Fasting, Worship, and a Winner

Tuesday, January 15, 2019  ::   2 important comments

Last week, I wrote about books I enjoyed last year and hosted a little book giveaway. I'm happy to announce Tia Edwards won the giveaway! I'll get your books to you soon, Tia.

And, because I want to and I can, I drew one more name for Storm-Tossed Family. Erin Anderelli, it will be coming your way!
Since I have you here already, I want to share some thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain lately.

This past Sunday, Chad spoke about fasting. If you haven't heard the message, please do so. A friend of mine told me they thought it was very helpful and dynamic. This link will provide years' worth of fasting messages if you want to learn even more.

Second Mile has engaged in a week of prayer and fasting since it's conception. Our first one was in January of 2005. If you've participated for years or this is your first one, I hope you will ask God how he wants to to engage in the coming week.
All of our beautiful booklets
I'm a practical girl, so I want to share some things I've learned over the years with you. I hope you enjoy my bullet points.

  • There are no rules when you fast. Chad will say this again this coming Sunday, but it can't be emphasized enough. There. Are. No. Rules. This causes a struggle for those of us who like rules to define our boundaries. In fasting, if you bind yourself up in any self-conceived rules, you may miss a lesson Jesus has for you, not to mention you'll be miserable trying to figure out/keep the rules. On Sunday, I told a college student I had never done a water only fast. He seemed genuinely surprised. The main reason I haven't engaged in that way is because I know my tendency towards legalism. So, liquid fasts, including juice, have been my process. We shall see how the Holy Spirit leads me this year. 
  • If you drink coffee every day, start weaning now. Seriously. Constipation, headache, and even muscle aches genuinely suck when you are also hungry. Just consider it your pre-fast. 
  • If you are thinking you can't fast because you have young kids, you're wrong. You can. It's just difficult. I do feel your pain and can empathize. My kids were little, needy, and always hungry, too. (They are still always hungry.) This specific aspect of discipline will give you an opportunity to be reminded that we are in the world, but not of the world. You will have your hands all up in your kids' peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, they may even shove it in your face to offer a bite... just like the world. But, the Holy Spirit enables us to say no to the temptations of the world, and he will give you the ability to say no thank you to the peanut butter. And if you forget and accidentally take a bite (speaking from experience), remember there are no rules, so just laugh at yourself, thank God for his good grace and mercy, and keep going. 
  • Don't go to Costco during sample time. Seriously. It's the worst. 
  • You're going to have to pee. A lot. But you must keep drinking water so your body can regulate and flush out all the gunky stuff that's stuck to your insides.  
  • You're going to be cold. I read about the cause once. The answer satisfied me, but I can't remember it. So if you want to know why, just google it. 
  • My favorite: this week of not eating makes me feel really weird when I'm walking around Tucson. I sometimes imagine how the people I see at the store or at school drop-off would react if I told them I hadn't eat in ____ number of days. They would certainly freak. You may even have family members tell you how unhealthy or unsafe this process is. It could feel isolating, but remember, we are part of the body of Christ. One thing that gives me great comfort throughout the week of fasting is knowing that I am not alone. My Second Mile brothers and sisters in Christ are engaging, too. Even the few times I was unable to fast for whatever reason, I disciplined myself to remember that I am part of the whole, that we all carry one another. I will think about the togetherness every day which leads me to think about it more consistently throughout the year. And, if I know anything about women, I know almost all of us struggle with loneliness from time to time. This week is an excellent reminder that we are not alone. We have the good gift of the Holy Spirit living inside us AND we have the body of Christ, the global Church, and our own local churches. For me, it is my beloved Second Mile family. 
I could say much more, but I should stop for now. 

Every year I'm nervous/excited about the Week of Prayer and Fasting. I'm genuinely excited to walk in obedience by fasting, but I'm nervous because I really like to eat. I wrote this post way back in 2011. It's an old one, but it may still be useful to some of you. 

This is a packed post, but I want to offer a few more thoughts on worship as you consider how you will fast and pray next week. 

A few Sundays ago, I was struggling. I felt hard-pressed on every side, so I chose to stand and sing as loud as I could. I needed to acknowledge that God is bigger than my problems and even bigger than the problems of the world. I wanted to focus on his righteousness, holiness, and love. Through the simple act of standing, singing loudly, and opening my hands to God symbolizing releasing my grip, I felt stronger in him. My problems, and certainly, the world's problems didn't go away, but God was glorified above it all. And, bonus, I let the enemy know to Whom I belong and where my affection lies. 

Let me encourage you, next time you are in your car listening to your favorite worship songs or next time you are at a gathering of people where you get to worship Jesus through music, sing with gusto. It doesn't have to be loud, but your heart needs to mean what you sing. If you can, raise your hands as an act of surrender. As you grow in not caring what anyone thinks (including yourself), allow your heart, mind, and body to engage in worshipping Jesus. Worship, to me, is also and act of defiance to our enemy and to remind him that he is doomed. When you think of the power of worshipping the Most High God, your whole self will want to engage. 

"Our exuberant worship of God -- our get-up-out-of-the-chair-and-lift-our-hands-and-raise-our-voices-to-heaven worship of God -- is an act of audacious defiance against the spirt of this present age relentlessly, successfully, and daily indoctrinating us in nauseating self-praise." ~Beth Moore 

I'm praying for each of you as you consider how you will participate in the Week of Prayer and Fasting. Send me a message or leave a comment if you have more thoughts and/or questions. I love hearing from you. 

Do you have any questions about fasting? What is your experience with musical worship? How and why do you engage? 

Various Finishings

Thursday, January 03, 2019  ::   19 important comments

One of the first books I read in 2018 was Jon Acuff's book, Finish. In the book, he lines out tools people can use to, well, finish stuff, mostly writing projects. I 'finished' the book inspired and decided it should be my word for 2018.

I was going to finish house projects, finish reading a long list of books, but mostly finish a writing project I've worked on/thought about for three years now. Ok fine, mostly just thought about.

However, writing was my nemesis this past year. I couldn't find the words in my head or heart. I tried many times and wrote many (not great) paragraphs, but there would be no finishing of said project in 2018. Good news: I don't feel guilty, like a failure, or any other negative burden that often comes when I don't accomplish what I set out to accomplish. The project will happen when it's time.

But there is good news to share! The skies still proclaim God's glory and I finished other plans in 2018.
Taken on Reddington Pass east of Tucson. No filter needed or added. Pure bliss. 
Here are a few of my finished projects of 2018:

Chad and I finished several house projects, from building the shed Second Mile gave him for a graduation gift to painting our dingy hallway doors. I'm confident we will always have house projects to work on, but I'm happy we crossed a few off the list.
I set out to chronologically read through the Bible this year. Last year I enjoyed a slow, deep dive of 3 or 4 chapters, so the fire hose effect of taking it all in was quite different and incredibly enjoyable. I read the last chapter of Revelation with tears of gratitude and awe. Reading the whole Bible changed me. If you know me, you know this is a big statement: I love the Bible more than ever. It truly is God-breathed and able to teach, correct, rebuke, equip and train us for righteousness. What a gift! If you need a reading plan this year, check out this link. It isn't too late to find a plan and start.
One of the surprises 2018 held for me was how many books I was able to finish. I shocked myself and feel very accomplished. Many of you hear me often quote Harry S. Truman. "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers." Reading helps leaders better understand people, learn different perspectives, cultivate creativity, strengthen communication, and so, so much more.

Reading is an important discipline that I take very seriously. Please know, I'm a slow reader. Many paragraphs required multiple readings, but setting regular time aside to read a few pages at a time helped me reach some goals. If a book captured me, I read it quickly. Some of my more academic book choices challenged the heck out of me and I practically crawled through each chapter. But, I finished more books in a year than ever before, by a long shot. Here are a few of my favorites and recommendations:

The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson
In this book, Jared uses Scripture and anecdotes I related to, probably because we are the same age and have been in ministry about the same amount of time. He effectively shares that following Jesus isn't for the super-spiritual who have it all together, but is for all of us. Jared's humility and wisdom challenged me to remember basic, valuable, spiritual disciplines.

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Warren 
I've followed Tish on social media for awhile now, reading almost every article she writes and resonating with her theology and worldview. Picking up this book was a no-brainer for me simply based on the fact that I truly enjoy reading her words. The book did not disappoint. Her ability to connect spiritual truth with every day life demonstrates her deep soul and love for Jesus. So much of life is monotonous and it is easy to disregard sacredness even in bed making or sitting in traffic, but this book reminds us to think about Jesus in all aspects of our days.

A Peculiar Glory by John Piper
Reading John Piper books is not for the faint of heart. And please, spare me the social media arguments you may have read against him. He isn't perfect, but the man loves Jesus and Scripture. Every book he writes is saturated with the Bible. And this particular book is about the Bible. Dream come true for me. In it he describes the Bible as one of the windows through which we view God's glory (the sky being the other one) and tells us to smush our faces against the glass to get the best possible view we can. This book deepened my love and understanding of Scripture. If you've never read one of his books, what are you waiting for?

The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
Several national leaders I respect recommended this book, so I finally bought it. The authors argue that structures don't grow ministries, but growing people who invest in other people grow ministries. Seems like a duh statement, but it it is obviously more involved than it sounds. I finished the book encouraged to continue doing what I was taught to do: More time spent with fewer people equals greater lasting impact for the Kingdom. (Thanks, David.)

Letters to the Church by Francis Chan
So much yes to this one! In fact, it may be one of the books we ask all leaders at Second Mile to read. It's no secret that I love my church. It is en vogue to hate churches and lament "evangelicals"; I read the news and understand. Francis strips down all the crap that has become American church culture and challenges us all to get back to loving and serving people. Thank God I get to be part of a church like this. We are absolutely not perfect, but we truly desire to be the church Jesus desires us to be. This book pressed me into deeper love for the Global Church and for my local church.

Faith Among the Faithless by Mike Cosper
Speaking of the news and evangelicalism and craziness, I picked up this book based on the subtitle: Learning from Esther in a World Gone Mad. It did not disappoint. If you feel frustrated by the state of our country and have a deep desire to live your life to the glory of God then read this. I would be interested in talking about it with you. If I'm not careful, politics make me despair. This book was one of many reminders this year that my hope lies in Jesus Christ alone.

The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore
Favorite, favorite book of the year. Chad and I will be giving this as a wedding gift (along with our traditional wok, of course) for years to come. If you know me, you will know that I am a huge Russell Moore fan. He's one of the prophets we need in our current generation. In this book he writes with personal stories, expertise, and Scripture to show us how our lives are to be shaped by the cross of Jesus. I believe this book is a guide book for our lives in singleness, marriage, parenting, aging, and everything in between. I've already given two copies away. Maybe you'll receive the next.

I could go on and on about the books I read this year. I only hated one book and couldn't finish it. I'm not skeptical when I read, but I'm also not naive taking in every thought thrown my way. Being a weak-willed woman in my reading isn't an option, so I work to measure it against Scripture and through community. The combination of Scripture and reading other books increased my gratitude this year. I'm not exactly sure how or why, but I trust God works in us through various means to make us more like him. My reading list for 2019 isn't quite curated, but I'm hopeful to continue to be challenged, to change wrong thinking, to strengthen right thinking, and to keep growing. God forbid I stay the same. Books help me change.
A Peculiar Glory not shown 
To help you in your process, I'm going to give away three books from this list in a little giveaway: The Storm-tossed Family, Liturgy of the Ordinary, and The Imperfect Disciple. (If you win and already have one of these books, we will negotiate a trade.) All you have to do is comment on this post or on the Facebook post advertising this giveaway. Share what book you would like to read from my list and/or a book you really loved this year. I'll draw a name in about a week. Feel free to share this post to spread the word.

Happy 2019 to each of you! Be disciplined this year and watch God change and grow you in unsearchable ways.

"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3

What are you reading? What are you looking forward to reading? What is a different project you finished this year?

The Good Gifts of Summer

Sunday, June 11, 2017  ::   2 important comments

Remember when I said I would draw a winner for the book and $30 Amazon gift card in a week and then almost a month passed? Oops. Time-shmime. Am I right? Anyone? Well, sorry 'bout that.


Congrats, friend. And it works out so well since it's your birthday month! Happy birthday and here's your prize!

Since you clicked over here to see who won, I thought I'd share some of my summer favorites. I like when my friends like things I like, so I'm happy to give you my not so secret secrets.

Floating in my back yard pool is a must for me during the summer. I've explained it before, but in case you haven't heard, my pool has an invisible force field around it that blocks out my ability to analyze, problem solve, and overthink about life, ministry, family, future, and all things overwhelming. It is glorious. Now, I am a responsible, hang-out in the sun floater so I wear sunscreen. My friend, Janice, gave me Sun Bum for my birthday a couple of years ago and I've never looked back. It's worth the extra bucks to not feel coated with glue. Do you know what I'm saying?

Cheap sunscreen = greasy glue = no thanks

Go get you some at any drugstore or just order it from Amazon.

Next, I drink too much cold brew coffee (otherwise known as toddy) during the summer. Chad makes it for me because he loves me. You can make your own cheaper than you can get it at coffee shops. Duh. I prefer when he uses lighter roasts because to me, dark roast coffee tastes like your licking a tire. Oh man. My bitter palate can only handle so much. Do you like lighter or darker roasts?
Order it or go to World Market and pick one up. Instructions are in the box. Also, why is the woman on the box of a cold brew system acting like she's drinking a cup of hot coffee. Design/marketing mess up if you ask me.

Next, the new Zach Brown Band album is playing on repeat for me this summer. The title hooked me instantaneously: Welcome Home. Gives me good vibes just typing it out. My family teases me by saying all their music sounds the same, but WHATEVER, because it all sounds awesome the same! The song, Family Table, put a giant lump in my throat and possibly even squeezed out a couple of tears. If you like good country music (not like that Florida Georgia Line crap. Gag.) then buy this album. Good, good, good. What band can you listen to on repeat?

Finally, I'm determined to make this a summer of reading. Good news for me, Carah's swim meets are on Tuesday and Thursday nights and last 3+ hours. She only swims a little more than 2 minutes of that time. I'm not great at math, but that's way more sitting than watching. To make use of all. that. time, I'm making my way through my reading list. What are you reading?

I'm reading top to bottom. My goal/hope is to get through five more before school starts. We shall see!

For me, summer is a time to grill out, watch movies, and slow down. When my kids were younger we played Skip-Bo, swam, read, watched shows, and played and played and played. This year, I'm being forced to learn a new summer rhythm because teenage activities amp up in summer more than they slow down. However, determination drives me to continue to use this season to think about being a finite human. I can't keep the sprint pace of most months even though sometimes I try. The Sonoran Desert swelter reminds me to slow down or suffocate. A break from school for my kids provides consistent opportunity to engage them in conversation so that the tiny screens in their pockets don't suck away their time, minds, and hearts. Later evenings create space for more laughter with friends, more time for books, and the familiarity of movies we've watched over and over. My family only has three more traditional school summers and then Chad and my arrows will all be launched. In the future I know I'll find new ways to revel in my favorite season, but for now I'm taking deep deliberate breaths, burning as many images in my mind as I can, and resting in the good gifts of family, friends, and summer.

Who We Are in Light of Who He Is :: And a Giveaway

Tuesday, May 23, 2017  ::   23 important comments

Through the years I've grown in self-awareness and understanding. I believe it is good, wise, and honorable to know your strengths and weaknesses so you can better serve God and love people. For example, how can I love people in the way they need love if I'm not aware that I can be an 'energetic' nurturer? (Some say smother, but I say mother.) Or if I am unaware of the intensity of my faith, maybe I sound like a raving lunatic instead of a compassionate, bold Jesus-follower? Knowing who we are and what we believe increases our ability to love and serve.

However, a main point of contention I have with those who seek self-help, self-improvement, and even self-awareness is what or who is your plumb line? If I only grow and measure myself against myself, my awareness is nebulous and/or self-serving. If I grow and measure myself against others then I always succeed or always fail, and the measurements result in self-gratification or self-loathing. 

What are we to do? 

Theology, the study of the nature of God, is the answer. In the last 20 years, I've surrendered to the fact that knowing who God is enables me to know who I am. His grace to us tells us in his Word that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, that he will complete the good work he started in us, and that he is transforming us into his very image. Whether we seek to know what this means or not, he will work in us because he is faithful and he doesn't break his promises. But, if the Creator of the universe is changing you into his image, don't you think it would help to know who he is? Hence, theology. 

Here's the truth, friends. I'm not an intellectual. But, I am a learner, child-like when I get excited about a new to me concept, and a reader (a slow reader, but a reader nonetheless.) I am not someone who can sit around and debate theology. Heck, I can't really debate anything. I feel deeply about God, life, and love. I can most certainly tell you what I believe and why I believe it. However, I continue to need help in learning deep truths about God in my head and heart. I've read quite a few theology books all the while weighing what I'm learning with scripture and talking them out with Chad and friends. 

Good theology books will be full of scripture, and not just one off verses to support their claims. I'm continually on the search for strong-willed, intelligent, fierce women who love God and his word. You all know I love Beth Moore. I recently finished Entrusted, her study on 2 Timothy and it blew my mind. If you choose to do this study, please, please go through the video teachings, too. Many of you also know mentoring relationships for women in Second Mile begin with Wendy Alsup's book Practical Theology for Women. (I have copies in my office if you'd like to buy one.) I read her blog regularly. The woman knows her Bible. 

A year or two ago, I discovered Jen Wilkin. She's quickly become a woman I respect and wish I could know personally. Two of her books were on my shelf for awhile, but my reading list was so long I never got to them. At my suggestion, Morgan, Carah, and their friend, Nevaeh, recently started reading None Like Him with their youth leader, Corrie. I wanted to know what they were reading and be able to discuss with them as they read, so I picked it up, too. Jen had me at the first sentence of the introduction: 

"If you had told me five years ago that I would one day write a book for Christian women that led off with a quote from Proverbs 31, I probably would have punched you in the face." 

Doesn't that sound like someone who could be my bestie?

In the book, Jen describes ten attributes that only belong to God and shows how we humans seek to mimic these attributes. I'm reading this book slowly, devotional style, so I can take it all in. As I read each chapter, my awe of who he is increases and my own conviction grows as I see how I try to put myself in his place. Do you want to truly know yourself? Then get to know God! Do you want to find comfort in his magnificence? Then know how to name these attributes and what they actually mean!

I had no idea how much I would love this book, but I certainly do. Also, it's super easy to read so that's a bonus. Jen takes deep concepts and writes about them in a way that isn't alienating and/or frustrating. This book is for everyone. Men, it's for you, too. I recently read a comment by a pastor who is taking his whole staff through it. Jen also had this to say about a different book she wrote, but it applies here, as well: "FAQ: "Is there a book like Women of the Word aimed at men?" Not that I'm aware, but the concepts aren't "pink". Just rip off the cover, bro." Wisdom and sass make me so happy. 

Do you need a fresh perspective on who God is and who you are in light of him? Do you need to freshen up your time with your mentee? Are you wanting a good summer read? Would you like to go through a good book with some friends or your community group? Are you curious because I keep telling you it's that good? I've got some good news for you! I believe in this book so much that I bought 20 of them. For eight bucks, you can pick one up this Sunday or make arrangements to stop by my office to pick one up during the week. (I'll order more when the time comes. I plan to keep these on hand.)
I would love for many of us to be mulling over these ten characteristics that only belong to our great God. It will deepen our faith which will deepen our conversations which will deepen our relationships which will deepen our church which will deepen our desire to talk about him to people who don't yet know him. Beautiful. 

To make things interesting I'm going to do a little giveaway. Leave a comment below with a chance to win a copy of this book AND a $30 gift card to Amazon. Obviously, if you win I don't want you to use the $30 on a new swimsuit or cardamom, but I can't control your purchases. Just remember, I love books. I can easily recommend ways for you to spend $30 on great books if you don't know where to start. Leave a comment and I'll choose a winner in a week or so. 

Let's spend the upcoming summer slowing down a bit, reading a good book or two, and getting to know God more and more so he can show us who we are in him. Self-awareness at it's finest. 

Tripping around the Sun

Thursday, April 20, 2017  ::   3 important comments

The gray wings above my temples continue to spread like no one cares. But secretly I care. Some days they look like wisdom to me and some days they look like the dirty pigeons that hang out on my fence I want to pop with a BB gun.

The laugh lines around my eyes prove I'm experientially learning what it means to be clothed with strength and dignity and to laugh without fear of the future. Last year I didn't feel much like laughing, but the depth of learning that took place in my heart certainly wrapped my drooping shoulders in unknown strength. Maybe the gray wings and laugh lines visibly expose the depth of dignity God sows into my life with each trip around the sun. 
The photos in this post were taken on the various hikes I took over this last year. 
Thankfully and humbly, God wired me to perceive the needs of others. Sometimes he even allows me to see ways in which I can help. My love for God and for people runs like a raging river. In times past, I've been able to stay on the Holy Spirit raft with a few trusted people who help me navigate the relational rapids. Unbeknownst to me, my raft had taken on too much water of meeting all the needs of all the people in all the world. 

Last year at this time I bailed out of the flooding raft with an angry vengeance. Expectations plagued me. Of myself. Of family's. Of other people's, perceived and/or real. Even of God's, or at least, the case I had built on his behalf

Words can't express the suffocation I felt. (I know some of you know the feeling.) Not only could I not meet all the expectations, I resented everyone, who I believed, thought I was failing. 

My false perceptions were thick, but what kept me under water was my inability to perceive they were false. 

I couldn't keep up with Chad's ministry pace.  

I couldn't help women understand God's love for them, let alone my love for them. 

I couldn't change people's wrong perceptions of me in "having it all together."  

I couldn't meet my own expectations of what I thought I should be able to do. 

I couldn't even meet your expectations, whoever you are. Believe me, I thought about it. 

All the things I knew to do in "counseling" myself seemed to fail.  
In a last ditch effort to gain some perspective so that I didn't torch my life and all my relationships, I went to see an actual counselor. I spent much of the year pouring over scripture, asking God to help me believe. I hiked many miles in solitude and silence, pondering expectations, shoulds, woulds, and coulds. Chad and I had long, crucial conversations. I forced myself to bail water out of my raft, and in humility, gave a bucket to a few people because I needed help. 

It actually began to work. Honestly, I was shocked because I had tried to fix it all by myself, but couldn't... the ugly, revolving door of self-expectations. But, He didn't lie when he told us that he will be faithful to complete the work started in us. What a relief! 

Through pruning and abiding in Christ, my 43rd year of life took me on a journey to a deeper understanding of what I already knew to be true. I am finitely finite, unable to meet my own or other's expectations. To walk in it is freeing. To trust the people closest to me when they say their expectations of me are to love God, to laugh, and to have fun with them: Easy. To let go of the expectations people have of me that I can't meet is also freeing, but it is a difficult choice I continually ask God to help me make. 
I've discovered a few things: 

Chad doesn't want me to keep up with his ministry pace, whatever that means. He wants me to love God with my whole heart and to be his companion. He cheers for me as we live out our lives side by side. He's secure so he never feels threatened by me when I'm full throttle zealous and passionate. He's kind and compassionate so he encourages me to rest, disengage, and even take naps. We make a crazy good team. 

I can't take women by the face and force them to look at Jesus' love. It may surprise you but this is an ineffective strategy for mentoring and discipleship. I can point to scripture, but I can't make anyone read it. I can tell you I love you and I'm doing the best I know how, but it may still hurt us both from time to time. Whether or not women I lead allow me to fail sometimes is not mine to hold. Because I'm surely going to fail, but it doesn't mean I don't love. 

I can't make anyone believe or accept my apologies when I screw up as a leader. I can't make people stay and work out relational reconciliation. All I can do is walk humbly, love wholly, and apologize when necessary. People's expectations can be fair and unfair, but I can't bend either way. I must keep on my raft with scripture, truth, and love. Right, wrong, or crazy. I will be all three on any given day. It's not about me or you. 

Here is one of the hardest lessons of all for me: It's not always my fault. Do you know how easy it is for me to get out of conflict by simply taking the blame so we can move on? I'm asking God to grow true humility in me which means getting rid of the false humility of being the relational doormat. 
The heavens declaring the glory of God. Psalm 19
The deeper sense of strength and dignity with which I am starting out my 44th year feels content, joyful, and hopeful. My gray wings and laugh lines point to a journey up some serious mountains. I have a better understanding of who I am. God truly wired me to intuit people's emotions, needs, and sometimes even their motives. I'm grateful for this gift. With this gift, I'm surrendering with greater trust that he is the Need Meeter, the Life Fixer, the People Lover. I'm a jar of clay that carries around his all surpassing power in my life through the Holy Spirit. I used to say that I know it is his power and not mine. After this year, I know this more fully. I'm believing next year I'll know it even more. And the next year. And the next year. And the next year... 

I laugh at the days to come with courage. 

With each trip around the sun, deeper still, faith, hope, and love. 
The sky above proclaiming his handiwork. Psalm 19 
 What are you learning? How are you being pruned as you abide? What is your favorite passage of scripture right now? Can you guess mine?

Preparation and Expectation

Wednesday, January 11, 2017  ::   Be the first to leave a comment!

My good friend, Nate, gave the message during Second Mile's weekly gathering this week and challenged us all to prepare our hearts for the coming Week of Prayer and Fasting (January 22-29.) I wanted to cheer when he read Proverbs 24:27, saying he was asking God to build a house of prayer out of our body.

"Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house." Proverbs 24:27 (emphasis added)

I hunger for God to build our church into a house of prayer, and I also want to be a watchman waiting and ready for him to do what he will do. If I am going to be ready, then I must prepare and strengthen my weak knees and drooping hands.

"Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." Hebrews 12:12-13

All of Hebrews chapter 12 is worth a read in terms of preparation. Here are a few highlights:

  • We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses that have run before us. 
  • Throw off sin so you can run with perseverance. 
  • Look to Jesus who is perfecting our faith. 
  • Consider Jesus so you do not grow faint or weary. 
  • Discipline produces endurance to pursue holiness.  
  • God's kingdom can't be shaken.
  • Offer God acceptable worship with reverence and awe. 
  • He is a consuming fire. 

Apart from reading Hebrews chapter 12, let me share a few more ways I'm preparing for the coming week of prayer and fasting with the hope of helping and challenging you. Sometimes I'm practical to a fault, so when leaders tell us to do this or that, I'm often left wanting someone to tell me how. Let this encourage you in the how. 

Here is a list of ways I'm preparing my heart for the week of prayer and fasting: 

~ I'm regularly reading Isaiah 58 to remind myself about the type of fast that God desires. If you aren't sure where to start, use this passage. It shouldn't surprise you much that I'm telling you to start with God's word. Why in the world would we ever begin with our own thoughts or someone else's thoughts? 

~ Nate talked about spending time searching our hearts to "get rid of our junk" which is necessary. I know I'm only scratching the surface of my heart at this point. In the past, going without food inevitably makes me more hungry for God which makes me more open to hear from him which is when the inner scum really comes to the surface. I consider these next few days the tidying up of my heart so I can be ready for the deep cleaning I don't even know I need. I promise it's way better than it sounds. Even in a deep heart cleaning, his kindness leads us to repentance. 

~ As a church we spent 41 weeks of the last year in 1 Corinthians. The prayer guide is being written with 1 Corinthians as a backbone, so I'm reading over my notes to remind myself of the richness of what we learned as a body and what I learned as an individual. 

~ I'm reading Prayer by Timothy Keller, an excellent book. I highly recommend it. In the book he refers to many psalms of prayer. I'm trying to read them and take them in as I go. 

~ This step is very practical. I've started to shrink my stomach. A friend of mine posted something about leaving "the eating season" which perfectly describes November and December for me. Instead of going cold turkey, I'm lessening portions and snacking which may not necessarily make it easier to not eat, but it is making me mindful of what it means to prepare. 

~ I'm also asking God how long he wants me to fast. Have you ever considered asking God point blank how many days he wants you to fast? What if you've fasted the whole week in the past, but this year he would like you to add a day or two? Or what if you are hell bent on the rules and status quo of a literal week and he would like you to fast for only part of the week? If you ask and don't hear a specific number, have no fear. Trust the leadership of Second Mile and fast for the set aside time. 

~ Finally, I'm asking God to prepare my heart. Simple as that. As I pray for preparation, I'm also asking him to fill me with hopeful expectation of his kingdom come and of eternity with him. Make no mistake, I'm not laying any demands in front of God. I'm simply asking him to come and commune with me, Chad, my kids, and my friends (you) in a beautiful, life-giving, himself glorifying way. This is all for him after all. It isn't about us, although, in his goodness, we certainly benefit. I pray he increases my hunger for him and his return above all things. 

Have you started the preparation process? Do you have any other ways you are preparing? I would love to learn from you. 

On your mark, get set... 


Deeper Still :: The Glory of Christmas

Wednesday, December 07, 2016  ::   Be the first to leave a comment!

This year I asked God to give me fresh insight and deeper wisdom into the glory of Christmas. Many people know Christmas brings me joy, but only a few people truly see my giddy, overwhelmed heart and tears as I contemplate the awe and beauty of it all.

In the Old Testament God set forth his law for people to understand his holiness, for people to know how to approach him, and for people to pay for their transgressions through sacrifice. He mercifully revealed himself and showed his people that he is gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) But to approach him took great care, ceremony, and permission. His presence was shown in a pillar of fire, or on a mountain, or so magnificent that one had to hide in a cleft of a rock and only see God's back because his presence was too rich, holy, and glorious for human consumption. He was and is good, but to approach him demanded sacrifice. *

Enters Jesus, a human, a baby, made for relationship.

Everything that was known about God changed the moment Jesus was conceived in Mary. Can you imagine the God of the universe in the womb of a young woman? He entered through a family line lowly enough to show his availability to everyone. The details and order of the prophecy and lineage for God to be born into the world at the perfect moment: profound.

It is difficult for me to fathom the radical shift in God's availability to humanity through relationship with Jesus. He meets me in my questions of doubt, and lovingly guides me to truth through his word. During Christmas I imagine myself worshipping a baby in a barn. He is the same God shining in glory on the mountain with Moses. As a baby he's defenseless, and yet that tiny baby came to crush the yoke of slavery and injustice with power and might on the cross. A thrill of hope, joy to the world, Word of the Father now in flesh appearing. Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us.

This week I read an important aspect of the birth of Christ that I had never heard, or at least had never paid attention to. Leviticus 25 maps out a significant detail of the law of Sabbath. It describes the Year of Jubilee, the last year of the seventh period of seven years, the forty-ninth year. "In that year, all slaves were to be freed and all debts were to be forgiven; all the land and all the people were to have rest from their weariness and from their burdens. The seventh seven, the Sabbath of Sabbaths." **

Matthew 1:17 says, "So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations." This makes Jesus the beginning of the seventh seven, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the True Jubilee! All true rest comes from Jesus Christ. He frees the slaves! Through him all debts are forgiven! He came to earth to have relationship with us, to allow us to rest in his love, mercy, and grace. He came as a baby so he could endure all the human pain and suffering we endure, to take it all to the cross, to show us he is indeed with us and for us. The seventh seven! The detail in scripture to show the Deity of Jesus is truly miraculous. My soul longs to know more.

To be sure, I love my family's Christmas traditions. Baking, decorating, hosting, all things red and green. My house feels cozy, warm, and lovely. I enjoy hearing my kids laugh and play as they work to solve the year's 1000 piece puzzle. These aspects of Christmas fill my heart. But I know they are temporary. As the years go by, the laughter will quiet, the decorations will fade, and the warmth in my home may grow cold. Of course I imagine I will deeply grieve the loss of days gone by as I'm sure many older people do, but O God, please allow my prayer to remain the same:

Give me fresh insight and deeper wisdom into the glory of Christmas. Keep my eyes away from worthless things, preserve my life according to your word. Fix my gaze on the eternal, not on the temporary. Allow my soul to feel your worth above all things. (Proverbs 2:3-5, Psalm 119:37, 2 Corinthians 4:18, Luke 2:19)

Merry Christmas isn't just a greeting for me. When I say Merry Christmas to you, it is as if I'm praying a short, small prayer for you, whether you want it or not. May God show himself to you this season no matter where you are... someone who doesn't believe, someone who is all alone, someone who is in a personal season of winter, someone filled with hope and joy, someone filled with despair, someone neck deep in doubt, someone who wears a Santa hat everyday, someone who hates me, someone who loves me... The prayer is the same: Merry Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us. Show yourself fresh and new, deeper still, the way you did in a stable in Bethlehem so long ago.

Thank you, Jesus, for coming.

He has come, he is here, he will return.

What does Christmas mean to you? Have you pondered the Incarnation? Believing in the resurrected Christ begins with believing God came to earth as a baby. How does this affect you personally? What are one or two things you can do to capture the wonder of Christmas this year? 

*Do yourself a favor. Go back and click the links to the passages in Exodus. Marvel and be amazed at the glory of God and how different relationship is with him because he sent his Son, Jesus Christ to earth. Ponder, mediate, engage your heart and mind in the glory of Christmas.

**Tim Keller's new book Hidden Christmas, page 38