Character Transformation

You know how in every good book there’s a scene that sets the course for the rest of the story and the character is strengthened? It’s a climax in the story. It’s the moment we remember forever and the instant we associate with certain characters or specific seasons or journeys. Something is won or lost and sometimes a battle still rages, but the growth, maturity, and transformation gained make every moment of the journey worthwhile.

I was sitting in rush hour traffic on May 14th, and it occurred to me that that another one of those moments, a scene in my own life that I’d been anxiously awaiting for so long, was happening. Right then. I was headed in to the Capitol, but on my way in to work that morning I had a phone call to make. A phone call that would change almost everything about my life as I’ve known it for the last three years. A phone call to accept a job in full-time ministry.

I was deluged by a thousand memories and at least a thousand prayers requesting this very position. Every single thing I stood to lose fought for consideration as well. I remembered every prayer and every tear and every promise I’ve made to God for the last three years as I’ve asked Him to open the door for me to go into ministry. The choice was so obvious that there wasn’t even a choice to make at all. It was everything I’d hoped for, everything I’d dreamed of, and everything I’d asked God for. I made the call and as I did, I remembered this quote from Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. “

I hung up the phone and with tears streaming down my cheeks I realized that I’d gotten even more than I’d asked for. I got the dream job, but even more importantly than that… I changed along the way. The journey was just as important as the destination. The dream didn’t change even though I waited for years for God’s promise to take place. Instead, He changed me. He used those hopes and dreams to transform my character, illuminate my weaknesses and unbelief, and shape me to the point that He could use me in the way He felt was best.

The two quotes below are also by Donald Miller and are from his book Through Painted Deserts.

It is always the simple things that change our lives. And these things never happen when you are looking for them to happen. Life will reveal answers at the pace life wishes to do so. You feel like running, but life is on a stroll. This is how God does things.”

“No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath… We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?”

I’ve learned that Miller is right. There’s no way to wrap my mind around God’s timing. Life is about learning to trust God, after all. And in this season, instead of learning to be patient in waiting, I’m going to learn to jump off of bridges, learn to venture out, learn to be daring and brave. I can already tell that He’s going to teach me to adapt rapidly instead of wait with hope. It’s going to be fast-paced, insane, and everything I’ve dreamed of. But I can guarantee that the transformation will never stop. And I hope there will be so many moments of transformation that I can recount to you along the way.

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This one’s for the girls

This entry is about my girls. It’s for my girls. I call them “my girls” because I think they’re mine, but God always reminds me that really they’re His. This entry is about Stephanie, Ceci, Margot, Janelle, Talli, Janelle T., Karen, Megan, and Becca, and it’s about all the other girls that I’ve ever had the privilege and blessing to have in my small group.

Just like the girls are HIS girls, this vision I have for college ministry and for the Gathering, and for my life… it’s HIS vision. He’s the one who fulfills His own purposes and I am shocked and awed, amazed and astounded that He uses me and that I get to be a part of what He’s doing in my generation. Leading and loving in this ministry is never a burden or a sacrifice. It’s a joy. I feel incredibly blessed just to be used by God and to watch the Holy Spirit work in the lives of the people around me.

Tonight we celebrated community. We took the time to talk about and embrace what God’s done in our lives this last semester and year. We talked about our growth and the fruit we see in each others lives. We talked about how to run from sin and stay pure when we’re away from community while home for the summer. We talked about what the Church should really look like and what Christian community means to our lives. We took time out of our busy lives and away from the demands of finals to meet for three and  a half hours. I know… crazy, right? I didn’t plan on spending that much time there, but God definitely had different plans for us tonight. If I could put our meeting into words, if I were to use just a single word, all I can say is that it was beautiful.

Tonight we did what we call “affirmations.” Basically, we went around the room and talked about (and to) each girl – told what they have meant to us and to our community, how they have grown, and the character attributes that we see in them that make them the women God has called them to be. We laugh and we cry and we have to really be careful about giving each person time to talk because I think we all could have gone on and on for hours longer about each girl, if we had the time. Our group doubled in size this semester but never lost the vulnerability and transparency that we developed at the beginning of the year and I’m so very grateful.

So this is for the girls:

Girls, what a year! We walked through all sorts of difficult trials together. We walked through breakups, talked through theological differences, sent friends abroad, weathered economic hardship, prayed and interceded for salvations, and delved straight into talking about tough topics like brokenness and healing, marriage and relationships, sex and sin. Thank you for that. I can’t even begin to tell you what you have meant to me. You have grown SO much. And I’ve enjoyed walking with you each step of the way.

Christ, and what He  does in our lives, makes us beautiful and makes our time together extraordinary. It’s not every day that you put seven girls in a tiny room and watch as they affirm one another in Christ. It’s almost as though tonight we could watch the growth take place in front of our eyes as we strengthened and sharpened one another. The last meeting of the group is always a little bittersweet for me because I’m sad that you’re heading home or abroad for the summer, but oh so sweet, because I get to hear you talk about all of the revelation that’s come to your hearts, all that you’ve learned, all of the places where you have grown spiritually and emotionally, and how your need for community and mentorship was met by our group. And in that moment, I get to watch all of my dreams come true. For my life and for yours.

Thank you for coming. Thank you for being faithful. Thank you for truly loving one another and abstaining from all drama. And thank you for all of the many ways you have loved and supported me this year. Finish finals well, and remember this – community is at the heart of the Church and it’s vital to our relationships with Christ. Take this community we’ve built and recreate it where you are this summer. Embrace and search the Word. Make knowing Christ your pursuit and make Him your heart’s first affection. And run from sin – flee from whatever is evil and remember that compromise is made an inch at a time until you’re a mile from the truth.

This community isn’t dissolving. It’s merely moving. It remains and is here for you always. Like I said tonight, I pray you will all still be friends as you walk through the next seasons of life – graduation and entering the workforce, relationships and marriage, and mortgages and children… lean on and continue to learn from each other. Hold each other accountable. This community is an investment from which you will reap massive dividends.

I love you,

Whitney

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.

Women and the Church, Part II

Excerpts from “The Woman of Valor” by Josh Harris (all emphasis mine):

“Women when you read this passage [Proverbs 31], you need to read it with humility and with faith. Humility in understanding that it’s not all about you and that He is already aware of your deficiencies. And read it with faith, believing that God has good for you in His Word. And there’s joy and blessing that comes as you study His Word. The question I encourage you to ask when you study this passage is ‘What does God want to accomplish through this passage in me?'”

“Proverbs 31 is not a demanding description of every characteristic you should perfectly embody. No, it is a joyful celebration of womanly excellence. Resourcefulness and skill.”

“Proverbs 31 is not a list of all the household chores a woman has to do. It’s a description of what wisdom in motion looks like in the life of a Godly woman… This is what knowing and loving God unleashes in the life of a woman: diligence, service, creativity, boldness, and influence.”

“This woman exemplifies competent strength and these are qualities that every woman, married or single can seek to cultivate… There’s nothing wilting in this description. This is a strong woman. We see that womanhood, according to God’s word, can and should be strong, even valiant. This word valiant means courageous and determined and you sense that as you look at her life – she is throwing herself into different activities.”

Four Characteristics of a Godly Woman:

1. She fears the Lord (Prov. 31:30) – “this is the most vital, essential thing to know about the Godly woman. It’s the key thing that holds up everything else about her – she has placed God at the center point of her life.” She stands in awe of God.

2. She gives her life away (Prov. 31:12, 15, 18, 20) – Proverbs 31 honors a woman who lives an 0thers-centered life. “The point of Godly womanhood is not about a list of activities… it’s all about your heart before God and your motivation for doing them.”

3. She is capable (Prov. 31:13, 14, 26) – She has cultivated skills and has worked to develop these capabilities. This chapter shows the fruit of her faithfulness over the years – this chapter doesn’t show her failures, but definitely occurred over the course of her lifetime.

4. She is influential (Prov. 31:28) – Proverbs 31 shows us a woman who has incredible power – she exerts an amazing influence on the world around her.

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So, the take away?

Well – firstly, be encouraged – God made women with purpose, something I have to sometimes continuously keep in mind. It’s easy to become discouraged, disillusioned, and angry because of the verses we find regarding women in Scripture. But actually, we have a very vital role to play (despite the confusion regarding what that actually looks like in the local Church). We’re half of an amazing, God-ordained partnership – necessary and irreplaceable in the covenant relationship of marriage that God has ordained.

Genesis 2:20-24: “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,

‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.’

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

(and that point will be an entirely different post at some point because I have a remarkable book on the topic of what it means to be a “helper” or “helpmeet” based on the Hebrew word)

Secondly, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” These verses are FOR us… for our sanctification and maturity in Christ. They’re not to constrain us – they’re to bring us joy.

Our job is to do what Josh Harris suggests above – ask ‘What does God want to accomplish through this passage in me?’ Beg the Holy Spirit to make passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-5, Titus 2:3-6, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 clear to you. I know that’s what I’m doing… I can’t even begin to make complete sense of the combination above on my own, so today I’m trusting that God’s sovereignty will prevail and that He will make His will and purposes for the above Scripture clear to me. As long as I’m striving to walk in humility and seek truth in Scripture, I’m on the right path.

Women and the Church

So, on to another step in my journey of theological discovery: The Role of Women in the local Church

http://www.covlife.org/resources/3499575-The_Woman_of_Valor

This is definitely one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard on Proverbs 31 and I’m revisiting it today in effort to really understand God’s heart toward women and our role in the body of Christ and the local Church.

Since the Proverbs 31 woman is always extolled as being – the – example of a Godly woman, one who fears the Lord, honors the spiritual authority in her life, and is who we should want to be like, it stands to reason we should start with her.

Join me!

Maroon 5 and College Ministry

Maybe at first thought it doesn’t seem like Maroon 5 and college ministry should go together in the same sentence. But sometimes God uses the strangest situations and experiences to leave us with a greater understanding of our purpose and His heart, even  though maybe it’s the last thing we would have predicted or anticipated learning in that particular moment.

Friday night I went to the Maroon 5 concert held at George Washington University. I went to have fun and enjoy live music, but I have to admit that I spent more time people watching than I did looking at, or paying attention to Adam Levine or the rest of the band. Anyone watching me was probably baffled. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed the concert (we had great seats!), but it’s rare that I’m around such a large number of college students all at once and I took advantage of the chance to soak it all in.

My first reaction, well second actually (my first was that all the girls were dressed as though it were July instead of November in DC), was to be shocked by how lost my generation is. And then I was immediately ashamed and dismayed that I had to be reminded of that fact.

I talk about college ministry all the time and I spend quite a large amount of time pouring my life into it. It’s where I find so much fulfillment, purpose, and joy. But Friday night I realized that part of the reason I tend to forget how lost the collegiate generation is, is because I spend most of my time with the found and rescued. I get to listen to stories of rescue (see related posts) on a regular basis. I get to watch students who are completely sold out to Christ serve in the inner city, serve their campus, and serve their community of believers. I love that time – I love it that I have the opportunity to pour into, mentor, and love the students at The Gathering and in my small group. I frequently wish that I had more time to give and that life and other obligations didn’t get in the way of what I really love so much.

Yet, in spite of that love, I find that another love is growing stronger (and maybe fiercer than ever before)… a love for the lost and yet-to-be-rescued of this generation. I want to use my time with The Gathering to not only to help strengthen and mature the faith of the students, but to constantly be serving to enlarge the community and draw the campus in. I don’t want to ever forget the purpose of why The Gathering exists or why I have chosen to serve with this ministry – “to impact the collegiate generation with the message of Jesus Christ.”

I’m passionate about The Gathering and about college ministry in general because the majority is lost. If I remember the statistics correctly, only 3% of the Millennial Generation (80 million strong) is expected to come to know Christ (if trends continue and no dramatic change is made). That frightens me. I blog a lot about church and culture – those things as we currently know them and even the dreams we dream about them, may cease to exist within a generation if we don’t focus on evangelism and make it our top priority.

Todd’s message at Frontline tonight was about evangelism and sharing the Gospel. Several thoughts definitely stuck with me – “One of the greatest indicators of a life that has moved from dating the church to a life totally surrendered to God is one thing – actively sharing the Gospel.  Evangelism is what marks a believer’s understanding of the Gospel.”

I’ve fallen in love with the local church, its purpose, and its people. The last thing I want to do is just date it  perpetually without making a commitment, or showing signs of such a commitment in the way I live my life. I want my life to be marked not only by service to the church, but also by reaching out to the lost as though it’s the most critical thing I do. Now, on to thinking and praying about how best to go about that…

Another incredible looking ministry conference…

AHHHH! Here’s another one that looks amazing:

Drive Conference 2010:

A conference for church leaders who aren’t afraid to . . .
TAKE IT OFF-ROAD

If you’re in ministry, your tomorrow will probably be very different from your today. You’ll wear countless hats, navigate situations you hadn’t anticipated, and juggle the seemingly random responsibilities that a growing church throws at you . . . being stretched, pulled, and tested every step of the way.

In other words, you’ll TAKE IT OFF-ROAD.

You’ve jumped in with both feet. Now, how do you plan for the unplanned? How do you weigh an opportunity against a risk? How do you gain traction and momentum in a culture that seems to change every second? How do you take your church off-road if they want to “do things the way we’ve always done them”?

At Drive 2010, we’ll explore those questions together. From unpacking the tools used in our environments to dissecting the “what if’s” we all face when doing things differently, we’ll share everything we’ve learned in 14 years of taking it off-road.

Along the way, we’ll hear the latest thoughts on leadership from Andy Stanley. We’ll have breakouts and ministry showcases led by staff from all three of our campuses. We’ll laugh and learn and, above all, worship the God who is always ready to take it off-road.

So round up your church staff, volunteers, and leaders, and join hundreds of others from around the world for Drive 2010.

http://www.driveconference.com/what.php

National Outreach Convention

This looks SO cool… wish I could go sit in for a few days:

http://www.nationaloutreachconvention.com/

http://michaelhyatt.com/2009/10/national-outreach-convention.html

It would even been more cool than all the tanks and guns I saw last week at the 2009 Association of the U.S. Army Convention last week 🙂

Last week I was watching all the tweets coming out of Catalyst and wishing I could go sit in on that…

Maybe, one day in the future, I’ll get to attend conferences on ministry and not just dream about them… For now I still need to conquer that mountain of ministry books on my end table.

Bringing People to Jesus

“Should the church even try to change culture? The great commission says to make disciples, not to change culture. And I think there might be a difference.

I think that changing culture puts the focus on morality instead of on the cross. Even a culture of Christians is going to be full of sin, because we’re sinful people. Now that’s not an excuse to tolerate sin, but I think we need to be sure we keep the main thing the main thing.

So I say the church should be like Andrew the disciple: bring people to Jesus.”]

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Josh is completely right – and I’m afraid I failed to communicate my thoughts clearly and effectively in my last post.

I think that the proper role of the church is to be out winning the world to Christ and making disciples – that, and that alone, is what will eventually change culture. The goal, in and of itself, is not to change culture – it’s not even a means to an end. No amount of changing culture will change people. The main idea is that people change culture… the cultural change is merely a byproduct of the church fulfilling the Great Commission.

There is definitely a difference between reaching people and changing culture. I didn’t mean to imply that changing culture should come first or that Christians should pursue a vigorous “culture change agenda.” The focus should and must be the cross – always the cross and the resurrection – because that is what creates life change.

Thanks, Josh!