“Looking back to move forward”

 

This morning with my church family we talked about the closing of this year and the beginning of next year! We wrote down some things that we were grateful for, what we mourned over, how we saw God moving, and what we’d like to leave behind in 2017. After writing these things down, we celebrated communion, being humbled before Christ, remembering His sacrifice for our sins and the redemption of life that He gives through His death. We then placed our notes on 2017 in a suitcase (which was then closed) as a symbol of closing the door on the past year. Not taking for granted the ways those things changed us, but as a closing of a passage and entering a new chapter.

Looking back at this time last year until now, SO much has changed. This time last year, I thought I knew where I was “headed” or what would be happening in the new year. But little did I know how much things would change….how much I would learn about my identity in Christ…how I would be awakened to the persecuted church…how I would mourn for things and people being stripped away…how I would be blessed with new opportunities….how God would confirm answers to prayer…It’s been quite an amazing year.

“But now, this is what the Lord, your Creator says, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you [from captivity];
I have called you by name; you are Mine!

‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.'”

Isaiah 43:1-2

Honestly, even though the year began with some very deep valleys, as I look over the whole year, the blessings and surprises that God brought far outweigh whatever depths I thought were going to define 2017. It wasn’t even possible for me to dream of the ways in which God surprised me this past year and I am so thankful for what & how He brought me out from those valleys.

“Listen carefully, I am about to do a new thing,
Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it?
I will even put a road in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert….”

Isaiah 43:19

So as I look towards 2018, I hope to have more confidence and courage to follow where God leads, to live out my faith and share about Christ in a way that draws others to Him, to learn more about the people around me and about Christ and to trust Him in this crazy journey because who knows what kind of adventures He may be taking me on this year. I may not know what is up ahead, but with all my heart I intend to seek after Christ and ask Him to open my eyes to see how He sees and to love like He does.

Coming & Going

Here were the questions we looked at this morning & some of my reflections on the past year and the upcoming year!

2017

  • When did you feel close to God this year?
  • When in this year did you feel like God was absent?
  • What were some moments of joy and some moments of sorrow?
  • What disappointed you or frustrated you this year?
  • What surprised you this year?
  • Is there anything in this year you want to leave behind and not take with you into next year?

Feeling close to God in doubt and pain. Forgiveness between myself and ministry partners. Reconnecting with kids I love. Making new ministry friends in Egypt. Sorrow for leaving family. Sorrow for “ideas” changing. Surprised by a settled peace in where Christ has taken me. Many new relationships & community. Positive visible answers to prayer. Vikings kicking butt. These are a few of my favorite things.

 

2018

  • What do you think God is inviting you into in this next year?
  • What areas of growth might you pursue in your life next year?
  • What experiments might you try in 2018?
  • Are there questions or topics you’d like to explore in the new year?
  • What are you apprehensive about as you look towards next year?
  • What are you excited about?

New ministry beginnings. Greater depth of relationships with others & with God. “How does God love the orphan?” Growth in and experiments in rhythms of reading, evangelism, study & journaling. Courage to follow God where He directs. Pursuit.

 

Rapids

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Life is constantly flowing, whether you like it or not. Just like a river, sometimes it’s full and sometimes it is diminished but flowing just the same, and the flow is fast. If you follow a river long enough, you’re bound to run into a few rapids. This is not unusual or abnormal. It is something we expect. Yet in life, for some reason, even though we know that we are all flawed and imperfect, when we find ourselves approaching or in the middle of rapids, it catches us off-guard. It doesn’t feel normal. But it is. It sadly is too normal.

For many years, I’ve been conflict averse. If I saw a conflict coming, I’d steer clear in the other direction, or batten down the hatches and stay inside until the big storm was over and not look around to see if any damage had been done that needed fixing. I was content to stay quiet, not watch the storm, not engage and just hide. But honestly what good is that?

This week we have been challenged to think about Interpersonal relationships. At first, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to the class. I’d read Crucial Conversations and thought…..I know how to do this now, I’ve practiced a lot, I’m not afraid of conflicts or bringing up tough conversations, but there were a lot of “I’s” in this frame of mind and not a lot of openness. Well these classes sure have a way of opening you up even if you think you’ve “got it”. 😉

Being thrown into a training with four unique individuals here had the potential to be a rocky set of rapids…..throw in that we’re all anticipating big changes ahead and being out of our comfort zones already, homework and a new living location leaves all sorts of rocks to flow over. Thankfully, we all were able to be really open and honest about where we struggle in relationships and conflicts.

So as I learn in this area, and hopefully grow, here are some verses that stuck out to me:

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. (Proverbs 18:13) Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. (1 Peter 3:11) A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24-25) The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. (Psalm 103:8-11) Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! (Micah 7:19)

Do you have any scripture or other things you keep in mind when approaching a conflict? I’d love to hear from you!

God Size

The last few months here have been crazy.  Literally speaking, they’ve been such a whirlwind, that every time I’ve even thought of writing, I’ll forget about 10 minutes later because I’m on to something different.  But tonight, I felt like I had to write….there’s too much to say all in one post, but this message keeps coming through different ways, and so it must be something that is important.  So here goes.

Have you ever been faced with something where you thought, “how am I supposed to pray for this!?”…you battle within yourself whether you should pray for a miracle, or not, because you “know” that it won’t happen probably and that whatever it is in front of you will just turn out the way things “normally” turn out, whether that be good or bad, but either way you pray it’s not really going to be different.  Have you been there?  I have, and I’m sure some of you have too.  You’re like….you trust in God, but really when the odds look so grim you just don’t know if you should pray that God will perform a miracle or if you should just accept the fate & pray for God to give peace.

Well…..here’s a question for you: How well do you know God?

Really, how well do you KNOW Him?  The earth is finite, right?  Meaning there’s only limited outcomes, options, possibilities, etc.  But God is NOT.  He created the earth, so He doesn’t live within the confines of our existence, He lives in the freedom of His!  So when we pray, are we underestimating the power of God by not even asking for something bigger than we could even imagine?

This spring, things were going along just “normal” until one day I went to work & they told me that I was being laid off.  Oddly enough, I wasn’t devastated.  Honestly I’d been having a conversation with God about what was next….I wasn’t sure that where I was then was where He would always want me to be…so when I heard that I would be leaving in a month, it was a little bit of an “okay God, now what…” moment.  Financially I was okay for a little while, so I decided that since I had so many things planned for the summer, I would wait on God for just the right thing, and not pursue another position until the middle of August.

At the beginning of July, I visited my dad in TX, and finished a book called “Sacred Waiting” by David Timms.  It seemed that book was perfectly timed, by hitting on my period of waiting that had just been semi-imposed upon me by getting laid off.  I went back to MN to prepare for an art show before heading out on another vacation with some friends (which is another story all in itself) and two days before I left I got a strange call.  It was one of my old supervisors, from the job I had just left.  He said that his wife had met a guy at a concert, and that through random conversation, he mentioned they were looking for someone like me and so she mentioned my name and now that guy was trying to get in touch with me about a job.  That morning, I researched the organization, called & left a message and two hours later got a call back. They wanted me to come in for an interview 2 hours later.  Here’s the scenario: I’m in my PJ’s at 1pm, I don’t have a current resume, don’t have a printer if I DID have a current resume, wasn’t sure that I had any clean business clothes to wear and was then living an hour away from the office….so naturally I said “of course I can make it by 3pm”. lol.  I stood in line behind three 10 year old girls at the public library to print off my resume, and barely made it in.

To make the rest of the story short, I was offered the job the next day.  It was outstanding.  I feel so blessed, and I know that this kind of thing does NOT happen that often, but it was like….God was reminding me that He does things in HIS timing and way, not necessarily ours.  So this weekend, we’re hosting an event, hoping to draw in 5,500 people! We’ll be sharing the gospel and feature some great musicians!  And through the planning, I’ve been nervous, wondering how it’ll all turn out, what will happen, who will come, etc.  And sitting here tonight, being reminded of God’s miraculous power through the book of John, I’m finding peace knowing that God’s got it.

He’s greater than anything we can imagine, and so He’s capable of doing more than we can imagine.  We just need to stop underestimating Him and closing doors where He wants to show us His miracles!  Where does God want to do a miracle in your life, or challenge you to trust in Him more?  As you think on that, also remember us this Saturday in prayer.  Pray that people will pack the house, pray that people will respond to the gospel, pray that the Lord would do something that we could have never imagined!  Hallelujah!

(If you want to watch our concert streaming live, tune in Saturday at 7pm Central at: http://livestre.am/16gGw)  

Branches & Vines

This past weekend I did a lot of cleaning.  Inside my house as well as some inside my soul.  While emptying out a book closet, I came across an old journal that my great grandmother had written, telling a bit of her story of marriage, grief, hardships & the faithfulness of God throughout each moment.  It was a precious reminder of how the Lord is faithful throughout the generations.  How blessed I felt to know that He was working so many years ago, while forming the foundation that I would grow into through this family.

On Sunday, I visited the church that I had read about in her writing, that my family had been diligent to help begin.  The worship felt new this time.  Knowing a part of the history of how these settlers, new & shocked by the un-true tellings of the reality that would face them on the land that awaited them.  Their hearts were on giving the next generation a hope & future….even if that meant really hard work & struggles.  Even if that meant starting your own church because faith in God was that important.  Even if that meant losing many dreams you had for yourself so that dreams your children dreamt could come true.

At the church though, the sermon was about the Vine & Branches section of John 15.  I normally really appreciate this verse, but as I had been going through a lot of things that were left after my mother passed away, I was saddened because it was like….well, I understand that God would cut off branches that weren’t producing fruit, but what about those that WERE producing fruit?  Why would he cut those off early?  Thankfully, when these thoughts were mumbling through my little brain, they were caught by the next phrase the pastor spoke….about God pruning the branches that were producing fruit because by doing that sometimes the fruit other branches produce will grow larger & that the quality of the fruit might become better.

This made me wonder about my life right now, and those lives of my siblings & friends.  People who we’ve known, outstanding characters & faithful to the Lord, those people who were cut off from life seemingly too early to understand.  It hurt, and still does many days, but it seems like this verse would flow with this course of pruning.  Somethings that I’ve done this year, never would have been done had my mother been around.  Other things I’ve seen my friends/siblings do would never have happened if their friends or family had been around….it doesn’t make it feel better that they’re not here to see these amazing things forming in us, but knowing that somehow their leaving earth spurred a new life inside of us is inspiring.

I don’t know what my whole thought here really comes to, but maybe just knowing that God prunes fruitful branches sometimes to bear bigger fruits on the branches that are left, makes me wonder….what kind of fruit does he see as possible out of our lives?  What will be coming through the pruning?  It doesn’t always feel good to be pruned, but then again who are we as branches to tell the Gardener which branches He should prune?  He knows best, for “…He who promised is faithful.” (Romans 10:23)

A life of Waiting

In a world that waits for nothing, God has given us a few great examples of how to live a patient life, waiting fully on Him.
Think about your definition of waiting, what does it mean to you to wait?  Many times we see waiting purely as a means to an end.  But there is also a type of waiting has more to do with Presence & Service. It’s not just something we do for a time, but it’s a type of waiting that permeates who we are and how we respond.
If someone wants to be a good server or waiter at a restaurant, what are the two main things you are required to do? Be present and be of service.  Now this order is important, because if you’re not present to the person at the table, how will you ever be able to be of service to them?  In order to be a good waiter, or server, you need to practice the Presence of waiting…..making a connection with the person and listening to them well. 

As we look throughout the Old Testament you’ll see many examples of God’s people waiting, waiting, and waiting.  Some people in the Old Testament like Abraham & Sarah didn’t want to wait for God’s promise to them any longer, so they went ahead with their own plan.  Others, like with Moses & the Israelites, instead of waiting for God’s timing, they turned to idols & let fear take over which in turn they were told to wait longer…40 years longer.
There was one man though that waited an extraordinarily long time for God—and that man is Noah.  Noah grew up in a time where the people on earth, similar to today, were becoming more & more rebellious against God, turning to their own desires & plans.  Noah’s heritage however, was laced with strong & faithful men.  Enoch, Noah’s great grandfather was a man who walked so closely with God that eventually God just “took” him from the earth.  Noah’s grandfather was Methuselah, whose name meant “when he dies, it will be sent.”  And even Noah’s name meant “rest,” which at his birth his father stated that he would bring rest from the toil & work of the ground that was cursed.  I don’t know how these names were chosen, but as we’ll soon see, they were both very meaningful & prophetic.
For over 400 years, there’s no mention really of Noah’s life, except that he had found favor in the eyes of the Lord & that Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Genesis 6:8-9)  When Noah was given the task “Build an Ark,” it probably wasn’t because he was a great boat builder, or that he knew just how to do the task, but he responded because he walked with God and KNEW Him.  Noah was able to fulfill this request not because he was so skilled in making boats, or even building for that matter. What made him qualified for this enormous project was that he was in constant communication with God, and was consistently present to Him.  Over the 400 years of Noah’s life before this point, he had learned to discern God’s voice and knew when to respond.  In the game we played earlier, you needed to know what your teammate’s voice sounded like & discern their voice from all the rest of the yelling voices.  In the same way, Noah, in 400 years on earth had learned to hear God’s voice above all the others & pay attention to HIS voice as the one to direct him.
If Noah had any doubts about if it was truly God telling him to build an ark, he probably would have just dismissed the request & gone about his business. Maybe God would have chosen someone else for the project, or maybe he would have just kept speaking…..we don’t know, but what we DO know, is that Noah wasn’t confused about if it was God’s voice. He understood the request, and set about fulfilling it immediately.  He knew it was God because he had been waiting on God for 400+ years. Now hopefully it won’t take US 400 years to get this down, but Noah was constantly going to God’s table, getting to know Him and His desires. 

This is where it gets tough for me…many times, I get into a habit of praying to God about…. “God, give me this, or that, tell me the answer here, or can you direct this to happen?” But truly, honestly waiting on God like Noah did, should be more about listening for what God’s list for US is, not what OUR list for HIM is.  And Noah had quite the list from God…..the ark he was told to build was about half the size of the Titanic, he had to build with certain wood, to certain specifications, all while having people mock & criticize his efforts. 
Yet he waited and endured. Because of Noah’s certainty that it was God who called him to build the ark, he disregarded the people’s jeers and continued diligently in the directly God had set him.  The estimate is that it took Noah 120 years to build the ark….and I don’t know about you, but I’m almost sure that I would have given up before then.  But he just kept going because that’s what God requested of Him.  He didn’t jump ahead of God’s plans either, he patiently waited on God’s timing, while continuing to walk with God & listen for his leading.
“Barbara Brown Taylor, an outstanding Bible teacher & preacher, tells the story of a friend who traveled to visit her shortly after she moved from Atlanta to the small township of Clarkesville in the north Georgia foothills. Without a cell phone or a reliable map, the friend became hopelessly lost, increasingly frantic, and somewhat faster on the roads. Finally, she glanced in her rearview mirror and saw those ominous flashing blue lights. She pulled over, and as the police officer approached her driver’s side window, she handed him her license and registration. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I know I was speeding, but I’ve been lost from the last forty minutes, and I cannot find Tower Terrace anywhere on this map.” “Well, I’m sorry about that, too, ma’am,” he said, writing up her citation, “but what made you think that hurrying would help you find your way?'” ….like this lady, how can we ever find our destination if we don’t first slow down to really get to know the map, or the Father?  We can’t rush ahead if we aren’t first present to the One who should be giving us directions.
Noah didn’t get distracted by the project, but kept his focus on the Lord throughout the 120 years that he built the ark.  Even when it didn’t rain for years & years, and there was no “reasonable reason” why he should be building an ark, He kept going.  And during this time, he kept waiting on God’s perfect timing. Interesting to me, is that his grandfather, whose name meant something like “when he dies, it will be sent,” passed away shortly before the rains & floods came!  Wow. And Noah, whose name meant “rest” was able to play a critical role in God renewing the rest on the earth from corruption & evil.
After the flood, God honored Noah and promised that never again would He flood the whole earth. 
If we are to have the same perseverance & waiting ability that Noah had, it won’t come from a strong will but a strong walk with the Lord.  We shouldn’t just follow God when we see results, we should follow Him because He is trustworthy and will tell us what we need, when we need it. By establishing a solid waiting relationship through PRESENCE, we can then be good SERVERS.