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How Do I Give When I’m Tired?

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The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. . .

(Then Jesus sees that they have no food)

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.  They all ate and were satisfied,   Mark 6:30-34, 41-42

This passage challenges me!  It’s hard for me to imagine giving as Jesus did, when he was so tired and depleted.  Yet somehow he found the strength and inspiration to teach, and feed masses of people.

I think the key was that Jesus was accessing a deep well of compassion.  It was like he was pulling from God’s heart, and that gave him what he needed to give to others.

Sometimes we forget how big God’s heart is.  Look at how God describes himself:

And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”  Ex 34:6

God has this huge reservoir of tenderness, this innate concern for people.  God has empathy.

I’ve been learning about the power of empathy lately, and it has been one of the most profound, life changing lessons for me.  Check out this video by Brene’ Brown.

The message of the video is that if someone is in a pit, it’s much more helpful to them if you to get down in the pit with them, rather than if you just tell them how to get out of the pit or stress the positive side of being in the pit.

And that is what I think Jesus did with this crowd.  He got in the pit with them.  He was moved by their their helplessness and their hurts, so he made their desperate needs his own.  He confidently drew from God’s power to meet these needs, creating a feast from a snack, knowing that God also was moved to get in the pit with these people.

This thrills my heart!  And it is even more thrilling to think of the cross, where Jesus gets down in the pit with us in an epic way.

I love what Ann Voscamp wrote about the cross in The Broken Way:  “Over all of us is the image of the wounded God, the God who breaks open and bleeds with us.  How do you live with your one broken heart?  All I can think is — only the wounds of God can heal our wounds.”

This reminds me of Isaiah 53:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities . . .

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed.  v. 4a, 5

Jesus saw our plight and our misery, and came and lifted the burden off of our shoulders and onto his own.  He saw the overwhelming mess we made for ourselves, and got in there and cleaned it up for us.   And that means he himself experienced the mess — the anguish, the depravity, the limitations of the flesh.

Sometimes, when I’m not doing well, it’s hard for me to go to God. I know he’s compassionate, but he seems so stern.

But I can go to Jesus on the cross.

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The cross is the place we can bring our hurts, our inadequacies, our despair over a world gone wrong.  The cross reflects everything that’s broken, so we don’t have to be ashamed of our own brokenness.  The cross is a place we can relate to, where hope seems lost, but then where we are lifted up because we know that Jesus experienced the worst and came out on the other side.

The cross is the place where his wounds will heal our wounds and his brokenness will heal ours.

And this doesn’t just happen with salvation.  There’s something immensely powerful that happens as we remember the cross.  It’s like we get down in the pit with Jesus, as he got in the pit with us, and there we are able to experience God’s deep well of compassion, his huge reservoir of tenderness.

Every time we do this, it gives us the strength and inspiration to go out and give to others.  We tap into the same source that Jesus had.

That’s what we need so much.  That’s what I need.  Because it’s easy for me to feel empathetic to someone’s plight.  It’s much harder to act empathetic,and stop whatever I’m doing to get in the pit with someone

Yesterday, I had a root canal.

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Okay, it wasn’t as bad as this picture, but it was challenging.  It started with a crown that cracked two weeks ago, continued with a visit to the dentist a week ago that was supposed to fix the problem but left me in increasing pain, and ended (hopefully) with multiple shots of Novocaine, prolonged drilling of my tooth roots and bleary convalescence.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I was also experiencing stomach problems and some kind of respiratory virus.  Ugh.

But the best thing about all this was that it makes me more empathetic to those who are going through physical challenges.  It reminds me how lousy it feels to be down and out, and how nice it is when others remember you in prayer, text to asking how you’re feeling, offer to drive you to your appointment, or drop by some soup.

It totally motivates me to empathize more with others by doing something, and not just by sympathizing with them.

The cross is like this example, but on steroids multiplied by a gazillion.  It changed things for all time.  We have a real solid example of the vastness of God’s compassion.  We can never be the same.

Empathy becomes vital to how we practice our faith.

How do we give when we are depleted? We do as Jesus did. We tap into the compassion of God. 

But God knew it would be hard for us sometimes, so he gave us a conduit to make it easier for us to tap in.  He gave us the cross, that takes us straight into the huge heart of God.

And there we are healed. We are inspired.  We are empowered.

Our vision clears.  We see the person and the need, and we are moved.  And we find ourselves giving more than we ever thought we could.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”   Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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God, Why Did You Allow This?

wrestling with God

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”  Mark 6:14

Friends, I feel like I have been learning so much!  And this passage, that is next in my study of Mark, goes right along with what I am learning.

It’s horrible that John the Baptist was put to death in this way.  I mean, he did so many good things, he was totally focused on serving God, and his reward was to get his head chopped off!

Why does God allow such things to happen?

I’ve been thinking about this lately. Why does God allow us to go through tough situations?  On one level we know that life is hard, and there will be challenging times.  But on the other hand, we struggle when they happen to us.

On the cross, Jesus prayed, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

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And that is what we all ask when we go through trials, “God, why are you allowing me to suffer like this?  I thought you loved me.  Where are you?”

It’s funny, because I think I’m a good Christian.  I think I know how to have the right attitude in suffering.  I apply verses like I would take ibuprofen, and they dull the pain for awhile.  But deep down, I’m still angry.

And now I’m realizing that I’m still angry because I haven’t wrestled it through with God.  I haven’t been completely honest with him.  I tell myself that my struggle is due to situations or people.  But my struggle is really with God.

So last week, I got down on my knees and dug through my heart in prayer.

I uncovered layers of hidden thoughts and emotions, and bared them to God.   I realized what I was really feeling was, “God,  I’ve been trying so very hard to do all the right things.  Why do I have to deal with this?  It feels wrong.”  It wasn’t just that I didn’t like dealing with what was going on.  It was that I felt like I shouldn’t have to go through it because of my constant striving to be what I should be.

Once I saw that, I could feel the Spirit begin to respond to the question with the answer, “Because I am God.  I will do what I will do, and I don’t have to give a reason.  It is not your right to be free of this struggle.”

Ken and I just just took a little vacation trip down to Jacksonville to see his dad and stepmom.

With Dad

It gave us a good chance to talk in the car.  It was Father’s Day, and we were discussing how many people attribute their emotional angst to wounds they received from their relationship with their dad.  Ken said that while he knows his father wasn’t perfect and this has an affect on him, he sees much more that he, himself, made bad choices, and suffers the consequences of those choices.

I told him that the difference between me and him is that when I look at myself, I don’t see all the bad choices I’ve made (although I know there are there) as much as I see how hard I’ve tried hard to make a lot of good choices.  So it’s easy for me to get resentful or even blame someone when things go wrong.  Why would it be my fault?.  I was trying hard.  I was doing good.

What a Pharisee I am!!!  Pride in doing the right thing is every bit as destructive as it is to do the wrong thing.  It’s deceptive.  It keeps me from taking personal responsibility.  It makes me feel entitled.  It opens me up to become paralyzed by anger for long periods of my life.

“In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” Ps. 36:2

Pride keeps me from being able to deal with the worst.  I think I have my armor on.  I think I’m ready.  But Satan always manages to hit me with that one thing I didn’t anticipate, that one thing that strikes me where I am most vulnerable, that one thing that I’m sure God shouldn’t allow to happen.

And there’s that word that becomes a stumbling block for prideful people like me: “shouldn’t.”  As soon as I think God “shouldn’t” do something, I’m in trouble, because I start thinking I know better than God.

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God is God.  It’s not for us to question or criticize. All through the Bible we see how he protected his people, but also sometimes allowed the worst to happen.  John the Baptist was beheaded.  Herod had all of the boys aged 2 and younger to be slaughtered.  James the apostle was executed by the sword.

“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.”  Hebrews 11:35-37

I’ve been reading church history.  It amazes me and appalls me how many people died over the course of history for their faith.  It didn’t just happen in the early church, with the Romans.  It didn’t just happen during the reformation, when Catholics killed Protestants, and vice versa.  There is a copious trail of blood ALL through the history of Christianity.  People of faith were always killing other people of faith who had different beliefs.  .

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Why would God allow his people to go through this?  We’re back to the question again.

One thing we do begin to see is that see that we’re not a special case.  If people all through ages endured this, how can we feel entitled to be exempt from suffering? Let’s face the fact that God sometimes allows bad stuff to happen to others, and to us, things that wound us, things that seem wrong and make us feel abandoned.

And when the bad stuff does happen, our job is to wrestle through it with God.

“Not one thing in your life is more important that figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain.”  (Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way)

We need to fight that battle in prayer to figure it out.  Figure out how to let our light shine when the world is dark and broken.  How to face hardship with integrity instead of bitterness, anger, avoidance or self medication.  How to live out the cross.

I’ve been fighting that battle, and I’m finding that the battle makes me dig deeper to find peace, joy and affirmation in HIM, and not in my efforts to do the right thing.

I really don’t understand why God allows us to go through tough situations.  I have verses I could quote that would be a partial answer.

But this much I do know: the more Satan tries to shut us down, the more we find regeneration in Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.  We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. . .

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  II Cor 4:7-10, 16-17

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God is My Safe Place

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Friends, I am excited to share with you something that has been one of the most helpful truths I’ve ever learned: God is my safe place.

This has clicked with me in a new way because I’ve been realizing that one of the things I crave most deeply is safety.  I try to control things around me.  I have this compulsion to create order.  I’m performance oriented, trying to be perfect.

Part of the reason I need safety is because I’m insecure by nature.  But I’ve also discovered that I can trace this need for safety back to the time when I was 16 and my mom got divorced from my stepfather.  It felt like the rug was pulled out from under my feet, and everything was chaotic.  My mother was having a very hard time.  I felt powerless.  Life stunk, and I couldn’t do anything about it.  I was lost in depression.

So I developed protection mechanisms against my fears.  I would try to be perfect and control the world around me so I would not feel vulnerable.  Over the years I’ve grown and I can find much peace and security in God.  But there’s still this lurking fear of chaos, and this knee jerk reverting back to my protection mechanisms.

But now I’ve had this huge light bulb moment.  God is my safe place!  Only he can satisfy my deep craving for security.  Only he can calm my fears.  I can’t tell you how much this is changing my perspective, how much more relaxed I am.

The scripture that is thrilling my heart right now is Ps. 91:2,  “This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.”  (NLT)

I am in a bubble of protection, where it’s like I’m in a peaceful field of flowers.

field of flowers

Where is your safe place on earth?  For me, I think of watching the waves on the beach, or sitting on the wide prairie at my family ranch and listening to the wind blow.

This is what our safe place is like in God, only much, much more so!

Ps 91 goes on to describe how we have safety in God:

He will shelter you with his wings; you will find safety under his wings. His faithfulness is like a shield or a protective wall.  (v. 4, NET)

For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone. (v. 11-12)

We are safe because God is our protector.

Just as a bird shelters its young, God’s warm loving “wings” form a barrier between us and harm.

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It is a true force field!  No evil can reach us unless the Lord allows it.  If you don’t believe this, read the book of Job and see how Satan had to petition God to be able to tempt Job.

God has a divine security system.  He guards what is most precious to him.  Immensely powerful angels are commanded to take care of us.  I don’t know how this works, but they are there.  God doesn’t leave his own vulnerable, at the mercy of evil.  He assigns assets from his incredible resources to take care of them.

We are safe because God is our rescuer!  We don’t have to fear falling prey to chaos.

For he will rescue you from every trap. (v. 3)

Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. (v. 5)

When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. (v. 15)

Here are some of my biggest fears — I fear feeling like things are out of control, I fear that something bad will happen that leads to more of a mess, I fear the downward spiral, I fear making mistakes, and I fear failure.

But it is becoming clear to me that God has my back.  His heart is for me, and when things go wrong, he’s there at my side, helping to work things work out.

More than this, though, I’m seeing that it is bigger than just me crying for help and the Lord answering.  It’s that God has a plan, and I am a part of that plan.  He saved me for a reason and he has a purpose for me. (Eph 2:10)  All through history, God has accomplished his plan, and nothing, I mean nothing, has been able to get in the way of what he intended to do.  The same is true when it comes to me.  I’m so scared, thinking something is going to go wrong, or I’m going to mess things up.  But I am a part of God is doing, and what God is doing is like a solid wall.

Philippians 1:6 says,  “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  God is going to get me where I need to go, in spite of disaster, in spite of my weaknesses.  Yes, I need to do my best.  Yes, I must remain vigilant against evil.  But I can be peaceful and assured.

We are safe because we rely completely on him.

If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. v. 9-10

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  v. 14

Isn’t it ironic that we want to be safe, but we keep putting our trust in things that really can’t keep us safe?  We cling to our deeds, our job, our possessions, our relationships, our bank account, our strength, our intellect, our routines.  And, of course, these things aren’t stable.  But when something goes downhill, we hold to them for dear life because they’re tangible and they’ve given us a temporary sense of security in the past.

Until it gets worse, and then we cry out to God, and God’s like, “I want to be your life preserver, but you have to let go of the sinking ship!”

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In order to be safe, we have to jump headlong into something we can’t see, something that feels unsafe.  We have to throw ourselves into God’s arms.

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If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it. Luke 17:33

It’s a solid truth, repeated over and over in the Bible.  Life works when we trust completely in God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not upon your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”  Prov. 3:5-6

“Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.  Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

So I’m developing new protection mechanisms: jumping into God’s arms, envisioning myself being in the tranquil oasis with God, holding to the promises that God will protect and rescue me.

And I feel free.  Free to be myself and work out God’s plan without constantly editing myself and the world around me.

But there’s one more thing.  Something in me protests, “But God doesn’t always keep us safe.  He sometimes allows terrible things to happen.”

That is true.  And my answer is I Corinthians 10:13 — “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

In our hardship, there will always be something we can grasp onto that will help us get through.  It could be finding the perfect scripture, or gleaning an insight, or feeling comfort, or being strengthened, or having a prayer answered at just the right time.

God sometimes keeps us from the bad stuff, and sometimes he doesn’t.  But he will always help us when that bad stuff comes.  We will still be safe, because God is immeasurably faithful, and he has immeasurable resources to bring to bear on our behalf.

My fears are subsiding.  I’m fighting that voice that says, “Things are falling apart.  I hate myself.”

God has set me in a state of security IN HIM.  He is the answer to my deepest desires, and I am tearful with gratitude.

“There is no fear in love.”  I John 4:18b

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We All Need a Net

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Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.  And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent.  They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.  Mark 6:1–13

There are a couple of things that I want to discuss about this passage.

First, I am impressed by how much Jesus wanted everyone to have a chance to hear the gospel.  He knew that there would be some who would reject it.  But he wanted them to have the seed planted in their heart.

And the seed is powerful.  But we see here that the seed wasn’t just the spoken message.  It was also the evidence of God’s power, which was seen in healing and demons being cast out.

And today, people can still see the power.  I don’t believe that we generally have the miraculous gift of healing or casting out demons, as the apostles had.  I do believe that people can be healed miraculously through prayer.  But putting that aside for a moment, I want to stress that our lives show the power of God.  We have overcome sins that many others are entangled in.  We are joyful even when it doesn’t make sense.  We love the unlovable.  We serve instead of seeking our own comfort.  These things have a major impact.

You know, back in early February, a woman named Beverly found our church on the Internet.  She was searching for a church that was more than just attending a service and then everyone leaves.  So our web site piqued her interest and she came to visit our service.  She later told us what she was thinking when she saw our church for the first time.  She saw people really living the truth, really caring about one another.  She went out into the parking lot and called her sister, and told her, “I found it!”

For those who are seeking with open hearts, our life is a seed.  Sometimes the seed takes root right away.  Sometimes the seed is buried away, and when adversity comes and reality is exposed, the person remembers the little seed and starts to nurture it.

When we were first married, Ken and I were part of a church where people were wholeheartedly living out the Word.  Then for eight years we went to another church that had many good people, but wasn’t the same.  We became lukewarm.  We got to the point where we were so sad, and so sick of our lives.  We weren’t sharing our faith.  Our marriage was a mess.  We were lonely.  We were caught up in sin.

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Our wedding day

Then we remembered the seed, and  how much we wanted to be all out for God.  We moved to be a part of a church like the one we had been a part of years ago.  And our lives changed in incredible ways.

Being exposed to powerful lives made a huge difference in our lives.   And the point of all this is that Jesus wants everyone to be exposed to this.  He wants people to see others who are living out his word.

Because the second thing I want to discuss is how people are in the grip of Satan.  They may not be demon possessed in the sense that we see in the New Testament, but the devil has a hold on them.  Look at how Acts 10 words it:

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.  Acts 10:37-38

I like the wording, “under the power of the devil,” because it’s more like what is happening today.

II Timothy 2:26 says, that people are in the “trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”  The devil has carefully lays a snare, and people are caught fast.  They find themselves doing things they never thought they’d do.  They want to be different, but they can’t break free.  Life becomes a downward spiral, and they feel mired and lost.

Do you know what is interesting about the Greek word used here for “take them captive?”  It’s the same word that is used in Luke 5 when Jesus tells Peter, “Don’t be afraid.  From now on you will be catching men.”  It’s like people can be caught by either Satan, or by us, as we tell them and show them the good news.

I went to our church’s Bible talk in Columbus this week.  A young woman who has been visiting talked about how she had recently been slacking on the disciplines like reading her Bible, praying, etc.  She confessed that her life had started going down the tubes.  It felt like Satan was hitting her on every side. She shared that she was so grateful that her friends at the Bible talk  had exhorted her to get back to doing what she needed to be doing.  She was feeling so much better, and she said they told her some hard things, but it was was she needed to hear.

The friends helped get this young woman out of the devil’s clutches.  And that’s what we need to be doing.  We need to help people to quit going after the wrong things.  We need to help them get sustenance, instead, from the word, prayer and fellowship.

And it will be all the more powerful if they can see us doing that, and not just hear us talking about it!

This week I found out that a young woman I studied the Bible with who became a Christian but later quit coming to church is going through some very tough challenges. It is very sad because if she had kept coming around, she almost surely could have avoided making the poor choices that caused these tough challenges.  It is heart breaking that her life has become a train wreck.

You see, life is full of challenges, but some messes can be avoided.  Look at what I Timothy 6:10 says:

Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

This verse is talking about leaving God because of the love of money, but the result is the same regardless of why you leave.  Your defenses are gone.  You’re like a sitting duck in a shooting gallery.  And you get pierced with many griefs.

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In closing, I want to tell you a quick story of something I saw on Memorial Day.  Ken and I rode our hybrid bikes to an area at Chewacla State Park where there were large rocks and rapids.  A family was hiking, and their trajectory took them across this treacherous area.  They had four teen and preteen children.  They also had grandma, who looked to be in her mid-60’s, and the mom was holding grandma’s hand the whole way, so grandma wouldn’t stumble.

When the family came to a place where grandma would have to jump from rock to rock across some rushing water, the mom and oldest son took off their shoes, waded into the water, held their arms out and formed a safety net on either side of the passage, so that they would catch grandma if she fell.  The son in law stood on the other side, ready to pull her to safety.

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The rapids to the far right are the ones that grandma had to jump across.

I was very touched.  I thought, “This is what we should be for one another — a safety net.”

We all need a net.  We need our friends to be our safety net, keeping us from falling into Satan’s trap by encouraging us to keep up the spiritual disciplines.

Those in the world need a net.  They need to caught by Christ and not by Satan.  They need to hear the word, see us and our lives, and know that we care.

Jesus needs us to be his net.  I love that thought!  I want to keep people from being pierced by many griefs.  If I can help some to avoid this, it is so worthwhile.

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Let’s Be Pioneers!

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. (Mark 6:6b-9)

Isn’t it crazy that Jesus sent out his disciples without any food or money!  It’s something that is hard to imitate today.  I can’t imagine going somewhere and not having a way to get myself food, not having a place to sleep, not having something clean to change into.

But that’s how Jesus sent out his disciples to spread the word.  This challenges me.  Why would he do that?  I think the reason has to be because he wanted them to be totally reliant on God.  In order for them to be successful, they would need to totally look to God, and not to their own resources and power.

In one of my last blogs, I talked about how I’ve been envisioning myself taking a road trip with God.  I realized yesterday why picturing this has been so helpful to me.  It’s because when I picture myself on a road trip with God, I’m not longer the sole driver.  I have to take my hands off of the wheel.   Before, it was about my agenda.  I decided the destination and got bent out of shape if anything got in the way of my getting there.  Now, God’s riding with me, and he has power over our journey.  And I trust him, so if there is an obstacle, we deal with it together.

And that is what Jesus was trying to get his disciples to see when he sent them out.  They were taking a trip, they were performing a mission with God.  If Jesus had given them provisions, they might have been tempted to rely on them. In a sense, they would have had their hands on the wheel.

Does this sound far fetched?  Just last night I was talking to a friend who is fasting one day a week.  That is hard!  But she told me it keeps her from getting comfortable, and she knows when she is comfortable, she is dragged down spiritually.

Comfort can keep us from relying on God.  Yesterday, Ken told me about a sermon he heard about the verse, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  Ken said that one reason this message really struck him is that the speaker talked about how we don’t realize what poverty is.  In many parts of the world there are starving emaciated people begging on the street corners.  They are desperate, entirely dependent on whether someone will provide for their next mouthful of food.

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And Jesus says people who are spiritually poor like this are blessed?  Yes!  They are blessed because they are just as needy as the beggars, and when they see their need, they will rely on God.

We all need to realize how much we are beggars, how emaciated we are, how much we need God to fill our needs and take care of our future.  And as I was thinking of my life and the things around me, I began to see how true this is.  I have goals I want to accomplish, people I want to help, but there are so many obstacles in the way.  We want our church to grow, and our satellite ministries to grow, but so much needs to take place for this to happen.  We are going to lose three of our singles, and our singles ministry will need a shot in the arm.  Our Auburn campus ministry has dwindled.   My children have some challenging situations going on.  I have health challenges. I need so much wisdom, and guidance and strength and divine intervention!

I am totally poor in spirit!

When we realize that the goal is being poor in spirit, it makes sense to take away some of our crutches and comforts so we will rely on God more.

Ken and I have been watching this reality series, “Pioneer Quest: A Year in the Real West.” It’s about two couples who live for a year like 1970’s settlers in Canada.  They travel to a remote location in a wagon.  They have to grow crops and break up the ground with horses and an antique plow.  They have to cut down trees and build their own houses with the same tools the settlers used.  They are not allowed to have or  use anything from our modern time.

pioneer4

This would not be me!  But these couples wanted to get away from the world and return to a more simple life. They recognized the value of giving up comfort.  And they were willing to do this at the price of undergoing great challenges.  And believe me, there were great challenges!

Pioneer

And do you know what it reminds me of, in a way?  How Ken and I moved to Auburn, to this small church here.  We left our big comfortable church and came down to a place where we would have to work, but we felt that the value of going back to simply and totally serving God would be worth it!  And there have been great challenges, but it has been worth it many times over.

2012 summer

The ATCC in earlier days.

We’ve been poor in spirit, and we’ve had to rely on God many times.  And each time he has gotten us through, and provided for us.  That fills my heart to overflowing.

Going back to the passage about Jesus sending out the disciples, as I thought about it, it occurred to me that Jesus did give the disciples one thing to take with them.  He gave them a partner.  He didn’t send them out alone.

The same is true for us.  God gives us spiritual partners, people who are there to keep us strong on the journey.  He doesn’t send us out alone.

In The Pioneers, I think that the success of the endeavor was due, more than anything else, to their strong marriages.  They relied on each other.  They laughed when there were hardships.  They helped each other instead of tearing each other down.

We need each other so much to have success in our endeavors.  We need them for strength through the journey.  That’s the way we’re going to make it through.

This past Sunday we had a time of encouragement at the beginning of our worship service.  People shared about someone they appreciate.  One young man who has been visiting church told about how some other young people had fed him dinner, build a friendship with him and really encouraged him.  My friend Antoinette shared how an older couple had reached out to her and had her into their house, and when she talked about how much it meant to her, that touched the woman she was sharing about so much that she started to cry.

And then one of our members in Montgomery, Tre, started to share about me.  I wondered what he could have to say.  But then he started talking about a a working mom in his group who had been going through some challenging times, and how I had gone out to babysit, and been a support to her.  He was so grateful.

That really impacted me.  I think I just do a little serving here and there.  But I see that our acts of service impact others in a huge way.  They help people know that they’re not going through things alone.

So let’s be pioneers for Christ!  Jesus is sending us out.  Let us become poor and needy before God, and rely on him to build our lives and our ministry.  Let us set aside comfort and do the hard work that is worth it!

God will give us what we need, and a good part of that is in one another.

Women's midweek

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God Loves to Give!

Friends I am excited to write to you today. I feel like I have been learning so much!

The verse for today is in Mark 6:1-6:

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?  Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith

This verse really got me to thinking.  At first I didn’t feel like I could relate, but then I was reading Facebook and I saw a post from a good friend who used to be a neighbor of mine.  She has a very sweet teen daughter who used to come over to my house and just talk to me .  That was so endearing, so special.  But anyway, this girl has sickle cell anemia, and my friend posted that her daughter is in the hospital, and asked everyone to please pray for her.

Of course I said I would pray for this sweet young teen. But I realized, when I started to pray, that I was kind of just going through the motions, because I didn’t think that Jesus was going to answer this in a dynamic way.  I have so many individuals I pray for and I’m just praying for them and thinking something good might happen, but not really thinking that Jesus is going to perform a miracle.

And it struck me that I’m just like the people in Jesus’s hometown. I don’t see him as the Son of God. I don’t realize that’s who I’m talking to.

So I decided I’m going to change, and since then I’ve started praying and really thinking about who I’m talking to and what he’s capable of.  And I’ve begun  to see that it’s not so much a problem of not believing that God has the power. Because I do.  The problem is that I’m not sure that God wants to heal people, or that he wants to answer the prayers that I’m praying.  And so this morning when I was praying about this, this verse came to mind: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  (Acts 20:35)  Jesus said this and I know it is true!  God loves to give.  He shown that all through the Bible. Of course he wants to answer prayer!   Of course he wants to help people!

And even without all that, I should be also looking at the evidence of the miracles all around me.  Last night is the perfect example.  We went out and we celebrated my friend Markeya passing the boards to be a dental hygienist.  How cool is this?  It’s the best story.

markeya dinner

Our dinner for Markeya.

I remember about five years ago when I met Markeya and she told me she had a white board and on it she wrote her goals  and her dreams.  One of those dreams was to be a dental hygienist.  She also dreamed that she would be close to God and get her relationship right with God .  We help that dream come true very quickly.

Markeya and Kat

Markeya and me.

But she had to work hard to achieve her second dream.  She had to spend the money and go to dental assistant school. And then after she finished the school, she couldn’t find work in her field.  It took about a year but she finally did get a job and she was hired from among many applicants to work in Valley, Alabama.  To do so she had to wake up early every morning, because it was in a different time zone.  After a long time, the authorities at her job said they would sponsor her to go to dental hygienist school.  And Markeya drove up once a month to Birmingham and and took classes and studied.  It was very hard for her to work and then go to school, but now she’s passed her boards and she’s just a few short steps away from being a dental hygienist and achieving her dreams!  It truly is amazing, and I believe 100% that God is behind this miracle.  It shows me that he loves to give good gifts to us .

It’s all about changing our perspective.  Yesterday I was totally struggling with a couple things and I thought, “God, why am I in this situation?” And I was feeling frustrated, until I remembered one thing I learned from this great book called “Soul Work” by Randy Harris.  Harris wrote that he likes to envision that each day he is taking a road trip with God.  I’ve started doing the same thing.  I get up in the morning and say, “God, what shall we do today, where shall we go?”  And then it’s like I have an adventure with God every day.

So when I remembered this, I said, “Okay God, here I am in this situation.  This is like an obstacle we’ve come to on our road trip.  What should I do?”  I said that knowing that he was right there with me, ready to help me, involved in what I was doing.  It wasn’t like I was a victim. It wasn’t like I had to pressured by all of these expectations of what I should do and be.  It helped me take a deep breath and get a different perspective, that I could handle it.

So that brings me to one other thing I want to share with you that’s really help me lately to be more secure and deal with challenges  It’s the verse in John 15 where Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” (John 15:5)   This verse has really made a difference to me because I’ve started envisioning myself as a branch that goes out from this strong tree trunk.  My status is as solid as that branch and tree.  I am in Christ.  I’m saved.

Before, I had been feeling somehow like I wasn’t good enough.  Even though I knew I was saved, sometimes I just felt like I wasn’t where I needed to be.  But it really helped me to realize and picture that I am that branch, and I am connected to the tree, and there’s nothing that’s going to change that unless I just conscientiously cut myself off.

So that’s what I want to leave with you today.  Build your faith by remembering that God loves to give.  Build your relationship with God by taking a road trip with him today, and knowing that, together with him, you can deal with whatever comes your way.  Build your security by realizing that you are a branch connected to the firm trunk, which is him.

Now let’s go out and have an adventure!

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God Writes the Best Stories!

Friends, I have missed blogging!!  I have been taking some time to go back to the basics, connect with God and  pray about what he wants me to do.   I am not sure about everything yet, but one thing I know — I want to continue communicating with whoever  would like to listen.

So I’ve been reading through Mark, and here is the scripture I looked at today:

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.  (Mark 5:21-28)

Actually, I read the whole passage through verse 43, where Jesus heals Jairus’s daughter.  But I don’t want to put the whole thing here, so read it on your own if you like.

But what this passage made me think about is how Jesus got to be a part of other people’s stories, and how we also are often in one another’s stories.  That is what my weekend was about.  Travis graduated from Tuskegee, and it made me feel so nostalgic.  I have so many pictures in my mind of his time here, so many good memories.  It makes my heart overflow.  What a privilege it is to be a part of someone’s story!  How awesome it is when they are a part of yours!  And Travis has very much been a part of the story of our church.  In some ways, he has been our church, because it is he who, through God, really got the Tuskegee ministry going.

Group travis

Travis is in red with his eyes closed.  So funny.

So in the passage above, one story Jesus became a part of was that of the synogogue ruler, Jairus, who had a little daughter who was very ill.  Jairus must have been so distraught, going out of his mind with worry.  He was an important man, and that makes it all the more amazing that he could come to Jesus and humble himself in this way, by bowing down before Jesus and pleading with him.  We read about many religious leaders who are too filled with pride to have faith, and Jesus blasts them.  It’s good to see that there are other religious leaders who do get it.  And humility has got to be key, the ability to humble yourself and grovel.

That’s something I am finally learning and working on.  I realized that one of the hardest things for me to sacrifice is my glory.  Even in being a Christian, I can give things up, and feel good about myself because I can tell myself that I am good.  So normal sacrifice doesn’t seem like a sacrifice to me sometimes.  But giving up feeling good about myself, now that is something else!  One thing I’m doing is not letting myself look in the mirror.  Don’t think I’m crazy — this really helps me!  I am loving focusing on God getting the glory, and not me.

But on to other things in the passage.  We know that the daughter of Jairus got healed.  Jesus is in the healing business, and it is so cool.  We think that was back then, but Jesus is still in the healing business.  My friend Jessica shared on Sunday about how she really wanted to have a baby, but she was so fearful that she couldn’t have one, because of her past sins, and other challenges she had.  Then, when she got pregnant, she was fearful that the baby would be healthy, because she had to be on medication.  But she said she held to the scripture in Hebrews 11 where the Bible says that faith is the substance of things not seen.  She couldn’t see her baby, but she believed that this was the baby she had been praying for, and that God would give her just the baby she needed.  And this prayer came true!

Ken with babies

Ken with children, one of which is Josiah, Jessica’s baby.

That is another thing that made me nostalgic this weekend.  It has been so special to be a part of Jessica and Julio’s story, and to see how God has worked in their lives.  Is there anything better?  Sometimes I look at the times when Jesus dropped what he was doing and went to heal someone.  It is so hard for me to change my schedule, I get stuck on my agenda.  But Jesus would just go at the drop of a hat.  Surely part of his motivation was that he loved being a part of the stories that God was writing with people’s lives.

And Jesus responded to faith!  That got him going every time!  How much do I approach Jesus with faith like that?  I mean, the bleeding woman just had to touch his cloak.  He didn’t even interact with her.  That’s how powerful faith is.  Do I believe that?  As I’ve been studying Mark, I am seeing more and more how important it is to WORK to have faith.  I think sometimes we just think we’re going to have it.  We’ve got to make an effort to let the word sink into our hearts.  We’ve got to wrestle with our stuff and decide to believe.

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:29

That’s all I have time for right now.  But I hope to keep sharing my life and what I’m learning in these quickly written blogs.  Look for more soon. God writes the best stories, and I can’t wait to relate more of them to you!

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