Tag Archives: church

the good fight of faith

I haven’t written anything in almost 2 months – I’ve started several posts, and never finished. I’ve been struggling with some pretty tough truth lately, and I guess it’s been hard to find words to explain what my heart doesn’t yet fully understand. Bear with me, this might get intense.

I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but things are getting a little bit crazy. I try not to watch the news too much because it’s so biased, jaded, and quite honestly depressing. But with social media blaring literally everywhere we go, it’s pretty easy to find out what’s going on literally seconds after it happens. The world has been buzzing about ISIS for a while, but with the recent news of the death of Kayla Mueller, and the 21 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded, things are continuing to get worse. The scariest part is thinking about how many hundreds, thousands, of Christians in the Middle East have already been killed, and absolutely no one knows about it, because news crews won’t go there. The most important thing to watch during this chaos in our world, is how the Church responds.

The Church gets a bad rep sometimes for either being irrelevant to culture, or for being too relevant. The Church has to remain relevant to what is going on in the world because as believers, we have to learn to function in society as the hands and feet of Jesus – that is the job He gave us. To go and make disciples in all the earth. Did He say it would be easy? No. Did He say we would never be persecuted? No. The problem is, the love of God is offensive. The cross is offensive. Because it makes people uncomfortable. It is a furious, powerful, supernatural love. It’s a love that turns heads. Gets people’s attention. You can’t learn about the love of God and not do anything about it. It requires a response.

And that is why the job of the Church is so difficult. We are called to be in the world, and not of the world. So the tricky part is to follow Jesus without changing who Jesus is. Our job is not to make Jesus “cool.”  Matt Chandler puts it this way, “You’re never going to make Jesus so cool that everybody thinks He’s cool. Once you do that, He’s not Christ anymore, He is some figment of your imagination.”

See, it’s easy to win the world with the message of faith, hope, and love. Do good things, strive for peace with everyone! Most religions teach some version of this. That sounds great to most people. But Jesus is about much more than that. He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. To leave behind our past life, which sometimes means giving up some pretty significant things, even relationships with people we care about. To literally die to ourselves, and live completely for Him. That is the only way to live like Jesus – we can’t just try to be good people – we will fail time and time again. The only way to experience true peace, and freedom from sin is to allow Jesus to take over our lives completely. It is all or nothing!

I am reading a book right now called Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. In the chapter I just finished, Pastor Cymbala talks about the church in America:

“…since the 1960s, fads have come and gone in the North American church, only to be replaced by newer fads. Leonard Ravenhill, the revival minded preacher and author from Britain, told me…”People say the church today is ‘growing and expanding.’ Yes, it’s ten miles wide now–and about a quarter-inch deep.”

We are not here to start fads just so people will think church is cool!! What are we doing?? People around the world associate being American with being a Christian. Many people who call themselves “Christians” have never even opened a Bible. What if instead when people heard the word “Christian,” they thought of Jesus? We have to look to the believers of the early church in Acts – they were so connected to the power of God that they had thousands coming to Him every day. What are we missing? We have missionaries in practically every country of the world, and in some places where Christianity is illegal, there are thousands coming to Christ at a time, despite the fact that many are losing their lives because of their faith. Why is the American church asleep? These are our brothers and sisters!

It is scary to think about a day where persecution comes to America like what is happening in the Middle East. Is it possible? Could we really see a day where Christians are more than slandered for their faith in the land of the free? Are we even really truly free? What if we had to hide our faith? How many people would cave and change their beliefs if their life was on the line? I have begun to think about this question, because it may become reality for us. Jesus didn’t ask his disciples to come to a cute little bible study and then just go on with their lives. He asked them to leave their nets and follow Him. He asked them to abandon their occupation, and walk with Him. To stop fishing for fish, and to start fishing for men. If we knew that Jesus was coming back in the next 10 years, (there is no way to know that, but it’s just something to think about) how would you spend it? Would you travel the world and check off your bucket list before it’s too late? Or would you spend every minute winning as many people to Christ as you can? To take as many people with you into the Kingdom as possible. Which is more important?

What are we living for? If you’re not willing to die for Him, then maybe you aren’t living for Him either.

 

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the thing about grace

Here’s the thing about grace. We NEED grace. I need it, you need it, every single minute of the day. Most of us who grew up in church hear this word all the time, and we become numb to it – just letting it bounce off of our hearts without truly sinking in. The truth is, grace is the most powerful thing we can experience in our relationship with God, apart from His love. Without it, we are completely lost, dead in our sin, with no ability to connect with God.

Grace is a gift. It is not something we can achieve, or work towards. It is not something we are capable of having or giving without God. Ephesians 2:8-9 explains this beautifully:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Grace is a gift. Which means we don’t earn it. We can’t earn it. Because the very definition of grace is that it is undeserved and unmerited. The most beautiful part about grace is that even though we don’t deserve it, and even before we knew we needed it, God extended His gift to us, out of His great love. Kind of like when you see something at the store that would be perfect  for your best friend, and you buy it right then even though her birthday is 7 months away (I’ve totally done it before!). God knew we would need His grace before we were even born, and He made it available to us through Jesus on the cross, giving us the chance to open the gift and enjoy a relationship with Him. 

Today I was babysitting, and the two kids were bouncing and throwing a ball back and forth in the house. They ended up knocking over a cup of water and the water spilled on the floor. There are much worse things they could of knocked over, so I just asked them to clean it up and take the ball outside. The younger one insisted that the older one clean up the water, even though she was the one who threw the ball. To compromise, I asked them to both clean up the water together. The young one responded by throwing the ball at my face. Yikes. Now, this is not like her at all…and I was taken by surprise. We both kind of stared at each other for a minute…her eyes looking slightly apologetic but also smug. After making her clean up the water by herself for that little outburst, I realized grace is something we need constantly. Even when we are submitted to God, our flesh still comes out in some ugly moments. When we get angry or afraid or sad, sometimes our flesh reacts faster than we have time to recognize. I was thankful that God gave me grace to be patient in that moment instead of chucking the ball right back at her. Because honestly, I’m not any better than she is. When I am frustrated, I would much rather throw a ball at someone than express it in words. But, thanks to grace, she and I were side by side drawing a picture together just minutes later. 

This is how God is with us – He is not an angry Father that sends us to our room when we misbehave. He does not raise His voice or His hand. He makes us clean up our mess, and then invites us to come and sit with Him, offering forgiveness and mercy that is new every morning.

I needed grace today. I think a lot of times we only think about how we need to show grace to others, being quick to forgive as Christ forgave us. And that’s definitely true. People are not perfect, and we all need to be shown grace. However, I realized today how hard it is for me to give grace to myself. I am a recovering perfectionist (really, I am getting better!) and I have a very hard time forgiving myself or letting things go when I mess up. I can’t stop thinking about it, and I continue to beat myself up, even if the other person has forgiven me (or isn’t even hurt in the first place). I don’t know why I respond this way, other than a desire to perform well. No one likes to mess up, especially in front of other people. But sometimes I am more hard on myself in the moments alone…when I know I have let down my Heavenly Father, or I have let down myself. The truth is, we all have hard days, and days when we feel “off.” God knew we would have days like this, because His standard is Jesus, and we are incapable of living up to that standard! He created us with emotions and feelings, and the ability to think our own thoughts. And He knew that these thoughts and emotions would lead us astray sometimes, because of sin. Hence…grace. I am so thankful for this gift of grace. Because sometimes there is nothing I can do to fix it. Sometimes I just have to accept His gift, and try again tomorrow. No matter how hard we try, we still fall short. Thankfully Jesus bridged the gap so we could stop trying – and He gave us the gift of grace to share with those around us.

So give grace today, even to yourself.

 

the body

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 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. 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. 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? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body…that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
1 Corinthians 12:14-20, 25
 
I have always loved being with my family. I grew up in a family that truly values each other, and loves spending time together. And I am so, so thankful for that. One of my top love languages is quality time, and I think I get that from my family who loves our quality time together. But beyond my immediate and extended family, I also have the incredible blessing of my church family. My family in Christ – spiritual brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers. None of them could ever be what my immediate family is to me, but they serve a unique purpose in my life, as God intended them to. And I don’t just mean my Daystar family, because I have met precious brothers and sisters all over the country and the world, who speak the language of the Gospel, and understand what it means to be part of the Body. If I needed a place to stay, or a ride somewhere, or a meal – they would gladly welcome the opportunity. And I would do the same for any of them.
We were never meant to live the Christian life alone.
We were meant to do life together, share meals together, and care for one another. We need each others’ encouragement, teaching, and guidance. The past year or so, the Lord has really been teaching me to be thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Not that I wasn’t before, but I tend to like to figure things out on my own, and do things for myself. Lord help me the day I get married… But sometimes, there are things I just can’t do on my own. Or at least, they would be a lot easier if I just asked for help. Utilizing the gifts and strengths of others is exactly why God created us all with different gifts! So that we could appreciate each other, and remember that we were not meant to do this life alone – and that we can accomplish nothing without Him, the Love that holds us all together.
 
Last fall, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. One evening while doing homework, I discovered I had lice. My scalp had been itching for a while, but I didn’t think much of it. Once I discovered there were little bugs in my hair, I immediately jumped in the shower and scrubbed my head for about thirty minutes. I stripped my bed, and the next day washed EVERYTHING. But, as anyone who has had lice knows…this does not get rid of them. You have to comb them out of your hair. Anyone who knows me knows that this is a near impossible task, as I have enough thick, curly hair for about ten people. Needless to say, this was not something I would be able to do by myself. So I had to suck up my pride, and ask a dear friend to help me comb them out. We scrubbed my head with lice shampoo, and about three hours later, every strand of hair had been combed through. We were sure we had gotten every single one. Lord, bless her sweet soul forever for doing that.
But alas, a few weeks later, THEY WERE STILL THERE.
I had her, as well as two other dear friends, comb through my hair, not one, not two, not three, but FOUR more times. I had lice for months. Bless their hearts. I can’t believe how hard it was to get rid of these stupid lice. I’m sure they loved my hair, and they just didn’t want to leave!
Anyway, the moral of this story is – we need each other. And I had to learn that it is okay to ask for help, and not feel guilty about it. Because Hannah, Rachel and Anna all love me. They helped me out of love, not expecting anything in return. This is the beautiful thing about the body of Christ. We serve each other joyfully. And it’s not just about combing lice out of someone’s hair :)
 
In the past few months, I have seen our church family help a single mom move to a new house, take care of kids while their dad has surgery, deliver soup to the one who is sick, attend plays and concerts to see each other perform, and support a wife and son who lost their husband/father suddenly. Never have I met people who are so giving, so loving, and so welcoming. On a Sunday morning, you’ll see the many who serve at each campus of our church, gathered around one long table eating breakfast together. Hardly anyone is holding their own child, because they get passed around and loved by everyone else. We eat together, pray together, worship together, and serve together. I truly love these people like I love my own family. I trust them, and I would joyfully give anything for them. Knowing that Christ gave His life for me, so that I could live, and so that we could live in fellowship with Him and each other – there is no greater gift. 
 
I am so thankful for family. For the Church. For the Body. We love, because He first loved us.
 

my heart’s perfume

I have recently been obsessed with Kim Walker-Smith’s song “Waste it All
The chorus goes,
“I’m gonna waste it all on You,
I’m gonna pour my heart’s perfume
I don’t care if I’m called a fool, 
I’m wasting it all on You.”
 
This has been striking a cord in me, and seems to be a common theme that God is teaching me. Last Sunday, JD preached about the story of Elijah calling Elisha. I didn’t know much about this story, but Elisha, being very well off, got rid of all his oxen, and burned his plow upon being called by Elijah. He left nothing behind at the invitation to follow and serve this man. Elisha risked everything; he went from boss to servant, and served under Elijah for 18 years. That’s a long time. This story was a reminder that Jesus wants all or nothing – when He asked His disciples to come and follow Him, it was either yes or no. No halfway in between. 
When Elijah was about to die, he asked Elisha what he wanted. And Elisha asked for a double portion of the Spirit of God that Elijah had. And he received it. When we surrender all to God and follow Him, He is faithful in return. As we follow God and live for Him, we begin to understand more of His character and His heart, and the things we ask for start to change. We are able to boldly approach the Creator of the Universe because He trusts us. You don’t earn that kind of trust by halfheartedly, sort of, sometimes following Him.
 
And let me be clear: following Jesus does not mean going to church and keeping the commandments. The Pharisees did that. Many people do that. I did that. 
There is so much more than that.
 
Following Jesus means pouring out your most expensive bottle of perfume at His feet. It means burning your plow and not looking back. It means letting go of things and people that cause you sin. It means laying down your life and accepting the invitation to allow the Savior to become Lord and King of your heart. There is no co-pilot. Either God is on the throne of your heart, or you are.
 
I have been listening to Mike Bickle’s series on Song of Songs, and it is absolutely incredible. At one point, he talks about how we are made for pleasure. God created us to enjoy life, and enjoy the pleasures of life, because we reflect His character. Nothing brings more pleasure than the love and presence of God. But when we allow something to bring us more pleasure than God Himself can, we lose sight of the actual source of pleasure. We can’t pick and choose the moments we want God, and then ask Him to follow US the rest of the time.
 
We were not made to be 80% committed to God.
 
We were made to be wholeheartedly, 100% surrendered to Him. Living for nothing else. He is our breath, and our life. Of course, in our flesh this is impossible. Jesus was the only one ever completely surrendered and committed to the Father. But that is why He is our example. That is why we continue to lay aside things in this world to follow Him with everything we have. There is so much of Him to discover – endless mysteries of which we will never reach the end. He has so much to show us, so much to teach us. Yet, we get bored and stop looking for more.
 
This is something my heart is learning and becoming more passionate about. I feel that the Church as a whole – mostly in America unfortunately, has become comfortable at 80%. Or even 50%. Why?? Why have we decided that it’s not worth it to give our all to Jesus, when that is what He asks? And there are countless parables and examples in Scripture of why we are called to this. We are called to something greater. But if we are holding onto half of ourselves, with one foot still in this world – how can we expect to inherit the Kingdom? How can God trust a people who refuse to let go and trust Him?
 
And why, oh why, do so many people “grow out” of passionate fellowship with Christ? I understand that young people have a passion and zeal for life that is unmatched by any other generation. Many young 20-somethings throughout history have been the ones to start movements and bring change. But the Kingdom of God should work differently. The peak of our relationship with God is not at age 25. We should be on a constant journey, always anticipating the presence of God, and seeking to see heaven touch earth until the day we arrive at the golden gates. We were made for that. I really believe that God’s desire is to set a generation on fire, and then continually see that fire spread and grow as that generation gets older and disciples the next ones. So many fires are being put out because the Church is falling asleep. This world needs more than just a bunch of fired up 18-25 year olds, that lose their passion by the time they reach 30. It needs a fired up CHURCH filled with the wisdom of the elderly, the skills of the middle-aged, the passion of the young professionals, and the innocent faith of the children. Each one, pursuing the vision of God’s Kingdom with everything they have.
 
Spirit of God, awaken EVERY generation, and bring the Church to life again.
 

middle-class heart

what is love?
  The world is really good at telling us how to love. And what to love. As a matter of fact, much of our culture is based upon what we “love.” The things we idolize and pour our time into – that’s what love has been reduced to. We live in an age of instant gratification, and when one thing no longer satisfies us, we move on to something else.
We are wired to love. We desire to be known and loved, and we also desire to know and love others. There are different types of love, of course, but I am disgusted at the ways our world has begun to dilute love’s purity and humility.
 
Love is not a trend. It is not something you can instagram or tweet about. It can’t be captured in a profile picture or blog post. It’s not going to dinner with your husband and then posting about it on facebook so you can hide the fact that you’re fighting behind closed doors. It’s not going on a mission trip to Africa and talking about how many kids you held, yet ignoring the fact that they are still starving and they don’t know Jesus. It’s not going to church and plastering on a smile as you hug everyone you know, while asking the obligatory “how are you?” when you actually don’t care. It is not standing on a street corner passing out Bibles and telling people they are going to hell. Love is not sleeping with your boyfriend because it feels right and you know you are meant for each other. It’s not wearing sexy clothes or lots of makeup so you get looks and compliments to convince yourself you’re beautiful.
 
Love is not something we can create. It is something we were created FOR.
 
God is teaching me about unconditional love. We can’t fully understand the concept of unconditional love, in all it’s power and purity. Everything in our world is conditional. We are so quick to judge, so quick to assume, and we make up excuses just to make ourselves feel better when loving someone is hard. Of course loving is hard. That’s why Jesus had to die for us. That is tough love. God IS love. What better example do we have to follow?
 
Love is intimate. It is vulnerable. Love is an interdependence that allows people to meet each other’s needs without asking anything in return.We can’t live with middle-class hearts. It’s not okay to live with a “whatever” attitude of God will either show up or He won’t, or trusting that He’ll take care of the poor and hungry and lost.* That’s is not what love is! God is not a hands off, figure it out yourself kind of Father. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” If we are truly compelled by the love Christ poured out in His death and resurrection, then WE are the ones who will feed, clothe, heal, and hold this lost and dying world. We love, because He FIRST loved US.
 
Love is not always going to Africa and holding orphans or feeding the poor. But sometimes, it is. Sometimes love is walking miles in the sun to bring food to people who have never heard of Jesus. Sometimes it is a little girl giving up one of her only dresses to another girl who has never worn one. Sometimes, love is a family driving over to help get their grandpa upstairs to bed. Sometimes, love is walking through a garbage dump to talk to people, hug them, and pray for them. Sometimes, love is hugging and kissing a small child even when they pee and spit up on you. Sometimes, it is letting 36 toddlers climb on you because they desperately want someone to hold them. Or letting little boys fight over your lap because they’ve never had a mom. Sometimes, it is quietly sitting for hours while someone pours out their heart because no one has ever taken time to listen. Sometimes, it is a newly married groom who leaves his bride for a moment to dance with the girl who has no one to dance with. Sometimes, it is driving for hours to be with family who needs you. Love is an innocent man dying to save a dying world.
 
Sometimes love doesn’t always look the same, but always, love is. 
 
Love always exists and is always there. Love never forgets and never leaves out. Love is not lukewarm – it’s not middle-class, apathetic, or halfhearted. Love is not comfortable. But love is perfect. And the One who teaches us to love, who IS love, He is perfect, and always loves. I live for that love. 
 
It’s time to love this world back to life.
 
Your love is so much sweeter, 
Than anything I’ve tasted
I want to know Your heart,
I want to know Your heart
 
*currently reading Compelled By Love by Heidi Baker, which is where the phrase “middle-class heart” came from