Friday, December 28, 2012

What do Big Dreams look like?

This provocative piece of art has been messing with my head.  A girl who knew who she was in Christ and dared to dream big, what does she look like? What does dreaming big look like in God's world? It reminds me of a struggle Jesus' buddies had on the way to Jerusalem in Matthew 20. Jesus had just dropped this bomb on them:  

“Listen to me carefully. We are on our way up to Jerusalem. When we get there, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the religious leaders and scholars. They will sentence him to death. They will then hand him over to the Romans for mockery and torture and crucifixion. On the third day he will be raised up alive.” (MSG)

You would think that after hearing their Lord and friend say that he was going up to Jerusalem to die they would not be thinking about their own status, but would be overcome with grief at losing Jesus. I don't know what was really going on inside their hearts so I won't judge, but their actions would speak that they were thinking about "dreaming big" for themselves.  The Momma of James and John proceeds to ask Jesus if her sons can sit on his left and right side when he comes into his kingdom.  This leads to a great uproar when the other 10 pals want to get in on the action.  Jesus sets them straight in vs. 24-28: 

"Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”

My prayer for this year is that I would dream big, and in the dreaming God would place the basin and the towel in my hand and let me wash the feet of my husband, son, the children we will foster/adopt, my family, the women of my Church community, the poor in our city.  I am going to set my heart on dreaming big dreams for Jesus because I know who I am in Christ (on most days anyway).  Somehow I can relate to James and John and I have asked God to "expand my territory" and make me a person of influence.  I think his answer is what he has been saying all along. If you want to be great, if you want to dream big, serve...

You are dear to me, let's dream big together.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Real Deal

I love my friends Wesley and Monica Skinner. They are two to the most beautifully passionate about the gospel people I have ever met. I don't mind  telling you that they are the real deal because I am a witness to their anointing to be in ministry.  They have worked on Cru staff (Campus Crusade) for at least 5 years in the US and then 1 year in a country closed to the gospel (well, good thing is that God doesn't see it as closed).  They are the type of folks who live out the calling with true commitment. I am honored that God has allowed me and Jeff the opportunity to walk alongside them in ministry.  Right now they are in a season where they wouldn't have written the script this way, it is a time in which they are having to wait on God to fill their financial coffers so they can move onto ministry at the University of South Florida.  They are waiting.... and longing... and hoping...

Wesley and Monica are gifted worship leaders
What do you do when you have all this gifting and calling and God is saying to you that it is time to rest, to regroup, to grow?

Imagine being an unsuspecting shepard boy out in the field minding your sheep, being a dutiful son, the youngest, never thinking your life would amount to much more that keeping the sheep.  Your big dreams were to be pleasing to your father, to have a beautiful wife, a small flock.  You are the youngest.  You play your role. But then a man comes and pours oil on your head and you are called the new king of Israel.  Before you know it your world of sheep and stars is now men called Goliath and stones to throw and people to inspire. You become a warrior and you start running for your life from the man Israel calls King. 

God gave David a calling to be King, but for a long time he was nothing more than a wandering mercenary.  Was he content in the field with the bleating of sheep, or did he ever wonder for more?  Once God's call came and the oil covered over David, he could not just go back to the sheep. God stirred up dreams in him, he stirred up desire, and he stirred up extraordinary gifts of leadership.  Before too long, David took his place on Israel's throne and His place in the lineage of Jesus.

The beauty of God is that He takes our mundane dreams and He gives us extraordinary. It is God's call that led David to become King. It is God who put the longing in my friends' hearts to be tellers of the gospel story. Yesterday Monica said something along the lines of "there is nothing in the world we would rather do".. than this.. this work of ministry.  When God pours that oil over your head it is hard to go back to human relations.  I don't think that is what God is asking my friends to do. He will open up the heavens for them and their Cru account will come to full measure, and they will go.  In the waiting I pray God will give them rest.  In prayer for them I had been thinking of a desert place and praying that it would rain on them.  Today it is raining and instead of thinking my friends are standing on dry ground the picture in my mind is a child sleeping peacefully. I pray their time of waiting will be a restful sleep in their Abba's lap, and when the morning comes, they will be ready for the task. 

Friends, God will stir up dreams in your heart that only he can make reality.  Trust Him with you dreams.  He is good. I love this Psalm.  God is strong and God is loving. Everything He does in our lives is motivated by His love for us and by His great strength.

Psalm 62:11-12

New International Version (NIV)
11 One thing God has spoken,
    two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
12     and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
    according to what they have done.”

Here is a link to Wesley and Monica sharing their vision.
And also, if you are a lover of Jesus, be generous with supporting the people He has sent to bring the gospel to the nations.  You may know a couple like Wesley and Monica, join their mission through financial support.  God may not be asking you to go, but I would venture a guess that He still wants you to be apart of the going...   

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The End of the Story

The confession that I have to make is that I sometimes read the back pages of a book before I commit to reading it for fear of a bad ending. Who wants to read all those pages in between if the whole thing may end up like some bad French fairy tale where everyone is eaten and no one lives happily ever after? I can't stand to think that the heroine wouldn't get her Prince or the hero would not win his battles.  The only problem with skipping to the finish is that knowing the ending keeps me from really entering into the drama along the way. I am immune to the feelings of agony and longing that the characters walk through because I have peeked at the happy ending. 

When I was working in Europe with Young Life I experienced a series of "club talks" that they would use to share the gospel over 5 nights at summer camp. On one of the nights they would just leave the kids hanging with the "sin talk". Essentially they told the kids they were all sinners and the wages of sin is death and think about that for a night. It killed me.  My Baptist roots would show and I was scared to death one might die that night without knowing the end of the story (the redemption of Jesus) and they would go straight to hell.  Yikes!  Honestly, having a night of anxious wondering never killed one of those kids, but it did help cultivate in them a longing to know the rest of the story.  It did help the weight of their sins sink a little more deeply into their unredeemed brains.  It made the next night amazing.  It was the night the speaker would tell them about the grace of God to forgive their sins.  Imagine one day hearing "for the wages of sin is death".... and then waiting another 24 hours to hear the rest of the verse "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord".  Talk about a holy pause.  

As Christmas approaches how about we all take a holy pause.  How about we take a moment to remember how desperately we need Jesus and why we need him and then perhaps the miracle of Christmas will be all the more glorious to us.  I don't want to be immune to the emotion of expectation and longing because I have heard the story all my life and it makes me yawn and stretch and do nothing.  I want the wonder of Christmas to have me on my knees in weeping praise and humble adoration.  I want the miracle of incarnation to be so much more than a story told year after year, but to be a truth that sinks deep down into my heart that shrinks at suffering and humility and only wants a saviour high and lifted up.  

The mystery of Christmas is that God put on flesh and dwelt for awhile among us (John 1:14)

Tonight I will sit with my husband and son by our tree, drinking tea in the glow of white lights and sparkling ornaments.  We will read our Advent Reading and we will ponder the mystery... together.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Seasons Change

The sadness set in about 1 month ago. It was the reality that the summer time was almost over.  I was picking the last of the peppers from the garden and the tomatoes in their hopeful ignorance were still growing big and round, but ever so green, with no idea that the sun was going to fail them and the cold would chill them to the core.  I honestly love the summer garden. I love everything about going out there and planting things in the dirt and then setting my watering system :) and letting the miracle of growth happen.  I love picking veggies in the morning to make the sort of meals for my guys that make me feel like I am a super Mom. I love going out there at 5 pm to wonder what I will throw together for dinner. How many ways can a girl cook 5 different types of peppers, okra, and tomatoes? I probably more often than I should revert to curry, but I did come up with some other tasty and very healthy dishes.

So much in me right now is welling up with the changing of seasons, and the desire that so many of us have to hold on... hold on to that time of fruitfulness.  When an area of your life looks like this:
 all full of vibrant color, you want to stay there in that place. You want to keep being the blossom that beckons the butterfly to land and drink.  I am so convinced that one of the greatest desires we have as people made in God's image is to be fruitful. We want our lives to matter for something, to someone. We want to be difference makers, trend setters, prophets, teachers, someone, anyone significant. When we do get to a place of bearing fruit, we want to just stay there... the only problem is this happens
A cold night comes and robs you of your color.  It is just the God ordained changing of the seasons. It is the plan of God for my Zinnias to die every November, even though I want to keep them. Even though I love their color and fullness, they die.  And it is God's design. 

It just may be God's design to lead us into times of winter.  When the pepper plants look like this
and you need strong arms to help you prepare your garden for the length of cold (which not complaining in Alabama is about 2 months)

you realize that God is in the midst of all the dying, and us preparing for something new.  God is the one leading the way.  It is a curious thing that God would lead his people Israel to a place called Marah, or bitter waters (Exodus 15:22-25).  Why would God lead his apostles down roads that would get their feet dirty or even down roads of cold, hunger, thirst, imprisonment?  God changes our seasons.  Sometimes they are seasons of summer with vibrant life and long hot days, other days are winter days with little sun and bone chilling cold.  All days are God's days.

Sweet friend,  if you are in a season that you have enjoyed but you are feeling God is leading you to a new routine, or vocation, or stage of life, don't hold on to the fruit from yesterday.  Hold on to Jesus.  If you were great at something last week but you sense God is leading you to do some thing new, follow him, forsaking all else.  I have been through some seasons.  I am learning to not hold on to how God used me last year, but to hold on to God today, and let him have his way with me in this moment.  I needed to till up that garden because those plants were looking mighty puny.  I needed to put them in the mulch pile so God would have room for new life.

What are you holding on to with all your little might can muster?  Let it go.  See what God is up to, and join Him in that adventure.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sojourn ladies retreat talks

Here is the link to the ladies retreat talks.   They sure were an adventure with Jesus for me to prepare for and teach. I hope they can continue to bless.

or if you are not on itunes

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Love God

This is just a little monologue I wrote a while back dissecting God's call to love him with our heart, soul, strength, and mind.  It is a sweet reminder of His grace in even being the one who helps us to love him in the first place.  With the Christmas season upon us there is a growing longing in my heart to know more of Jesus, to be near to him, and to celebrate his coming near.  Join me in the anticipation of it all.

love, Judy

Listen, O People of God! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart,

(monologue 1)
My heart is beating so fast, full of passion, life, zeal, desire. For what, for who? Is it your compassion Lord that moves me to serve others, to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who are full of joy? Is it your heart O God that makes me more concerned with how I can bless you and others than how I can be blessed myself. Lord, is my heart a place where you dwell? Is it a place where you can take my self centered passions and transform them to reflect your desire? Honestly Lord, before I knew you, I was all about me. Pride, fear, self preservation were the ugly jewels in my heart. My heart was guarded and protected by my own devices. I had it under lock and key. It had been broken so many times. But in the brokenness Lord, you made a home, you made a dwelling place in my heart. You have filled it with love and joy, peace and passion, and hope, God you have given me hope. O God let me love you with all my heart

Listen, O People of God! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

And you must love the Lord your God with all your soul

Monologue 2
The breath of life in me. My will, my identity. It seems like it belongs to me. It is the depth of my being. I don't even understand it. I can't grasp the concept of who I am, even what I am. O the mystery of being body, and soul-- intimately connected, intertwined, yet even when my body fails, my soul will live on-- I will still be me. O God let me love you with all that I am. With every breath of life within me let me be a praise to you. Let my will be transformed by you. Let me love you with all my soul.

Listen, O People of God! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

And you must love the Lord your God with all your strength,

Monologue 3
muscle, flesh, bone, joints, body. The work of my hands is a joy to you. The sweat of my brow to you is a pleasing fragrance. My determination to work hard, to protect, to provide, is something you have placed inside of me. There is a strength inside of me which does not even seem like me. On my own, to be honest I often feel more weak than I do strong. I feel more like a failure than a champion. But you have promised, that even in my weakness your strength is made perfect in me. That strength that brings tenderness to my wife when she is hurting, or that faces up to a hard situations instead of running away. That is strength. It is your strength, Lord and with your strength in me I will love you.

Listen, O People of God! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

And you must love the Lord your God with all your mind

Monologue 4
Numbers, thoughts, names, grocery lists, News casts, my mind is filled with so many things. All day long thoughts make their way through my mind. Some linger, they become a concern, an obsession even. Some just pass right through on their way to somewhere else. From the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I close my eyes my mind is working-- planning, problem solving, fretting, wondering. Even in sleep my mind goes crazy with dreams about trains, cars, streets on fire. My mind is a busy place. O God, do you have a place in the busyness of my mind. If you whispered to me in the midst of all those screaming thoughts would I hear you? Could it ever be Lord, that your voice would be the loudest thought I hear in my mind. Could it be Lord that your written word would so fill my mind that in the questions of life I would naturally think the truth of your word instead of relying on the wisdom of man. Oh God, Your Word is the truth eternal. Speak a Word over me to quiet the static of the world. Let me ponder the truth of your word with intelligence and diligence. Let me love you with all of my mind.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dying Well

I just had one of the conversations that brings me hope and joy and tears and a sweet sort of longing for home.  One of my older brothers in Jesus had the amazingly tender and miraculous experience of being present with his Dad when Jesus called his Daddy home.  You never know what to expect when you call someone to check in on them when they have lost a loved one. You don't know if you should greet them with consolation or with gratitude that God has taken home a person who was longing for home.  I fumbled through a greeting and got to the heart of the matter, Kevin, how are you doing? 

Kevin was full of gratitude to God. He was full of the grace that comes from knowing that when death comes to a beloved Father that it is not an ending of a life but a beginning of a new life. He was full because in his Dad's final moments his Dad did what only a Man of God could do with his last breath.. He blessed his children...  He told them he approved of them, they were special to him, he loved them.  He poured over them in whatever bits of energy that he could muster that their father was proud of them.  He did more than just bless his children, He blessed His God.  He with struggling breath spoke the words of Amazing Grace.  He knew that God had saved a man like him, that he was lost once, but now he is found, and he is about to be in the very presence of the God who found him.  Tears rolled down my cheeks for the beauty of a man dying in Christ and leaving a legacy of grace to his children.

Kevin's dad welcomed death. He saw it as a homecoming.  He loved his family well and loved His God and was ready to trust his family into God's hands, and his own life into God's presence.  The bottom line is that really no matter what happens in your life, death will come.  No one really escapes death. There was a guy in the Bible who was taken up (Elijah) and didn't really experience an earthly gory death story, but other than him I can't figure on anyone who really dodged that bullet.    So the question is what are you going to do with the reality of death?   I can't imagine how horrifying it would be to face death without hope in Jesus.  The good news is that none of us have to face that kind of horror.

John 3:16-18

New Living Translation (NLT)
16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 You have probably heard this verse from the Bible.   But why would we perish in the first place?  Romans 6:23 says  "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord."  The price we pay for our sins is death, that means to be eternally separated from God.  You don't know what that is like because even though we live in a messed up world the presence of God is still here. He lives in the lives of believers in Jesus. You still are living under grace even though you may not believe in Jesus. It is a common grace, a grace you experience vicariously through the church and through the beauty of God's creation.  

When it is all said and done and you pass away the folks who have accepted the gift of life from Jesus will be with God in heaven, and those who haven't will go somewhere without God.  I can't even fathom what that place would be like but imagine the very worst you have seen on the world, and take away the grace of God's presence, and input what the Bible calls weeping and gnashing of teeth and you may have a vague idea of the horror of it all.  

 Dear friend,  consider the changing of the leaves.  It is about a time of dying with beauty.  The leaves are losing their summer of life and soaking up the sun, but before they go they give off one final glorious display of color.  Dying is a part of creation, it is apart of all of our lives.  We don't have to fear death.  Jesus has opened a door for us to be adopted into the family of God and He will beckon you home some day.  Live life soaking up the radiance and beauty of God and then in your dying you will leave a legacy of grace and blessing.  You will meet death with a peaceful smile on your face.  You will be going home to the one who loved you so much that when you were His enemy he reached out to you and sacrificed His life for you.  Dear friend, when it comes to your death bed, know that you can die well because you have lived well in Jesus.  Let your dying days be a time for your family to celebrate your life in Christ and not a time of weeping and despair and fear all wrapped up into one package of hopelessness.  

Today my friend Kevin is celebrating his dad's life and his dad's death. He is celebrating with many friends and family whose lives were touched and changed by his dad's generous heart.   Be the one your family can celebrate when it all comes down to it.  Live your life with Jesus now and let your death just be a glorious continuation of abundant life.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Parenting, Fostering, and Enjoying the Journey

My blog is feeling lonely for inspiration. I have been busy this week and I would love to share what in the world I have been up to and why I haven't been writing.  Jeff and I are preparing our house for who knows what.  I know it sounds like a crazy thing to do and what in the world are we up to you ask?  We have completed our 10 weeks of classes through DHR so that we can become foster parents.  This week we had a quick CPR class that wraps it up. We are now officially ready for one last home visit and assuming we pass our inspection we will be licensed foster/adoptive parents in the state of Alabama.  We talked to a couple last night whose caseworker told them they could be licensed by Christmas. Things never move that quickly for us Webbs but I am thinking our home may be fuller with more giggles, more tears, more running around, and best of all, more children cuddled on our laps reading the Jesus Storybook Bible.  I so look forward to time teaching precious little ones about the love of God for them.

Our hope is that God would bless us with a toddler and baby we could add as permanent members of our family, but if fostering is a role we will play along the way then I pray that God would give us His supernatural love for each child He brings into our home and that when it is time to release them back to their biological family, that He would give us extra grace to let them go.  In all things, I pray God would give us what it takes to make the most of the time we have with the children in our care.

This is a lesson for all us Moms and Dads.  We must make the most of the time we have with our children.  I have repented of over-scheduling my fall.  Zack is in school M-W-F mornings and on Tuesday and Thursday morning I have been attending and teaching Bible Study.  I have missed my son.  We began to have discipline problems with Zack. We were having to put him in time out and he was throwing full up temper tantrums.  Then yesterday I decided I would stop attending one of my Bible Studies. I told Zack when he was waking up that today was our day and we could do whatever he wanted.  He woke up at his pace, had breakfast without hurry, and we went to Early Works Museum.  We had a blast and guess what,  I did not have to put him in time out one time the entire day.  We returned from our morning out, ate lunch and he went straight to his nap without complaint.  He was tucked in with love and he slept the sleep of a child at peace. 

I have found that on days that I spend with Zack, really with him, paying attention to him, enjoying life with him, that he is more than happy.  On days when I am preoccupied with other things he has a tough time.  It isn't that every day needs to be fully devoted to Zack's fun times, but I think some days do need to be set aside for him.

I am on a journey of learning the tension of being a teacher of God's word and being a Momma and Wife.  I am called to all of those roles.  I delight in all of those things. I love being Zack's mom, and Jeff's bride. I love them dearly and sit back and wonder at the grace of God to let a girl like me have such an amazing family.  I love teaching God's Word too. There is nothing else that I have ever really wanted to do than to teach God's Word to inspire others to know of the deep, deep, love of God.  Honestly, I am so thankful for the call of God on my life to be wife, Mom, and Bible teacher/discipler of women.  It makes me smile with gratitude just to write it all out. 

He is so worth it...
What has God called you to do and be?  Remember that today, and do that very thing.  Stretch your arms out in the wide open calling of God and embrace Him.  And if you pray, please pray that God would bring our family together, all of us, that the ones we have yet to meet who are out there somewhere would come home.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Another kind of War

My Pastor asks me and Jeff to lead corporate prayer about once a month.  Each time he tells us what passage he is going to preach from and Jeff and I pray to ask God for His direction in the leading of the prayer time.  Yesterday David was preaching out of Mark 6:14-29. It is the story in which John the Baptist loses his head to the axe of King Herod.  Herod had his wife's daughter come in to do a seductive dance in front of him and his buddies and he liked it so much he told her he would do anything for her.  She asked her Momma what gift to request, and her Mom said she wanted the head of John the Baptist.  Disgusting gift, but why you ask.  John the Baptist had spoken truth and she didn't like it. She was in an adulterous relationship with Herod and the Baptizer rebuked them.

I prayed about how to lead a time of prayer on this passage and God led me to the fact that John was the first Gospel Martyr. He was killed because of his life message.  He called out in the wildernesss "repent and believe, make way the path for the Lord". I know that for most of us today in our comfortable safe homes in America we can't relate to John's martyrdom.  The only persecution most of us feel is social pressure to not share a message.  Do we say Merry Christmas? Do we admit to people that we think abortion is murder?  Certainly the Gospel message in our country is a stone that makes men stumble and a rock that makes them fall, but are we really seeing people stumble and fall over our lives?

The overwhelming sense that I had in prayer yesterday was that God is calling us as His church to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world who are experiencing real persecution.  A friend of mine, "Jennifer" is about to travel to Afghanistan with the Gospel. She has colleagues in her mission organization who have been killed, kidnapped, and raped.  She knows the dangers of her trip and yet she goes.  We need to stand with our missionaries who go to these places where their lives are threatened.  We have brothers and sisters standing in front of brothels in South East Asia and praying the walls fall down to let the little enslaved girls go free. They are coming against evil men and the very gates of hell in a battle to rescue lives. 

My heart is not that we just stand with the missionaries we send, but that we see our connectedness with the national believers whose lives are threatened with torture and death.  Let God put them in your mind this morning so you can love them and go to battle in prayer for them today.  I am going to begin my morning with praying for Jennifer, and then I am going to ask God to lay on my heart the people she will meet, who if they convert to Christ from Islam may lose their earthly life days after they gain eternal life... but for them, it is so worth it.

I love you sweet family of God.  Yesterday we remembered our valiant soldiers who risked their lives to bring freedom, how about today we remember our missionaries and brothers and sisters who risk their lives everyday to bring freedom from sin and death.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Remembering the Past to Move on in the Future

When you are about to enter into a new challenge it is good sometimes to look back at past events to see how God showed up and showed off in your precious life.  You want to be like young David who stood before King Saul and said he wanted to slay Goliath.  When King Saul asked him how he could possibly do it, David assured Saul that God was with him, that together they had already killed the lion and the bear (1Samuel 17:33-37). 

So here I sit at my keyboard, I know there are Goliaths in my path and so I remember the times in which God has called me forth, and gone before me.  Here is one example:

I took a group of teens to the Czech Republic on a mission trip.  It was a time in which God was moving  in our little town or Hradec Kralove (sp).  We had been given the keys this formerly communist city where there were a handful of Jesus followers amidst a crowd of atheists.  The mayor of the town gave us the town square to share our skits and songs and to proclaim the gospel. It was an open hand to Jesus. This in itself was miraculous.

 Here I am in this picture standing up to make an announcement that we were going to take all of our American students back to the school where we were building a playground. Instead of the announcement the Spirit of God came upon me and I started sharing the Gospel.  My interpreter stood beside me, sharing God's good news of redemption with the Czechs in the square. It was not something I was expecting to do, I was doing a shift change. God was doing a life change.

You see this picture here?  It was what happened after I spoke.  My interpreters were asked questions and small groups of Czechs gathered to hear more of God's Word.  Certainly I have seen God move powerfully in the nations. 

Here is a happy little guy enjoying the playground my students built for his school.  Before we came they didn't have much.  We brought wood, nails, slides and swings, and mostly we brought what you see below. 

    We brought students who were willing to live their lives for Jesus. They gave God their Spring Break and they gave God their muscles and hearts and said use me.  My students erected this cross on a hill above the playground.  I don't know how long it stayed there but I do know that in the school in which we served there were 80 people who accepted the Gospel.   

Me and my friend Vicki climbing a mountain in Korea, actually we were being silly, we walked up a path to get there, but it does look harrowing. 

Dear friend,  when God is inviting you to climb mountains that seem impossible to ascend, remember that He stands at the top of the mountain, at the base of the mountain, and with you in every step of the way. Take a moment to look back in your own life and sit with God a bit in the memory of His faithfulness.  He has not changed. If He is leading you up a difficult road, He will show Himself strong on your on behalf,  He will show you that He has given you everything you need within Himself and within the Body of Christ.  And when it all seems too difficult and the walls of it seem to be caving in, repent of trying to do it on your own, get on your knees and invite God again into the middle of the journey.  He will inspire and strengthen.  He has promised to finish the good work he started in you (Phil 1:6)

A Task Bigger than me

I am about to embark on a journey that I know will be difficult. I have a sense that God is leading me to do something that will take years, tears, time, energy, creativity, and a willingness to lay it all down for the sake of Jesus.  I began writing a few days ago, my broken hearted story as Ann Voskamp challenged us to write.  When she first stood up there at the Allume Conference for blogging Jesus loving women and urged us to write out of the integrity of our own lives, out of the depth of our own story I felt a little disconnected and challenged. I was disconnected because I have never considered my story to be one of a broken heart (denial) and I was challenged to think that God might be wanting me to reveal a little more of myself in the writing of devotions. I have always wanted God to be the center of attention so not including much of myself was a very safe way to go about teaching God's Word.  I see Ann's point; I need to reveal what God has done in me, so that perhaps in the telling I will see His hand more clearly, and you will catch a glimpse of glory in the miracles that God is doing in my messy journey.

What is funny is that 20 years ago, when I was just a kid at 19 and living in the inner-city of Philadelphia, sleeping in a church basement with mice nibbling the food stores on the corner of our great room,  Bart Campolo said something that offended me no end. He said, "God takes messed up people to do mighty things".  I did not see myself as a messed up person. I saw myself as one of God's finest willing to spend a summer serving inner city kids meals and the gospel in the heat and stench of the streets where garbage workers would go on strike and leave piles of bags to pollute the neighborhood.  I was a discipler of women and teens. I was a leader of Bible Studies and a volunteer youth minister.  I was sleeping on a floor for Jesus, and there were bugs!  I was not a messed up person, I was a Super Jesus person...

With years the truth set in and I began to realize that indeed, in order to be used greatly by God you must be broken greatly by God, in order for a seed to become a plant and bear fruit, it must fall to the ground and die.  I am seeing more and more that I do have a story to tell.  I will tell God's story and how it is unveiled in my life.  I appreciate your prayers as I start the long journey of writing this book. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Crisis of Faith

I remember being in High School and we would go off on a youth group trip and get all excited about Jesus. We would ski all day in the Swiss Alps (jealous?) and then at night was the big show.  A dynamic Young Life leader would stand in front of us and systematically, and often with great humour present to us the gospel.   We would laugh and cry and hug and sing the silly "One Tin Soldier" song that for some reason we all sang back then.  It was a Spiritual high.  After Club we would go back to our rooms to meet in a small group for cabin time. It was an opportunity to discuss the gospel, wrestle with it a little and pray to God that teens would meet with Him and want Him.  

I became a youth minister and then went on staff with Club Beyond (Young Life for military teens) in Germany.  I sat through many cabin times and have talked with many teens about the gospel.  I went on mission trips and witnessed youth get all fired up for Jesus and then return home.  Some how between the bus steps and their first day back to school, back to reality, they had forgotten the taste of Jesus.  I did see many youth follow Jesus through the years, and I have seen others who were enticed by the world around them.  Why is it that when the trial comes, we forget our God?

I was reading in the gospel of John the other day and noticed something about the Baptizer.  When he first saw Jesus he proclaimed him to be the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1: 29).  He saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus in the miracle of Jesus' baptism. John confessed Jesus to be the Son of God (Jn. 1:34).  So why is it that not long after this great confession and supernatural moment with Jesus did John have doubts?  In Matthew 11:2 we see John sends his friends to Jesus to ask if he is really the Messiah or should they keep looking.  John's circumstances changed drastically, he was in jail and would soon lose his head to Herod's axe.  In the midst of the trial John began to question.  Was it all real? Is Jesus the one?  I love the response Jesus gave to John's disciples. He said 

 “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.[b

 When doubts begin to sink into your mind and all the things you thought you once knew about Jesus seem to come to question, take your question to Jesus.  He can handle your wayward heart in even the most difficult circumstances. Jesus met John with love and grace. He was not angry or disappointed in John because of the questioning. Jesus reminded John of what He was doing. He encouraged John that the blind had sight, the lame man is walking.  When you begin to lose hope, ask Jesus to show you what He is doing. Ask Him to remind you of His hand.  

Today a friend of mine, Karen Burke had a divine encounter with a homeless woman she has been trying to reach with the gospel.  She just so happened to come upon Panera Bread at the exact moment this young woman was walking by. My friend just so happened to have a blanket, pillow, and extra clothes in the car for this same woman. Imagine the love of God to position Karen in the right spot in our city to bless a woman whom He dearly loves and desperately needs Him.  Are you wondering, is Jesus real? Is the Jesus I ran into as a youth still working miracles today?  Ask Him to show you.  Jesus is moving.  He will meet you in the midst of your faith crisis.  Invite him to show you Himself. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Real Issue

Sweet friends,  yesterday I was driving in my van and figured I had better start really praying for the election.  I began praying for a certain candidate to win and immediately felt like God changed my direction. Instead of praying for a man to become president, I began praying that God's will would be done in our country.  It is finally sinking into my well trained American brain that true success in life is not financial prosperity. I know there is a recession and folks are out of work and you may feel it is the fault of a certain political group, but what if it is an act of Grace from a God who wants our hearts?  He asks us for our wayward hearts that have been distracted and lulled to submission by money.  What if God is saying to us that we are not to trust in the almighty dollar, but instead to "In God We Trust".  That is a catchy saying isn't it?  "In God We Trust".  

Don't get yourself all worked up by election results today.  Don't allow yourself to believe that a man can change the destiny of a country. Remember it is God who raises up leaders and nations, and it is God who lets them fall when they forget about Him.  Everyone is saying that the real issue in this election is the economy.  Perhaps the real issue is a nation of people who God dearly loves and He is jealous for our hearts and he wants us to come home to him.  I am saying... yes Lord, do whatever it takes to bring us home to you.  Rock our little safe places, ruffle our well groomed feathers, and break our impenetrable hearts.  Remind us that you are our only hope.  Remind us that you are life abundant.

My prayer for today:
Lord,  let your church today communicate life and grace and love to our lost neighbours. Protect us from hostility with those with whom we are not in agreement, especially in the church.  Let your bride today keep her focus on You, knowing that no matter what happens in our country, you are on your throne. You are surrounded by your holy angels and the 4 living beings and day after day they cry out to you that you are holy, holy, holy.  Let our consolation be in you today Lord. Let our peace and hope be in you.  Lord,  let your will be done in our election. 

Thank you that we live in a country where we are allowed to vote for our leaders. Let the church take the call to vote seriously and let us prayerfully enter the polling places. Lord, let us follow your heart in all things.   And Lord, at the end of the day, let your name be lifted high in our country.  Let there be a true revival of the church in our continent, and let their be a great awakening of people to faith in Jesus Christ.  Lord, more than health care reform and more than welfare reform and funding for the military (which pays my man's salary) I want you to be lifted up in our country.  I want you to draw all men to yourself.  

How about it church, what if instead of focussing on the "issues" we remember the true issue. We belong to Jesus and He is asking us to love Him and love others in His name.  There are people who are lost and broken, and we get to share the supernatural love of God with them.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Believing Who I really am

I have a confession to make:  I know what it is like to struggle with the same things over and over again.  I find myself falling back into sarcasm when I get tired or disillusioned. It frustrates me. I would love for all of my words to be a blessing and bring hope to people. Sometimes I fear they are daggers.  What if I lived my life in shame that I blew it with my words again?  What if instead of remembering who I am in Christ I beat myself up and walked around defeated?  Tonight I lay down my words and I ask God to redeem them. I ask Him to remind me of my true identity and let me walk intimately with Him as His daughter.  I thank God for forgiveness that washes over even me, and for the grace extended to me through my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sweet friend,  don't let those areas of life in which you struggle define you.  I am just burdened for you.  I fear you are walking around carrying a label that you are a disappointment, a failure, a waste, an alcoholic, an overeater, a bad parent, too shy, too "in your face", too broken. You know what your struggle is and the demeaning things you have spoken about yourself in the quiet of your heart.  

How about right now in grace and bravery and with confidence in God you laid down those lies you are believing about yourself and you accept the truth of what God is saying about you.  I wonder what we would look like if we just believed we are who the scriptures say that we are, who God says we are.  Here are a just a few of the bold statements God breathed.

1 Corinthians16 Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?
2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
 Gal 3:26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 
 1 John 5:18 We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them.
Let that sink into your heart.  You are a temple of God.  God lives in you. He chose to make you a dwelling place. His presence in you assures you of your beauty.  You belong to Christ. You are made new, no longer caught up in the never ending struggle of sin and death. You have been given new life in Christ. You have the mind of Christ and God is working in you to both will and act according to His good purpose (Phil 2:13).  You are securely held by the Son of God. Jesus himself, holds you.  

Sweet friend, God adores you.  Ask Him today what His name is for you.  Take a quiet moment and ask your heavenly Daddy what He likes to call you.  I just got tickled because I stopped to ask and the words that made me grin ear to ear were "my beloved".  Oh to be called my beloved by my God.  

What is God calling you today?

*All verses in NLT

Friday, November 2, 2012

Redeeming Thoughts

My heart is full of a desire to bless you with this post. I want to speak a truth to you that will remind you that you are free.  I know that Satan has messed with your head. I know that he has spoken lies over you and you may be believing them in this very moment.  You may feel like you are stuck in this same revolving door of sin and you will never get out. Your head may be filled with lustful thoughts, violence, jealousy.  How could a good Christian have such ugly thoughts?   

I f you are thinking things that are contrary to what you know to be true, they may not be your thoughts at all.  The cat is out of bag--- the enemy of your soul may be speaking into your sweet redeemed head and you are confusing his voice with your own.  

I Peter 5: 6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith." NLT

I have struggled with my head, dear friend.  Insecurity, fear, and shame have all tried to make themselves at home.  If I start believing these thoughts are mine and that they are apart of me, they take more space and I find myself in a constant struggle.  When I stop to realize that the enemy is speaking lies, I can claim the victory that is mine in Christ. 

Satan wants to devour you, but you do not have to let him.  Stand firm in Jesus.  It is as simple as doing a James 4:7 "
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."(NLT)  Claim the promise of victory right now.  Say to Jesus, "I submit my mind to you, and say to Satan-- you must leave in Jesus' name."  

Take back your thoughts and lay them at the feet of Jesus.  If you find your mind is continually stuck in the dump, get a brother or sister to pray with you.  

If you have a story, take a moment to comment on this post and share how Jesus has transformed your mind.  Your victory will encourage others... and me :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The long Road

I wrote about keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus and so for the past 2 days I have been totally preoccupied with myself.  My poor husband can only pray and try to do silly dances to help me to remember that God is good and I can rejoice.  He is right, God is good and I can rejoice. I am glad that I went through 18 or so hours of wondering what in the world I am doing with this blog and should I be writing anyway. I wrestled with my purpose and my definition of success in blogging and I can only figure on one thing:  Jesus.  I need to write because the passion of God is welling up inside of me and I have to let it out. I need to write to feel the smile of God.  

In Acts, I noticed our friend Paul did a curious thing. His friends took a boat to their next destination, but Paul walked. He walked the 20 or so long hard miles so he could be alone and hear from Jesus. He needed resolve. He needed the determination that comes from the conviction that Jesus is leading and I must follow.  At the end of his walk he talked about having an ur gency to go on to Jerusalem, even though the Holy Spirit made it clear to him that he would be imprisoned.  He met godly believers who God used to remind him that he would be in chains, bound for the sake of Christ. He went anyway.  

God will ask us to walk a difficult road. He will lead us in places that cause us to question ourselves, our effectiveness, and ability. He will lead us into hard places.  We must go anyway. We must follow anyway.  We must listen to Jesus calling, spend time in His Word, and we must obey.  This weekend Ann Voskamp prayed over me, that God would keep my ear close to His Word and that He would bless me as I live my life broken and poured out.  I needed that prayer.  I need to be close to Jesus.  When I forget Jesus, I forget everything that matters.  

Sweet friends, let's walk that quiet road with Jesus each day so that we have the strength and resolve to keep walking when doubts rise.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

It's about Jesus

Much of my emotional energy is spent thinking about me, and about you. It is not a bad thing to consider myself and to allow myself the freedom to really know me.  It is a blessing to know you, and to see your beauty and to hear your heartbeat.  I want to know and be known.  Today, however,  feels like a special day. I just returned from the Allume bloggers conference where God stirred in me a desire to really disciple women through my blog. I long for the words I share and the way I share them to be an encouragement as you walk with Jesus, or even as you consider what it would mean for you to begin to walk with Jesus.  I have been wrestling about what God desires for this blog and this sacred space and so in this moment I want to lay down my wrestling heart.  I lay down my mind filled with the ideas of women who have gone before me and have been used mightily by God to bring blessing to readers.  I lay down this moment and  I set it apart as holy.  

Instead of thinking about my dreams and hopes and aspirations, I want to ponder Jesus. I want to take a moment in the holiness of this still Sunday afternoon and ask the question, "Jesus, what are your dreams?  What is on your heart today? What is it that you are passionate about in this hour?"  I want to stop to know Jesus in the way I stop to drink coffee with a friend and in the sipping and sharing she opens her heart and her mind and reveals beauty, and joy, and a deep longing.  I need to know Jesus.  I need a quiet moment with my Saviour.  

Years ago in a flurry of writing and inspiration this poem, based on the "I am" statements Jesus breathed in the Gospel of John,  took shape.  I'm going to spend some time with it and let God speak to me once again. 

The Word Made Flesh

Alive, In touch
The Word Made Flesh
Among us,Now in Us

The Messiah, Salvation
Rescue from sin
Messiah, Salvation
Our peace deep within

The Light of the World
Exposing the darkness
Light of the World
Revealing God

Bread of Life,
Bread of Life
Delicious and sweet
Bread of Life to meet every need

The Gate
To the kingdom of God
The Gate
Beauty adorned
Heavenly desire is born

The Good Shepherd
Strength and provision
The Good Shepherd
Nurture with vision

The Resurrection and Life
An empty grave
Death is defeated
The Resurrection and the Life
Eternity conceived
For those who believe

The Way
Unique, Only
Narrow and few
The Way
Fellowship with God
For those who would choose

The Truth
Nothing False
Complete and whole
The Truth
Word of God
Light to the soul

The Life
Joy, freedom, and grace
The Life
Shout out, Worship,
Run with me in this race

Sweet Jesus, let me enjoy you in every moment. Let me consider you, not only in your relationship to me, and how knowing you benefits me, but let me just love you.  Fill my mind with images of you stooping to heal a woman in her bleeding, speaking to the wind and commanding it to be still, shouting "come forth" and the dead man walks. Fill my mind with images of you opening a door to salvation for a 15 year old girl sitting on an Italian beach, me with a handfull of sand, telling her this is how much God loves you.  Fill me with thoughts of those miraculous moments when you showed up in the lives of the hurting and broken and you brought redemption.  Lord, let me remember you as the Way, The truth and The Life today.  Let me know you as the resurrection.  Let me feast on you as the bread and the cup.  Let me be filled with you.  You are the longing of my heart.  You are the gift my words extend.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Where are you Planted?

 I had a dream that I would be able to wash dishes at my kitchen sink and look out on the beautiful gardenia that freely offered her summertime fragrance to the wind and delighted my eyes with her rose like blossoms. I was so looking forward to the hours spent at my sink gazing on the beautiful tiny garden that my window overlooks.  It was all coming true... for a few weeks.  The blossoms were promising, the arroma enchanting and then the yellowing of the leaves began.  It was only a few leaves and I thought these twin beauties might just make it, and then more yellowing and the top leaves dropping, blossoms wasting away.  My dream of a gardenia in my kitchen garden died, along with the sweet aroma now just a faint memory.  It makes you wonder, what is the deal? Why didn't it make it? Why was that well watered and fertilized plant not responding to our love and care?  I have no idea... none. I knew gardenia were difficult to grow this far North. I knew they were finicky little plants, but we gave it a shot.

It made me wonder, if we had planted her in a different location, would she have done well? There is a possibility that the bed she was in was too wet, maybe it drowned out her poor little roots, just trying to breathe in all that water.  The geraniums that were planted alongside them did fine and are still flowering. Maybe they don't like geraniums, some sort of allergy, I don't know.  Is there something to being planted in the right spot? Is there something to being in the right place that unlocks your potential?  The little gardenia in that picture above was supposed to be beautiful. I saw the picture on the tag, breathtaking, I saw her when we first put her in, amazing.  We planted her and she died.  All that potential blessing that she was to offer to the world snuffed out in a lousy flowerbed. 

It make me wonder what sort of environment I need to reach my potential. Do I need to be in a mega-church so that I will have more opportunity to teach more women?  Do I need Zack to be in the best preschool to unlock his inner-genius? Do I need more people to read my blog and that will encourage me to write better, more often, with greater passion?  Would I make sure to use better grammar (I just lit up the grammar check with several non-sentences, don't worry, I fixed it).  Is there a list of what ifs that you think if this one thing were to change for me then I would be more fruitful? I would have that unlocked potential. I would be blossoming and everyone around would appreciate me?

Hmmmm... That makes me think of these trees.  They are the bristol cone pines found in the Eastern Sierras near Bishop, Ca.  Jeff and I went there in September. These trees are nearly 4000 years old.  Yes, 4000 years they have been growing in the most hostile environment imaginable. They are in the desert at around 10,000 feet elevation. There is nothing else up there but some tumble weed looking stuff and these most peculiar, gnarly, beautiful trees. The picture below gives you an idea of what is up there, nothing really, just the pine.  Why is it that these trees grow and thrive in rocks and wind and crazy hot sun?  I don't know, honestly, it is just a miracle. They are in the worst place imaginable. They don't know about places where trees are spoiled with rain showers and sheltered from wind. They just grow where they are planted and they probably think they are just doing fine.... for 4,000 years, who can argue with them.

These trees remind me of places like China where the church is growing exponentially greater in number each day, but yet it is in a hostile environment.   Churches in China survive in secret from the government who would seek to shut them down, imprison their leaders, even bring them to martyrdom.  Our brothers and sisters are walking in great faith. God is present in their gatherings because they are desperate for him. They have no security outside of his great protection. They have no hope in anything else because they have nothing else to hope in.  The church is growing among persecution, in arid places.  We have brothers and sisters in the Muslim world walking out their potential and bearing fruit without the trappings of our Western Churches. They are doing it without top rate youth ministry programs and woman's groups (which are nice). They are coming to faith in God and there is not a Christian Life building that boasts aerobics classes, walking tracks and coffee bars (a coffee bar is one of Zack's priorities you will see).   The church grows when it is planted in God's word and is filled with His Spirit.

 Psalm 1:1-3 from the Message

How well God must like you—
    you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
    you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
    you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.
2-3 Instead you thrill to God’s Word,
    you chew on Scripture day and night.
You’re a tree replanted in Eden,
    bearing fresh fruit every month,
Never dropping a leaf,
    always in blossom.

Dear friend, I know you are longing to be beautiful. I know you are longing to be the person you are meant to be, the one God designed for you to be.  You have so much potential. You have so much in you that is longing to be made known.  You want people to taste the fruit that you will offer.  You want them to see Jesus in you and to be a blessing and encouragement.  You want to do that thing that you feel like you were made to do.  Sweet friend,  don't chase a dream.  Don't think that if you plant yourself in a new church, or you go to the right classes or the right conferences you will be poised to bear that fruit.  God does use conferences, I am going to one on Thursday. He does use instruction, I earned a degree from a Christian College.  He uses the church to teach and instruct. My caution is do not see these things as the means to your end. Do not look at fulfilling your calling to be something accomplished by following a formula.   You want to bear fruit?  Delight in God's Words.  Delight in His church,and let them help you delight more in Jesus.  Enjoy His presence.  Be a stream planted by the rivers of God's love and grace.  Let the roots of your life reach deep into God.  Don't just chase a dream.  Chase Jesus.  Don't just position yourself for success, position yourself at the feet of your saviour.  You will bear fruit there, like a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fruit in season.  In the right season, you will bear fruit.  

I feel like I am writing this for my own sake tonight. Maybe I am. I love to speak God's word. I spoke at a small retreat last weekend for ladies I dearly love.  God has given me a gift to proclaim His word. I wonder why I don't get to do it more often. I feel his presence in a special way when I speak.  I do not know what sort of potential God has locked up in me.  I do know one thing, that if I stay in His Word and I follow him, I will not be like my little shrivelled gardenia, all her leaves and blossoms dead. I will be more like these vibrant zinnias planted in the sun of my front yard, calling butterflies to drink of their nectar.   God will move me to a place of greater fruitfulness, but it won't be because I was striving for greatness.  It will be because I was resting in His presence.  

Or, you can just wait by the coffee pot to jumpstart your potential in the morning. That is what Zack does.