Humility Comes Before Honor

When I was a little kid, I remember joy. One summer, we rode bikes as a family everywhere. The library, our friend Mark and Maryanne’s pool, the store (mom’s bike had a basket the perfect size for a couple of gallons of milk). We rode bikes to the snow cone stand almost every day in the hot summer sun, laughing and racing and enjoying each other.

In my memory it was magical. The summer of bikes – like something out of a Mark Twain novel.  

As an adult, I was surprised to find there was another side to our summer-of-bikes story. The truth was that my parents were in a very difficult financial situation, and they could not afford for mom to have a car. So it was more need than creative parenting that caused my magical summer.

But knowing the truth only makes me admire my parents more. I was an intuitive kid (note the nice way of saying “nosy”) and the fact that I did not pick up on the need behind the story means my mom and dad had an attitude of gratitude despite their financial difficulty. Our home was full of grace, not discontent. My mom could have stayed home, pouting. Or she could have taken every opportunity to complain and grumble about the situation in front of her. But she didn’t. She jumped on her bike and made it an adventure.

You have to understand, this is totally my mom. She turns everything into an adventure. Her faith is precious to witness because she chooses joy, even when things are truly dark. She has no idea the impact that has had on me and on my parenting. This week I read this verse and I thought of my parents.

The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:33

My parents have had many seasons in their life of humility. Many times they have faced (and overcome) trials that could appear, to the outside world, like the most humbling difficult thing in the world. But they have feared the Lord and remained faithful despite the trials, choosing not to grumble but to trust.

And because of that,we honor them.

My brother, sister, and I honor my parents. We admire them, look up to them, respect them, and want to be like them. And this week I realized that the humbling times in their lives, and their handling of those times, is a huge part of why I honor them. Even when their world was shaking, they made sure that ours was not. And that love for us, and sacrifice on our behalf, makes me honor them all the more.

Humility comes before honor.

Thank you God for that truth. It makes humility easier to face, right? Because let’s be honest, times of humbling are not fun. They can really stink, in fact. But to know, to KNOW, that there is purpose in these times, and that honor is coming, doesn’t that make it more palatable? I’m so grateful I have seen this picture lived out in my parents.

Here’s the truth: Justin and I have faced some humbling things this past few years, and even now we are making some decisions that are pretty humbling. But I am standing today on the truth of Scripture and believing that honor will someday follow. That maybe, by God’s grace, in the future when my children hear of the struggles we faced in their childhood, they will be shocked to even learn we faced difficulty, because we faced the challenges with joy and trust that God is bigger, and that His plans are perfect.

Jesus, thank you for this truth and for each situation in our world that humbles us. Please shed light on the times that I grumble, and the times that I let our challenges distract me from being a loving fun mom. Please help me to choose joy and choose faith, knowing that all of this serves a purpose in my life. Thank you for mom and dad and their example. Please bless them, Lord. You are good, Jesus, and I thank you that you don’t waste any moment in our lives, especially the hard ones.

Jen the (Very Worst) Minister’s Wife

So it’s official. I am married to a minister.

Last week, Southlake Baptist licensed Justin as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I can’t tell you what the past year has meant to me as I’ve seen my husband valued by this church. I’ve prayed since we were engaged that men, especially, would believe in him and mentor him and that prayer has definitely been answered.

They love him. I mean, love him. They trust him, they recognize his brilliance and wise heart, they think he is hilarious, and they encourage him everyday. I have watched him bloom (I wish I could think of a more manly way to say that, but it’s true and that’s all I can come up with. So he’s bloomed, but in the most masculine way possible like a cactus or a pine tree). He is more himself than I’ve ever seen him be. Even the technical aspects of his job have improved. He’s more comfortable on stage – more real. His leading perfectly fits who this church is and where they want to go. And people respond to that – they connect with and worship the Lord under his leadership. It has been really fun to experience.

He’s a minister. He always has been one , really – but now we get the awesome tax benefits.

And I am a minister’s wife. That part, truthfully, kind of freaks me out. I sometimes fear that by being myself I might screw this whole thing up for him.

I’m far from perfect. I mean – really far. I often wish I could sleep in on Sunday, I have my doubts about some of the more confusing aspects of our faith, I am strongly opinionated about  the role of women in the church, I can be proud and stubborn about almost anything (even stupid things), I really dislike most contemporary Christian music and Christian subculture, I have recently discovered a love for wine, and I think a well-placed curse word can be absolutely hilarious.

Sometimes I feel like being a minister’s wife means I have to change who I am. But I’m 35 years-old and I’ve lived most of my life uncomfortable in my own skin, and by God’s grace I’ve finally gotten to a place where I feel at home being Jen.

I don’t want to pretend anymore. I like who God made me to be. I think I’m finally getting pretty good at it.

I love authenticity. I like confessing my sins to others and seeing how God redeems and deepens community after confession. I love messy relationships and complex conversations. I love having a drink with a searching person and seeing them open up to discuss the Lord from an unexpected angle. I see God in art and music even when the people creating it probably don’t know they are reflecting the Creator of all. I believe that God can redeem anything – and I believe being in the world but not of it means just that.

So here I am – a newly licensed minister’s wife. And I have a choice to make. Be myself and trust, or hide who I am out of fear of retribution. I choose to trust. I think that just as Justin has trusted the staff and elders of SBC with every aspect of his being and personality, I need to do the same. We’ve come to know them well and we know that they believe in redemption, not perfection. They have treated us with nothing but grace and love, and they seek the heart of the Lord. I choose to trust and be myself.

I will never be a perfect minister’s wife, mostly because I am a sinner saved by grace. But I have a God who is sanctifying me and smoothing over my rough edges and who chooses to use me despite my failings. And for that I am so incredibly grateful.

So here I am, quite possibly the very worst minister’s wife ever*, but excited to see what God does with this stage of our life. We are grateful for you, people and staff of Southlake Baptist, and for Christ in you. Thank you for trusting Justin and honoring his commitment to the Lord. You have been used by God to encourage our family in more ways than you can know.

(*Bekah adds “ever” to the end of every sentence when she is mad. It’s hilarious. For example, “Grace, I will eat my sandwich and you won’t get a bite, EVER!” To see that little person so passionate makes me laugh every stinking time. So in her honor, I threw an “ever” in there for emphasis.)

‘Schooled’ on Fear

The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:11

Have you ever been around one of those people, those “light” people? The people who radiate peace and joy, grace and wisdom, and when you leave, you are changed? My brother Joe and sister-in-law Lori have a friend named Hillery who is one of those people. For months, my brother told me about her and her husband and how encouraging they were as friends. When I visited this past summer, spending time with Hillery was definitely on the agenda. I love being around “light” people. They don’t hammer you with rules or truth, but somehow they just seem to “get it” in an extraordinary way. They challenge me and excite me and I absolutely love being around them because they’re mirroring Jesus as they walk through the world, reflecting His light.

So I meet Hillery, who has no idea that I’m watching every move she makes like she’s a creature in a fishbowl (I try to contain myself and demonstrate some semblance of normalcy around these people. I do, after all, need to appear somewhat cool). We were talking about school and about the options available to us as our kids enter Kindergarten this year – a simple conversation that should not have been memorable. But I’ve found that when I am around “light” people, they can casually drop wisdom into even the most mundane conversations. I was talking about my struggle as I considered options for Grace’s school and I mentioned the battle I was having against fear as I looked at sending my little girl into different environments I couldn’t control. I was babbling away, explaining the battle going on in my head, when Hillery spoke up.

She said something like this, “I don’t believe in making choices based on fear. Ever. If God isn’t the author of fear, then when I listen to my fears I know I’m not listening to the voice of God.”

It was simple. Grace-filled. Not harsh or corrective or instructive. Just right.

I don’t believe in making choices based on fear. Ever.

She can’t know how many times I’ve played that sentence in my head this past year. How I’ve grasped at that idea as it slips in and out of my hands, wanting to make it my personal philosophy as well but struggling to change a lifetime habit of doing the opposite.

I don’t believe in making choices based on fear. Ever.

My confession is this: I do listen to fear. I think I always have. I’m pretty sure sometimes I give it an equal voice with the Holy Spirit who should have the loudest voice in my spirit – leading me in the way I should go. Now I don’t call it fear. I’m way too smart for that. I call it “discernment” or “wisdom” or I say I have a “check.” I can ‘church it up’ in the most expert ways.

But I know – in my heart – that it’s fear. 

So take the choice of Grace’s school. Fear says oh-so-much on this subject. Fear of influences. Fear of bad educational practices. Fear of failure. Fear of finances. Fear of isolation. Fear of making a terrible mistake. When I listen to fear, there is one tiny right decision and a million-and-a-half wrong decisions that can cause damage. That is the fear-based perception.

But something else speaks loudly on this subject. Perfect love. Grace has a Father who loves her with a perfect love (Jer. 31:3). He is mighty to save (Zeph 3:17). He is her help and her shield (Ps 115:11). He will never leave her or forsake her (Deut 31:6). I could go on and on about the promises available to my sweet little girl because of her loving Father.

So a fear-free attitude says something very different. It says my daughter is in the hands of the One who made her and that no decision is outside of His control. It says it doesn’t truly matter, in the end, the location where Grace goes to school. God’s love and protection can reach into even the darkest environment and the most bleak situation and give light and life. The fear-free perspective reminds me that I can’t make a decision that can 100% insulate her against the struggles of this world. I don’t have that power. There is no “perfect” decision that can cast out all of my fears.

Only one thing has the power to defeat my fears. Perfect love has victory over my fears (1 John 4:18). My perfect Savior demonstrated that when He died for me and then defeated death and rose to live forever. I can’t even justify fearing death as a follower of Christ, because He has even that under His control. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “”Abba,” Father.” Romans 8:15

It’s all about the power of the One who lives inside of us. That’s the “remedy” to fear.

He is the way to be free of this voice of fear in my life.

I am re-reading Grace-Based Parenting (for the 5th or 6th time). I love this book. I cannot recommend it enough – it’s my favorite parenting book. This same idea resonated with me this week as I read it. Take a look at what Dr. Kimmel wrote about fear-based or legalistic parenting vs. grace-based parenting.

The difference with grace-based families is that they don’t bother spending much time putting fences up because they know full well that sin is already present and accounted for inside their family. To these types of parents, sin is not an action or an object that penetrates their defenses; it is a preexisting condition that permeates their being. The graceless home requires kids to be good and gets angry and punishes them when they are bad. The grace-based home assumes kids will struggle with sin and helps them learn how to tap into God’s power to help them get stronger.

It’s not that grace-based homes don’t take their children’s sin seriously. Nor is it that grace-based homes circumvent consequences. It isn’t even that grace-based homes do nothing to protect their children from attacks and temptations that threaten them from the outside. They do all these things, but not for the same reasons. Grace-based homes aren’t trusting in the moral safety of their home or the spiritual environment they’ve created to empower their children to resist sin. . . . They assume that sin is an ongoing dilemma that their children must constantly contend with.

[Children in a grace-based family] are accepted as sinners who desire to become more like Christ rather than be seen as nice Christian kids trying to maintain a good moral code. Grace is committed to bringing children up from their sin; legalism puts them on a high standard and works overtime to keep them from falling down.

Grace understands that the only real solution for our children’s sin is the work of Christ on their behalf. . . .  Legalism uses outside forces to help children maintain their moral walk. Their strength is based on the environment they live in. Grace, on the other hand, sees the strength of children by what is inside them—more specifically, Who is inside them.

Isn’t that good? It isn’t about the environment in which my child is schooled, it is about the inhabitant of her heart and His reign in her life.

And for me – it isn’t about my ability to control and protect, it is about the inhabitant of my heart and His reign in my life.

Jesus create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.

So as we reach the point where we decide what school we will walk our little girl into, with her backpack as big as she is, may fear have no voice in that decision. May we listen to the voice of the One who loves us and who has a perfect plan for our Grace, a plan to prosper her and not to harm her, to give her a hope and a future. And may I drop her off in peace, knowing that my God is bigger, stronger, and more loving than I can grasp.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

My day with a king

God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change his mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?  Numbers 23:19

Several years ago, I thought my professional life was over. I went through an incredibly difficult trial, and aside from the love and faith in me demonstrated by my family and friends, my future seemed dark. I was jobless. Churchless. Hurting.

I struggled to hope.

In the middle of this, a precious friend reached out to me and told me the Lord had given her a verse for me – and that I should not give up. This was the verse: “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” Proverbs 22:29

When she gave me this, part of me thought it was just the encouragement of someone who was “obligated” to believe in me. But she was sure. Confident. She saw in me a gift and a purpose beyond the circumstances that overwhelmed my vision at that time. She believed that God had a purpose.

Today I think that prophesy was fulfilled.

This morning I worked with President Bill Clinton. We of course don’t have kings in our country, but I think a President is about the closest we will get to it in our time.

So in my own way, today I served before a king.

So what’s the moral to this story? Is it just to brag about my cool day? Not really (although I’m not going to lie – it was a pretty fun day for me).

It’s to encourage people in the place where I was, the dark place where hope is hard to find and the future looks dim.

God is faithful.

His Word is true.

He sees in us more than we often see in ourselves, and by His grace He allows people near to us who are close to His heart to see with that same vision.

Today I served before a king. But the really amazing part of today? Today I knew that I was loved by a KING and that I have never been out of His sight – even when I thought I was forgotten.

I will exalt you, my God the KING; I will praise your name for ever and ever.  Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.  Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;  His greatness no one can fathom. Psalm 145


Bloodlines & Adoption

This video speaks to my heart and I adore it. In it, John Piper tells the story of his life growing up in the south and his adoption of his daughter, Talitha. Please watch it – it will touch your heart.

I was, because of God’s grace, raised in a home with a mom who got the importance and beauty of diversity, and taught it, and lived it. I pray my heart for people honors her as I try to live this out. And I am grateful I get to fight for the same cause in my life. I ask Him to allow us to be loving parents of children from all races and nations. Because it’s important and it’s right and it’s beautiful and it’s God honoring.

Here’s my favorite quote:

“God did a remarkable work in us. He taught me this. He said, “Look. If you act consistently with your convictions about interracial marriage and the nobility and beauty of diversity, this choice will commit you to this issue until you are dead. And that swung it for me. Love for my wife, love for this little girl, and love for this cause. The cause of Christ-exalting racial harmony and racial diversity, because if I lock in to my family, the issue, this beautiful little woman created in the image of God and say “You are mine” then I won’t ever be able to run away from this, and I wanted to draw that line in the sand…

When I look at her I’m going to see a human being created in the very image of God, and then secondly, down the line, I’m going to see a particular kind of skin or hair. That’s huge. The Bible brings the image of God to bear on this issue and it is massively important. The second way the Bible brings it to bear is it talks about there being one Father of us all.  All the nations came from one Father according to Acts 17, which means we’re all related. You can’t look with disgust or dismay or dishonoring on another human being as if they’re not in the same family. They’re in your family. You try to demean them, you demean your family.

It is fundamentally a cross issue, a blood issue, a gospel issue that is at play here and what is so amazing is how the Gospel, by faith alone, having our sins forgiven, triumphs over these sins that militate against racial harmony and racial diversity.”

Love it.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Blog Book Review

A few months ago I started telling my family about this writer and pastor’s wife from Austin and how every.single.word she wrote on her blog and books seemed to be written for exactly where I was at that moment. Plus they were in the process of adopting from Ethiopia and you know me – that is the desire of my heart. So I kinda social media stalked her. A little. After several weeks of this, my sister started calling me out and I laughingly agreed, but I kept reading and kept sending because everything I read was simultaneously revolutionary and stupid simple (so simple because it is the way Jesus taught us to live 2000 years ago but somehow is a way of life we have talked ourselves out of following).

Last night, I ordered the latest book from this author, Jen Hatmaker  7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. I read it in less than 24 hours. I have bought it for many of my friends, and recommended it to the rest. It has torn me up. I am eyeing our closets and pantry, praying and asking the Lord to show me where to give all of the stuff that has sat there since we moved here 3 years ago, but can be treasures to a family in need. I am waking Justin up quoting parts of the book and following him around proposing things like “What if we ate just on the food in our home right now for the next 30 days?” and “So how hard would it be to cut out TV for a month with a 4 and 2-year-old?”

I am changed.

7 is a journal of sorts of a series of seven experiments where the author and her husband, and in some cases their children, intentionally lived with less for 30 days to change their dependence on stuff, and leave room for God to teach them things and grow them to be more like Jesus. These were fasts, and yes, they were hard. Jesus himself fasted because sometimes discomfort is good for our souls.

If a fast doesn’t include any sacrifices, then it’s not a fast. The discomfort is where the magic happens. Life zips along, unchecked and automatic. We default to our lifestyle, enjoying our privileges tra la la, but a fast interrupts that rote trajectory. Jesus gets a fresh platform in the empty space where indulgence resided. (7, p 161)

  • One month she and her husband lived on just 7 foods (different combinations each meal) for a month.
  • One month they lived in only 7 pieces of clothing (not counting underwear).
  • One month they intentional gave away 7 items each day (and actually in the end gave away over 4 times the initial goal). This month touched me because they tried to not only give this to anonymous donation places like Goodwill, but also to actually get to know the poor and hurting around them and minister while building relationships and meeting needs.
  • One month they gave up 7 media types and rediscovered long family walks, cooking together, and nights on the porch in the absence of the noise of constant stimuli.
  • One month they spent money in only 7 places.
  • One month they adopted 7 green habits, including building a family garden and giving half of the produce away through an amazing gardening co-op idea. (Read this article – so cool! If anyone in the DFW area knows of something like this, please let me know).
  • One month they entered into 7 intentional pauses in their day to reduce stress and they practiced actual sundown to sundown Sabbath as Jesus modeled and commanded.
These experiments weren’t just “let’s see how crazy we can be to make ourselves stick out like sore thumbs” – these were sustained periods of reality. The rest of the world does not live like us in America. We are incredibly wealthy people (if we make 35,000 a year we are in the top 2% of the world, if we make 50,000 we are in the top 1% of the world) praying for more wealth and feeling sorry for ourselves as if we are impoverished. But we are not impoverished. Even if we were to each undertake every one of these experiments simultaneously in the same month we would still have more, eat more, and waste more than a vast majority of the people in the world. These experiments simply make us think about the things we numbly take for granted in our culture and get us closer to what the rest of the planet experiences so that we can relate and empathize and love and feel something besides a constant greed for more.more.more.
This challenges me. This humbles me. This excites me. I want to be a part of this.

I don’t know where we fit into this. I don’t know how much my practical rational thoughtful husband can take before he ships me off to live in a bungalow somewhere with my sister (who he also deems a hippy). I don’t know how our “experiments” will look or how they will change us beyond the short period we undertake them, but I pray they will drastically change the way we react and interact with the world around us. And I know that this shift will be received by people in my world with one of two reactions. Half of the people in my world will be intrigued by this idea, and maybe enter into it with us. These people have a distinct feeling we are strangers in a strange world. They already are broken for the hurting, the poor, and the orphan, and they think that the world seems to have gone a bit mad, so they try to see the world through the lens of Scripture. They feel things and then they do something about it. They inspire me with the ways they are different from the culture around them. They act like the church was designed to act. I love it.

But I also know this will be too much for some people in my world. This will place me firmly into the “extreme” camp. Some will go from wondering if I’m a hippy or involved with a cult, to flat-out believing that I have become some self-righteous freak who would be better off living in Africa or in the 1800s with Laura Ingalls. And I need to be okay with that perception. Because I know the tension I live with each day, the discomfort I feel even around Christmas when faced with the excess in our culture and in our home, and this book has defined that feeling for me and given me a plan for releasing that tension from my heart and mind. In one part of the book Jen talks to herself in 2004, and I related to that section more than she can know. In my 20s I lived in excess and competition and insecurity and somehow stuff and food and clothes was what I used to fill the empty places in my heart and define who I was. But I wasn’t fulfilled. If I could go back I would tell myself to relax, to stop buying and shopping and straining and trying so hard. I would explain the love of my Father and the rest and joy to be found in Him. I would encourage that version of me to live differently and take seriously the life of Christ.

I follow a Savior who was a revolutionary and who said and did pretty maddening things. The things He said and did that made me furious and uncomfortable in my 20s is the stuff that resonates with and comforts me today. Sabbath is serious. Family is in the body of Christ. The more we give the less attached we are to this world. This is not our home. I would, if I could, go back and encourage myself to look more like Him, and blend into this world around me less. Blending in is boring.

So at the risk of alienating many of the people who are important to me and who love me, I had to write about this book and what it is teaching me. Because I have many people in my world who are in their 20s, just starting out and defining who they are. And if I can impact even one to be thoughtful and prayerful about even the small decisions like the daily Starbucks habit (or Anthropology, or iTunes), maybe I can make a difference in how they live at 35 in their home with their kids. And many of my friends are like me, still in the defining process of life despite our age. This book cuts through the junk and gets to the real, and it’s a game changer.

Get the book. It’s funny. It’s challenging.

Get ready to be inspired.

Giving Grace

As most of you know, my oldest daughter’s name is Grace. It completely fits her, actually. She has singlehandedly taught me more about grace than anything I’ve ever experienced.

The other day we were listening to Christmas music and she heard the line “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of his love…”

She asked me, quietly, “Mommy, why is my name in this song?”

Suddenly I had to try to explain the concept of grace to a 4 year-old. All the Sunday school answers I’ve ever learned ran through my head – unmerited favor (no), sanctification because of His righteousness, not ours (no).  All true but far too complicated.

I said “Gracie – this is talking about how God rules the world with truth and absolute love.” I think that was a pretty accurate answer – I was grateful the Lord gave it to me.

God rules the world with truth and absolute love.

There has been some serious tension and strife in my extended family this past year. Like the historic kind that divides families and tears each other apart until people miss funerals because of it. It’s bad. It’s been really difficult to experience and hurtful on all sides.

And it’s human nature in strife like this to believe the ABSOLUTE worst about the other person, while believing the best of ourselves. We’ve seen that on all sides of this argument. We stop communicating, stop working towards peace. We start presenting the best version of our side to the people on “our team” while demonizing the other side. Suddenly small differences that were before simply topics to avoid become vast valleys that separate and divide us because grace is gone.

But God rules the world with truth and absolute love.

What I think the Holy Spirit is teaching me is that to live out Christ in me, I have to live in truth and grace. I must love.

When I am offended? Realize as a Believer in Christ who is told to forgive, I don’t have the right to live offended. I must love.

When I am hurt? Realize I am constantly, unknowingly, hurting those around me. I must love.

When I am tempted to demonize? Realize I am but a miserable selfish sinner saved by grace who doesn’t deserve an ounce of the grace given to me by Christ. I must love.

My sweet Grace is aptly named, and again she teaches me about grace just by her very existence.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes (ME, a sinner saved by grace) prove, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of his love…

We can show the world, and our families, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love when we choose to live as Christ.

The best way I can show my daughter the precious concept that her name represents is to prove His righteousness and his wonderful love as I give grace in my relationships with others. God help me. That’s so hard sometimes!

God forgive me for my part in the disunity in our family. Help me to be better – to prove your glory, righteousness, and love better than I have this year. Please work and move and heal and restore. We need You.

Isolation

Being in relationships with other people is tough stuff. In fact, I think it is the primary “work” of the believer. I’ve gone through phases in my relationships with others as I’ve matured and grown in Christ, phases where I was deeply all-in with everyone around me, phases where I withdrew and followed my own path mostly alone, and phases where I have learned to use discernment to allow some people in while keeping others at a respectful distance. Each phase has been tough and has left bruises, but I think that’s just part of living in intentional community with people who aren’t perfect. What’s the phrase that makes me laugh and feel a teensy bit like Oprah when I say it? “Hurt people hurt people.” As goofy and pop-psychology as that sounds, it’s certainly true.

Relationships are dirty, messy, difficult and entirely necessary.

I believe that only in community do we grow in Christ. Relationships are difficult, but if we look around and we are not in relationships with people who are allowed to speak truth into our world, we need to see that as a huge blinking “check engine” light that needs to be addressed. This blog isn’t intended to harp on you if you are in the withdrawal phase of life right now. I get that. I have been there. Sometimes we all feel like we need a break from the drama of relationships with others. But here’s the uncomfortable truth – we can’t stay there. If we stay there, we get stunted. We stop growing. Our influence and ability to be light in a dark world shrinks and diminishes. So I hope my heart comes across and I can use this blog to get someone, anyone, to reconsider their choice to withdraw and to encourage them to push past the discomfort and awkwardness and enter into at least one relationship where Godly wise influence is allowed unfettered access to your life.

But the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, then gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:17 (People who demonstrate this kind of wisdom are “safe” to let speak into your world).

I know it is hard. I have been the person shaking as I picked up the phone or walked into the coffee shop to meet someone. But I also know the fruits of the choice to obey and enter into community. And because I know our God is faithful, I pledge to you that you’ll benefit. And infinitely more convincing than my pledge is the Lord’s promise that if we’ll trust Him and enter in, there He will be found.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

One of the first steps to being in community is entering into a church body. I know someone will shake their head and think “here she goes preaching again” or “sure, just what I need, a room full of hypocrites” and you know truthfully, both of those statements are true. I do tend to preach a bit and I’m certain that every room we enter, whether a church or not, is full to the brim with hypocrites. But here’s what is different, and special, about church.

It is the method Jesus gave to us for changing the world from a place of darkness to a place of light and for growing from self-absorbed to concerned with His kingdom.

Church was built by Jesus for a purpose. And that purpose isn’t to make you feel guilty or to take all of your money, but it is to get you into a place where you can be honest with other people who struggle just like you do, find friendship and purpose and meaning and encouragement, and together you can work to make the world a little less miserable. It’s so important that the church is referred to in the Bible as the “Body of Christ” – we enter more into Christ when we enter into the church and relationships with other Believers (Ephesians 1-3).

Is walking into a new church terrifying? Oh my goodness yes.

Will you maybe feel a bit judged? Well, I always do at first.

But isn’t that feeling, and that terror, a tactic the enemy of our souls uses to isolate us and get us cornered alone somewhere awful so he can whisper lies about who we are and who God is? Absolutely.

I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. Psalm 122:1

Jesus told us that in church, and in community, we have hope. So it may be awkward, it may be hard, but after creating us, knowing us and walking in our skin it is the place Jesus said we need to be. And after most of my adult life being blessed to be in amazing churches, I can tell you that the relationships I have built there and the things I have learned are far deeper and more meaningful than anything I’ve built or learned outside of that place. Have I been hurt? Yes. Are the churches I’ve attended perfect? Not even remotely. But have I grown and benefitted far more that I have outside of church (by about 1000 times)? Yes.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24

After you find a church, you’ll find something interesting. You’re going to be a stranger in a strange place until you dive into community. Whether that is a Sunday morning Bible study, or a Ladies group that meets during the week, or just going to lunch with a new friend after church – getting into a smaller group and listening to someone tell you about their life, and then telling them about yours, is essential to being connected. (And a trip or retreat is the absolute scariest and yet most effective way. When I worked in student ministry we begged students and their parents to let them come to camp. In one week of intense time together kids connected and lives were changed every stinking time).

So if you have been “attending” church for a long time but still don’t get it or feel connected, I hate to be the one to break it to you – but you haven’t pushed in deep enough. You have to jump and trust the Lord and His people to catch you. Go to a study. Sit at a table. Stutter your way through saying your name and share something personal and important. Be the first to break the silence and share something vulnerable and then watch the ripple effects as everyone there begins to share and relate. Pray together. Share your needs and listen as others spill open and share theirs. 

They will. I promise that the crazy in your head isn’t the most crazy at the table – not even remotely. We all have the crazy and sin and mess inside and sharing it releases us from the power it holds over us.

Isolation is dangerous. We listen to the wrong voices. We start to get really passionate about the wrong kingdom. We start to lose the ability to interact with others in a meaningful way (suddenly our phones or the characters on TV get really important instead of the live human people sitting right in front of us). We need community. It changes us and makes us be about the right things in the right way.

So if you are isolated and you know it – please do something. Please take the first step. If you don’t have a church, I’d love to invite you to our church (Southlake Baptist Church). Please be my guest. If you have a church but you’ve let the hurts of relationship push you away – please go back. Try again. Open up and watch God work and change the way you think and view community. If you have a friend that you have watched isolate themselves out of all meaningful community, reach out to them. Confront them with love. Beg them to reconsider.

He is faithful and His plan (including community) is always perfect.

Trust Him and go.

It’s important.

Abundant Love

The Lord gave someone a vision two years ago to bless a family (us!), and last year the Lord gave them a vision to bless another family. Precious people jumped on board and gave sacrificially. This year, it grew and grew and people gave and gave and TWENTY families have been blessed so far.

This is the video from one of the blessings.

This is why I love the church.

This is what Christmas, and the gift of Jesus, is all about.

I Will Praise Him.

Something amazing happened this week. A friend reached out to me with a pretty strange request. She wanted to come meet with me and pray with me in our home. She knew the Lord was telling her to do this and when she called me, I knew the Lord was telling us to do this. I gathered my sister to join us, and called a couple of women around the country to join with us in spirit. We didn’t know what the Lord was going to do – but we knew He had something to do.

All day I felt a sense of anticipation and excitement.

We gathered and prayed – walking through our house. These precious women lifted each member of my family and our struggles to the Father as they walked. They prayed over our home, over our stuff, over where we sleep and eat and live each day.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

We sang in gratitude. We cried in need of God. We spoke scriptures of truth and power over each area of our life and over the center of our home.

Every crevice of our need, and every inch of our house, was bathed in prayer and lifted before the Father.

It was powerful. It was grace. It was church.

This morning the grace continued. Our Pastor preached from Daniel on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (the three men who were told to worship a false God, but they refused because they were faithful, so they were thrown into a fiery furnace by an evil king. But the fire did not burn them, and when the king looked in to see why they did not burn, he saw a fourth man in the fire. The king pulled them out, repented, and worshipped God because of what he had seen). It was good to be reminded of the fourth man in the fire – Jesus Himself. Our Pastor wept before us as he talked about how near Jesus is to us when we are waiting, in the fire, for rescue.

God not only sees us in our pain, but he joins us there.

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43

Justin and I both were moved by the service. We can testify to this truth. We have waited, and while we have waited, Jesus has been near. This week, and that prayer time, was another example of His faithfulness and love for us.

I don’t know why this week is different, but I know it is.

I don’t know how it is a turning point, but I believe that it is.

And I don’t know what the Lord’s plans are for us, but I know they are good.

I know we are loved with an everlasting love.

I know we are free and we have power and grace available to us to have victory in what we are facing.

I will praise Him.

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says. “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banished them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so the they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them; I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.  Jeremiah 32: 37-43