Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Worship Experience

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.
Psalm 95:6

Last night, our family attended The Worship Experience at our new church, Freedom Life Church (FLC). I went prepared to..."worship," aka sing a lot of "worship" songs and have some fun praising God.

I left having experienced WORSHIP, and it was POWERFUL.

Unfortunately, I didn't know what to say beyond that.  I felt a strong urge to write about it. I posted on facebook that it was an experience like nothing I had ever had...but how to put that experience into WORDS?

If you Google the definition of "worship" you get: 

wor·ship
ˈwərSHəp/
noun
  1. 1.
    the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.
    "the worship of God"
    synonyms:reverencevenerationadoration, glorification, gloryexaltationMore
verb
  1. 1.
    show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites.
    "the Maya built jungle pyramids to worship their gods"
    synonyms:reverereverencevenerate, pay homage to, honoradorepraise, pray to, glorify,exaltextol;




In the grand scheme of things, I guess that's about what I expected...a feeling...an expression. 

I expected ME...MY actions...MY worship. But then, GOD. 

It started much like many other worship experiences I've had: God showed up in my life in a major way to show me how much He loves me. Man...I must really take that for granted.

Earlier in the day yesterday, I posted on facebook about the C-section we have scheduled this Wednesday. I SAID I was "praising God for His goodness and sovereignty," because when I was writing the post all I could think of was the song, Good Good Father,  by Chris Tomlin.

You're a good, good Father, it's who You are...it's who You are.

As I was posting it, I knew of His goodness and power, but that didn't stop the FEAR because that's the reality. I have been absolutely terrified at the thought of lying there on a table, awake, while they cut me open and take out my baby. Terrified.

And then, of all the songs we could have possibly sung last night, what was the very first? Good Good Father...and I remembered, sang, and experienced the second part of the chorus:

You're a good, good Father; it's who You are...it's who You are.
And I'm loved by You; it's who I am...it's who I am.

When I posted to facebook, I knew He was a good, good Father...but I forgot that my entire identity as His child is encapsulated in the fact that I am LOVED by Him. It is WHO I AM.

He loves me...more deeply than I can ever possibly imagine..and He, the God of the entire universe, reached down to show me that by ordaining the very first song as mine. 

That's not the first time that has happened to me, though, so had it ended there. It would have been like a big, fat hug from Jesus (which once again, I think I take for granted), but last night was...so much MORE.

TWO HOURS, ya'll. We spent TWO HOURS, in song and in prayer, falling at the feet of the Creator of the Universe, expressing HIS MIGHT and HIS GLORY and HIS SOVEREIGNTY.

When you do that, spend that much time laying down at the feet of God and expressing His greatness, something amazing happens: everything else ceases to matter.

That's not to say that it all disappears.

People walked in there with money problems...
People walked in there with marriage problems...
People walked in there with health issues...
People walked in with walls and strongholds...

And guess what...people walked out of the building with a lot of those same things, BUT (and it's a BIG but), spending that much time and energy in worship puts every, single one of those things into perspective.

True worship doesn't make them disappear, but it shows how scrawny and insignificant they are in light of who HE is. And that, my friends, is POWERFUL.

As I write this, it occurs to me that it's still beyond words. Every attempt I make pales in comparison to the actual thing.

I'll never be able to put it into words.

However, there is a bottom line:

No matter what you're going through, today - no matter how hard, bad, frustrating or heart-breaking - situations in your life may seem, they are no more than mere situations, and they are NOTHING in comparison to the goodness, love, and power of our God, who reigns now and forevermore.

Today, I would encourage you to take some time...however long it takes...lay your burdens at His feet, and just spend some time WORSHIPING Him and PRAISING Him for who He is, and whatever you lay down at the foot of His throne will diminish in the light of His glory.

Raise your hands. Get on your knees. Reach up to the Sky. Fall down on your face. Whatever it takes.

Today, experience worship.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Making a Move

**Today's post is brought to you today by my husband, Josiah!!**



For Alissa and I, we are in a season of transitions.

*Destiny will soon be heading off to college.
*Alissa is due to have baby number 6 in around 3 weeks.
*We are looking at a house in order to fit the needs of our growing family a little better.
*My car just sipped the last gallon of it's life, in all likelihood.
*I have been in a position where I've been required to work 6 to 7 days for a while now,     and that in turn has had its effects on things.
Case in point...a season of transitions.
We have also been talking for a while as to whether or not we should visit another church, and if we did, what we would look for in one, but we always put it off thinking “but we love our friends and the connections we have made, and how on earth do we leave them?”

For weeks, because of my work schedule, we were not able to attend church on Sunday together. So understanding the difficulty my quite pregnant wife would have trying to wrangle 5 children with the 6th on the way...we decided she shouldn't be doing church by herself on Sunday morning.

Instead, we would fill the gap by visiting a church that we had visited twice before when things were in similar circumstances. On a Saturday night.

Logistically, it made a ton of sense. It's much easier to make sure everyone is functioning at a decent level, fed, clean, and dressed by 6:30 in the evening than it is in order to make the early service at 9 am, or Sunday school at 10. I also would be off of work in plenty of time to do that as well.

Not only that, but  I am not willing to sacrifice worshiping God as family, spending that time together and the conversations that it opens later, 

So, the first Saturday we walk in... the praise and worship isn't traditional, and it's not contemporary, and it's not gospel...it's all of it. The band is pouring their hearts out on stage to God, and the congregation has its hands up and tears in their eyes, singing for God's glory.

I was. My wife was. My kids were.

The message was powerful. It struck a chord with everyone in our family that heard it, and the message relayed to me after I picked up the little ones was one from the kids that “I need Jesus. I need God.”

After some time of discussion and attending the next week, seeing excitement in Emily about her spiritual growth and how some of messages impacted her, I encouraged her to visit the youth group. She left so excited she barely left room to breathe.

The ride home we didn't talk about her most recent favorite boy band or musician or somebody she met...

She was so impacted by the message. It was exactly what she needed, when she needed it, put in a way that was completely accessible, doable, and made so much sense to her.

She had a fire inside of her that I hadn't seen in her before.

Little Phinehas and Avery have been coming home and singing “Jesus loves me” in the car.

So we have had a discussion with our pastor, and told him that we felt God was calling us to a new church home: Freedom Life. He told us he was glad we were listening for God and wanting to do what God was calling us to. He was very encouraged that we were following the Holy Spirit...that's why we love him so much.

We have decided that we don't have a choice.

As the head of our household, I have to nurture spiritual growth in my children; I have to challenge them.

And I can't tell you how excited I am to see this seed planted and growing in our entire family.

There is a season and a time for everything, and we know that God has used and will use everything that has occurred and has yet to occur for His glory. We appreciate the role MBC has played and love the people we have come to know. The pastor has our utmost respect and admiration.

The only reason Alissa and I are saying any of this is because we know people leaving a church can sometimes be...well...awkward. Do you say something? Do you simply disappear? Who do you tell?

But we don't really feel like we're “leaving” the church at all. We might not still attend worship in that building, but the “church” isn't a building, it's the body of believers in Christ Jesus, and we aren't leaving the people we love at all.

We are not abandoning our friendships. We will continue to care for you and pray for you, and we would love to continue to spend time with you.

We still need you in our lives as mentors, people that pray for us, and people that we can still invest in.

We are casting our nets to the other side of the boat, so to speak, because we feel that's what God has called us to, and we already seeing some of the blessing He has in store.

We can look back and be excited and see God's hand in where we have been, and where we are going, and we trust Him to lead us.

As time goes by, there will probably be more and more references to our new church home here and on facebook, so we wanted to be clear about what was going on with us.

Wish us well and pray for us! We are praying for our church family, too...no matter the building in which they worship, or whether they worship in a building at all.





Monday, July 4, 2016

Celebrating Dependence Day

Today's post is brought to you by a lot of pain and turmoil, and just as a warning, it's pretty long. All of my posts are "real," but this one is a little raw.

Josiah and I have been arguing far more than normal lately. Frankly, we don't argue much, so any amount is more than normal, but the last couple weekends have been rough...

Verbal, knock-down, drag-out rough.
Screaming, crying, cussing, about to yank off the steering wheel rough.

I'm not going to go into the reasons for the arguments because, really, they're beside the point. I am, however, going to reveal how the Holy Spirit has been working in our lives through it because there are a couple of critical lessons I want to share.

This week's fighting started on Friday afternoon with one VERY poorly expressed text on my part. That's all it took...one text. From there, Josiah felt disrespected. I felt unloved. "The Crazy Cycle" had begun (for more on the Crazy Cycle, look up Love and Respect, by Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs).

The cycle churned on into Friday night and, and by Saturday morning, I wouldn't even let him kiss me goodbye when he went to work. By Saturday afternoon, we had said some things that I thought might have caused irreparable damage.

Throughout all this, my sweet sis-in-law, Jamie, was checking in with me to make sure I was okay, and praying for me.

Jamie is one of my people. She's a safe place for me to land my deepest thoughts and my worst marital (or other) issues. She will always protect my marriage and point me toward Jesus.

At one point, Jamie encouraged me to just give everything over to God, to lay it at His feet. She said she just wanted to urge me to put on my armor and get out there and fight.

My reply wasn't pretty.

I told her I couldn't fight anymore. I told her I had, quite literally, laid down and told Jesus that I was ready to just let Satan have it because I couldn't fight anymore. I had prayed and cried and been on my knees, and I just couldn't do it anymore. My armor was war-torn and missing, and I was dying on the battlefield. 

None of that is easy to type. It's pretty embarrassing. I'm pretty ashamed that those were my words...but they were. It's honest.

However, even though I had already spoken those words to Jesus, the process of writing them and reading them brought on such a strong conviction from the Holy Spirit.

I typed back to Jamie, Crap! Fine! I'll get one my knees one more time. Okay???

I dragged myself into the bedroom, dropped to my knees, and cried out to Jesus. There was no eloquent prayer, no recitation of scripture...just sobbing and sighing and Jesus help me.

Finally, when I was all cried out, I laid my pregnant self down on the floor. The only thing that came to mind was the song Holy Spirit by Francesca Battistelli.

Holy Spirit you are welcome here,
come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.
Your glory God is what our hearts long for,
to be overcome by your presence, Lord.

Over and over, I mumbled the words, until finally, I again had the strength to stand and go back in with my kiddos.

I would LOVE to tell you that, because of all that, my heart was ready to greet Josiah when he walked through the door, but that's just not the case. I am PRIDE-FULL, ya'll. I know that's not actually how you spell prideful, but it's really the most accurate representation of the real me.

Pride-FULL. FULL of PRIDE. That's me,

Lately, Josiah has been working on Sundays, so we've been going to Saturday services at Freedom Life Church in Hampton. We grudgingly got ready for church, not speaking to or looking at one another.

When it was time to leave, Josiah was in the restroom, and I didn't even tell him we were getting in the car. I just got the kids together and got in the van. For a split second I almost got into the driver's seat...almost. But I felt the Holy Spirit's nudge and walked around to the passenger seat.

What I didn't know until much later was that Josiah didn't think he was going to go to church with us at all...until he looked out and saw I was already in the passenger's seat. I had left the driver's seat open for him.

We drove to church in silence. I let him and Emily take the babies to the nursery as I trudged to the doors of the church...and then, a Lindsay happened. 

Lindsay is always the most REAL person you can imagine. Her favorite phrase is "just keepin' in real," and that means one thing...you can always be real WITH Lindsay, too.

I grabbed her and gave her a hug that you can only give someone who accepts you like that...the kind where you grab on for dear life and hold on for way too long.

And then I wasn't trudging into church alone...I was heading in with my sister in Christ. And that makes all the difference.

Sometime during the praise and worship, my heart was finally set free and I tried to grab hold of Josiah's hand...and he wouldn't budge...but I held on tight. I knew I just had to hold on tight.

And then...the Holy Spirit had us...both of us, and we held on to one another...and healing began.

In this long, long narrative, there are two lessons I'd like to highlight.

The first is this: we all need a Jamie and a Lindsay...and a few more besides. I am so grateful God has placed these godly women, among other people, in my life. We cannot traverse this earthly journey alone. God made us for relationships.

Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17

Two are better than one
because they have a good reward for their efforts.
For if either falls, his companion can lift him up;
but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Saturday night, Pastor Freddy finished up a sermon series on Nehemiah. He said God placed Nehemiah exactly where he was in order to give him influence with the people he needed to in order to accomplish God's purpose.

He said God has also placed US exactly where we are, in a certain sphere of influence, in order to affect the people around us to accomplish God's purposes. 

Find people to walk with who will point you to Christ and lift you up in prayer, even when...especially when...you feel like you can't do it yourself.

And BE that person to the people around you, as well.

Second, always get on your knees one more time...and then, one more time after that.

In my prideful despair, I felt like putting on my armor and fighting meant being brave and standing up, but in reality, it simply meant getting on my knees and crying out to Jesus.

He's already won the battle. He already has the victory. Crying out to Him IS how we fight. Giving it all to him and admitting we can't do it alone IS how we stand firm in battle. 

I know...it's counter-intuitive.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is perfected in weakness."
Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses,
so that Christ's power will reside in me.
So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes,
persecutions, and in pressures, concerning Christ.
For when I am weak,
then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

That verse took on new meaning for me yesterday.

And that's why I dragged you through the entire narrative. I'm a story-teller, it's what I do, but I firmly believe that Jamie's encouragement to put on my armor led to my submission to Christ on my knees, and that allowed the Holy Spirit to work in me enough to bring forth healing in our brokenness. 

Today, we celebrate Independence Day. I'm very proud to be a citizen of this great country, despite what may be occurring presently in the political realm, and I'm very grateful for the men and women who have fought for my freedom.

However, even more than that, today, I celebrate my dependence on Christ.

The sacrifice he made wasn't in battle, but he laid down his life for me. And now, through my dependence on Him, I am made free.

So if the Son sets you free,
you will be free indeed.
John 8:36

Celebrate FREEDOM today, my friends! Happy Dependence Day!


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Got Wisdom?

A while back, a blog post formed in my mind, based upon a certain passage of Scripture: 

Who is wise and has understanding among you?
He should show his works by good conduct
with wisdom's gentleness.
But if you have bitter envy and
selfish ambition in your heart
don't brag and deny the truth.
Such wisdom does not come from above
but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
For where envy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and evil of every kind.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, 
then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, 
full of mercy and good fruits, 
without favoritism or hypocrisy.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
by those who cultivate peace.
James 3:13-17

Powerful, right?

At the time, there were quite a few flare-ups on social media, and it made me so sad to see people posting Bible verses and memes about Jesus one minute, followed almost immediately by a vitriolic rant about politics, parenting methods, etc.

I though, these people NEED to hear this message.

Nevertheless, the post sat, lodged in the back of my brain, never feeling like the right time. The Holy Spirit within me was waiting...but for what?

He was waiting until I saw these people as this person. He knew MY lesson was coming.

Just recently, a situation spurred me to spew straight venom on my husband...repeatedly. It wasn't anything HE had done. I wasn't angry with him. However, because of the nature of the situation, he became a sounding board for my rage.

It wasn't fair. It wasn't nice. It certainly wasn't pretty. 

But now is the time to write this post. To break this scripture down and reveal the nature of true, godly wisdom...and it doesn't look anything like spewing venom.

First James asks who among you is wise? This is kind of a trick question, right? We're all pretty solid in our opinions and what we consider "common sense."

Ask any person on either side of the political divide which position has more wisdom, and I assure you, it will probably be his.

Then, he says, well, if you're wise, then prove it by exhibiting gentleness in your wisdom. That part is almost easy to overlook, right? What does that even mean? 

Well...he goes on. Ready to be convicted?

The next part is where I've always felt above the Scripture. When I go on my rants, it's not because I'm envious or have selfish ambition. Often, I'm defending someone or angry because I feel like someone is being wronged or taken advantage of. My indignation is RIGHTEOUS.

Bahaha. NO.

I'm going to break some of the Greek down here for you, and I'm really hoping you'll stick with me here because the outcome is pretty convicting.

When James uses the term bitter envy, the Greek is actually pikros zelos.

Pikros does mean bitter, but metaphorically it means harsh. So...let's keep that in mind.

The next term zelos looks familiar right? In a lot of the new testament it is translated as envy or jealousy, but in many others, the translation means zeal, and it's NOT a bad thing in the right context.
When Jesus purged the temple of evil just before his crucifixion, his disciples remembered a passage from Psalms that said, "Zeal for your house will consume me": zelos. (John 2:17)
In Romans 10:2, Paul references the Jews misguided zeal: zelos.
To the Corinthians, he speaks of godly sorrow leading to a long list of wonderful attributes, including zeal and justice: zelos
Add harsh or bitter  in front of that, and you basically get righteous indignation.

If you're ranting because you're envious of someone, that's bad...but your "harsh zeal," or RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION isn't good either.

And that's where I failed...miserably.

Furthermore, remember how I said I wasn't raving out of selfish ambition? I was wrong about that, too.

If you'll allow me to continue to nerd out on you, the Greek word there is eritheia: putting yourself forward, fractiousness, or partisanship.

Here's another verse where this word appears:

Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit,
but in humility consider others
as more important than yourselves.
Philippians 2:3

The word rivalry there...that's eritheia. It's putting yourself before and above others...like when you rant online (or to your husband) about other people or people groups.

Are you getting uncomfortable yet? If not, then maybe it's time to stop denying the truth, like James says, and get real. Because once you get uncomfortable...it gets worse. He goes on to say THAT kind of wisdom is DEMONIC. 

 I want to make sure you caught that: earthly, unspiritual, and DEMONIC.

Well...OUCH.

I don't know about you, but I'd sincerely like to be NOT demonic, so I'd like to move on to what godly wisdom looks like:

It's pure, without blemish or vanity.
It's peace-loving, seeking to bring unity, not divisiveness.
It's gentle and compliant, not harsh and defiant.
It's full of mercy.

I stopped right there because I really want to focus on that. When you are upset about something, and you just know you're right, are you FULL OF MERCY? 

Are you bestowing mercy and grace upon others that has been so lavishly and extravagantly poured out on you by our Heavenly Father through the blood of Christ?

Um...no. I know I haven't been.

So, I pray.

I wish I could tell you this conviction I've felt has led to immediate repentance, that I was instantly humble, but that would be a LIE.

Instead, I'm really wrestling in prayer because I keep coming back to, "BUT I'M RIGHT," and then I have to pray all over again because despite whether my position is right or wrong, my heart is in the wrong place...and that just makes me WRONG.

All glory to God; He is faithful. I have every confidence that He will work in my weakness to get my heart to the right place. I pray in my weakness His strength will shine, because I certainly cannot defeat this on my own.

I invite you to wrestle in prayer with me...heck, FOR me.

And maybe, just maybe, before you hit the paste or share button next time, take a few seconds to consider whether your post is peace-loving, gentle, and full of mercy.

If not, try praying for the people you're about to insult.
Pray for the fruits of the Spirit to shine through you.
Pray for the mercy and grace of God to flow through you.

And just don't hit the button. 

I assure you, I'll be doing the same thing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The answer to "Is It Enough?"

A few days ago, I asked the question, "Is it enough?" In Isaiah 58, God details how His people can best show Him true worship...and I'll give you a hint: it's NOT the perfect song set (although those are nice).

Reading the passage caused me to look at my life and ask if what I'm currently doing is really enough. Am I doing enough to shine His light and love in our broken city? Our broken world?

After a lot of prayer, scripture reading, and some wonderful feedback from friends, the answer is: yes...and no.

I'll try my best to explain.

I listed three areas of my life in which I feel like I minister to people (writing, Thrive, and volunteering for FamilyLife®. If you compare these things to what some other people are doing, it seems like a lot...and in comparison to others, it's a drop in the proverbial bucket.

And that's why comparing yourself to others is BAD NEWS. It almost always leads to prideful thinking (for more on that, you can read this post I wrote a couple years ago on the Carnality of Comparisons).

However, in this particular instance, it wasn't other people to whom I was comparing myself, but the Word of God. He said we should:

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives that need your help.

I looked at that as though it was an exhaustive list. I can be so literal. I wanted to look at it and say, I'm doing stuff, but if I'm not doing EXACTLY this stuff, then I'm not doing enough.

Ya see what I did there? I made it about me.

Duh...He just has to keep teaching me...over and over and over.

It's not about me. His desire for me is to SEEK HIM: daily, on my knees, in my heart, all the time.

That's really what it's all about. I'm a busy mommy, a pregnant mommy, and my home IS my first ministry. The "list" of my current activities is absolutely fine given my current situation. I have consulted both God and my husband on the matter, and both of them have said to me: this is enough.

And it is...sort of.

My activities "list" is currently enough, but my heart is not in the right place "enough." When I go out into the world, peruse facebook, or spend time with my family and friends, am I praying continually that God will show me how to minister to people in His time and in His way?

No...not nearly as much as I should.

My mind and heart are continually drawn to the distractions of this world, and I often forget to truly SEE people...the way God sees them. In that way, my efforts are mediocre, at best.

Last night in a business call, my wonderful friend Missy said we should have on our "Thrive" ears...always be listening for opportunities to share Thrive with people whose lives could be dramatically changed by it. God spoke to me through that and said: That's what I want from you, Alissa. Except, I want you to constantly have on your PEOPLE eyes and ears.

He wants me to see and hear the needs of people and be open to filling those needs as HIS Spirit leads. Does someone need a word of encouragement? Does someone need prayer? Does someone need something material that I could provide? Does someone need Thrive?

There's an endless list of things people might need, and the only way for me to ensure that I'm doing "enough" is to ensure that I'm constantly tapped into the Spirit of God within me and truly open to and observant of the people around me.

As if to solidify this, God simplified things by showing me this last night:

Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love
will find life, righteousness, and honor.
Proverbs 21:21

Jesus said it and God says it over and over...we just like to complicate it: Love God, Love People. 

Love God: pursue righteousness
Love people: pursue unfailing love

It's really that simple. Love God. Love people. THAT is enough.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Is it enough?

Generally, I like to have blog posts written in my head before I decide to share them with the world. This time, however, we're dealing with more of a jumble. At the suggestion of my dear friend, Alice, I've done a "brain dump" on paper, but it led to more and more questions.

So now...I'm bringing it all to you, dear internet. Make of it what you will. If you have answers, I'd love to hear them.

A couple months ago, I was driving along a nearby stretch of road. I've driven this road many times before and often marveled at the amount of churches that could lie along one roadway...it seems almost every Christian denomination imaginable is represented on this ONE street. There's even a Christian bookstore!

On this day, though, instead of just noticing the amount of churches, I had another thought: why isn't our city different? How can there be this many churches on one road, not even one block between them, representing only a fraction of the churches in the area...and our city not be on fire for God? The "Bible Belt?" The nation?

Then, last Saturday, Josiah and I went to worship at Freedom Life Church (FLC) in Hampton because he had to work on Sunday. We caught the second of a 4-part sermon series called "I Love My City."

I love the book of Nehemiah. Josiah and I were talking about it just the other day. Nevertheless, it was a different passage of scripture Pastor Cyon brought to my attention that totally rocked my world. It's Isaiah 58. Here it is almost in its entirety.

See if you can read it without it rocking YOUR world, too.

"Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.
Shout aloud! Don't be timid.
Tell my people Israel of their sins!
Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
pretending they want to be near me.
'We have fasted before you!' they say.
'Why aren't you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don't even notice it!'
"I will tell you why!" I respond.
"It is because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?

"No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives that need your help.

"Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
'Yes, I am here,' he will quickly reply.
"Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.
Isaiah 58:1-12, HCSB

Church...people of God...'Merica...did you hear that?

Did you FEEL that?

God says he sees us coming to church, entering and serving every time the doors are open, offering ourselves up as a sacrifice, showing him how much WE do, but our hearts are prideful and our offerings are rejected.

We act like pious, godly people, but we're still fighting and quarreling and name calling on the internet.

OUCH, right?

He wants us outside the walls. 
He wants us ministering to the lost and lonely.
He wants us feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.
He wants us to free the oppressed from their bondage.

He wants our hearts, not our paltry sacrifice.

Then, He will hear us.
Then, He will heal us.
Then, He will guide us.
Then, He will shower us with streams of living water.
Then, He will make us rebuilders of walls and restorer of homes.

God is speaking to us Newport News, Hampton, Hampton Roads, United States...church.

He wants our hearts to reflect His, and His heart is broken for the lost...is yours? Is mine?

Here's where I get more personal, though. I have a lot of questions that have been building for quite some time. 

It's been months since I've written...and longer than that since I've written much of consequence, with fire and passion. A couple years ago I wrote a series on passion, vision, mission, and goals. What has happened to mine? And is my writing "ministry" even enough?

I love reaching out to people and seeing their lives changed through Thrive and Le-Vel, but it's not really reaching the lost and feeding the hungry is it? I supposed you could call it "freeing the oppressed from the bondage" of their own fatigue and constraints, but is it really enough?

We're volunteering with the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember team in Williamsburg. That ministers to the lost and broken, but once again, it's not sheltering the homeless or clothing the impoverished. It doesn't feel like enough. Is it enough?

Futhermore (and this is truly my core concern, I think), how many passions and missions can one person really have and still be effective? 

Can I minister to my family AND marriages AND write AND help people with Thrive AND sing eventually (because, honestly, that's been on my heart a lot lately, too)?

Can one person do all those things and really do any of them well...with 6 children? Is that a thing?

I know some would say that my main ministry right now is fulfilling my roles as wife and mother. They're not wrong. Biblically, I know how the priority list is supposed to work: God, husband, children, etc.

But that's not enough either, right? I mean, if everyone only concentrates on what's going on in their own homes and families, then nothing is getting done outside. Wouldn't that give half the body of Christ a "free pass" not to do much of anything in the world?

I want to feel a passion and a purpose again, but instead I feel a little torn and twisted. I want God to light a fire in my soul, but I'm almost scared because...really? One more thing?

And, finally, at what point does all this business on my part turn into me looking at God and going "See? Look at everything I'm doing! Look at all MY WORKS."

Faith without works is dead (James 2:17), but it would seem works without a passion for the heart of God are useless.

There's a fine line somewhere...I'm just looking for that line.

So, dear, wonderful friends who have gotten this far: what's the answer? How do you find the balance? Was your heart moved by the passage in Isaiah as much as mine was?

I want desperately to hear from you. This is one situation where I just don't feel like I have the answers: a missing page in the blueprints of my "Life Under Construction."

I'm praying hard for answers, and I'm praying for YOUR hearts, too! 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Why do I do these things?!

For I do not understand my own actions. 
For I do not do what I want, but do the very thing I hate.
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.
For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
For I do not do the good I want,
but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
Now, if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it,
but sin that dwells within me.
Romans 7:15-20 (ESV)

Don't you just love this passage of Scripture? I feel like it's the most vulnerable we see Paul. He seems to be saying, "Why do I keep jacking things up?! I HATE SIN!"


Often, I think we try to control our behavior without really analyzing the root causes. We just try to strong-arm ourselves into acting "properly." What's the real crux of the issue, though? Without addressing the sinful motivations behind our behavior, even if we change ourselves outwardly, it's just acting.

We have to change from the inside out. I don't know if you know this, but that's HARD and messy.

Yesterday, I wrote about our Ministry Preview visit with FamilyLife®. As part of the "wait" process, we've been asked to continue working on learning how to fulfill our God-given roles as husband and wife. Kind of a life-long task, right?

For me, this means, learning to reign in my natural inclination to charge forward and let Josiah lead. The fact that I need to work on this isn't exactly news. I've been trying for some time. However, the trip to Arkansas really made me look at WHY I'm having problems doing it.

I REALLY want to let Josiah lead. It's something I've always wanted. Why, then, do I find it so difficult in some situations? Why do I jump in front of him?

Paul's message above is pretty clear: we do things we know we shouldn't because of sin. Duh.

But sin is a pretty broad term. What sin, in particular, is causing me to take the proverbial wheel in many situations, even though I really want Josiah to drive?

I would love to say that I found the answer through deep thought, but with me, God has apparently found that's not what does the trick. I, apparently, learn best when I've made an ass of myself. That's when I do my best self-analysis.

I've found 2 main culprits in this "why do I keep doing this?" dance: what people think of me and anxiety. Actually, when I feel anxiety, it's often because of what I feel people are thinking of me...sooooooo, maybe it's just one root thing:

PRIDE

To address this, I've just finished kind of a self-guided study through what it really means to have a gentle and quiet spirit. As a basis, I've been using Characteristics of a Meek and Quiet Spirit by Kimberly Wagner (which she actually adapted from writing by Matthew Henry).

At first glance, I looked at that list contrasting the meek spirit vs. the fretful, I thought it was sort of self-explanatory. Plus, I have a tendency to think of myself as pretty low on the fretful scale....

WRONG.

The more I looked, the more I realized that, while I might not be outwardly anxious, I often try to control or manipulate people or circumstances, depending on my own "wisdom" or personality traits, and thereby, refusing to trust God to do His job. 

Each day, I've looked at one of the contrasts, written the scriptures out, and written out what I feel God is saying to me about it. 

The study has shown me SO MUCH sin in my life, Now, I'm actually going back through it again to analyze some of the Greek and Hebrew words in the Scripture, and I'm going through it with the girls.

At first, I thought I would share it with them just so they could learn to have gentle spirits. However, it's revealed so much of my own junk, now I've found I want to share it with them simply so they can know why I fail so often in my parenting journey, and what struggling spiritually really looks like.

I would love for you to come along with me on this journey. Sometimes, it's nice to come alongside friends, even if it is a journey through the land of exposing spiritual junk!