Preaching to Myself

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“For as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” {Isaiah 55:10-11}

Life continues to press on in ways that seem impossible to overcome by human standards. The rebuilding of a broken church, reconciling fractured relationships, care for an aging and disabled parent, raising up 4 young boys into men. I can’t do it on my own.

Maybe that’s what this season has been about for me. A recognition once again and a real deep and visceral understanding that I am not in control and I do not have the power to change circumstances to the way they ought to be.

If I’m completely honest, doubt has been a companion of mine for the last year. Although I have never felt the absence of God, there have been times where I have wondered if what He promises is just for other people and not really for me. Or if the the promises of God that are eternal in nature are really just that. That the verses following the one above that speak of “going out with joy and being led forth in peace” are only for the days of leaving this earth and entering into the full on presence of God. Not for now, but later.

Jesus promised that in this world we would have tribulation and suffering and when I read the news about two seven point something earthquakes within a week in Nepal or pray for my friend, a mother of two precious girls and an adoring husband, who faces a potentially difficult diagnosis, I feel like a big baby. My trials are different than theirs but they are for my own good as much as shaking earth and uncontrollable disease is for their good. The “all things” that God works together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes are different for each one of us. We each have to face our own “all things” and know that there is purpose and according to Isaiah, the way God deals with his people is that his word, the things God has said, all of his promises are for the success of those whom he sent it. Maybe not worldly success, definitely not in a prosperity gospel kind of way, but maybe the success that looks like faith refined in fire and steadfast assurance that this is not my home so why should I even try to be comfortable here.

Rain and snow are beautiful elements to behold especially in Southern California when they rarely present a threat but actually are welcomed in the midst of a drought. But what if we looked at rain and snow as not literal but figurative elements that come into our lives, lock us in and dampen our days and yet we stand firm in the belief they are here to bring forth and sprout the things of God that will bear fruit in our lives. Fruit that creates more seeds to be sown and bread to not just be provided with but enjoyed.

See it’s in these times of uncertainty when doubt is my companion that I must, that we must recognize how we are feeling but understand that the word of God goes deeper and lasts longer than any feeling we have and that it does not change. Even if it feels that I am neck deep in this dirt and my nails have become black in search of the seeds God is sowing in my life.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” {John 1:1-5}

The written word and the person who is the word…none of it or him starts empty neither is it returned empty. So when these truths feel vacant or we are worried they might be… we just can’t. Because they are not.

The light shines in the darkness of doubt and the impossible and behold… just stop what you are doing look and hold on…He has already overcome all of it.

So be it.

Not Me But We

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This morning’s She Reads Truth reading directed us to the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:16-20 and Mark 16:14-20.

The writer told a lovely story of following an impression from the Holy Spirit to tell a stranger standing in line with her at Starbucks about God’s love for him. Her response to the word “Go” was immediate, obedient and didn’t take into account any discipleship programs, how long she should spend meeting with him or what the outcome would be.

We often look at these passages and think they are for people who have more time on their hands, who have been following Christ for years, who have a wider breadth of knowledge than we do…yada, yada, yada. Or we get tripped up by what “discipleship” should look like and think we need to make certain scheduling commitments, ask our pastors for permission and again… yada, yada, yada.

The passage was an account of Jesus’ words to the disciples. All of the disciples together – not just one.

It still speaks to today to all of us as a collective. Not just me, but we.

What if we looked at the passage and decided, this is our calling?

To go and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that has been taught to us?  And what if we realized we are not responsible for every part of it but maybe just a piece of it?

What if we recognized this is how we are to live and just did the next right thing?

Even Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:6 that his job has been planting, Apollos watered, but it is God who makes things grow. Paul had a part, Apollos had a part and you and I each have our own part today to fulfill God’s great purpose for our lives here on Earth. To go… and tell someone how He loves, how He saves, how He sees, how He knows.

Not you, but we. Not me, but we.

What is your part today?

Closed Doors

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I’ve entered into a new season of caring for my mom and the struggle is figuring out where she is going to live and who will be taking care of her. This you could say, is my greatest angst from childhood becoming reality.

After stepping away from the situation and gaining some clarity over the weekend, here is what I’m realizing and trying to remember:

Closed doors are worth celebrating as they are simply God giving us the direction we’ve been asking for.

Provision comes from Him and sometimes in the most unlikely of ways.

Struggles are often meant for us to become more convinced of who He is and what is actually best for us.

His grace is found in all, even when it is disguised in hardship.

This week we are reminded that ultimate Grace was made available and known to us through beating, flogging, suffering, humiliation, stripping away, bleeding and death. It was Jesus who voluntarily submitted to the Father to provide such amazing grace for you and for me.

What a gracious reminder that we are people of the resurrection – none of the above can hold back God’s plans for us. And how glorious that we are also people of the sabbath – that we can rest in what has already been done for us.

Today my prayer is to stay in each moment and to not get too far ahead of myself and especially Him. That I would do all that I am responsible for and trust in Him for strength through my weakness.

Truth:

He is always with us.

He has given us everything we need for life and godliness.

He is always good.

Doors in this life may close here and there but He is the door through which we will always find pasture and life abundantly.

Sometimes you need to just put it out there to remind yourself and say it out loud so it resonates in your own heart and maybe the heart of another who needs it.

Peace be with you.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” {John 10:9-11}

Leading Through

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “if they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. {Exodus 13:17-18}

 

God knows what we can and can’t deal with. He knows how much we can take and what our capacity is.

I’ll be honest. I have felt filled to the brim of my capacity lately and at times have wondered if these thorns in my flesh and heart are ever going to leave me.

But God.

To read this in the Exodus narrative and know God doesn’t do short cuts, especially when they are not beneficial to us. He knows our limits better than we do and knows that we will often resort to something besides him for the sake of our own comfort that will often lead us to bondage. He is aware of the insidiousness in our hearts far more than we are. He can see what will tempt us earlier than we can and he knows what will cause us to go backwards, especially when the road forward is long and arduous.

Sometimes the long way is the best way.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. {1 Corinthians 10:13}

If you are also feeling at capacity today, if you think you can’t take it anymore, perhaps the next right thing is simply to go to God and ask Him to show you the way out or to show you where the hope lies and how He is going to part the Red Seas of your life to lead you through.

This is how we prepare for battle.

Leveling the Exalted Places

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We know it’s true, God goes before us. He has plans for us and knows the outcome of everything. And yet… sometimes it feels like what’s in front of you is a big thick steel door and it’s hard to see what’s behind it or even if you will go through it. These are times when the depth of meaning from these ancient words are the comfort we need.

“I will go before you
    and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
    and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
    and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
    the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
    and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
    I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
    I make well-being and create calamity,
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.

Isaiah 45:2-7 {ESV}

Expectant

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“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me, one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient of days. There fore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” {Micah 5:2-5a}

Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas, symbolize this period of hopeful expectation. It is also a very difficult time of year for many because it serves as a reminder of painful unmet expectations throughout life. Yet when we look at the holiness of our Savior’s birth, we can see if our expectations continue to be held captive by our circumstances or our own understanding.

Anything less than an eternal focus will cause us to miss out on all we can expect in Jesus.

The promise breathed through the words of Micah is indeed, God uses the smallest things to bring about the greatness of His glory.

The promise lies in the waiting because our timing is not His timing and He is the one who appropriates the times and season for His hope to be fulfilled through His people. We who live in the already and the not yet… the people of the resurrection, are also those who await the return of our King.

Where we stand is the place where Jesus stands, shepherding his flock in the strength of the LORD. He beckons the ones who are thirsty and desire to take the waters of life (Revelation 22:17); He leads us besides still waters and restores our souls. Yes, dear friends, we stand with Him in the majesty of the name of the Lord and we dwell secure despite our unmet expectations because His greatness covers the ends of the earth.

To read more, visit “The Thread” at www.kingsharbor.org.

ReBlog: The Secret Language of Girls on Instagram

I’m a mom of boys but my heart is big for girls too.

When I watch my boys try to figure out life and navigate friendships on their own, I remember clearly like it was yesterday how similar and yet how different it was for me as a girl.

I love the girls in our  lives and as much as I’m able to, I want to scoop them up and tell them:

 

It won’t always be like this.

You are more beautiful and more valuable than you think.

You are more deeply loved than you will ever comprehend.

You are fully loved and fully welcomed just as you are by the God who made you.

Your identity {who you are} is because of the One who created you —  not because of

anything created or what this world tries to make you.

This post from Time is an excellent read for parents of girls but especially young women and young men.  I love social media and all the advantages and connectivity it brings us. But my heart breaks at what it can do to the human soul if we don’t tread carefully.

Click on the photo…Read and receive it as a guardrail for your heart.

 

Getty Images

Getty Images

Collaboration is My Love Language

The Spring 2014 issue of Leadership Journal magazine is subtitled “Redeeming Failure.” There are all kinds of really interesting articles about lessons learned through failure and how failure is preparation for the next great thing God has in store for us.  One article lists the statistics of the “hard calling” of pastoral leadership. Here are just a few of the encouraging…{cough}… I mean cold hard facts*:

80% of pastors are discouraged in their role as pastors

40% of pastors seriously considered leaving the pastorate in the past three months

For every 20 pastors who go into ministry, only one retires from the ministry

70% of pastors say they do not have a single close friend, and the same percentage say they have lower self-esteem than when they entered the ministry.

Denominational health insurance agencies report that medical costs for clergy are higher than the average professional group

I’m sure if they surveyed leaders in other areas of the church as well, both vocational and volunteer, the stats would also be staggering. I’m a believer that lead pastors experience life, work and all the pressures that come in a completely unique way than any other person in the local church. However many people who lead also share experiences that are euphoric as well as devastating to their spiritual, emotional and mental well-being. I’m sure it’s safe to say that many people who have “left the church” have done so because either they or someone close to them has had a negative experience with or in leadership.

As an only child who never played organized sports, effective collaboration is something I’ve had to learn over time. It’s helpful that one of my strengths is “connectedness” so I’m constantly looking for the big picture and consistently sure it’s always bigger than me. In my years in ministry, I have found collaborating and finding community with other like minded leaders to be an important part of how God sustains me, encourages me and sharpens me for the work and people I’m called to.

That’s why I was super excited to join this community of women on Pinterest dedicated to encouraging and sharing ideas with women’s ministry leaders.  We are just getting started so I’m sure there is more great stuff to come.  In the meantime, I’m grateful because this group is encouraging me to take more time to post on this blog about the many things I’m learning along the way as part of a collective group of people aiming to love and lead others well.

If you are a leader of women in any capacity, I think you’ll find this board helpful and would encourage you to check it out!

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*statistics provided by J.R. Briggs from Fail: Finding Hope and Failure in the Midst of Ministry Failure (IVP, 2014)

My Journey of Worry {New Post on Trochia}

Worry has been a companion of mine for as long as I can remember.

The last few years have taught me how to fight the battle against worry and anxiety by taking each thought captive and living in the day instead of worrying about tomorrow.

I’m hanging with the good people over at Trochia today if you’d like to hop on over and read more click here.

Grace and peace.

What Are You Really Afraid Of?

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I’ve been thinking so much about the verse from Hebrews, “It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  {Hebrews 10:31}

I never quite understood the magnitude of the simple fact that God is on the throne and no one is exempt from His reign on this earth.  In these United States, in Syria, Israel, the Gaza strip, Iran, Australia, Spain or anywhere else there is life and breath… no one can outrun or side track the scope of His purposes.

The thing about it being “fearful” is that if you KNOW this to be true, this kind of fear naturally or supernaturally (depending on how you look at it) will draw you closer to Jesus and His mind, His ways and His heart than the other.  This kind of fear brings comfort because it brings you into the presence of God. It’s what compels you to be led besides still waters for your soul to be refreshed while you’re walking in the darkest valley of your life.  It raises questions in your head like:

“God where are You in this?”  Because he promises to be found by those who seek him.

“Where are You leading us?” Because he promises to lead those who trust him through straight paths.

The other kind of fear… the fear of man, fear of what people think, fear of whatever situation or mess you find yourself in.  This kind of fear adds chaos and confusion.  It leads you this way, that way… every way but his way.  It sounds more like this:

“What’s going to happen to us?”

“What will they say about us now?”

“Will things ever be normal again?”

The questions in themselves aren’t inherently bad, but where they can take you if you get stuck in them is troubling.  The first set of questions raises our eyes to God while the second set lowers them to ourselves and what’s in front of us.

There is nothing normal about God.  He is extraordinary and is more than you could ask or imagine.

He does not change but he promises you will.

God is so gracious, so loving, so kind and so powerful which is why He is God and no one else is worthy of that position.

If He is worthy of praise, then he needs to be put in his rightful place which is the place that proclaims His ways are not our ways, His plans are not our plans and they are good and hopeful.

It’s a fearful thing to fall in the hands of the living God. So if we believe that we place our whole lives in those hands: our relationships, our marriages, our ministries, our careers, our hopes, our dream and our fears… when that hand brings correction, moves us in and out of where we need to be and towards his purposes for us and this Kingdom we are a small part of… it’s exactly where we need to be.

No matter how painful, how tragic, how hopeful, how good, how exciting and how stretching.

There is no place I would rather be.