Planting Seeds in a Hurricane

At the beginning of summer, I tried to set up a friendly, reading competition with my oldest boy. I wanted to keep his mind sharp and his nose in a book throughout the summer, so he would be ready for third grade this Fall.  We were going to see who could read a book a week for the duration of his summer break. There would be 9 weeks, with us taking a week off for our vacation. His books average 100 pages and mine are a couple hundred more than his. It seemed like a fair competition. 

The only problem is that my boy HATES to read. It is like pulling teeth to get him to do it. 

This week alone, he is supposed to read Chapter 4.  It’s 22 pages.  How long can that take him?!

But he has put it off and put it off. 

And now. He has consequences. 

No tablet. No TV.

Until his book is read.

And for an 8-year old, it’s the end of the world. And basically, the end of the world for my husband and I, too, because now our parenting really gets tested. 

As his Momma, I have been SO frustrated with him. “Just stop whining and pick up your book and READ.” “Just do it.”

Ugh.

And then the Holy Spirit gently pricks my heart.

I’m the same way.

When it comes to my Bible reading and time alone with God, I put it off and put it off. I let myself become distracted with everything else that I push my Bible reading to the side and don’t do it. I want to do SO many other things, than sit and read my Bible. 

Why is that?

  • I’m tired.
  • I’ve made other things a priority over my quiet time with the Lord.
  • I don’t love God’s Word.
  • I’m a sinner.

The truth is, we can’t live our lives for ourselves without consequences.

Same for my boy. Same for me. 

My boy has lost his tablet and TV time. I’ve lost my peace and joy and strength that comes from being in God’s Word. My brain is mushy, and I get emotional.  I don’t have right perspective on my circumstances or God’s character. I look to other things to bring satisfaction when my soul will only be filled through God and His Word. 

Spending time with the Lord is a choice. Same as my boy has a choice to obey or not, so do I. 

In the summer Bible study, Firmly Rooted, with Susan Black, she said, “being in God’s Word is like a marriage- there are not always fireworks, but we don’t pull away.”

Pastor Aaron prayed during our Leadership Meeting this week, “help us to fulfill our duties until our duties become joyful.”

Being in God’s Word often feels like a duty. There are not always fireworks or big “Ahh-ha!” moments.  But let’s not pull back. Let’s continue in our duty until our duty becomes our joy!

The beautiful part is that God is our Everlasting Father.  And unlike me, He is patient and long-suffering with us. He doesn’t grow tired or weary. He continues to work in our hearts to grow us and shape us into His image. Just as I feel like I’m planting seeds in a hurricane as I parent my boy, the same is true for God in my life- He’s planting seeds in the hurricane of my life.

If this is for you, if you are struggling to be in God’s Word- you’re not alone. I’m there with you.  But it’s not okay. We’ve got to make the hard choice.  Carve out time. Make God’s Word a priority. Let’s confess our sin to the Lord and safe people in our lives. Let’s invite others to hold us accountable. Let’s get into His Word and allow it to work in our lives.

Maybe I need no Instagram until my time in the Word. What about you?

Pure Joy in the Hand

My son is 7 years old. He’s in the second grade. And he *thinks* he knows everything. No one can tell him anything because he already knows the answer. It’s amazing to me… and drives me crazy all at the same time.  However, I’m not that much different than him.  I remember when I was growing up, I always thought that I was older and wiser than the age I was at the time. It’s something that I most likely still to think today. Anyone else with me?

When I was 24 years old, my husband and I, moved to San Francisco, California. We were barely two years into our marriage when we put our “yes” on the table to re-pioneer an urban ministry in one of the last African-American neighborhoods of the city- Bayview-Hunters Point. You could see the old 49er Stadium from our back porch, which more than thrilled my “Niner Loving” husband. There were 16 known gangs in our neighborhood and a plethora of opportunities to share the love of Christ with those living around us. We were eager and ready. So we thought.

“Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3

We had no idea what lay before us. My husband loved the neighborhood.  He was out on the streets daily- praying, talking with people, telling them about Jesus.  I, on the other hand, began a silent battle within my heart.  I loved Jesus.  I loved missions.  I loved my husband. But I did not love living in a huge city with no real friends or community. I did not love the isolation or loneliness that crept into my heart. There were so many things not to love about that season and I began to have a lot of anxiety and panic attacks when I could no longer suppress the battle that was raging in my heart. I couldn’t hide the struggle any longer. 

Being two years into our marriage, it was almost more than we could bear.  Our ministry directors at the time were gracious to us and after several months of prayer, processing, and counseling, the decision was made for my husband and I take a step back from ministry. It was a huge blow to both of us. We had communicated to our family and friends and supporters that THIS was what we were led by God to do. We *thought* it was right.  How could the Lord call us here and then allow such an intense struggle only to pull us out of ministry? We were left broken, defeated, shamed, and embarrassed. 

I felt like my 7-year-old son. We set out *thinking* we knew the ins and outs of ministry and with Jesus, could handle that intense environment. Looking back now that eight years have passed, I see so many areas where the Lord has grown me and taught me and shown me His loving-kindness.

Since leaving San Francisco, the Lord has opened the opportunity for me to step back into full-time ministry working as the Missions Director here at Community Bible Church. Stepping back into ministry has been exciting and fun.  I’ve loved being able to use my gifts again for the sake of the Gospel and to advance the Kingdom. But I would be lying if I said that it didn’t come with many challenges. There have been many challenges that have stirred my anxiety back up in a very real and similar way as it was when I lived in San Francisco. There have been times when I have cried out to God to release me. I have questioned our decision for me to step back into ministry.  But every single time, the Lord has kept me right where I am.  He has not let me go or allowed me to run. I have had to face the challenges and insecurities and pressure. 

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:4

This isn’t just my story. It’s all our story. Life is hard. We each have battles and struggles that we face daily. And through it all, the Lord wants to bring us to maturity so that we are not lacking anything.  He wants to grow and shape us into His image. He can’t always do that in easy times. It’s in the valley’s that we learn to lean in and trust Him fully. 

For many years, I didn’t understand why the Lord allowed me to “run” from San Francisco- why He allowed me to bow out of the hard and difficult season that was life there because I have found my time working at Community Bible to hold many similar parallels as to the season in San Francisco. But I see James 1:2-4 at work in my life… the trials that I faced in San Francisco and even those that I face today as the Missions Director are developing perseverance in my life. They are growing me to maturity in Christ. They are bringing me to a place where I am not lacking anything because everything that I need is in Christ. 

This is not something that I boast in of myself, but I boast about the work that Christ is doing in me. If you knew me intimately, you would know that I am a mess. It’s all Him. 

I don’t know what you may be going through, but I do pray today that you would consider it pure joy that whatever you are facing, whatever you are going through- may you know that the Lord is using that very thing to grow your faith and develop perseverance in your life. Don’t give up. Press into Him. Know that He doesn’t want you to lack anything. In Him, you have everything that you need for this life.  He is with you. His grace is there. He will see you through, just like He did for me in San Francisco and just like He is doing for me daily as the Missions Director at CBC. 

Consider it pure joy.

Who Are Your People?

A few weeks ago, I was reading Matthew 16:21- 28, where Jesus predicts his own death. In verse twenty-one, “Jesus begins to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Jesus knew what was before Him. He knew that pain and suffering, the sin of the WHOLE WORLD, and the cross were before Him.

But He was focused and fixated on the task before Him. Jesus was always fixated on the task. He was always stepping out to walk in obedience to what His Father asked of Him.

However, in verse twenty-two, Peter comes alongside Him and begins to question Jesus. He even goes so far as to rebuke the very plan of God. He says, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”

And Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter was a stumbling block to the very will and plan of God. His eyes were focused and fixated on the world and earthly matters.

We laugh at Peter and the audacity he had to rebuke the very Son of God, to rebuke the will of God Himself. But I can’t say that I wouldn’t have been questioning the plan myself were I in Peter’s shoes. Peter had walked with Jesus. He was one of his twelve disciples.  He was close.

I can imagine in Peter’s mind that he’s wondering- there MUST be an easier way!? There must be a plan that does not involve suffering or pain or hardship or death. From the world’s point of view, Peter’s rebuke made total sense. Their King had come! Why die now? The throne was before Him.

Is suffering and hard and painful and difficult the REAL way of God? Surely, there must be an easier way?

But.

God’s ways are not our ways.

God has laid before each of us a plan and purpose to accomplish His will and make much of Him in the nations. His plan leads to our good and His glory. And just as Jesus “had his people,” we also have our people. We have our people that speak into our lives. We have people that impact and influence us. Peter was trying to influence Jesus. He was trying to talk Him out of the very purpose for which He had come to Earth- to die for the sins of the world, to bring reconciliation to God and man, to rescue us!

And as Peter is speaking, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!”

So.  Who are your people?

Who are the people in your life that are speaking to you and influencing you?

Are they pointing you to Jesus?

Are they encouraging and championing you towards the will of God? EVEN if it’s hard or challenging or difficult.

Do they have in mind the things of God OR do they have in mind the things of men?

What lies before you may not be easy. It may be hard. It may be very unnatural for you. It may involve pain and sacrifice. It may require A LOT of dying to self.

But. We must keep our eyes fixated on Jesus. That’s what He did. He kept His eyes fixated on His Father. We must do the same. Far be it from us to miss what He has for us or to walk away from the very thing for which we were created.

In 2018, I felt the Lord leading me to create more margin in my life. I felt a strong sense that I needed to get super intentional with my time and relationships. This does not come easy or natural for me. I am a “Yes Girl.” But the Lord, in His kindness and grace, has given me a husband that has no problem saying no. Doesn’t bother him one bit. {Help me, Jesus!} So, 2018 brought a lot more “Nos” for me. It was not easy for me. Sometimes, it was hard and painful. But through my person, my husband, I was able to do it. I was able to get more intentional with my time so that I could be more effective and focused on what God desired for me.

I also have three really, great girlfriends. They are mommas in the same season of life as me. And they love Jesus with all their hearts. They get the wild and crazy called Motherhood. But even in the midst of raising our babies, we still desire to use what’s in our hands for the glory of God- we want to raise our babies to know Jesus and love Him and serve Him. We also want to serve our church and the nations. These girls are so good for me. They challenge me. They spur me on. They push and encourage me.  They don’t just tell me what I want to hear, they tell me what I need to hear. When it’s hard, they don’t tell me to quit. They pray for me and fight for me. They understand what’s at stake. They won’t let me walk away from the will of God for my life.

I encourage you to take inventory of your relationships. Do you have people around you that are championing the cause of Christ in your life? Do you have people that tell you what you want to hear or what you NEED to hear? Are they spurring you on even in the midst of hard situations?

If not, ask Jesus to give you people that will not let you off the hook. Ask Him to bring people into your life that will encourage you in the things of God and challenge you to step out in faith. I promise, He’ll do it!

 

Be Like Jesus.

There are many nights after I tuck my kids in bed that I long to crawl in bed myself to drift off to sleep… at 7:30pm. I know, lame. But my eyes are so heavy, and my energy levels are completely spent. The thought of slipping into bed makes me want to sing and dance and shout all at once… if only I had the strength. In my day, I have spent myself and there is simply nothing left to give. Yet there is dinner to clean up and laundry to be folded. Book bags need to be prepared and homework checked. Toys need to be picked up, the cat fed, and lunches made. Anyone else out there with me? Do you ever get to the end of your day and feel like there is still so much that needs to be done? Maybe it’s when you leave the office, there are still those e-mails that need to be responded to or those calls that need to be made or the planning for tomorrow’s meeting. The list of things “to do” just never slows down.    

And yet in John 17:4 Jesus prays to the Father and says, “I have brought you glory on Earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” Jesus completed the work that His Father had given Him to do. I mean, as Christ-followers, this doesn’t, and shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus was perfect. Of course, He completed His work. Of course, He completed His assignment.   

And while this could very easily discourage me that here again lies another example of where I fall short and where I miss the mark, it does quite the opposite. I am so encouraged by the life Jesus lived. I love reading about Him in the Gospels. I love learning about how He carried Himself and interacted with people and lived with intentionality. I love knowing that He completed the work that God gave Him to do. He was focused and driven by the mission. 

A little further on in John 17:18, Jesus prays for His disciples. He says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” “Them” as in His disciples, Christ-followers. To be like Christ is to follow in His footsteps, to model our lives after Him. Jesus went. He went to the lost, the hurting, the sick, the broken. He gave of Himself. And He has sent us also into the world.   

In Mark 16:15 Jesus tells His disciples to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”. It doesn’t say, live in a holy-huddle and never interact with the outside world. He doesn’t tell us to only interact or talk of Him to other believers. He tells us to go into ALL the world. We are commanded to take the Good News OUT… outside our church walls, outside the safety of the people we know and interact with.   

Remember, Jesus went. And so should we. 

Everything Jesus did, he did in accordance to what the Father instructed Him. He brought glory to God by doing the work He was called to do. We can also bring glory to God by completing the work God has given us to do. I’m not talking about making beds or lunches, cleaning a house, fixing a car or mowing a lawn. There is work that He has given us to do that goes beyond our day to day routines. He has given us work in sharing the Gospel with that co-worker, building that relationship with your neighbor, discipling that group of young girls, pioneering a ministry, going to that unreached people group.   

Not that our good deeds or completion of work earn us anything, they don’t. But God reveals Himself and His glory to ALL people in order that He may receive glory from ALL people. Our works are an act of worship unto the Father. Our works are a love response to all that He’s done. Our works are also an act of obedience.   

Each one of us was put on this Earth for a purpose. When God created you in your mother’s womb and knit you together, He had a plan in mind for your life. He gave you gifts and talents and numbered the hairs on your head and counted your days. Everything about your being and make up was calculated and thought through. But what if that plan was more about God than it was about you? What if that plan was wrapped up in something much bigger than you and your life? 

Our God is alive and active today. He is on the move. He is still revealing Himself to the nations through ordinary people like you and me. He is still working through the Church to bring ALL people to Himself.   

If the Gospel has come to you, it is so that it may flow from you. The Gospel is not meant for us to carry around in our pocket and hold tightly to make us feel good about ourselves. It is meant to be shared with the world. God’s desire is that all men would know Him and worship Him. If they don’t know Him, they can not worship Him. How can they hear unless they are told?   

Church, it is time that we take hold of the Great Commission… as Hudson Taylor infamously stated, “not as option to be considered but a command to be obeyed.”   

As Christ-followers, it’s an act of worship to engage in missions by sharing Christ with the world. We bring glory to Him as we proclaim His name. We bring glory to Him as we do the work He has called us to do.   

If you have never considered what a life on mission looks like or you are hungry for more in your walk with the Lord, then join us at our Mission Conference coming up on November 9th and 10th here at Community Bible. We are going to explore what it means to live on mission, to Testify of His goodness, and how our story is ultimately for His glory. 

Playing UNO

Earlier this year, my daughter was introduced to the game, UNO.  She has become slightly obsessed with it ever since. There is rarely a day that goes by that she isn’t begging me or her Daddy or her oldest brother to play a game of UNO with her.  And she’s good. At five years old, she gets it. She understands the game. You don’t have to “play nice” with her. She can legitimately win.  And she loves winning.

Well, my husband and I prayed and felt that it was right for her to join me on the summer mission trip that I was leading to Romania this past summer.  She had had the opportunity to go to Guatemala the year before with our family, but this year would be a special trip for her and I to take together. Her heart is soft to the things of God. She asks a lot of questions about Jesus and frequently reminds me of people that we need to pray for. I see a desire in her heart, even at an early age, to learn more about faith and following Jesus. It wasn’t a hard “yes” to her coming with me to Europe.

With any short-term trip, there are many unknowns, especially when you are traveling to a country you have never been. Which up until last month, I had never been to Romania.  I even wrote about my weaknesses in going on this trip in my last blog post.  {You can read that here.} But with this particular trip, there were more than your typical unknowns. We didn’t necessarily have a daily schedule.  There had been ministry opportunities suggested, but nothing was set in stone.  So, this left a lot of room for the Holy Spirit to show up. Which don’t get me wrong, it’s always a great thing when the Holy Spirit shows up.  BUT when you are the leader, you kind of like to have an idea of what you’re stepping into, so you can actually help lead.  {I’m just saying.}

But in my last blog post, I was nervous to go. I was nervous to be away from my boys. I was nervous about the unknown. But God showed up. As He always does.

My time in Romania was one of the best and sweetest mission trips that I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of. Each morning, we gathered as a team to worship, to pray, to read the Word together.  And the Holy Spirit led us each day in the work He had for us.  Some of us had the opportunity to serve a Safe House for victims of Human Trafficking.  Others of us were able to go on prayer walks through strategic areas of the city.  Some of the team met for bible study with young women or baked cookies that were distributed during evening street ministry.  We were united as a team but sent out in smaller pairings to make much of Christ.

My girl and her pack of UNO cards were a huge part of ministry that week. We traveled on a trip through the Romanian countryside, where we met a young family and invited them to join us in our card game.  We talked about life and Jesus. Smiles were exchanged through broken communication and we laughed over my daughter’s relentless pursuit of winning at UNO.

She played endless games with team members as one spent time recovering from a health issue or another needed time to unwind from the day. These simple cards gave us time to bond, to talk, to meet strangers, to build relationship, to share Jesus, to draw together.  They are now worn and tethered.

UNO wasn’t the only way she was used by God that week, though. She helped to bake cookies that were handed out to prostitutes during outreach one night. She didn’t know the life or circumstances of those that enjoyed her cookies, but she was very much a part of sharing the Love and Hope of Christ that night.

We met another mother and her boy in the middle of the city center as our children ran around together.  We shared stories and prayed together as cars rushed past us on busy streets.

There are mission trips that have grand plans and itineraries, there are other trips that require less planning and preparing. Each has significance in their own way.  We are not the ones to give value or worth to the work to which we have been called. It is He who assigns that. We simply step out in obedience to what He has asked of us.

Our God is a God of relationship. He is in the business of connecting His people. He goes to great lengths to make His name known and He will stop at nothing to have the nations declare His glory. Whether we preach to hundreds or to one, there is purpose and value. For each sheep is precious to our Father.

Our time in Romania was precious. It may not appear that way to some in our reports, but each person, each conversation was destined by God Himself. There is eternal value to those we encountered and shared life with.

It doesn’t have to be big and fancy. It doesn’t require a lot of materials or a big budget. Sometimes it can be a pack of UNO cards and willing spirit that can make the biggest impact.

What do you have in your hands that can be used as a connector in sharing Christ with those around you?