Friday, December 31, 2010

Stones of Remembrance

Today is the last day of 2010. Tomorrow will be a new year, a clean slate, and a beautiful, fresh start.

During our ladies' retreat in Colorado, we talked about stones of remembrance in  Joshua 4. The children of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years and in Joshua 1, it is time for them to inherit the Promised Land given to them by the Lord. Joshua commands a man from each of the twelve tribes to carry a stone up from the Jordan river, which the Lord allows them to cross on dry ground. When they have safely crossed, this is what Joshua says:

"And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God."

As I reflect back on the past year, I have my own stones of remembrance: moments that shaped me, lessons that changed me, people who influenced me, and a God who never left me. As we usher in the new year, I hope you will join me in looking back on 2010 and celebrating and marking with stones of remembrance all the Lord has done. If you don't know my Jesus, there will be no better way to bring in the new year than to allow Him to be Lord of your life.

Stone 1: Ushering in last New Year with people who walked me through thick and thin in Colorado, my Alpha family

Stone 2: Doors to grad school shut. This was a direction shift for me. I feel unqualified to pursue the career the Lord has placed on my heart, but the Lord rarely calls the equipped. He equips the called. I am in good company. (Gideon, Paul, Esther)
Stone 3: Loving on kids in rough areas of Lubbock. It tried my patience, my character, and also showed me what God did not create me to do (be a school teacher), but it also broadened my understanding.

Stone 4: Moving home. This was humbling for a girl who always had a plan and is very achievement oriented. Another growing experience of resting in the Lord. So thankful for a family who supports me in pursuing my dreams despite a lack of clear direction.  I am blessed.

Stone 5: Renewed friendships. I moved back around people I had grown up with but been separated from for four years. These friends were a comfort and a reminder of who I am despite the rejection of the past two years.
Stone 6: A new church home. The Lord led me to Watermark just when I was feeling desperate for community. Not only that, but within weeks, I was placed in a community group with nine amazing girls and given a leadership position with a team teaching me Biblical leadership skills.

Stone 7: My passion restored. After my rejection from grad school, I had trouble writing. This year, the Lord has restored my joy and with that came reassurance that this is where He has both gifted me and called me.

Stone 8: Direction revealed. In September, I attended a Christian writer's conference where I met an author who set me on a course that will follow me into 2011. As of November, I am a student of the Christian Writer's Guild, pursuing publication and receiving one-on-one training and help from a Christian author. I have officially started my first novel. Stay tuned.

Stone 9: Family. I finished up my year with my siblings home from college and a family reunion in both Texas and New Mexico with both sides of the family for the holidays. I am blessed with family who support, love, and encourage me as I continue to seek career direction.

Stone 10: Above all, I learned this year that GOD IS GOOD (Nahum 1:7). I gained a stronger grasp on the concept of being still and waiting on Him, of understanding that He is the source of my identity and worth, of letting Him direct my paths, of trusting, of joy and peace and contentment, of understanding His all-consuming limitless LOVE, of fellowship and community. I pray you remember His goodness this past year and hold onto it in the new year.

Happy New Year from Texas,

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Memory

Merry Christmas from Chama, New Mexico where we are celebrating a Brandon family Christmas! We have a lot of fun traditions, but the story below is one of my favorites. As we celebrate Christmas, I am so thankful that Jesus is the reason. Otherwise, it would just be another day. What is your favorite Christmas memory?

Water-Walking Man

Every other Christmas, I walk on water.
With each excursion, a new cousin rising to maturity learns the dos and don’ts of water walking, marking their initiation in our family tradition.
            Snow piles up around the old hotel in a mountain town in northern New Mexico. Animal prints from wolves and deer dot the fresh powder. The Brandon cousins arrive en masse and add boot prints from the college grads to the smallest toddlers, delighting to ruffle the almost untouched snow. We trek down to the river, a frozen, twisting snake that winds behind the hotel and through the countryside for miles. Hunter, the youngest by far, struggles to lift his little legs, chunky boots and all, and place them right in the footprints left by the big boys walking just ahead.
            We have a system; one established when the first Brandon grandchildren braved the icy river back in 1994. Sharissa, the oldest, or Jonathan and Toby, the fearless older boys of the clan, tentatively lead the way. A booted foot reaches out, testing the frozen mass, judging the color of the ice and the water’s depth. We proceed in a linked chain, hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm out onto the ice and pick a direction to pursue, right towards the bridge and cow pond or left towards rapids and rising banks. When one falls through, the rest are right behind, doing everything they can to pull that cousin out. Falling in is inevitable and soaked feet a fact of life.
            We gather to celebrate Christmas all together in this snowy mountain town, doting grandparents, their four daughters, and their families. Our family’s heritage of faith dates back generations to the time Nanny and Popoo sang hymns and toted an old organ to their tiny church on the plains of West Texas. Just like we teach little Hunter and those before him how to walk on water, we must teach him what Christmas is truly all about, a tradition deeper than the river we love to explore. But after a day of walking on water, it is a lesson easy to teach.
            Hunter crawled into my lap the first Christmas he was able to walk on water. It was Christmas morning and the smell of food and noise of a big family filled the air. We talked and giggled about our day out on the river while he pleaded to go out later, eager to don his floppy hat and ski bib. And then we talked about the baby of Christmas and the water-walking man.
My cousins don’t struggle to understand becoming part of a family with a Father who loves them. They relate to Him. He’s the One who created the river they walk on and placed them in the family who links arms with them and says, “I won’t let go.”
            But unlike the unreliability of their older cousins, the young ones understand that Jesus won’t let them down. His grip won’t slip and He won’t ever fall in. Even when the ice cracks, their booted foot slips, and their feet and legs soak with icy water, the baby of Christmas, the water-walking Son of God never lets them go.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Love is a Verb

There is an old DC Talk song that says, "Hey, tell me, haven't you heard? Love is a serious word. Love is a verb." As I look back over the last year and my journey to understand the love of the Lord, I see the models He set in place through community and different institutions such as marriage and family to demonstrate the love He has for us. Over the next year, I want to look at the Lord's character more and the fact that not only is He a holy God who loves, but He IS LOVE. That is a staggering thought.

Over the last week, I have been convicted of the model of love that we practice as a culture. We tend to approach love as a feeling, the kind that draws us to a person, binds us to them, makes us enjoy being with them. All of that is good to feel, but as I have studied love as the Lord intended, I have come to one very solid conclusion. The way we approach love is not remotely the kind of love the Lord ordained. Exhibit  A would be our country's abnormally high divorce rate. And guess what have demonstrated no difference between your ability to "love" your spouse and the worlds. Point for the evil one there. Harsh? Yes. True? Unfortunately. Sugar-coating the truth does not make it any less real. In fact, it isn't loving you at all.

Here is what I have come to understand about love. It is without a doubt an action and not solely a feeling. Our emotion should be the result of actions. If we went into marriage with the mentality that we truly will love our spouse in sickness and in health, when they are grumpy in the mornings, or mess up the house, when they don't wash their dishes, or run late to every appointment, when they get angry, or are hurt and not acting like themselves, when they hit rock bottom and the only one to pull them out is you....those are the moments that test our love for them. There is a good chance that you won't even like them in most of these situations. But if our love is based on affection, it will run at the first sign of trouble.

Love picks that person up when they have hit rock bottom and points them to Jesus. It smiles at them when they are growling in the morning, it serves them when they don't clean up, it covers for them when they run late, and holds them accountable to do better, it is patient when they are angry but calls them to a "come to Jesus meeting" with the Lord about their attitude. It is sticking by them despite their imperfections and mistakes, and it is  NOT ALLOWING THEM TO STAY THAT WAY. It is speaking the TRUTH IN LOVE. You can't separate the two.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through me." (John 14:6) "Whoever does not know love, does not know God, because God IS LOVE." (1 John 4:8) You can't separate what it is true from the action of love. Love doesn't mean accepting all flaws so we can be at peace and be one big, happy world. I have a very rude awakening for you...the world won't be at peace until Jesus comes back so you might as well accept that idea now.  Love means committing to them in spite of the flaws but helping them be better. Think of it this way. Most of us want the best for people we care about. We love them for who they are and we want them to be the very best version of themselves. "I love you for who you are, but I love you too much to let you stay that way." Love means speaking truth when it hurts, pointing them back to Jesus when they stumble, and standing by them even when they push you away for the latter. Trust me, it will happen.

I apologize if this is harsh. My intention is not to cut down but to encourage with truth. I believe God's word is very firm when it comes to what love looks like and for those of us who are Christians, I believe many of us have bought into the world's watered down version and are missing God's plan for us. It breaks my heart. I leave you with a final thought.

"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with ACTIONS and in TRUTH." 1 John 3:18

Learning His love,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dispelling the Darkness

I love creativity and though I do not condone all the concepts being communicated in the Harry Potter series, I must admit J.K. Rowling is the queen of creativity. In her books, she draws a very distinct line between good and evil, right and wrong. Her characters are forced to choose between what is right and what is easy. They are forced to choose a side. I wish that line was as distinct in real life. I realize that some of you are not Harry Potter fans, and this post is not a recommendation, merely observations of something I have learned while reading and watching this series. 

In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, one of the biggest proponents of good, Professor Dumbledore, is killed by the bad guy, Voldemort's henchmen. Harry is devastated. The scene in the movie is absolutely gripping. The Dark Mark, a symbol placed in the sky over the spot that someone has been killed by Voldemort or his followers, is shot into the sky over the place Dumbledore now lies. The sky is smoky and oppressive. All seems lost. Their capable leader and hero is dead, and evil literally hangs over their heads in victory, taunting them. 

But one by one, the students and professors raise their wands into the sky, tears streaking down their faces and light glows from the end of the wands, casting dim pinpricks into the mocking mark. And slowly, the pinpricks grow as more and more wands point toward the offensive sign. The sky begins to glow and the Dark Mark is shattered, utterly diminished by the joined light from the wands.

This scene moves me. The director accurately portrayed the power of light over dark, even in moments where it seems the darkness has victory. The light is triumphant, and one pinprick is still powerful enough to shatter the illusion of darkness' victory. 

So here's the application. Please understand that I am not advocating Harry Potter or claiming it as Biblical truth. However, I believe lessons can be learned even from things never meant to be interpreted Biblically. Psalm 112:4 says, "Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man." 

We are the LIGHT OF THE WORLD as Matthew 5:14 says. Like the characters in Harry Potter, we must face darkness, shine a light on it, illuminate it for what it is, and dispel it. We have the power to do that because we are the light of Christ, a reflection of His glory! How awesome, is that?

It is easy to fear the darkness. Satan is the prince of darkness and the Lord has given him the ability to roam the earth seeking whom he may devour for just a short time (1 Peter 5:8). The darkness does have power. However, as a child of the Light of the World, we have greater power. So I want to leave you with two thoughts...

"The LORD is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid?" Psalm 27:1. The man after God's own heart wrote this. He knew the Lord was his light, and he knew that because of that truth, he could rest easy. God is in control. The darkness has NO POWER OVER YOU!. Don't fear. 

Finally, the Lord has won! We may be surrounded by the darkness of our culture but here is a sound promise from the Lord who loves you, "Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard... and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:8-10. You have already beat the darkness, because the Light of the World has already conquered it and will one day return to dispel it completely. May we cast our wands to the sky, knowing that our pinprick can make a difference!

In His light,

Pictures belong to Warner Brothers, Inc.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Masterpiece in the Making

A few years ago, I was in Italy with a group of student leaders. Since you can't go to Italy without taking in their artwork, we visited the museum exhibiting Michelangelo's David statue. The creation of this statue fascinated me long before I ever saw the piece itself.

In the late 1400s, a group called the Operai commissioned several prominent sculptors and artisans of the day to create twelve statues of characters from the Old Testament. They provided the blocks of marble, very expensive during that day, and set the sculptors to work. Work began on the David in 1464 but after initial carving, it was abandoned. The story goes that the block of marble was left to the elements for twenty-five years. The Operai was very upset because not only was the block of marble expensive but also represented  difficulty in labor and transportation and it was now a shadow of what it had been when work first began on it. At 26 years old, Michelangelo begged the Operai to allow him to complete the David. From 1501-1504, he painstakingly carved the statue, shaving away the parts damaged by the elements and carving features in great detail, leaving behind a masterpiece.

If you hate history, I hope you stuck with me because none of that is the reason I love the David statue. Michelangelo took a piece of marble that was a wreck, had been abandoned, was weathered, and already marked up, and he turned it into a MASTERPIECE. He was willing to work on a piece of marble that everyone else had abondoned and make it something beautiful.

I believe that is exactly what Jesus desires to do with us. He takes who we are, broken, weathered, abandoned and takes a chance on us...convinced He can and will turn us into a masterpiece. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" He no longer looks at us and sees a broken block of marble but a beautiful statue that He is transforming into His likeness and displaying for others to see His glory! That is so humbling to me.

Micahelangelo also looked past the surface. He chipped away at the marble for years until it reflected exactly what he desired. All the messed up pieces were just excess that he cleared away. Proverbs 25:4 says, "Remove the dross from the from the silver and out comes material for the silversmith." Jesus removes the broken pieces from our lives so that He sees nothing but the righteousness of Christ shining back at Him.

Isaiah 64:8 says, "O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand." Just like Michelangelo chiseled away until the masterpiece of David was revealed, so the Lord molds us in His hands, shaping us, removing the impurities, and transforming us into a MASTERPIECE IN THE MAKING! Be encouraged that no matter how messy your life has been, is, or will become, you are NEVER so broken, weathered, and abandoned that Jesus won't take a chisel and begin to mold you into a masterpiece. He loves you that much!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Busy Holidays

The holidays are here. I absolutely LOVE this time of  year. In Texas, the leaves are just now beginning to fall and winter is already nipping at our heels. I love the colors and the decorations and the hot drinks and yummy food and family time.

But there is one thing that I hate about this time of year....the business. It is terrible!

In the midst of the chaos, the parties my family just HAS to go to, the shopping for just the right gifts, the fun but busy family time, I often forget to slow down and remember and enjoy what this time of year is all about. Unfortunately, the most important part of my life suffers during this time of year, and ironically, it is the only reason we celebrate both of these impending holidays. My time with the Lord decreases drastically.

Interesting, isn't it, that during a time when we should be celebrating HIM, we have created so many traditions and fun activities that He gets a back seat concert pass instead of an on-stage acting role?

This post is short today...but here is my challenge to you and to me as the holidays arrive...Enjoy them, enjoy the business, tradition, activity, celebration, and time with loved ones, but if it begins to creep in and take the place of your relationship with the King of Kings that we are celebrating, then SLOW DOWN. Cancel something and stay home. Slip into your room and spend time honoring Jesus, the One we are worshiping. This season will be much more significant with Him as the main character on stage.

"Be still and know that I AM GOD. I will be EXALTED among the nations, I will be EXALTED in the earth." Psalm 46:10

Celebrating Jesus Christ first and foremost this season,

Friday, November 12, 2010

Broken People, Beautiful Messes

My life theme in 2009 was beauty from brokenness. I went on a night hike around the base of Pike's Peak with a few friends that summer. My friend, Ben, asked me to share my story while we were walking. It's hard not to be honest and feel close to the Lord when you are standing on the side of a mountain, gazing up at the blackest sky and the Milky Way.

"Ben, I am a broken mess right now. And I am so thankful that that is the Lord's specialty."

My new community group met for the first time last night. I was amazed at how many said that  "broken mess" perfectly describes their life right now. Maybe you are there, or maybe you can remember a time in your life when you have been there. You felt or feel unworthy or confused or hurting or lonely or angry. I have to tell you, you are in good company. The Jesus that I serve specializes in making broken people incredibly beautiful.
  • Moses - He was kicked out of the only country he had ever known (Egypt) for murdering a man and then was rejected by one of his own people, but the Lord used him to lead Israel.
  • Paul - He killed Christians! He stoned them, threw them in prison, and then the Lord caused him to lose his sight. Paul was a broken man when one of the very men he persecuted showed him the way to Jesus. He was beaten, rejected by his own people, and thrown in jail multiple times and the Lord used this broken man to change the world.
  • Rahab - This woman was a prostitute and lived in a city that the Lord had doomed to destruction to make way for His people Israel. She hid some of the Israelites and the Lord spared her and all her family. She is an ancestor of Jesus Christ!
  • David - He was a king and a man after God's own heart who slept with another man's wife, had a baby with her, and had that same man killed to cover up his own mistake. Talk about broken. Yet, the Lord heard David, used him, and still called him a man after God's own heart, and made him an ancestor of Jesus Christ, as well.
  • Solomon - This is the man who wrote Ecclesiastes and spent the whole book talking about the meaninglessness of life. He had tons of wives, was the wisest man to ever live, owned everything his heart desired, and was king of God's people, yet he was unhappy. But God used this man to build His temple. 
  • Esther - She was taken from her home, her family, living in a foreign land under a government that wanted to kill her people, the Jews, and she was forced to go before her husband, the King, to beg for her life and the lives of her people. God used her boldness to save a nation!
  • Ruth - She lost her husband and the rest of her family except for her mother-in-law. She committed to moving with her mother-in-law to a foreign land and then worked to provide for both of them. She was an ancestor of Jesus, as well!
  • Mary - She was unmarried when the Lord placed Jesus in her womb. Her fiance didn't want her, her people stoned those who were pregnant outside of marriage, but the Lord changed her brokenness to beauty and she became the mother of the Christ child.
  • Gideon - He was from the smallest tribe of Israel and one of the weakest in his family and the Lord used him and a handful of mighty men to do battle for Him.
The Lord's specialty is healing and using broken people. This is SO encouraging to me. Check out these verses...they are promises that the Lord will use and walk with you through your brokenness:
  • "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:28-29
  • "Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7
  • "Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." Psalm 55:22
  • "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18
This is the Lord that I who meets you in your brokenness and doesn't let you go through it alone. Curl up in His arms and let His love heal you in your brokenness. He is so worthy and so desirous to make something BEAUTIFUL out of the messes in your life! He is the ONLY One who can accomplish that kind of miracle.

Listen to this song by Amy Grant called "Better than a Hallelujah." One of the lines says, " We pour out our miseries. God just hears a melody. Beautiful the mess we are. The honest cries of breaking hearts are better than a Hallelujah." I pray that you will be encouraged and see the beauty that the Lord WILL BRING in your brokenness!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dark Skies and Unknown Waters

Just over three years ago, I stood on a beach on the California coast. It was pitch black. Sounds and lights flickered from a carnival down the beach, but from where I stood, it was still except the lap of waves. I was with a friend and we had kicked off our shoes to walk in the sand. I couldn't see the beach, where I was walking, or the water line. I could only hear it.

In the darkness, my lack of bearings scared me. I feared walking into something that I couldn't see. The moon was the only thing distinguishing the sky from the water in the blackness. I hung back on the beach. Without warning, my friend lifted me up and rushed me into the water. The water was freezing. It encompassed my feet and lapped at my jeans. I looked down, but I still couldn't see the water. I could only feel it.  My fear of what I couldn't see in the waters and in the expanse before me kept me rooted to the spot. Only the ocean floor beneath my feet and my friend's hands on my back kept me oriented in the darkness.

Part of me wanted to rush into the waters, allow my eyes to adjust, and my head to dip under the waves and enjoy the feel of the water on my skin. I had always been drawn to the water. It was a calming place for me. The gentle rush of the waves and the cool feel on my skin has always been a source of relaxation. But here, with something I couldn't see, I was scared.

I am such a visual individual. One of the verses I wrestle with most is 2 Corinthians 5:7, "We walk by faith, and not by sight." Sometimes, I need that friend to grab me and walk with me into a situation in which I am dying to go, know I should, but fear is keeping me rooted back on the beach where I can see. That is wrong on my part. The Lord asks, "Do you trust me, even when you can't see what you are walking into? I'm that Light on the horizon giving direction. I know what you are about to go through. Do you trust me?"

I am constantly praying that the Lord will give me the faith to follow Him even when I can't see. It was never my plan to move back home after I graduated, to not have a job that I enjoy doing, to not have my own space and life that I am figuring out. But the Lord had different plans for this next chapter. He had a dark oceanic expanse stretching before me with disappointment, rejection, and blessings and lessons I never would have imagined I would have when I stepped into that dark water back in May. My life is a journey of swimming through the water toward that moon hanging on the horizon. I am learning to face my fear.

2 Timothy 1:7 says, "God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind." I claim that promise. Because I am a child of the God who created that moon, that dark sky, and the ocean, I have His power on my side. And there's that love word again. I am surrounded by people who are willing and sometimes forceful enough to push me out of my comfort zone into the vast unknown. They love me enough to do that. The Lord loves me too much to leave me imprisoned in my fear. He gives me a sound mind, an ability to have peace in the midst of my uncertainties because He is Sovereign and in control of my oceans.

I love these gentle promises from the Lord. He walks with me through my fear. He guides me even when He leads me into stages I can't see. Have you been there? If you are a recent college graduate, like me, then I know you are there. Do you see His hand in the darkness even when you can't see the road beneath your feet? Do you see the moon shining on the horizon in the midst of your dark unknown? He shines a light and it pierces that uncertainty. He is a God who is strong enough and so faithful that I can walk by faith and not by sight, even when I am scared. I want to trust Him fully. I know that He is good. And I want to follow Him no matter what. I pray that if you are lost right now, that you will see the goodness of Jesus and the peace He brings. He walks with you through those dark skies and unknown waters. He has a beautiful plan for you, and it does not involve fear. It involves faith and His peace.

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Jeremiah 29:11

No fear,

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Early Church Model

Over the past couple of years, I have studied the book of Acts several times. If you have never read it, I highly recommend it. You can find it five books into the New Testament. You will not find a more honest look at new Christians, those who have been walking with Jesus for years, their struggles with faith, their ridicule, their mistakes, and ultimately,their desire to follow Jesus.

If you are curious at all about Christianity, first read the book of John. It tells the story of Jesus. Then read Acts. It is the story of the beginning of the early church. It is about a group of imperfect Christians just trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. I have determined we have three big action commands as the church to be effective in reaching others:
1) grow as a Body both in understanding who Jesus is and understanding as a family of faith how we can follow Him
2) minister to the people around us
3)minister to the world. I talked about the last two in this post if you want to check that out.

I want to focus on number one. As Christians, it is so, so important to have a community of people who believe in Jesus surrounding us. Let's face it, life isn't easy and, contrary to popular opinion, Christians are imperfect. Our goal is not perfection, but following Jesus, and if we are doing that, we will grow better along the way. But perfection is impossible. If you do not live in a place where you can meet with other believers, begin praying that God will bring people to you with a desire to follow Him. He will honor that prayer because that is His desire and plan for you.

I looked at some of the communities that I have been a part of over the years outside of my family. I have truly been blessed. These communities look different every time. They are rarely perfect and they require vulnerability on our part to build genuine, God-honoring relationships. My prayer for you is that if you are not a part of a Christian community that the Lord will lead you to people who can encourage you, grow with you, and hold you accountable. Please understand,too, these friendships do not have to stand the test of time. Some of my closest friends I have never physically spent longer than 2 months with. One friend, I have never spent more than 4 weeks with and we live in different countries. I hope through these examples you will be encouraged about what the Lord can do through community. And remember, too, that love unites even the most different people.

My first true group. Not all have lasted, but the Lord used them to shape my life during very difficult times and during exciting new experiences. This is the group that has known me the longest outside my family and walked through the majority, if not all, stages of life with me. One example of a community - those who know you best and the longest.

My group in college. We aren't as close anymore, but the Lord was so gracious to provide these people during a time when I was lonely and scared of my new stage of life. They were with me as I really began to understand my faith personally. Others were very key during college as well, but this was a group that was very important to me. A true example of community that doesn't last permanently but serves a purpose for a certain stage of life.

This was my group at Focus. I call them my long distance family. They walked through a very rough stage with me, helping me heal and truly showing me what love looks like in community. They loved me when I was a mess. This is an example of community that isn't physically present, but are faithful to pray and encourage and love past distance and differences.

These people were my community my last year in Lubbock. They were instrumental in my healing process as well, and were very faithful to help me grow. Two are my cousins, the other two are some of my closest friends. They were all very unafraid to speak truth into my life. They were there all through college but particularly important this certain year. Another example of a few people making a difference during a period of time.
These ladies are my new community and I am really looking forward to getting to know them. We are all very different but all very willing and desirous to follow Jesus and grow in Him.

I don't do any of this to brag. I know I have been blessed in this area, more than even I realize. Other people have been instrumental along the way, as well. The point through these examples is to show you that all communities look different. We are called to grow as a Body and be in community. We were not called to do life alone. I am praying for you that God brings people to you that love Him and want others to know Him.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:42-47


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Movie Moments

There are two questions that I ask when someone recommends a movie to me:
Is it worth watching?
Is the ending sad?
I don't like watching sad movies. I empathize too much and usually end up crying. But most of all, they tend to leave me feeling helpless and hopeless.

Have you ever wanted to have that movie moment and it just didn't pan out? Some really romantic kiss with that guy or girl? Or that perfect ending to the big game? Or that big group of friends that are so close it is unreal? I think we watch movies to give us a taste of life that we often don't experience. (As well as mindless entertainment.) A family favorite growing up was The Mighty Ducks 2. The best part comes at the end after the team has won the game and the credits are rolling. The team is sitting around a campfire roasting smores, arms around one another, and singing "We Are the Champions" at the top of their lungs. I always wanted a moment like amazing victory with awesome people. My own personal movie moment. Perfection personified.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is not real life. But those movie moments that are perfect, that make us desire something more than just the status quo - they give us something to HOPE for. Sad movies often follow our postmodern philosophy of "live and let live" which I translate as "life sucks and then you die." Now seriously, why would you want to watch a movie that sends that message? I want a story that gives me hope. My moments won't be perfect, and I don't care to have them rehearsed before I get to them. It kind of kills the spontaneity. I want a movie moment that, at the end, makes me feel like I have learned something, grown in some way, or can walk away with a new understanding and a deep sense of contentment and joy. I don't want a movie moment that is a depiction of life without Jesus - a life of sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness. Look at the amazing HOPE in these verses.

"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." Romans 5:3-5

My life as a movie has sad moments, moments when I am deliriously happy, moments when I am confused and hurt and content and excited. But at the end of the day, no matter how good or how bad...I lay down and sleep knowing that I have HOPE. If I died today, I would spend eternity - forever and ever - with Jesus. There are no doubts. It is a deep, reassuring knowledge and HOPE.

Look at more of this passage...

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:6-8

Those movie moments that are sad are the result of a lack of power to change a certain situation. We can't fix everything! I know that is a hard concept for me to grasp sometimes. And none of us are good people. We live in a culture where we daily struggle with the "live and let live" philosophy. But here is the HOPE in the rest of that passage... While we were still these messed up powerless people, the Christ of the Universe, the Son of God died for you!!! If you truly understand and believe that, you will understand that final movie moment that leaves you with HOPE! And it is a HOPE that is 100% guaranteed to be fulfilled!

Look at verse 5 again. That hope does not disappoint because Christ has poured out His love in our hearts so that we understand that our HOPE in Him and His promises is safe. I can and will have my movie moment, no matter how many rough movie moments I experience here on earth. I have a future HOPE. And daily, I remember that that HOPE is JESUS CHRIST. I pray that you will walk away from a life of pointlessness and hopelessness to a life that is promised HOPE fulfillment.

Thankful that Jesus is HOPE,


Friday, October 8, 2010

Fun Post - Tag!!

So in the "blog world" sometimes fun little posts get passed around and if you get "tagged" you keep it going, how fun! My friend Elizabeth tagged me so I'll answer the 8 questions she asked me, then come up with 8 of my own and tag 8 of YOU to answer MY questions. Well....I don't think that I actually have 8 friends with blogs that they can actually do this on...but you can tag 8 people next time. ha.

Got it? Good! Here we go!

1. What musician have you recently discovered?
Well, it's not a musician in particular, but I just discovered today that I really like Celtic Rock!

2. What is your favorite way to enjoy this beautiful time of the year?
I love to throw on a sweatshirt and enjoy hot chocolate and a good movie or book. I also absolutely love to go on picture scavenger hunts to find all the pretty fall colors on the leaves. Walks in the park are great, too.

3. What is one thing that everyone should do before graduating college?
Well, one thing I did was rush the field after Tech beat OU back in 2007, I think. It was such a rush and so much fun to stand with the team and a ton of fans on the football field after the game for the school song. So rush the field, but don't get arrested :)

4. What literary character do you most identify with? Why?
Ashely Baxter in Karen Kingsbury's Baxter Family Series. I don't identify so much with her past but with her love for the Lord, love and protection of her family, and talent and love and pursuit of the creative skills that she has.

5. What is your favorite family tradition?
We go all out decorating for Christmas. Decorations go up right after Thanksgiving and then we get around to taking them down a few days after New Years most of the time. The house looks like a Christmas factory exploded but I love it. So cute and cozy!

6. What is your favorite family recipe?
My aunt and I made key-lime pie out of lemonade one Christmas because we forgot the key-lime juice and turned out pretty well! It was fun, more than anything.

7. How did you meet one of your best friends?
Well the two that come to mind right now, Ashley and Brittany, I met in Colorado last summer at Focus on the Family. And both lived in the same apartment with me last summer.

8. What made you happy today?
My brother and sister came hone from college so everyone is home for the weekend.

OK here are my eight questions:
1) If you could pick anywhere in the world to visit, where would you go? Why?
2)Favorite childhood memory?
3)What season is your favorite? Why?
4)If you could do anything in the world right now, what would it be?
5)What is your favorite holiday?
6)Does your name have any specific meaning? If so, what?
7)When it snows, would you rather build a snowman or a fort?
8)What is your favorite movie of all time?

Ashley @ashley-irwin
Heather @heathervassar
RoChelle @beforegodsthrone
Hal @forgotthepopcorn
Allison @allisons101in1001
Kendal @knlayne

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Ripple Effect

Have you ever thrown a rock in the water and watched the ripples spread and grow? We often focus on the ripples and forget that they started from a single point, a stone that we threw in. Ripples are the result of some factor creating them. They are one of those rare things that cannot occur without help, without an instigator.

The last couple of weeks, I have been going back through the book of Acts and there is no better example in the Bible of the ripple effect that can occur through Christians than in that book. Twelve disciples, the ripples of one man's teaching (Jesus), instigated ripples that caused the early church to grow all over the current Roman world and eventually the entire world. Listen to this song by Matthew West called "My Own Little World."

What is our purpose here on this earth? And what would happen if we broke past our own comfortable little worlds? If you are a Christian, Jesus was very clear about our purpose. And guess what? It has to do with the ripple effect.

In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus is giving some of his final instructions to His disciples, "Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

So we are commanded to
1) share with people of all nations
2) baptize them
3) teach them how Jesus has called us to live

Sounds simple, right? Now here's the ripple effect. In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus gave very specific instructions that give us a better outline of how to break out of our comfort zone and, as Matthew West says, get outside of our own little worlds to see what the Father in Heaven sees.

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8

So let's break this ripple effect down.
1)YOU are the drop in the pond. YOU have to actively leave
your shell
2) Jerusalem is the city you live in. It is a place where you
have influence, friends, contacts, and personal connections. You
have the biggest ability to bring change here.
3)Judea is your state. It is a place where you have influence.
You know the culture,the politics, the issues, the people.
4)Samaria is your country. It is also a place where you as a
citizen have ability to speak and be influential.
5)Ends of the earth (pretty self explanatory). You are
called to be a light to the world.

You start this ripple and it spreads to the city you live in, which spreads to your state, country, and finally the world. And that's just you! The people that you are affecting with your ripples are starting to overlap your ripples with their own, and soon imagine ripples all over the world from Christ followers who are actively sharing the truth of Jesus.

If you are reading this, and you don't believe that Jesus is the Christ, I pray that you will come to know Him. He is the perfect Son of God that came to live as a man. He was not simply a good prophet, or a good man, He was and is God incarnate who paid a price so heavy for you so that you could know Him. He loves you so much He died for you, and then to show that He is God, He rose again and went to Heaven. The call to follow Him is simple. Believe He is God, that He loves you, that you are a sinner in need of Him and that He is the only way to spend eternity in Heaven with Him. Then He calls us to follow. And that call is to be a stone that begins ripples in your personal life and all over the world. It is a call to serve others and to love them as He loved you! He is a God worth serving. He is the only God powerful enough to save you. And He is the only God who cared enough to give Himself for the people He created. Join His followers all over this world and become a part of the ripple effect. One of the amazing things about Jesus is that there is always room in His family. You are not alone!

Praying to change the world one life at a time through Jesus,

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Messy People

Community has been a big deal for me the last two years. I think sometimes in church we want people that dress a certain way, have certain jobs, have packaged lives that aren't too messy. How unrealistic! We live a lie and we live outside of God's beautiful plan for His bride, the church, when we look for packaged people. So here is my admission....

I am a pastor's kid who grew up at a huge mega church. Occasionally, I struggle with insecurity, anger, bitterness. I sometimes wrestle with why God allows things to happen, and I have wanted to run so far away from people in church that I allowed myself to become distant and defensive. Bottom line..... I AM AND HAVE BEEN A MESS. And I am so thankful that the Lord is in the business of building something beautiful from the messes that are our lives.

This music video asks a question that I would be willing to bet is asked by many if not all people at one point or another. I have asked it. Who will love me for me? Who will look pasts my hangups and hurts, my quirks and mistakes, my embarrassing moments and look to the heart of who I am? And then I remember...I remember that there is One who made me just the way I am. He knows every hair on my head (Matthew 10:30), how many times I have messed up, how often I try to please Him, how deeply I love, and how often I try to plan my own way. And He STILL LOVES ME. That is so freeing!

But just as He loved us, we are called to love others (1 John 4:11). That is what community is all about, not packaged people who have it all together, but messed up people who struggle and hurt and mess up, but who ultimately love Jesus and want to follow Him. Last summer, the first thing I was told by my resident adviser is that I must be willing to be vulnerable or I would miss out on what God had planned for me with those people at that time. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, but I walked away with some of the best and deepest friendships I have ever had. These people are my long distance community - the ones I text or call to pray for me, cry with me, celebrate with me, encourage, and just love me despite my frequent stupidity, and they do the same with me. It is real, honest, and a God-thing. So, who will love you for you? Will you be willing to give of yourself, let people learn from your mistakes and encourage you? Will you drop your pride and admit you are not perfect? Will you join a community that is authentic and commit to not only letting others love you for who you are, but love others for who they are? Oh, how we could rock our world, our nation for Jesus if we learned to truly love like this!

"The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has chosen me. He has commissioned me to encourage the poor, to help the brokenhearted, to decree the release of captives, and the freeing of prisoners,to announce the year when the Lord will show his favor, the day when our God will seek vengeance, to console all who mourn,to strengthen those who mourn in Zion, by giving them a turban, instead of ashes, oil symbolizing joy, instead of mourning, a garment symbolizing praise, instead of discouragement. They will be called oaks of righteousness, trees planted by the Lord to reveal his splendor." Isaiah 61:1-3

This is our calling! Let's be a Body who LOVES NO MATTER WHAT!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thought for the Day

My head and heart are full today. I am confused and seeking and discouraged and hopeful. I know my God is still good and that He has a beautiful plan for the lives of those who follow Him. I am praying for the faith to believe He is doing what He promised He would..."working all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

As I press on to understand where I am to point my car on this long road to somewhere wonderful, I remember this verse, one that became a life verse for me in college. I have such a tendency to reminisce and sometimes long for the comfort of the beautiful memories behind me. While that is not wrong to an extent, this verse calls for something more.

"Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a NEW THING. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the waste land. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland to give drink to my people, MY CHOSEN, the people I formed for Myself, that they may proclaim My praise." Isaiah 43:18-21

All for HIS GLORY,

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thankful Heart

I have had a bad attitude lately and I think the only way to counter that is a thankful heart. So today, I will take the time to be thankful and remind myself that my God is still faithful...

-My parents have been a huge blessing in letting me move back home to save money while I figure out my next step. They have also been very patient, supportive, and encouraging through my frustration and discouragement.

-My brother and sister have been supportive and encouraging and are both doing well in college...another huge answer to prayer. I strongly believe both of them are pursuing exactly what God has called them to do with how He has gifted them.

-Several of my friends that I grew up with have moved back home and are working and getting plugged in to church. I am thankful for the renewed friendships and sweet times of catching up and being with people who have known and walked through all the changes in my life the last few years. In this season of change, it is comforting to see familiar faces.

-I am very thankful for my phone and skype right now! They have been amazing things allowing me to keep in touch with some of my best friends all over both Texas and the country. Their encouragement has been priceless. Talking to them always makes my day and I love to encourage and pray for them as well.

-My extended family has been very supportive, both encouraging me with my dreams and trying to offer solutions.

-There are some amazing churches in Dallas and some cool opportunities to plug in with some people my own age. Though I have not identified where I want to go yet, I am thankful for the ministries of these churches and the blessing of options.

-As frustrated as I am with not having a job, I am thankful for this time of rest and time to spend with my family. The last few years of my life have been a whirlwind, crazy but fun, but I desperately needed the rest.

-A few people have walked into my life and helped encourage me to start writing again. I am thankful for the direction there and for the sweet assurance of the Lord when I write that that is exactly what He created me to do.

So much to be thankful for. Can't wait to see what the Lord does next...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Man Your Battle Stations

Over the last year, the Lord has really been working on my heart in regards to what love looks like, and He has best demonstrated that through the love that should be present in the Body of Christ. The specific commands to love one another and how to do so in the Bible have astounded me. I knew they were there, but never had I really understood their practical application. I especially love that everyone in the Body of Christ is wired with different gifts, abilities, personalities, interests, talents, and passions...but all of them work together to: proclaim the name of Jesus to those who don't know Him, bring Him glory, and encourage one another.

I have really been a wreck the last few weeks and have been apathetic about much regarding my relationship with the Lord. It amazes me how much my own walk of faith echoes that of the Israelites. Many times the Lord would come to their aid...opening up the Red Sea for the them to cross, rescuing them from Egypt, providing manna and quail and water in the desert. And yet so many times, the tables would turn back a few verses later and the Israelites would be worshipping a golden idol that they made or marrying the people of a Gentile clan that the Lord told them specifically to avoid. Bottom line...THEY FORGOT THE LORD THEIR GOD. I am exactly like that. How quickly do I forget the lessons of being still, waiting on Him, and believing He wants to do big things through me, that He has a plan? Lord, forgive my apathy. But in all of this, the Lord laid a passage on my heart that I think beautifully portrays the Body of Christ and the role of others when one is too tired to go on.

The story is found in Exodus 17:8-15. Let me break it down for you. Moses and Joshua are leading the Israelites in the desert. Moses tells Joshua to get some men together to go fight the Amalekites (one of those Gentile nations I was talking about). So Joshua does what Moses said and goes to fight the Amalekites and Moses stands on top of a hill overlooking the battle. As long as Moses had his hand raised, the Israelites won, but whenever he lowered them the Amalekites began to win. Well, Moses grew too tired to hold his hands up so his buddies, Aaron and Hur, sat him down and stood on either side of him holding his hands in the air "so that his hands remained steady." And Joshua beat the Amalekites. Then the Lord tells Moses to write this story on a scroll and to make sure Joshua sees it. The Moses made an altar to the Lord and called it the "Lord is my Banner" because hands had been lifted up to the Lord and the Lord had promised to erase the memory of the Amalekites.

So here is what I think is so cool about this story. How many of us have felt like Moses? We want to encourage, be a part, but we have reached a point where we are just too tired and drained to do so. I imagine Moses drooping into the dirt, his head hanging down, his body and muscles fighting to keep his arms elevated in the air. Thank goodness for people in our life like Aaron and Hur who know when we have reached our limit and show us that we are not alone in fighting the battles. I also want you to see the significance of different roles in the Body of Christ. Joshua's job was to fight, be out in the open, in the spotlight leading the people to victory. Moses' job was equally important. Think of him as the prayer guardian or intercessor for the Israelites. Aaron and Hur play the roles of encouragers. When Moses was to weak to go on, they were intercessors for him and the people, ensuring victory because they were willing to step in and help Moses by acting on the people's behalf. What a cool picture! Can you imagine this battle raging below and another one raging on the hill, not of swords and blood, but of weakness and spiritual warfare? Friends, we were never meant to fight our battles alone. Look at the beautiful picture of the Body helping one another, each with different callings, gifts, and responsibilities. I also want to point out that the Lord tells Moses to make sure Joshua knows the whole story. The victory wasn't won on the battlefield; it was won on the hill. Joshua needed to understand that the roles of Moses, Aaron, and Hur were just as important if not more so than his. In other words, those serving on the stage should never forget the strength and roles of those serving behind the scenes.

My prayer is that you become someone who takes an active role in the community of faith. That is my prayer as I continue to look for a place to serve and get involved here in Texas for as long as the Lord keeps me here. That way when I feel to weak to go on, there are others ready to hold my arms up and point me back to Jesus. We were never meant to be bench warmers. Each of us has a specific job and if you aren't doing it, if I'm not doing it, the whole Body suffers because it takes ALL of us.

1 Corinthians 12:12 says, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ."

Last summer, Dr. Del Tackett, one of my professors at Focus on the Family Institute, named my class "The Many who became One." What if the world looking into our churches saw many people with one goal and one heart? Oh, how our world, how our nation would change for Jesus. That is my prayer for the Body of Christ.

May we show the world a united front as we point them to Jesus,

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Properties of Open Doors

My life has a been a crazy mess of opened and closed doors lately. Thankfully, I serve a God who specializes in making beauty come from the ugliest messes. Isn't that good news? These doors have rarely stayed open long enough for me to walk through. So I started to ask the Lord, "Why even open them in the first place? I mean, what's the point?"

Then, I realized that there was something to be learned by these open doors (I will probably refer to them as swinging doors, because they seem to swing shut just as quickly as they opened). Here are some properties of open doors....

- YOU CAN'T OPEN THEM!! When you pry them open, the results are not pretty.

- Sometimes they open to teach us to pray, how to interview,how to trust He has a good plan when they fall through, how to see His movement even if the outcome isn't what we want.

- Sometimes they exist to encourage others. This idea is a little tough for me. I understand that I exist to encourage others, to show others Jesus, to be a light. But doesn't that kind of pale to me having a job where I could have an impact on a daily basis? You would think. But His ways are not ours. I have found through my last couple interviews when I have been asked to tell my story I have been emailed after being turned down from the job only to learn that what the Lord had led me through really encouraged the people interviewing me. I'll take that.

-When we wait, we need to be focused on where He has currently placed us, and make the most of every opportunity. It may be He hasn't moved us because He is wanting to develop us and equip us more in the meantime.

So, are you ready for the one word answer on how to understand which open doors to go through and what you are supposed to do while the door keeps swinging? It's a divine word. Frustrating. Simplistic. You ready?


Yep, that's it. You can stop reading now, but I hope you won't. Even more important than the properties that the Lord is teaching me about these swinging doors are the properties the Lord puts in Scripture. You want to hear something cool? Many of these verses talk about the Lord's desires to enlarge your territory (your area of influence) when you wait for Him. Pretty cool promises. You ready for that list? They all have one word in common and three guesses what word that is.

1)For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. Psalm 37:9

2)Wait for the LORD and keep his way.He will exalt you to inherit the land;when the wicked are cut off, you will see it. Psalm 37:34

3)My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. Psalm 62:5

4)I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5

5)These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. Psalm 104:27

6)Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts. Isaiah 26:8

7)O LORD, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble. Isaiah 33:2

8) But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 43:31

9) Since ancient times no one has heard,no ear has perceived,no eye has seen any God besides you,who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. Isaiah 64:4

10) The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. Lamentations 3:25

11) Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Micah 7:7

There were so many other cool verses about waiting, but I just picked a few. This is not a fun concept, but I find that after reading those verses, Jesus knew exactly how frustrating it would be to wait and He is asking us to trust in Him. He has our backs. As my friend told me today, it's His timing, not ours.

Here is my last fun tidbit for the night. Did you know that Jesus actually called Himself THE DOOR? If you do not know Jesus, if you are curious about these open doors or don't understand why you can't open them yourself, I pray that you will understand that they only way to find true success and direction is through a personal relationship with The Door....Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." (John 10:9).

There is hope and peace and rest and success in waiting for Jesus and walking through Him to life everlasting. My prayer is that you will find peace in your waiting and that you will trust Him for your tomorrows. Believe me, I am with you. I am not promising that it is easy. But I know He has good plans for you and for me. Why? Because He promised that!

Trusting Him in my waiting,

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bold as a Lion

One of my favorite people in the whole Bible is a man who very few people would recognize. He was a Jew from Alexandria and named after the Greek sun god, Apollo. There are actually only 5 verses about him. That's it. Not much to go on, is it? But I really want you to check out the character of this guy, specifically his boldness.

Apollos is a man found in Acts 18:24-28. He was a man trained in the Scriptures, so most likely he grew up in a traditional Jewish home, learning the scriptures and memorizing the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) from his earliest days. He would have learned the Sh'ma that I wrote about earlier and, like every good Jew, would have said it morning and night as a prayer to the Lord.

Now here are some character qualities that I love about this guy:

-he was eloquent and competent in the Scriptures (vs 24)
-fervent in spirit (passionate) (vs 25)
-taught accurately what he knew about Jesus even though he didn't know very much (vs 25)
-spoke boldly in the synagogues (probably to Pharisees and leading religious leaders who did not believe Jesus was the King and Messiah they had been waiting for since the time of Abraham.) (vs26)
-when he was more informed about Jesus from Aquila and Priscilla, friends of the Apostle Paul,he left his home and went and aided his brothers in Christ "greatly helping those who by faith had believed" (vs 26-27)
-he powerfully and publicly spoke out against Jews, showing through the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for and who had been foretold to them- the Lion of the tribe of Judah(vs 28)

OK, so this guy knows his Bible and uses the scriptures to prove Christ's deity. Even when he doesn't know the whole story, he preaches boldly of what he does know. And then when he does know the whole story, he leaves everything familiar to go help his brothers and sisters in Christ and speak publicly and boldly about Jesus as Messiah. Wow!! My kind of guy. This guy had no fear, he was passionate about Jesus, and even as an eloquent guy, he didn't use his own words - he spoke only the Scriptures. What a testimony in only a few verses! This was one mighty man of God.

So how does this relate to lions? Well, Proverbs 28:1 says this, "The wicked flees when no one pursues, but the righteous are as BOLD AS A LION." Does that sound like Apollos to you? It does to me. It also humbles my excuses that I need to know more before I tell others about Jesus. Well here is a news flash - you aren't EVER going to know everything about the One who called himself the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. If you did, He wouldn't be God. He is beyond our complete understanding. But, he has called us to share about Him. We actually have more knowledge and information at our fingertips than Apollos ever had. He would have died to have a complete Bible, a love letter from the Christ he so boldly championed and shared. This man had a passionate relationship with Jesus. I truly believe he was righteous and because of that, the Lord equipped and enabled him to be as bold as a lion. So, we have no excuse not to share. Tough pill to swallow, huh? For me, too.

Will you claim the title of "righteous" and be like Apollos, no matter how little your knowledge base about Jesus? Will you boldly share of His love and mercy and grace to a culture that is cutting Him out of every facet? Will you go head to head with the religious and political leaders of our day who try to make Him an icon instead of Lord of Lords? Boldness comes from the Messiah who first claimed to be a Lion, and He alone has the power to make you as bold as a lion - mighty, stately, and strong for Him. Will you let Him? That is my prayer for the body of Christ. It is time to rise up, Church of God, and be as bold as lions.

One of my favorite fiction authors, Linda Chaikin, writes in her Arabian Winds series that upon getting up every morning Jews would say, "Rise up like a lion, in service of our Lord." Whether or not it is culturally true to the Jewish people, it is a mighty call. Will you rise up like a lion in service of our Lord?

Praying for boldness,

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Power of Story

It was pitch black as my car slowly followed Micah's along the winding mountain roads, our tires kicking up dust in our wake. My adrenaline was building, preparing both my mind and body for the next hours of our night hike up Pike's Peak in Colorado Springs. My friend Brad sat next to me in the passenger seat keeping my mind occupied on our conversation. I was sharing with him about my last year...graduation, what the Lord had been teaching me at Focus on the Family that summer, and then a thought hit me that spilled out of my mouth as Brad thanked me for sharing.

"It's not my story to withhold. God's writing it, I'm just living it."

My mind froze as I replayed that comment over and over in my head, realizing both the truth and the responsibility that came with it. Have you ever had one of those thoughts? You know it didn't come from you because there is no way that you are that brilliant, and it both hits you and spills out of your mouth in the same breath with the unmistakable ring of truth to it? I knew that it hadn't come from me. It was a Holy Spirit inspired response. Divinely inspired light bulbs are great, aren't they?

In the last year, I have begun to realize the power of story. Can you name the two most powerful stories in history?

1) The story of Jesus Christ
2) Yours!

That's right! Your story is the second most important story in history! Why?

There was a man in the Bible named Nicodemus. For those of you reading this who do not claim to be Christians, you are in good company. Nicodemus wasn't least at the time he talked with Jesus. He was seeking and confused. He came to Jesus in the middle of the night and Jesus talked with him. In John 3:11 Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony." Your story is powerful because you can speak of what the Lord has brought you through.

Never mistake that Jesus has the absolute most powerful and influential story in history but because He made you and gave you life, your story is the second most influential to people in your sphere of influence. Most people do not appreciate a know-it-all. However, your story automatically has credibility because you are standing before them and telling it, physically present and accessible to them. You lived it and they can relate to it, or they have someone to ask their questions to.

People want someone they can relate to. For those going through a crisis, it is encouraging for them to see and hear of someone who went through something similar and came out on the other side. I often wonder if the Lord sends me through difficulties because somewhere down the way, He has a plan to send someone into my life who will need to hear that I made it and what God taught me.

Story is a powerful thing. We live in a culture where we want to hear what the next Hollywood star is up to now or what politician is cheating on his wife or creating a national scandal. People want to know stories. No matter how nondescript you feel yours may be, you have the ability to influence people mightily for Jesus through a willingness to share what God has brought you through. My mom has always told me, "Never forget from whence you came." Never forget what God has brought you through, no matter how painful or how joyous. It may be He wants to use that in the life of others. You don't have to have a successful career or a story worthy of Lifetime. You simply have to be willing and open to share.

What the Lord laid on my heart to share with Brad is very true. It isn't your story to withhold. The Master Author is intricately and creatively writing the story of your life and your job is to share it with whoever He puts in your path. Listen for His gentle whispers...the amazing part is He will give you the words to say when the time comes and He will use your story. The pressure is off of you! So share. You have a powerful story because it was and is being written by a Mighty God!


Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Choose Joy

Recently, I had a doctor appointment with a neurologist to talk about some issues I have been having in the last couple of years. During the course of the visit, he began to ask me about my psychological health, citing that nerve issues are often tied to our emotions and how we are handling our environment. He asked one question that required the most simplistic answer...and I couldn't give it.

"Are you happy?"

I long ago discovered that happiness is very different from joy. The last two years of my life, the Lord has really been breaking me, molding and reshaping me, refining me so I can reflect His image. I have the uncomfortable yet wonderful feeling that He isn't done yet. Things have been stressful. There are happy moments and tearful moments, frustrating moments, and moments of deep peace. But I can honestly say I am not happy all the time. So I answered very honestly and very bluntly.

"I am content."
"Content? That's not happy." He was very confused and looked like he wanted to write that I had an emotional problem instead of a physical problem. Trying to be patient I explained.
"I'm not happy all the time. Life is rough. But I am content with where I am at right now."

Here I believe is the difference between happiness and contentment...happiness is a feeling often based on external circumstances. It is a fickle emotion that can ebb and flow like the tides. But contentment....that is something different entirely. It is a deep set, untouchable, unemotional understanding and reassurance that:

a)God is who He says He is
b)He is in control and doesn't change despite the circumstance
c)I can rest in who I am in Him

Contentment is unshakable, and it is pure peace. Telling this doctor that I am always happy would have been a lie. But telling Him I am content, that I know that God is in control despite my circumstances, and that I can be joyful is true. Joy and contentment are choices not based on circumstances or emotion. They are based on the goodness and consistency of the God of the Universe. The very One who made YOU and desires a relationship with YOU. When you know who you are in Him - a beautiful child of the King, bought and paid for with an unconditional love - then that joy and contentment override all else.

James 1:2-4 says, "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you face trials of many kinds for the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

John 16:22 says, "So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy."

Isaiah 35:10 says, "And the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away."

Life is tough. But Jesus can make the journey a beautiful time of joy, no matter how dark the circumstance. Yes, I am happy. Not always. However, I forever want to say that I am content and filled with joy because I know whom I serve and I know He is bigger than any circumstance. No, it won't be easy, but I commit to choose joy, even when I don't feel like it. My prayer is that the God of joy will fill you with His peace and His version of happiness....all-consuming, unconditional joy.

Choosing joy,

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wayward Roots

My grandmother is an avid gardener. In her 70s and struggling with Alzheimer's disease, gardening is an area of her life that my grandmother confronts with gusto. She grows beautiful sunflowers that point their faces up to the very throne of God and she has a thicket of trumpet vines. The trumpet vines fascinated me the last time I went to see her.

"Gran, they are beautiful! I love the orange and green together!" I remember telling her. But her answer surprised me.
"Oh, I can't stand them. I'm going to have to pull them all up at the end of the season. They are ruining the yard and the rest of my garden. They take over everything!"

I was shocked that this woman who takes such pride in God's handiwork would criticize something growing in her own garden. But then that English major in me came out and I saw a convicting analogy. Before I explain this though, here are a couple facts about the Trumpet Vine.

According to a website called "Growing and Controlling Trumpet Vines", these vines:

-attract bees, hummingbirds, and wasps, all of which help pollinate your garden
-they love direct sunlight and grow in almost any soil
-they provide good privacy and can survive in extreme temperatures
-they have a tendency to take over and are hard to control
-their roots go everywhere and often, like my grandmother's garden, can inhibit the growth areas of other plants.
-some suggest that you plant it beside sidewalks or a stone wall to help contain it's growth

So here's the analogy...for those of us that are Christians we are called to flourish. We are like this beautiful trumpet vine...a masterpiece, aesthetically pleasing, a sweet smelling aroma displaying the knowledge of God as 2 Corinthians 2:14 says. Our God is a lover of beauty and if all things were meant to glorify Him, even this trumpet vine can do that. We flourish in the light of the Son. We need a strong wall to sink our roots around, to shelter us, and keep us from straying. We can withstand the harsh elements of life because the Lord never promised easy but He did promise to walk with us.

But here is where the analogy gets convicting. As I listened to my Gran rant about these flowers, I realized where they became a hazard. The roots, when not tended and managed consistently, spread their roots into areas where they don't belong and endanger other plants. These plants bask in the sun. If we represent these gorgeous plants and the sun is Jesus Christ, when our focus slips, we sink our roots into areas they don't belong and endanger others. When our trust fails and our eyes slip off of Christ, we are no longer rooted and grounded. Ephesians 3:17 says, "Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will go down into Christ's love and keep you strong."

There comes that tie back to love. Sinking our roots into His everlasting love keeps us strong. Then we no longer let our roots wander, but we are rooted deep in Him and are much more effective in being a sweet smelling aroma to share the knowledge of Him!

Rooted in His love,