Thoughts From Outside The Vending Machine

Thoughts From Outside The Vending Machine

The car wash is quite a treat for my children. Not because they get to drive through or watch the brushes scrub the windows from inside the vehicle. That’s not the kind of car wash we go to. We frequent a car wash where you get out and your car is guided through a tunnel. While you wait you go inside to pay your bill and wait for your car to get clean. The trip inside is why my children love the car wash. They get to the office-lobby area where there is housed a vending machine.

vendingSeriously, the whole experience is wrapped up in a machine filled with goodies and buttons! Kati Ann stands fixated on the array of junk food inside the vending machine. She corresponds the numbers on the buttons with the item inside the machine. She is careful to consider her options. And then she turns to her daddy and asks if she can get something out of the vending machine. Jared is a sucker for those 6-year-old blue eyes. He digs in his pocket and finds the appropriate change.

Kati Ann inserts her money, pushes the right button and out falls the white powdered doughnuts she had her eye on. She’s thrilled because she’s never had a white powdered doughnut. (Don’t judge…there are some things better left unknown to children as long as possible. i.e. Chucky Cheese, the toy section at the store and McDonald’s Playplace. If you are a parent, you feel me.) She sits down with her doughnuts and relishes the white powdery goodness.  Her enjoyment is evidenced all over her mouth. She delights in the special treat but when she finishes, she rises from her chair and returns to the vending machine where she hopes for something else.

A vending machine—who knew there could be so much pleasure found from a machine in an old car wash in downtown Huntsville? The reality is that maybe we did know.

Vending machines are a pretty good deal. You put your money in, make a choice and out comes what you want. Vending machines are usually dependable, fairly predictable and meet the hunger of the moment.

The problem is that sometimes we view God like a Heavenly Vending Machine. Our prayer life can become about what we get from God. We say a prayer, make our request and expect God to drop what we want in the tray at the bottom.

Don’t misunderstand, God wants us to ask Him for stuff.  He wants to know the desire of our heart.  But more than that, God wants for us to know Him.  You know, like a real relationship.

Over the years, people have developed formulas, techniques and foolproof schemes to get God to say “yes” to their prayers.   I, too, have used some of these methods or formula. I’m not condemning these methods. That certainly is not my place or my intent. Some of these “formulas” have assisted me in presenting myself to God. I have been able to stay more focused and meet with Jesus.

However, as with anything there is a danger to programming our relationship with God. There is a tight line to balance upon when we begin to turn a person into a project. God is not a project to conquer or figure out. He is a person in whom we seek to know. We must be wary of our motives as we approach God in prayer. God is not a vending machine or a cosmic Santa Claus. Our goal is intimacy and a closer, more natural response to God.

“We look upon prayer simply as a means of getting things for ourselves, but the biblical purpose of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself.”–Oswald Chambers

Prayer is about relationship with God. When we learn to know God better through prayer , our vending machine mentality is replaced with a more authentic relationship.  Relationship comes through dialogue, conversation and shared-experiences. We talk and listen to the God of the Universe while reaching out to the same God that is closer than our breath. 

When the concept of interacting with God on such a personal level is daunting, exciting and seems almost out of reach, start with being real with God.  If you’ve never been really gut-level honest with God, it will probably seem weird or disrespectful at first.  But give it a shot.  The more you interact with God on a personal level, the more personal He will become.

It is freeing when we discover God is more than a vending machine but the Rock on which we can lean upon.

Question: Have you ever found yourself struggling to have a dialogue with God?  What has helped you come to know and treat God more personally?

While We Wait…

While We Wait…

Writing this blog has been such a joy for me as I’ve shared my little online space with some men and women that I admire and journey alongside.  I love to reach back a few years in my life to people who have encouraged and loved on me.  Shelly Binford is one of those people.  I had the opportunity to get to know Shelly and her family during our time in Nacogdoches, TX.  I’m honored that she would share her story with you today.  

For most of my adult life, I’ve been waiting for the day that God unfolds His grand plan to use me for His work.  I’ve  always felt that He had a calling for me, for us- my husband Andy and myself.  It’s just never really been the “right time”.  Raising our daughters (now in college) and being close to  Andy’s parents (who have now passed) was priority in our busy lives.

shellyandy

With life events unfolding, I find myself hitting the fast forward button, dreaming of where and when God will enact His “big plan” for our lives.  You know, the one where we somehow end up in a remote part of the World as He calls us to be His hands and feet? If ever there was a right time, it seems like it’s now!

In fact, I would say this has consumed hours of excited conversation between us lately!  We could go here and do this, or even better, what about there and do that??   Amongst all the talk of selling our house, and things we would miss, and of course things we wouldn’t; we’ve pressed on in our daily lives.   Andy as a Junior High Principal, and driver of bus #11.   Me as a 5th grade teacher/ Cross Country Coach/ driver of School bus #4;  very ordinary, non-super-spiritual livelihoods.

So, while we wait, God has been in the process of uncovering a thing or two.  He’s been revealing to me that the journey to where we are now, and this very moment IS for all Eternal purposes, part of His “Big Plan”.  Maybe I’ve been waiting, but He hasn’t.

It’s always been evident to me, that God has used Andy in so many ways through His calling as an educator.  Frequently,  I’m stopped by someone who wants to share with me how Andy has touched the life of their young person with God’s love in a way that no one else was able to.   And occasionally I’ll run into adults, who’ve been taught by  “Mr. Binford”, and they begin to tell the story of how this junior high math teacher made a profound and life changing impact on them.

But I’ve never thought my life or work was so enamoring or praise worthy, so I find myself constantly looking to the future, waiting for my time to serve.  God in His unending patience has, of course, been unfolding it all along, weaving together the perfect plan He has for me and the work He wants me to do.  Honestly, it’s such a hodge podge of things knitted together, I never dreamed this could be the THING!

I love kids, running, my dog, and Africa.  With the exception of my dog, Maggie, God has masterfully woven these passions together to serve His grand purpose- sorry Mags.  A few years back, I ran my first half-marathon (13.1 miles, half of the full 26.2 mile marathon).  It just so happens that the proceeds from this race would benefit a Texas Charity called Mercy Project.  This group goes into Ghana Africa and rescues kids from slavery and so much more.

race

In the course of these events, I began to share my marathon training ups and downs with my students,  and strangely, they couldn’t get enough.   They also learned about Mercy Project, and that slavery still existed in the world, not just early American History.  As a result, they wanted to do something they could call their own, to help other kids be free.  Into action we went.   My 5th graders spent one hour on a track to walk/run as many laps as they (we) could.    These laps turned into money, as people pledged small amounts for each lap completed.  In all, my kids raised $4,000!  Mercy Project’s founder Chris Fields was gracious enough to come to our little school to accept our offering.  Mercy Project Day #2 is now in the works!

mercy project

So, I’m not waiting anymore!  God is good.  He works in us despite ourselves, exactly where we are and with what we have, and I’m so glad.  I’m learning that whether we’re a cupbearing Nehemiah,  a poor husbandless Ruth, or a bus-driving school teacher, He has a perfect plan, and He’s weaving it from the moment we’re a mere thought.  He knows what He’s doing from the get-go, no waiting involved ☺

Here is a great video about what all the Mercy Project does! Check it out!

Question: How have you seen God weave your passions into His plan?

34 Things I’ve Learned in 34 Years

34 Things I’ve Learned in 34 Years

repel2

I celebrated my 34th 29th birthday on Sunday.  Wow, what a year it has been.   A lot has happened since this time last April.  I’ve grown as a wife, mom, minister and person in the last year.  As I was considering what God has taught me in the last year, I began to think of all I’ve learned in the course of my life.

Obviously, I couldn’t narrow it down to 29 so here is 34 things I’ve learned in the last 34 29 years.

  1. Sock feet on hard wood stairs has the potential of ending poorly
  2. Cheese on bread in a pop-up toaster is a bad combination
  3. The new-car smell doesn’t last that long
  4. A timely word can lift a spirit
  5. Fresh air is good for the soul
  6. Cookies are better uncooked
  7. Nothing quenches thirst like water
  8. Everyone doesn’t enjoy the luxury of clean water
  9. The grass is not always greener in someone else’s pasture
  10. Don’t judge your worth by someone else’s Facebook timeline
  11. Choosing well before marriage can make a huge difference
  12. No marriage is perfect, even if you choose well
  13. The older you get and the more you learn, the truly stupider you realize you are
  14. The person that coined the phrase  “Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels” was obviously not from the South.
  15. Losing someone you love is a lot easier to cope with if you know you’ll see them again
  16. Getting up early is only worth it if there is a good cup of coffee to go with it
  17. Drama is a natural part of working with people.
  18. Getting to do what you love doesn’t mean you are exempt from dealing with the “other stuff” too
  19. The older I get the less of a competition life is
  20. I can learn something from every person I meet
  21. Bicycles are equally as fun as an adult as they were as a child
  22. There are enough hours in the day to do the things you value most
  23. Dreaming isn’t just for young people
  24. I can’t solve all the problems of the world
  25. You really have no idea what people are really thinking
  26. A teacher always learns more than their student
  27. Where you came from isn’t as important as where you are going
  28. Knowing where you came from helps you make sense of where you are going.
  29. Sounding like your mother isn’t bad if the words you hear coming out of your mouth are spoken in love.
  30. Everyone should take a course in communication, it will change the way you interact with the world.
  31. Bubble bath in a jacuzzi bathtub while the jets are going makes a huge mess.
  32. Baking soda and baking powder are not the same thing and yes, you can tell the difference when you eat it.
  33. Sleeping outside is more fun than it sounds especially if you have Tylenol PM.
  34. Anyone can run their mouth.  It’s those that don’t, whom you should probably listen to.

Question:  Anything you would add or change?  Do you agree with this list?

 

The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans

You never know when you are going to stumble upon a new friend and sister in Christ.  Julie Thomas is that for me.  I had the privilege of sitting across from her at lunch a few weeks ago as we swapped stories of what God is doing in our lives through writing.  Julie (and her husband, David) are two people who are desperately seeking to live out what they believe.  Julie has recently started her own blog and you can read more from her here.  For today, I’m excited to have her join us.  Enjoy Julie’s story!

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” my parents asked me when I was about 5 years old.  They recorded my answer (on a cassette tape ~ hey, it was 1972!).  My little voice answers “A mommy!!”  They asked me several more times “What else do you want to be?”  Every time I answered, “A mommy!!”  For as long as I can remember, the deepest desire of my heart was to be a mommy.

In July 1986, I married my high school sweetheart at the tender, insanely young age of 18.  I distinctly remember sitting at our tiny kitchen table in our very first apartment excitedly planning the future.  We were going to have 5 children.  We’d have a few naturally and adopt a couple.  Within the first 6 months of marriage we tossed the birth control pills and decided we were ready to start our big family.

Fast-forward 13 years.  We don’t have 5 children.  We don’t have 1 child.  We’ve prayed, we’ve wept, and we’ve been prayed over by friends and family many, many times.  We’ve been poked and prodded and tested by several doctors.  We’re confused.  “God,” I would cry out “This isn’t what I planned.  Please give us the children we deeply desire.  Please!”  This is not the life I’d envisioned as a little girl or young adult.  My heart is crushed.  I can hardly bear to hear about friends and family members getting pregnant.  The joy I’d always felt in holding babies is now like a knife to the heart.  I feel like less of a woman somehow.  I feel a certain shame that I can’t explain.

However, in the midst of the pain and confusion, there was a knowing that our God had a plan.  For years I was convinced that His plan was for me to get pregnant, just on His time not mine.  As the years went by, we briefly discussed in vitro fertilization.  The cost was extremely high and not covered by insurance.  There was a high probability it may not even work for us.  We spoke again of adoption.  The more we talked about it, the more excited I became.  Once we started down this path, there was no turning back.  It was a long, somewhat tedious process.  Adoptive parents have to fill out mounds of paperwork, have background checks and home visits.  We put together a Profile, which is basically a story of our life for prospective birth parents to look at so they can decide if this is the couple/family that will raise our baby.  The entire process took about 2 years.  In March 2001, we had one “failed” placing where we actually went to the hospital and held the baby boy.  The following day, we were told the birth mother had changed her mind.  She wanted to parent her baby.  The peace God gave us at the moment was indescribable.  Sure, there were tears, but only for a few minutes.  I almost felt guilty for not being devastated.  God surrounded us with His love to the point that I simply couldn’t do anything but be happy for this young woman and her child.  We headed home and prepared a nursery that very week as a statement of faith that God was going to do what He said He’d do.

A few short months later in May 2001 we received the phone call that would change our lives forever.  A couple in Pennsylvania wanted us to adopt their baby girl. We spoke to both birth parents on the phone several times.  We flew to PA the first week in July to bring our daughter home.  As we were at the adoption agency signing papers and finalizing all the legal matters, the birth mom asked to speak privately to a counselor.  Our hearts fell.  We just knew something wasn’t right.  We went outside, sat at a picnic table and my husband and I sobbed.  We held each other.  We cried and we prayed.  We prayed for strength and for His will for everyone involved.  We went back inside and received the news that she just couldn’t do it.  She needed more time to decide.  I wish I could say I had the peace I experienced the first time.  I didn’t.  I wasn’t angry, only sad.  Our hearts were torn in two.  Within a week of flying back home, we received a call directly from the birth mom.  She was ready if we still wanted to adopt her baby.  On July 14, 2001 Elisa Nicole Thomas was placed in our arms.  On that day my dream of becoming a mommy came true.  The instant love and bond I experienced is out of this world.

I had a plan when I was 18 years old.  God had one too.  His plan was perfect and complete.

Psalm 147:3 tells us, “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.”

I have complete healing in my heart.  I was a foolish young girl thinking I wanted 5 kiddos.  Again, God knows best.  Those that know me well will agree that one child is plenty!

What’s so awesome about God is that His plan is good for all involved.  Not only did I become the mother that I so desperately longed to be.  My husband became the amazing dad he was meant to be.  A child was given a life she wouldn’t have otherwise had.  We are still in contact with Elisa’s birth family.  She has 2 brothers that I believe she’ll have relationships with one day.  She has her birth parents that love her deeply and want only the very best for her.

Me and my girl, March 2014

Me and my girl, March 2014

 

Father-daughter purity ball, February 2014.

Father-daughter purity ball, February 2014.

I’ve lived the truth of this often quoted verse (Jeremiah 29:11), “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  So, next time your life doesn’t go according to your plan take heart.  It’s quite possible that God has something far more grand in store for you!

Question: How has God changed your plans in a way that you are truly grateful?

 

The Danger of Dreaming

The Danger of Dreaming

I2Tegg1396896589

Last summer I taught a Bible Study on Joseph (you know they techno-colored coat guy).  Joseph was a dreamer.  In fact, we often refer to Joseph as “Joseph the Dreamer” because God did, in fact, give Joseph dreams at an early age and later allowed him the ability to interpret dreams.

Through the course of the study, I challenged women to remember the dreams God gave them in the past.  We began to talk about the way God allows some of those dreams to unfold in a way and a time that we don’t expect.  The dreams God puts on our hearts are important and should be acknowledged.  However, if we expect God to fulfill those dreams on our time-table we will likely be disappointed.

Would it surprise you if I suggested that sometimes dreams unfold at a point when we’ve almost quit dreaming or even forgotten about the dream?  What I mean is…we can’t just sit around waiting on the dream.  We have to get to work–we have to live.  Often when God puts a dream in our heart, our character isn’t ready for the realization of the dream.  God-given dreams are exciting but outside of God’s timing they are conspicuously out-of-place.

I recently read a great illustration by an author I used to enjoy back in college.  I picked up one of her books and found this illustration that fits with this train of thought:

It’s like wearing a stunning evening dress to work.  It may look marvelous, but it’s glaringly out-of-place.  That overshadows the beauty of the dress and, sadly the outfit does not obtain the appreciation it deserves.

Joseph wore a fantastic coat but it was highly impractical for the work he did as a young teenager.  He was out in the fields, wearing a coat that wasn’t designed for work in the fields.  The coat and the dreams were great but they were in the wrong place and time.

Burlap-wood-background20130815As we continued our walk through the life of Joseph, I challenged my women to seek God and see what He was doing with the dreams He put on their hearts so long ago.  As is usually the case, God spoke to me (the teacher) in a powerful way.  I really began to sense God stirring my heart and challenging me to get out of my comfortable spot and see what else He wanted to do in and through me.

I have to admit at that time (without realizing it), I found myself almost complacent–believing God had taken me as far as He was going to–almost as if there were not more dreams to be realized in my life.  I believe He spoke to me in a real way to say “Bobi Ann, I’m not done with you.  There is more that I have planned.”  It might sound silly or prideful but I had inadvertently allowed myself to believe I was at the place God would continue to use me indefinitely .

Following this realization, I began to spend serious time seeking God in prayer about what He wanted from me, asking Him what was next and I believe He gave me answers.  It is what sparked the start of this blog and my slow process of writing a book.

I believe it is important to dream and plan for the future.  However, I also have come to recognize some of the pitfalls that one must be careful.  The danger of dreaming is getting ahead of God. The resounding truth that God keeps putting in front of me in recent days is the part of Joseph’s story that I didn’t let speak to me (though I did teach on) until recently.

God gave Joseph a dream in his late teens but Joseph didn’t see that dream fulfilled until his 40′s.  So, what did Joseph do during that time?  He was faithful with what God put in front of him.  Joseph didn’t focus so much on what could be but instead in dealing with what was.  He was being faithful with what was right in front of him.

Here is an example:

I’ve recently had conversations with some women in my life that are going through some tough circumstances involving their home life and health.  They are faithful women that love God.  During this particular season, they haven’t been able to be as involved at church and in ministry as they usually are.  On separate occasions, each of them has come to me distraught over the fact they have not been able to do more.  They want to serve but have found themselves having to deal with their life circumstances.  They felt guilty and were sure I was going to be disappointed with them.

I wasn’t disappointed with them.  I knew their circumstances and though some of the ministries they were involved with weren’t moving as fast as we had hoped, I knew that they were still faithful.  They were being faithful with what God had put in front of them.  Were they looking for a diagnosis of cancer for themselves or a loved one?  Did they expect the full impact of what a particular child might bring to their home?  No. Yet, it is what God put in front of them.

Is their ministry still vital? Yes! Does God still have a plan to use them in it?  I believe He does.  Is God still unfolding His plan for the ministry they are part of even while their circumstances have altered their attention or slowed the progress?  Absolutely.

We need to let go of our plan and our time-table and realize that God is still very much at work and we are still very much part of His plan.

God wants to make changes in our hearts and ready others for what He’s doing.  When He gets all the pieces in place and we show up in that beautiful evening gown, it will all make sense and fall into place.  We will appreciate His perfect plan.

Being a dreamer is fun and honors God but only if we let God be in charge of unfolding the dream.

Question: How have you seen God unfold His plan in unexpected ways?

Those Bitter Roots

Those Bitter Roots

Today’s guest post is from my friend, Sandy Campbell.  Sandy is an amazing Bible teacher and has such a powerful influence on those around her.  I’m honored to serve alongside Sandy and so excited that she would share today with you my reader.

digging in the dirt

It’s Spring,  Yea!! So here I am, out digging in the dirt.  Doing all those preparation things that we need to do to have beautiful flowers all spring and summer. I find some of the left-over things that I should have attended to last fall — but ran out of time.  So I’m pulling up weeds that I allowed to grow deeper and stronger.  Some are what are known as Thistles.

Milk_thistle_flowerhead

The flower of the thistle plant can be colorful — however they are disaster in any garden.  And if you have ever struggled against these dratted monsters, you know what I mean. The stems will prick you and some of the leaves also have little needles on them. And then there are the roots!!  That’s where I made my mistake last fall.  Instead of pulling the weed up by the root, I took the easy and quick way out and just cut them off at the ground.  They had the rest of fall and winter to branch and spread out — get a really good foot hold in the ground.  So there I was pulling, panting, straining to get the dreaded things out.  I finally had to succumb, get the trusty spade and “lopper” to dig and cut them away.  In the midst of all this toil and pain I thought of the verse in Hebrews 12:15 — the Message says it this way — “Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent.”

A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.”  How many times have we just given a passing tug at weeds in our lives? Leaving the roots to spread and take hold.  Maybe we have ignored the weed entirely, allowing it to cast its seeds all around, affecting not only our garden but that of our neighbor.

The root of Bitterness — that’s what I think of when I think of a thistle, because it is so hard to get rid of, if not taken care of the minute it comes up.  And it can destroy everything beautiful around it, as it spreads and kills. Pain, guilt, disappointment, they are all seeds of growing bitterness.  And we feed these seeds — “How could they have treated me that way??” We get on the phone — “Let me tell you what – - – - said to me”  –More fertilizer !! The writer of Hebrews says “Keep a sharp eye out” — “See to it” — pull those weeds NOW!!

The longer they grow, the more pain in getting them out, and the bigger the hole in our garden — Oh we can fill it up and eventually have flowers growing again — but it does take time.  Better to weed when small and “pull able”

Dear God,  show me my weeds, and where they are so deep, dig and cut so that my life’s garden will  show your beauty always.

 Question:  What are the bitter roots in your life that need to be pulled?  What consequences have you experienced by allowing those weeds to grow?

A Long, I Mean Really Long Drive (and a Book Review)

A Long, I Mean Really Long Drive (and a Book Review)

I mentioned in my post last week that I made the long drive from North Alabama to central Texas over Spring Break.  If you aren’t one that has spent much time traveling, the 14 hour drive would be intimidating.  However, if you are like me and now a seasoned traveler over the course of 7 years of traveling I-20 back and forth…oh, forget it…I’m a terrible traveler and I become easily overwhelmed by the countless hours in the car.

Nonetheless, it’s what we do.  We want to be with our family and so we make the drive.  Yet, this time is was different.  Jared was on a mission trip to Tokyo, Japan so it was just the kids and me.  My children were born in Alabama so they know nothing else but long drives.  They are expert travelers and have now reached the age they are pretty easy to travel with.  We travel comfortably with our DVD player and headphones.  The kids sit in the backseat with their headphones on and eyes glued to the screen.  I could admit a little loneliness when I try to point out something interesting on the road and neither acknowledges I’ve said anything because they couldn’t hear me.  You know the headphones and all.  But, it’s not that bad.  Because now that they have become pretty self-sufficient in the backseat, I download an audio book on my phone and am on my way down the road.

I had downloaded The Noticer by Andy Andrews.  I had read some hype about it on social media about a year or more ago and thought it sounded alright but I’ve been busy and didn’t make that boo a priority.  Let me tell you, if you haven’t read it, you should.  As I listened to Andy Andrews read the book, I thought to myself, “I should give this book to everyone.”  Faces began coming to mind as I thought of how blessed they would be by the story and the truths shared by a man named “Jones.”

Noticer-store

It is not a book written with any blatant Christian references.  However, the Christian overtones and biblical truths are poignant and obvious.  I found myself thinking over and over, “People need to know this stuff.  This is what it’s about!”

The trip down the road moved quickly and not just because I was driving fast because I wasn’t.  I was driving the speed limit…mostly.  It moved quickly because I was so absorbed in the heartwarming story found in a brilliantly written book by Andy Andrews.

Seriously, go get this book!  You won’t regret it.

Question:  What books have you read that you couldn’t wait to share with others?

Let It Go

Let It Go

men of march

Today is the last installment in our Men of March series.  I’ve been so honored to hear from 4 men that are making a difference for the kingdom.  Today’s post is from John R. Evans I’ve been honored to do ministry alongside John and his precious family during my days of preteen ministry.  johnrJohn is FCA Director for the University of Central Florida.  He is one of those people who challenges me to live a life of radical faith.  He lives with Kingdom purpose and is a beautiful picture of a man after God’s heart.  He’s funny, loves his family and loves the University of Central Florida.  Enjoy today’s post from my friend, John R. Evans.

 

Let it go, let it go,
can’t hold it back anymore.
Let it go, let it go,
turn away and slam the door.

I don’t care,
what they’re going to say.
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway.

So in a moment of total transparency, I know what you just did right there.  You sang your guts out!  Ok, so maybe you didn’t sing out loud, but as you read those lyrics and you recognized the tune, you began to belt that anthem out from deep within you…from that place where your voice is powerful…and beautiful…and confident…and free.

That is precisely why “Let It Go” resonates with so many people…because we do have fears.  We do cower in those dark and cold moments where we preside over a kingdom of isolation, even if that isolation exists only in our own minds.

“What if people knew the real me?” you ask yourself.  “What if my thoughts and my dreams and my fears and my failures and all those other jumbled up mess within me were exposed… would those closest to me, would God, would anyone, still love me?”  

The answer, is yes.  But it’s not that easy.

Contrary to what the early lyrics of the song suggest, we DO care what “they’re” going to say.  In fact, we care so completely about what those voices might have to say, that it leaves us Frozen.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see,
be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know…

That’s what fear does, it freezes us.

It shrinks us into a weak-minded, over-analyzing, spiritually defeated, physically exhausted existence.  And fear will never willingly relent.

Listen closely dear vulnerable soul…death is not how the movie ends, defeat is not how the song ends, and desperation is not how your story has to end.

It’s time for you to turn the page!

I won’t begin to suggest in this forum that I know what your issues may be, but I have had the privilege of working with wounded people for two decades so I do understand the challenges this world brings upon us, the challenges we sometimes openly allow into our lives.

As you read this, you are likely wondering how, in the midst of your weighty circumstances, you could “turn the page” or how you could, in effect, Let It Go?

let it go

That’s a great question, which I most confidently answer from my own perspective.  As a 22-year-old college drop-out who had no concept of purpose in life and who was constantly attacked by internal voices of doubt, the way I turned the page was to place my trust fully in Christ and to employ scripture from Philippians as my life verse.

…forgetting what is behind and reaching toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize.     Philippians 3:13b-14

You see, where fear freezes us, faith frees us.

No matter your situation, no matter how dire your circumstances may seem, you still have a choice.  Your choice is to submit to fear and listen to the enemy who is the father of lies.  Or you can enlist faith and stand on the trusted voice that will never leave or forsake you.

Let your past remain in your past and walk on the promise that your failures no longer define you.  Leave your defeated thinking in the rear-view and move ever onward toward the fulfillment of your passions and your purpose.

It’s funny how some distance
makes everything seem small.
And the fears that once controlled me
can’t get to me at all.

To turn your back on the pains of yesterday and to walk in faith toward your tomorrow is to trust in the perfect nature of your Heavenly Father who intimately fashioned you as only a Master Craftsman could.  He shaped you wonderfully with a plan in mind.  A good plan.  A plan that brings hope, not harm.  A plan that says “No matter what bitter conditions this world brings against me, I will not live defeated, I will Let It Go and abide in a deeper strength.”

Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

Question: When have you let go and let God deal with your deepest pains and fears?  What did you experience? 

Why Your Choice to Follow Christ Matters for the Generations to Come

Why Your Choice to Follow Christ Matters for the Generations to Come

It’s Spring Break in North Alabama this week.  For my little family that means we hop in the car and trek home to Texas to be with our family.  Every year about this same time, the women (my grandmother, aunts, sister-in-laws, girl cousins) in my family set aside a weekend to go antiquing and just be together.  This year ten of us went along with 2 new baby girls.  We enjoy the shopping but that’s not the reason we go.  We go because family matters.  That’s how we were raised.

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Often when my larger, extended family gets together we spend a set apart time discussing and recognizing the gift we have in our family.  In a sense, we are appreciating the legacy left by our ancestors.  We know that not every family functions or has what we have.  We’re not a perfect family…not even close.  But, we do have a legacy left that we can choose to walk in that honored God.

The longer I live and the more people and families I work with, I am reminded of the verse in Genesis.

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.–Genesis 17:7

God is speaking to Abraham about his family and the way He will interact with the generations to come.  These verses are to be read literally as God was speaking to Abraham.  But there is something to be taken away for our families today.  The way we choose to live, to act and to interact with God will impact the generations to come, just as the way our ancestors lived, acted and interacted with God has affected our generation.

You may not have a heritage of people who loved God and lived lives to honor God.  You may have experienced firsthand the consequences of generations ahead of you living lives that dishonored God. Exodus 20:5 may be a real reality for you. 

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,–Exodus 20:5

You may have lived the consequences of sin from your parents or grandparents.  But, the generational curse doesn’t have to continue with you.  In Christ you are no longer bound by your past or the pasts of your ancestors.  There is freedom in Christ. (Galatians 5:1)  You can impact the course of history for your descendants by choosing freedom…by choosing a life lived to honor God and speaking words of truth and life into your children.

The same is true for those that have come from families that loved God.  Your choice to continue that legacy will impact the generations to follow.  Your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are the beneficiaries of your choice to follow Christ and speak truth into their lives.

I’m not suggesting this is an easy path for either side.  Raising God-followers in our corrupt world is hard.  Just as it is hard to live in a depraved world ourselves.  A life lived for Christ is never easy, but it is always wrought with purpose and Kingdom-impact.

Let me suggest a few ways you can impact your children (young or old) for the Kingdom.

1. Set the bar high.  Explain to your children that they are “children of the King”, heirs of the throne, royalty.  Because of that there is a great responsibility and purpose waiting to unfold in them.  We don’t watch the same things, speak the same way or do the same activities as the world.  We’re set apart for something higher.  Set that same bar for yourself.  The greatest teacher is the example you live.  I heard someone say once, “Instead of making your goal godly children, be a godly parent.”

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2. Be Their Cheerleader.  You may not see eye-to-eye with those in your family, but those people aren’t in your life on accident, and I’m certain it isn’t to tear them down.  Speak words of support, encouragement and praise.  Make sure your family knows you are in their corner. I recently read these words,

No matter where your children take you, always be their advocate.  You don’t have to condone their behavior or compromise God’s standards, but you can be for him.  You can be for her.  There might be times when you are the only one who believes in them.

3.  Take it easy.  It won’t all go perfectly in your family and with you children.  You will make mistakes and they will make mistakes, but ultimately you all belong to Him.  He’s got it all under control.  God’s purposes prevail when we take Him at His Word; when we trust Him, obey Him, and cling to Him.  God will take care of our kids and our families.

Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace.–Psalm 144:12

Family is hard work and more often than not we see families fail because Satan understands how important the family is to the generations to come but we don’t.  Choose today to make a Kingdom-difference for your family for generations to come because family matters.

Question: How have you seen or experienced the difference a family makes when it comes to faith and the impact on future generations?

When Your Christian Bubble Bursts

When Your Christian Bubble Bursts

Week 3 of our Men of March series brings my Sunday School teacher, Russ Eiland.  I’ve known who Russ was for a while but have only gotten to know him in the last year when I joined his Sunday School class.  I discovered that Russ and I share many of the same passions regarding our faith.  Russ truly seeks God and obedience. I’m so excited to have him share what God laid on his heart.  

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It all started with a bus ride two and a half years ago.  That’s when God very distinctly asked me a question that has bothered me, helped shape me, motivated me and focused me.  I was headed to a sporting event, and the trip would take a few hours.  I didn’t really know many of the people I was traveling with, but we had a good time talking about sports and different aspects of life.  I don’t remember the exact conversation that a certain group started having, but it was clear that they did not believe in God.  I sat there for a while but eventually ended up at the front of the bus by myself.  For some reason I started playing some “God” songs on my phone, and I had to put the phone right next to ear to hear the music since I didn’t have ear buds.  That’s when God spoke to me.  He told me “when you get out of your comfort zone and away from the bubble of people who believe the same way you do, you naturally want to come close to me.”  Then God asked me the question – “What are you doing to reach these people?”

During different stages and circumstances over the past couple of years God would tap me on the shoulder and ask me the question again “what are you doing to reach the lost?”  That’s when the battle raged…”there are people better suited, you don’t know enough, you’re too big of a sinner, you won’t be accepted…”  All the while God kept asking the question.

Even with my flaws and reluctance to be obedient, God wouldn’t give up on me.  Not only did He continue to ask, He infused it with another command. This command has been my passion over the past year and has driven a lot of decisions I’ve made.  God told me one word, and that word was “Go.”  “Go and make disciples, go and take care of the needy, go help the poor… just Go.”

When studying the Bible about the command to ‘Go’ the obvious passage to turn to is the Great Commission.  Man, what a powerful passage.  Jesus was just crucified, and His disciples were devastated because everything they thought they knew was over.  All the teachings Jesus had given them was made void with His last breath on the cross.  In the depths of their despair Jesus appeared to them.  This event in and of itself is a miracle.  Then Jesus gives quite possibly the boldest statement in the Bible, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me.”  Jesus is saying that the God of the universe… the God you read about in the Old Testament…the God who gave Him the power to do miracles has given Him all authority not only here on earth but all authority in heaven.  As Jesus took a breath to utter His next statement the disciples surely realized that what He was about to say was going to dramatically impact their lives forever.  “Go and make disciples.”  …..GO….

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Do you know how powerful that one word command is?

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. –Matthew 8:28-32

Do you notice the one-word command that Jesus gives to drive out a pair of demons?

So, what if we, as a body of believers, took this command literally?  What if we acted as if we’ve received a command and not a suggestion, if or when we feel like it?  What if our interpretation wasn’t “I will invite someone to church and let my pastor make them a disciple?”  What if we didn’t just “plant the seed” but instead we built relationships with the people who the Holy Spirit places on our hearts?  What if we helped them become followers of Christ? What if Jesus asked you, “have you been obedient to this command I gave to everyone who calls me Lord?  How many disciples have you made?”