Tuesday, October 26, 2010

new chapter...

So, I'll be taking a break from Pahali for a while to start a new endeavor in this new chapter in my life... "The Glenham Addendum" is my new blog with Trey, all about our life after the wedding. The marriage, after all, is what it's all really about. But, of course, we are complete newbies to all this, so... Join us as we discover what it's like to be a cord of three strands, joined together in Christ, and what it means and looks like to be a married couple in the world but not of the world. And don't worry—there are sure to be some laughs along the way as long as Trey is involved. :) The blog address is: www.glenhamescence.blogspot.com. Thanks for joining us in our new journey... We're so excited to be right on the brink of it!!!

Kwaheri for now,

Emily

Friday, July 16, 2010

"I"

So tonight at a women-only event at church called "Radiant," we were asked to write down on a blank sheet of paper what our struggle is, what it is that we need to surrender or that which is keeping us from from seeing God the way He truly is (or ourselves the way He sees US). It is interesting that my word (well... list) began like this:

identity
image
in depth

All beginning with an "i." So if we were to discover, or at least begin to discover, who we truly are tonight, then who am I in this list? It then became this:

I...
identity
image
in depth

And as I began to think about these things that can be issues for me and who I am in the midst of them, I realized that within a new context, they are actually the Truth I know I should cling to. And so my list became:

I...
identity [in Christ]
image [of God]
in depth [with the Spirit]

That is where my perspective change and mental shift needs to turn. "We become what we behold." True statement. There is so much hope in that! Stay tuned...

Friday, May 07, 2010

recent stuff

Whew... It appears I have officially gone on and successfully maintained a blogging hiatus for some time now. Several posts a month turned into once per month which has turned in...to... every... so... little... once... in... a... while...

But I have good excuses! How's this for a life revelation: I am busy! (Who isn't, I know.) Turns out I am a busy, busy girl this year. I just started a new job March 1st working as part of the missions team at my church, Port City Community Church. What a blessing that has been! Combining my passions for writing/editing, missions, connecting with/helping people, all while being a part of the undeniable and amazing movement of God in this body — and the sheer awesomeness of this physical environment that is like Pleasantville for Christians — has been mind-blowing to say the least. It is totally a gift from God, one I sometimes doubt I could ever steward well enough. "Cool" cannot even begin to summarize the past couple months of helping prepare short-term missions, coordinating with our missions volunteers, helping organize the Perspectives course we are offering here in the fall, expressing missions at Port City through written word, the beginning stages of co-leading two short-term missions this year...

Speaking of, yes, you read it right. Not one (Guatemala), but two! I AM GOING BACK TO KENYA!!!

There is a wicked huge grin on my face even as I type.

And so we cycle back to the busy. Guatemala in three weeks, then two months 'til Kenya, then two months 'til the wedding. But seriously this is the best busy I could ever hope for. God is so good and has blessed my life tremendously this past year. He gets all the glory and praise! Trey and I are leading the Guatemala team together (and he is *possibly* going to Kenya). It is an enormous privilege that we share this passion for missions and get the opportunities to experience it together.

So, do you want to see our Kenya team of TWENTY-SEVEN???


It is quite a large group to be leading through Africa!  I catch myself praying for leadership ability when I have to remind myself that availability is even MORE important... that I can only position myself to let GOD work through me.

I pray also to maintain perspective through my daily reconciliation of missions and the wedding. While mine and Trey's relationship and upcoming union in Christ is entirely of the Lord and a beautiful, awesome thing that's meant to happen, the wedding itself (with its expenses and relative "extravagances") has often collided this year with the entirely different world that is missions. One night I am attending Missions Night here at church, watching a DVD on the Lost Boys of Sudan, and the next day I am trying on gorgeous gowns in an upscale boutique in Raleigh. One day I'm researching third-world countries and the next I am paying a hefty deposit for someone to tell our bridal party where to stand. My tagline has become, "It's OK to have a wedding." Not that I'm not excited!!! I have actually really enjoyed and loved the planning process immensely. It's just a stark contrast to another huge part of my life and quite a strange dichotomy to live through. I do know that God has purposefully placed me in this time, in this context, with these resources, and I have to continually trust Him in His sovereignty... as well as steward what I have been given. After all, we were "blessed to be a blessing"!

While I'm on a roll with the prayer requests... I also pray that while I'm on "this side" of these two short-term missions, the leadership role, that I would be able to cultivate a sincere heart of service and no just a mind set on accomplishing logistics. As I am sending reminder e-mails and meeting recaps and organizing applications and registering team members, etc., etc.... I want to spend even more time and energy praying for the people we are going to serve and being personally involved in these missions themselves, as someone on the team and not JUST as a leader. I hope that makes sense.

So that's kind of where I am right now. Lots going on, lots of challenges, even more excitement and blessings, and... not much blogging.  If anyone is even ever still reading this, God love you.

Peace and love 'til next time!!!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Easter blessings: being intentional



I think I may have just had the best Easter weekend of my entire life. Ever. As in, I am almost a week away from it, and I am still on an Easter high!!! It was both reviving and humbling, and a big reason why (other than God simply revealing Himself to me afresh) was this: being intentional.

I don't know if I have ever had such an intentional Easter. (Actually, I don't know if I have ever thought to use that word to describe Easter before in general.) It's always a nice holiday, sure, especially as a Christian... but I don't always meditate on the reason we celebrate. I don't always open my Bible and read the Easter story again. I don't always stop my busy life to remember and reflect on the Greatest Sacrifice of all time: what that was like, what it meant, what it means for me now.

But this year... I'm so glad I did.

It all started with Trey and I, in our weekly Bible studies together, deciding to take the week before Easter to read John 16-21, one chapter a night from the Easter story itself.  We have been reading different parts or continued segments of the Bible nightly (separately) each week and then get together on Sunday nights to discuss and reflect on what we read and to pray. Simply taking the time to read a chapter per night of this riveting story was an awesome set-up for Easter weekend. It was in my head and on my heart as we prepared to celebrate.

I had the day off on Good Friday, so I then took a short trip home to St. Pauls, just in time to attend my home church's Maundy Thursday service with my parents. Being a weeknight service, I can remember begrudgingly going to this when I was younger. But since I have actually known what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ, especially in my adult years since college, this service has come to mean so much more. We took communion and sang hymns, and it was all an extremely special time of fellowship and worship. Then we had a Service of Shadows, in which different readers read from different parts of Scripture to tell the Easter story. The last was the Shadow of Death... just hearing the words read aloud actually brought tears to my eyes. Can we even imagine the sacrifice??? I have always loved the scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane... "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." That is just indescribable.

I also got the chance to spend a little time with my little nephew while at home—he is growing so much! Just seeing him is a blessing, and I got to give him a few "first Easter" goodies... one of which was a book of the Easter story. Inside I wrote him a little note from his Aunt Emmy and said that I hope this day will always be a reminder of God's love for him. That truly is one of my greatest hopes.

I returned to Wilmington on Saturday to volunteer at the 4:00 service we were having that night at PC3. (Six services this Easter: at 4 and 6 on Saturday, and the usual 9, 11, 4 and 6 on Sunday!!!) I am a teacher in one of the two 4-year-old classrooms on a weekly basis, but this weekend our preschool ministry staff was launching the new "4's theater" in which all the 4-year-olds would be together in the same room for each of the separate services. I was asked to be the "storyteller," in a somewhat skit-like format, which I was really excited about because reading the Bible story is always my favorite part. I got to tell the Easter story to my 4-year-olds at three different services last weekend (at the Saturday 4:00, and again at the Sunday morning 9:00 and 11:00).  I got to tell the children about the Last Supper and even act it out with my little table and pita bread and pitcher of water. I got to exclaim the Good News to them that Jesus came back—He really came back!—in THREE days, just like He said He would!!!!!  (One little boy was so excited by this that he cried out, "Yaaaaaaay!")  What a PRIVILEGE it was to share that with them and to get to see their little minds try to wrap around the enormous truth of God's love...

Before one of these services I volunteered for on Sunday, I remember feeling like I couldn't hardly WAIT to worship that night. Trey was getting in from Monroe that afternoon, and so we planned to attend the 6:00 together.  I went for a run through God's creation that afternoon in quiet worship of my own with Him beforehand... And then that night, just as I suspected, the service was SO powerful. The very first song was medley of "Jesus Paid It All" (on piano, cello and vocal) and "God Is Alive" (where they brought in another singer and four drummer boys.... AWESOME). I had tears in my eyes (yes, again!), and Trey and I both had hands in the air. What a powerful start to a great service. (Please watch it if you have time! http://www.portcitychurch.org/weekendcurrentseries.php) The anticipation and purpose for this night made the culmination soooo special and poignant for me.

All in all, it was just such a time of reflection and appreciation and worship and celebration. It was the best Easter I have ever had because it was exactly the way Easter should be. It truly represented the day's purpose. I found myself wanting to tell everyone what an awesome Easter I'd had, and WHY... I wanted to tell everyone the Reason for the Season!!! God truly blessed me last weekend with this fresh new revival in my heart and a renewed focus on Him. I pray that you were all just as blessed!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

lack of passion

This morning on my way to church, I felt this weird sort of lack of passion.  My thoughts were bustling with wedding stuff, work, how cold it was (haven't we had a long enough winter!?), and I just wasn't necessarily excited about not being under my covers, preferably asleep wherein my mind could shut off entirely. My prayer time with God before I left had been cut a bit short, and so I was running purely off my own steam...

It's amazing how a shift in focus can change your entire perspective.

We got into the auditorium to begin worship, and I just thought, OK, this is what this time is meant for. You can't do anything about anything else happening outside of this place, nor does God want you to. So focus.  The lyrics of a particular song we were singing leaped out of my mouth as they simultaneously imprinted themselves on my conscious: "We fix our eyes on You so we can set our hearts on You."

Sometimes, even as believers, we are going to feel a lack of passion.  But we can't just change the way we feel unless and until we fix our eyes on that which we need to refocus. Set our sights first, and our hearts will follow suit.  It reminded me of a quote I saw recently:  "I cannot make myself love God. But I CAN learn more about Him, and the closer I get to Him, because He is love, the more my love for Him will grow."  He will always draw us back in when we are distracted, disillusioned and indifferent.  And you know, the devil is a master of apathy. He will trip us with its lair when we least expect it, taunt us when we don't even think it's possible after the high we've been on for so long.  He knows that apathy is the opposite of love. Not hate, but apathy. With hate we still care one way or the other. We are still passionate, it's just in the exact wrong direction. With apathy there is a lack of passion—a loss of love.

I know I can never be too careful or feel as though I can just coast on my passionate love for God. My walk has strengthened more and more in recent years and even especially in recent months. Yet I still felt a sudden wave of indifference while driving to church this morning, out of nowhere. My prayer is to always fix my eyes on the Lord so that I can set my heart on Him, no matter what else is going on in life and even when I think my walk is strong. I need Him for everything, even when I think I'm "in control." I pray for His presence to become my focus. And I thank Him that His love and grace are insurmountable.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

a fresh encounter

I just got home from attending a Spanish-speaking home-church service with Trey, and I have to say it was a very cool experience... A friend of ours from church has been leading this worship service in his home every week, which grew out of his heart to reach his fellow brothers and sisters in the Latino community here in Wilmington. As we are preparing to go to Guatemala, Trey and I decided to go see what it was like, also in hopes to later bring the team with us at some point. We think it will be great for re-entry just as much as pre-trip, to get back home and have an opportunity to reimmerse ourselves in this culture as we continue to worship God.

Attending a local church in Guatemala is one of the things I have been looking forward to the most, just knowing how much I LOVED church in Kenya and experiencing that in a totally different part of the world. There is something about the solidarity of purpose in a room during worship, even and especially when languages are not shared or understood. Tonight we sat in a circle of about 20 people or more, on folding chairs and singing from small binders with the words to the same songs we sing at PC3 printed in Spanish to go along with the Spanish-language singers. I could feel the excitement to be in Guatemala but also just a cool aura in that room as we all focused our hearts on the same God. Javi then gave a message in Spanish (all I know is that he spoke on David, and he is very good at addressing a group of people), then we finished up with a couple more songs and prayer (I picked up "Padre," "amigos" and "gracias"... but, sadly, that is about my limit as of right now).

For one, it is just so cool to see this happening in town. It caused me to remember that home churches are gathering all over the place all the time, and it brought to mind what a new friend said recently about the church, that it cannot be thought of as the four walls and roof of a church building—because otherwise we could just leave and do whatever we want. No, the church is the body, and worship can take place anywhere there are people gathered in His name. As I am about to start working full time at PC3, this was a timely reminder for me: that we are just a very small part of God's movement all over the world, that people can "church" in all kinds of ways, and that they are all "OK" with the right heartset.

Trey remarked on the way home that sometimes, singing praise and worship songs in a different language can just be so powerful. I thought about it and wondered out loud if maybe it's because when we are reading someone else's words they wrote for a song that we understand, we are filtering our perspective through that person's words. But when we don't know what we are singing, it's our own hearts that come through as we focus on the Lord to whom we are giving praise...

I loved how friendly the Spanish culture is, and how unpretentious and unashamed this group of friends were as they came together in this way, both genuine and passionate. I love the way "Dios" and "Christo" roll off the tongue. I love to have an out-of-the-norm, fresh experience of God such as this. He is everywhere and everything, and I believe we are slighting ourselves of the fullness of what He has to offer when we refuse to see Him outside of our boxes. I think that's part of why I love missions so much. My own scope is drastically too small for what He wants to show me—show us all. How cool it is of Him to offer us such opportunities... :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

my one word, 2010

It's that time of year again! Time for PC3's annual My One Word series. I always look forward to choosing a new word each year, and I love to look back on how my previous year's word evolved and worked in my life. As well as hearing about others'! (For those unaware, My One Word is my church's way of making New Year's resolutions. Instead, we focus on one word for the entire year that reflects the kind of person we want to become. Instead of being paralyzed and doing nothing about all of our flaws and character gaps, we can at least do something about ONE thing.)

My first one word four years ago was "inspire." I resolved to focus on how my actions affected other people. I decided to become more generous with my time by volunteering every Saturday at a therapeutic horseback riding center for special-needs children. Which was awesome, but what I didn't expect was that by the end of the year, as I got more involved and committed to my church, it was the people there who inspired ME.

The next year my word was "position." It was the year I went on my mission trip to Africa, and I decided I would focus on positioning myself to be used by God, whether that was making sure I was in a position to help others or seeking opportunities where I would be more available to act when God called. As this was a year when my prayer life really strengthened, and I found myself more focused on and devoted to relationship with God than ever before, I began to wonder if I had chosen the wrong word... Should it have been "prayer"? Then, while reading a book I was in the middle of at the time, I came across a paragraph basically listing or describing what prayer actually is. And the very last sentence said that prayer is, first and foremost, a POSITION. I couldn't believe what I had read! But I knew I had the right word; it had simply manifested into more areas of my walk with God than I had ever expected.

Last year my word was "rest." Believe me, I did not want this word. I wrestled with it, fought with God for Him not to give it to me. And yet, through His persistence, I was stuck with it. Wanting a more active word and desiring to go to Guatemala on a mission trip that year, etc., I didn't want to see how this word would play out for me. Little did I know, it was exactly the right word for me at that season in my life. Especially once I got a pretty clear "no" from God that it was not my year to do another mission trip, I had to accept the fact that God wanted to stay home and rest. I had several new roles and commitments at church and in life that year—but God taught me to rest. He taught me the importance of it. He taught me to become more disciplined in my quiet time. He taught me to humble myself and realize the importance of praying for a mission team when I myself could not go. He taught me to trust in Him and wait on Him when things in my relationship with Trey were not happening at the time line or pace I was hoping for. And especially now, looking back, I am so glad He knew all along that I needed a year of rest. Because this year, between planning a wedding and co-leading a mission trip and looking for a new house, etc., I am so glad that I learned the discipline of quiet time and leaning on God for all things. That I better understand the importance of being still, even when life is busy around me.

Which brings me to this year. My new one word is: "in." This word has popped into my head for a while now as one I might use. I have always been intrigued by the concept that Jesus spoke of in John 15 when He says, "Remain in me as I will remain in you." You hear this a lot and of course we know that our bodies are temples housing the Lord, that the Holy Spirit is IN us, etc... But what would it look like to be intentionally conscious of that as much as possible? Would we say half the things we say, go half the places we go, listen to half the things we listen to? How can I carry Him with me everywhere I am, not just during my quiet times or at church and church-related activities?

Another big reason for choosing the word "in" is my inclination for "destination thinking." This is my pastor's way of describing the unfortunate mindset we find ourselves in at times when we think, "Once I get to this place in life, things will be better." "Once I do this, then this can happen." "Once this time finally gets here, then this will be different." For me, I can definitely see myself running away with this kind of thinking this year... "Once we get past this part of the wedding planning, then this." "Once we are finally married, then that." The list goes on. And I recognize that I am inclined toward this. I often like to think of the possibility and potential in things (maybe why I'm an editor?), mostly looking with excitement and anticipation toward the future. I am realizing that I really need to practice being IN the present. Enjoying and savoring the moment I am in right now. Not waiting for something to happen but existing and growing in the here and now. Because things don't always happen the way we plan. We might still be in the same boat "once this happens." And God wants us to be who He has created to be regardless of our circumstance. I don't want to completely miss this time of engagement because I am so looking forward to being married. I don't want to slack off reading my Bible and journaling because I have so much else waiting for me to do instead. Basically, I don't want to become so consumed with what God MIGHT have in store that I am not aware of His immediate presence and what He is already doing, right here IN the present. It's time to really recognize God in me at all times and to be fully in the moment!

Here's to 2010... Can't wait to see what my one word will do!

Friday, December 18, 2009

all we need

There is a story you might have seen yesterday that exploded over the Internet, one that really struck me and gave me pause when it hit my screen in the middle of my workday. It wasn't about Tiger Woods or global warming. It had nothing to do with Christmas. It was a human-interest story both horrifying and inspiring, a painful tale with a sweet ending.

A man named James Bain was charged and thrown in prison for life in 1974 for kidnapping and raping a 9-year-old boy. But here is the excruciating twist: He was innocent. Officials have recently determined through DNA-testing technology (which was unavailable in the '70s) that he couldn't have possibly committed this crime. He has spent the last 35 years of his life behind bars paying for a crime of which someone else is guilty.

The report said the first thing Bain did upon his release was to use a cell phone (for the first time ever) to call his elderly mother and let her know he was free. It said he looks forward to eating fried turkey and drinking Dr. Pepper, and he hopes to also go back to school. But even more touching were the lines the AP reported next:

"As Bain walked out of the Polk County courthouse Thursday, wearing a black T-shirt that said 'not guilty,' he spoke of his deep faith and said he does not harbor any anger.

"'No, I'm not angry,' he said. 'Because I've got God.'

". . . With a broad smile, he said he looks forward to spending time with [his mother] and the rest of his family. 'That's the most important thing in my life right now, besides God,' he said."

I think that may be one of the most powerful things I have heard all year. This man had plenty of time to "harbor anger," sitting in a cell for over three decades, wrongly accused and harshly denied of a life out in the free world. But he also had plenty of time to spend with God. And through the joy and freedom that God offers each one of us in Himself alone, Bain is now able to focus on that above anything else.

What an amazing perspective and reminder for all of us. It definitely brings all-new meaning to the idea that God is all we need. No matter our circumstances, needs and wants, no matter if we have nothing else, God is enough. It is hardly fathomable that that is what this man has taken from this experience. I truly believe the Lord must have been with him every day inside his cell, whispering peace...

In a different story but a not-so unrelated perspective, I read about Hannah again last night in 1 Samuel. Here is a woman who was told she could never have children, and then when God remembered her and blessed her with a son, she had to give him up when he got a little older. Her deepest desire had been to have a child, and yet she was able to give him away with gratitude and rejoicing in the Lord because she trusted Him, and He was all she needed.

I really wish I had this kind of trust and faith. It is hard not to be bitter when we are treated unjustly or our deepest desires go unfulfilled. But, amazingly, God is concerned with us no matter how big or small our cares may be—from an undeserved imprisonment to the longing for whatever lies in secret in our hearts. He is enough when times are good and when times are bad. He will provide when times are good and when times are bad. He is reachable when we have everything we want distracting us, and He is reachable when we have nothing and no one left to cry out to. He has a better plan when we desperately want things in our own timing...

Protect my heart this weekend, Lord—show me that You are always enough.

The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save,
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.

—Zephaniah 3:17

Monday, December 07, 2009

tangible



Have you ever wanted to feel the presence of God in a tangible way?

I'm talking an Old Testament, five senses kind of a thing. A reach-out-and-touch-you, hear-a-clear-voice sort of experience.

I'm learning in my small group's current study that the reason God spoke to people in Old Testament times through physical means (His audible voice, miracles, etc.) is because they did not yet have what is available to us now: the direct, continual access to the Holy Spirit that came after Jesus died. They did not have that personal connection to God that appeals to our spirits rather than to our senses, and so He had to speak to them in external ways in order to get their attention. (Not to say God can't still speak to us externally or hasn't since Jesus died, it's just not His primary means of communication anymore.) But as much as we often wish for a smack-me-in-the-forehead sign (and, really, who can't use one of these sometimes?), in reality, folks back then probably wished they had what we have: 24/7 open access to God the Spirit.

Still, there have been times in my walk with God when I felt like I wanted more. There is nothing like the feeling of being filled with the Spirit, but I have to admit I can think of more than a few times when I just simply wanted something tangible. Like Moses, who—although he was allowed more communication with God than anyone during His time, through audible conversation—still desired to see God's face. "Show me Your glory!" he cried in Exodus 33:18. Even the psalmist craved a one-on-one with God as he wrote in Psalm 17:15, "When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied."

It doesn't happen to me on a regular basis, but there is one time in particular that I was in a real funk over this. I was actually driving down I-40 on the way to Raleigh to see my new little nephew, James, very soon after he was born. I'm not really sure how I got to thinking about it, but I remember thinking that I wanted so much just to be able to see or know God Himself in some kind of physical, tangible way. Not just conviction through His word, or through the Spirit in worship, or through a great connection in prayer—but to really have an external means of Him showing up in my life and lifting me up so that my faith would get a fresh vision and revival. I was almost frustrated, in a way, that this wasn't possible. It seems the stronger my relationship with God became, the more I wanted to know and exprerience Him. "If only You could reach right down and just give me a real hug or something" is actually the exact thought that stuck out in my head. If only for a quick second, a hug I can actually feel...

I drove on the rest of the way to Raleigh and, as always, had a great visit with my sister and brother-in-law. They were wearily joyful like all new parents, so happy to have their baby in the world and yet slap exhausted at the same time. Not long after bringing some dinner with me from a nearby favorite restaurant and enjoying brief conversation in their kitchen, they were ready to call it a day; I happily offered to stay up with James for a while until they had to get up to feed him again.

When it was just me and James in the living room, I rocked and bounced and walked and soothed him the best I knew how, until he stopped crying, dozed off and went to sleep. I remember sitting on the couch with him in my arms and noticing what an absolute perfect size he was at that time to be able to fit my arms the way he did—his head against the inner curve of my elbow and his feet up against the inside of the other. Just holding him was like a little hug.

A perfect hug.

It hit me all of a sudden.

God may not have given me exactly what I wanted, exactly how I wanted it—but I got my hug that night. And it was, for me, a tangible experience of the love of God.

Friday, November 27, 2009

black friday

The day after Thanksgiving, the holiday season that has been so impatiently waiting in the wings takes a sharp turn toward Countdown Christmas and begins barreling down the home stretch, full speed ahead. We all know the decorations have already sneaked out of their hiding places, and many gifts have already been wrapped, but the full-on Christmas extravaganza needs no more than to be given an inch after the bird is cooked and eaten before taking well over a mile of the ever-increasing consumerism wrapped in all the glitz and glam that 'tis the season.

Don't get me wrong. I love the holidays. I love the spirit of giving and the extra quality time with family. I love classic Christmas movies, and Christmas music old and new. I love the nostalgia and the "magical" feeling in the air and all the traditions and activities. But, sadly, it's becoming more and more of a bittersweet time for me. I hate that Christmas has become a cultural holiday instead of the religious holiday it is meant to be. As fondly as I remember wonderful Christmas mornings throughout my entire childhood and lifetime, I hate that the central character is Santa Claus, not Jesus. I hate that the "reason for the season" reminders come only in a few boxed holiday cards and for a couple hours at church on Christmas Eve. I am definitely excited to decorate a tree and play Santa Claus with my nephew for the first time and do all the other cultural, non-religious traditions that are a part of the season and not necessarily bad in any way. I just really hope that we can also stand up for and prioritize emphasizing the glory of the first Christmas. When I stop and think that we celebrate our Savior's birthday with such fearful political correctness that not only allows but encourages the cultural holiday to win over the religious meaning, it kind of makes me sick. We (and I am just as guilty) focus on spending money and find ourselves actually looking forward to the new year when all the stress and pressure is simply over and done. We celebrate Christmas by reinforcing credit-card debt instead of accruing the joy and peace and gratitude He so freely offers to give.

I heard someone say on the radio this morning (K-Love) that the more we act as silent witnesses, the closer Christianity will come to disappearing altogether in America. Why should we be afraid to rejoice in the One whose existence gives us the ultimate reason to celebrate? I think it's an important question, and one that also asks us to define: 1) What's at stake, 2) What we truly believe, and 3) If the consequences outweigh the risk.

I definitely don't want to come across as though I think there is nothing good to be found within the Christmas season or that we are 100 percent all about everything else besides Jesus and family and charity this time of year. I just also strongly believe that we, as a culture, are sliding more and more in the opposite direction of what Christmas is really about—and if nothing is done about it, we will lose the perspective and purpose of what the holiday is meant to be. It's not about fitting the mold of the stereotypical evangelical, and it's certainly not about forcing anything down anyone's throat (remember, Jesus said to make "disciples"—not converts). It's simply about recognizing why there is a Christmas in the first place. It's about to "...in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted..." (Philippians 1:20).

This morning, via e-mail, I was also forwarded a discourse written by Ben Stein, the popular Jewish comedian, which I thought was very encouraging. I love the fact that a Jewish man wrote this. I honestly don't think it would have the same effect if written by a Christian—in fact, perhaps the opposite. I thought I would share it here to hopefully encourage more thought and more action. Merry Christmas season to all, and to all the hope of glory!

My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish.  And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees.  I don't feel threatened.  I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me.  I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto.  In fact, I kind of like it.  It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu.  If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians.  I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period.  I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country.  I can't find it in the Constitution, and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him?  I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too.  But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different:  This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her "How could God let something like this happen?" (regarding Hurricane Katrina).  Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.  She said, "I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.  And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.  How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?"

In light of recent events... terrorists attack, school shootings, etc.  I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.  Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school.  The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide).  We said an expert should know what he's talking about.  And we said OK.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out.  I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell.  Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.  Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.  Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

... If you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in. 
 
My best regards, honestly and respectfully,
Ben Stein

Monday, November 16, 2009

saying yes

A month or so ago I was asked to give my testimony at an FCA meeting to take place November 16th (today). Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows that public speaking is not my forte to say the least, but of course I said "Yes." I have never given my testimony in front of a big group before, but what a great opportunity to witness! I began to outline what I was going to say using the loose format given to me (Who were you before Christ, how did Christ come into your life, how have you grown in Christ, what is Christ doing in your life today), and that process alone was worth so much. For anyone who's never had the experience of writing out your testimony or collecting it in some way for presentation, I would definitely recommend it!

I was feeling pretty OK about it all, a little nervous about the speaking part, but the story I (of course) know well. And then there was a little last-minute twist thrown into the plan. It was not a bunch of high-schoolers I would speak to but a group of adult men. This I found out just last night. I arrived at the meeting today, and there were over 20 of them, the 50-something-year-old men who organize FCAs and are leaders in their churches all across town and have really spiritual-looking facial hair and such.

I have never been so intimidated in my life.

Since last night and up until that point, I was totally having an Exodus 4:10-12 moment. What in the world would I be able to say that will speak to these guys? Especially when I'm not even a good speaker? For these weekly meetings of fellowship, a different guest speaker is invited to give his or her testimony, and I'm sure I was not the first younger girl to stand up there. And, granted, there were two women among the group, whose presence somehow really helped. But I still felt such a role reversal. These were the type of men that I would go to hear speak, learn from, and who must know infinitely more than me... And yet it's times like this that are so healthful to our spiritual wellness. Moments of fear and uncertainty (being out of your comfort zone in general) allow us to completely depend on God, to rely on the Holy Spirit for peace and for the words to speak. So that's what I did.

To my great relief, it went much better than expected. I just told my story the only way I knew how. Lo and behold, I even got a few Amens! The encouraging feedback I received afterward was really surprising. Many thanked me for the honesty and sincerity, others said they related to my story, while others revealed a part of it that impressed upon them a new perspective. I was even invited to speak to at FCA "huddles" in a couple schools! The opening of unexpected doors, the feedback, the experience, and most of all the glorifying of God all would not have been possible with a very small yet very powerful word: "No."

I am reminded time and time again that it is not our ability but our availability that God so desires. Not what we can do (even FOR Him) but what He can do through us. He is the source, the means and the result. We are only the vessels; we get to be the hands and feet of the Spirit that actually dwells inside of us. How awesome and amazing is that.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Marys and Marthas



I am close to finishing Joanna Weaver's book Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (based on the story in Luke, Chapter 10), and I have to tell you, it's been a very good and convicting read for me. Or maybe challenging is the right word. The title itself drew me in originally... Yeah, we DO live in a "Martha world," don't we?! And it IS important to have a Mary heart!

I got pretty pepped up thinking about what words of wisdom I would find inside because the truth is, when I stopped and did a gut check right there in the aisle at Barnes and Noble, I have always felt more like a Mary, but more often than not I am acting like a Martha.

It goes without saying that we as Christians should continually cultivate a rich relationship with the Lord through daily quiet time with Him in prayer, reading and meditating on the Word, and worship. I have heard and read and seen (and experienced!) time and time and time again that nothing else like time invested with Him will strengthen our walks with Him, help us get to know Him better, help us to recognize His voice when we need discernment... the list goes on and on. I think we could all agree that having an intimate, personal relationship with Him is one of His utmost, foremost desires of us.

So, why is that so hard sometimes?

I have to admit, I am so very guilty of letting life distract me, with a schedule full of things to do and places to go—even church commitments can become a tension against the battle for the priority of my time! I have even tried to justify ol' Martha. Call me naive, or maybe it's that I always look for the good no matter what, but upon learning about the Five Love Languages, I began to wonder if maybe all this time that poor woman was just misunderstood... She didn't speak Quality Time; her love language was Acts of Service!

Jokes aside, there is just no getting around the fact that it is so important that we have Mary hearts—especially in this Martha world. Priscilla Shirer once wrote,

"In the stillness of the morning, I lean my elbows on heaven's windowsill to commune with the Lord, but then I decide to read my e-mail first. Satan laughs."

Those words were piercingly convicting to me when I read them recently—and for good reason.

I also make excuses that I just need a place to go, away from everything, so I can truly focus and not be distracted and have a chance to really be still. But even at the beach or at home or anywhere, really, that can be pretty near impossible. This is frustrating for me because I am not one who can't stand to be without people or doesn't know what to do with their own thoughts in solitude. Which is why I love the quote by Brother Lawrence—one I am trying to apply in my own life—that says,

"We can make our heart a chapel where we can go anytime to talk to God privately. These conversations can be so loving and gentle, and anyone can have them."

That's good stuff. My secret place for communing with God may very well have to be sometimes not in a quiet place physically but rather inside my own Mary-wannabe heart.

Really, I just wanted to share just a few quotes from Weaver's book, so I will stop rambling for now... :)

• "Against this Bethany backdrop of unexpected guests, I see the struggle I face every day when work and worship collide."

• "... a holy makeover. The bold one becomes meek, the mild one courageous. For it is impossible to be in the presence of Jesus and not be changed."

• "Busyness, by itself, breeds distraction."

• "In her eagerness to serve Jesus, she almost missed the opportunity to know Jesus."

• "We can get caught in the same performance trap, feeling as though we must prove our love for God by doing great things for him. So we rush past the intimacy of the Living Room and get busy for him in the Kitchen—implementing great ministries and wonderful projects, all in an effort to spread the good news. We do all our works in His name. We call him 'Lord, Lord.' But in the end, will he know us? Will we know him?"

• "Salvation isn't about what I do; it's about what Jesus did."

• Satan's "Three Deadly D's of Destruction": Distraction, Discouragement, Doubt.

• "'I need to know,' we tell ourselves. 'No,' God answers. 'You need to trust.'"

• "Fretting magnifies the problem; prayer magnifies God."

• "Keep reminding yourself to put God in your equation. Then, when fear knocks, you can send faith to answer the door."

• "...What's more, I may be stealing someone's else blessing when I assume I must do it all."

• God's Grammar Rules: #1. "Never put a period where God puts a comma." #2. "Never put a comma where God puts a period."

• Our walks with God are essentially:
- Not duty but delight
- Not common but communion
- Not ritual but relationship
- Not piety but privilege
- Not so much a visit as a homecoming.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

taking notes

Two nights ago I had the privilege to once again hear Kathie Baggott speak at a Perspectives class, this time at The Church on the Cape here in Wilmington. Always insightful and inspiring, super sweet and with a huge heart for the Lord, Kathie infused our time with stories and humor, observations from her well-read mind and tidbits of wisdom from her experience on the mission field. So that this blog will not suffer from occupying my words alone, I thought I would share a little bit of what I jotted down during the class (when I was not totally focused on the stories, that is. The lesson on which she spoke, part of the History section of Perspectives, was "Pioneers of the World Christian Movement"—one of my favorites!):

• Be invitational as well as inspirational.

• The "Conglomerate Commission": There are forms of the Great Commission in all four gospels and in the book of Acts (I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I hope these are correct: Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16: 14-18, Luke 24: 36-48, John 20:19-23 and Acts 6:8). I thought it was interesting when she noted that all have both a mandate AND a promise.

• There are two common threads that appear in almost all missionary biographies: 1) Someone else (often another Christian!) discourages and disqualifies them before they leave for the field or when they make the decision to go. 2) There is great suffering (but they suffer victoriously!).

• A motto of William Carey: "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God." It is specifically in that order, too, because we must first have faith and THEN act on it.

• The burden to spread the gospel among unreached people groups, even when there is "so much to do right here where we live," is based on the disparity in access to the gospel. There are many places people can go, things to read and people to talk to here in America, but among unreached people groups, that access is simply not nearly as available. She compared the gospel being food or medicine—wouldn't we try to evenly distribute that, too? (And is it not food and medicine after all?!)

• Learn to lean on God before you leave.

• A motto of Hudson Taylor: "Move man, through God, by prayer alone." Also, one of my favorites, "As now, so then" (our walks with God will not magically become deeper and stronger on the mission field; we have to develop them here and be the same way here as we are there).

• There are actually 4 ways to get involved in missions: as a 1. Goer (actually going on a trip or becoming an advocate), 2. Sender (financially, prayerfully and logistically supporting missionaries from back here at home), 3. Welcomer (spending time with refugees, foreign-exchange students, etc. who have, essentially, "come to us"), or 4. Mobilizer (training and preparing missionaries).

• If you don't think staying behind as a sender is doing anything, think of it this way: "Prayer IS outreach." It changes things.

• Sending is like a football game. There are relatively few players on the field with a whole host of other people helping make things happen through their various jobs on the sidelines.

• You are not worthy to stay unless you are willing to go. You are not worthy to go unless you are willing to stay.

• A "wow" statistic: There are roughly 18,000 unreached people groups in the world. There are roughly 600 evangelical churches for every 1. This is a winnable endeavor.

• Children are not the future, they are the PRESENT. They can make a difference right now!

• Sharing the gospel/proclaiming God's name and fame:
Christian ---> new culture = missions
Christian ---> same culture = evangelism
Christian ---> Christian = ministry

(And here's a little something to add from Reid Satterfield who spoke at class a couple weeks ago, paraphrasing, "When going to the nations, we are not just bringing the Word of God, not just the message, but the actual presence of Jesus Christ. He gave us His spirit so that we can incarnate Him through it—we are like walking tabernacles! The greatest thing a missionary can practice is to first and foremost attend to the presence of Christ, moment by moment. The reckless pursuit of Christ will always lead us in the right direction.")

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

God-view

As I'm preparing to give my full testimony in front of a group of people for the first time coming up soon (beyond telling snippets of it within conversations, like during small group), I have done some thinking lately about how to tell it all at once: where to start, what to include, etc. I haven't figured out yet exactly what will "make the cut," so to speak, but it has got me peering into the rearview and thinking way back to the first perspectives I ever remember having about God...

Growing up and developing a different world-view is one thing, but I believe I also had a distinctive "God-view" as a child. The concept of God was large and overwhelming but infinitely fascinating to me. I always thought of Him as personal and present, yet mighty and mysterious. The same way I simply yielded to the idea that Santa Claus could visit all the little boys and girls in the world in one night, based on his incomprehensible magical abilities alone, I somehow harbored the same kind of awe-inspired surrender to the fact that God could hear all the people in the world's prayers at the same time, listening and responding to each one but never getting confused. He was huge, He was "other," and yet He was available to me. That, I think, is my favorite God-view I developed as a kid.

I remember during the closing prayer one specific morning at pre-Sunday School (the half-hour of worship before Sunday School that included all the great old hymns and ended with some yummy snacks). I was pretty young and wondered to myself on this particular day why everyone prayed with their heads bowed down. Ever curious, yet thinking literally for once in my life, I was not happy with turning my face to the devil when I prayed... And so, while the rest of the folks in the room bowed their heads with eyes closed, I turned my face up to God for the remainder of the prayer. THAT, I figured, was real reverence, not the other way around. (I mean, talk about paying attention to whom you are speaking to!) But as cute as it sounds, and as many times that I fell off the path later in life, I think this was part of taking my first steps in having a personal walk with God and forming that relationship.

Speaking of the devil (no pun intended), another memorable concept was that of the two forces of good and evil in the world (I am pretty sure growing up with "Star Wars" had quite a hand to play in this). I remember having nightmares about God and Satan getting in these terrible battles up in the sky somewhere, God constantly having to fight him off and keep him from harming all of us down here. There was one night in particular that I woke up alarmed and afraid, horrified by the thought that, although God was more powerful and always came out on top, what would happen if He just got tired of fighting one day—and lost? What would happen to the world if God was not strong enough even one good time to fight off the devil? I remember running downstairs to my parents' room after that one, unable to shake it. But as terrifying and overwhelming as it seemed, I think that was part of a newfound awareness of the reality of spiritual warfare, something very real and threatening to the world even to this day.

There were other times that I would think about what had been said in Sunday School and during the children's sermons about Jesus always being there, all around us. Again, being the hyper-imaginative child that I was, I wouldn't just stop at the comfort of that thought, but I would take it very seriously, lying in the dark in bed at night thinking that if Jesus were to actually be standing behind me on the other side of bed, I would be so incredibly afraid. "If You are here right now," I remember thinking, "I love you, but please go away!" Yet as much as this seems over-dramatic or maybe like a misunderstanding on my part, I think it was actually the initial cultivation of having a healthy fear of the Lord.

It's so interesting to look back and see what has shaped our faith. It's so important to remember and reflect. I know I have definitely had large spans of time in my life when God was the last thing on my mind. But I hope that one day as I approach the throne, I will, like scripture says, enter like a child: believing, awed, inspired and receptive, full of boundless love and joy and, yes, wild enthusiasm. I don't think it is any coincidence that we become more like children as we grow older. This middle stuff—we draw in so tight and put so much focus on ourselves. So my hope is to make my daily walk take on more of child-like God-view, to live day by day as a child of God—in the truest sense of the word. Laugh openly, love fully, depend on my Father, revere Him for who He is yet revel in the time we spend together. Moment by moment.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009