Six Months

I knew before actually arriving here that God was up to something. Our on-site interview this past January was really more of a visit. Comfortable and welcoming. During that short weekend we heard pieces of stories of ordinary people used greatly for the glory of God and the good of others. Of multiple, thriving ministries that were birthed out of what would be our new church home. The global and local outreach, amazing. The gospel impact, resounding. Lives were being changed by the message of Hope in Jesus Christ, here and around the world. That weekend we got the 45 second trailer, the teaser. We had to see the rest.

As most of you know, that on-site visit led to a decision to make the big move from upstate SC to the Quad Cities. As time goes on though, I realize it was less our choice and more God’s. As days and weeks pass, I’m more convinced we have been sent. Our being here is God’s plan.

It’s been 6 months today since we pulled up to our temporary apartment and unloaded the cars.

Much has happened since then. It snowed. A week later the movers brought our stuff. It snowed again. We found a house. I lost my dad. Went back to SC during Easter to help with the arrangements, came back to IL and moved again (couldn’t have done it without you, Angie). Went back east again and buried my dad. Boom boom boom, in that order. (I still haven’t had time to grieve.) Went back to the Carolinas last month to visit family and friends, and to celebrate a special 2 year old. And most recently God opened up the opportunity for me to serve Him as Outreach Coordinator at our new church. Seriously, somebody pinch me.

I’ve only been in this role a month, so there’s much to learn. Part of this learning process means I get to interact with both our global and local ministry partners. A few have been via email, but many have been face to face, over coffee or a meal. That’s when you hear the backstories, start connecting the dots, and seeing the bigger picture.

One of our new friends here is executive director for a ministry she founded that digs wells in Niger. That’s the little I knew about her when we first arrived …. that and she had a huge heart for missions and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. This woman is a deep well, in her own right. So much more to her story.

A few days ago, several of us from the outreach council had the pleasure of meeting a young couple before they leave for a 5 year term as missionaries to Japan. (This particular friend was instrumental in that connection as well, but that’s a story for another day.). As we were leaving the coffee shop, she blessed me with a book written by a dear friend of hers, another local.

In that book, some of the dots that were loosely connected began to take shape and fill in with color. Tucked in those pages is the wonder and mystery of our God moving, working through His people. Restoring. Creating. Redeeming. Blessing.

In those pages were ministries I’ve visited. Places I go. People I’ve met. People I currently work with. There’s no doubt God is moving in this city. There’s no question that the lord has us here for such a time as this … whatever “this” is. Yes, Lord, whatever this is.

PS- Ya’ll seriously need to read ‘Singing In The Wilderness’ by Luana Stoltenberg. Have tissues handy.

Photo credit- Babette Howard

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Fear Not

There was a time, not that long ago, that I wouldn’t have considered inviting people over to my home for a meal. Correction …. for years I didn’t.

What a terrible waste. I cheated myself out of so much pleasure. Missed out on opportunities to connect with others, to build relationships. I’ll never know just how much good I missed.

Entertaining felt intimidating. All my excuses were firmly rooted in fear and comparison. I wasn’t a good enough cook. My house wasn’t comfortable for guests. My stuff was old. They might find fault with me. It would make me vulnerable. And so it went for many, many years.

There’s a Christian song out now titled “Fear Is A Liar”, and it’s true. Simply put, I was suffering from an identity crisis. Comparing my skills, my stuff, my personality to someone else held me hostage. When I came to realize that my identity was not … IS NOT … founded on those things, my thinking slowly began to change.

If all I could make was grilled cheese sandwiches and soup, then that’s what I served. If all I had were old dishes, that’s what we used. If I only had room for 4, that’s how many we invited.

Fear of failure, of being exposed, of being found “less than” is a real thing. It can trap you into loneliness, isolation and more. It can keep you from trying new things. Yes, fear is a liar.

I read somewhere that the words “fear not” appears in scripture 365 times. That’s a solid DO NOT FEAR for every day of the year. Coincidence? I think not. I think God knew I’d need daily reminders.

It only took 49 years to get there, but I eventually did. I finally started believing what God says.

Here’s the deal. If I can, you can. So go ahead and make the baked spaghetti, pull out the china that has never been used, clean up your home and make that phone call. And go check out all the “fear nots” for yourself.

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Honor

This morning I was contemplating the saying “If you will honor God, He will honor you”. Often times we hear a saying and take for granted that it’s biblical. I wanted to see for myself, did God really say that?

He sure did. Understanding that I can often take scripture out of context, I discovered that God sends this word to the priest Eli this to confront him about the wickedness of his sons, and how Eli has done nothing about it. Sandwiched in that reprimand is a promise.

There are as many consequences for disobedience and wickedness as there are blessings for a surrendered heart who seeks to honor Him.

God has done another amazing thing in my life. I can’t even wrap my head around it. On my own I didn’t earn it, and I certainly don’t deserve it. Yet there’s this gift, this blessing that overwhelms me to the point of tears.

I’m reluctant to share good news for fear it sounds boastful. Truth is, if there is any good in me, if there’s evidence of fruit in my life, of character, loyalty or faithfulness, I can directly point to the ones who invested in me, who took the time to disciple me and help me begin to develop in spiritual maturity. Years and years of investment, grace, patience and encouragement. These people truly love like Jesus.

There’s a great story of how God orchestrated all this. I had no idea what He had planned for me, but here it is. I am beyond excited and humbled to share with you that I have been given the opportunity to serve as Outreach Coordinador here at Calvary. And I said yes.

Please pray for me as I enter this new season with great expectation. I have mighty big shoes to fill and lots to learn. Lord help me remain faithful, available and teachable

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Exchanging The Lie

I finished this mornings reading in Ecclesiastes and was a little bummed out. Here was Solomon … a king who was blessed by God, powerful, wise and wealthy beyond all imagination … and he concludes that everything is meaningless. A chasing after the wind.

It got me to wondering what on earth happened? What was he thinking! In the beginning of his story Solomon was all in for God. He sought to honor Him and give Him the glory and honor that He is due. Solomon was awesome!

Over time it seems to me that Solomon’s hope migrated. In his old age he began worshipping false gods, and leading Israel to do the same. His lifestyle and perspective deteriorated. There were definitely consequences for Solomon’s disobedience. It’s all written down.

It was a slow fade for Solomon. In scripture it doesn’t look like this happened all at once. Through the years he lost sight of the truth and started believing a lie.

“This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

I think this is a warning to us as we get older. Along the way life gets harder. We can get cynical. We lose loved ones. Our bodies begin wearing out. We make exceptions for ourselves because we’re tired. We wrongly believe that what little we have, what we are able to do doesn’t really matter to the kingdom of God. Before we know it we’ve slowly slipped from being on top of our game to sitting on the sideline bench of the kingdom.

Christ follower, remember who you are and whose you are. Remember how much Jesus loves you. Remember our lives are all for His glory. The mission hasn’t changed just because we got older. If we’re still breathing there’s work to be done.

Read this and soak it up, grab your bible and go refresh yourself with the truth. That’s the only way to refute lies.

Inside of you who are in Christ Jesus are the riches and wisdom of Solomon, through the holy spirit of God. You have so much to offer in service to the kingdom. Your story is one that others need to hear. It’s a story unique to you and only you … who you were before meeting Jesus, how He rescued you and your journey with Him since.

Friend, exchange the lie for the truth.

You have great worth.

You have purpose.

Your life experience has value.

You have been spiritually gifted to reach those around you who need the hope we have.

You have influence.

Your little bit that you think doesn’t amount to much is useful and needed in the body of Christ.

Your prayers matter.

The gospel matters.

You matter.

Go exchange the lie for truth. I have confident hope that if you’ll do that, you’ll get back in the game.

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Response

It’s a safe assumption that all of us see life through the lens of our own experiences. Our family of origin, childhood, work life, belief systems, friendships, struggles, successes, failures and so much more all shape the way we view the world around us, and because of this, our individual response.

As I grow in relationship with The Lord, my view expands. Little by little, He uses new experiences to continue shaping and molding my mind and heart.

Today I’m simply in awe of the greatness of our God, and how He works things together. How amazingly connected it all is to His kingdom.

He is God over the past, the God of the future, the One reigning over all eternity. He is Lord in the Carolinas, King of church plants in Connecticut, Ruler of Missionaries in Africa, Shepherd over the Quad Cities. Who are we, that He would be mindful of us?

It’s such a privilege to see little glimpses of God working through His people, through His church, locally and around the world. There can be no greater purpose than to be a part of what He is doing, living out our individual giftedness for the glory of God and the good of others.

You and I may not be the ones called to dig wells, or plant churches, or move our families to the the far reaches of the world for the sake of the gospel. But those of us in Christ have received gifts and talents useful for kingdom expansion.

What other response can there be but to join in the mission, serving God wherever He has planted us, in the way we’ve been gifted?

3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with youra faith; 7if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12:3-8

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Discerning His Heart

Have you read these words and been flooded with fear and trepidation? I think even a casual believer in God pauses at the following verses. Every time I encounter them, discomfort definitely rises. I’m quick to want to skip over them. But maybe that’s exactly why Jesus said them …. to create tension and discomfort.

When confronted with these verses, do you ever worry that you may fall into the goat category? Or, maybe you think you got it right, thumbs up, good to go, firmly in the sheep pen? And then that day comes when we all stand before the throne and give an account of our lives. Gulp.

Lord, Lord.

God really cares about how we spend our time, the condition of our hearts, how we engage the world around us. And certainly while these verses serve as a warning, I think the heart behind them is to encourage us to live a life of abundance and blessing that can only come from seeking to please our Heavenly Father.

I think by the time Jesus spoke these warnings He was pretty fed up with the hard hearts and stiff necks of the religious leaders and teachers of the day. Maybe they needed some harsher imagery to get them to go back and remember …. what pleases our God?

Have faith (Hebrews 11:6) (Mark 11:22)

Be spiritually minded (Colossians 3:2) (Romans 8:6-8)

Revere Him (Psalm 147:11) Psalm 115:3)

Follow Jesus (Matthew 17:5) (Matthew 28:18-20)

Be obedient (1 Samuel 15:22)

Do His Will (Hebrews 13:21) (Luke 9:23)

Live sacrificially (Hebrews 13:15-16) (John 15:13) (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Love God, love others (Mark 12: 30-31)

Live in unity (Romans 12:16)

Be just, merciful and humble, kind, compassionate and forgiving (Micah 6:8) (Ephesians 4:32)

The more we know God, the easier it is to discern the heart of the father.

Lord, Lord. Thank you that when we seek you, we find you. Equip us with your Holy Spirit that enables us to live lives that glorify and honor You completely. Soften our hard hearts and stiff necks. Make us more like your son Jesus each day. May our thoughts and actions reflect Him and be ever pleasing to You.

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In His Footsteps

This morning I remembered a conversation with a coworker that took place not long before surrendering my life to Christ. It was in CA, late 2009. Through a series of life events and the work of the Holy Spirit, I was seeking to know more and I was questioning EveryThing. I did believe in God and I said I believed that the Bible was true, but I wasn’t 100% sold. I hadn’t yet made the choice to do things God’s way. There were some hard things in God’s Word that I was still wrestling with. There were lots of whys, hows and what ifs. At that time I was only beginning to ask the right questions that would finally reveal the answers I sought.

So back to that conversation. Needless to say, because of my stage of spiritual development it was not more than a very brief, painful exchange. Let’s just say I was way in over my head. My coworker was a smart guy, a good likeable guy, but an intellectual agnostic and he’d had conversations like this before. He asked me why I believed the Bible was true, and exactly on what I based my faith claims. He was prepared for whatever I might wield as a defense. I was about as effective as a cardboard tube against his sword.

Boy oh boy, and ouch. I was seriously ill equipped.

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

So much has happened in my walk with the lord since that day. I finally yielded my will to His, late in life, in February 2010. I’ve been a faithful follower of Jesus ever since. And yet, as much spiritual and personal growth as I’ve already experienced in 8 years, as much as I’ve grown deeper in love with Him and His church, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. I still hunger for more.

Over the years, I’ve learned about spiritual gifts and have embraced serving others. I went on a few short term mission trips and God used each one to further shape and teach me. And now I find myself in a different season of preparation and service. The Who and Why is eternal, never changing … but the what and how IS and DOES, as my capacity for understanding grows.

We humans are pretty good at identifying and labeling things. We inspect, poke and prod, give it a name, come up with conclusions, defining things a certain way. For example, the word “evangelism” can create a strong response in us. Some folks would be all in with the preaching, teaching and apologetics aspect of their faith, others prefer to leave that stuff to the pastors, because they’re better (and are more comfortable) demonstrating Gods love through acts of service and compassion. Do I see raised hands? Truth be told, the word “evangelism” makes me tremble and squirm . Likewise, the word “mission” can conjure up images of beautiful children in less advantaged countries, and hearts begin to thump in anticipation of GOing! But mission, or good works, without sharing the good news of Jesus is so incomplete. How is simply serving sharing the hope that I have? That one is on me for sure, and the conviction stings.

The word “disciple” simply means follower, a learner. Discipleship, simply put, a process of learning and following, and beyond that helping others learn to follow. Even that word though can seem intimidating, when it’s simply following in His footsteps.

Lord, we complicate it all so much and raise objections when it’s really simple. Lord, you showed us what that looks like. Not EASY, but simple.

Our friend and former Pastor, Jeff Hickman likes to put it this way “live like Jesus lived, love how Jesus loved, leave what Jesus left behind”. Guess what Jesus left behind. Disciples (learners and followers) who discipled others, who discipled others, and so on.

In my own life I can see how God used others to help me grow spiritually, to disciple me, to help me become the person that I was created to be. He’s not done with me yet! It’s a lifelong pursuit.

Discipleship the way I see it : Jesus started out with a willing group of men and women who He took time to personally invest in. He trained, equipped, encouraged and challenged them. He spent time with them, they did life together. He modeled a life of service. He showed them what a healthy prayer life looks like. He prayed for them. He was a leader. He taught them corporately and privately. He proclaimed the gospel and kingdom of God everywhere. He went outside the temple, where the people were and ministered to them. He fed. He healed. He comforted. He sent His followers, His disciples, His learners out to do the same. The disciples obeyed and applied all they had learned. Multiplication happened. More people believed and began to follow Jesus.

It doesn’t end there. That’s us, you and me, right here and now. Disciples. Missionaries. Evangelists. Worshippers. Loving people towards new life in Christ. Loving enough to serve and to teach, model, train and equip. We can’t let these words or concepts be so big and scary that each of us aren’t striving to become better learners and followers every day of our lives.

I am convinced that mission and evangelism for the Christ follower must go hand in hand. Good works without the good news is a just a humanitarian effort. I know this, Lord help me live it. Likewise, learning and the pursuit of knowledge as it’s own end without applying what we’ve been taught reaches no one.

Praying that any barriers holding us back from becoming effective disciples be removed, and praying that we always stay hungry for the things of God and His kingdom.

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