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.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

We belong to each other

In high school I played softball. It was a passion and a calling. I saw myself on that team as a girl there to glorify God in every swing of the bat, every run to the base and every catch and throw. I had Bible verses written on my softball glove to remind me that God was faithful, that I could do everything through His strength. I was all in. I gave it everything I had. In February we would start our physical training with aerobics at the youth center. I would kick as high as I could when she said get those knees up ladies. I would jump and sweat and smile. When my coach made us lay on our backs and raise our feet up 6 inches I would grit my teeth and give it all I had. I was a ball player. When it came to game time I was on a fabulous team. We all worked really hard and most of us had talent. I played in left field and to be honest, was really good at it. Not many balls would get by me out there. Every pitch that went to that home plate I just anticipated would be a fly ball to left field. I was always ready. We played our season for 6 months totaling over 100 games. You would have to love it to to keep in on a season like that. Every year we were favored to win the European Championships, and we never did. My junior year I thought for sure we had it in in the bag. I had to play short stop for the tournament because our regular short stop had to go back to the states for college. The catcher, Melissa , was playing in the left field. She was a fantastic athlete. None of us felt like she was out of her league to be standing in my spot in left field. We were at a point in the final game when all we needed to do was get one more out and we would be the champs. I saw the long fly ball go out to left field. I made a note that it was an easy catch and was ready to collect my trophy. That long fly ball was going to exactly where Melissa was standing. She didn't have to move a bit. The game was in the bag. I was making acceptance speeches in my head. And then, Melissa did a terrible move, she started running forward, oh no! I watched my dreams of a championship fly right over Melissa's head. I knew that if I would have been there I would have caught that ball. I had caught that ball hundreds of times. It was an easy catch for a left fielder, but for a catcher, it was a night mare. We ended up losing the game because we didn't have the right person in left field because our short stop had to leave too early.

When you are on a team, the team needs you to do your best. They need you to come to practice, they need you to play the position you are given to the very best of your ability. In softball every player needs to be on their game. Each player is essential to winning. If some one is not committed and continually misses practice the whole team suffers. They need to learn to play together, to play off of one anothers rythms and style. They need to practice together. They need to practice at home just playing catch. The more a team practices the better they will be. A good coach will also see the strengths of each girl and put them on the field in the place that will best suit them. The team itself is one unit. When one person on the team is a slacker, the whole team suffers.

The church is like an athletic team. Each person has a vital role to play. Let me say it again. You have a vital role to play. Sweet sister, you are essential. You are here to make a difference. You are here to be a blessing. You are here to contribute. We need you to contribute. Last night we saw how God was calling us to believe in Jesus and to love our friends so much that we bring them to Jesus. We saw that Jesus is worthy and our friends are worth it. Today we are going to see the calling of God to minister not just to the individual but to minister in the context of the Body of Christ. To give our all to the whole family.

Romans 11:
33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
34 For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
    Who knows enough to give him advice?[l]
35 And who has given him so much
    that he needs to pay it back?[m]
36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.

Romans 12

A Living Sacrifice to God

12 And so, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.[b] 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Here we have the introduction of a discourse on the ways in which God needs to change our minds. He needs to rewire our thinking. We have thought for so long that life is about me and it is for me and I need to watch out for me that God has to get the me out of me and replace it with himself. We begin our reading with a reminder of who God is.
Romans 11 ends with: Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
34 For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
    Who knows enough to give him advice?[l]
35 And who has given him so much
    that he needs to pay it back?[m]
36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.

We need to remember that God is great. He is God and we are not. If I am to ever be any good to the church, if I am ever to contribute anything at all I need to have the proper perspective of who is God. I need to know that He doesn't owe me anything. He doesn't need my advice. His wisdom and knowledge are beyond my understanding. God is God and I am not. I need to know that my place is at the foot of God's throne and not on his throne. Friends, I need to know that that reason I got out of bed this morning is not because of my own ability or strength. I got out of bed because God woke me up. He gave me air to breath and he kept my heart beating. I need to know that the life I live is not for my glory or accomplishment. It is not for my own pleasure or to make my dreams come true. I need to know that I am not the hero of my story. It was never my story to begin with. We begin our conversation about what it means to be a body with the idea that I am just a small part of a whole, and God Himself is creator and sustainer. We exist by His power and are intended for his glory. Let Him have it all. Let him have all the power and glory and honor. It belongs to Him.

And so Paul commends us to give our bodies to God because of all God has done for us. Give your body to God because He is God. In the NKJV is says “to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” I love that phrase your “reasonable service”. It is reasonable to let your body be a living and holy sacrifice. God has given us everything and so it is right that we give everything we have back to him. In the NIV it says “this is your true and proper worship”. This is our worship. This is how we attribute worth and praise to God. So how do we really worship God? What is our reasonable response to God? We give Him all we have. It's that simple. We give Him everything because he is God. I like that He isn't just saying to give our spiritual being, the idea of God you can have my heart but I will keep control of my hands and feet. He is saying that He wants our hands and feet as well. He wants our entire lives, poured out before him.

Just a few weeks ago I was given an entirely new perspective on the idea of my life being an offering. We were reading Jenn Hatmaker's book Interrupted and she had an eye opening commentary on the Lord's Supper. She was saying that when Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me” the verb tense was a present tense that required continual action.
Jenn says
Not only was Communion a symbolic ritual, but it was a new prototype for discipleship. “continuously make my sacrifice real, by doing this very thing” But what? What was the very thing Jesus was doing? He was becoming broken and poured out for hopeless people. He was becoming a living offering, denying Himself for the salvation and restoration of humanity. Obedience to Jesus' command is more than looking backward; it's a present and continuous replication of His sacrifice. We don't simply remember the meal; we become the meal too.
“Now you are the body of Christ” 1 Cor. 12:27
Doesn't this concept of being broken for others ring true? It's a spiritual dynamic manifested physically. Why is it so exhausting to uphold someone's heavy burden? Why are you spent from shouldering someone's grief or being an armor bearer? Why is it that lifting someone out of his or her rubble leaves you breathless? Because you are part of the body of Christ, broken and poured out, just like He was. Mercy has a cost: Someone must be broken for someone else to be fed. The sermon that changed your life? That messenger was poured out so you could hear it. The friends who stood in the gap during your crisis? Each embraced some sacrifice of brokenness for your healing. Anytime you say “that fed me, that nourished me”, someone was broken bread for your fulfillment.

Jenn Hatmaker's words challenge and convict me. To follow Jesus' command to do this in remembrance of me we lay our lives out before God and say break me, pour me out, use me to feed the hungry. Use me to minister to the hurting. We lay our lives out before God and say, You are Lord. You Lead. Present your bodies as living sacrifices because this is the way we worship God. What is it to worship? It is to say to God you are enough. I trust you. I give you all that I am and say you are High and Lifted Up. I trust you with my body. Use me. We need God to change our minds, so He can change our lives, so He can make the church more what she is meant to be in a broken world. We need God to do what Romans 12:2 says to do:
Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Here is where the teaching in Romans 12 becomes more specific. What does it actually look like to walk according to God's good, pleasing and perfect will? What does it mean for me in a practical sense?

We Belong to Each Other
Romans 12:3 Because of the privilege and authority[c] God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.[d] 4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

I love that Paul is telling us to have a sober opinion of ourselves. I started wondering why would he start a discourse on the body of Christ with a statement like “don't think you are better than you really are.” I kind of wonder if it is because of what he is going to say next. Don't look at yourself as independent from the body. Don't think you could make it at all without the church. If you have a high and lofty opinion of yourself you may fall into the trap of arrogance and independence. You may think you can do this Christian life on your own and pull away from fellowship. You may also pass judgment on your brothers and sisters and not value what they have to offer because you think you are so much better than they are. The bottom line is verse 5, We are many parts, and we belong to each other. We need each other. I have a responsibility to you and you to me. Let that sink in a bit. We belong to each other. That means you just lost your autonomy. You just lost your cultural identity “I'm and independent American and I can do it on my own”. We so strongly value our strength and freedom that we have a hard time swallowing the idea that we belong to anyone, even to God and certainly to the church. We need God to transform our minds. We do belong to each other. Just like when I was on a ball team in high school, we were a team. We needed each other. No matter how good the star player was she couldn't play all the positions. Look at each other and say “I belong to you”.
Is that hard to say? Does saying that I belong to you mean that I have to trust you on a deeper level. Does it mean at some place I am giving authority to you or to the body over me? If I yield to the body of Christ, what becomes of me? This is difficult teaching. I struggle with it too. To say that I belong to you also means that you have a role in caring for me. A friend of mine helped me to see that when we something belongs to us, we are responsible for it. We care for it. Zack is my son so I do everything I can to care for him and to protect him. If I belong to you then you have a role in protecting my heart, but I have to trust you with my heart. Right now, just being in front of you pouring out to you the vision and heart that God has given me, I stand vulnerable. What will you do with this gift of grace I extend to you through God's Holy Spirit? I have to share it because the message that God has given to me, so long as it is from Him, belongs to you. I can't hold it back, whatever God has given to me, doesn't belong to me. It is yours, it is His.
Romans 12: 6
 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

In His grace, God has given gifts. Dear friend, you have been given gifts from God through grace. These are not gifts you earned. These are not gifts just based on your natural inclination or talent. These are miraculous gifts from a miraculous God. I remember the first time I got up to pray in front of a large group. I was 21 and working for the Centrifuge youth camp at Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center. I stepped onto the stage and I was overcome with the peace and presence of the Holy Spirit. I was not afraid, I was anointed. I knew God was with me and He was blessing people through the prayer that was prayed. Please understand how significant this was for a 21 year old Judy. I had struggled with fear of rejection my entire life. I did not feel comfortable standing in front of a crowd. I was shy. The idea of being the center of attention in front of any group of folks was intimidating, let alone a room of 700. Every part of my natural self would have run away from being up front, but God. He gave me a gift to lead others in prayer. He was cultivating it in me as a 21 year old fuge staffer. He has been kindling the gifts of leadership and teaching and prophesy in me for over 20 years, but I am such an unlikely candidate. I spent my childhood hiding behind my Mom's purse. I laid in bed at night as a middle schooler wondering why people wanted to be my friend. I wasn't that girl who was like “look at me”. To be honest, I still don't like being the center of attention but I love for God to be the center of attention and when I proclaim Him, I feel his presence. I feel his blessing, and I love it. When I walk in the gifts that God has given me I am energized. I love to be used by God.

Let's just stop and let this list of amazing supernatural gifts from Romans 12 sink into our minds and hearts. These are gifts of prophecy, service, giving, teacher, leadership, evangelism. Imagine if we could see all of these gifts represented in our body. Imagine if all the saints in our community were walking in the Holy Spirit with a transformed mind fixed on Jesus and just employing these gifts to serve the body. I want to see these gifts put to use. What is God stirring in you? What is he giving you a heart to step into and do in His name. That is right, we are called to be in Christ, but doing is a natural outpouring of our being in Christ. We don't just be, we do.
In John 14:12-18 Jesus makes this amazing promise “
12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. 13 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask[c] anything in My name, I will do it.
15 “If you love Me, keep[d] My commandments. 16 And I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.

You heard it right, Jesus said you will do even greater things than these, because He sent the Holy Spirit to live inside of believers. The Holy Spirit dwells in you. Let Him out! Let Him do his work. Don't keep the Spirit of God locked away in some little safe place. Get to know the Holy Spirit. So many Christians are just ordinary and their spiritual gifts are in infancy because they do not cultivate a relationship with Jesus. They don't want the Holy Spirit to take control of their lives. Imagine, if everyone in our community was spending time with Jesus, letting the Holy Spirit have his way with them, what would we look like as a body? Healthy. Each person would be playing the role they were meant to play. There would not be one guy doing the job of 5 guys, or one lady doing the job of 10. Each Sojourner would be supernaturally walking in the Spirit of God and in the giftedness that God has given to them. We wouldn't see burn out. We would see people more blessed than ever because friend, when you walk in the giftedness that God has given you it feels good. You may feel spent, but it will be a good spent. You may feel challenged but it will be the kind of challenge you know you are made for. How can I encourage you more? You are gifted! Give that gift to the body. Let the Holy Spirit fill you in such a way that you are bursting with desire to serve God's people and the unbelieving world. Get to know that place of giftedness. Try it out, practice, apply it. Cultivate it. Let God take you out of your comfortable places and bring you into a place that feels risky, a place where you feel out of your league. That is the place you will experience the transforming work of the cross. That is the place you will see miracles happen, in you and around you.
And finally we close with the greatest of all supernatural gifts. Love.

9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,[e] and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.[f] 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
We belong to each other. We are meant to live our lives as a body together. The bond between us is deeper than our ordinary family. The Holy Spirit of God fills us with His presence and brings us to true unity. Let God fill you with love for the body. Let Him fill you with delight in honoring each other. Even now I pray that God will fill each of us with a deep love for Himself and His church, and out of that love flowing through us we would all serve the body in the way we are called to serve. We would all love the body and meet her with hospitality and openness. This is your family. Live life with her. Serve God's Kingdom with her, broken and poured out, serve.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Come Out of that Veil

I feel like the church has been shrouded in a veil.  It is as if we were too much for the world and so instead of just being the radiant life of Christ in a dark place we just threw a robe over the church so that her brilliance doesn't offend. We don't stand out because we don't want to.  When Moses came down off the mountain after visiting with God his face was so brilliant the people were afraid of him, so he wore a veil. The people couldn't handle the glory of God and so Moses had to hide his face.  He had seen God and he was changed, but his change was too much for an unbelieving Israel. His change was better left hidden.  

We have seen God. We have beheld him in holy places where He has met with us and drawn us into intimacy with Himself. Can you think of moments when you just spent time in God's presence? Can you think of a time when He was so clearly evident that you just knew if you moved around too much you would bump into Him?  Instead of risking running into a Holy God you just got down on your face and laid there, holy and still in His presence, soaking in the heat of His fire.  I have been in that place. I have been in those holy moments with God and I am grinning ear to ear just thinking about them. I love to be there, I live to be there. But then there is this morning when the world is dark and I sit here at my computer. Is this a holy moment? Is this a moment where I will wear a veil on my face to hide the lingering evidence that I belong to Jesus?  I've got to come out from that veil. Dear sister, you have to come out from that veil.  "Those who look to the Lord are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame (ps 34:5)".  Shame is not the facade we wear, we wear radiance.

But the veil is so easy, if you were to just go about with the radiance of Christ looming before you people would think you odd.  It is actually more than that isn't it?  If we were really honest with ourselves we would see that our veil has many more names that just shame.  We cover our true identities because we don't know our true identities.  We wear shame because we don't know at the depths of who we are that we are beautiful. We had been told for so long that we are too much, not enough, we don't have anything to contribute. We are selfish, lazy, not articulate, not outgoing enough, too outgoing, we are abandoned, rejected. We have been told lies, sweet sisters, we have been believing lies. I think one of the most pervasive lies is that you really are not that significant.  You don't have much to offer, just blend into the crowd.  Don't stand out, don't shine.  If you draw attention to yourself you will be rejected. People won't like what they see. You will be found wanting.  So we wear the veil. It is safe under the veil. If you can't really see me, then you can't really reject me. If I hold back long enough, I will lose perspective of what I am holding back. I will begin to believe the face I project to the world. I will believe I am not that special.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Sweet friends, it is our unveiled face that reveals the glory of the Lord. It is your fullness revealed that shows the world that God is real, He is alive. He is living inside you and inside the church. He makes us radiant.  It is time to throw off the veil of shame. It is time to throw off the deception that you are not good enough for Jesus.  He has transformed you, and is still transforming you. He has chosen to make you a living temple of His presence. We have to let Him out!  Don't throw a veil on the beauty that the living God has chosen to use to show off His glory. Don't hide any more.  You be in Christ. You begin to believe that you are indeed that royal priesthood and holy nation, that woman belonging to God. You begin to believe that Jesus has called you out of darkness and into light. He has called you daughter, son...  He has called you by name.  

Look to the Lord and you will be radiant. Shame will not be your mask any more. It was at one time, dear friend, you wore shame because it belonged to you. It was yours and you earned it by the blood sweat and tears of your own sin. But can you just see Jesus today, leaning over your hunched shoulders, looking straight into your beautiful eyes, seeing you behind your mask?  His hands are raised today, cupping your cheeks, removing the mask.  He already took that mask upon himself and he has hidden it in the deepest oceans as far from you as the east is from the west. I can sense him over me in this moment,   saying "Judy, come out of the veil". I want to show the world around that I am loving and kind. I want to show that I am real and relevant, still moving, still on my throne and yet close by you.  I want to show them Jesus through you. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Mat and a Bit of Faith

A Mat and a Bit of Faith

If you looked at snapshots of my growing up years you would find the backgrounds to always be different places, different states, different countries. I was in 11 different elementary schools. Moving around so often made my friendships a mile wide and an inch deep. I honestly didn't want them to be that way. I wanted just a few friends that I could really count on to know me and to know them. I wanted faithful friends that I knew would be at school and we could sit together at lunch and hang out on the weekends. I had some “best friends” but to say that any of those friendships were deep or intimate would be an overstatement. We were in high school, all of us nomads, and all of us knew how to guard our hearts. When you move around as much as I did and the kids I went to school with did, you learn to protect yourself from the hurt of leaving by not letting people really into your heart. You learn to insulate yourself from losing a friend because you know they will only be there for a few years. I learned to have shallow friendships, but my heart was longing for so much more. My heart was longing for someone to really know me. You know what I mean? To know me and to still want to hang out with me. I wanted someone who could know that I felt insecure and be able to encourage me, or to know I was afraid to be able to comfort me. I wanted a true friend.

I know that Jesus was that true friend. He was a comfort and an encouragement. He was my best friend and still is the one who knows me the fullest and still loves me intimately. Let's thank Jesus for being that friend and that lover of our souls, but let's not let that be an excuse for us to say that we don't need to be vulnerable with each other or we don't need to really know each other because Jesus is doing that. I want us as a community to be willing to go to those deep places of relationship much like the guys in the passage we are about to study.

Tonight we are going to focus on Mark 2:1-12
2 1-5 After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.”
6-7 Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, “He can’t talk that way! That’s blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins.”
8-12 Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, “Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or say, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man am authorized to do either, or both . . .” (he looked now at the paraplegic), “Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.” And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

People came to see Jesus. They knew something that folks around us today have lost sight of. They knew that Jesus was worthy. He was worthy of the trip. He was worthy of adoration and devotion. He was worthy of hours of their time and attention. He was amazing. Miraculous. He did things that they had never seen before, or even dreamed of seeing. I want us to get a better glimpse of Jesus. He was beautiful. He was loving, kind. Can you imagine the look on his face as he leans over a hurting Momma, wipes tears from faces, declares love and freedom. Can you imagine the Jesus that little kids just flocked to? Can you imagine this Jesus? Have our hearts become too hard to fathom a Jesus that would be so powerful and tender that these men who carried their friend on his mat would say, forget the crowd. We are going in through the roof. My heart is longing to know that Jesus. My heart is crying out to remember the Jesus who met me, saved me. I have to stop to remember him, to remember what it was like to be lost and broken. I have to do it on purpose, with purpose to say I remember you Lord, when I was an 8th grade girl all caught up in popularity, all broken from rejection and failure. I remember you calling me to stop trying to earn my way to a spot in heaven. I remember how beautiful you were the night you settled into my heart and became my saviour, my friend, you became my Father and brother. I remember that as if it was yesterday. I need to keep remembering who my Jesus is. I need to keep remembering Him because I so easily forget. I get so caught up in the distractions of life that I forget that Jesus is worthy of my time. He is worthy of my passion, my heart, my devotion. Friends, these 4 guys knew something about Jesus that I want to know at the depth of my heart. They knew he was worthy. They knew he was the only one in all the world who could come through for them. He was the only one who could heal their friend. I love these guys. I want to sit down and have coffee with them and let them tell me their story. Can you imagine how it might go? Maybe it was something like this...

We heard that Jesus had come back to Capernaum and we couldn't wait to go and see him. We would have run, we would have been there earlier but we had a buddy with us, and he couldn't walk. We had to carry him. He was not light, in fact I would say he was a heavy load. But man, we were going to bring him to Jesus. We were going to set him at Jesus feet and watch the miracle that we had all hoped for our entire lives. We wanted this for our friend, we wanted it for ourselves. We believed Jesus could and would bring healing to our friend. When we finally arrived to the place Jesus was speaking we were totally bummed out. The crowd beat us to him. They were everywhere. People were craning their necks to get a glimpse of him. Mommas were carrying their sick babies, old men were hunched over trying to get their way into seeing the Rabbi. We wanted to see Jesus, and all we saw was a crowd of folks who wanted to see him as much as we did, who needed him like we did. At first we were discouraged but we knew we could not give up. We were like, we will go through the roof if we have to. And wouldn't you know it, that is exactly what we did. We took our friend over to the house and we hoisted him up onto the roof. My buddies and I began removing roof tiles. We had this nervous excitement. We didn't know what Jesus would say or do. Would we get into trouble? Would people get mad at us for going to the front of the crowd? We didn't care enough to stop our plan. We kept digging. And there it was, light peaking through the tile roof, Jesus's voice getting louder. We were making it through. A few more goes at this and we would have a hole we could be proud of, a hole we could use to lower our friend right at Jesus's feet. Oh man, what would happen next? We didn't know. We held our breathe as we lowered our friend down to Jesus. And then there he was, laying on his mat in front of the man who could change his life forever.

Jesus looked at our friend with love in his eyes. He recognized our friends faith and our faith. He was happy that we believed in him. He declared my friends sins to be forgiven, he called my friend Son. Can you imagine being called Son by this man? He was the Rabbi that cast out demons. He was one who healed the sick. He was like the prophets we read about all our lives, and he looks at my friend, with love in his eyes and declares my friend to be forgiven and to be son. Moments later a discussion begins, he addresses the religious people and asks them which is easier, to say your sins are forgiven or to say get up and walk. We didn't know. We were not expecting our friend to become some sort of object lesson. Here Jesus was using him as an example, that not only could Jesus bring healing, which he did for my friend, but that he could forgive sins. We looked through that hole in the roof with complete amazement at what was happening under our perched frames. Jesus was schooling the religious academy and my friend was being shown as the one who had faith. I was the one Jesus was rewarding because of my faith. I got to see my friend take up his mat, right there in front of all the important people, and become important. He wasn't just that sinner who laid on his mat helpless anymore. He was a man commended for his faith, forgiven of his sins, and walking around. To be honest with you, when we left there my friend wasn't walking, he was running, he was jumping up and down. We kept telling the story to each other the whole way home, and then the next day, and the next day after that. You just don't get tired of a story like that. We thought we were crazy to lower him through that roof. We were like our parents are going to kill us. Instead, we got life. We got Jesus. He loved us for our faith. He is amazing. You have got to get to know Him.

Can you just imagine the stories these guys would go on to tell about Jesus and about how he healed their friend. I love this story. I love the audacity these 4 men had to remove tiles from the roof and lower their friend to the feet of Jesus. That is what it is all about isn't it. We have this amazing saviour and we live in a world surrounded by so much pain, so many needs, so many lost, so many broken and we can bring them to Jesus. We can present them at the feet of Jesus. But why don't we? Why when a friend tells us she is hurting do we just look at her with pity and we may try to relate for a minute but we just move on to an easier topic. We don't want to go to those uncomfortable places with our friends because it is so much easier to talk about how the kids are doing or work is going or what we are making for dinner. Our relationships remain superficial and we are really not much help to anyone.

The invitation Jesus is giving us is to be like those 4 guys. In order to do that, to be that we need a change of heart. We need to believe Jesus is actually worthy. I think one of our biggest issues is that we don't really believe Jesus to be healer in the first place. We don't think he will come through so we don't bother to address him. We don't go to him on behalf of our friends because we don't really think He is involved. I know what you are saying, how dare you say that? How dare you say that I don't believe Jesus. I know, I have to ask myself the same question. Am I really believing Jesus for my situation? Am I really believing Jesus is as beautiful and worthy as the men in this story believed. Do I really believe He will come through for me. Take a moment to think about what is causing you anxiety right now? What are you worried about? That is a place you are not believing Jesus. You are not trusting His plan for that area of your life. You aren't trusting that He is good and that He is strong. It is a sad reality that the reason we don't bring our friends to Jesus is because we are not convinced Jesus is the answer for them. Sweet sisters, he is the answer for all of us. We have to let him renew our minds to bring us to a place of living out the belief that Jesus is the answer.

The second aspect of this story is also challenging. Our four friends didn't go to Jesus for themselves, they went to bring a friend in need. We don't bring our friends to Jesus because we honestly don't have time for them. I have had many friends come to me with broken hearts and sadly I have dismissed them. I have had to get on about my business instead of stopping to bring them to Jesus. Sure I felt bad about it afterward, but then I forget about it, and keep on being busy. God was asking me to pray for a friend for quite sometime. I knew he wanted me to just wrap my arms around her sweet neck and pray the blessings of God and of healing on my friend. One night she told me she was physically hurting and I knew that God was opening up an opportunity for me to pray for her, instead I gave her a pitying look, a bit of a hug, and went back to enjoying the youth dessert auction. I was bidding on a cake and it was an intense war for the Nothing Bundt Cake that was donated. How could I have missed the mark on that one? In that moment, even though God was leading me to pray for my friend I didn't think that call to prayer was more important that my bundt. Friend, I decided that night that when someone tells me she is hurting, or her kids are a mess, or her heart is a mess, I pray, right there and then I pray the blessings of God on her, because she is worth it. She is important to me, she is beloved of God. I don't want to miss an opportunity to bless her. I don't want to miss a chance to be used in her healing. If I believe Jesus is who the Scriptures say he is, and I believe he is loving and good and healer, then I will pray. If I believe my friend is a sweet joy to God and a called out daughter of the king of kings, created in His very imagine, then you better believe I will pray. If I see that friend who doesn't yet believe but I know she is made in God's very image and is one Jesus loves, then yes, I will pray. We can't miss these opportunities to bless our sisters and brothers with prayer.

What makes going to you for counsel, a shoulder to cry on, or a praise to rejoice in any different than going to a non believer? What makes your friendships with sisters any different than friendships non Christians' share? Sweet sisters, they must be different. My friendships with my sisters in Jesus should not remain at the superficial world of talking Auburn or Alabama football. They need to go deeper than our next recipe or sale at Publix. Our friendships need to be honest, deep, Christ focused. We need to be able to share with one another where we are struggling, where we have failed. We need to be able to rejoice with each other in areas of blessings. I need sisters who will pray for me and will pray the blessings of God over me. I need sisters who can help me study God's word and will share with me what God is doing to transform their own hearts. I need sisters willing to challenge me in areas in which God is bringing growth in my life. We need our friendships to be free of the fear of rejection, bitterness, envy, lies, gossip. We need our friendships in Christ to be always pointing us to the gospel. We need Gospel Friends. I need friends who esteem Jesus and see Him as the answer to my hurting heart, and I need friends who love me enough to take me to His feet. I want to be that friend. I have friendships like that, and I want to go deeper in them. Friends, your sisters in Christ need your heart. You Saviour deserves your heart.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Broken and Poured Out

I can't seem to get the concept of being broken and poured out from my mind.  If Jesus in his final meal with his friends told them "do this in remembrance of me" and he was indeed talking about the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup as Jenn Hatmaker proposes in her book Interrupted, then I want to walk in obedience and surrender to the call.  I want to be broken and poured out when God calls me to serve.  Don't worry, being broken and poured out doesn't mean a person is pitiful and slobbering tears all day long. It is a matter of the heart being open to the move of the Holy Spirit. It is a matter of letting go of self and the innate desire to preserve oneself and to stay in a safe, comfortable, challenge free state, and letting God have his way with you. I want God to have His way with me. 

I am speaking at a ladies retreat at my church. They are all dear to me. I want to give them everything God has given me to extend. I want to give them the word that God has impressed on my heart and I want to challenge them to live in deep community, filled with His Holy Spirit.  I want us to be a community of Jesus that doesn't hold back our hearts and our passions. I am weary of holding back. I am worn out from subdued Christianity.   Let's just give Jesus everything we have, all of our energy, all of our hearts and lay them out before the others and let them experience the love and grace of God through us.

Yesterday I had an amazing day. I spent the entire day with my sweet boy, Zack. I didn't have to share him at all. We did errands and we played trains. We watched movies of when he was 2 meeting Mickey and Whinny the Pooh at Disneyworld. We had a special day. I realized that so much of my time with Zack is divided. I am checking facebook, making dinner, cleaning, trying to get something done and I just miss him. He misses me too. He wants some time of undivided attention from Mom. I need to give him that time. It is good for our relationship and for our hearts. In a sense, it is a time of being broken and poured out for my boy. I say to Zack, I am yours today. I love you. What do you want to do?  I know we have to get things done.  Moms have lots to do, but yesterday was nice.  To be honest most Moms live their lives in a state of broken and poured out. They are constantly serving family and friends.  It is a glimpse of the gospel right there over your vacuum cleaner and bent over a sparkling clean toilet.  Broken and poured out... giving it your all... serving with the passion of being a blessing to those you love, those you are called to serve.

This weekend I want the women of Sojourn to step into the challenge of being broken and poured out. I want us to step into the call of giving our bodies, minds, hearts, souls, lives to Jesus. I want us to serve the body with all the giftedness that God has given to us and to hold nothing back. I want us to serve our husbands, children, friends, coworkers. I want us to serve the poor and lonely, the hurting and afraid. I want to stop living such a Judy centered life and live the life that God has called me to live.  If you want to gain life, you must lose life.

Mark 8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 
Mark 9: 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

These passages in Mark come with a secret promise. If you lay your life down, God will bless it, God will bless you.  I am going to venture to say that in laying down your life you will find your life more full than you ever dreamed possible.