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again

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I am here again,

Needing your grace again,

Pouring out my heart again,

You have proven faithful again.

I tried again,

To go my own way again,

And you drew me back again,

Your mercy sustains again.

I come weary again,

God, I’m empty and tired again,

I’m reaching for you again,

You hold me in grace again.

So desperate again,

My soul aches for your Word again,

My hands lifted to you again,

Your presence refreshes again.

Broken again,

Clinging to you again,

Your hands lift me up again,

You make all things new again.

I won’t move again,

Waiting for you again,

Pausing and quiet again,

You come and renew again.

Peaceful and still again,

Such love abounds again,

You hold nothing back again,

You meet every need again.

Lord, I am here again.

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We strive. We push. We plan. We pursue. Through blood, sweat and tears we power on to meet our goals, fix our problems and cling to control.

In our striving, pushing, planning and pursuing, we oftentimes find ourselves empty, weary, angry and spent.

We gained, but we also lost.

Ambition will eventually fade into either self-reliance and pride, or depression and loss of joy. While it sounds respectable and commendable, the unintended consequences can lead us further from the heart of God rather than the closeness with Christ that we are longing for. Even if the work is good, and even if it centers on Christ, it is the heart – our hearts – that take a beating.

Goals and plans and hard work are not to be discounted. In fact, God commends a studious and faithful worker! Laziness is not the alternative for ambition. However, ambition, as noble is it may seem, will get you nowhere.

So counter cultural, I know! Most of us in our western mindset can hardly fathom this concept that ambition might not be God’s perfect way. Ambitious people win the world! How dare I question the motives and outcomes of ambition?

My answer: Jesus.

“After the approval of heaven at Jordan came the assault of hell; after the dove, the devil. This is the usual order in spiritual experience, and in this the Master was no exception.”  J. Oswald Sanders

After his baptism, and after God’s public approval, came what we know to be Christ’s wilderness experience. Forty days of fasting and prayer. Alone. Pulled out of the public square and into battle. Temptation came at him. And while his body was weak and weary, Christ did not succumb to the prodding and agitating words of the tempter. It was out of this experience that Christ modeled for us the “how to’s” to following God’s call.

In our human nature when God invites us to join him in pursuit of a dream, a calling, a ministry – whatever it might be – we instantaneously want to grab it by the horns and make it happen. Bend it into submission. Work ourselves to the bone in order to see the end result. I find it convicting that Christ did nothing of that nature when God’s mantle was placed upon him.

Rather than jump into his role as the Son of God – God incarnate – picking disciples, embarking on a preaching circuit, and disrupting the status quo, he first went into the wilderness.

We hate the wilderness. We try so hard to avoid it at all costs.

But if Christ is our model, and if Christ chose the wilderness over an ambitious agenda to please his Father, what makes us think we can avoid the wilderness ourselves? Are we better than our sinless Savior?

Interesting to me that the second temptation that came to Christ was in the form of  ambition – the desire to achieve things. (1)

Tempted to jump off of the highest point of the Temple and to command his angels to save him, Christ refused. The Jews were waiting for a Messiah that would overthrow the government, wield his power and position and stun them with his wonders. This stunt would have given the world what it wanted. But it was not God’s way.

Ambition can get us what we want, but it may not be God’s perfect way.

Humbling and convicting, so often is Christ’s example to me. We have to fight hard to overcome the mindset of this world, even in the world of ministry where self-promotion, numerical success, attractive ministries, attractive ministers, cross-less expectations, full bellies and hungry hearts are common distractions. The way of Jesus is so counterintuitive. Completely upside down to our societal and cultural norms. And yet so affirming and satisfying.

“For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:30 (NLT)

Chasing after dreams and obeying the call of God was never meant to leave us empty, weary, angry and spent. Pursuing God’s call and mission was meant to be a joy…a task, perhaps, beyond our capabilities, but well within our reach.

I think the lesson in all of this is that before we begin the task, we must spend time in the wilderness.

Let the wilderness drive us closer to Jesus.

Let the wilderness teach us the heart of God.

Let the wilderness instruct us in the rhythms of God’s grace.

Let the wilderness empower us for the task ahead.

Ambition will get you nowhere.

Submission to the wilderness will lead us to Jesus.

“We long for showy fruit when the Lord calls us to focus on clinging to him. We want to produce, but he reminds us that he provides as we abide. Abiding is not inactive.” Ruth Chou Simons

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

1. The Incomparable Christ, by J. Oswald Sanders, page 87

He calls you by name

During World War II more than 140,000 wartime prisoners served in Japanese POW camps. Thousands of them died from exhaustion, dehydration and starvation. However, for many it was not the inhumane living conditions that threatened their survival, but the constant mental and emotional abuse suffered daily at the hands of the Japanese prison guards. The dehumanization of their souls was more than they could bear, and for many, the loss of hope and the crisis of identity was beyond survival.

We have an enemy. We often do not fight flesh and blood, but our battles rage in the mind. Our enemy would love to steal our identity. He knows that if he can crush our dignity and distort our identity, then he will win.

Maybe you are a mom, working feverishly to juggle all of the demands of your family, and in your most mentally exhausted state of mind, you hear a little voice in your head telling you, “You are not good enough”.

Maybe you’ve been trying to have a baby for years, and things are not working out the way you had planned. Disappointment, hurt and anger begin to set in. And in quiet, lonely moments you hear a little voice in your head telling you, “You are not worthy”.

Maybe you are single, hoping to find true love, someone to spend the rest of your life with, but time and time again you find yourself broken-hearted and rejected. And in those moments perhaps you hear a little voice in your head telling you, “You are unlovable”.

Maybe you have hit a moment of crisis in your life, and depression has settled in like thick fog on a winter morning. You can’t seem to rise above it or see beyond it, and you hear a little voice in your head telling you, “You are not strong enough”.

I don’t know the narrative playing in your head. I don’t know what lies are trying to steal away your dignity, and essentially your identity, and I don’t know if your faith is at its breaking point.  I do know, however, that the God who created all things created you. And I know that he knows you and has called you by name.

“Fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

God has redeemed you.

God has called you by name.

You belong to God.

When you feel your identity is being threatened, just remember to whom you belong.  Don’t lose hope.  Don’t let the enemy run away with your identity.  You belong to the God of all creation.  You belong to King of kings.

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He calls you by name.  And he says, “You are mine”.

the other side

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Colossians 2:15

That phrase, “triumphing over them” means “a general’s triumph who returns victorious”. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary) Think about that. Christ’s death on the cross stripped the enemy of all power and control. No longer are we captive to the struggles and trials of this world. We walk in the same triumphant procession that Christ walked in through his resurrection. On the other side of the cross we stand redeemed and victorious.

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There is healing on the other side.

There is redemption on the other side.

There is joy on the the other side.

There is freedom on the other side.

There is laughter on the other side.

There is hope on the other side.

There is forgiveness on the other side.

There is dancing on the other side.

There is remembrance on the other side.

There is fullness on the other side.

There is the promise of more on the other side.

There is blessing on the other side.

On the other side of our brokenness…on the other side of our grief…on the other side of all the letting go and hard goodbyes…

…there is Jesus.

On the other side of the cross we have victory.

On the other side of pain we are triumphant.

On the other side of death there is the resurrection.

Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us.

And he will see us through to the other side.

take my life, Lord

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“Our significance is measured by the size of the cause that we live for and the price we are willing to pay to accomplish it.” – John York

Two years ago I felt a little nudge. Not just me, but my husband, Joel, as well. It was subtle at first – like someone tapping on my shoulder, lightly. As the tapping progressed, it became more and more challenging to ignore it. It reminded me of the countless times one of our children has tried to (not-so-discreetly) get our attention in a crowd, and the longer they have to wait, the more urgent the tapping becomes. Eventually, the light tapping on my shoulder gave way to an undeniable nudge that something, or someone, was trying to get my attention.

Joel and I began praying. Before we tried to fix the internal discomfort we were feeling, we knew we needed to take all of these emotions and questions and bring them to God. And so we did.

We prayed for a year, and then we knew. We knew God had released us from our current church. We didn’t know what that meant immediately or long term, but we knew that God was beginning to shift the direction of our future.

And so, we began to pray some more. This time for direction, clarity and wisdom.

During much of this time of prayer and seeking, there was one “knock on our door” that our hearts continued to return to: Malawi, Africa. It seemed preposterous. So completely out of the realm of reality. And yet, there it was. And there it continued to be. Five months of focussed prayer, fasting and waiting went by. And then we knew, again. God was not just releasing us from our current church, but he was getting ready to sweep us off of our feet and carry us into an entirely new season of ministry.

Missions.

So many emotions surface when you realize that God’s redirection is far from anything you could have ever conceived on your own. It took me a few months to wrap my mind around this shift in paradigm. Ministry was always where my heart was, and for most of my 20’s I thought I would be a missionary, but then life happened. Our roots began to settle in Stateside ministry. Twenty more years went by. Missions was a lifetime ago. I couldn’t conceive that the call to missions was now.

Oftentimes we lift up prayers or sing beautiful songs that declare our heart’s dedication to following Jesus. We are willing to surrender all in moments of emotion or when we come to the end our ourselves. Through this journey that Joel and I have been on for almost two years, I have felt the gentle hands of God chipping away at my expectations, my plans, my agendas and my dreams. The hardcore and real surrendering has been a process. The heart dedication to following Jesus has been refining.

I have watched as opportunities and ministries that I knew I was made for pass right over me, and I have wondered out loud to God, “Why?

I have felt rejection and uninvited and cried like a teenage girl, “What are you doing, God?

And in response I have heard a faint whisper deep in my heart, “Am I enough for you?

Last spring, during a particularly painful part of this journey for me, I recalled the old hymn, Take My Life and Let It Be. The words of this song stuck in my head. And for months afterwards I could hear the melody, and I would find myself singing along.

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee

Take my moments and my days, let them flow in endless praise

Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love

Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee

Take my voice and let me sing, always, only for my King

Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee

Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold

Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt choose

Take my will and make it Thine, it shall be no longer mine

Take my heart it is Thine own, it shall be Thy royal throne

Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store

Take myself and I will be ever, only, all for Thee

- Frances Ridley Havergal -

When Joel and I obeyed the leading of God to join His work on the mission field, our hearts began to beat a little bit faster. When we had come to the consensus that obeying God, surrendering our preconceived ideas of ministry and our future to Him, suddenly the most overwhelming sense of God’s peace invaded our hearts. It truly is peace that passes understanding. There are so many parts of this call to missions that don’t add up or make sense in our very calculated and structured lives.

But God’s peace.

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His assurance that he is with us reminds us that no matter how challenging the road before us, Jesus will be right there with us.

His promise to supply all of our needs keeps our heads in check when things don’t add up on paper.

His light before us, shining just bright enough for the next step ahead, keeps us dependent and builds an unshakable faith.

And so, Joel, myself, and our four children – Sydney, Brooklyn, Jackson and Jasper – are embarking on a new quest. A new chapter. A new season of life, calling, ministry. There is no turning back.

And we say, “Take our lives, Lord, and let them be…”.

quiet time

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Quiet Time (1994)

An early morning prayer

A song to the sky

My heart lays before you

The Spirit draws nigh

Adoration and music

Praise abounds from my soul

I fall in love with my Savior

His touch makes me whole

I whisper His name

The heavens rejoice

A new language unfolds

Ringing clear from my voice

In the name of the Father

I bow to the knee

I surrender with promise

My Lord strengthens me

The sun rises before me

I look to the dawn

Fresh fragrance of morning

To its scent I am drawn

For this day I am grateful

For the rich living streams

Of the unwritten poem

The beginning of dreams

brokenness is not failure

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“A divine romance exists between the broken and their Creator.” - Embracing Brokenness, by Alan Nelson

Before God can do great things through us, he must do great things in us. And oftentimes this work comes with a price.

Brokenness.

We see brokenness as failure, God sees greatness.

We see brokenness as the end, God sees it as a beginning; an opportunity for deeper intimacy with him.

The soul that is withered, weak and clinging to Jesus as the only source of life, hope, healing and redemption is the soul that has found true humility at the foot of the cross. And when I say “the foot of the cross” I’m not referring to those emotionally charged moments when we cry out to God for help. What I mean is that at the foot of the cross we begin to see ourselves exactly as we are. We see our mess. We see our sin. We see every mishap and wrongdoing. And we see Jesus.

Brokenness is that point in our journey when we allow Jesus to climb into the mess of our lives so that he can begin to pull out the debris that has kept us from full surrender and abundance. Brokenness is where the old dies away.

It’s not a pretty sight.

It hurts.

It gets plain ugly.

Nobody knows quite what to do with a broken person.

In fact, we try so hard to fix the broken people, don’t we? We can’t handle it. It’s too much for us. We think if we sing the right songs, pump them up with Scripture, and make sure they’re clothes are neat and pressed that somehow we can will them out of brokenness. But it is futile. Not one of us can shortcut the work of God both in our own lives and in the lives of others. We can’t pull out of brokenness prematurely. When we do, the work goes unfinished. Brokenness, as bitter as it is, must be seen all the way to the end.

It’s okay to be broken.

Brokenness is not failure.

Brokenness is the most precious gift we could ever bring to God.

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:16,17

Brokenness is not the end…it is the beginning of redemption, and it is the season before greatness. It is the refining that is needed to fully embrace God’s position in our lives and his plan for our future.

The breaking will not last forever, but it is not gone for good.

God allows seasons of brokenness to come in and out of our lives as long as there is something inside of us that needs to be squeezed out. The purest olive oil is the result of a long and necessary process. One crush of the olive can’t produce the kind of oil that satisfies. It takes time, it takes pressure, it takes pain.

Please hear me out…if you are breaking, you are not failing. If you are broken, you have not failed. God is already at work producing in you the character, the strength, the compassion woven deep within your heart to stand in victory on the other side of this journey. His hand has not left you. His hand is holding you. He is holding your tears, your cries of “I don’t understand why this is happening”, your losses and your dark days.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 35:18

The world may see failure. God sees greatness.

“Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” Ecclesiastes 7:3-4

gracious

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Gracious God in the morning

Your guiding hand through the day

You hold my moments and my mistakes

You are never far away.

Glorious God of the sunset

Painting skies in marvelous hues

Your patient love sustains me

Your promise will see me through.

Generous God of the bedtime hour

When I lay my head down for the night

You have been my sure provider

You draw us in and hold us tight.

God is gracious: John 1:16 “From His abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.”

God is glorious: Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

God is generous: Psalm 3:5 “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.”

it’s okay to struggle

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The struggle is real.

Disappointment happens. Things don’t go the way we thought they would. Friends stop being friendly. Boyfriends and girlfriends break up. We don’t get the solo in the school performance. We don’t make the team. Our team loses the game. People move away. Jobs change. Homes change. We wrestle with sickness, financial hardship, unanswered questions and broken dreams.

That earnest fight to fix what is broken, turn back the hands of time, or rewrite history are all a part of the struggle. And while we can’t fix what is broken, turn back the hands of time or rewrite history, we can allow the struggle to invade our happy place and give it free access to do its work in our lives. Our struggle, whether big or small, if given permission, will produce in us the faith that will serve us well throughout our lives and be the blessing our souls are longing for.

Powerful life lessons and skills can be developed only through hard things, and the following are a few of my thoughts on that:

1. The struggle makes you strong. You are strong when you struggle seems a little contradictory, but it is true. Some people are born with a natural inner fortitude. For the rest of us, this inner fortitude is developed through struggle, pain and challenges that God allows to fall in our path. The strongest people I know are the ones who have walked through hard things. If you want to be strong, don’t resist the struggle.

2. The struggle cultivates empathy. People who have struggled tend to look at others’ struggles with much more empathy and grace. If we allow our hurt to heal and not turn us bitter, then we have the opportunity to love hurting people with greater insight, sincerity and compassion. Empathy creates openness. The world is starving for it.  Allow God to cultivate the gift of empathy in you so that you become the conduit of grace that this world so desperately needs.

3. The struggle leads to triumph. You will never know what true victory feels like until you’ve had to struggle. It’s like the story of the butterfly. In order to become the beautiful specimen of nature that God created it to be it first has to struggle to break out of its cocoon. There is no other way to experience this freedom than through pain. We love to see the beauty, but we hate to feel the struggle. Once we break through, and allow the struggle to run its course, we can then experience the joy and reward of the triumph.

4. The struggle writes a better story. We all love stories. The best ones keep us on our toes. Our heroes and heroines fight through battles, overcome obstacles and all kinds of set backs, and we love it. A story without struggle is a story no one wants to read. Don’t let your current moment of hard steal your opportunity to grow, learn and write a better story.

5. The struggle leads you to Jesus. Some struggles come and they go. They bear down on our lives for a season of time, but eventually we come out on the other side. Yet some struggles leave us a little bit broken. The night before Jacob met his brother Esau he wrestled with an angel (Genesis 32). During this struggle the angel touched the socket of Jacob’s hip leaving him with a limp. This limp that he carried with him until his grave was not to be resented or disdained, but to be a reminder to him that his struggle resulted in God’s blessing upon his life. We often see the scars of our struggles as a sort of handicap, that thorn in our flesh that keeps us from success and goodness. But every wound that God allows to pierce our flesh or touch our souls is meant to remind us that he has seen us through. His blessing is his presence and his Spirit holding us and keeping us together. The struggles that leave us a little bit broken are the struggles that lead us into deeper intimacy with Jesus.

We all will walk through struggles as we walk through this life. And I want you to know that it’s okay. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to not have it all together. If we just hang in there, keep wrestling, keep holding on, God’s blessing will fall upon our lives and our stories will be records of victory and not defeat.

Yes, the struggle is real. But God is real too. And it’s okay to struggle.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

the feeble chosen

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“And yet, grace can make a few feeble instruments the means of accomplishing great things – things greater even than we can conceive.” William Burns

You are called.

Sometimes that calling takes you to a place of brokenness. Sometimes it opens doors that make your heart leap. There is always a cost to following God’s call, but there is also great blessing.

We are but “feeble instruments”.

And yet we are chosen.

Every courageous step of faith requires courageous sacrifice and obedience.

But it is no sacrifice at all once we get to the other side. On the other side we see that there is no price too high for the blessing of obedience. Because “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (Thessalonians 5:24)

Ultimately, the call of God is a call to obedience. Surrender. It can sometimes be scary, overwhelming, too big and too much.

It can spur on the naysayers, “Are you sure you’re called to do this?” “Do you really have what it takes?”

Probably not.

But, if God is saying “GO”, then you obey, because yes you are called.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

He who promised is faithful. God is faithful…to each promise, to each command, to each word he speaks. God cannot lie. His word is truth. So, when God promises to be faithful, we can stand on that with confidence and grace and assurance.

I love that God chooses the feeble. I am grateful that the call of God is not limited to the fit, the strong, the gifted and the most admirable. That he chooses the most unlikely among us, that he goes to such extremes to find us, and that he seals his call with his promise makes me wonder why I would ever take pause to seize such an invitation.

When you find yourself buckling under the weight of his call, remember he says to you, “I am with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6). When it feels too big, and you feel too small, remember his promise to be with you, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1).

Remember he is faithful.

The feeble chosen don’t cling to their own abilities and accomplishments. The feeble chosen cling to the hope of the one who has called.

“I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:9-10

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