An Anniversary to Remember

This weekend marks a very special anniversary.  A year ago tomorrow, I departed my sanctuary in the Northwoods to go back to reality and live life through the new lens of my faith.  Last summer, I encountered the LIVING God at a camp in Northern Wisconsin, and I have not been the same since.  A year ago, I was wrestling with some very difficult emotions and I was walking into the unknown with a tremendous amount of peace, yet with a good helping of reluctance and grief as well.  I didn’t know how my experiences and my heart and life change during my three months at HoneyRock would translate into my every day life.

Though I would tell you that I have been a Christian since I was 5, if you asked, I would also tell you that my experiences between the dates of May 21 – August 20, 2010, completely changed my life forever and radically reshaped my relationship with God.  A year ago, I went from death to life.  I would tell you that God used a handful of people in a dramatic, powerful way and a countless number of other individuals in a more subtle yet just as equally impacting way to speak volumes to me about the love and grace of the Lord.  I would tell you that the baggage I still carried from my painful childhood experiences was cut loose and I tasted freedom for the first time.  I would tell you that God worked miracles – yes, miracles – continually all throughout my summer.  If you are skeptical about the miracles part, let me when you  have a few spare hours and we will go grab coffee and celebrate the Lord’s work in my life, because boy, am I still eager to tell all that He did during those months!  His nature is so incredible and I was completely blown away when I encountered the God of the Bible.

I just looked at my journal entry from last year.  I was struggling with a thousand emotions – grief at saying goodbye to friends that I felt a stronger connection to in three months than I had felt with most people over the span of a few years, fear of the unknown, anxiety over being obedient to what I knew God had asked me to do, fear that my family would not understand the change in me, fear that I would not be happy when I got back home, fear that God would somehow abandon me once I left the sacred ground on which He met me, worry that I wouldn’t see some of my dear friends again for a long time, sadness because I knew I could never re-live my incredible experience during that summer.  None of my fears were grounded in Truth, yet I still feared.  Yet in my journal entry, I found these words and was really inspired:

8.17.2010

God is great.  God is faithful, God is merciful, and God is love.  I feel it so strongly.  I am surrounded by His presence and I pray I feel it even when I am in the city and HoneyRock is but a memory.  I pray I see His glory manifested in His people when I am far from raw Creation.  I pray He may continue to give me eys to see so I may acknowledge Him always and see the patterns of His love and blessings.  Father, you go with me and before me.  And I will praise you all the days of my life.  Amen.

What great faith I had!  I remember feeling soooo close to God.  It was incredible.  There are countless prayers on the pages of my journal for that summer that have been answered in awe-inspiring ways.  God has used my conversations from that time to impact my life now.

Example:

7.17.2010

[Elizabeth] is really involved in her community and her home is really her mission field.  I really want to live like that.  Wherever “home” is, I want to be doing ministry there.

I never could have IMAGINED that God would bless me by allowing me to lead children’s worship at the Journey.  Nor could I have fathomed in my wildest dreams that God would send me to Czech and connect me with tons of believers and missionaries there, including the incredible couple who mentored Elizabeth in her youth group 15 years ago and took her to Czech for the first time.  She fell in love with the country and it impacted her enough that she told me about it and God used that conversation to plant a seed in my heart which eventually led me to Czech a year later.  God is COOL!!

And now I am getting ready for my dear, sweet friend Elizabeth to get here because she arrives tomorrow morning.  Could God’s timing be any COOLER??  I haven’t seen her since October, yet God has grown our friendship so deeply over the past year.  In spite of the distance, the Lord has blessed us so greatly with such an amazing friendship that is completely rooted in His love and we constantly encourage each other with Scripture and Truth.  And now, she will be here to visit my home and see my life in Nashville almost a year to the day from when I left her home in Three Lakes.

I could not be more blessed.  As I look back on the past year, I see relationships that have been reconciled, new and old friendships that have blossomed and grown, the blessing of investment in my own community, a new awareness of God’s presence and sovereignty…sooooo much.

Yet I wonder if my prayers today are as bold as they were a year ago.  As silly as it is, almost two weeks after being home, part of me still seems deflated from my stranded experience.  Being stuck in an airport for a few days didn’t just do a work on my tired body and weak mind, it really did a number on my spirit.  Though I joke about it now and agree that it makes a great story, I have no doubt that the enemy wanted to suck the life out of my amazing experience in the Czech Republic.  And now, I feel like that experience is so distant.  I feel like it was a lifetime away.  And in some ways, it was.  But I do not want to keep those memories in an isolated bubble – I desire to be encouraged by my time in Czech.  More than anything, I want my experiences there to make me bolder at home.  More than anything, I do not want to feel deflated and weak and drained deep within my spirit.

I desire the same life and vitality that I had last summer when I left HoneyRock for home.  I desire the same hope and expectation that I held when I got to my hometown, a year ago this weekend, and dialed the number to speak to my biological father, who I hadn’t seen or talked to in seven years.  I desire the same trust and dependence on the Lord that I had when I moved all of my stuff into a house downtown Nashville with a roommate I didn’t know.  And I desire for the Lord to open my eyes and allow me to see Him at work before me so that I may fall at His feet in humility and called Him Adored.

A year ago, God took me from my training ground into the real world.  And now that I’m still here, I’m wondering whether or not I am living with the same intensity and the same life-dependent faith that I held then.

I pray that I am.  I hope that I am.  And I pray that you will be living every day dependent on the One who created you and gave you life.

May we boast in Him and of Him forever.

Amen.

-s

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Less is More

For the past eleven months, I have been reading Oswald Chambers’ life-changing book entitled My Utmost for His Highest.  The first time I picked up his book, I was skeptical.  As soon as I saw that there was a verse and short block of text for each day of the year, I wrote it off, thinking it was a feel-good devotional devoid of substance.  It took me a long time (maybe even a year or so) to return to the book and boy, has it changed my perspective on God and on life.  The passages are far from “feel-good” stories – each day I have been incredibly challenged by Chambers’ insight and have been pushed in my faith.

This evening I read something that was a bit of a slap in the face.  So naturally, I wanted to share it.  I started this book last September but instead of starting in the middle of the book, I started at the beginning of the book with January 1.  That said, the passage I will be quoting from is found on the page for November 10th and is entitled “Fellowship in the Gospel.”

Slap in the Face #1:

As long as you maintain your own personal interests and ambitions, you cannot be completely aligned or identified with God’s interests.

Well shoot, man.  “How do I get rid of my own interests?  Didn’t God give me these ambitions?”  I am dying to have a conversation with Oswald in the flesh (who has long since passed, by the way) and ask him these questions.  But I think I know the answer.  It says as long as I “maintain” these interests I cannot be fully aligned with God’s interests.  I am pretty sure it means if I am holding onto my own desires and dreams then I am not allowing room for the Spirit of God to move in me and prompt me to act on His behalf, for His purposes, with His interests at heart.

In the next couple of lines, Chambers affirms the conclusion I came to in my split-second reaction to the previous statement.

This can only be accomplished by giving up all of your personal plans once and for all, and by allowing God to take you directly into His purpose for the world.  Your understanding of your ways must also be surrendered, because they are now the ways of the Lord.

Okay, God.  You got me there.  I mean, Oswald – you definitely got me – but God really got a hold of me through you.  I definitely have a desire to understand God’s purpose for me in the world.  The more I discover about God’s nature, the more I am amazed.  He is the king of all creatives – His imagination is limitless.  His purposes are grand and bold and way more ambitious than any of my own.  I want to know those plans at some point because I want to know how I should be living and if I am walking in accordance with God’s will for me.  However, too often I get tripped up on questions like “what’s the plan?” and “how will I fulfill these purposes?” and I forget to ALLOW God to lead me into His purposes.  I fail to SURRENDER.  I try to play mind games with God, somehow thinking that my own understanding will dictate His actions.  But that way of thinking comes from a totally skewed life perspective.  I have no idea what circumstances God will use to answer my prayers.  I cannot out-imagine God and I will never understand His ways fully.  I pray that by the grace of God I will be able to recognize His ways, but I do not expect to understand them always.

Slap in the Face #2:

I must learn that the purpose of my life belongs to God, not me.

Ouch.  Can we revisit that one and rephrase it for dramatic effect?

I have a lot to learn if I think that I am here to serve myself.  God did not breathe life into this body so I could entertain myself and roam this wide world in pursuit of my own satisfaction.  No, the One who gave me life is in control of my life and is the authority over my life.  I am not my own.

So basically, this means that I need to get over my serious pride issue so that I may learn to submit myself to Christ daily.  Believe me, that kind of surrender does not come naturally.

So how do I do that?  How does God transform me?

The Sobering Truth:

When I stop telling God what I want, He can freely work His will in me without any hindrance.  He can crush me, exalt me, or do anything else He chooses.  He simply asks me to have absolute faith in Him and His goodness.

He can crush me.  That is totally His right as my Creator.  He made me, He can destroy me.  It’s that simple.  He built me, He can tear me down and work with my fragmented pieces to restore me.  That is completely up to Him.  I have a really hard time admitting and accepting that because I am oozing pride like a poison.  (And it is poison.)  But how about that?  When I dictate to God what I want, I am hindering Him from freely working within me to accomplish His purposes on the basis of His will.  That’s big. I can’t afford to hinder God’s purposes.  I’m too fragile, helpless, and misguided, when left to myself.

So here’s the crux…if my heart’s desire is to see God glorified and I truly care about living for God and fulfilling His purposes and following His plans for my life, then I have to stop focusing on what I want and begin to focus on Who God is, what His heart is, and how I can live in a way that reflects His heart.  As I live surrendered, I will live filled because the God of my salvation promises to fill every thing in every way (check out Ephesians 1).

This means praying to be relieved of my insecurities and pride so that I neither wallow in my hurt and pain nor pretend these things do not exist.  This means discovering what God wants and praying for the heart to want the same things.  This means living not out of my own strength, but out of His perfect power and strength.  This means loving God more than myself and being content to live sacrificially – laying down every self-satisfying desire in order to love and please God.

Less of me, oh Lord.  More of you.  Please align my interests with Your own and please grant me a heart for people like You have.  Work freely in me, I pray.

Amen.

Great Expectations

My Czech trip had a really strange ending…after being stranded in European airports for a few days, I made it back home after a 26 hour day of traveling.  Jet lag has been my adversary for the past six days as I have tried to see the people I love and jump back into my real-life routine.  Beneath the excitement to see everyone and my physical battle to stay awake past 8pm, there has been an internal, spiritual struggle.  This struggle, I am realizing, is probably due in part to the entirely draining experience of being stranded in a foreign country and attempting to make wise travel decisions while entirely sleep-deprived.  However, I think part of it can be attributed to a spiritual battle.  We read about spiritual warfare in the Bible but too often gloss over it.  But I believe it’s real and for the past week or so, I think I have been in a tug-of-war in this battle.

Let me explain.  When I was in the Czech Republic, God really encouraged my heart by surrounding me with believers (none of whom were actually in my program of study…go figure – God likes to surprise us!) and He taught me a TON about international missions, which I was passionate about before I even ventured out on this trip.  The day before I left Prague, I prayed with my good friends Angelo and Jakub and then met another girl (who actually WAS in my program) who was a believer and had the chance to pray with her.  I was on fire, I was excited about coming home, and I felt super fueled to share all that God had done.

Then I got stranded in an airport for two days, wasn’t sure what God was teaching me, heard a voice of rebuke at one point and was so sleep deprived that I still don’t know if it was God or the enemy, and made it home exhausted, discouraged, and a bit confused.  After some rest, I am happy to say that the ending definitely did not spoil my trip.  However, it did take out a little of the zeal I was feeling the day before I left the Czech Republic.

So why did I mention spiritual warfare?

Because I KNOW that God’s purposes for me in Czech are related to His purposes for me here.  I know the revelations He gave me there are meant to affect my ministry here.  And I know that the enemy would totally love to destroy that spirit of joy and that sense of hope and peace and excitement that I had.  I also think that the enemy has tried.  And is still trying.  My luggage was lost – big discouragement.  A couple days later, my luggage was at the Nashville airport.  Big encouragement!  If we take a look at the scoreboard, the enemy is definitely down by a few points, but that doesn’t mean that I have fully recovered from some of the blows that were dealt and have completely rejected all of the lies I was fed.

One of the lies is that since home is comfortable and familiar, I don’t have to be as intentional about seeking God first.  There is the lie that since I am back in a “Christian” culture (I totally say that tongue-in-cheek…compared to Czech, the American culture is much more “Christian,” but our culture hardly imitates Christ) I can be lazy about how I spend my time, what I choose to talk about with my friends, and how I react to unforeseen situations.

I can never be lazy about any of these things because to be lazy and unintentional is to be selfish.  I am not my own.  I was bought with a price.  Jesus said I must ABIDE in Him.  If I am abiding in Him, then all of my actions, reactions, thoughts, feelings, etc. will be flowing out of the love and grace and truth that He supplies.

Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

-John 15:4-5

Oh yeah.  And then there’s that part.  I can do NOTHING apart from Christ.  So I better work on that whole abiding thing EVERY day, first thing, so that I don’t miss out on what He is trying to show me.  The days that I try to function out of my own strength instead of surrendering to Christ first are the days I feel the most weak, helpless, and ineffective.

But back to the verse…I can do nothing apart from Christ and I can’t bear fruit apart from Christ.  The good thing is that He WANTS to abide in me, so I just need to abide in Him daily.

That’s what this blog is about.  I get that daily life doesn’t seem as exciting as a trek across the world and back, but in reality, the life of a believer should be so radical that EVERY DAY is an adventure.  And I should be abiding EVERY DAY so that I can see the things that I would miss otherwise.

Honestly, I think it’s a lot harder to see the things God is doing in our everyday lives because we are not used to expecting big things  in our everyday lives, which is totally contrary to what God teaches us in His Word.  Pretty much every Bible story shows an average Joe going through life and then all of the sudden, things get crazy when God shows up.  Too often, though, we forget that the people we read about in the Bible are just like us – regular, ordinary people who God chose to use for His extraordinary purposes.

James 5:17 says “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.”  He was like us.  And God did some crazy amazing stuff through His life.  Because He abided.

So why blog about it?  Because I think as Christians, we need to encourage each other to look for God to work in BIG ways in our everyday lives.  We are called by God to be set apart and holy.  We are not supposed to have common lives.  We are supposed to live as we are led by God.  And most of the time, God does not lead us in predictable ways and does not call us to lead boring lives.

Let’s not forget…let’s have great expectations.  And let’s encourage each other with truth so that as we abide in the Vine, we can be fruitful branches.

So here’s to today and here’s to the future – that we may have eyes to see and ears to hear as God speaks into our lives and makes it anything but ordinary.

Hopefully yours,

-s