did like about the book.... I loved that it really made me think about my own situations and about my own heart.  I might not be able to quote passages or ideas from the book that really stood out to me, but I can say that by reading it, I was encouraged to look deep into my own self....into my heart attitudes and where things have gotten a little off... and to allow God the space to begin moving there.
  My journal is now filled with entry after entry from this week, where I talked to God about what root issues might be going on in my heart and my acknowledgement that often times I seek gain for myself instead of seeking after Him.  I even started noticing how much my pride and self-centeredness is wrapped up in my need to have approval and acceptance from people, instead of seeking that approval and acceptance from the source, which is Christ Jesus.
  So, would I say this book would be at the top of my recommended reading list for 2015?  Probably not, but it would still make the list.  My one encouragement would be to read it with a journal handy and to allow God to interrupt your reading to speak to your heart and point things out to you!  I guarantee He will... and maybe that's Pastor Chaddick's desire all along in writing this book....that we would be drawn closer to God.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Captivated....

  Almost two weeks ago now, a short term team from my home church came down here to Ecuador to work with my teammates and I, to really be a part of our ministry here and help us to host a VBS that we just wouldn’t have had the manpower to do on our own.  When the trip came to an end, I found myself beating myself up over so much of the things I felt like I did wrong or should have done better.  I literally was picking apart my every action and word, convincing myself exactly why no one on the team should ever want to continue being my friend or want to work with me again.  Even as people shared with me how much they enjoyed their time and what they felt God did through them or taught them during the time, I couldn’t seem to let go of the frustration and anger I had towards myself… I just couldn’t get past it.
  The thing is, nothing blatantly was horrible about the trip.  For the most part pretty much everything ran as smooth as possible, and even though there were definitely some hiccups, there was nothing that I think would make the team members feel like they wish they hadn’t come.  So honestly, there is really no reason why I should have been beating myself up like this …it was stupid.
  So the last few days I’ve been praying a lot about this and about my own heart and I’ve realized something very important….as sad as it is to admit, my desire to be perfect and have this trip be perfect had very little to do with honoring God and everything to do with wanting to look good myself.  I admitted the other day that I have this bad problem with seeking approval and acceptance from other people, even though I know I should only be seeking that from God since it’s really only in Him that I will truly find the acceptance and approval I need.  Yet, I realize all my hard work, all my stress, all my running around trying to control everything so it could go exactly the way I thought it should, was all so I could feel accepted and approved of by people… and then by God.  That’s a hard truth.
  Then this morning I was doing a video bible study by Lisa Harper called “Perfect Love” and she was talking about the verse in Song of Solomon that says “you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes” (Song of Solomon 4:9) and how we, as His beloved, captivate God.  Honestly… I often think about how I should be captivated by God, or at least about how I want to be, I desire to be, captivated by God.  But very rarely does the thought cross my mind that I…as I am… captivate the heart of God.
  Sitting there this morning, letting that truth shower down over me, I was so humbled and overwhelmed.  I wanted to point to all the things I had done wrong or messed up in some way over the past month and lament in shame, “God, how can you be captivated by me?”.  But, as Lisa expanded on the verse, I felt like God was speaking directly to me, telling me, “I AM captivated by you…. I am CAPTIVATED by you…I am captivated by YOU” over and over again from every angle.  All of a sudden I realized once again, that His love for me, isn’t about what I do…it’s about who I am!  I am His….You are His…and He is captivated by us. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Follow Me...

  Back when I was in high school…or maybe it was early college… I had this pastor who use to say that “If you’re not seeking God for yourself then you will never be able to lead anyone to Him, you will only be able to point them in the right direction”.  I haven’t thought about that in years.  Then this morning, a few of us (aka, my boss, his wife and one of our teammates) went to check out a church here in Cuenca and the pastor’s whole message was about not just pointing people to Christ, but actually coming alongside them and leading them to Him.  Just like that, it all came flooding back to me.
  The Apostle Paul implores the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11, to “Follow me as I follow Christ”, which is exactly what the pastor was saying this morning.  Just because someone comes to the realization that they need a relationship with Jesus Christ, doesn’t mean they actually know how to have one.  Without a fellow brother or sister coming alongside them, walking with them and showing them the way, so often people will just give up and assume this “religion thing” just didn’t work for them.  How sad….
  And I must admit, in my own life, there have been times where I have done a lot of pointing and not so much leading.  I think it’s sometimes hard to stand with the Apostle Paul in saying to people, “Follow me as I follow Christ”, because we know how much we fail, how often we stumble, how much we just don’t understand.  But like the pastor pointed out this morning, it’s not about perfection, it’s about forward progress.  Check out what Paul says in Philippians 3…

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection.  BUT I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing.  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God through Christ Jesus is calling us… Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine and learn from those who follow our example.”
  Never once in that passage does the apostle Paul say, “Clean yourself up.  Get your act together.  Be perfect.  And THEN you’re fit for others to follow you”.  Paul knows what we all know, that none of us will be perfected until we reach the gates of heaven…and if we wait until then to reach out to others, it’s too late.  Once again, perfection isn’t required….A heart seeking fully after God is!  If you are seeking hard after God, there is no better person for others to follow in order to meet Christ for themselves. 
  It’s like a chain reaction… Paul is saying follow me as I follow Christ…. So we follow Paul to Christ all the while calling others to follow us… then others follow our example to the throne of God, calling even more to follow them to Christ.  Is that not how the whole world will be reached and the great commission completed?!?!  So let us give our all to God, seek Him with everything we are, and show the world the way to Christ!  Amen. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making...

  I’ve probably shared a part of this before, but when I was younger (a few years out of high school), I joined the USA mission’s organization “Mission Year” in Oakland California.  I have so many memories and growth experiences from that time, but something that will always stick with me is how much God changed my perspective on relationships.  I specifically remember the closing ceremony of the program where we all shared a testimony of how God had moved in us during the year.  I shared how when I joined the program I was pretty much “fundamentally against relationships”… which was pretty hilarious considering a large component of the ministry was building relationships with people around your serving city.  Anyway, during that year God began putting some major cracks in my armor of protection and I started shifting from someone who wanted only surface level connections with people, to someone who semi-desired more intimacy with people.
  Over the many years since then, God has continued to chip away at that armored exterior and through many ups…and many more downs… I’ve felt that desire for true community and intimacy with others, continually increase in me.  Sadly, my ability to connect with people in a mature and God-honoring manor hasn’t grown in an equally consistent manner.  As much as I want to be this amazing, grace-filled, encouraging and spirit-led friend….I struggle.  Not only that, but when I encounter the less righteous sides of others, my immediate reaction is to build up walls again…. To push them away or to remove myself from the equation.  Even in the midst of desiring real relationship, sometimes it seems so much easier to just give up and walk away.  It’s such a juxtaposition….a tension that I constantly live in.
  With all of this in mind, and some seriously struggling relationships that seem to be plaguing my life right now, I decided to read the book “Relationships: A Mess worth Making” (by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp) as a reminder to myself as to why I should put in the effort and why God designed us to be relational beings.  From the moment I started reading the honest admissions of personal struggle in the first chapter, I was hooked.  Not only was I caught up by the fact that “God wants to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we would see our need for a relationship with Him as well as with others”, but also that “Every painful thing we experience in relationships is meant to remind us of our need for (God).  And that every good thing we experience is meant to be a metaphor of what we can only find in Him”.  I was also reminded that, “While we would like to avoid the mess and enjoy deep intimate community, God says that is in the very process of working through the mess that intimacy is found”.
  Beyond that, this book reminded me to stop looking at others people and their perceived faults and instead work on me.  The authors share a very valid truth that, “much of the disappointment and heartache that we experience is the result of our attempts to get something from relationships that we already have in Christ” and that it’s only “when I remember that Christ has given me everything I need to be the person that He has designed me to be, I am free to serve and love you.  When I know who I am, I am free to be humble, gentle, patient, forbearing, and loving as well as navigate the inevitable messiness of relationships”. 
  And finally, I was encouraged by the thought that, “though we are to be wise, we are not to fear the world in which God has placed us.  Yes, things will get messy.  But if you are humbled by the messiness of sin in your own life, yet confident in God’s grace to change you, you will not be afraid to get close to other sinners who need that same grace.  God will use the messiness you encounter in others to spur your own growth in the gospel”.  I needed to hear so much of this.  I needed to be comforted by the fact that I am not the only Christian in the world who struggles with these things.  And I need to be reminded that even though relationships are messy and they can sometimes take more effort than I want to give, they are also God’s vehicle to make us more like Him.   

In the 7 days in took me to read this book, I must have recommended it to at least as many people.  However, if you were not one of those people, I encourage you to check it out….it’s available on Kindle, nook, and regular old book!