The Church – the global perspective

What I have been thinking and feeling recently isn’t new or revolutionary, but I think many times it’s overlooked and forgotten and I know that it’s usually one of the furthest thoughts from my mind. For the last couple of weeks I’ve found my heart increasingly burdened for the Church around the world.

In fact, it’s been on my heart so much that I almost repurchased the book Jesus Freaks while out shopping in PA with Josh a couple of weeks ago (and I totally should have gone with that impulse purchase). As I continue to study the Church and read books about ministry, it’s become glaringly clear to me that it’s almost like we’re entirely separate from our brothers and sisters around the world… as though we’re members of a different body.

Yesterday a video was posted by Cornerstone Church Simi Valley, and has subsequently been taken down while the church verifies the authenticity. However, regardless of whether or not that video was actually showing the beatings of believers, persecution like that does take place and you can visit http://www.persecution.com/ to learn more about the persecution of the Church worldwide. I only watched about 20 seconds of it before I just couldn’t bear to watch any more and I began crying at my desk.

Then, last night at the Gathering, I was reminded once again that we are all part of ONE body. We’re the body of Christ.

Romans 12:4 “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

And though we’re many members, we’re all necessary – 1 Corinthians 12:14-27:

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

I feel we need to reconnect with these people. Their stories might not be well known on earth, but we’ll know their names in heaven. Please join me in praying for the people all around the world who labor and suffer for the sake of Christ. Not that God would necessarily take away their suffering, but that He would be their Provider, their Peace, and their Hope.

Purposeful Evangelism

If you’ve been following this blog for very long, you’ll probably remember my post from November ’09 entitled “Maroon 5 and College Ministry.” I talked about how even though I’m around college students multiple times a week, the ones I know and spend my time with are ones who already mostly know Jesus. And it’s amazing – I’m getting to be an incredible part of the process of their becoming more like Christ and it’s definitely the thing I most love to do.

We all play lots of roles, you know. We’re sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands, friends, coworkers, teammates. But the one I find that brings the most contentment in my life is the role of leader/mentor/teacher. The Gathering; however, no longer feels like something I just do or a role that I play – instead, it’s more of who I am. And increasingly I want evangelism to feel like such a part of my heart that I can’t separate it from who I am.

I went to the SHAPE workshop at Frontline Tysons last fall and while most of the things we covered were things I had already known, I did learn something significant about myself – one of my spiritual gifts is the gift of evangelism.

I had absolutely no idea and wouldn’t have ever guessed that about myself. I definitely questioned it for several weeks following the workshop. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys street evangelism, which is what I first think of when I think of evangelism (although I love overseas missions and have done a lot of street evangelism in that setting). I’ve participated in youth group discipleship trips where we were challenged to go share the Gospel in Panera, the mall, and local boutiques. I did it. I could do it again… but it’s definitely not something I feel comfortable doing.

So, ever since October I’ve been asking myself how I can begin to really utilize this gift of evangelism. I want to wield it well – the last thing I want is to be like one of servants that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 – they squander their talents and end up losing everything they were given.

Todd’s recent message to Frontline on January 24th really helped a lot – everyone in the congregation was given a bookmark and encouraged to identify “ten points of impact” – ten people in their lives that they want to influence and pray for and witness to. I was immediately able to list 12, but God asked me to do something bigger. The more I read the New Testament, study the early church, and explore different philosophies of ministry, the more I realize that we’re ALL called to evangelism – not just those of us who have the spiritual gift of evangelism. Our lives are meant to be lived constantly in pursuit of God and the people He loves… and we have to be intentional.

I started praying and asking God for ideas and new ways that I could purposefully pursue the lost… especially college students since so much of my heart is tied up in leading them to Christ. And as I started looking for ways to get to know and serve people outside my sphere of influence, God gave me several incredible ideas!
I challenge you to do the same – expand your sphere of influence! Pray and begin to look for ways to open your life up to people who aren’t believers… establish relationships and begin to plant seeds! After all, Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).

We’ve been given so much.

Transition

I love how God speaks to me in such a variety of ways. Today it was through an e-mail from Brenda – just thought I’d pass her keys for transition on to you! And visit her website – she has lots of great resources for women!

Here are some keys for dealing with Transition:

1. Don’t rush it!

Sometimes we try to ‘make things happen’ and what we end up with is a big mess. Resist the urge to get your fingerprints on what is a very natural, God inspired process.

— Instead, lean back before rushing in to take control. Your role in transition, especially the early stages, is to 1. Observe (listen, take note, be aware) and 2. Obey (take cues as they come and walk through doors as they open).

2. Ask yourself the right questions.

Why is this happening? Why me? When will this be over?
Baddddd questions. These questions will make transition so much harder.

—Instead, ask yourself, “What am I learning here about myself? and others?” “What kind of person will I become if I lose control?” “Before this current season ends, what do I want to make sure I do?” “What messes do I need to clean up in this season, relationships, job, etc before moving on to the next?”

Don’t abandon one season of life for the other.

The winds of change may be blowing but it doesn’t mean a storm is right behind. Let the transition take its natural course and watch what happens. You may be surprised what comes AND leaves your life, if you let God’s way trump your own.

Character Close Up: Esther

You might have just rolled your eyes at the subject of this post. I know that a couple years ago, I definitely would have.

I used to view Esther as just another focus of women’s Bible studies. I thought she was overhyped just because there were so few women who are the major focus of stories in Scripture. I lost track of how many times I heard about her at summer camp break out sessions for girls, in jr. high Bible studies, and in youth group discipleship programs. So when one of the girls in my small group asked if we could study the book of Esther almost two years ago, I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed. I thought I had left Esther behind in youth group.

Not that Esther didn’t inspire me – she did – but I think I thought that “if I perish, I perish,” while inspirational, was all there really was to Esther. I wanted to do a study that was “substantial” – something that would change the hearts of these girls forever. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s definitely a reason that the book of Esther was included in the Bible! After leading a study on Esther for the girls in my Gathering small group and really digging into and studying the Scripture, Esther now definitely stands close to the top of the list of Biblical characters I want to emulate in my life.

She was totally amazing. God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose her to help deliver the Jews, and He didn’t just choose her and throw her in – He stayed with her and empowered her and taught her so much about following His will.

The character traits that Esther shows throughout her story are these: an intense commitment to prayer and fasting, absolute and immediate obedience to the leadership placed over her, radical submission to God and to His plan, and an extreme desire to change her world and save not only her generation, but an entire people. Her statement “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) could stand alone in testament to her faith – but it doesn’t have to because she actually lived it out.

Her story would terrify anyone – she was a beautiful orphan taken away from her uncle Mordecai and all she’d ever known (2:8). This had to have been scary and seen (at least at first) by Esther as a negative circumstance  – after all, she was young, probably had plans of her own, and the king was known for being quick to anger, irrational, egoistic, had a harem, and had banished his previous (and probably pregnant) queen.  All of these are negative, but Esther takes it all in stride .  She acts in wisdom, gains favor, and lets God position her for greatness though she knows nothing of the drama to come or her role in it (2:9).  Her trust and obedience is amazing.

While reading Esther, I get the sense that she had a sense of what God would call her to do and did it – she ran  “so as to take the prize” (Eph. 3:12-14). We see Esther throwing off the weights (insecurity, fear, discontent) and running her race faithfully. Esther prepared herself to meet the king for a YEAR (2:9).  She could have become frustrated and maybe even asked “God, why am I here?  What are You thinking? Why aren’t You using me?” God was teaching her to wait. Esther was so wise – she asked for what Hegai advised – she was in it to win it and to please the king.  Otherwise she’d be just another concubine.  She wanted to be his wife (just as an aside – you want to learn how to talk and relate to a guy? It takes wisdom. Read Esther).

Esther is crowned queen and is queen for FIVE YEARS and it’s NINE YEARS total before God’s purposes become clear and she recognizes God’s strategic placement that brought her to the palace (4:12-16).  Once it is clear, she doesn’t cling to her position, her crown, or her life. Instead, she’s willing to lay it all down and potentially give her life for her people. She fasts and prays for wisdom, and then acts.

Esther gives us a model to follow when we feel God is asking us to do something difficult –

  • Calculate the cost
  • Set priorities (others before self)
  • Prepare (Esther fasted and prayed, and got other people involved in the process)
  • Determine a course of action and move boldly in the direction God has called you to follow.
  • Esther and Mordecai do not despair or just wait for God’s intervention – they recognize their positions hold purpose.

Esther has the most compelling ending I can think of – because her obedience a WHOLE NATION was spared certain death and destruction – her life made a difference.  The Jewish Feast of Purim was established to celebrate Esther’s life and to remember her bravery and obedience to God.

I’m not certain that I would react as Esther did and that’s one of the reasons I want to cultivate the patience, wisdom, and faith we see in her life. I feel like if I were thrown into a situation where I was torn away from my family and sent to be a concubine to a crazy king, I might be more than a little upset with God. While that particular situation is highly unlikely, I want to learn to handle difficult circumstances with grace and to never blame God for where He might decide to put me or what He might ask me to walk through.

Esther is a Biblical example of someone who learned to suffer well and to let her suffering shape and develop her character. Her life should definitely make us question how we handle difficult circumstances and how we can develop the same character attributes that we see bringing her favor with God and with men. God is just as sovereign and strategic in our lives and it’s important that we recognize that. Each of us is being shaped and placed exactly where God wants us to be and our actions echo into eternity as well. Esther is the perfect person for me to study again as I’m asked to step back, cede my life again to Christ, and simply obey.

Thoughts from a snow day

I find out a lot about myself when I look at how I spend my time. I typed something in a conversation the other day that hit me pretty hard once I looked at it again. I said, “Sleep always trumps food. Wait no, sleep trumps everything except God.” And then I realized that all too often, even sleep trumps God in my life. And then… when I take a deeper look I realize how much pride I struggle with… the idea that I’m somewhat in control is probably one of the hardest things for me to let go of. I find that I let it go and then somewhere between there and here, I’ve unknowingly picked it back up again. It determines how I behave, how I spend my time, and where I place my trust.

Pride. Sin. They keep me from God. I know that He’s completely sovereign… that He holds my life in His hands, allows each breath I take to provide oxygen to my lungs and has all of the hairs on my head numbered, but so often I question His timing, His plan, and the path I’m walking down.

Change. There’s very little I hate more than change. Especially if it’s life-altering. I recognize also, that change is good and that without change we die… but these recognitions don’t make it any easier to make the leap. I find that when I’m faced with it I begin to shut down on the inside… I tell myself it’s ok, that I’m ok, and that the distrust is merely preparation for the inevitable losses that will occur.

I’ve been this way my whole life. I’ve never been able to dive head first off of a diving board or do a cartwheel. And I think it’s because I’ve always been too worried about protecting myself – as if I could add even a second to the days I’ve been allotted (Psalm 31:15, 139:16).

Fear is a lack of faith. And its sin. We so clearly see that in the life of Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter’s an ordinary guy who displays extraordinary faith at different points in Scripture – He leaves his job to follow Jesus at just His words, “follow Me” (Matt. 4:18-19), walks on water out to meet Jesus at the word “come” (Matt. 14:28-29), and understands who Jesus really is before many other people do (Matt. 16:16, Mark 8:29). However, Peter is so often reactionary and easily swayed instead of unmovable in his faith. He starts to sink when he is distracted by the wind and the waves (Matt. 14:30), he cuts off a soldier’s ear when Jesus was arrested (Matt. 26:51), and then swears he never knew Him when he’s associated with Christ later (Matt. 26:69-75).

All of this to say: I find myself feeling a lot like Peter today. I feel like sometimes I wake up to the fact that I’m walking across water and I can’t make it on my own – I will certainly drown unless saved by grace. These times, the times when I recognize how very much I need Jesus – the times when my total insufficiency comes to light and all of my pride is exposed – this is how He keeps me close. In His overwhelming goodness, He walks me through change often so that my own heart is exposed and I’m forced to come to terms with the fear residing there. Without the grace of God, I’d be off always doing my own thing… forcing doors that aren’t supposed to open and clinging to things that I should gracefully let go of.

Ryan shared Acts 16:6-10 with me the other day:

“6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down lto Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul3 had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

The message here is great and I love the way he put it: “They kept moving. God closed doors. They changed directions. God closed doors. They went a different way. God showed them what they were to do.”

I was also reminded of Matthew 6:25-34 today:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?7 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, jeven Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

I’m learning to leap. I’m learning to let go. I’m learning to trust completely, all over again. All because of this truth: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16)”

Character Close Up: David

I’ve felt a little lost for about exactly a week now. Sometimes things happen in life that remind us that life is just that – life. It has ups and downs, people are born and people die, some answers to prayer we understand and others we really don’t. It’s like Ecclesiastes 3 says – there is a purpose for everything under heaven. I think recently I’ve felt very overwhelmed at how much I don’t understand and I find myself longing to know God more – to truly understand His heart and His purposes.

With that intent in mind, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Psalms again. There’s literally nothing better for my heart than to hear David crying out for answers and salvation just as I am. So many times he didn’t understand his situation either… but the key to David was his heart (and he’s not called a “man after God’s own heart” without good reason). His heart is so transparent and he doesn’t just follow God – he pursues Him. As I read what he wrote in the Psalms I almost feel like some days he’s been reading my journal, completely understands all that I’m feeling, and could be one of my closest friends. Even when he’s struggling to make sense of his circumstances, David always remembers three very important things: 1.) he is humbled by his own depravity and the seriousness of his sin (and he repents), 2.) he’s overwelmed by the magnitude of God, His purposes, and His love, and 3.) is totally confident that he, as a child of God and his righteousness through Him, can lay claim to a rich inheritance and amazing promises. Seems like his focus always finds its way back to these three points.

And well it should, because David sinned greatly and is one of my favorite examples in Scripture of the extreme redemption offered in Christ. His story is crazy – he kills a giant that every one is terrified of with just a sling and a pocket full of rocks and then he’s anointed the future king of Israel while he’s still just a shepherd boy. God’s hand on him and purposes for his life are clear from a very young age, yet when he finally has everything God has promised him, he seemingly sets himself up to throw it all away. He covets and lusts after another man’s wife, sleeps with her and gets her pregnant, and then has the man killed so he can marry the beautiful girl and cover everything up. Thankfully, God doesn’t leave him there.

When confronted by the prophet Nathan with his sin, David’s immediate response was “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13) and he repents and worships even as he is punished (2 Samuel 12:16-23).

David’s incredible heart is chronicled throughout 1 and 2 Samuel and the Psalms. I love it all. He’s a humble worshipper, always caught up in the beauty of God. He’s real and broken, always asking questions and demanding answers, but always remembering who it is that sustains him.  There’s too much to write about him here… I could go on and on.  Tonight I’m thankful that he consistently remembered that the purposes of God are bigger than anything he could see, imagine, or understand. I’m meditating on the following this evening:

Psalm 86:11-13

“Teach me your way, O Lord; that I may walk in your truth;

unite my heart to fear your name.

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,

and I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your steadfast love toward me;

you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.”

and Psalm 91:1-2, 14-16

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

When he calls to me, I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.

With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

LOVE these verses so very much. They remind me that it’s not about understanding my situation, my circumstance, or my pain… life is about understanding the faithfulness and the promises of the God who loves me and is about learning to be faithful to him. David’s story, like my own, is one of faithfulness and faithlessness and unfaithfulness. Thankfully, God redeemed me, just as He did David. It’s something we need to be meditating on always.