Sunday, August 12, 2012

the promise of a new season


You make known to me the path of life;
 in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 
Psalm 16:11

it's mid-august, but this morning it feels like early fall.  the windows are open, a cool breeze is blowing through and with it, the promise of a new season.  

i am moving soon.  again. boxes begin to fill my garage.  it's becoming an all-too-familiar sight.  but there is something different about this move, a tangible, palpable presence, a spirit of eager anticipation.  the promise of a new season.  and of life.  i took my children to the place we will move to yesterday.  there is small pond closely and we walked to the water's edge.  and i prayed, silently.  for them.  for the people that live nearby.  for this ground where we will soon begin to sew seeds of life.  walking back, a single, golden-hued leaf had fallen to the ground.  i picked it up.  held it in my hand and with it, the promise of a new season...  

last fall i read a book that rocked my world and wrecked my heart.  the amazing faith journey of a young woman, Katie Davis, who had sacrificed all that she was and all that she had to give her life to all that He is.  the Lord used her words opened the eyes of my heart in a way that revealed both my greatest desire and my greatest need:  His presence.  i read each page weeping and longing for what she had and what she has, living in that remote village in Uganda and raising those thirteen precious little girls is the very presence of God.  twenty.four.seven.  because there is no other way to live in those conditions and under those circumstances without your every breath heaving a silent longing for His presence and your every waking moment, every move completely, utterly dependent on His power.  i had the privilege of hearing Katie speak in person and afterwards, i wrote the following:       
October 16th, 2011:  the gospel demands a blank check with our lives. today." that was was the last line in the message notes at the close of today's service. and over the course of the last few life-altering days, i have become wholeheartedly convinced that Jesus doesn't ask us to give up all of the plans and hopes and dreams we have for our own lives.
He demands it.
and so we are to ask ourselves: what is God leading me to SHARE? what is God leading me to SELL? what is God leading me to SACRIFICE?
my whole life has to change. why? because Jesus demands it... and because this love in my heart for Him compels it.
i don't know what it means. i don't know what it is going to mean. i only know that i can no longer live in shades of gray, conforming more to this world and this culture each and every day when my heart and soul desires to be conformed into His image. i only know that i desire to pour out my life for His purpose, His glory and for the pursuit of His presence. i have nothing to offer except what He has to give and my life - a blank check.
i prayed and asked God, simply, to wreck my life - for His glory.  i couldn't have known how rapidly - or how tragically - the wrecking ball would strike.  with one sweeping motion, He leveled the ground around me and swept me up into His arms.  His presence. 

nearly one year later, i'm reminded of that book.  of that blog.  of that wreckage.  of that longing for His presence.  i don't want to live a life missing it anymore.  Oh Lord, i am willing to do whatever it takes to abide in you.  show me.  teach me.  and little by little, i am learning what it means to abide.  to live in the fullness of  His presence.  and so, as i began to pray about how i could pour my life out as an offering, how i could live in this world and not be of this world, i begged Him to open doors of ministry and of opportunity.  and, perhaps the most difficult, i prayed about what i could and would give up in order to pursue His presence, His ministry, His calling.  

the answer was everything.  

as someone with a less than idyllic childhood, i grew up dreaming about sidewalks and street lights and white picket fences.  pretty two story homes with shutters and neatly manicured lawns.  for years, i based my self-worth on that which i surrounded myself with.  i hid behind a thinly veiled facade of middle-class, suburban niceties.  i don't think it is wrong to have nice things, but i do know that it is idolatry to worship them - to have them define you.  and so, it has been a journey of faith as the Lord has shattered the facade and chiseled away materialism from my heart.  and it is an ongoing, refining journey.  but the Lord, through His grace, has shifted my life into reverse - he has refined and re-defined the dreams i once held so dear to my heart.
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  ~ Mt 16:25
He has changed me from a woman who once lived a life plotting about how i could have more, to a woman who desires to give it all away.  i began to ask myself the hard questions:  could i live with even less, could i live on half of my income, could i live in half of my living space...  the answer was yes.  and yes.  and yes.  because the answer is this:  if you have a roof over your head, clothes on your back, food on the table and transportation - you are rich.  beyond rich, even.  the answer is we serve a God who promises to meet all of our needs.  

and as i began to pray and seek where i could live for less and with less, through trust in Him and surrender to Him, He has granted us the gift of a calling to a village all our own in a place and a ministry i would have never expected.  i prayerfully considered moving to an apartment in order to pursue ministry, never expecting that it was the place that would become ministry.  i felt led to one community in particular, and as i began to pray for the Lord to to prepare the hearts of my new neighbors, for ways i could plant life in that community and reach out to others, like steamer boiling over, so much grace and vision began to flow and as i began to research online, i came across the startling statistic that confirmed it all:
"This is the largest unreached people group in the United States.  96% of apartment residents living in the United States do not go to church anywhere. Ninety-six percent. Property managers across the nation are asking churches to provide ongoing activities and classes for their residents.  If you thought of each of these communities as villages, you would probably jump at the chance to reach out."
i sit my children down and tell them that we are about to embark on a journey.  having heard the stories of foreign missionaries and having gone with me to local mission events, they grasp the concept.  i tell them that the Lord has given us tickets to a great adventure.  we are becoming missionaries in a land that will seem foreign to us, an urban village of unreached people that exist in our own backyard. literally.  i tell them that we will give up some comforts of our lives to go and live among them, to live with them, to love them and serve them. 

eyes wide, smiling, they understand.  they get it.  this is not a sacrifice.  this is a gift.  this is not begrudgingly giving up space or amenities - but receiving a gift of His blessing.  no, we will not live in a big house, but we will live richly in His presence - storing our treasures in heaven.  we are heirs to His kingdom and i thank God for the smiling faces on my little prince and princess warriors for Christ.  His beloved.

please join us in prayer.  pray that the Lord's spirit has, even now, already gone before us and is preparing the hearts of those whom we will serve and minister to.  pray specifically for those in our building, whom we will have the closes contact with.  pray for relationships and friendships to be established.  pray that we will earn the right to share the gospel through those relationships.  pray that the management will be willing to partner with us as we coordinate outreach.  pray that the Lord will send other believers through the church and small groups to serve alongside us.  pray for those all across our nation who serve in local apartment/multifamily ministry.  praise Him for His providence.  His guidance.  His grace.    

praise Him for the promises of His word... and the promise of a this new season.  


"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you."
Psalm 73:25


Thursday, August 9, 2012

overcome.

"For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony..."
Revelation 12:10-11

i am at a small volunteer dinner at the lovelady center, one of our amazing, local ministry-based programs for women.  over four hundred women and children call the center "home" and they come from all walks of life.  they have sought refuge here.  some from the streets.  some from abusive relationships.  some are here transitioning out of prison and others are here instead of prison.  i am in humbled awe every time i walk through the doors.  and it is a privilege to serve here.  tonight, one of the program's graduates that now leads the development and volunteer program sits at the head of our table.  and she shares her story with us.  i listen intently.  hanging on every word.  my eyes are burning.  my throat is burning.  my heart is burning...

i just met her, but i know her.  with each word, i know her more.  her life story intersects with mine beyond this tangible realm of all that we see.  we have traveled distant, but parallel paths through such similar darkness.  despair.  brokenness.  tonight, those paths crossed and it brought such a powerful moment of awe  - and reflection - and remembrance of His redemption.

our lives were so much alike.  we'd faced abandonment in childhood.  we had grown up, married really good men.  each had two beautiful children, one boy and one girl. our lives had been idyllic. suburban. the american dream. a shiny facade shattered by sin.  i would say that our sin was different, but the truth is our sin was identical.  because sin, in and of itself, is turning from a holy God and trusting in ourselves, selfishly forging our own way, filling our lives and our hearts with whatever we desire.  whether it's alcohol or adultery, drugs or gluttony, materialism or stealing - we have a tendency to label those things as individual sins, when the truth is, sin is the condition of our hearts.  we use and abuse whatever we can get a hold of to satisfy the void within us, the void that only the Lord Himself can fill. 

and so, i know the truth that she knows.  sin will take you farther than you ever wanted to go, keep you there longer than you ever wanted to stay, and cost you more than you ever wanted to pay.

God has given me such a heart for this ministry and for these women because, on the inside, i am one of them.  her story is my story and more importantly, her God is my God. the same Heavenly Father that pursued her heart and rescued her as she cried out from the floor of a jail cell is the same one who pursued my heart and rescued me as i cried out from the floor of my bedroom. 

it's hard to imagine her any different than she is now.  she is beautiful and the light of Christ shines in her eyes, her smile.  her ever word reflects His glory.  and my heart whispers: "Lord, thank you for saving her....  Oh, Lord, thank you for saving me."  

i needed that reminder, tonight. 

i had come to prepare for volunteer service, but with his layers and layers of grace, the Lord had sent me there to meet her.  to hear her story.  to be reminded of my own.  the next day, i sent her an email to thank her for sharing:   
"I have to tell you that your story resonated with me on so many levels.  I, too, experienced abandonment.  I, too, had defined my whole life by the exterior of my life - my image and my things - houses, clothes, cars, the idol of a picture-perfect life.  It was the same year as you, 2006, that I lost everything.  I know what it is like to be in bondage to sin. I know what it is like to do the things that you hate over and over and not even know why.  I know what it is like to feel powerless against sin to the point that it destroys your marriage, your family, your home.  I know what it is like to feel so unworthy of the Father's love that you just reject and run from him until you run yourself ragged.  I have lived it and by His grace alone, I have lived through it to the other side to experience His mercy and redemption. 
in Him, through Him, we overcome.  He delivers us from bondage.  from despair.  from darkness.  and He ordains the path before us that crosses with others who, through their own stories of grace, simply remind us of who He is.  of who we were.  and are.  of what He's done for us. 

through one simple meeting and a dozen emails since, we have forged and indelible bond as sisters in Christ.  as kindred spirits.  as friends.  and her words ring true in my ears.  and in my heart:  "We overcome by the words of our testimony…indeed!". 

indeed. 

"I will praise you, LORD,
with all my heart;
I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done."
Psalm 9:1

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

miserable failure.

"You bring up religion ALL the time but whenever it comes time to walk the walk,
you are a miserable failure..."

in the naivete of my youth, i took every personal attack, well, personally.  gravely so.  sticks and stones would break my bones and words would literally break my heart.  i let the thoughts and opinions of others define me.  my self worth was based on what everyone thought of me and as a woman who experienced abandonment in the formative years of my life, the one thing i had always longed for was acceptance and approval.  from everyone.  and anyone ....  but you know what they say about pleasing all of the people all of the time... maybe some of the people all of the time?  some of the people some of the time.  that's more realistic.  

the truth is, we don't live to please people.  as Christ-followers, we can't.  "Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant" (Galatians 1:10).  Paul was obviously encouraging them to stand firm in the face of opposition from the world, but all too  often, the words that hurt us the most are the words that come from those we know, from those we love.      

and the overarching truth is simply this: hurt people hurt people.  with actions.  with words.  i have been on both sides of the hurt, at times hurling sticks and stones with words i could never retract and at times, shielding myself from the sticks, the stones and the words of others.  when we are hurt, it is our natural, albeit sinful, human instinct to want retribution for our pain.  and so, we lash out to wound those who hurt us.  with things that are true and untrue, with things that we know - or even hope - will hurt them the most. 

i am still so new at this.  this Christ-following thing.  this daily surrender of my own will to His.  and as i continually grow up into Christ (Ephesians 4:15), i am learning - more with each day - that my happiness, my wholeness, my peace, my very identity is in Christ and Christ alone.  He is all that He says He is - and i am who He says i am.  the thing is: the more i experience the Lord's love for me, the less approval i need from anyone else.  i will hurt people along the way.  i will make horrendous mistakes that i will want to take back.  i will sin.  and repent.  and ask forgiveness.  and yes, at times, i will be the miserable failure.  and so, how could i recoil at truth?  and the more difficult question, how could i respond?  with truth. in love.  and so, the very words that were meant to harm me were used for good as what poured out of me when pricked was the very beauty of the gospel: 
yes - some most days, i am a miserable failure at following Christ.  i get it wrong more than i get it right.... which is why He suffered and bled and ultimately died a horrific death up on the cross.  "He was pierced for our my transgressions, he was crushed for our my  iniquities; the punishment that brought us me peace was upon his, and by his wounds we are I am healed" (Isaiah 53:5). 
the hard truth is that we are all miserable, sinful failures deserving eternal condemnation and separation from God (see Romans 3:23).  Christ died to pay our penalty.  He took upon Himself what  i deserved - yes, the punishment i still deserve.  (see John 3:16)  
And so, for that, I will gladly be a miserable failure at the feet of Christ.  i am so grateful for His grace and that when He looks at me, He chooses not to see the miserable failure that human eyes see, but He sees the righteousness of Christ.  He sees His daughter and He calls me His beloved.
freedom in Christ is the freedom to rest in who He says that you are.  it is freedom from the bondage of caring what others think of you, what others say of you because you know, you really know that who you are is defined by His word - and His sacrifice.  when we get that - really get that - our hearts long to be obedient to Him, we long to live lives that bring honor and glory to Him and it grieves our spirits when we fail.  and yet, in Him, we find the grace - the forgiveness - the strength - to press on (Phil 3:14).

my church is in the midst of it's semi-annual 21 days of prayer.  it is a phenomenal experience and this morning, as i was gathered with a few of my friends in the early morning hours to worship and pray, we stood together before our heavenly father, as His children.  it seems unfathomable.  this love.  this grace.  for a moment, i feel unworthy to stand before His throne, and then i remember that it's because i am.  and that is why Christ came:  to stand in my place - so that when the father looks down on me, He sees the righteousness of His son.  and that is why i stand, unashamed, arms lifted high towards the One who is worthy of my praise.   

"When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.


When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne."

Edward Mote