Holy Discontent

“Many have traveled this road before. I see their tracks in the dirt.  But maybe I don’t agree with where they are leading…”  

Bethany Dillon, Revolutionaries

The Church in America is dying.  You can look up the stats and figures on Google if you would like.  Most of it is depressing and leaves a feeling of defeat.  The very tool that God intended for His glorious news to spread around the world, is failing miserably.  Why?  The reasons are numerous and layered.  But, simply put, I think the Church has stopped being the Church.

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Photo by Seth Fogelman on Unsplash

A lot of people want to blame society, the government, the “way the world is now.” The reality, however, is that if the “light” were being the light it has been called to be, the darkness would not have spread so far.  Light disperses darkness, not the other way around.  I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend or two in the panhandle of Oklahoma while I was in college.  The land out there is FLAT.  I mean, most of Oklahoma is flat, but the panhandle is extremely flat.  And the area is super rural.  You can see for miles.  Literally.  At night, it is pitch black dark.  No light pollution from the city, no cars around for miles.  Just you and the blackness.  As we drove around, I remember asking about the light in the distance – is it a city?  A town?  Nope…it was a cattle farm, that was miles and miles away.  A single cattle farm and the light was visibly noticeable…for miles!  Talk about pushing back the dark!

Light expels the dark.  We cannot blame society for the death of the church.  We have only ourselves to blame.  So what is the issue?  Again, I don’t think there is a singular issue.  It is multiple things, with deep layers, and some good intentions.  I actually started to write out some of what I believe these reasons may be…but the list got a little long and I felt like I was a bit all over the place (so those thoughts may or may not come as their own posts in the future…).

I was born and raised in the church.  I loved it then.  I love it now.  I love the Church because I love Jesus.  And I know what the Church was meant to be.  I know what we can be.

What I want to focus on today is where my heart is in all of this.  I know that a lot of people misinterpret my passion and the passion of others as something different.  It can come across as a power play or as controlling or manipulative.  And, as a people pleaser, this can often keep me up at night.  And it has, tears and all.  I wish that everyone could see my heart, could know my intentions.  The unfortunate reality is that they can’t.  Only God can.  It is to Him I am held accountable.  And I have to remember that on my bad days….AND on my good days.

My heart is broken for the community that surrounds me because they don’t know Jesus.  At least, not like I do.  The perception of the Church in the society around us is not a good one.  Whether from poor personal experience (childhood or otherwise) or from the media – the picture that comes to mind of the community of “Christians” is grim and distasteful.  We have become less than palatable.  And the very image of the Church, whether we like it or not, is how people see Christ.

I want to change that.  I want the world, especially the community I am in, to see the Jesus that I know.  The loving, compassionate, never-gives-up-on-me, Jesus.  The man who constantly gives and expects very little in return.  The man who gave His life so that I might live.  The God who is big enough to hold the sun in the sky and yet personal enough to care about even my simple hurts.  I want my community to see Jesus through me and, ultimately, through the Church.  Because the Church, when functioning in a healthy way, is capable of being absolutely beautiful.

I was fortunate enough to attend a conference in April with a few others (Exponential – it’s amazing, you should go if you ever have the chance).  One of the speakers that week, Muriithi Wanjau, from the Mavuno Church in Kenya, shared his story and it rocked our world.  His hope for his church was that if the government were to try to shut them down, that even the Muslims would try to prevent it because of the difference the church made in the community.

We left with that same fire.  If we were to disappear tomorrow, I would want the community to care!  I want the community to notice if we are gone.  And to fight for us to stay!  Because that is truly what Christ intended.  If we are to be a light on a hill – will anyone notice if the light were gone?  They should!  Or we aren’t being bright enough.

As Muriithi ended his time with us, he prayed a prayer over everyone in that room – “May You (God) lead them into a season of holy discontent.”  The idea was that we would no longer be okay with the status quo because the status quo isn’t working.  His prayer was that God would stir our hearts so much that we would be discontent until HIS purpose and HIS will was being played out in our communities.

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Photo by Tyson Dudley on Unsplash

And that prayer has been answered in our lives.  We can’t sit still, we won’t sit still until we have made such a difference in our community that everyone  would notice if we were gone.  It isn’t easy.  In fact, one of the others that went on the trip said to me the other day, “I’m going to go get on a plane right now, fly to Africa, find Muriithi, and make him to take it all back!”

This “holy discontent” stuff is hard.  It is a cross I often don’t want to carry any longer.  I would gladly pass it off to a more willing participant.  There are many days that I feel like giving up because no one gets it.  Or someone else misunderstood my intention.  Or it has led to yet another argument in my marriage because we don’t see eye to eye on how things need to be accomplished.

But I won’t give up.  I won’t back down.  I will claim this holy discontent and let it fuel me.  Because I don’t want my life to go back to the status quo.  I don’t want to go back to the normal mundane maintaining of the “American Dream.”  To quote The Afters, “I’m never going back to okay.  I’m never going back to easy.”  I want life to mean something.  I want the Church to have a holy discontent.  I want the world to know my Jesus.  I want my community to know my Jesus.

Because He has changed my life for the better, in ways that I cannot put into words.  I am forever grateful.  And I want to live my life in such a way that my gratitude is expressed in my every action.

Thank You, Jesus, for this Holy Discontent.

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Time to Refresh

I can’t even remember that last time I sat down to write.  And, honestly, I hate that.  I let the busyness of life, the busyness of ministry take precedence over the things that refresh me, over my self-care.

know that when I take the time to write, my mind is clearer.  I know that when I spend time hashing out the thoughts I have about ministry, Scripture, Christ, and the adventure He has for us, that I find more joy.  I know that it’s something God has given me to refresh my spirit and grow closer to Him.  And yet writing consistently gets put on the back burner.

While the last couple of months have been full of exciting and productive things, there have been weeks that I have felt completely overwhelmed, lonely, or just plain numb.  In the chaos of life, I allow the enemy to use the very things I am doing for God to keep me from God.  Don’t get me wrong, through it all, I have been consistent about my devotional and prayer time.  But when I am running on empty, when I don’t have anything left to give, the hardness that is left prevents the nourishment of His word from sinking in.

I think this is why the Word of God reminds us multiple times to “be still.”  God knows we need personal refreshment for our souls so that when we draw near to Him we are able to receive what He has for us.  This looks different for all of us.  But as we learn what those things are, as we discover what things restore our soul, we have a responsibility to make sure those things become a priority.  I love the image of the oxygen mask on a plane: If I attempt to put the mask on the child first, there is a chance I won’t help either of us.  But if I place my mask on first, then I have a much better chance of being able to help the child as well.

I have to take care of myself or I’m of no use to anyone else.  I have to be able to receive, I have to be filled, so that I can pour out to others.  Ministry is futile when I have nothing left to give.

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Don’t we hear this all the time?

All. The. Time.

Why then is it so hard to implement?

It goes well for a short time and then we fall back into old habits.  We justify the the busyness of ministry because it’s God’s work, it needs to happen, the Kingdom needs expanding.  Or we justify the busyness of life because we need the money or the house needs fixing or the to-do list keeps getting longer.

The enemy’s number one tool of destruction is isolation.  And the tendency for busyness leads us right toward that path of destruction.  Have you ever been surrounded by people who genuinely love you – yet you feel alone?  Have you ever been crushed by the weight of 100 little things that seem insignificant?  When I am too busy to refresh, the enemy uses his tool of isolation – the first thing to go is my joy.  I become numb to even the most joyous occasions.  And then the rest of my life starts to suffer – my work, my home, my relationships, my parenting, my marriage.  The cracks start to show and things start to crumble because I’m not taking the time to fill up.

I sit here alone in my house tonight because I hit a wall.  I couldn’t figure out where the box of macaroni had gotten to.  The cheese packet was on the counter.  The water was boiling.  Did I put the box back in the drawer?  Maybe in the cupboard where I got the pot from?  The cupboard above the stove?  Ugh!  Where did I put it?  Maybe I threw a full box of macaroni away…

Nope.  The noodles were already in the boiling water and the box properly placed with our burnables.  I turned to my husband, “Please take her with you tonight.  Please.  I just need some time to get things done.”  And back to cooking I went.

But it just got worse, I was rude to my husband, angry about things beyond my control, yelling at my daughter for not listening (she’s two….), and essentially throwing a fit because I got mashed potatoes on the floor.

So as they walked out the door, I knew I needed to take some time for myself.  Forget the to-do list, forget that the rest of  this week will be a madhouse.  I’ll do nothing.  But, in my husband’s words, as he walked down the steps to the car, “You aren’t capable of doing nothing.”

He’s not wrong.  I’m a doer.  If I’m laying on the couch doing nothing I’m either absolutely, 100% exhausted, or terribly sick.  So I chuckled and thought, maybe I’ll write.  As I sat down and turned on the TV, I knew that writing was exactly what my soul needed.

I sit here with a smile on my face because God is good.  Because, in the midst of  the crazy, when I’m ready to give up, He reminds me to step back and be still.  He gently nudges me back to reality.  I’m thankful that I took a minute to recognize the nudging and didn’t just dive back into my to-do list (because, we all know, it’s not going to finish itself on its own).

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So, I guess I wrote tonight for myself.  Not to share the next step of our voyage.  Not to share some insightful thoughts about Scripture or to get on another soap box.  I wrote because I needed to feel my soul again.

What do you do to refresh your spirit?  And when was the last time you did so?

 

The Enemy’s Last Resort

The past year has been an incredibly difficult one.  It has been an intense season of sifting.  And while I know sifting is ultimately for my good, I still loathe the process.

It is so easy for me to focus on the negative, to only see the tough stuff.  But, the reality is, that the Lord has still blessed us over the past year.  In small ways and in big ways.  I know He is preparing us for something.  I feel as if we are right on the precipice of a break through.  And I can’t wait to see what that is.  We are *this* close – I know it!

But today was a rough day.  Though I cannot pin point one thing or another, I woke up today exhausted, overwhelmed, and struggling.  The enemy seems to have his hand in every single area of my life.  All relatively small things….but today the pile of small things added up to too much.  At the end of the day, through tears, I looked at my husband and said, “I just want to quit.  I can’t do this.  It’s too hard.”

But isn’t that what the enemy wants?  If I quit, if I throw in the towel, it’s all over.  He wins.

Nehemiah was faced with similar circumstances.  In chapter 6 he is *this* close to finishing the wall (more on this herehere and here).  All he had left to do was add gates.  So his enemies came at him, full force, with a vengeance.

As a last resort, they were pulling out all the tricks.  First, they tried to trick him.  They arranged to meet with Nehemiah with the intention to harm him.  Fortunately, Nehemiah didn’t fall for their scheme, even though they attempted multiple times.  Next, these men spread false rumor about Nehemiah, trying to intimidate him into giving up.

At this point, Nehemiah does two things.  We would do well to follow his example.

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  1. He prays, “But now, my God, strengthen my hands” (vs. 8).  What a perfect prayer when we are in the midst of spiritual warfare!
  2. He seeks counsel.  Scripture tells us to seek the wisdom of others (Proverbs 24:6).  But Christ also warns us that there will be false prophets (Matthew 24:24).  Nehemiah sought the counsel of a known prophet, Shemaiah.

However, the enemy will use even those in leadership to do his bidding.  Thanks to discernment from being in the presence of the Lord, Nehemiah realized that Shemaiah was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, “I realized that God had not sent him…” (vs. 12).  Shemaiah encouraged Nehemiah to run to the temple and hide from his problems, from the enemy, “He was hired, so that I would be intimidated,do as he suggested, sin, and get a bad reputation, in order that they could discredit me” (vs. 13).

When we encounter tribulation, when we are sifted, the first thing the enemy wants us to do is run and/or hide.  But it is the last thing that the Lord wants from us.  He does not want us to react out of fear or frustration, instead, He wants us to stand firm in the calling He has placed on our life.  He wants us to push through and set an example for all of those around us.

Nehemiah did not run, he did not hide, he stood firm and completed the work the Lord had set before him: “When all our enemies heard this, all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by our God” (vs. 16).  The same people that had worked so desperately to stop this work soon realized that it had all been the work of the Lord, even from the start.  What a testimony!

But the work of the enemy doesn’t stop there.  He won’t quit, he is relentless and will do anything and everything he can to thwart the work of the Lord.  Though many had finally seen that Nehemiah was doing the work of God, there was still one man trying to bring an end to that work.  The final words of this chapter are, “And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.”

He won’t give up.  Why?  Because his goal is to get you to give up.  The closer you get to God’s vision, the harder he will work.  He wants you to run, he wants you to hide.  The worst part?  You don’t always see the effect of that sin right away.  And he does that on purpose.  The enemy tricks us into thinking we are safe.  He makes us believe we made the right choice because everything is going well.  But eventually, as you get closer and closer to the edge, he will pull the rug out from underneath you and everything will fall apart.

Don’t run.  Don’t hide.  Don’t give up.

The next time you are faced with trials and tribulation, stand firm!  Pray and continue the work.  Finish what it is the Lord has started.  He will never leave your side.  No matter how bad it looks, He is there, fighting with you, giving you the strength you need.

Stand firm.

 

 

Another Piece of the Puzzle

Often times, when I read the Bible, I find myself wishing that I could walk in the shoes of that specific person, whoever it might be at the time.

What would it have been like to be a disciple? To walk with Jesus, to listen to Him speak, to eat meals together? Or what about Paul and the blinding come-to-Jesus moment? I would love to know what Noah felt like, shouldering the continuation of humanity. But lately, I’ve wanted to be Moses. He had this moment, much like Paul, where it was perfectly clear God was speaking to him. The man encountered a bush…on fire and not burning! And then he heard the audible voice of God.

I mean…seriously!?!  Can I get a burning bush moment??  Something so obvious I can’t deny it was Him?

Those words came out of my mouth during staff devotion time yesterday morning.  And by the end of the day, I was shaking like a leaf, taking my shoes off and standing in awe because I was on holy ground, in His presence, hearing Him speak into my life.

I’m not sure how much I can share at this point.  But I’m not sure our lives will ever be the same after yesterday.  I still don’t know exactly what He is doing but He’s got our attention and we don’t want to take a single step without Him.

At the beginning of the day I received a message from a friend sending us a link from a contact we had yet to be in touch with.  I didn’t get the chance to read it before I headed into work.

Work comes and goes (insert burning bush comment and dialogue here).

Justin gets home and we have a discussion about how God’s vision seems to change.  I don’t think the vision changes, rather, it grows.  I’ve heard it compared to a seed in some places.  But last night I thought of it like a puzzle.  I think God gives us the grander vision piece by piece.  If He gave it all at once I don’t think our finite minds could handle it.  So He gives us a piece or two to start.  The funny thing is, we think we have the whole vision and so we rush in without giving it a second thought.  And, often times, we have to back track a bit.  But as we grow, as our faith grows, as our dependency on Him grows, He gives us a bit more of that vision, piece by piece by piece.  And the puzzle fills in a bit more.  We finally realize, ‘oh wait, I guess that doesn’t look exactly how I thought.’  I’m not sure we will ever have all of the pieces.  He only gives us what we need as we need it.  Why?  He wants us to live in complete dependence upon Him and how He moves.

The point of that being – sometimes, down the road, the vision doesn’t look like what we originally thought.  I think God gets a chuckle out of that.

Within minutes of finishing our dinner conversation, Justin received a message from a couple who we have met with less than a handful of times.  A couple we have shared our heart and our vision with.  In just a few sentences, they turned our world upside down.  In a good way.

It was then I remembered the link from that morning.  Uncannily, it was a video dealing with the exact scenario we had just found ourselves in.  I started laughing….was this the burning bush I had asked for?

I was on holy ground and I didn’t even know it.  God had given us another piece of the puzzle.

Puzzle 3

I have yet to figure out what exactly He is doing.  I keep trying to create these hypothetical futures in a thousand different directions.  But I know it is futile.  I know whatever He has up His sleeve is bigger than I could ever ask or imagine.

So we wait.  And pray.  Our devotion tonight was on seeds becoming trees and the years and years it takes for that to happen.  We don’t want to rush into what we think is the vision.  For all we know, we’ll get another piece of the puzzle tomorrow.  And it could change every single assumption we have today.  We are praying like it depends on Him and acting like it depends on us.  He’ll change the trajectory of our path if He needs to.  We just have to keep seeking Him.

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(For the beginning of this crazy journey head here.)

When We Forfeit the Miracle

Forfeit – (v.) To lose or be deprived of as a penalty of wrongdoing or neglect.

Parenthood has brought many treasures.  I think one of the things I love most is being able to almost grasp the unconditional love that God has for us.  It is a very difficult thing to comprehend – this Love that knows no bounds, that doesn’t care what we do, that gives expecting nothing in return.  It is relentless and unwavering.  No matter what I do, He still loves me.  And I understand that a bit more fully now that I’m a parent.  No matter what my daughter does (now and in the future) – I will still love her with my whole being.  That doesn’t mean I won’t be disappointed or frustrated.  That doesn’t mean I won’t discipline or require obedience.  It means that I will love her, I will hold her to a higher standard because I want the very best for her and I know better than she does what the “best” is (especially right now – she’s only two!).

God loves us.  He holds us to a higher (the highest) standard because He wants the very best for us.  And let’s face it – the God of the universe knows what is best for me way better than I do (even when I think I do).  I know that I disappoint Him sometimes, I know that I frustrate Him sometimes.  But I  am thankful for His discipline.  Because He wants what is best for me, He does require obedience.  If we obey, if we follow His lead, then we are on the path that is best for us (note here – best does not mean least resistance).

And when I don’t obey, then I forfeit a lot.  Just like a child who does not obey, they forfeit certain activities or certain treats (i.e. car keys, screen time, time with friends, etc.).  However, when don’t obey, I forfeit blessings.  I forfeit miracles.  I forfeit powerful moments of His presence.  And why, oh why, would I ever want to do that?!?

But I do.  Time and time again.

What have I forfeited?  What miracles did I miss?

This morning, I was reading from Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God Day by Day, as Christ was praying in the garden, the disciples were supposed to be praying with Him.  In His greatest moment of need, they were supposed to be there for Him.  And what were they doing?  They were sleeping!  How often did Christ need them?  I’m guessing not often.  They missed that opportunity – “Jesus forgave them, and they went on to experience God working powerfully through their lives, but that unique moment with the Lord was lost.”  I don’t want to miss a single moment that He has in store for me!  But how often I must because I’m too preoccupied to notice what He wants from me, what He asks of me.  Here’s the kicker, “God does not need our obedience; He has legions of angels prepared to do His bidding when we fail Him.  The loss is ours as we miss what God wants to do in our lives” (emphasis added).  God doesn’t need me to obey.  But He gives me the opportunity because He loves me.  And I want so desperately to please Him.  I don’t want to miss out on those moments!  I don’t ever want to miss out on His presence in my life.  Without Him life is lonely, empty, and without meaning.

Obedience, Souls, Forfeit, Miracle, Blessing, God, Obey, Command, Scripture, Daily, Bible Study, Devotion, Follow, Gethsemane, Jericho, Peter, Joshua, Blind, Blackaby, Experiencing God, Fail, Blessing, Presence of God

Or think of it this way – what if Joshua and the Israelite’s had only circled Jericho 6 times (Joshua 6:1-27)? They were tired, nothing had happened, and they looked like fools.  But 7 times is what the Lord required.  And the 7th time made all the difference.  What if Peter, James, and John hadn’t put their nets into the water (Luke 5:1-11)?  They had been fishing all nigh and had barely caught a thing.  Why would now, in the daylight, when fish were even more sparse, make any difference at all?  But it did.  Because the Lord said so.  What if the man born blind has refused to go and wash his eyes out (John 9:1-12)?  Why put in the extra effort?  Can’t I just wipe them off right here?  But the act of obedience, the going and washing were an act of obedience.

You get the point.  They (and many others) could have easily forfeited the miracle.  And the Biblical narrative as we know it would be different.

We must obey!  If the Lord has spoken to you, if He has laid something on your heart, then you had better listen.  What could be on the other side of your obedience?  Is it time in His presence?  A moment of growth?  Or a miracle?

One thing is for sure, as a wise friend of mine once told me, there are souls on the other side of your obedience.  The Lord is waiting for you to listen so that He can use you to save the lives of others!  Are you willing to forfeit those souls?  Lives are at stake here.  The choices you make today will affect other people!

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If you know the right thing to do and you do not do it, that is a sin (James 4:17).  Do you know the right thing?  Do you know what He has told you to do?  Has Scripture shed light on your situation and give you an answer/solution to a problem?

Often times what He asks of us will be difficult.  Sometimes, it will seem impossible.  But it is always worth it.  Always.

After all, God, all-powerful, all-knowing, Creator of the entire universe – He knows what is best for you, what is best for me.  Why wouldn’t I want to listen?

The Tides are Changing

I’m not sure about the area where you are.  But, here, something is brewing.  We are right on the brink of something huge!  And I see it in the communities around us as well.  The more people I talk to, the more excited I get.

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But let me back up a few steps….or a few decades….for a moment.

At some point in the church’s history, passive Christianity became the norm.  Sunday mornings became the benchmark for being a Christian.  Sing in the choir, make and/or serve a few meals, put your money in the plate, and you are golden.  The standard has been met.  A few people were called to be missionaries, a few were called to be pastors. The idea of making disciples, of fulfilling the great commission was placed in their hands.  Because it was their job to lead the flock.  That’s what we were paying them to do after all!  We were also paying them to preach the gospel, to visit the sick, to baptize, to dedicate, to teach, to counsel, to grow the church…because we had our own jobs to do.  We had our own families to provide for.  And it was their job!  Do you see how this got out of hand?  How can one person accomplish all of that in a single week?!?  It was never, I repeat, never, supposed to be this way.

I’m not saying that pastors and missionaries should be unpaid.  What I am saying is that we took advantage of that position.  And we let the few start doing the work of the many.  We put our responsibilities in the hands of another person and allowed church attendance to replace disciple making.  At the end of Matthew, Christ gave His disciples clear instructions – “to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son, teaching them to observe all that I’ve commanded.”  We are His disciples and those instructions have been given to us.  Attending church on Sunday is not making disciples.  Placing money in the plate is not making disciples.  Making a meal is not making disciples.  Giving to charity (monetarily or otherwise) is not making disciples.  Don’t get me wrong – those are all good things.  But those good things, those fairly passive things, have replaced THE mission Christ has given us.

But the tides are changing.  People are waking up.

Millennials get a bad wrap.  And often, I am a tad embarrassed to be associated with a generation that is so frowned upon.  But there is one thing we have going for us, whether everyone may recognize it or not, we are passionate and we seek purpose.  Now, I’m not saying that millennials are the only reason the tides are changing, but I do believe it’s a big part of it.  They, we, want to be a part of something that truly makes a difference.  We want to get our hands dirty.  We want to have a purpose.

Unfortunately, sitting in a pew on Sundays doesn’t give purpose.  Donating to charity doesn’t give purpose.  But being a part of something bigger than me – that brings purpose.  Making a difference, seeing life change, seeing lives made whole through the power of Christ – that brings purpose.  And it should.  Because being a part of God’s kingdom, making disciples, is the purpose for which we were created.

Something is brewing.  I see leadership rising up from the younger generation.  I see men and women of all ages who are not okay with the status quo.  They are not okay with a dying Church!  And they are ready to make a change.  The great thing is – that passion, that desire for purpose, and a desire for new life-blood flowing in the veins of the church – it’s extremely contagious.

The passion is spreading.  Though not as fast as a wildfire, it’s still spreading, little by little, like moss on the trunk of a tree.  The growth may not be noticeable on most days – but eventually, there is evidence that the moss has spread, it has grown, and it’s still spreading.  Slowly, but surely.

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But I feel like we’re on the precipice.  That passion is going to erupt and the wildfire growth will begin.  Something is brewing.

The winds are blowing.  The tides are changing.

And I want to be a part of it.

Along the Way

When I started this blog it was because God has set a vision before us.  And He had done so in big ways, ways that I didn’t want to ever forget.  So as we started on our voyage, I wanted to keep track of all that was happening.  So much was happening!  These unmistakable God moments seemed to be a weekly occurrence.  You can catch up by starting here.

I have been writing more recently because we’ve been learning more recently.  But, I know I haven’t written an update on where our vision stands.  There’s a reason for that.  I truly believe that God has us on pause.  Though I keep praying, it seems the answers never come.  I should clarify that I know the answer isn’t “no.”  God has given us a vision to start an intentional community outside of the walls of a church building.  Of that I am sure.  But, I believe at this point, His answer is “wait.”  And that frustrates me.  A lot.

Especially when trials and troubles seem to have replaced the God moments we were thriving from!

But then come the moments of conviction.  In relatively odd places.

On Facebook while I’m talking to my Mom-in-Law on the couch.

Driving from place to place.

In a work meeting when we’re discussing the opening of a maternity home.

God stops me in my tracks in those moments.  I have found myself in tears.  Not because I was sad or even overly happy, but because I remembered I was in His presence.  I was standing on holy ground.

He has a plan.  He has given me a vision.  He has given us a vision.  And He will bring that vision to pass, so long as we are obedient to His promptings.  And, I believe, that as long as we remain in prayer and in His word, we’ll recognize those promptings.

That doesn’t mean the vision will come to pass tomorrow or in the next few years.  For Moses, it was 40 years.  40 years!!  And that’s just one of many instances I could refer to.  I know it will happen.  I know that we will be a part of making a difference in the community we are in by starting intentional community.

I *think* I know what that looks like (can you say ‘coffee shop?’).  But I also know that as a vision grows, it may start to look a bit different from the original view point.  The end goal remains the same.  The purpose remains the same.  But God is moving.  And sometimes that means that I change.  Because, after all, change is growth, without change there can be no growth.  If a seed remains a seed, it will never become a tree.

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And I want to be a tree, a tree that bears fruit.

I want to make a difference for the kingdom.  And I won’t settle for anything less.  Not now.  Not tomorrow.  Not 40 years from now.

When I reach those pearly gates, I long to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  And I truly believe the only way those words will be spoken is if I have a whole crowd of people with me.  I want to make my Abba Father, my Daddy, proud.

So we march on toward the vision, working diligently along the way.

 

Unraveled

The voyage never really looks like what we expect.  I’m sure you’ve heard the line, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  It’s pretty accurate.  I remember starting this blog and being SO excited for what He had in store.  But then nothing happens.  And life gets really hard.  And…wait, I’ve written this before.

Phew.

Following in His footsteps is so hard.  And I know the process, the journey, the voyage….whatever you want to call it….I know it’s meant to grow me, to pull me closer to Him, to make me closer to His likeness.  But I want it to be easy.  Goodness gracious, I want it to be easy.

Life pulls me 500 different directions.  Being a mom, working, church ministry, the day-to-day to-do list (laundry, dishes, budget, etc.)…it’s never ending.  And through all of that, we are supposed to maintain relationships and further the kingdom.  And sometimes I just can’t do it.

And I know, it’s not through my own power, it’s through His that I can make it all happen.  But, how – how do I just give it all to Him.  I try to rest, to relax in His presence and I feel guilty for not doing anything.  For not cleaning.  For not reading more Scripture.  For not focusing more on my sweet child.  For not being happy that I have so many great things.  For being overwhelmed.  For just wanting a break.

And I realize, even as I type, that there is a spiritual battle in my life.  And I know that’s probably more than half the battle.  But it’s never ending.  And it keeps coming.  And I can’t catch a break.  It’s either money, or health, or relationships, or just plain old discouragement.

It. just. keeps. coming.

And I’m coming unraveled.

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I want to give up.  I want to throw my hands up and walk away from all of it.  To run away and never look back.  It’s too hard.  It’s too much.  But I can’t.  I have to keep working, keep smiling, keep going.

And I will.  I can.  He can.  Even though I’m a complete mess, even though I don’t have it all together – He is still there.  He’s holding me, walking beside me, encouraging me.

Who am I kidding?  I don’t have this figured out.  I don’t know that I ever will.

But He loves me anyway.  Thank God for that.  Thank goodness He loves me through the good and the bad.  He loves me through the mess.  He loves me.  Unconditionally.  Without expectation.  He loves me.

….even when I’m unraveled.

And that’s what keeps me going.

Second-Hand Worship

Worship can easily become routine.

We go through the week just getting by.  Every day – wake up, go to work, take care of the kids, do the dishes, take care of the laundry, numb the busyness with a bit of TV, and then off to bed.  Wash.  Rinse.  And Repeat.  Until Saturday arrives.  Then it’s a full day of catching up on what didn’t get done throughout the week or squeezing in time with friends or ___(fill in the blank)___.  Then Sunday morning comes around, the alarm clock goes off, and we rush off to church, sing a few songs, try not to fall asleep during the sermon, put a little cash in the plate, and head home for a nap before the football game.

When worship becomes just another check mark during the craziness of our week, then worship, well, isn’t actually worship.

Worship, Church, Malachi, Change

We have become okay with giving God our seconds.

And God, He’s still God.  Which means seconds aren’t okay.  In fact, He would rather us not worship than worship with our seconds: “Who is there among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain?  I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of Hosts, nor will I accept an offering from your hand” (Malachi 1:10).

 

He wants our best.  Or He wants nothing at all!  God is not okay with lukewarm: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:16).

When we come together to worship Him, it should be with our everything: our full focus, a 10% tithe, a cheerful heart, a longing to sense His presence, a desire to do His will, a willingness to set aside our own desires, and so much more.  And so often, we bring Him less than our best.  We are distracted.  We let our circumstance define our attitude (super guilty of this one).  We get annoyed with other people.  We become frustrated when the music isn’t what we want.

And that’s just Sunday mornings!  Worship isn’t just a church service.  Worship should be a way of life.  How we live, how we act, how we treat others – this is living worship.  And it should always be our best. When we don’t forgive, when we harbor bitterness, when we gossip, worry, lie, steal, etc….then we are most certainly giving Him our second best.

The church in America is dying.  Slowly.  But surely.  And I have no doubt that this is because God is tired of our second-hand worship, our complacent attitude, our indifference toward sin.

I’m sick of living in this state of second-hand.  It’s depressing and certainly not fulfilling.  I need a change.  We all need a change.

So let’s do something about it!  Change starts with you and I.  When things are good, when they are great and God-ordained, you better believe it will be contagious.

So, how are YOU worshipping?

When the Enemy Attacks

When we put our energy toward accomplishing the works of the Lord, the enemy does not like it.  He will do whatever he can to thwart our efforts and progress.  As Charles Stanley puts it in Church Awakening, “While Christ has promised to build up the church, the adversary is equally committed to tearing it down.”  And he will use people both outside of the church and inside of the church to make that happen.

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At the beginning of chapter 4 of Nehemiah we see opposition come from outside the church.  At first, the opposition comes in the form of words, in mere insults: “They can’t do it.”  “It isn’t good enough.”  “It won’t work.”  “They will fail.”  Sound familiar?  These are simply words, but if they are received with the wrong attitude, they can be utterly destructive.  This kind of opposition casts doubt and makes you wonder if the task is even possible (and without God, it probably wouldn’t be…but that’s another post for another day).  It makes you question if God actually wants you to be doing this.  And it takes your focus off of His vision to the much smaller vision of man.  Words can be devastatingly destructive if we allow them to be.

Nehemiah didn’t let these words win; the building of the wall continued (vs. 7).  But their choice to continue working only made the enemy angry.  They then conspired to come against Nehemiah and his men in a physical manner – they were going to put a stop to the building one way or another.  In America, we don’t often see physical attacks such as the ones mentioned here, but the enemy still has ways, beyond words, to try and halt our work and progress.  Busyness would be the first way.  How many people within the church, how many Christians, are too busy to put their hands and feet to the tasks of our Lord?  Or what about money?  The budget doesn’t allow for such a vision… Or he keeps the few people who could finance the vision from “catching” the vision.

Which leads us to the idea that the enemy sometimes uses those inside the church to stop our progress.  He keeps us busy, keeps us from tithing, keeps us prideful…and mostly, he discourages.  In verse 10 we see, “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish; and we ourselves are unable to to rebuild the wall.”  How many times have you seen the strength of leaders fail?  How many times have you seen burn out happen?  How many times have you seen someone walk away because the struggle seemed insurmountable?  I myself have been guilty of thinking the task is too large, that there is too much rubbish standing in the way, we will never make it.  And when I allow those thoughts to invade my soul, I’m letting the enemy win.  When I allow those thoughts to influence my actions and/or the actions of those around me, I have become a tool in the enemy’s hand.

Nehemiah didn’t allow that to happen.  His response is a perfect model for how we should respond in the face of an enemy attack.  First, he prayed.  Or I should say, they prayed.  At this point, Nehemiah’s “I” became a “we” – the people were catching the zeal and passion for the Lord’s work that Nehemiah had from the start.  So when trouble threatened the horizon, they went to the Lord in prayer.  This should always be our first response.  No matter what the situation, finding ourselves on our knees is the best place to be.  It is only in prayer that we can prepare for battle.  It is only through prayer that we can dress ourselves in the armor of God and prepare for the spiritual battles that face us every single day, “for in every duty we must expect opposition from our spiritual enemies” (Wesley).

But that prayer means nothing if we don’t put our feet to our faith.  “Nehemiah was not the fanatic to blunder into the delusion that prayer was a substitute for duty…” for he knew that prayer with action is “the most effective defense measure” (Expositor’s).  He could have easily prayed for protection and continued on the way they had been – building the wall without any regard to the enemy.  But he took it one step further, Nehemiah prayed for protection and then prepared for battle.  Protection doesn’t mean that God will keep the battle from happening, but it does mean He will be there fighting right alongside you, strengthening your faith, bolstering your spirit, and so much more.  Protection means that we are never alone.

The second response that we see from Nehemiah is unity: “I said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another.  At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.  Our God will fight for us” (vs. 19-20).  Our best chance of success is to pull together as one when the enemy attacks.  Regardless of whether the attacks come from outside our walls or within – the answer is unity.  IF we are united THEN God will fight for us.

Unity is a form of anointing in the Lord’s book.   The 133rd Psalm is a  short one but the entire point is that unity = anointing: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!  It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes.  It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion.  For there the Lord has appointed the blessing – life forevermore.”

“The origin of anointing was from a practice of shepherds.  Lice and other insects would often get into the wool of sheep, and when they got near the sheep’s head, they could burrow into the sheep’s ears and kill the sheep.  So, ancient shepherds poured oil on the sheep’s head.  This made the wool slippery, making it impossible for insects to get near the sheep’s ear because the insects would slide off.  From this, anointing became symbolic of blessing, protection, and empowerment” (gotquestions.org).

Unity, Anointing, Forgiveness, Enemy, Nehemiah, Love, Abundance, Protection, Blessing, Empowerment

When we are united, it is then that God anoints us.  It is then that we receive blessing, protection, and empowerment.  But the significance doesn’t stop there.  First, and foremost, this isn’t speaking of outward unity, but rather, true unity, unity of the heart.  In order for us to be truly unified in that sense, there can be no unforgiveness or bitterness.  For if we do not forgive, the Lord will not forgive us, and we forfeit the blessing that unity brings (Matthew 6:14-15).  Aaron and his sons were not permitted to minister to the Lord or be in His presence without the anointing of the oil.  Without unity, without that anointing, we harm our relationship with the Lord.  When we ourselves are not forgiven, when we have not payed our debt, we cannot be in the presence of the Lord.  Sin cannot be in the presence of the Lord.  And if we can’t be in His presence, we certainly can’t do His work.

The oil of anointing held a very pleasant aroma.  It was made from olive oil, cinnamon, myrrh, cane, and cassia lignea (very similar to cinnamon) (Exodus 20:23-25).  When someone was anointed the aroma would have been very agreeable, attractive to others.  When we are truly and wholly united, only then will we be attractive to those outside of our walls.

This anointing we receive from the Lord when we are united is excessive as we can see in the 133rd Psalm.  The oil ran down Aaron’s beard and onto his robes.  Even today in the Middle East, oil for anointing is poured in such a way that it reaches every limb.  It’s an extravagant amount.  The dew of Herman mentioned in the Psalm is also mentioned because of it’s abundance – historical documents note that this dew, even in dry weather, was so abundant that tents were as wet as if it had rained at night (Clarke). God’s anointing – His blessing, His protection, His empowerment – is abundant when we are living in true, straight-to-the-heart unity!

When the enemy attacks, our response should be prayer with action and true unity.  If we do these things, there is much to come in return: protection, blessing, empowerment and more!  God is there!  He is always there!  He just wants us to acknowledge His presence, His power, and His purpose (unity, or true community).

When the enemy attacks, God will respond justly.  The question is, will you?