Going the Second Mile for Fifteen Years

Thursday, November 14, 2019  ::   1 important comment

On a cold November day in 2004, we said goodbye to Lincoln, Nebraska and headed to sunny Tucson, Arizona. In preparation we prayed, gathered a team, strategized, and wrestled with God about what it would look like to drive across the country to start a church. From scratch. With no job. In a city we had never lived.

For whatever reason (the Holy Spirit shielding my normally worried heart), I had no fear. Through prayer, I believed God had revealed to me that Chad would obtain a management position at Starbucks (he did), that our kids wouldn't suffer from lack of fancy kids ministry (they didn't), and that our friends moving to help in this process were our allies and teammates (they still are).

The early days of church planting were exciting and difficult. Our team of 10 was on a steep learning curve. Everyone scrambled to find jobs, to make friends, and to invite any and every person we met to be part of a new church in Tucson we called Second Mile. Our growth seemed super slow in the beginning, especially because I had naively and stupidly asked God to give us 1000 people in the first year. My DNA was infused with the truth that "more time spent with fewer people equals greater lasting impact for the kingdom," but the American mega church culture tricked me into wanting the numbers. But God, as is always true, had a better plan.

Second Mile is now 15 years old. Thankfully, by God's mercy and grace to me, I've learned some stuff through the years. A "15 lessons I've learned in 15 years" list would be so nice right now, but my brain doesn't work like that, so here a few thoughts rumbling around in my guts.

One major point of learning is that books are my friends. A bit of critique that Chad and I received when we were young leaders is that we weren't readers. It stung and I was indignant so I've spent all the years from that point working to prove that person wrong. My motives maybe weren't great, but here we are. In the 15 years of Second Mile, I've read many books, good, bad, and mediocre. I pray I will always be able to read and implement good lessons into my life and leadership. Currently, in the middle of my life, I think I'm reading better than ever, and that's pretty fun. Recently on separate occasions, two women I admire told me I was smart, and it blew my mind. Self-doubt comes easy for me, so their words were a bolstering gift and encouragement to keep reading, learning, and growing.

To be more specific about reading and learning in the last 15 years, the Bible is absolutely necessary for me and for our church. You may have heard this, but when we were just trying to start a church, Chad went to a conference and felt God telling him to preach Scripture, word by word. All these years later, he's still at it. His discipline spurs on my own personal discipline. I can't imagine doing anything I do without the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Bible. It is life for me.

Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. 
Jeremiah 15:16 

The next area of growth for me came through the many times I wanted to give up. The name, Second Mile, lends itself to us being put to the test fairly regularly. Jesus told us to not just go one mile with people, but to go two. In the first couple of years, my family was faced with a challenge that showed me the depth of my weakness and how God would work through us to love people and honor him. One late night, I said to Chad, "Maybe we should have named our church "One Mile Community Church" or "Easy Street Church" because I'm afraid the 'second mile' will be the death of us." And it has been. Over and over, dying to my own rights, laying down my life, focusing on Christ's strength in my weakness.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me. 
Galatians 2:20 

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Luke 9:23 

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, 
so that Christ's power may rest on me. 
2 Corinthians 12:9

Last year, God very clearly convicted me of my verbal sin of saying, "I don't want to do this anymore." What we speak out loud becomes our reality. I knew I couldn't/wouldn't quit because I'm stubborn, but my words soured my heart and disposition to obeying God's direction in my life with reverent joy. Stubbornness would never sustain long-term obedience. I had to quit quitting with my words so that my heart would stop being tempted to really quit.

Let us not become wearing in doing good for in the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not give up. 
2 Corinthians 4:1 

Recently, God clearly showed me one experience that helps me not give up. I know this will be difficult for some people to read. Please don't let it heap shame on you. Instead, let my life and words encourage you to press in and keep going. Sunday morning gatherings with my church jolt me with the ability to wake up each Monday and continue on in the battle of life. I hate missing it. When I show up on Sunday, I feel like we look in each other's eyes with an understanding that life really sucks sometimes and then gently remind each other that Jesus is our everything. When we worship through singing, it feels like I'm pushing back the darkness and reminding our enemy that he's defeated and Christ is King. When I open the Bible to receive teaching, it feels like my parched self from the long week fills up with the Living Water. When I see people I love, whether I personally know them or not, it reminds me that I'm not alone, that we are in this together, that I need my brothers and sisters and they need me. Through the years, I've learned that not everyone feels this way about Sunday worship. If you are in that space, I pray God redeems gathering with his Church for you very, very soon. Sit and weep, stand and sing, watch and pray, whatever is necessary for your heart to be bolstered for the daily, weekly, yearly battle until we finally see him face to face. The gathered Church is our reminder that this is not our home, that Jesus is coming again, that he will make all things glorious and new, and that God's glory will rest on us for eternity. Come quickly, Jesus.

Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 
Hebrews 10:25 

One of my favorite fruits of longevity in Second Mile is deep, deep relationships. People have hard lives and when you are in community with one another it leaks out and you can't stop it. It amazes me how many people love me anyway. Chad and I have walked with people in joy, suffering, and grief, both theirs and our own. You cannot go through life's valleys and mountains with people and not love them more. For me, it is impossible. When I close my eyes and scroll through 15 years of faces, my heart swells. A few years ago at our women's retreat, as I shared from Ephesians 1:16 the phrase "continually thankful and continually prayerful" came out of my mouth over and over. This will always be a major theme of how I feel about the people of Second Mile.

However, the years have also had moments of great relational difficultly. When we started Second Mile, we had heard many stories of "post-moderns" leaving churches because of hurt and pain caused by the church. People continue to come to us not sure they can engage because of wounding of past church experiences. It grieves me. However, what I did not anticipate is we would become the source of pain for some, that people would leave us with wounds we caused, that we would not always be given the opportunity for reconciliation. This has grieved me so much more. What I've learned is that, in most cases, there truly are two sides to the story. I can easily say Chad and I and other Second Mile leaders are doing the best we know how to do, but we are sinners and make mistakes. I never thought we would be a perfect church, but I didn't anticipate just how imperfect we would be. When we receive hurting people in our body who have left a church, I now appreciate and experientially know the people they left are also hurting. There have been times I wondered if my relational heart would survive another person leaving us. It has been deeply painful and it takes continual work to prevent my heart from building walls to protect itself. Living up to people's expectations is a false burden I constantly have to lay down. I do hope to continue to love people with Jesus' help to the best of my ability, even though sometimes they will leave. Which leads me to the best lesson of all:

All of these 15 years, ever single one is for Jesus alone. Every meeting, every book, every late night, every early morning, every shared meal, every event, every training, every conflict, every friendship. Everything. It's all for him. Sometimes I'm slow and my motives turn to myself, to Chad, or my kids, or the people I serve. When my vision is skewed and I look to anything other than Jesus, I lose perspective, joy, and the desire to continue. He alone is worthy of my service and worship. Whatever comes out of my life and flows to others must be from Jesus alone. He is the very center of my affections. This will be a daily, life-long choice: Jesus is better.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is he beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:17-18

This list could go on and on. Chad and I believe we are just scratching the surface of all God will continue to teach us through leading Second Mile. We pray God grants us years and years of serving him in this particular family. If you are part of Second Mile, I'm thankful for you. If you have been part of our church in the past, I'm thankful for you. I've you've ever prayed for my family, my church, or me, I'm thankful for you.

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members so not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Romans 12:4-5 

If you could each experience in your hearts and minds how serious I take this verse, it would certainly overwhelm you and possibly freak you out. But I believe it. We belong to one another. There's no escaping. We deal with it now or in eternity, so I plan to keep working it out in this life in order to more fully enjoy the life to come.

With so much gratitude and love,

Angel

Congratulations on making it all the way through this long post! As a form of reward for your diligence I want to give two of you my current book obsession. I love Christmas (more on that later) and to help me truly focus on why I love it, I read books. Last year I read Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, and this year I'm reading it again. A good friend of mine described it as fantastical and he is not wrong. So, so good. I wish all of you would read it. 

If you'd like a chance to win a copy, all you have to do is comment on the blog post, on Facebook, or on Instagram. One catch, you have to leave a real comment. None of this "What a nice post, Angel. So sweet and precious." Um, no. Give me some meat. Did anything in the post challenge or encourage you? What have you learned in your time in Second Mile or in your own church? A legit comment. My guess is your chances of winning will be high because the requirements are too high for many people. Doooo it! 

For My Daughters, Sisters, and Friends

Thursday, October 24, 2019  ::   Be the first to leave a comment!

Chad and I have been working on a research project for a year and a half. I can honestly say it is the deepest I've ever studied one single doctrinal topic. Through the years I've read a variety of theology books and countless nonfiction books on numerous church, biblical, and historical subjects. I like to learn and feel it is my personal responsibility to lead with growing knowledge and accountability. Books written by brilliant scholars from diverse backgrounds and perspectives widen, deepen, and strengthen my own learning and leadership abilities.
For my daughters. I will strive to model strong femininity for them all my days. 
As long as I can remember I've been singled out to be a leader. In first grade, my lovely teacher often praised me for my good work in front of the class. She would point to me as a model student. In middle school, I was a little rougher around the edges and one of my poor teachers who couldn't control me/the class, sat down with the principal and me to explain that if I would just stop being a brat, the class would probably follow along. (I don't remember if I complied or not, but maybe for a week or two?) I lost my footing a bit in high school, but still remember leading in different ways. In college I led small groups, mentored underclassmen, and went on summer missions.

Chad and I have been in full time ministry for 23 years now. I can hardly believe it as I type out the number. We've been side by side for most of it, although my ministry focus was different than his when our kids were younger. We are both wired to help people grow in depth of love for God, to provide presence for people in their deepest sufferings and greatest joys, and to counsel, listen, and provide outside resources to questions I could have never dreamed being asked. Our motivation for all of this is to honor God above all else.
Do you want to know one of the frustrating struggles I've had through the years? It's really dumb and inconsequential on the surface. Why does it matter? Who cares? Where does my validation lie? Who calls, confirms, and equips me?

Here it is:

What is my title? When people in polite conversation ask "what do you do" how do I respond?

"Well, I'm a women's ministry director." (Like an event planner?)
"Oh, um, I'm a life coach for women at my church." (Can you help me find a job?)
"You see, I'm a discipleship strategist" (Sounds scary.)

I most often tell people one of two things: I mentor women at my church or that I lead women's ministry at my church. Still pretty vague though, right? It definitely doesn't give a clear picture. Let me tell you, whatever answer I give, it's a real conversation killer.

Part of me knows it's vanity to care about my title. My motivation certainly isn't in a title. However, part of me also knows it is bolstering and validating to be able to explain unapologetically that God has, in fact, called, confirmed, and equipped me to lead, minister, and shepherd in my church. To be able to succinctly, boldly, and lovingly say exactly what I do would be a gift, not necessary, but beneficial.

Many of you know a torrent of hatred and slander flooded the internet over the weekend against Beth Moore who is a Jesus-loving, strong, female leader.*  The world is full of cruelty. This wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. I pray most of you ignore the vitriol that takes place on social media specifically in the American church. It's so so ugly and sinful. I do pay attention for a variety of reasons, one of them, if necessary, is to be prepared to watch over the women I love and lead. In loving response to the malice towards Ms. Beth, many strong leaders are writing about a woman's place in the Church. It's beautiful. You can read this one from Ann Voskamp or this one from Jonathan Martin or this one or this one from Beth herself. It's also partly why I'm writing today.

Dear daughters, sisters, and friends, I want you to know I see you, I'm with you, and I love you. But you already know this. And you know it about the elders of our church, too. I'm so happy that none of the four elders of Second Mile spend any amount of time at all on social media. Just because they don't respond on Facebook doesn't mean they don't care. Which brings me back to the research project, my title, and women in the church.

This project started after many years of conversation between Chad and me and then with a podcast and then we read one small book which led to another and another and another. We are looking closely at what the Bible says about women specifically. We've been asking God to show us our own cultural and denominational lens that has possibly/probably skewed our ability to see the depths of Scripture. We've had deep discussions and heated arguments about specific verses, translations, and all the interpretations of which we are trying to make sense. We felt this topic was so huge and so important and had so many implications for our own local church body that Chad asked the elders to read and study, too.

We aren't quite ready to share any resources or results of our research. However, I did share some during the second session of our Moxie retreat. Of course we will certainly share our findings with our beloved church when we are ready. And I can't wait. In the mean time here's the video of the session in case you missed it or want to watch again:
I'm giving you this research project teaser for a few reasons.

First, I'm grieved over how regularly, loudly, and terribly powerful men (and women) publicly ridicule and mock women who clearly love Jesus and are doing the best they can to honor him. It moves me to deep prayers, but it also causes me to set my jaw and clench my fists to continue running as hard as I can after God.

Second, I want you to know we are continually doing hard work behind the scenes to learn and grow doctrinally and then to practically apply it in our actual church. If we are honest, we aren't personally affected by what happened to Beth Moore over the weekend. It grieves us, but we show up in our actual lives to do what God has asked us to do. But, this research has affected Chad and me which means it will affect our body. I can assure you, the biggest result is that we love the women and men in our church more than ever. We pray and strive for personal wholeness and we also pray and strive for wholeness in Second Mile.
These are some of the faces that compel me to keep laboring in the gospel. Oh how I love them. 
Third, please pray for us as we move through the final stages of hashing it all out. We have lists to make, pages to write, debates/discussion to have. It will be good, but it will also be hard.

The Church could not exist without women, but you already know that. But maybe you needed to read this post to be reminded that your leaders' heads aren't in the sand. We are with you, praying for you, and hopefully pointing you to Jesus.

Contending for the gospel until death or until Jesus returns,

Angel



*I won't link the video. You can google it, but it really isn't necessary. It's gross and sinful.

Out of the Trench

Tuesday, July 16, 2019  ::   1 important comment

Do you ever have times when you just can't shake the negative thoughts, the sadness and tiredness, and/or the wet blanket of shame?

A week or so ago I woke up weary, emotional, and wiped out. My eyes were puffy and my brain was on hyperdrive. Sometimes I wallow in the despair (eating the bread of anxious toil) and sometimes I remember what to do to reorient myself to Jesus. Maybe the words I'm about to share will help you try something new when you find yourself in a muddy trench.


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I stumbled out of bed and made my way to my kitchen table and sat down, Bible, notebook, and pen in hand. Sitting in the solid wooden chair made me more aware of my need for God to soften my heavy heart. Holding out my hands I prayed: "I'm feeling pretty beat up today and believing some lies that I'm not worth much. So let's find some Scripture. Will you help me, Jesus? I'm struggling."

Turning to as many familiar passages as came to mind, I began to write:

Ephesians 1
vs 4 - He chose me
vs 7 - I am redeemed and forgiven
vs 8 - He gives me wisdom and insight
vs 13 - I am sealed with the Holy Spirit

Ephesians 3
vs 16 - He will strengthen me with power in my inner being
vs 19 - He loves me so much it surpasses knowledge

Ephesians 4
vs 11 - He gave me to Second Mile (a prophet, teacher, and shepherd) to equip the saints for ministry, to build up our body

Ephesians 5
vs 8 - I walk in the light of the Lord

Ephesians 6
vs 10 - I am strong in the Lord
vs 12 - I am wrestling against spiritual forces

1 John 1
vs 5 - He is light so I am in the light which removes all darkness and confusion

1 John 2
vs 1 - He is my advocate. (He advocates for ME!)
My necessary and simple tools

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There are 5 other chapters of Scripture I utilized that I didn't share with you, but hopefully you get the picture through this sampling of what I covered that morning. (Many things God speaks to us through his Word are just for us and not meant to be shared with the world. Intimacy and privacy in relationships are so important in our media frenzied culture. But that's for a different blog post.)

Sitting at the table for over an hour with the balm of the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture is exactly what I needed... not a pep talk from a friend, not a book by my favorite author, certainly not the distraction of social media or housework or errands, not putting on a 'brave' face and pretending everything was ok, and not even my favorite worship playlist. Getting up early enough to have uninterrupted time provided the needed space for needed heart change. To be sure, I felt raw and sore throughout the day (and maybe even a few days), but nothing else could root out the lies like time abiding with Jesus in Scripture (John 15:7-11).

God revealed and reminded me of his truth that morning. Then I faced the choice to take hold and believe it or fall back into the muddy trench. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit enabled me to repeat these passages to myself over and over until they began to transform my thoughts. Hard work to be sure, but the payoff far exceeded the effort. Many of you see me as a woman of strength for which I'm humbled and thankful, and you've heard me say it a million times and I'll say it a million more while I still have breath: God, through his holy, perfect Word, has changed my heart a million times over. I pour through the pages and flip through my memory packet like my life depends on it because it does.

Do you believe me? Have you experienced the transformation he brings through it? Have you only dabbled with a plastic spoon or have you dug deep with a pick ax? How much time do you spend? Do you expect overnight expertise or are you up for the task of life-long study?

What passage can you turn to today that will speak truth to your heart of his glory and your worth in him?

You know I love the sky because of Psalm 19. If you want to hear me teach about this passage click here

My Heart and My Home

Thursday, February 28, 2019  ::   4 important comments

"What's your personal style?" A question that always brought me discomfort and dread. For years I had no idea. What were my favorite colors? In an ideal world how would I decorate? If money was no object how would I arrange, paint, purchase, and fill my home? Who in the heck actually knew? Certainly not me.  

Some people have a knack for knowing what they like and bringing it to fruition. I was not one of those people. Hand-me-downs and take-what-you-can-gets filled every room of my house. I didn't notice most of the time until someone asked me about my personal style, implying that surely the green carpet and dirty red sofas they saw couldn't be my heart's desire. 

My family has been situated on our little cul de sac for a little more than ten years now. We bought the biggest house we could get for our money so we could host large groups of people, but it also meant we chose to live in a fixer upper. I often tell my poor Chad that he knows how to do so much that he gets stuck doing too much. We've (he's) torn down walls, ripped up flooring, dealt with frustrating troubles, and now we are finally representing my (our) personal style. 

Through trial and error, age, and a fixed up house, here is what I've discovered: 

I like neutral walls so I can change decorations whenever I want. (I went through an orange accent wall phase. I liked it for approximately one minute. Ick.) 

I like bright decor to stand out on my neutral walls. 

I like texture on the walls. Wood, metal, fabric, anything interesting. 

I like to fill my shelves with memories, keepsakes, meaningful words, and lots and lots of books. 

I like bright open spaces with large, comfy furniture that whispers, "Come take a nap" and/or "Someone in this house is glad you're here." 

I like for people to feel like there is space for them when they enter a room... a chair, a clean floor, space at the table. 

Now that half my kids live in two places (home is still home), I really, really like for them to come home and know it will be full of peace, laughter, and deep comfort. 

We recently moved out our pingpong table and reoriented the entry room as seen below. The walls are covered with reminders of people we love. My artist and maker friends give me cool stuff and I love it! One print is a hand caligraphied piece we received as a wedding gift way back in 1995. Other prints are hand drawn or graphic designed. Each one makes me smile. Even Chad's childhood Donald Duck bank is displayed. Photos, Scripture, and important words fill the room. 
I change and rearrange these shelves regularly. I like the stable consistency of the wall color and shelves, but also like the reminder that change can be good in how I can rearrange the stuff on the shelves. I've caught everyone in my family grinning at me as I try to work the arrangement just so. 
Again, I can change the shelf in the middle (which is actually an old desk drawer. HOPE.. yes, I need the giant constant reminder that my hope is eternal and not temporal. And if you look at all the photos, you'll surely see a rhino or two or ten. Chad is a big fan of rhinos hence our whole family enjoys them prominently displayed everywhere. Sometimes the punks like them a little too prominent for me. They tease me often and I love every minute of it. 

Moving to our main living room in the photo below. Chad and our friends, Phil and Stuart, helped build this lovely fireplace and mantel. The mantel itself is reclaimed, hand-hewn wood. The piece above the fireplace is a reminder for Chad and me to be a place of refuge for our kids who will each be world-changers in their own ways. I pray we love, support, and continually launch them into the world so they can do the hard work of loving and helping others and that they continually return home for a refilling of love and support. A beautiful cycle. 
As Chad collects rhinos, I collect unique Nativities. Chad found this one on a recent trip to Las Cruces. I usually keep a few Nativities displayed year round. The framed Scripture is the passage that God used to hold me up during my stroke and recovery. 
Look at the cutest, tiniest Nativity you ever saw! My friend, Britt, gave it to me. I love it. And of course, my kiddos. 
I recently purchased this metal sign from Magnolia Market. If you've been around me lately, you've heard me say far too many times that I'm in a time of transition with my kids. For as long as I can remember, well-meaning people have spoken ill-meaning words over me as a mom. "Oh three daughters, just wait unit they are teenagers. It's going to be awful." Or, "Kyle is so smart and good-looking, he's going to be a heartbreaker and it's going to break your heart." Or, "You were so rebellious I bet your kids will be the same." And as they leave the nest, I've heard a few too many times words that sting deeply like, "How great it will be to have the house to yourselves" or "When they leave the house, they will leave relationship with you, too" or "Life gets harder and harder and lonelier and lonelier." 

On good days, I can understand that those words aren't about me or my kids, but about some pain in the person speaking them. On bad days, fear can grip me like a vice and I play out every dark scenario that comes to my dark mind. On days I choose to trust God who numbers my days rightly as I fix my eyes on him, I remember no one knows how the years will turn out except Him alone. The best is always yet to come because someday I will see him face to face. I'm going to keep opening the doors of my home as long as I physically, emotionally, and spiritually can to family and friends, therefore "The Good Ol' Days Are truly Yet to Come." This isn't a rose colored glasses sign for me. It's a reminder every time I come in my house and leave my house to look to the future with hope and expectation instead of fear and dread. 

"She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come." Proverbs 31:25 

Just as my heart is in constant remodeling, so is my house. Lest you think everything is how we want it, here are a couple of photos to the contrary. 
The remainder of the orange-ness and what will be my future office, reading, sitting, daydreaming room. We are building a pantry and making this little space cozy. I can't wait. Electrical work is first which means Chad needs a friend's help. Slowly but surely.
And, alas, our ugly, ugly bedroom. My kids tell me regularly it should be our next project, but I don't care too much about it. The walls still have patched holes from when we had to replumb our whole house and the carpet is still a 'delightful' shade of green. But whatcha gonna do? Eventually this will be remodeled, but I'd rather have a pretty back yard which is my current campaign. 

Hello to those of you who actually read all the way to the end of this post! It seems like just a few years ago we had people in our home nonstop. Life changed in that regards somewhat because my teenagers participate in many activities and I wasn't about to miss anything. But, I can feel a change coming where we will host more consistently again. We don't know what it will look like just yet, but I hope "my personal style" in building our home puts people at ease, beckons my kids to come home to replenish, and fills Chad and me with love, joy, and contentment for years and years to come. 

Now tell me, what is your style? Do you like to fix stuff up? Do you like to have people in your home? What do you look forward to in the future? One more question, do you look at the links I include in my blog posts? Just curious. 

Desire, Motivation, and Discipline

Thursday, February 07, 2019  ::   1 important comment

When women speak out their desire to learn theology (the study of God), my heart flutters and I may even do a little dance. If you've ever heard me speak in any capacity, you know I'm more than passionate about challenging and teaching women to be strong-willed in Scripture, word, and deed as opposed to weak-willed and willy-nilly, following the winds of culture. 2 Timothy 3 speaks of weak-willed women allowing false, misguided love and ideas worm their way into their homes. Heck no! Not my house! Please help me, Jesus!

My good friend, John DeSoto, recently preached a message on Psalm 112 titled Righteous Stability. In his message, he mentioned that he is digging into theology this year. It's only been a few days since he spoke and I've already received more than a few inquiries about the when, what, and how of studying theology from some of the amazing women I'm honored to lead. I love it! So, for the sake of everyone who may be curious but not asking, here is a quick-start nudge for you.

First, know this: Theology is for everyone. If that mean girl voice in your head just said, "Uh no, I can't/don't want to learn about this... It's not helpful for my daily life or I get too confused or I'm not smart enough or blah, blah, blah," tell that voice to shut its mouth and choose to believe that we all learn with different strategies, at different paces, and with different benefits. I am not an intellectual academic at all. But, through the years, I've disciplined myself to dive head first into complicated topics.

This past year Chad and I have been working on an intensive doctrinal deep-dive. Through this doctrinal study, God has been gracious to also show me new and wondrous theological concepts, as well. I'm currently muscling my way through my fifth book for this project, a couple of text books even! The last book I read had whole chapters dedicated to one Greek word and I thought my brain would explode. The point: It takes desire, motivation, and discipline. My desire is to grow my brain and heart, to work through a hard topic with Chad, and to not be left behind in learning. My motivation is to have a deeper understanding of what Scripture says about this particular topic for my own benefit as well as for the benefit of my church. My discipline is to ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten the eyes of my heart and to give me endurance and stamina to pick up these seemingly impossible books and read a few chapters every week. It is not easy, but it is so, so rich. (I will not be telling you the topic until we are both ready to articulate what we've learned. Don't you just hate that?! Hahaha!)

So where do you start?

Gather a few friends in order to read and grow together. I have a small book in my office for $10 to offer any of you at anytime called Practical Theology for Women by Wendy Alsup. I've read it at least half a dozen times with various women in Second Mile, including my oldest daughter. It is a great place to whet your appetite for theology. Most, if not all, of our Moxie mentoring relationships begin with this book. (Some women don't like that it is called a theology book for women. But come on, I'm a woman, am I not? I continually and gladly pick up this book written by a woman for women. Please and thank you.) For theology, I also highly recommend None Like Him and In His Image by Jen Wilkin. Again, both books are in my office waiting to be purchased and read by you.

If you are ready for the next challenge, find a fatter theology book and get going. When we moved to Tucson to start Second Mile, a large portion of our team read through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology together. There were tears, debates, frustrations, and more personal growth than any of us realized we were experiencing. John mentioned he is reading a different theology book. It is Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof. I can't remember if he mentioned this, but the elders are going through it together. Together in theology is better than theology alone. Our minds and hearts need the accountability and insight of others. If we hate an idea that is actually true, we need our sisters and/or brothers to gently help us surrender our feelings in order to trust God.

At this point Second Mile does not offer any theology specific classes. (However, Chad teaches us theology on the regular in his messages.) But please do not let the lack of formal classes stop you from diving in the deep waters of theology if your interest is piqued.

  • Gather two or three trusted friends. 
  • Buy a well-known, trusted book; start with this one if you've never done this before. 
  • Set a goal of meeting once a month for a couple of hours to discuss 2-4 chapters. 
  • Finish in a year or so. As you often hear me say, this is a long obedience in the same direction for your whole life. I pray we are growing in our faith and understanding of God until the day we meet him face to face. 
  • Talk to me or a trusted leader as you progress for encouragement, trouble-shooting, and accountability. 

"We must make a study of our God: what he loves, what he hates, how he speaks and acts. We cannot imitate a God whose features and habits we have never learned. We must make a study of him if we want to become like him. We must seek his face." -Jen Wilkin

"In the long run, careful theology may slow you. But in the long run, it will sustain you." -John Piper

"Sound theology is not an end it itself but must be turned into praise. Ethical compliance without fervent worship means you've given God your will but not your heart." -Timothy Keller

Also, don't forget about the giveaway I'm doing as we get ready for the Matthew message series! There are only dozen or so entries and I'm giving away three books! I'm confident we will learn deep theological truths as we study the life of Christ through Matthew.

Are you intimidated by the study of theology, do you embrace it, or somewhere in between? What is one aspect of God you wish you understood better? Have you ever read a theology book? Tell me everything. 

Stability, Abundance, and a Giveaway

Monday, February 04, 2019  ::   3 important comments

Way back in 2005, right after we moved to Tucson to plant a church called Second Mile, Chad attended a conference about starting a church. My guess is he expected to return to our new city with ideas and strategies. Instead, he shared with our small group of ten that God had only impressed on him one thing: Teach Scripture.

He often tells me he's a simple man and this one life-transformational, God-given direction demonstrates this reality in his life. From that point, my beloved husband 'simply' began systematically teaching books of the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter. From his faithful obedience to teach what God told him to teach and our church's faithful obedience to take in the most delightful passages as well as the most difficult passages, our church continues to grow... in depth more than breadth, but still, both.

He shared with us a few weeks ago that we will be starting the Gospel of Matthew on February 17th. After over a year in 1st and 2nd Samuel, heading into the New Testament excites me to no end. I hope you'll join us on the journey.

To pump you up a bit, I'm going to do another give away. It turns out I love giving you things, especially books!

Jen Wilkin recently shared this new book series and it immediately sparked joy for me. They are gorgeous, individual books of the Bible, so obviously, I ordered 10 ESV Illuminated Scripture Journal: Matthew books. I think the gold-foil stamped cover is lovely. As we go through our new message series, one could use this book to journal, to take notes, to create art that moves you to worship, etc.



With joy, I'm going to give away 3 copies. Comment here, on facebook, or on instagram with why you are looking forward to Matthew. I'll give it a week or so, but don't delay. In the last giveaway I hosted, only 27 people participated... pretty good odds! I am also selling these for $6. Let me know if you would like one. I'll have them on Sundays or you can arrange to stop by my office.

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On prayer and fasting:

As most of you know we recently finished up our annual Week of Prayer and Fasting. As I consider how you all engaged, I decided to share my experience to encourage you. One of my kids deeply strengthened me recently as they observed and stated that Chad and I keep pressing in, year after year, allowing God to refine us no matter how "big" or "small" some might perceive the refinement. I hope you know we are all in with you, no short cuts or easy outs for us.

January 8th was a rough day for me. I lamented to Chad that January sucks: The holidays are over, Kyle and Esther move back to their school places of living (i.e., not home), Morgan and Carah go back to school, we stop drinking coffee, we have to write the prayer booklet, and then we don't get to eat. Whhhyyyyy??? 

As you can see, I was feeling all my feelings about what was to come. Thankfully, God did not leave me in my misery and was faithful to teach and show me great and unsearchable truths despite my dread of the month.

First, physically:

Giving up caffeine was harder than ever before. Thankfully, we started our coffee fast on January 7th before we began fasting from food because my age and my addiction showed this year. I had every, single, withdrawal symptom for almost a full week. Fun times. I'm going to be more aware of my caffeine intake from now on, and next year, I will not go cold turkey. A little research goes a long way, my friends.

After we all broke our fast on January 27th, I struggled with brain fog, weakness, fatigue, and sadness, again, for almost a full week. After talking to my good friend, Aluvia, I learned that next year, I need to have quality electrolytes on hand. Of course, some of my sadness was due to the let down after a week of intense church togetherness in prayer and fasting, but the other struggles were physical. It was no joke.

(Many of you do not know this and I only share to encourage and challenge you, definitely not to boast.) Chad and I often extend our fast longer than one week. This year was the longest I've ever fasted and it was, by far, the best experience I've ever had. I'm amazed at how God designed our bodies. It's incredible. Typically in a food fast, the first week is often difficult. For me, after week one, my body settled down, my brain was quick and clear, and I felt almost invincible. Of course, I hungered, but boredom bugged me more. If you want to extend your fast in the future, let's talk. I'm happy to help and challenge you. (I do think the extended fast is what made breaking the fast more difficult. Chad and I researched how to break it, we ate only veggies and broth for almost three days. I missed the electrolyte piece, but I'm on it for next time.)

More importantly, spiritually:

Each year, extending the fast gives my heart and mind more needed time to work into the required stillness. The first week I spent wrestling. As the toxins left my physical body, I imagined the toxins leaving my soul. Prayerful tears spilled over as I began to see lack of love and patience in areas of my life, but resolve and hope didn't come until week two.

Currently, I'm studying the book of Isaiah. God used his Word to show me his love in a couple of distinct ways:

Through the years at Second Mile, I've always been one of the oldest people, if not the oldest person in our body. This reality, I believe, has kept me young, so I do not usually complain, even though I often jokingly make the observation. The last couple of years increased my awareness of my age difference. My kids are older; Chad and I will be empty nesters too soon. I'm 45 which isn't young. (Yes, I know it isn't old either. That's why it's called middle-aged.) What I didn't know, or at least didn't care to notice, was a growing angst, impatience, and isolation/self-preservation slowly threading it's dark thread through my heart. I found myself frustrated by the age difference, not caring about generational differences, wondering about my place in our community with so many cultural shifts. I felt awkward at best and irritated at worst. As he often does, God breathed kindness and gentleness into me again through prayer and scripture. It feels like a deep inhale of fresh air after the rain. What a gift to be asked to lead people! May my life continually overflow with the fruit of the Spirit. He specifically used Isaiah 33:2, 5-6. He is my arm of strength and the stability and abundance of my life.

Thursday in the prayer booklet, we were asked to spend time in confession and repentance. (Full disclosure: I wrote most of this day. What was I thinking?? Eek!) With great kindness, he pulled back the veil on great fear I've been holding in my heart about the next few years. So much (feels like too much) change and transition is coming my way. I won't get into those details, but I will say in my own self, I'm scared. Part of the fear is the wrong belief that there isn't enough to go around, there is a shortage of opportunities, friendship, space, and even love. God showed me that I do not have any doubt that there is enough for everyone else. I fully believe there is enough for all of you all the time. The darkness of my wrong thinking is that there isn't enough for me which leads to me over-protecting myself and over-loving/serving everyone else. Deep plowing of my heart and mind to be sure. Again, he graciously used Isaiah 40 to show me there is absolutely no scarcity in Christ. And, I begged him to show me how to deal with the coming changes. Instead, he showed me he has not forgotten me, he is the everlasting God, and then asked me to wait for him instead of running ahead to figure out all the answers. I imagine I'll have to cling to Jesus and these revelations many, many times over the next few years.

Friends, please do not allow what I learned through our Week of Prayer and Fasting cause you to compare, complain, or confuse what you did or did not learn. We seek communion with God when we do this; we do not seek great "experiences" of him. My main source of joy and sustenance throughout the fast was Jesus alone. This year he poured out his generosity through conviction and healing to me, but I don't expect him to work in the same ways all the time. He is enough. His Word speaks to me. His Spirit moves. I'm humbled and grateful.

What was your experience as you prayed and/or fasted? Did you engage with the booklet? What did you learn? Was it difficult and good or difficult and just difficult? Share with me. I would love to know. And don't forget about the Matthew journal giveaway. I have so much love for you all.

Fasting, Worship, and a Winner

Tuesday, January 15, 2019  ::   3 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?