Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve: Are You Living A Story Worth Telling?

Philippians 3:13-14
No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all that I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Jesus Christ, is calling us up to heaven. 

A few days ago I started reading the latest book by Don Miller called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  I’m only a few pages into it at this point and I’m not sure exactly what the book will hold.  From what I gather, it’s a book about Don’s thoughts and feelings as he took part in the process of turning his memoir into a movie.  A movie about himself. 

If I gather nothing else from this book, there is one line on the first page that really struck a cord with me:

“The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.”

There is something truly profound about that statement.  It struck a cord with me, because in so many ways, that is how I want to live my life.  That is the word that I long to be identified by at the end of my story: meaningful.   

There are so many words that could define our lives, aren’t there?  So many words that could describe our very existence.  So many years, experiences, actions and memories can be summarized into one short word.  If you could choose your definition, what would it be? 


So many words….so many definitions…so many ways to summarize our story.  But will the words that people choose to place upon our lives make a story worth telling?  Will they make a story that inspires others to live and grow and love?  Will they make a story that brings a smile to God’s face?  Will they make a story that would make us proud to call it our own?

I don’t know about you, but I want to live a story that is worth telling.  I want to live a life that is nothing less than meaningful.  I want to take these precious moments and days and years that God has given me, and give them back to Him in a way that is nothing short of meaningful.  Nothing short of what He meant for it to be. 

At the close of 2009, I challenge you to take a look at your life.  Take a look around you.  Take a look of how far you have come.  Take a look at where you are.  Take a look at who you have become.  Take a look at how you have used your moments and your days. 

And then, look ahead.  Look beyond your mediocre plans for your life and embrace the magnificence that He has designed for you.  Let go of the empty definitions that have been bogging you down and begin to take on those which will give your life purpose and meaning.  Those which you were meant to carry all along. 

This New Year, may you be compelled to live toward meaning.  May you be inspired to live this life as if it were your last to live.  May you be encouraged to define your life by words that you have never been able to use before.  May your life be filled with the seeds of hope, meaning, and purpose that will take root and begin to grow.  This New Year, may you strive to live a story worth telling.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Real Deal About New Years Resolutions:

Philippians 1:6
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.

Christmas is all over.  The floor is lined with remnants of brightly colored paper and curly ribbons.  The anticipation of giving and receiving has subsided.  The sun of this year has slowly set, and we await the dawning of the new year. 

The New Year.  For most, this brings a sense of excitement.  A new beginning of sorts.  A time to refresh, reshape, reprioritize, and rethink the goals of the past. 

But for the forgotten others, the New Year may bring with it a sense of failure.  It may bring with it the disappointment that comes with things hoped for that were not accomplished, things prayed for that were not answered, things dreamed that did not come to pass.  For many, it brings a sense of regret.  Things promised that were not followed through, things started that were not finished, things done that cannot be erased. 

I recently met a woman who dreaded this time of year, loaded with the nonsense of New Years Resolutions.  The time of year when we fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve started fresh. The time of year where we lie to ourselves, trying to believe we have the power to accomplish what we cannot.  The time of year where we set high expectations that can never be accomplished.  The time of year where we set ourselves up for one thing alone- failure. 

There is something pessimistically honest about her perspective.  There is something refreshing hidden beneath the negativity and despair of her statement.  Because, you see, in many ways she is right. 

When we begin to view our success and accomplishments as our sole responsibility- failure is inevitably right around the corner.  There is only so much our feeble humanity can accomplish.  Only so much we can dream, only so much we can try, only so much we can hope.  Only so much we can fail…without growing weary.  Whether we come to this conclusion early in life, or whether we are enlightened the moment before our eternal departure- this one truth we cannot avoid facing: our human limitation. 

Though, unlike this woman, this does not bring me despair- rather, it causes me to rejoice.  It causes me to find freedom from the burdens of accomplishment that I tend to place upon my shoulders.  It causes me bring my chains of human expectation before a God who holds the keys of ultimate sovereignty in His hands.  It causes me to rest in the truth that I am in His care, remembering that the great things He began in me will not be neglected.

It may tarry, but it will come.  It might not be in our limited perspective of time, and it might not be before the new year, but one thing is certain:

He who began a good work in you, will complete it. 

Friends, may your failures and your regrets be replaced with new hope, freedom, and a renewed sense of anticipation as you await the completion of His great works in your life.  Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

From Christmas to Crucifixion:

1 Peter 2:24
He Himself bore our sins, in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.

Christmas Eve is right around the corner.  There is lots of excitement building.  John and I are planning on sleeping in, opening our gifts to one another, and enjoying a homemade brunch together, before heading off to spend the holidays with family.  There is so much to be grateful for.  So much to find joy in.

This is Christmas.  Or is it?  You see, for so many of us, Christmas has lost it’s sacredness.  It’s lost it’s awe.  It’s lost it’s meaning in our lives.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think it’s wrong to celebrate our holiday traditions, to enjoy friends and family, to attend Santa-themed parties, exchange gifts, and enjoy delicious food. 

But we are missing so much by forgetting the foundation of these joys.  I was reminded of this last weekend, preparing for our Bible Study small group.  We have been going through the book of John and our Christmas study happened to land on John 19- the crucifixion of Christ. 

To be honest, I’m not really accustomed to reading about the Crucifixion around Christmas time.  Frankly, we save that for Good Friday.  How silly we are to compartmentalize our Lord in that way, yet we do.

Reading about the crucifixion that day, there was something sobering in remembering that this was the reason Christ was born.  There was something sacred in realizing that this was the intended end when baby Jesus entered into our world.  This was the purpose.  This was the intent. 

Though Jesus gave His life on the cross that day, in reality, He had given his life 33 years before.  He had already given it the instant he received it- the moment of his precious birth. 

This Christmas, I challenge you to truly contemplate the gift of Christ.  This Christmas, as you gather around your tree, I challenge you to stand in reverence as you worship a Lord who humbled himself and hung on his tree in order to bring salvation.  This Christmas, I challenge you to consider the means by which you have been saved, the life that was given for you to truly live, and the wounds that were inflicted allowing us to be healed.

Lord, more than anything else, we thank you for the gift of Christ. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Learning to Hear God's Voice: Gentle Whisper

Gentle Whisper
1 Kings 19:11-12
Then a great a powerful wind tore the mountains apart, and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

There is something to be said about the gentleness of our God.  There is something to be said about the fact that He is never pushy.  There is something comforting knowing that He is never loud.  He does not choose to enter into our lives with a roar.  He does not resort to force in order to make Himself known.  No, He comes gently.  He comes softly.  He comes sensitively, allowing us to choose whether or not we will be the recipients of His glory and majesty. 

We, on the other hand, find it difficult to fathom that kind of God, for we have developed our own way of making ourselves known.  For most of us that way requires great volume.  It requires generating a loudness that can be heard among the other voices. 

And so, with that mentality, we live our lives looking for a God who comes like a rushing wind.  We spend our time trying to listen for a God that comes like the shattering of the rocks, to see Him in the blaze of a fire, and to feel Him with the intensity of an earthquake. 

And in the end, He is not there.  In the end, we find that we have missed Him.  In the end, we realize that in our search for immensity, we have missed His gentle whisper.  There is something to be said of a God who approaches us with such softness.  A God who requires us to get quiet, to get close, and to get intimate in order to hear his gentle voice whispering in our ears.  A God who does not choose to compete with the clamor and clatter of this world. 

A God who comes into our worlds with the tenderness of a babe, revealing Himself to us as a soft whisper.  A God who can be heard by those who are intimately listening for His voice. 

May you be patient to wait for the wind to pass, for the fire to subside, and for the earthquake be still.  And in the end, may you choose to listen for His gentle whisper in your life. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jesus Wrapped in Papers and Boxes: Learning to Give Yourself

John 1:14
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

My friend Andrew C. just sent me a video on YouTube that got me thinking.  It’s a promo video for an organization called advent conspiracy, it’s purpose aimed at challenging believers to refocus their priorities this Christmas season.

The video talks about how much money Americans spend every Christmas season: 450 Billion Dollars. The numbers are astounding…and disgusting all at the same time.  Lights, trees, gifts, decorations, food…all the things that we believe will fill us with joy. And at the end of it all, Jesus is thrown out with all the papers and the boxes that we wrapped Him in to begin with.  

And then the video says something profound.  It poses the question, “How did Jesus celebrate?”  The answer: He gave, He gave Himself.  What a sobering thought.  He gave of Himself on so many levels, with everything He had to give.  What a challenge this Christmas season, to let this year be the year we truly celebrate by following in His example. 

Last weekend I got up early to pass out Christmas boxes of food in the projects.  The event was sponsored by the Dream Center Peoria and Food For All. My alarm was set for Saturday morning: 7am.  For those of you who know me…I’m not much of a morning person.  In fact, I hate getting up early…especially on cold winter days.  I have to admit, when my alarm went off that morning I wasn’t in good spirits.  It was a struggle getting up and getting ready…I had to fight my flesh, begging me to stay under the warm covers. 

But, as always, interacting with my friends downtown that morning left me blessed far beyond how I blessed them.  I may have left them with boxes of food that will last them a few weeks, but they left me with smiles full of joy, and hearts full of gratitude that will stir a passion in me for many years to come. 

That’s the crazy thing about giving of yourself.  In the end, it’s a selfish thing.  In the end, you come out more blessed than you ever could have imagined.  In the end, there is left a smile on your face that cannot be wiped away, a high that comes with serving people that cannot be replicated, and a joy so strong that it can not be subdued.  

So this Christmas season, let’s celebrate like Jesus did.  Let’s give of ourselves, to our friends, to our neighbors, to our family, to the poor, to strangers…and ultimately, to our Lord.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Spiritual Atrophy: Ashamed of the Gospel

Romans 1:16
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…

Overall, I believe that we as a people have become more passive in our interactions with others.  That passivity has seeped into our Christian relations as well.  Relations with other believers, but most importantly, relationships with the lost.

We may go all year without really connecting with others in a deep and significant way, and wonder why our interactions have become so superficial.  We watch person after person enter and then leave our lives, without ever sharing with them the hope in which we have.  And all the time, we are waiting for the “perfect opportunity”- an opportunity which never actually comes.  And all the while, our spiritual muscles begin to lose their strength, as they atrophy in the disease of our passivity. 

Some say this passivity is just happenstance- and that a perfect opportunity to really get honest with people about the gospel will eventually come, if we will only wait for it.  To this, I would disagree.  I used to believe this to be true…until I peeled back the layers of my passivity to find one thing: shame.  In a sense, I was ashamed of the gospel.  I was embarrassed.  I was worried about how to bring it up in conversation, what to say after that, and what people would think of me if I did. 

With the silence of my passivity I was inadvertently doubting the power of the gospel and the power of it’s God. I was allowing my fear of man to dictate my level of obedience rather than my fear of God.  And in the end, I was the one who came out short.  I was the one who missed the opportunities to speak the light of truth into desperate lives.  I was the one who missed out on being used by God, finding the abundance of joy in being in His will. 

Christians, I believe that it’s time for us to step it up- living a life that is in active pursuit of sharing the gospel that has changed our lives.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that the opposite of passivity is an aggressive approach.  I don’t think we need to be standing on street corners waving signs of “Repent” and warning that the end is near (although in a strange way I covet that lack of inhibition that echoes with David that ‘I’ll become even more undignified than this’ if that‘s what it takes for God to be magnified).  But let’s be honest, most of us Christians aren’t even close to that end of the spectrum. 

Let’s begin by taking an active approach in our day to day.  Let’s begin by looking at the platforms that God has given us to share his love and his truth.  Let’s begin with asking the questions that we’re afraid to ask.  Let’s begin by starting those conversation that we’re always waiting for.  Let’s begin by sharing with strangers and with friends the things that our God is doing in our lives.  Let’s begin by taking interest in those we never found interesting.  Let’s begin by taking the gospel seriously, immersing ourselves in it so much so that it is overflowing into the lives around us.  Let’s begin with one person.  Let’s begin with today.

Lord, give us the strength to boldly proclaim with our lips and with our lives that we are “not ashamed of the gospel”.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Remember What's Really Important This Time of Year....

James 1:27 
"Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after Orphans and Widows and their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world"

John and I were just reminiscing about our trip to Egypt in 2008, wondering how the kids are doing, wishing we could be there, and hoping to make it back there soon.  With that spirit, I wanted to post a bit of the email updates we wrote during our time there.  As you read, I want you to remember with us what is truly important this year.  And something.  Do something that will make a difference for someone this holiday season. 


Today we visited an orphanage for Handicapped Children and it was Amazing. It was difficult, but most of all rewarding. There are 13 children there in two small apartments next to each other. Most of the kids lay lifeless on the beds, they all are in diapers and most of them cannot speak other than noises. It was amazing to see how they came to life in response to your touch and words.

One boy in particular was such a joy to interact with. His name is Abinoub, he is 9 years old and was born mute, deaf, and blind. He lay motionless on the bed and when I went to hold his hand he jumped into my arms. I just held him for a while and talked to him, even though he couldn't hear. He loved to be held like a baby and rocked back and forth. When we held him like that the biggest smile you could imagine would be on his face and you could feel his joy, I knew that he was aware and felt the love we had for him. The minute I put him down in his crib, he would jump up feeling around for me and once he got a hold of me he wouldn't let go. He was longing to be held, to interact with somone.

So many of the kids responded just to being held and touched. I wish we could have spent all day there just holding the kids and telling them how much we loved them. It was also difficult to interact with them becasue many of them would drool on you, try to eat your clothes, and we could clearly smell the urine on the beds we sat on. But it was even more difficult to look into their eyes and not love them, not touch them, not reach out them.

Yesterday in the main orphanage we go to Deb was counseling on the of girls and she asked me to come into their room in the middle of the session. The girl had asked that I would come in because she wanted to share something with me. When I went into the room Deb asked the girl if she could share her story. She wanted her to. Deb went on to tell me how this girl had just shared her story.

*It's Deb cutting in real quick* She had been suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts due to a long history of abuse by her biological father. He had physically abused both her and her mother for many years. Her view of what a father was had been completely tainted by past. She had a scar on her upper arm from where her dad had slit her with a knife. The amazing thing about this story is, just being able to talk to her about the love of God our father, how a real father is supposed to be. Without going into tedious detail, she gave her life to the Lord this day, and it was so amazing being able to be a part of this. She told me that we had already impacted her life so much.

She went on to say that when she first met John, she was blown away with his compassion and gentleness with all the well he treated them. She said that she immediately wanted to call him "Baba" which means Daddy in Arabic, but she was too shy to do so.

After that, she asked if we could ask him to come in the room and share with him these things. I called John into the room and proceeded to tell her story. Before I knew it, I was just sobbing. We were all sobbing. I held her in my arms as she wiped away MY tears...but more than anything, at that moment, she knew she was loved SO much, by John, by me....and most of all, by the Greatest Lover of all....Christ.

John's Back :)...I never experienced before the feeling of someone looking up to me as their father. As I listened to Deb tell me this girls story it broke my heart and it was difficult to hold back the tears. I can't imagine what it is like to have such an abusive father. As my heart was broken I also realized the power of Christ's love, the healing it can bring, and the Amazing God we serve. So often we think that we aren't doing enough, I had only played with this girl a few games, said hello, talked with her a little bit, but it had such a profound effect on her. How many more people could have their lives changed by God's love and grace if we would only take the time???

We have so much more to share and are trusting God to do even more in the coming week and a half we are here. We will be going to the Red Sea this weekend and will send another update early next week. Continue to keep us in your prayers and even more the kids at the Orphanage.
Happy Holidays Everyone.

John and Deb

For more information on Christian Orphan Outreach or on how to Sponsor a Child for the Holidays visit our updated website!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Heaven is a Wonderful Place...or is it?: A Look at the Description of Eternity

Revelation 21:21
The twelve gates were twelve pearls,  each gate made of a single pearl.  The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. 

I don’t know about you, but when I think of heaven, the description of pearly gates and golden streets doesn’t really move me.  Besides the fact that I’m more of a silver girl, the idea of jewels, gems, glitter and glamor does little to excite me when it comes to the prospect of eternity.  I don’t believe I’m alone in this idea, either.  Just the other day I was speaking to a young girl, completely turned off by the idea of leaving her loved ones here on earth to enter into a mere amusement park made of precious metals and sparkling gems.  No thanks. 

And you know, I totally agree.  If that’s all that heaven is, who really wants it?  I sure don’t.  There has got to be something more than just the fear of Hell pushing us along the road toward heaven.  I was discussing this perspective with my mom the other day on one of our drives. 

We were contemplating the idea of golden streets and pearly gates when we came to an interesting conclusion: God wants to out-do us.  He really does.  He wants to take the things that have become so glorified in our world, and show us that in His world, those things are really nothing at all.  He wants to take the things we have come to call “valuable” in our paradigms, our gold, our diamonds, our glitter and glamor- and turn them into streets for us to trample on in His world.  Just think about it.  Gold will be what we walk on, not what we hang around our necks and place on our fingers. 

It’s as though God is trying to turn our worlds upside down by reminding us that the things that really seem precious to us are hardly good enough to walk on in His presence.  He is making a value statement, reminding us of His greatness in comparison to the things that we have considered great.  This doesn’t just go for gold and pearls, bur for everything else that we have considered valuable.  In His presence, those things will be of little value and worth. 

He is reminding us that in His world, things will be exceedingly greater than we could ever ask for or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  In His world, all the things that have brought us joy, and all the things that have brought us pain will be diminished in the sheer glory of His presence.  A world where every tear will be wiped from our eyes, death will be overcome, mourning will not exist, and our pain will have no existence (Revelation 21:4).  A world where we will experience the fullness of satisfaction, and where our joy will finally be complete.

God wants to out-do us, reminding us that this world is but a morsel of the things that are to come.  So, in that case, to heaven it is…bring on the streets of gold. 

Question for response: What are your thoughts, fears, worries, or perspectives on what Heaven will be like?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Problem with our Interactions with Others:

1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”

God has really been challenging me in how I deal with others.  I would have to say that this verse, tucked away in the book of Thessalonians is the theme of the challenge that has been placed on my heart throughout this year. 

Another translation of this verse calls us to “edify” one another.  What a strong word.  Every interaction we are to have with others is meant to be an avenue of growth, encouragement, and lifting each other up.  I don’t know about you, but that hardly describes every interaction I take part in. 

Last year we invited a young couple that we had recently met to our home for a dinner party with some friends.  Although I don’t remember all the details of what we spoke about, I remember sharing stories of God at work in each of our lives.  At the end of the night, the couple that we had just recently met asked if they could pray for us before they left- and we spent the rest of the evening praying and encouraging each other.

When they left that night, even with the dishes still in the sink, and the mess waiting to be cleaned- more than anything I remember feeling edified.  I felt so uplifted and encouraged.  And I remember thinking, “what if all my interactions with others left them feeling this way?”  I wondered why that type of edification was not present in many of my relationships with others…even with believers. 

The reality is, it takes effort to have a life that is lived to build others up.  It takes a deliberate attitude of humility to put them and their needs first.  And frankly, it takes practice.  It’s not a natural human condition to edify others and to build them up.  Our muscles are conditioned for self-gratification.  It takes an exertion of our minds and an extension of our hearts in order to live a life that brings others one step closer to the love of God through their interaction with our love.  But at the end of the day, more than anything, that is what this type of interaction is purposed to do: bring us one step closer to His love. 

Look around and see, this world is filled with too much of the opposite. And unfortunately, our churches have also fallen prey to the antithesis.  Criticism, condemnation, complaining, and ingratitude poison our communities, seep into our interpersonal relationships, and our take hold of our pews.  It’s time we begin to take an active approach.  For that is our only hope. 

I want to live a life that edifies others, more than anything else.  I want to leave their presence with the complete assurance that they felt loved.  I want to look for ways to encourage those around me.  I want to let them know that they are truly appreciated and respected.  I want to be more deliberate in loving this kind of way, and in doing so, deliver to them a fraction of the relentless love of God that is always there to build, uplift, and edify. 

Will you join me?