Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Identity and Ruth

Seeing as we’re in the middle of a six week series on identity, it’s been something that’s dominated my thoughts.
A lot of people can poke fun at my love for the book of Ruth, but the reality is simply that God always speaks to me through those scriptures. I don’t know if it’s the style it’s written in or the story itself, but it’s one of those “never fails to speak to me” books.
So with that, I naturally learned a little something about identity by looking at Ruth’s life.
1.       She had a story for every major influence

In this series, we have already looked at how major events, culture, and our caregivers shape our lives. Hello! Have you read Ruth? This girl can check off every one of those! The book opens with her husband dying (pretty major event) and Ruth moving to a new country. It just so happens that Ruth the Moabite (labeled that way several times throughout the book) would not exactly have been thought of as the most ideal woman in Bethlehem (Check out the major cultural attitudes the Israelites had concerning the Moabites). Furthermore, even after Ruth declares her devotion for her, Ruth’s mother-in-law actually says to the people in Bethlehem, “Do not call me Naomi. Call me Mara for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full and the Lord has brought me back empty.” Wow. Even after a moving display of devotion, Ruth wasn’t enough for Naomi. Do you think these things probably affected Ruth’s identity?
2.       She didn’t belong in those fields!

I’m sure I lost a few of you already, but try to stick with me here. Did I mention that all of those things that affected Ruth’s identity happened in chapter one of the book? Chapter two opens with Ruth out in the field trying to find enough barley for her and her mother-in-law to live off of. The reality is, Ruth didn’t belong there. She was a foreigner and didn’t really belong in Bethlehem. Plus, gleaning in the field after the harvesters was something that was reserved for the poorest of the poor. You know that while she was working in that field, she must have thought about her husband. It probably occurred to her more than once, that if he was around, she wouldn’t have to do this. There must have been another option.
I feel like this often. When it comes to the struggle with identity, I know I’m not supposed to be out in the field. I know there must be a better option. In fact, I know that the better option is a life lived rooted in Christ. But just like Ruth, I often can’t see past the field. All I know is that I’m not supposed to be here.
3.       She was redeemed

It turns out there was a better option. Long story short, there’s this guy named Boaz who redeems Ruth. (Hello Old Testament metaphor for Jesus!) He marries her and thus ensures that she and Naomi are taken care of. There are some really beautiful moments between Boaz and Ruth. She just can’t seem to understand why he would show her favor. He doesn’t treat her like a scandalous foreigner, in fact, he goes out of his way to show her kindness. Suddenly, Ruth is no longer labeled as “Ruth the Moabite.” Instead, after she gives birth to a son, the women of the village tell Naomi that Ruth “loves her and is more valuable than seven sons.” (Just trust me and know that that was a big deal!)
I’m actually not too far gone when I say that Jesus does the same thing for us. Boaz is meant to be a foreshadowing of Christ. Christ redeemed us by going to the cross. Also in the same way as Ruth, we are no longer labeled as foreigners or Moabites, but 1 John 3:1 says that we are children of God!
We don’t belong in the fields of our despair. We know that Christ came to bring life. Will we accept it? It would have been easy for Ruth to shrug off Boaz’s attention towards her. It would have been easy for her to stay in that field and deny his love for her. It’s also really for us to stay in the field of our identity crisis, wishing “this person would affirm us” or “this event would make us feel like we made it,” the list could go on and on. I don’t know about you, but I know that that stupid field only makes me hurt more. There’s no life there! Stop picking up the leftover pieces of God’s love and accept his full on, 100%, scripture proved affection for you.

Monday, July 22, 2013

3 Things from Guatemala

I knew in preparing to go to Guatemala for the second time, things would be different. I was making the trip solo, in that my dear friend now called the country home and was no longer a visitor. In all the ways things would be different, I was prepared God would still have plenty to show me.

It's been about a week since I came back, and I still experience one of the crazy things that happens when you return from a trip like mine-- you nearly burst to tell everyone around you all the things you experienced. That's why I want to share three things that God showed me, reminded me about, and gifted me with while in Guatemala.

1. People need Jesus

I love America. Flushable toilet paper puts us up pretty high in my book. Despite our issues, we have a lot going for us! It's not always so easy to see our desperate need for Jesus. Anytime you go to a country where the majority of people live below the poverty line, you don't have to look far to see hurting people. While there are often physical needs, there are also spiritual needs. People's need for Jesus becomes much more obvious when they can't hide it behind comfort and material things.

Here's the kicker- there are people everywhere that need Jesus. Right here, there are people that are broken and desperate and need Jesus. We just don't make it quite as obvious. My pastor summed it up perfectly this weekend when he said, "Our comfort level works as an anesthetic on our hearts; masking our desperate need for God."

This reminder gave me a challenge. It's easy for me to see that people need Jesus in Guatemala. However, Jesus has called me to Statesboro, Georgia. It's completely different, but the truth remains that people need Jesus. What am I going to do about that? Am I going to go after and pray for the people in small town America as energetically and passionately as I do the people in Guatemala?

2. People are Answering the Call

Have you ever walked down a dark hallway and saw the smallest pinpoint of light breaking through a doorway? That's what I kept thinking about when I was in Guatemala. Even among the darkness and despair, there are faithful people working to bring the good news of Jesus. That pumps me up! It gives me hope! It gives the people of Guatemala hope!

There are all kinds of people who are completely sold out to the call that God has given them. They move away from their family, friends, and the comforts of home to take hope to people. Just witnessing that faithfulness for a week is encouraging!

The fact is, not all of us are called to give it all up and move to Guatemala. There are times when I wish I was! (More on that in a minute). That's one of the most beautiful things about the Church! We are all called to go and make disciples, but we do that in so many different ways.

How are you answering the call to go and make disciples right where you are? How can you support those who are answering that call in foreign countries? Will you join them in prayer? Will you give to them financially?

3. Your Past/Circumstances do not Define You

This one is pretty personal for me. There are things in my life that I wish weren't the way they are. Don't get me wrong, I am blessed beyond what I can imagine, but there are some things that affect you even if you wish they didn't. So much of my relationship with Jesus has been walking through different things and understanding why things are the way they are (often having to accept that I won't know why).

One of my favorite parts about visiting Guatemala is being able to be around some amazing kids. These kids are orphans for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, their parents are gone and there is no one to care for them. Other times, they end up at the children's home because of neglect. Despite my minimal Spanish, these kids teach me so much.

These kids didn't do anything to bring about their circumstances. They didn't do anything to become orphans. They often struggle with their past. They often struggle with the void of not having a parent to love on them.

In the number of years I have walked with God, nothing has been a more meaningful gift from my loving father, than looking at these kids and not seeing orphans, but seeing beautiful, loving children. There's nothing much more profound than that. As I went through the week in Guatemala, God kept speaking to me about how these kids are not defined by their past and neither am I. I heard someone say once that our past may explain us but it does not define us.

God gave me a huge gift by allowing me to witness that truth first hand. What is God speaking to you about your past? What do you need to allow him in to, in order to heal and move beyond your past?

One final thing. There are times when I wish God would send me somewhere like Guatemala. There are days when I don't care where he's called me, I'm tempted to jump on a plane and go anyways. That's one of the biggest things I've had to process through upon returning home. It's so frustrating to experience God somewhere and then come home and feel like you're dropped right back in the middle of petty, silly, pointless struggles. It's easy for me to experience the gospel in Guatemala. Maybe it's because no one can communicate with me, so I don't feel involved in the petty things of life. Maybe it's because I'm prepared to experience God and I'm actively seeking him. I have a feeling that second part is right.

I don't want to have to go thousands of miles away to experience God like I do in Guatemala; to experience the gospel. What am I going to do about that? What are we going to do about that?

I think it's a daily fight against apathy. I think we have to fight against allowing our comfort to numb our hearts towards people and the gospel. We can't just show up and expect God to move in our hearts. How are we preparing to engage God? What things in our lives are hindering us from that? There are people that need Jesus right here.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Energy of Vision

Vision makes a huge difference in your life.

I'm not talking about the, "I forsee a handsome man walking into your future" vision. I'm talking about a true, God-given vision that propels you forward every day. Seeing that vision fulfilled is what gets you out of bed everyday. It gives you purpose and energy.

The vision for my life took an unexpected turn when I quit grad school. I always had a vision for my life but I hadn't asked God what his vision was.

As I've been praying and reflecting on the vision for my own life, God has revealed a couple of things.

When you're pursuing God's vision, it energizes you!
There is nothing more frustrating than having no purpose. For me, it leads to nothing but self-absorption and frustration. One of the things I love the most is supporting those who are on the "front lines" of ministry. It may seem a little crazy, but I love helping people do pretty much anything. I get excited when I can help someone! Luckily, God loves me enough to give me a wonderful job with amazing people that are happy to let me help them! I can't get bored doing that!

God loves you too much to give you a vanilla vision!
This may be one of the hardest things for people to grasp. Your purpose in life won't look like anyone else's! That's awesome!! Our world would be so boring if God gave us all the same purpose! Instead, he's given all of us different gifts and passions and ultimately, different purposes! Stop fighting the vision God has for your life because someone else's looks more appealing!

When I think about the vision God has for my life, I think about 1 Peter 4:10: "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms"

I love that verse so much! Have you surrendered your vision for your life over to God? What is he pushing you to pursue? How are you serving others with your gifts?

One thing is for sure, when you allow God's vision for your life direct everything you do, you won't have to fight for a purpose.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Proximity and Grace

Over the years, I have walked through struggles with other people. As Christians, we are called to bear one another's burdens. I rarely have any profound answers but I don't mind listening and offering words of comfort where I can.

Even with those experiences, there's a difference in showing grace to someone when the proximity is different. For example, there's a difference between walking along side a woman as she tries to end an affair and when that affair involves your husband.

The proximity of sin can make it seem impossible to forgive or offer grace to someone. Whenever sinful people are involved, there comes cheating, betrayal, and hurt. What do you do when someone hurts you, but they want to repent? How do you still have that person in your life?

We're called to forgive

Ephesians 4:32 says we are to be kind and compassionate to each other, forgiving others as Christ forgave us.

That's it. The bottom line is we're called to forgive. We often forget how much God's forgiven us for when we're faced with forgiving others (see Matthew 18 for the guy who forgot this). Forgiving others doesn't mean that we sit by and let something bad happen, and its not something we can do on our own. It's only the power of the Holy Spirit in you that will allow you to forgive someone who's hurt you.

There are consequences to sin

God doesn't punish us as a result of sin (He already did that with Jesus on the cross). Consequences of sin are used to teach us.

There's probably nothing more hurtful than when someone close to you hurts you, and you recognize that the relationship that remains will not be the same. God can reconcile relationships, but that doesn't mean that they're the same (often, that's a good thing). As we go through the process of forgiving someone, it's okay that the relationship is not always the same. I would even be so bold as to say that it's okay not be as intimate with someone who's hurt you (again, changes in relationships can be healthy and necessary).

Don't harbor bitterness and anger

So we often manage the first two fine. We can forgive someone, and we we definitely agree with the fact that there's consequences. The part that gets tough is this bitterness business. We feel wronged, so we say, "We'll I'll forgive them, but I don't have to forget." While I'm not saying you have to forget (I'll hit this in a minute) we tend to say that line in a bout of anger and bitterness.

Bitterness, anger, and resentment never made anyone feel better, and it certainly is not on the path of reconciliation. Hear me out, I've been so mad at people before that I haven't been able to look at them, let alone be in the same room with them! Even so, it's not long before you start to realize that while the other person committed the sin against you, you're the one still steaming about it.

Again, resentment and anger are not things I let go of on my own. This is a continual process of surrender.

Don't deny the pain

Even when you forgive someone, there may still be pain. The pain and consequences don't just disappear. Too many times we bury our pain because we feel like we can't forgive someone and still feel hurt.

Don't allow pain to stay buried. Give it to God. Allow him to heal your heart. Psalm 34 says that God is close to the broken hearted.

The church body is made up of a lot of broken people. We will hurt each other. There will be conflict. It is only by forgiving each other and allowing God in to the middle of our mess that we can move towards reconciliation and peace.

God wants us to live full, joyful lives in Him! We don't have to live with the burden and hurt. Allow God in. Allow him to work in the mess and walk in the fullness of Christ!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dumb Things I Say to God

Sometimes I really say dumb things to God. Granted, we're in a committed relationship, so that's okay, but I usually learn something as a result.

I was wrestling with some things earlier this week and a friend asked me "Why?" I don't remember what specifically brought on the question, but in my head, I heard myself say, "because I feel like I'm going to let God down."


I know that doesn't make sense, but that was my gut reaction to the question of why I was wrestling with a particular problem.

As in any committed relationship, that's one of those "big things" that needs to be addressed.

I know that I feel that way about other relationships. I was "that girl" in school that wanted to do well just so I wouldn't let my teachers down. I want to go the extra mile so I won't let my family down or even people I work with. It's not like they pressure me into it. In fact, most people will continually tell me that they are proud of me no matter what.

So why do I feel that way with God?

With this being Holy Week, I've obviously been reading a lot of things on the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Kind of a big deal!

While I should be overwhelmed by the love of God, instead, I started to feel like I had to give God a good return on his investment. He invested so much in to me, I don't want to let him down!

Do you think I'm crazy yet? I know that "Christian answer" to all of this, but I had to really seek God on reminding me.

There are two things that I had to remind myself about:

1. It's about being moved to action, not following a command.

John Piper has an excellent devotional for Holy Week. In one section he says, "He loved us to the uttermost. And let us be so moved by this love that it becomes our own."

When we are in a relationship with him, we don't allow his investment to force us in to "debt repayment" (which is an entirely frustrating, futile activity). Instead, we serve him and show love to others because his love and devotion to us changes something in us! It makes us feel like we may burst if we don't show some love!

So what about when we feel ourselves starting to fall under the debt repayment plan? It's time to take another look at the original investment.

2. It's about dwelling in God, not working up to him

Again, this seems pretty basic, but we all need to be reminded about this!

John 15:1-4 says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."

God invites us to dwell in him. He isn't after us to put forth effort into a journey to find him. He's already here.

When I begin feeling myself drained from serving other people, or I don't feel like showing love to other people, I have to take that as a sign that I need to focus on dwelling in God. Just like a branch can't bear fruit by itself, I can't can be filled with love for people or a desire to serve apart from Jesus!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Manipulating God

The story plays out similarly for all of us. God gives us a promise. He gives us a vision for something to come. We are happy, grateful even. And we wait.

And we wait....

And we wait....

"Did I really hear you, God?"


"I thought you told me to do this?"


"Please! How much longer do I have to wait?!"

Waiting on God can test our faith more than the most any other situation. In the same way, the way we react to God can tell us a lot about our relationship with him.

In Genesis 15, God spoke to Abram promising him descendants as numerous as the stars in addition to a son of his own.

You have to imagine that Abram (I'm just going to call him Abraham from now on) had to be pretty excited by this news. His wife, Sarah, was old and beyond child-bearing years, but God had promised!! 

And they waited.....

And they waited.....

They had to start to wonder if they had even heard God.

Sarah got tired of waiting. Instead, she took matters in to her own hands. She convinced Abraham to sleep with her maid, Hagar, thinking, "perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Sarah tried to manipulate God.

Hagar ends up having a son and there is some major tension (to say the least) between everybody. Abraham ends up sending Hagar and his son away to wander the desert and fend for themselves. As a result of Sarah's "impatience," multiple people suffered.

Just like Sarah, it can be tempting for us to "make it happen." We try to step ahead of God.Everything I ever write about only comes from walking through it myself and having God teach me something through it.

I have never been the most patient person. I have often used this as an excuse for my frustration in waiting for God.

In a particularly embarrassing scene between me and God, I had reached my breaking point. I was frustrated. I asked him how much longer he was going to make me wait.

I calmed down and told myself that I was just impatient by nature. In that moment, God told me there was more to my impatience than just "my nature."

The scary part about this whole exchange is how tempting it was to think about just making it happen myself. Simply put, it's tempting to think about how I could just "skip ahead."

To put it simply, this is not due to impatience. Instead, I see two reasons we try to step ahead of God.

1. We don't trust his promises

I don't know of one promise God has given that has seemed logical. What makes sense about telling a man with a barren wife that he will have as many decedents as the stars? It doesn't make sense, so we think we cannot trust it.

Proverbs 3:5 says it best, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."

We are not meant to understand everything, but simply trust in God.

The fact is, God was faithful to Sarah and Abraham. Despite their sin, God gave Sarah a son and Abraham did become the father of many nations.

2. We think we can do it better

This is just pure pride. We may not phrase it in so many words, but we often step ahead of God because we think we can do it better.

Maybe we think of it as taking initiative or "moving things along." Either way, our sinful pride causes us to forgo waiting and try to move God's hand. That's exactly what Sarah did! She didn't see the logic in God's plan so she found another way to build a family. She tried to force God's hand. Unfortunately, she only succeeded in causing pain.

I cannot think of anything more futile or horrifying than trying to manipulate God. Fortunately, he loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Just as God fulfilled his promise to Abraham despite his sin, God offers us forgiveness and grace through our sins.

God is not a cruel overlord torturing us by making us wait. Instead, we have to remember that he is a loving God. He delights in us.

I heard Francis Chan describe it like when you have the perfect gift for someone. You cannot wait to give it to them, but you wait until the perfect time. Maybe it's their birthday or anniversary. The gift is amazing and probably would be pretty great on any random Tuesday, but how much more amazing is the gift when it's paired with the perfect moment.

God created the entire universe. He sustains all of creation. He is the author of time. Do you trust him to know exactly when he should fulfill his promises? Do you trust him enough to wait on him?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Who Do You Think You Are? -Mark Driscoll

Identity is one of the primary struggles for people. Through childhood, we dream up what we want to be when we grow up. In college, we're forced to narrow that list down to something practical. Then through our adult lives, we spend our time, money, and energy pursuing the identity we have chosen for ourselves.

What do companies like Nike, Under Armor, Burberry, L’Oreal, Apple, and Kitchen Aid all have in common? They will all sell you an identity.

In his book “Who Do You Think You Are?” Mark Driscoll examines how Christians have identities that are founded in Christ and what that means for our everyday lives.

What I love the most about Driscoll’s writing is how rich it is with information. It took me more time to read this book than I had anticipated because I wanted to continually stop and reflect on the ideas that Driscoll presented.

Without a doubt, if we are able to firmly focus on our identities in Christ, we can move past the fears, insecurities, and hindrances that prevent us from fulfilling that God has placed on our lives.

Mark Driscoll’s book is timely and relevant for Christians today. A wealth of insight and information, you will continually find yourself reflecting on your own identity and your relationship with Christ.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Press On

I was excited and nervous about starting seminary classes. It was something that God put on my heart a long time ago. I often wrestle with whether I will ever really feel like I know what I am doing. Every day brings new challenges, and I love it. However, there are still those days where I have to go back to God and ask him to remind me of the calling he placed on my life. I ask him to confirm I am where he wants me to be. Usually, it is simply, “Are you sure, God?” My role in leadership falls right in to the same category. I often ask myself why anybody would want to follow me or what I would ever have to offer them.

After a recent period of time where I felt myself asking God if he was still sure, he gave Philippians 3:12 as a reminder, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” There was certainly no reason for Christ to take hold of me. I did not present with any particularly outstanding qualities that would make him want to add me to the roster. It was simply an act of love from a perfect heavenly father to his often confused and flighty daughter. This verse out of Philippians reminded me that the journey is not over. I do not have to wrestle with whether or not I will ever get this, because I know I will not on this side of Heaven! How liberating it is to know that it is okay not to be perfect! Just like Paul, I just have to continue to press on.

Developing leadership qualities is a never-ending journey. I do not believe there will ever come a time when I finally “arrive” on the leadership scene. Instead, I have to trust that God’s grace is sufficient to cover my weaknesses. I trust that when I pursue him, everything else falls in to place.

Monday, January 28, 2013

"Trust" as a Dirty Word

The Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite works in the literary world. There are so many wonderful things I could talk about, but there is one particular scene that seems particularly relevant.

“But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,' said Frodo.

Sam looked at him unhappily. 'It all depends on what you want,' put in Merry. 'You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin--to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours--closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”

This is one of the most touching scenes of friendship in this epic story. It also perfectly illustrates why people have difficulty trusting leaders.

How can you trust someone who gives you nothing to trust? Why would you trust someone who is not willing to enter the ring and fight alongside you? How can we, as leaders, expect people to trust us if we are not willing to be there for them? Aubrey Malphurs sums it up quite clearly when he says, “Leaders cannot expect followers to trust them simply because they occupy a position of leadership within the church or any other organization.”
Trust requires a track record. Earning someone’s trust requires us to get in the fight and be willing to get messy. I believe it is largely since we have moved away from knowing the people we lead, caring about their lives and struggles beyond what they can do for us, that we have started struggling to earn people’s trust. Just like Merry, we have to be willing to be there for someone through thick and thin.
Are you investing in your followers? Are you walking with them through the good and bad?

Invest in someone!!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Happy vs. Holy

"It's just time for me to start doing what makes me happy...."

We use this phrase all the time. We end marriages, friendships, jobs, and responsibilities all because, "It's time for me to be happy."

I have been on the receiving end of this on several occasions, but I have also said it myself. The fact is, this line of thinking has the power to destroy our lives.

Just stick with me here.

The truth is, God didn't come for our happiness, but our holiness. Happiness is cheap. Holiness leads to everlasting joy.

Happiness is manipulated by anything from prescription medication to chocolate to "retail therapy." Joy is what enables a family who has just lost their daughter to get up the next morning and say, "God is good." Joy doesn't mask the difficulties of life, but it remembers the one who gives life!

In a culture driven by self-gratification, and self-interest, the struggle between being happy and being holy is never easy. How is holiness ever to win out?

It is not until we begin to understand the cheapness of our happiness, in comparison to the holy joy of Christ, that we will ever be able to chose holiness.

I don't write all this pretending that I have it all figured out. Some of the most frustrating times of my life have been when I had to chose between happiness and holiness. I've walked away from relationships, jobs, or opportunities not because it made me happy (on the contrary, I was usually a wreck), but because Christ called me to seek holiness.

When I start talking like this, the first thing people usually say is something like, "Well God doesn't sound very good then. He just wants me to be miserable."

It's exactly the opposite!!

In John 10:10, Jesus says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."

Jesus wants us to have an abundant life!!

God doesn't seek our misery. It's because of his great love for us that he seeks our holiness. We see this at the beginning of humanity with Eve in the garden. She had a choice between eating the fruit, which would make her happy by fulfilling her fleshly desires, or seeking holiness by following God's command. God's command was not meant to make Eve miserable or suck the fun out of her life! On the contrary! By Eve pursuing her happiness, it lead to her death and separation from God, instead of life!

The battle of happiness versus holiness is never easy. It's only by fixing our eyes on Christ that we can hope to prevail.

2013 is still fresh and new. Commit to refocusing on Jesus. Don't come up with a list of resolutions or ways you'll improve yourself. Fix your eyes on the creator and sustainer of everything, and remember that he came that you may have life!