Family? Start Acting Like It!

Community.  It is the word that has driven my passion the past few years.

Community.  Each of us craves a sense of belonging – to be known and loved for who we are.

Community.  It’s what we were created for.  Literally.

So why is true, authentic community so hard to find?  Because community is hard work.  It’s extremely messy.  And sometimes it is easier to just….not.

Church, we are called to BE community, to be the example the rest of the world lives by.  If we get it right, it will be beautifully attractive.  After all, most people, especially millennials, are seeking a sense of authentic community.  The fields are ripe for harvest (John 4:35)!  Now is the time to be the community that Christ has called us to! Now is the time to be the community that the world needs.

We have to start getting this right!

When difficulties arise, when the messiness that comes with community starts to show, people walk away.  It is happening everywhere!  It is easier to leave than to work through the mess.  But here is the truth: people are imperfect!  You are not perfect.  I am not perfect.  ______(insert the name of anyone)________ is not perfect!  And when imperfect people come together, there are bound to be issues.  Sooner or later someone will get hurt, or offended, or left out.  Maybe not intentionally….but, because we are all imperfect, it happens!

These are the moments that can define who we are as a church, as a family.  These are the moments that make the difference.  We can be like the rest of the world and give up on “community” at that point.  We can walk away without handling the problem or issue biblically.  Or we can push through, work through as God’s Word dictates, and come out as a stronger community on the other side.

This is a soap box I have been standing on for awhile.  Recently, I was able to read the book, Accidental Pharisee by Larry Osborne (HIGHLY recommend).  It challenged me and made me reevaluate a lot of the ways I behave.  There is a section on Biblical unity where he put into words and images much better than I have tried to do on my own:

“Our biblical unity is a lot like the unity we experience in a family.  When my kids were young and crammed into the back seat of our car, they didn’t always get along very well.  At times they wanted to kill each other.  At times I thought they might.  But it didn’t matter.  As I reminded them, they were stuck with each other.  They had to learn to get along.  They were united by birth, not by choice.  And nothing was going to change that.

In the same way, if I’m saved and you’re saved (even if I think you barely snuck in), we’re family.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t like each other, if we vehemently disagree…  We’re stuck with each other.  We have to learn to get along.  We’re united by Jesus, not by choice.  And nothing is going to change that.

Our biblical unity is rooted solely in our relationship with Jesus…  It exists even when we wish it didn’t…

Unfortunately, when family members refuse to get along, it’s not just the squabbling siblings who suffer.  The whole family suffers.  It brings shame to the family name.  It dishonors the parents.  Think back to the last time you saw somebody else’s kids having a meltdown in the grocery aisle.  My bet is that you didn’t think too highly of the children – or the parents.  Even if your own kids have had their fair share of meltdowns in aisle 6, you probably walked away thankful that you weren’t part of that family.

The same thing happens in the spiritual realm.  When the world sees us loving and bearing with one another, like the sons and daughters of God that we are, they’re drawn toward us.  We gain credibility to speak into their lives.  It reflects well on our heavenly Father.  But when they see fisticuffs and shouting matches breaking out…they can’t help but wonder, ‘What kind of heavenly Father would have a family like that?’

It’s no wonder they’re not too interested in what we have to say about life, Jesus, or the salvation that we claim we have and that they so desperately need.”

When we choose to walk away instead of dealing with the hurt, the offense, or the problem – what does that do to the witness of the Church?  When we choose to speak poorly of the church, of the people, we left behind – what does that do the credibility of the Gospel?

It isn’t about being right or wrong.  It isn’t about you.  It isn’t about me.  It’s about family.  It’s about the Good News!

If we are truly a church family, if we are the family of God – then we had better start acting like it.  People are watching.  And their very lives depend on it!!

Family, Community, Offense, Hurt, Church, Witness

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Though the Mountains May Crumble

Since things have pretty much been silent for a couple of months, I thought it was time for an update.  AND I needed to write…  🙂

(Want to get caught up?  For the whole story, start to finish, head here…or for the short version, start here.)

So, about that update…

First – we did not get the coffeehouse grant.  Which was a bit of a bummer.  However, I never thought it was about the money, I wondered through the whole process, if it was God’s way of forcing our hand and casting the vision to our church.  I believe, without a doubt, because of the series of events that occurred, that God brought us to that grant.  He had a purpose for it, and quite apparently, it wasn’t about the money.  But, now, instead of a small group of people on board – we have handfuls of people in different walks of life who are excited about it, and talking about it, and wanting to be involved.  And that is exciting!  While our $0 budget has expanded very minimally, the vision itself has increased 10 fold.  And, the most important part, we are moving forward!  We officially have a board started and have begun the process of narrowing down a location.  I would ask that you would continue praying for us as this journey has still just begun.  I can’t wait to see what God has in store once it all comes to fruition!!

Personally, this season has been difficult.  Not because of the grant.  But because of life.  Justin and I are struggling on multiple levels with adjusting to two kids.  Balancing their needs while prioritizing our marriage and jobs and still trying to get this coffee stuff up and running has proved to be beyond exhausting.  I have somewhat recently entered a season of postpartum depression and, consequently, Justin has been struggling as well.  The irony of so many other people being excited about the coffeehouse while we are simply in survival mode and unable to thrive, or be excited about pretty much anything, is extraordinarily disheartening.  But we are pushing forward and fighting back the dark.  And, lately, I have had more good days than bad, which is helping.   But, again, prayers are more than appreciated.  As we keep discussing, the enemy is real and active and he will do whatever he can to isolate us from others in our lives.  We are in the midst of a battle and many days, lately, it feels as if the enemy might win.  Thank goodness, the war is already won!

Recently, the Lord reminded me of His goodness with the words of Corrie Ten Boom, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off.  You sit still and trust the driver.”

We will remain strong.  We will live to fight another day.  And, with God’s strength, we will accomplish the mission He has set us on.  I am trusting the driver while we remain in this dark tunnel…but, truth be told, I think I’m beginning to see the light at the other end.

Isaiah 54 has also been a source of constant encouragement.  I’ve included that chapter (all 17 verses) in its entirety below, with my emphasis added…the words that keep me going:

1“Rejoice, childless one, who did not give birth;
burst into song and shout,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of the married woman,”
says the Lord.

“Enlarge the site of your tent,
and let your tent curtains be stretched out;
do not hold back;
lengthen your ropes,
and drive your pegs deep.

For you will spread out to the right and to the left,
and your descendants will dispossess nations
and inhabit the desolate cities.

“Do not be afraid, for you will not be put to shame;
don’t be humiliated, for you will not be disgraced.
For you will forget the shame of your youth,
and you will no longer remember
the disgrace of your widowhood.

Indeed, your husband is your Maker—
his name is the Lord of Armies
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of the whole earth.

For the Lord has called you,
like a wife deserted and wounded in spirit,
a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,”
says your God.

“I deserted you for a brief moment,
but I will take you back with abundant compassion.

In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but I will have compassion on you
with everlasting love,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.

“For this is like the days[a] of Noah to me:
when I swore that the water of Noah
would never flood the earth again,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
or rebuke you.Isaiah 54:10, Struggle, Depression, Mountains, God, Jesus, Overcome, Love, Love of God, Promise, Shame, Disgrace, Fear, Disheartened

10 Though the mountains move
and the hills shake,
my love will not be removed from you
and my covenant of peace will not be shaken,”
says your compassionate Lord.

11 “Poor Jerusalem, storm-tossed, and not comforted,
I will set your stones in black mortar,[b]
and lay your foundations in lapis lazuli.

12 I will make your fortifications[c] out of rubies,
your gates out of sparkling stones,
and all your walls out of precious stones.

13 Then all your children will be taught by the Lord,
their prosperity will be great,

14 and you will be established
on a foundation of righteousness.
You will be far from oppression,
you will certainly not be afraid;
you will be far from terror,
it will certainly not come near you.

15 If anyone attacks you,
it is not from me;
whoever attacks you
will fall before you.

16 Look, I have created the craftsman
who blows on the charcoal fire
and produces a weapon suitable for its task;
and I have created the destroyer to cause havoc.

17 No weapon formed against you will succeed,
and you will refute any accusation[d]
raised against you in court.
This is the heritage of the Lord’s servants,
and their vindication is from me.”

This is the Lord’s declaration.

 

 

Encouragement Along the Way

Sometimes on a normal day, God takes your breath away.  Even if it’s just for a moment.

If you haven’t been following this journey, I highly encourage you to catch up here (or for the much shorter version you can start here)…or else most of this won’t make sense…

Yesterday was our monthly staff meeting at the faith-based non-profit I work for.  We always start with a small study.  Currently we are working through Experiencing God (so good!).  Even though it wasn’t mentioned, the subject of prayer naturally came up (I think a discussion of faith spurred this).  Basically, there was a full discussion about how long that ministry had been prayed for and how some of us were the answers to prayers prayed before we were even born.  It was a humbling discussion.  And one I won’t quickly forget.  But God wasn’t done speaking to my heart.

I occasionally take my little one to work and had decided to do so yesterday.  Throughout most of this discussion, I am on my feet, swaying back and forth, trying desperately to get my precious, yet cranky, little man to take a nap.  And I hear my name:

“Bri!  This reminds me…do you know the Smith’s*?”

“Nope.  Doesn’t ring a bell.  Why?”

“Well…” she says, noticeably excited, “they go to my church.  Saturday we had this thing and they came in.  They started talking about how they really felt led to pray for this couple in (insert name of my town here) because they were going to open a coffee shop, a third place for the community…”

I froze.  Literally.  No more swaying, no more bouncing.  Frozen.  And my breath was gone.  My thoughts were everywhere.  What did she just say?  Who are these people?  How do they even know about this?  We’re a really rural town, over 30 minutes away from this church…it wasn’t adding up.

But God…

She continued to tell me how she told them she already knew about it because she worked with me.

But I was still standing, frozen, tears welling in the corners of my eyes.  Everything around me had disappeared.  I was in His presence, in awe of how He was moving.

Voyage, God's Call, Calling, Journey, Prayer, God speaks, Voice of God, Wonder, Shock, Rend Collective, As Family We Go

Discussion continued elsewhere.  But when our meeting wrapped up, I was still reeling, trying to figure out how they even knew.  I figured it had to be Facebook since we have the CrowdRise campaign happening right now.  But there were some details that they had that aren’t on the campaign page.  It didn’t add up.  Maybe this blog?

I wasn’t sure.  But a brief discussion definitely took Facebook off the table since this couple doesn’t have any form of social media.

God’s encouragement comes in many forms.  These strangers are praying for us and encouraging their church to do so also.  And they happen to go to church with someone I work with.  There is no doubt in my mind that God wanted me to hear this little bit of encouragement.  Why?  Because He has called us to go forward.  He has called us to turn out community upside down!  And, most of all, because He loves me.  And He knows how fragile my human heart can be.  He knows that as this continues, I will need encouragement, I will need to remember moments like this.

We’re on the right path.  Of that I am sure.  We just have to keep pushing forward.

And a side note?  Because I need to remember everything some day…  We went to another Rend Collective concert last week.  And, not so coincidentally, met up with the couple that had encouraged us the last time.  Their words this time were humbling.  “Ahead of the curve,” “this is where Jesus is taking His church,” “placemaking is kind of His thing,” and so much more.  We’re looking forward to a visit from them in the next few months.  I am so thankful to have such a wide circle of help and encouragement on this voyage!

I am so excited to see where God takes us and our church in the coming months.  I can’t wait to see how He moves!

*Name changed to protect the innocent* (ha!)

For the next chapter of this voyage, head over here.

When He Doesn’t Make Sense

**Stick around to the end of this post – we’ve got some BIG news!**

After all the craziness of a couple weeks ago – I started second guessing it all.  It was too difficult.  No one would understand.  We don’t have the time.  The excuses were clouding my thoughts and overwhelming my spirit.

Sunday afternoons we spend at my parents house.  Lunch with the whole family and then some down time.  It gives a chance for my kids to spend time with their grandparents.  And it gets me away from my to-do list (most of the time).  That Sunday, with all of those doubts and excuses and downright pessimism invading my peace, we decided to turn on a movie.

Netflix has Evan Almighty currently, which I knew my daughter would enjoy.  And it was funny – just what I needed.  And apparently just what God thought I needed.  Ha!

The whole movie is about obedience.  About a quarter of the way through, I thought to myself – seriously?  Why did I pick this movie??  More conviction.

For those of you who haven’t seen it – Evan Almighty is basically a modern day version of Noah’s Ark.  Evan (played by Steve Carrell) is told, by God, to build an ark.  He tries to ignore the call from God, tries to run from it, even tries to hide it.  But it keeps coming back.  God is persistent.

When He calls you to build an ark in the suburbs of Washington D.C. it might not make sense, but He has a plan and a purpose.  When everyone around you thinks you are certifiably insane, He is still there prompting you forward.

When He calls you to open a coffee shop in the middle of a rural town with a declining economy and population – it doesn’t make sense and a number of people will think you are ridiculous.  But He has a plan and a purpose.  And He is still prompting us forward.

My job is to be obedient.  Not matter the cost.

*BIG NEWS HERE*

So here we are.  We started the process to apply for the grant at the end of last week (Not sure what I’m talking about?  Go here.) with the help of our church.  And we were accepted to enter the running!  One hurdle jumped!

But here’s the interesting part – we have to raise $3,000 before we are eligible to win the grant.  And that task is a bit daunting.  But God…

But God is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.

Even when applying for a national grant doesn’t make sense….  He has told us to.  So here we are.

If you would like to join us on this journey, you can also make a donation at the link below.  We will be eternally grateful!  I cannot wait to see what He does with all of this!  There is no doubt God has some big plans.  And YOU can be a part of it!  Check out our fundraising campaign here:

Coffee for Community Campaign

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The voyage continues here.

We Can’t Not…

Some of you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
you will restore the foundations laid long ago;
you will be called the repairer of broken walls,
the restorer of streets where people live
.
– Isaiah 58:12  (CSB)

I absolutely love this verse.  But I love it even more in The Message version:

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

Make the community livable again….  Wow.

Justin and I have been on a journey that has lead us to this place; to this place where we want to revitalize the community in which we live.  We want everyone here to have hope, to be happy, to find true joy.  But it isn’t just a want, we have been called to make a difference.  So it’s a supernatural compelling of the Holy Spirit that has lead us to this place.

And at first we weren’t entirely sure what that looked like.  But with that still small voice, God has been speaking to us over the past two(ish) years and in the past month, He has confirmed, we believe, what turning our community upside down looks like.

A coffee shop.

For those of you that have followed along on this voyage, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise.  He has been nudging us this direction for some time.  But I was never completely confident in the idea.  Whether it was my own insecurities or the fact that God had us in a waiting period, there was nothing moving us forward for a time.

And in that waiting, there was struggle.  God definitely had to teach us some things about forgiveness, bitterness, letting go, finding joy, and allowing Him to be in control.  And some of those lessons took awhile to sink in.  When we finally surrendered to what God was doing and allowed ourselves to be mold-able once again, God started to move.

That was about three weeks ago.  With a renewed passion, we began discussing what He wanted for us.  We really felt like the coffee shop/third place route was the way to go.  So we decided to continue to circle the matter in prayer.  Specifically, we have no monetary means of making this happen.  And, inspired by Mark Batterson and National Community Church, we decided to just start praying for the money without asking anyone but Him for it (check out Draw the Circle for this story).

I wish I could tell you that He sent us the money the next day.  He didn’t.  He sent us an opportunity instead.  While mindlessly scrolling social media just a couple of days later, Justin happened across a grant for community wellness.  He sent it my way and I instantly started to laugh.  God is funny sometimes – my current profession?  Grant writing.  And a grant for community wellness was exactly what we needed.  We had often discussed searching for grants but with life and the thousand things coming our direction, it just never became a priority.

Until now.

There were (and are) still some hurdles we have to jump before we can actually apply.  But the night I approached my first hurdle, it went much better than expected.  I was overwhelmed at the positive response and encouraged that we were moving in the right direction.

But the next morning God made sure I knew we were headed in the right direction.  I had recently begun to read Next Door as it is in Heaven, including a small section in my morning routine each day.  As I read about a girl named Ali who had begun to turn her community upside down, these words jumped off the page:

In the midst of Ali’s neighborhood is Quay Coffee, which she says primed the pump for Neighbor Nights.  It served as a neutral hangout where neighbors began to notice one another as regulars, striking up conversations that evolved into friendships and community.

Um…what?  I instantly snapped a picture and sent it to Justin and a couple of others who have been on this journey with us.  Sometimes God shouts.  And I fully believe He did that day.

I immediately began to dive into research for the grant.  While I knew a good third place would make a difference in our community, I didn’t have the research to back it up.  Now I do.

  • Only 22% of people believe their communities have opportunities to meet new people (Pew Research).
  • 1 in 4 people (25%) in the US say they have no one to talk to.  That number doubles if you don’t count family.  This is up from only 8% in 1985 (National Science Foundation).
  • “The strength of our social relationships is comparable to well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption.  Weak social relationships are a more significant risk factor than physical inactivity and obesity…” (Susan Pinker, The Village Effect)
  • “Creating destinations that people choose to go to, rather than just spaces people go to out of necessity, is an ideal way to improve their quality of life…” (Project for Public Spaces)

This just scratches the surface.  Social connections mean more than anything else when it comes to the health of a geographic community.  And in order for social connections to thrive, placemaking is essential.

The more I read, the more excited I became.  A coffee shop wouldn’t just provide a place for us to meet new people – it would actually increase the physical health, economy, and culture of our community while at the same time making it a safer place to live!  We have to do this!  This is our opportunity to make the community livable again.

Fast forward a couple of days.  My dad gets a phone call from a nearby, but not local, pastor friend.  In a conversation completely unrelated and irrelevant, this pastor mentions a coffee shop.  Which prompts my dad to share a bit of what has been happening.  This pastor knows of a place not too far away that has done what we want to do!  And the best part?  A coworker of mine had already mentioned this place to me about a year ago.  And I had forgotten.  Coincidence?  I think not.  My friends, this is what we like to call God moments.

While this all may seem like trivial things to you.  God is definitely leading us this way.  And I will keep moving with Him until He changes direction.  Whether or not the grant comes through, I know we are meant to do this.

I see a place where people go after work to relax.  I see tired moms stopping in after dropping their kids off at school to catch up with friends, teenagers stopping after school, retired couples stopping in just to chat, young children laughing at story time…  I see evening events such as trivia or open mic nights where people are laughing and chatting and gathering for community.  I see relationships develop.  Young and old.  Doctors and farmers.  I see connections made.  I see the community thriving.  I see hope.  I see light.  I see Jesus.

Coffee, Cafe, Community, Together, Gather, Relationships. Social Capital, Vitality, Life, Laughter

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Am I excited?  Yes.  Am I nervous?  Absolutely.  This will completely turn our lives upside down.  Nothing will be the same.  But we must take the next step.  As my dad finished his sermon on Sunday, I looked at Justin, choking back tears, “We can’t not do this…”  It was complete conviction.  Beautiful, humbling, sweet, unadulterated conviction.

And so we move forward into the great unknown….  To find out what happened next, head over When He Doesn’t Make Sense.

 

Constant Uncertainty

Have you ever noticed that when you truly start to follow the Lord that you are in a constant state of uncertainty?  Yes, He will give you moments of reassurance that you are on the right path.  But, more often than not, you cannot see the place your foot will fall as you take the next step.  While it is terrifying, this is exactly the place He wants us to be.  Because when we are uncertain, when we don’t know just what is going to happen, then we have to fully submit our lives to Him, fully depend on Him.

Whether it was two days, a month, or longer, the Israelites camped and did not set out as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle. But when it was lifted, they set out. They camped at the Lord’s command, and they set out at the Lord’s command. They carried out the Lord’s requirement according to His command through Moses.  – Numbers 9:22-23

The presence of God was visible in the midst of the Israelite camp.  During the day it was a cloud and at night, a pillar of fire.  And the entire journey, from Egypt to the Promised Land, was dependent upon His presence.  They did not move unless He did and they would rest as long as He did.  You see, “God chose to keep this people so dependent upon Himself, and so submissive to His own will, that He would not give them regular times of marching or resting; they were to do both when and where God saw best” (Adam Clarke).

So, we must do the same, move when God moves, and rest when He rests.  Camp, or rest, is necessary for a time.  But how often do we as individuals set up camp and forget what it means to journey, to follow?  We get comfortable where we are and we stay there.  Is this what happened to the Church?  Did God move and we remained at camp?  He promised to be with us always IF we were making disciples (see Matthew 28:19-20).  So if we are no longer making disciples (the Church IS dying across the nation…which means more are falling away than those being added), than is His presence still with us?  Corporately, I think God has moved on, and many (not all) churches are functioning without His presence.  Why?  Because we got too comfortable.  Packing up camp and marching forward is difficult.  The journey before us is unknown, trudging through the wilderness doesn’t sound like much fun.  It is easier to remain where we are than to face the journey ahead.

But it is when we keep His charge, as the Israelites did, that we find all we have been waiting for.  He is leading the journey.  And when we are following Him we have nothing to fear!  The journey may be difficult, we will most likely face our enemy along the way, and each step we take is forward into the unknown – but we can rest assured that He is with us because we are following His command.

On the other hand, there are times when we are ready to march forward and God has placed us in a season of resting, or waiting.  The Israelites were always ready to march because the presence of God (the cloud or the fire) could move at any moment.  In fact, “They probably wanted to move forward badly – they were headed to the promised land!”  But, if we believe, if we truly trust in Him, we cannot hurry.  There is not time lost when we are waiting on God’s time (Matthew Henry).

There are times that God knows we are weary, so He provides rest.  There are other times that He is aware of a challenging season ahead, so He gives us time beside still waters to refresh before we plunge into the difficult wilderness ahead.  And, still other times where He knows we aren’t prepared for what is ahead.  Those times are the most difficult, I believe.  He has trials in the waiting to prepare our hearts for what He has for us on the jouney.  Camp isn’t always easy.  But camp we must as we wait for Him to move.

Waiting, Camping, Wait, Camp, Rest, Journey, Adventure, Presence of God, God's Presence, Israel, Follow

The alternative is moving forward without Him.  Many times, it seems as if we are doing a good thing, it is a highly spiritual venture.  But if we move without Him, the blessing of that venture may never come.  After all, it isn’t very spiritual if God isn’t in it…

To move or to stay without the direction of God is defiance.  It is direct disobedience.  And, because of that, no matter how spiritual the endeavor may look, I am furthering the Dominion of Darkness when I am not keeping the Lord’s charge.

To end I would like to paraphrase a prayer from Matthew Henry:

Father, Your will be done; get rid of me and mine as You please; here I am, desirous to be found waiting on my God continually, to journey and rest at the commandment of the Lord.  What You will, and where You will, only let me be Yours…

 

 

 

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.

Tracks, Bethany Dillon, Muriithi, Status Quo, Different, Change, Meaning, Holy, Discontent

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.

Exponential, Muriithi, Holy Discontent, Different, Dream Big, Community

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.

For the next exciting part of our journey you can head over here or if you want to start at the beginning, check out this post.

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.

Ministry, Busy, Priorities, Self-Care, Pour, Give, Refresh, Time, Energy, Isolation, Empty

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).

Write, Refresh, Back Burner, Ministry, Priorities, Busy

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.

Pray, Prayer, Nehemiah, Hands, Strength, Trial, Tribulation, Sift

  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.

For the next part of our story, head here.  Or, if you want to start at the beginning, head here.

Puzzle, God, Mystery, Vision, Moses, Paul, Disciples, Jesus, Change, Growth, Journey, Voyage, Burning Bush, Voice of God