Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What God Has Taught Me...

I still have a hard time believing that my year has come to an end. Last night, while most of the other patients were sleeping, I took my son for a walk down the abandoned halls of the children's hospital. It's kinda funny... of all the nurses I met during our two week stay, I knew the night nurses best because I often spent that quiet time walking the halls... praying. Praying. This is what I first thought about when reflecting on this "Crazy Love" experiment. Many people have asked how this little project has changed me... and an easy answer to this is that I pray more. But, more importantly, I pray for others more... I pray for God's will a whole lot more. Long gone are the laundry lists I used to throw up... like the never ending Christmas lists of a spoiled, self-centered child. I'm not as selfish... and for that I am so incredibly thankful.

To truly understand how far God has brought me, you must first understand where I was before this journey began. One year ago, I was living very comfortably. My husband had a great job, our kids were becoming self-sufficient... I often referred to this as seeing the light at the end of the tunnel... which meant that I could FINALLY take up those things I had put on hold for so long... because I was all about sacrificing for my family. But, this was now "my time" which meant starting that elusive non-profit that I so desperately wanted to create for so long. I just wasn't quite sure how things were going to fall into place, so I prayed... and God answered... but not the way I planned for Him to answer... not the way I hoped He would answer.

During this time, I went on my first mission trip. I won't retell the amazing experience here (you can read about it in the April 2010 blog postings)... but it was life changing. I came home deeply disturbed. Heart-broken by what I saw. Angry that children are allowed to live in such horrible conditions. Ashamed of how I live. Looking back now, I can see that God used this experience to stir my heart... to prepare me for what He was about to do in my life... for, you see, so many times I have looked back on that experience to remind me of so much: that I am blessed, that I am capable of more, that there is a greater need, that there is much to do... but, most importantly, that I'm not as important as I thought I was. That mission trip introduced me to humility... an introduction that was imperative for the next part of the journey.

A few months later, my husband and I made a bold decision. He was going to accept a job with greater flexibility so that I could focus on building the non-profit. While this meant losing a third of our income, what we gained was having dad around a whole lot more... blessing #1. For three weeks, the time my husband had between jobs, he played Mr. Mom while I worked full time on the non-profit. I had a brief taste of professional life... something that I often longed for... and something that I really enjoyed. Life was good for about a month.... and then everything changed.

That July, we found out that our family would be growing. A new baby would be joining the mix... and ruining MY plans. Now that I have gained an incredible amount of perspective, words cannot express how horrible I feel about that time in my life... specifically how I felt. Thankfully, God's grace is all consuming... and I understand now that going through this experience (having these emotions) was a necessity for my growth. It pains me to know that one day my son may read this and know that there was a time that I didn't want to be pregnant... I can only hope that he will forgive me... forgive my selfishness... and know that after everything is said and done... the gift of him was God's way of saving me.

From my perspective, at that exact time, being pregnant was a death blow to my dreams. Having a newborn would make starting and running the non-profit impossible (on top of homeschooling the other three kids!). But, we also had other issues to tackle... namely my husband's new income... which was barely covering the bills for our family of five... would it hold out when there's another mouth to feed? Not to the mention the fact that I was going to be the mother of four... FOUR... who has four kids anymore... except warped religious people that homeschool their kids... Oh my, what was I becoming? (Maybe this helps you understand where my desperation was coming from!) For about two weeks, I vacillated between sadness and anger. Sad because I was grieving the loss of a life I was ready to live. Angry because God didn't bless the plans I had to serve Him. Eventually I was so overcome by these two emotions that I became consumed by them. I was becoming bitter... and I saw how this bitterness could make me turn my back on my faith. That was when I made I bold decision. When I explain it to others, I say that God led me up a mountain top... at which point I had to make a decision. I could climb back down, ultimately turning my back on God. Or... I could blindly step from the precipice... a leap of faith, if you will... and trust that God's plans are best... even if I don't agree with them. I decided to take the step and I'm so incredibly thankful that I did!

During the months that followed I learned the following: The non-profit was more about me than God. For practically all my life, I have been working diligently to prove my intelligence to others... and as a stay-at-home mom, that battle was raging in me. The non-profit, while born out of pure love for serving God, became corrupted by my desire to prove that I was worthy... of what... I'm not sure... and I don't think it really matters anymore. Months ago, I literally put the non-profit on a shelf. The door isn't closed, but I won't revisit it until I feel confident that it's what God wants me to do. Even now, it's still difficult to swallow... but it's okay. So, that leaves the following question: If not the non-profit, then what? Well... that answer is easy... and obvious... but also a little difficult to swallow given the circumstances. It's my family. God has made it incredibly clear that my family is my priority right now. That's a really hard one for someone like me because I feel as if I've already given so much of myself to my family... but, truth be told, I have never given myself fully. And this is what God has taught me about my relationship with Him, as well. I have never given myself fully to Him. As long as God and my family are another box I check off at the end of the day, then I will never begin to understand the joy that such relationships can bring to my life.
At the end of the book, Chan asks us a very important question: Is this what I want to be doing when Christ comes back? Whenever I think about this question I picture some kid getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar... getting caught in the act of doing something he wasn't suppose to do (and he knew it, of course)... but the temptation was so great that he did it anyway. From an eternal perspective, I don't want to get caught with my hand in the cookie jar... doing something that I know I shouldn't be doing (whether that's seeking my own glory through establishing a non-profit or choosing to browse the Internet for the umpteenth time instead of spending time with my family.) In fact, just asking myself this question a few times a day has really had a lasting effect on my behavior.

Through all of this,I've learned what it is to truly love God. Have I experienced that "Crazy Love"? Well... not yet, I guess that's part of the continuing journey. But, I have experienced, felt, the peace of Him in the unrelenting storm. God is no longer a box I check off on my daily "To Do" list. I look forward to growing closer to Him... to teaching my children about Him. And I look forward to giving more and growing closer to my husband and children because I know this is where I'm suppose to be. He wants me to know that being a wife and a mother isn't something I must simply endure... but that it's another way to experience his abundant love. That's an adventure I am truly looking forward to taking... God is so incredibly good.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Are You Fertilizer or Manure?

I LOVE this quote that Chan gives: Christians are like manure... spread them out and they help everything grow better, but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly. I can't help chuckling, even now. The visual imagery is humorous, but the implication is disarming, sad... and likely true at times. The point here is that Christians aren't meant to simply hang out with one another. Believe me... I know it's tempting. I mean, think about how much easier it is to turn your back on sin when surrounded by other believers, constantly encouraging you. But, the point here is that we're meant to be the encouragers... to those lost in this broken world. So, why aren't more of us living up to that responsibility?

In an attempt to answer that question, Chan poses an interesting theory: "Most of us use 'I'm waiting for God to reveal His calling on my life' as a means of avoiding action." p. 169. Did any of you break out into a momentary sweat when reading that? I did... for the simple fact that I have said this exact thing... out of sheer frustration. I "wanted" to serve God, but was "unable" to do so because He hadn't revealed His calling for my life. Oh my... how ridiculous that sounds now... I'm almost too embarrassed to write it down. By saying this, I'm essentially blaming God for my unwillingness to serve Him! But, it's extremely crucial that you don't miss the bigger picture (problem) here. While I've been"waiting" for God to fill me in on the whole calling thing, I have been serving Him... but not out of love. It's been out of duty... out of obligation. But, worst of all, I've done it in hopes that my service would speed up the process... if I work hard enough to prove my worthiness, then God would reveal my calling. But it doesn't really work that way, does it?

I've spent a lot of time these past two weeks reflecting on this year-long journey. When I decided to start this blog a year ago, I could never have imagined where God would lead me. I naively thought this was simply an exercise in learning how to love God more... sounds relatively painless, right? Well, in all honesty, it was anything but painless. God lead me down some rather dark and winding roads... roads I tried to demolish on my own a long time ago .. roads that lead to vanity, pride, bitterness, inadequacies. You name it, He took me there... sometimes head on... almost always without my approval.(Not that He needs it anyway!) The only difference in the journey this time, was that I didn't run away. I came close a few times... and there were a few instances when I did nothing for weeks. I refused to move forward because I didn't want to go where God was taking me... more importantly, I didn't want to let go of certain things in my life... things that God wanted me to let go of. But, I also refused to run away. I did nothing, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do... That's a hard thing to admit: I wasn't sure if I really wanted to let go of my sin. I had grown comfortable with it (there's that horrible word again!) My sin was consistent. I knew what to expect. I could function... pretty well actually. But, I was still shackled. I've constantly been told that following Christ brings liberation... freedom. And that's what I wanted. I finally realized the only way I could achieve that freedom I so desperately wanted was to trust God. So, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and took a step in faith.


My next blog will be my last. I will share with you what I've learned from this experience, what I'm still struggling with and if God has revealed that elusive "calling."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Finding Our Own Paths

Have you ever found yourself wishing that you were someone else? Maybe not literally wanting to be someone else... just wishing that your life mirrored theirs in some way. There have been several moments in my life, usually revolving around my mentors for the most part, where I have often found myself saying something like, "I wish I had it together like they do." Or, "I wish I loved God like she does." I think this is a natural tendency, but the problem with this is that it often times leads us, sometimes out of sheer desperation, to follow their paths... hoping that "if it worked for them, it might work for me." But Chan warns us about this, citing that "we have a God who is a Creator, not a duplicator." p. 167. He goes on to say the following:

"This is why I cannot say in this book, 'Everyone is supposed to be a missionary' or 'You need to sell your car and start taking public transportation.' What I can say is that you must learn to listen to and obey God, especially in a society where it is easy and expected to do what is most comfortable." p. 168.

There's that horrible word again: comfortable. Why is this word bringing me so much DISCOMFORT? Of course, Chan has the answer to this, as well... and not to slight him, but, truth be told, I think most of us already know the answer... we just don't want to admit it! In one simple sentence, he wraps it all up: "I wrote this book because much of our talk doesn't match our lives." p. 168. That's a battle cry if I've ever heard one. He's called us to the matt. He's put the ball in our court.... there is an endless supply of cliches that I could use here... but none of them change the fact, or numb the sting. Everything comes back to the choices we make... and to be honest, I, personally, find it extremely difficult to make decisions that will lead me to a place a discomfort. It's not my natural inclination. I don't like pain, whether it's physical, emotional, psychological... whatever it is, I DON'T LIKE IT! Don't get me wrong, I understand and accept that it's part of life. I even grasp the fact that adversity (pain) makes us stronger... but, that still doesn't mean that I welcome it... even if I know God has allowed it. And that is the impasse at which I find myself: Do I trust God no matter what?

For the past few months, I have been pleading with God for Him to reveal some direction in our lives. I've literally been on my knees begging Him, all the while growing frustrated with His silence. But, I've come to realize that He hasn't been silent... He just hasn't been telling me what I wanted to hear... so, as a result, I haven't been willing to listen to Him. A few weeks ago, at one of my lowest points, I cried out to Him asking, "Where are you? Why aren't you listening to me?" His answer wasn't immediate, but it was resounding. A few weeks later, He showed how real He truly is... not once, not twice, but many times over. It's day 10 of being in the hospital with our newborn son, and even today, we are still marveling at God... but also feeling foolish, ashamed, that we ever doubted. I can't help but think of the Israelites in the desert. I used to literally scream at the Bible when I'd hear about how the Israelites doubted God...even when the fire cloud was right in front of them. But, essentially, that is what I have done. My inability to trust Him is, by default, admitting that I don't believe God is who He says He is. That's a hard pill to swallow. It shakes my faith to the core... but I've finally come to accept this as a necessity because living in "spiritual limbo" is no longer an option I am willing to pursue. I have been straddling the fence for way to long... and continuing to do so not only affects me. It also affects my husband, my children, my friends, my neighbors... and the countless number of people I meet throughout the remainder of my life.
Part of me was really hoping that reading this book would provide the answers I was looking for... and, I guess, in a way it did. It made it crystal clear that I wasn't in love with God... and, for the record, I didn't even know that I was suppose to be... or that I even could be! And while Chan does provide some guidance to help us forge that relationship with the Creator... there is no definite "guideline"... no step-by-step directions... one size fits all. But, I guess that too make sense... it's different for all of us. But, no matter what, we must all start at the same spot: placing our salvation in the hands of Christ and taking a breath of life in His word. We all start at the same place and our paths diverge as we each begin our own journeys. The thought of this can be overwhelming... so overwhelming that many of us will find any excuse possible to derail the expedition before it even starts. I've been sabotaging mine for a while, but I'm finally ready to change that.
Have you been sabotaging your own journey with Christ? This is a question that you have to answer. Others might be willing to answer this for you... but until you are able to take responsibility for your own actions (or lack there of!), you will not experience the fullness of living in Christ... and I promise that it's worth the discomfort.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Now What?

Well... I can't believe we're finally at Chapter 10. I started this blog almost one year ago... to the date! And what a year it has been. I still have a few posts left in me as I wrap up the final chapter... and I will try my best to share with you what God had revealed to me during this year and how this journey has changed my life... because it most definitely has!

I love how Chan opens up this chapter with the most obvious question: Now what? What do we do with all of this information? How do we begin to process all of this? When I first read this book, over a year ago, my answer was easy: I started the blog. I had two reasons for this: #1 I knew that "dragging" this experiment out over the course of a year would help the concepts and principles sink in a little better and #2 I LOVE accountability! Putting everything out there (for essentially the whole world to see) definitely makes you accountable. But as I come to the end, yet again, I'm still asking myself: "Now what?"
Chan is quick to point out that he's not telling everyone to sell their homes and cars and move to third world countries... unless God is calling us to do those things! He reiterates the fact that we can love and serve God where we are... in our neighborhoods, at our jobs, in our communities. But the question is this: Are we? But maybe a better question is "Why are we?"... assuming that you already love God and serve Him, of course! Sometimes, I feel as if I have some sort of "On/Off Switch"... when I'm "on" I'm serving God and loving Him... when I'm "off" well, let's just say that serving and loving aren't really on my radar (unless, of course, it's about serving and loving myself!). And that's really the crux of the matter (which happened to the the title of the chapter.)

I've been focused on this statement for a while: "The point is that there is another path, an alternative to the individualism, selfishness, and materialism of the American Dream (even the so-called Christian version.)" p. 166. I keep going back to a conversation I had with someone after my return from Nicaragua last year. For the longest time, I was distraught. I felt guilty... guilty that I lived the way I did, that I wasn't doing more to help, that I allowed myself to be insulated by societal mores. When I shared these feelings, one particular person told me that I shouldn't feel guilty that God decided to give me a blessed life... I should be thankful and enjoy the life I was given. Now, it should be noted that this person isn't a Christian, and I had to remind myself of this many times during our conversation. Her comments infuriated me... but not for the reason you might think. Yes, I was so incredibly angry with her selfishness and sense of entitlement... but,now, almost one year later, I've come to the understanding that she was only voicing what I was actually living. It is only right now... literally at this precise moment that I sit here and type, that I'm realizing the obvious: My guilt and heartache for the children in Nicaragua wasn't born out of an inability to do more for them. It festered from an insidious wound: an unwillingness to sacrifice my comfort in an effort to serve God.

I keep going back to Matthew 19:24- "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." What has been so incredibly hard (and humbling) to swallow is that I am the "rich man"... even though my husband and I live paycheck to paycheck, even though we have absolutely no idea how we are going to stay afloat this next year if our financial situation doesn't change... we are comparatively rich. Because of where we live, the provision we have, the culture WE HAVE ALLOWED TO MOLD US... we have lived our lives as that "rich man"... and, as a result, unless we change our ways, I wonder if our fate will be the same? (Of course, I'm going to say "no" because this little experiment has FINALLY allowed God to pierce through my stubborn exterior!)


What path are you living: God's path or the American Dream? Be careful when answering this one. There's a difference between the path we WANT to follow (or better yet... the path we TRY to follow) and the path we find ourselves on.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Living Sacrificially

We've made it to the last part of Chapter 9... finally. It feels like the days have dragged on these past few weeks... having a new baby will do that to you. But, as it ALWAYS is with God's timing, everything falls into place just perfectly (And I'll get to that in a moment). Chan focuses his last two testimonies around the people at his church. People like you and me... living in neighborhoods like us, paying bills and raising children. Yet, despite some apparent similarities, there are also some glaring differences.

I love how Chan describes Lucy as "somebody's innocent, dear grandmother," only to declare in a following sentence that she is an "ex-prostitute." As I read over this selection last night, a different light was cast upon the words as they stared back at me. As I read about Lucy... how she used to be a prostitute before giving her life to Christ, but, more importantly, how she now opens her house to those whose lives mirror hers so long ago... I can't help but think about the sin in my own life and the stories of so many others. What I find so fascinating about Lucy is the fact that she doesn't hide from her past... quite the opposite. Lucy uses her past experiences as a way to relate... connect... with others. Again, I can't help but think about my life... all the adversity that I have faced. How many times have we faced a hardship in life, only to hear someone say that God will use that experience to make us stronger... or, better yet, they just leave the statement open-ended: "God will use this experience." In Lucy's case, she allows God to use her past, a past that many would rather forget, as a way to show God's grace to others. As I sit here thinking about all the struggles God has seen me through, I'm embarrassed to admit that, in most cases, I have packed those painful memories in a rather dark and distant corner of my mind... hopeful that I will never have to think about them again. Maybe it's because of my insecurities, or maybe it's just too painful... maybe a little of both... but, regardless, by sweeping my mistakes, my pain, under the rug, I am grieving God's heart in a far worse way than I did with the actions themselves... for, you see, I am denying Him the glory in a life redeemed. Lucy obviously is focused on sharing her experiences with others in a hope to lead them to God. That leaves me wondering whether I'm more concerned with looking the part of a Christian... or living the life of a Christian... because there is a difference!

Cornerstone Community Church
Chan briefly talks about how the people at his church have made a decision to live a life in pursuit of God... through their stewardship as a church. With a commitment of giving 50% of their budget away, the church has made a "counter-intuitive" decision (by societies standards!) in how they would use the money given in honor of God. Instead of building a plush, mulit-million dollar facility, they opted for a non-descript amphitheater. Obviously, such a decision will be questioned on days with inclement weather; however, Chan is quick to remind us that in those cases, his congregation will be reminded that such an insignificant sacrifice helped to provide meals to the homeless, medicine for the sick... hope for the lost. So many times, I hear people refer to sacrificial living as individuals, or as a family, but I've never really thought about it as a church. I've been asked to give of my time... but that's not really sacrificial giving. Some might argue that it is, but honestly, giving an hour or two of my time each week isn't a sacrifice. It may be inconvenient, but that's a COMPLETELY different issue.

Over the past week, I've thought a lot about sacrifice. Right now, I'm sitting in an empty common room at the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital. This has been my home the past week, and will be my home for the next week, as well. My son, now almost 3-weeks-old, developed a bacterial blood infection that has altered the course of our lives... at least temporarily, but I dare say that it has altered the trajectory of our lives for the long haul, as well. In the first 24 hours of this journey, there were a lot of tears, a lot of prayers and a lot of questions. Our lives came to an abrupt halt. Our reality was turned on its ear. Sacrifices were having to be made on every level... by me, my husband, our children, our friends and family. I've only seen my older children once this past week. My husband is having to take time away from his job to play "Mr. Mom" at home and spend time at the hospital. I have only left the hospital once in the past seven days. I have slept very little. But, we all make these sacrifices without complaint, without a second glance, because of the love for our son. Our lives have essentially stopped, or at least have been put on hold, for him. But, when I ask myself to look at my sacrifice for Christ... well, I can't honestly say that I've shown the same willingness, the same determination.

My first night here is one that I will never forget. It was a dark time, especially when the curtain of night fell and silence set in. I was alone in the dark, holding a child that was just given to me... wondering if he would be taken away. I have never prayed so hard, so relentlessly, in my life. I prayed for the things that most parents would pray for: protection, healing, strength, understanding. But, as the night wore on, my prayers began to change. Somewhere along the journey, I began to pray for my love for Christ... for a transformation of my heart... for a closeness that I desperately wanted to experience in my everyday walk with Him. I realized that I was willing to sacrifice anything and everything for a child I barely knew, but wasn't sure if I could say the same for Christ. A palpable pain filled my heart as I cradled my son tightly to my chest. It was then and there that I realized the only remedy for my heartache was the one thing I wasn't sure I was capable of doing. Okay, that's not the truth. I'm capable, but I haven't been willing... living sacrificially for Christ, no exceptions, no excuses. As I conclude my blog over the next few days, I will share what God has revealed. Like I said... His timing is perfect.


This is the last video:


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Baby Steps to Us... Are BIG Steps to God!

For those of you feeling a little discouraged by the testimonies so far... take heart... this one's for you (and me!) Feeling a little downtrodden myself, re-reading the next two passages helped to breath hope back into my soul... a simple reminder that a life given over to God doesn't necessarily mean "radical" transformation. That's what God does in us... He radically transforms us... when we step out in faith... when we, sometimes ever so slightly, step out of our comfort zone, or just simply go out of our way... to be the hands and feet of Christ to an unexpecting world.

The Robynson Family
I LOVE the Robynson family. I've never met them, mind you, but regardless, I absolutely adore them. For you see, our new Christmas Day tradition is molded from their love and service to Christ. On Christmas morning, the Robynson family loads up their red wagon with homemade pancakes and coffee... and heads downtown to feed the homeless. What I find so fascinating about this is the age of the Robyson children. All three kids are under the age of ten with the youngest being 3-years-old. How many kids do you know, under the age of ten, willing to spend their Christmas morning feeding the homeless instead of feverishly unwrapping a seemingly endless stream of gifts?

Susan Diego
When reading Susan's story, I couldn't help but think of countless women I know... women with hearts for the Lord, but a paralyzing fear of speaking in front of people. For Susan, the majority of her ministry was centered around interpersonal relationships: working with youth, teaching young mothers, raising her own children. The one thing she didn't want to do was speak in front of large groups of people. However, one day God changed all that. During a trip to Uganda with the husband and two youngest children, Susan was in charge of leading a women's conference... which meant speaking in front of hundreds of women. She never thought God would lead her down that path... but He did... and she followed... never once regretting the decision.

Recently, I was given some really good advice from a trusted mentor and friend. In a late night conversation, I was sharing with her where I felt God was leading me and my family. But, I also shared my fears that despite the confidence I had in God's leading, I lacked confidence in my own abilities. After patiently letting me spew out all my insecurities, my dear friend simply said that God doesn't ask us to do anything that we can't do... reinforcing the truth that He equips us with ALL necessary things. He is the Great Provider. Even as I sit here and look back on that conversation, I see the flaw in my logic. My insecurities relied on my own understanding, my own capabilities, my own education and strength. Where was God? In yet another evolution of my faith, I've come to the understanding that I have trusted God to lead... but not provide... I trust Him to lead me to places that I can navigate on my own, based on my own understanding; but can the same be said when He leads me to places that I'm simply not equiped to handle on my own... places where I have to rely COMPLETELY on Him... for His provision?

Do you rely completely on Him? Or do you trust Him only after you've gotten as far as you can on your own? Spend some time really contemplating this question.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Christ is Alive... Even in China and Iraq

When I hear someone say "missionary" I immediately think of mission trips to Nicaragua and Peru or people I know living in the mission field, living in relatively safe places, spreading the Word of God. However, when I hear of people like Shane Claiborne and Brother Yun... for whatever reason, I feel like the word "missionary" doesn't quite fit. Yes, of course, they are missionaries... but they seems more like superhero missionaries... going to far off places where the people desperately need to hear about Jesus... but willingly putting themselves in harms way in the process.

Brother Yun

When I first read his story, I could help but draw immediate and apparent similarities to the Apostle Peter. I envision him sitting in a prison cell, always faithful, but I'm sure, also wondering how in the world God was going to work out his situation, so to speak. I remember reading this to my kids a while back, only to have the oldest ask, "Is that true?" My answer was somewhat sarcastic: "What? You don't think it's possible for angels to release shackles, let sleeping guards rest undisturbed, and have Peter escapes prison walls without being detected?" In her most serious disposition, eyebrow arched high, she simply said, "No." The only word that justly reassures is... miraculous. Brother Yun's life... his entire life... in my opinion, magnifies this word, as only God's grace can. To be held in a maximum-security prison in China, legs beaten until crippled, only to walk out six weeks later... through gates and barriers, usually closed, that were "miraculously opened." Now, Brother Yun travels the world sharing his story with countless others, encouraging them to preach the word of God in countries where such actions are punishable.

Shane Claiborne
Shane is in his late twenties (maybe thirties, by now), living in one of the worst communities in Philadelphia. As a resident of A Simple Way, Shane works with other residents to expose elements that foster poverty. Chan writes that "their lives are about loving the very poor and broken in one of America's hardest cities" by feeding the hungry, spending time with neighborhood children, running a community store and planting community gardens in areas once described as decrepit. Shane travels around the country sharing his life with others. He stays with a host family when he travels and requests no money for his time... he only asks for those in attendance to give what they can to A Simple Way. In 2003, Shane also went to Iraq with the Iraq Peace Team. While there, he visited sites that were bombed daily, as well as hospitals where the injured were taken. He attended worship services with Iraqi believers.
Lives given over to God... am I the only one terrified by this? Obviously, these stories are the lives of others, not meant to be replicated by us, but still... What have I given over to God? What part of my life have I surrendered... completely? Where am I following Him... completely? I'm still living in that precarious place where the fear in my head is weighing down... suffocating at times... this love and willingness in my heart. I'm still holding on to things of this world because I'm fearful of what letting go really means. I "know" that following God and claiming His promises for my life is far better... far richer... far more sustaining... but I'm still afraid to let go...
This one is for me gang... but, by all means, join in!
I'm going to spend some time tonight talking to my husband about the things of this world that I'm refusing to let go of... also asking him to do the same. I'm not looking forward to the conversation... but I'm anticipating some growth to be born out of my certain discomfort!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Saint and the Prayer Warrior

The next two lives we'll look at make me take pause. (Not that the others don't, mind you!) But, these two stories are really amazing to me because they speak to things that I frequently struggle with: forgiveness and trust... forgiveness of others and trust in God.
Rachel Saint
By our societal standards, Rachel Saint grew up relatively poor. She was one of eight children growing up in a family that had very little food. However, at the age of 18, Rachel received what many would consider a "golden ticket." A wealthy, elderly woman took Rachel on a trip to Europe and offered to make Rachel her heiress... if she agreed to be her companion for the rest of her life. Tempting offer... and Rachel seriously considered it. But, in the end, she knew that such a life was not for her. Instead, Rachel spent 12 years working in a halfway house for alcoholics and then became a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators in South America... eventually working with the notoriously dangerous Waorani Indians in Ecuador. While many might view this as brave... or crazy... in context, in my opinion, it's miraculous... for you see, Rachel's brother, Nate, was killed by the Waorani people. Such a horrible tragedy might turn many people away from God, but not Rachel... "it only sharpened [her] desire to tell these people about the love of Christ." It took many years for her to finally meet and live with the Waorani people, but she ended up living with them for 20 years... sharing her faith and leading them to the Lord.

George Mueller
George didn't become a Christian until he was in college. Before that, he was known for gambling, drinking and other "escapades." But, through the power of Christ, his life was transformed. He eventually married and became a preacher in England. That's where he and his wife decided to open an orphanage for children living on the streets... free of charge. But, moreover, the Muellers decided they wouldn't even ask others for financial contributions... they would trust God to provide for their every need. (Now, I don't know about you, but having pretty extensive knowledge on how non-profits work... "financial contributions" are the life-blood of most, if not all, of these operations. The thought of not soliciting financial support for such an endeavor is... well... crazy!) Chan writes the following: "Many people were incredulous, and so the Muellers' purpose in starting the orphanage became twofold: The first was obviously to help the orphans; the second was to show people what it looked like to trust God for everything." p. 158. Relying solely on prayer, they opened the first orphanage. By the time George died in 1898, over 10,000 orphans had been cared for in the five houses the Muellers' built... and a million and a half pounds, in monetary donations, were given.

So, today's blog boils down to forgiveness and prayer... I wish it was that easy! For many of us, these two things are big hurdles we need to cross... and conquer... in our efforts to become obsessed with God. This past weekend, we had family in town. It was the kind of visit that stirs up feelings I often equate with having a root canal... anxiety, frustration, physical pain. It just so happened that my eldest daughter's daily devotion for one of the days of the visit was about forgiveness. This started a very interesting conversation about how difficult it is to forgive... and how important it is to forgive... God does have a sense of humor. The person in question began telling my daughter how she finds it more difficult to forgive those she doesn't know compared to her family. This struck me as odd because I feel the complete opposite... and I told her so. She looked at me as if I had three heads, not understanding how that was even possible. I went on to explain that...right or wrong... you don't expect family to intentionally hurt you... maybe because you hold them to a higher standard... maybe because Norman Rockwell has subliminally made us believe that family-togetherness is the thread that binds. Regardless of the reason, a betrayal by family is a bitter wound to heel... because it's personal. Betrayal by a stranger is easier to forgive... at least for me... because I can rationalize that it wasn't personal... they don't know me. So, who's right? Well... it doesn't really matter, does it? Because the issue of forgiveness still lingers. I don't know if this person understood what I was saying... or that I was addressing a particular issue I had with her. But, again, after YEARS of building resentment... I have to really ask myself, does it matter? My "issue" is nothing compared to that of Rachel Saint. Reading her story made me realize that my lack of willingness to forgive is MY obstacle to overcome and until I'm willing to lay it down, then my growth in Christ will be stunted. That's a hard pill to swallow... but I think George Mueller's philosophy on prayer holds the key. If prayer can build orphanages and change the lives of thousands of children... then it can change my heart... if I'm willing to let go of being "right."


Is forgiveness a stronghold preventing you from a deeper relationship with Christ? Do you find yourself constantly "harping" on something, or someone... just not willing to let it go? If so, spend some time in prayer, asking God to work on your heart.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Rock Star and Rings

This might seem an unlikely pairing... and I have to admit that the only reason I originally put these two together was because of their order in the book. However, these two men do have a lot in common. Yes, one is a famous Christian singer known for turning his back on fame and money in order to focus on his pursuit of God and the other is "an ex-convict, ex-addict, and ex-alcoholic." But, both men, taking drastically different paths, found themselves giving everything they had to the Lord.

Rich Mullins
Rich grew up in the Quaker church and, at an early age, discovered a love for music. In 1985, he recorded his first album and for the next 12 years, spent his time making music, touring and ministering. While most people, still today, primarily know Rich as a musician, he didn't consider music to be his primary purpose in life. He merely saw it as a way to teach other people about Christ. In 1995, he moved to a Navajo reservation in Arizona to teach music to the children that lived there. Even though many of us would assume that such a "luxury" was afforded to him because he could live off the profits of his music, this simply wasn't the case. All the profits from his concerts and music went directly to his church and in return he received a small salary. Rich was killed in a motor vehicle accident in 1997.

This is the second time I've read about Rings. He was also mentioned in the book, Under the Overpass, which I've also mentioned on the blog. Rings lives in Ocean Beach, California. He isn't necessarily someone many would assume is a Christian: ex-convict, ex-drug addict, ex-alcoholic. But, he is a testimony to the healing hand of God... and the power of salvation...of redemption. Every month, Rings receives a check. Instead of using the money on himself, he goes to the local grocery store, buys coolers full of food and heads off to feed the homeless from the back of his truck. As he prepares the food, he shares the Gospel with anyone that will listen... telling them what God has done in his life... sharing with them what He can do in theirs.

The portraits that God so beautifully created of these men have stark contrasts... yet, are so incredibly similar. They took different paths in life, but God used them, their life experiences, to touch the lives of countless people... people from all walks of life. As I go back and "dissect"... if you will... the testimonies of the people highlighted in this chapter, I can't help but compare myself to them... and between you and me, I don't stack up. And, YES... I know that I shouldn't compare myself to anyone, but how can you not help it when you look at the lives of these people. And, for the record, I'm not really comparing my life to theirs... I'M COMPARING MY WILLINGNESS TO THEIRS! The past few weeks have been a spiritual struggle for me... and I don't think it's by chance. The closer I get to moving in the direction God is calling, the more conflicted I feel about certain things. Maybe conflicted isn't the right word... it's more about the realization that I'm not "all in"... I'm like a stubborn kid that stomps her feet, indignantly folds her arms and makes a grumpy face. I've wanted to serve God for a while, but it's always been on "my terms": when I'm ready, what I want to do, with people I want to serve with. When I really get down to it... my focus isn't on serving God... it's on serving myself while I'm doing things for God... and, in my opinion, this is the glaring obstacle that prohibits me from becoming obsessed.


As the book...and blog... come to an end in the next few weeks, think about the obstacles in your way. What is keeping you from being obsessed with God? Even if the obstacle is you!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Women Living Boldly For Christ

I love the next two examples... and not just because they're about women. One is about someone that defied all societal expectations in her pursuit of God and the other is a woman who turned her back on all that society places "value" on in her faithful pursuit of serving the Lord. One thing I've learned this past year is that I'm not made of tephlon. I do have pretty "thick skin"... and to be honest, probably 95% of the negative comments I hear have little or no effect on how I live my life. HOWEVER, despite my ability to shrug things off pretty easily, the one exception has been when others have something to say about how and why I serve Christ. I take offense... sometimes I even become defensive. But, worse than that, I start to wonder if the "naysayers" are right. The reason I love these two testimonies is because they prove the "naysayers" wrong. Being a Christian... truly living as Christ called us to live... in this society... isn't impossible. Hard, maybe... impossible, definitely not! And these women prove it!

Jamie Lang
At 23-years of age, Jamie took $2000 from her savings account and headed to Tanzania. Her original plan was to stay until her money ran out and then return back home. But God had other plans. Six months into her stay, Jamie met an 8-year-old girl carrying a baby boy whose mother was dying from AIDS. Jamie began buying formula for the little boy, in an attempt to help improve his health. Before the baby's mother died, she had the opportunity to thank Jamie for all she had done for her son and said that she wanted to be saved. After the mother passed away, Jamie spent the next six months trying to adopt the little boy and then another five months getting him a visa through the US embassy. (The incredible thing here is that Tanzania doesn't allow international adoptions. However, because Jamie had lived there for over six months, she could establish residency... thus allowing her to adopt the baby!) After a year and a half, Jamie returned home with the baby. While many other women her age would never dare dream of taking on such a responsibility... adopting a child (from another country nonetheless), not married, and I can only assume no immediate employment upon her arrival back to the US... Jamie still adopted this little boy because she knew it was part of God's plan for her life. Now, Jamie is married, has a little girl and is moving back to Tanzania to work with Wycliffe on translating Bibles... definitely part of God's plan.

Marva J. Dawn
I think it's probably safe to assume that Marva is an intelligent woman. She has four masters degrees and a PhD. She has written several books, is a gifted musician and speaks at conferences around the world. And while it might be easy to assume that she's pretty well set, financially speaking.... you might be surprised to hear that Marta gives away all the profits from her books. Despite having many medical problems, Marta and her husband live on his salary as a teacher... which isn't much. She even drives around in a 1980 Volkswagon Bug, with a broken heater, as a reminder to be more focused on prayer and to better identify with those in need.
As I spend time reflecting on these two women and the lives they lead, I can't help but think of my own life. What am I doing in my life, or what do I have in my life, that helps me focus on prayer... that helps me identify with those in need? Have you ever thought about that? Chan talked about it in an earlier chapter. Is there any area in our lives where we live by faith? That's the big "Rubber Meets The Road" question. Through this process, I've come to learn that living by faith is the catalyst of change for which I have desperately been searching... where being a Christian isn't something I just "do"; instead, it becomes who I am. Right now, I have a myriad of opportunities to live by faith, but it would be so much easier to just "do" a few "Christian things" from time to time... when it's convenient... when I have time... when I want to. But, that's not really living by faith, is it?
Lately, I've been struggling with this question? When faced with faith-building, life-altering changes that would undoubtedly force us to grow closer to Christ, do we wait for Him to change our hearts... to make them softer, more willing to follow (in effect, MORE COMFORTABLE with the direction He's taking us)? OR... do we step out in faith... because we know that it's the direction He's leading us... when we don't want to... when we aren't ready... when we are not yet comfortable with the "process"... is it really faith when it's on our terms... or when we're "ready" to take the step?
Think about what I wrote in the last paragraph. Answer that question for yourself!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Serving the Lord... on the Other Side of the World

You know, it never fails. Inevitably, when I talk about what it might look like to live an obsessed life for Christ, someone always equates such a "drastic" decision with selling off all worldly possessions, packing up the family and moving into a grass hut somewhere in the middle of the African continent. For most, it's a feeble attempt at humor, but, for some, it just underscores their ignorance and/or arrogance. But, today, I want to talk about two men that chose to serve Christ in such a way. One man was born on the other side of the world and the other moved there. But both men, despite the obvious differences in their life circumstances, made a powerful choice... to live an incredible life for Christ.

Nathan Barlow
Dr. Barlow was a medical doctor who spent more than 60 years of his life in Ethiopia helping people that suffered from a condition called mossy foot. (It was primarily found on people who worked in the soil of volcanic origin.) Eventually, Dr. Barlow returned to the US when his health started to deteriorate, but he longed to return to the people of Ethiopia. So, he returned to spend his last days there. One of the things Chan shares about Dr. Barlow really stood out to me: "Once, Nathan got a toothache, the pain of which was so intense that he had to fly away from the mission field... he had the dentist pull out all of his teeth and give him false ones so he wouldn't slow God's work in Ethiopia."

Simpson Rebbavarapu
Simpson was born into a poverty-stricken, lower-caste family in India. After two unsuccessful attempts to end her pregnancy, Simpson's mother gave birth to him. Eventually, his parents took Simpson to an orphanage because they were painfully aware that he would have a better life there. Now, as an adult, Simpson spends his time between an orphanage he started and an evangelism ministry that he uses to spread the Word of God through the use of audio bibles for those that are unable to read. Simpson receives no salary for his work, citing that he would rather have that money go to the continuation of God's work. Simpson said that "living this way, he has to trust that God has His hand on his life and will keep taking care of him. He also says his dependence keeps him in prayer and close to God."

So... this past week, I've spent a lot a time really focusing on what God wants me to take away from these stories... these people. Like I said in the earlier entry, we are not to emulate the lives of others. We are to live the life we are given... the life that's unique to us. But, having said that, there is a common thread that runs through the lives of all these people. I've read these stories several times, but there is a new clarity, a different perception, that I'm taking away this time through. When I look at the life of Dr. Barlow, I can't help but acknowledge the difference between doing a "good deed" and living a "good deed." So many times, I will spend my time "doing the deed"... only waiting for it to come to completion so I can return to the other "things" in my life. Dr. Barlow was so consumed by God's work that he obviously fell in love... not only with the work, but with the people he served. (Not to mention the fact that the man had ALL of this teeth pulled...JUST IN CASE there was a chance they could interfere in God's work!)

In the case of Simpson, for me, what speaks the loudest is his complete dependence on God...especially for his finances... realizing that such a complete surrender requires complete dependence. I don't know what that looks like, not really. But, it's becoming painfully obvious that this is where I need to begin!


If you get a chance, take a look at these websites that provide more information about these men and the work they have done for the Lord.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Who Really Lives That Way?

It's been a while since I've read this chapter. As I started reviewing it the other night, I couldn't help but ask myself one question... one word actually: "Really?" I mean, is this what it actually looks like to be obsessed with God, to TRULY follow Christ? I'll admit, at first I was a little taken back... some of these people, by our society's standards, are just down right crazy! But, as I put the book away and took time to let God work on my heart, I began to realize something. The biggest complaint I've had with this book (and it isn't really with the book) is the flippant reaction that many have had after reading it. I know so many people that have read the book... but most stopped about half-way through... only to throw their hands up and say, "Well, all Chan wants us to do is sell everything and live like paupers." This chapter is proof that Chan's expectations are nothing of the sort... but more importantly, neither are God's. (But, that's not a free pass to live in excess either!)

The lives highlighted in Chapter 9 are all different. Yes, some have lived in poverty. Some have walked away from lavish excess. Some have just packed up and moved to other countries. But others have not. Some of them are living "obsessively" for Christ in their own neighborhoods. As I've struggled to figure out what being obsessed really looks like, I've finally come to the conclusions that it doesn't look a certain way for everyone. In fact, the only common thread that weaves itself in every obsessed Christian is that they place God first, follow Him always... no matter where it takes them. That's an incredibly terrifying thought, if you really think about it... if you're not a place where putting God first is a natural instinct. What I've come to realize is that those that become disgusted with this book or insist that Chan is adamant we all live in poverty are refusing to really look at what Chan is saying... which is that living obsessed lives for Christ is COMPLETELY possible. But, for some of us... those that have immersed ourselves into this culture, either by choice or consequence, have to take a really hard look at where we are, how we're living, what we are placing before God. When we do that, when we really take inventory of our lives...maybe it seems easier to live a life of poverty than "incorporating" God into our current lives! (And the reason is because we're not suppose to incorporate God into our lives... we are suppose to give God our lives!)

Over each of the next seven blog entries, I will look at two of the lives Chan has highlighted in Chapter 9. My intention here isn't to focus on these people; but, instead, to focus on how God has lead them. Each story is uniquely different... as each of us are uniquely different. But, what you'll soon realize... if you haven't already... is that each individual story reiterates a common, undeniable theme. We can choose to ignore it... OR we can see how God wants each us to live out that theme in our own lives.


This is my favorite video in the series. Take a look at the video for Chapter 9:

Monday, January 24, 2011


Well... this is it. This is the last characteristic Chan gives us for being obsessed with God... and it's also the end of Chapter 8! But first things first:

"A person who is obsessed with Jesus knows that the best thing he can do is be faithful to his Savior in every aspect of his life, continually saying 'Thank You!' to God. An obsessed person knows there can never be intimacy if he is always trying to pay God back or work hard enough to be worthy. He revels in his role as child and friend of God." p. 148.

Well, I have to admit that this one is quite hard to swallow tonight. It is yet another reminder that despite how far I have come... I still have far to go. Just tonight, I was brought to tears out of pure frustration over our finances. We were holding out hope that the New Year would bring with it a little relief... I mean, that's what we were promised. But as it turns out, because of the way our State's finances are structured, not only are we not getting that much hyped about "relief"... we're bringing home less. All I could do was plead with God, asking Him why this is happening... the LAST thing that even crossed my mind was to thank Him. Even now, to say the words, "Thank You" would be hollow, void of all sincerity. To be quite honest, I don't even know if I'm in the right frame of mind to even write this tonight... but I can't sleep and the house is quiet, so I'll just see where God leads me in this.

Right now, I'm reading Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll. In the section I read tonight, he talked about what he considered the biggest heresy: humanism.... the thought that we control our own destiny; the whole "pull yourself up by the bootstrap" philosophy of life. And as I sit here pondering the current situation I find myself in, I can't help but think that I'm falling into the trap myself. And then on top of that, I'm feeling a little hypocritical. A dear friend of mine is about to take one of the biggest leaps of faith I can even imagine. She and her husband are preparing to plant a new church, and for the short term this means leaving their life here (with no certainty where they will be in one year) and no definite income...except what they can raise. The other night, I sent her a rather lengthy email, in hopes of encouraging her... reminding her of God's faithfulness and how we should never hide our fears...or our doubts... because God uses all of it for His glory. That advice would be really good for me, as well... but I don't want it!

On Sunday, she got up in front of the church and spoke words that have been resonating in my soul ever since. During this journey, she had to challenge herself to make a choice between living by comfort... or living by faith. As I sat there and watched her speak, I couldn't help but marvel at how far she has come... and as tears streamed down my face, I realized that I am terrified by the thought of letting go of my comfort... because I have no idea what my life will look like if I live by faith. As unhappy as I am right now, I'm the first to admit that my life is good... better than good... but, I'm equating "good" with comfort! The reason I'm unhappy is because I'm placing comfort over faith. If I can't thank God now... when I face small bumps in the road... how will I be able to thank Him if, and when, I face real hardship, real loss? I don't have an answer to this question. This is a HUGE road block in my journey right now... and I'm also realizing that He won't remove the road block (even though He can) until I stop protecting it!


I usually post the video for the next chapter at this point, but tonight I came across this very appropriate video by Matt Chandler. It's short, and humorous, but also extremely on target with this characteristic.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Dedicated

I really like the statement Chan makes on page 146: "We tend to think of joy as something that ebbs and flows depending on life's circumstances. But, we just don't lose joy, as though one day we have it and the next it's gone, oh darn. Joy is something that we have to chose and then work for. Like the ability to run for an hour, it doesn't come automatically. It needs cultivation."

I love the comparison to running, because that's something I understand. The last time I went for a long run was about six months ago. I ran 12 miles and felt incredible. The next week, however, my "pregnancy sickness" hit... which meant I had to hang up my running shoes. And for the last six months, every time I go to the shoe basket, I see them... they taunt me... they mock me! After all this time, they've made their way to the bottom of the basket, but nonetheless, I see them. And every time I see them, I start to feel sick to my stomach. The reason is because I know how difficult it's going to be to get back to running 12 miles AND feel incredible. To be completely honest, it's going to be difficult to get up to three miles and feel incredible. Anyone that's been in a similar situation... whether it's due to pregnancy, injury or lack of time (or discipline!)... understands the frustration. But all of that doesn't matter, because in the end, the only answers, the only thing that works, it to lace up those annoying shoes and place one foot in front of the other. There's no shortcut, no magic cure-all. There's just your persistence, your discipline and your perseverance... your dedication. Understanding this helps me better understand Chan's characteristic for The Dedicated:

"A person who is obsessed with Jesus is more concerned with his or her character than comfort. Obsessed people know that true joy doesn't depend on circumstances or environment; it is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God (James 1:2-4)." p. 146.

Yet, what I love most is Chan's explanation of when true joy is formed: "The Bible teaches that true joy is formed in the midst of the difficult seasons of life." This is counter-intuitive to everything our culture throws at us: joy comes when we look a certain way, act a certain way, dress a certain way, do a certain thing... joy comes through indulgence, spending exorbitant amounts of money, and thinking of oneself first. Right? Well, those things MIGHT buy you temporary "happiness"... or, at least a pleasant distraction... but, in my experience, they NEVER buy you joy. What I've come to learn these past few months is that through this difficult season, God has revealed those things that truly matter: my husband, my children, my church, my service to all three, but mostly my love and service to Him. The irony is that the storms of my current situation have not calmed. There is as much uncertainty now, as there was six months ago... but despite the storms, there is peace and an inexplicable joy that (quite honestly) doesn't make sense to those that don't believe in Christ... because it is counter-intuitive to this worldly, self-indulgent culture.

I'm constantly asked, with baited breathe: How are you doing? Do you know what the next step is on the "job front"? How are you going to manage four kids and homeschooling? For most, the thought of my life circumstances is a little overwhelming... and at times it can be. But, I have complete confidence that God has me where He wants me... something that I couldn't say with certainty a year ago (even though a year ago my life LOOKED a lot more joyful!) The only explanation I can give for this is simple: Six months ago, I started seeking Him more. I became diligent in my pursuit of Him. And while I haven't found the answers to my "most pressing questions," I have found joy... just in knowing that God is there. He is in control. He has revealed Himself in countless ways... and with that brings and inexplicable peace that cannot be manufactured and bought. It can ONLY be given as a gift from the Creator.


Where does your joy come from...honestly? Where do you seek it? Who do you look to for it? Take an honest assessment. What are you putting before God?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Rooted

Chan starts this section with a rather frightening statistic: The average Christian in the United States spends ten minutes per day with God; meanwhile, the average American spends over four hours a day watching television.

But, for those of you getting a little 'big for your britches' because you don't watch television...or, as in my case, you don't even have one... not to worry, Chan doesn't let you off the hook. He goes on to say: "Perhaps TV is not your thing-maybe you don't even own one. But how about your time and your resources? How much of your money is spent on yourself, and how much is directed toward God's kingdom? How much of your time is dedicated to pursuing your life and your goals, and how much is focused on God's work and purpose?" p 145.

For me, this one characteristic of being obsessed sums up the difference between "doing the Christian thing" and being a Christian... it's the difference between going to some building on Sunday morning, hearing a really inspiring sermon (or not so inspiring sermon) and then leaving only to return to your "not-so-Christian" existence the other six days of the week... and the opposite...living a life that is truly inspired, God-centered and purposeful, everyday of the week.

So, what does the latter look like? Well, Chan's characterization is this:

"People who are obsessed with God have an intimate relationship with Him. They are nourished by God's Word throughout the day because they know that forty minutes on Sunday is not enough to sustain them for a whole week, especially when they will encounter distractions and alternative messages." p. 145. (emphasis added)

I LOVE the last part of this, the somewhat sanitized notion of "distractions and alternative messages." I can't help but think of my memory verse for the remainder of this month:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. " James 1:27 (emphasis added)

This scripture falls right in line with Chan's characterization. Our job, as Christians, is to make sure that we don't become "polluted" with the "distractions and alternative messages" of this world. The best way to do this is to be rooted in Him... His Word, His music, His fellowship. Yes, we are to go out into the world and make disciples of men, (and not stay hidden within the safety of our houses, our churches or insulated by a "cushiony" group of fellow Christians.) But, if we don't stay rooted in Him, we can become easily distracted... or worse, loose sight of Him.

But of all the things that have been mentioned here, I think this is the most important: It doesn't matter who you are, or where you are in your faith. You could be a new believer just trying to "learn the ropes," a long-time Christian that has truly walked with the Lord, or a devoted and beloved pastor... we are ALL at risk of complacency, maybe not loosing sight of God as much as being distracted by this world. Look around, literally and figuratively... what and who are you surrounded by... ARE YOU DISTRACTED?????


Take inventory of your distractions... literally make a list. Then, figure out a way to start marking them off! Sounds simple... but let me assure you, it can be pretty difficult. If you're not sure what your specific distractions might be... ask God to reveal them to you.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Unguarded Ones

You know... I really love how God works. This post, for example... I started writing it one week ago. When I started typing, I was really excited because this was one "obsessed" topic that I could confidently reflect upon. But, God, in his ultimate wisdom, had other plans. So, for the past week, it has been distraction after distraction. Countless things have "popped up" causing me to push off this entry. I was beginning to accuse myself of procrastination (something that isn't too common for me), but after having dinner with dear friends the other night, I knew that my putting off this entry was more about gaining insight than lack of motivation!

A week ago, I was going to ramble on about how it's a waste of time to hide things from God... because he knows everything about us already. Sometimes, being honest about who we are, how we feel... is a little difficult. But, after having dinner the other night, I realized that being "unguarded" is about more than transparency. I'm not sure if Chan had this in mind... but God definitely pricked my heart on this one, so I'm going to share. But first, let's look at Chan's definition:

"People that are obsessed are raw with God; they do not attempt to mask the ugliness of their sins or their failures. Obsessed people don't put it on for God; He is their safe place, where they can be at peace." p. 144.

So, the other night, I met two dear friends for dinner. We spent the two hours enjoying Thai food and sharing what God was doing in our lives. One of my friends, in particular, is starting a new adventure that is pushing her out of her comfort zone. This impending change is uprooting her family, and includes many uncertainties... at least for the foreseeable future. It was obvious that she trusts God... but equally obvious that fear and trepidation were lingering. As I left dinner that night, my heart was heavy for her... probably because I understand her feelings, even though our situations are a little different. I'm struggling with all the changes in my life, but for me the transition has been slow...baby steps, as I like to say it. For her, it's happening pretty fast. So where am I going with this you might ask? Well, here's the thing... as I left the restaurant I began wondering about how God feels about our fears and doubts when it comes to Him. I have no problem being "unguarded" with God when it comes to how I honestly feel about everything (and everyone) else... but what about Him?

So, as I wrote to my friend yesterday, sharing with her all the things God placed upon my heart, one thing in particular directly pierced my soul. It's pretty easy for us to sit here and say that we try to "keep things from God." But, if we really think about it... that's not possible and we know it. So, that makes me believe that there's something more to our behavior... there's another reason why we aren't completely honest with Him... at least through our own admission, because remember: He already knows everything!

So, what is it? Well, the easiest comparison is this: When you were a child and you did something really bad... something so bad that the impending punishment from your parents was nothing compared to the disappointment you knew they would feel...you did whatever was in your power to cover it up, make it better, or just make it go away... anything to keep the parental units from finding out. Well, I think we do the same thing with God. If we don't talk to Him about "it"....maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to make "it" go away on our own. But, what about when it comes to not trusting God? When we try to convince ourselves and others that we know everything is going to be okay... even though we doubt? I truly think this is the worst way we can live "guarded" lives.

I could ramble on about this topic forever, but I'll try to stick to the major point, which is this: Pretending that we don't have doubts (let alone sin) is doing much more than keeping us from living obsessed lives for Christ... IT'S ROBBING GOD OF GLORY! For you see, if we place all of our "junk" at His feet... even our doubts about Him... that transparency allows Him to work freely in our lives. If we acknowledge our struggles, He uses them as part of our redemption. Yes, He could do it on His own. But, our participation, in this sometimes painful process, makes the reward so much sweeter! For you see, it's our participation that draws us closer to Him. It's our obedience, no matter how trying and difficult, that lends itself to a beautiful, transforming relationship that transforms lives... starting with our own!


Give it over to Him... whatever it is! No excuses. Be honest with Him and with yourself. That's the first step in achieving a life of transformation through the body of Christ... well, after salvation, of course!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Engrossed

Chan's commentary on this characteristic is extremely brief, so we'll jump right to his definition:

"A person who is obsessed is characterized by committed, settled, passionate love for God, above and before every other thing and every other being." p. 143

Now, if you're anything like me, you'll read that and feel almost defeated. I've mentioned it here countless times before... feeling "passionate" love for God just seems like a stretch. (And, if I'm REALLY honest... committed love to God is something I struggle with!) Now, don't get me wrong, in the most basic sense of the word "commitment" I am a true believer. That's not what I mean. The only way I know how to describe the struggle I have is to compare it to my relationship with my husband. I am totally, 100% committed to my husband, in every way... not just the obvious ones! I think of him often. I call him at work frequently and send emails of encouragement when I think he could use them. I'm constantly mindful of his opinions when I make a decision... of course, I've been known to ignore his opinions as well, but that's a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ISSUE! The point is that he is always on my mind, in some form or another... I can't really say that about God.

Now, in all fairness, I've taken incredible strides in this area over the past few months... and I'm much harder on myself than I would ever be on anyone else! But, regardless, I still have my moments of ignoring God (sometimes blatantly)... most of us do. I guess the difference for me is the growth I've been experiencing. When I first read this passage, almost a year ago, I focused on the first part: "committed, settled, passionate love for God." I got so hung up on not having those things... not even knowing where to begin looking for them, that I missed the somewhat hidden directive... or at least the clue... in the latter half of the characteristic:

God must be placed above and before every other thing and every other being.

I recently completed a Beth Moore study dealing with the issue of strongholds... and how to get rid of them. What I took away from that study not only helped with the strongholds in my life, but has helped me get closer to God. Whenever I find myself struggling with something (especially when my mind starts going in a negative direction), I stop and give it to Him. It might sound silly, but I promise you that it works. For one, I almost instantly stop obsessing over the stronghold; but, more importantly, I placing it at His feet. I take time to talk to Him. Over the course of the past two months, I have found that instead of picking up the phone to complain about something to someone else, my instinct is to go to Him first... I've started living out this characteristic (intentionally or not!).


For the next 24 hours, if you find yourself going in a negative direction (physically, mentally, spiritually), take pause and give whatever it is to God. See if this is a natural way to draw you into more one-on-one time with Him.

Monday, January 10, 2011


For those of you not quite sure what a sojourner is, let me explain. By definitition, it refers to someone taking up a temporary residence. For us Christians, it's a reminder that this world is NOT our home. We're only... stopping through... so to speak. Now, keeping that in mind, let's look at Chan's characteristic for the Sojourner:

"A person who is obsessed thinks about heaven frequently. Obsessed people orient their lives around eternity; they are not fixed only on what is here in front of them." p. 142.

A few years ago, the small group we were in at the time, had a conversation on this subject matter. The question posed to us was whether we spend our time here on earth thinking about our lives here... or our lives in heaven. Everyone in the group took this to be a literal question, citing that it's hard to think about life in heaven because we don't really know what it will be like. Life here on earth, on the other hand, was easy to focus on... for a myriad of reasons! I remember sitting there, pondering the question, feeling as if there was a deeper issue needing to be explored. For me, when I heard the question, my interpretation was a little different. I took it as this: When posed with circumstances, questions, conflicts (whatever the case may be) are my decisions based on my sinful life here on earth or are they based on the reward I will get in heaven? Do I chose to resolve my "worldly issues" with the understanding that I'm a sojourner... more importantly, do I solve them with the understanding that my choices here in this world could (most definitely!) effect my eternal life in His kingdom?

When I posed the question to the group, I remember everyone taking pause...including myself! How often do we think about life in heaven when we make seemingly trivial decisions here on earth? But, the better question is this: If we started thinking about our eternal life in heaven when we make ALL of our decisions here on earth... would we make the same decisions? (Warning: Answering this question just might make you a little... or a lot... uncomfortable!)
This morning, I finished one of the most thought provoking, utterly convicting (and confirming!) books that I've read in a long time... second only to Crazy Love. (The irony here is that both books were given to me by the same person! My husband joked that maybe I shouldn't borrow any more books from her for a while!) The book is entitled Under The Overpass by Mike Yankoski. Mike and his friend Sam spent about five months of their lives living on the streets... as homeless people. What they discovered... especially about the church as a whole... was more than disconcerting! Of course, there were a few bright lights out there being the hands and feet of Christ... but not a lot. Anyway, at the end of the book, an interesting question is posed to the reader and I want to pass it a long to you:
"What would I do during my day or in my life for God if I wasn't concerned with what I wear, what I eat, where I sleep, what I own, what people think of me, or what discomforts I face?"
Shortly after asking this question, Matthew 16:24-25 is referenced:
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life must lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (emphasis added)
For the first time, I see this Scripture in a new light. Maybe it's just where I am right now in the journey, but as I sit here, staring at my computer screen, the conviction and confirmation is undeniable... and more than a little terrifying... but, nonetheless, undeniable! "To lose my life" means that I must finally let go of the life I have right now... the life my husband and I have created for ourselves (a creation that we didn't plan... it just "happened" because we believed what society conditioned us to believe...it's just suppose to be "this" way!) I won't go into the specifics, because the specifics are ours... this journey with Jesus is different for all of us! Walking away from the life we have created won't be easy... and it won't happen over night. It's been a process that we began almost nine months ago. But, even in the baby steps we have taken (some of them painful), God has confirmed our decisions every step of the way. At the very end of Under the Overpass, Mike writes these words... words I want you to ponder for the next few days...
"There's only this left to do: Walk off the ledge with Him."
Some of you might think the idea of "walking off the ledge with Him" seems a "little drastic"...I don't blame you. Walking off a ledge, given the context, can embody a sense of desperation, lack of preparation... even carelessness. Obviously, this isn't the intention. But, for those with a weaker constitution lets refer to it as "taking a leap of faith with Him." (A leap is not as intimidating!)

Thursday, January 6, 2011


While Chan shares many thoughts on this subject, I want to focus on one statement in particular that he makes. The reason I want to focus on it is because it sticks out like a sore thumb. It's one sentence, with no other supporting details, lingering on the page: "Non-churchgoers tend to see Christians as takers rather than givers." p. 140

Does that seem a little odd to you? I would be eager to agree that "non-Christians" might tend to find Christians, in general, to be somewhat indifferent... especially in the Western Hemisphere... maybe even self-centered, but takers? I found this all to be extremely curious, so, like always, I did a little research. What I found was HIGHLY enlightening. Now, I'll be the first to admit that what I found most intriguing was the opinion (and subsequent argument) on one specific website...whose authenticity I cannot verify (so I won't post a link here); HOWEVER, I truly found the perspective fascinating...mind opening... convicting!

But, before I get to that, let's take a look at the characteristic Chan lays out for givers:

"People who are obsessed with God are known as givers, not takers. Obsessed people genuinely think that others matter as much as they do, and they are particularly aware of those who are poor around the world (James 2:14-26)." p. 141

So, in my research, I came across this website that laid out some of the obvious differences between Christians that are givers and those that are takers. Here are some of the examples, based on questions and concerns, each might ask when it comes to serving the kingdom:

GIVERS: Are concerned with how things will benefit others; follows the flow with insight and rolls with the punches; bears pain (not necessarily physical) silently and with patience; lives confidently day to day; no time table; committed to others; offers help unconditionally; on spiritual pilgrimage; proactive; reality based; attention is deflected away

TAKERS: Are concerned with how things benefit them; must be "lords" and appear in control; whiners; always finds something to complain about; time and schedules are closely monitored; committed to self; offer help only until angered; resists spiritual transformation; reactive; fantasy driven: "If only..."; attention is desired and sought after (i.e., nice clothes, jewelery, homes, cars)

This is a small sample of the countless comparisons I found on this particular website. As I read through the list, I began to understand that the concept of "taker" wasn't literal. I have to admit, when I first read Chan's passage, I had this mental image of someone sitting in church taking money out of the offering plate instead of putting money in! I knew this wasn't what he meant, but my mind went there anyway. This whole "giver-taker" comparison isn't about giving and taking what belongs to others...it's about giving and taking WHAT IS GOD'S! It's about selfish motivations over God-centered, kingdom- minded motivations.

As I sit here, in the stillness of my house, I can't help but confront the blaring reality: being a Christian doesn't automatically make us a giver. Unfortunately, I know many Christians that possess a large majority of the "taker-characteristics"... I possess quite a few of them myself! Yet, over the past six months, I can honestly say that I've noticed a change in this area... a change that I can only attribute to the Gospel. Now, I know that some people roll their eyes when they hear people tell them they just need to crack open the Bible and start reading in order to experience change in their lives... but I'm here to say that it's true... (AND I WAS ONE OF THE BIGGEST SKEPTICS!!!!) I look at the list of characteristics for takers and can't help but think that it's almost insurmountable! Some of those characteristics, at least in my life, are the result of YEAR AND YEARS of conditioning... deeply ingrained. To undo them would take a miracle... thank goodness, God's in that business!


Do you consider yourself to be a "giver" or a "taker"? Look over some of the characteristics again and spend some time thinking about this today. Any strongholds you might have... give over to God. Only He has the power to change us!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Have you ever stopped and thought about WHY you serve? Recently, I found myself thinking about this very thing. At our church, it's been really difficult to recruit and retain volunteers in our Children's Ministry Program. I ALWAYS feel guilty when someone asks if I would be willing to help out. I never say, "No." BUT...I want to. And to be honest, I all but say, "No." I've begged and pleaded... groveled, really. Then I follow up by saying, "But, if you can't find anyone else and you really need me then I will." I'm a fine example, right? In my defense (if I can call it that!), I'm at home with three kids five days a week... homeschooling. I look at going to church as my respite... the one place where, for about an hour, I can sit, hear God's word and not be interrupted with endless requests for help with school work, going to the potty or fixing juice.

So, reading Chan's description for this characteristic was a little painful:

"People who are obsessed with Jesus do not consider service a burden. Obsessed people take joy in loving God by loving His people (Matt. 13:44; John 15:8)."

Yet, as painful as it is to read this characteristic, I have to admit that I still feel the same way... sort of. I think the problem with this characteristic is that the word "service" is painted with a broad stroke... especially when referring to my example. Over the past few weeks, I've really spent some time looking at everything I do outside of my familial structure. I was stretched pretty thin...serving. And for the most part, I loved the way I chose to serve. However, a lot of the activities I was participating in weren't necessarily about serving other people. Of course, I could rationalize that they were... and I'm quite sure I could convincingly persuade you of the same. But, I know my heart, that the majority of my service, first and foremost, fulfilled a personal need for myself... kinda takes away from the point of service, doesn't it!

Now, some might argue that it doesn't matter why you're motivated to serve... the important thing is that you ARE serving. But, I beg to differ. I think your motivation is equally important... if not more important. I could enter into a rather lengthy diatribe here, but I'll spare you! I'll just share what God has put on my heart these past few months... and how He has changed my heart when it comes to the area of service.

I strongly believe that God places desires in our hearts, and that He gives us gifts, both spiritual and physical, that He wants us to share with others... IN SERVICE TO HIM. As I've spent time the past couple of months thinking about the portions God has given to me, I have grown to understand and appreciate the difference in serving out of necessity, or obligation, and serving out of true love for Him. In my example, the Children's Ministry Program needed volunteers, which, in this particular case means teaching the kids a pre-planned curriculum and making sure that nothing gets out of hand. As I mentioned before, this wasn't appealing to me... mostly because it's an extension of my rather monotonous weekdays. But, as I began to think about my gifts... specifically how I could use my gifts to fill an obvious need, an interesting thing began to happen. I was coming up with ideas that would not only help fill a void in that particular ministry, but could, quite possibly, enhance it. I thought about taking my love for music, or missions, and using those gifts to teach the children... starting a new ministry within the Children's Ministry. (Now, it should be noted that I haven't done these things; however, I have suggested the idea and expressed my willingness to pursue the endeavor.)

I've come to realize that so many of us see service as a chore because we just "plug in" to existing projects, or ministries. Sometimes this limits us, and ultimately, frustrates us. And, it's really hard to serve with a joyful heart when we're frustrated with what we're doing. Some might scoff at what I'm proposing, adhering to the 'ole saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" But, my contention is that something doesn't have to be broken for it to lose its effectiveness. What I'm suggesting is that the best way to combat complacency, or mere routine, is to infuse it with a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit... through the myriad of gifts and talents that He bestows on us. If we begin to think outside the box, if you will, I'm quite positive that we'll begin to see the endless opportunities of how we can bring the idea of service to a new level. The best way I know to show love to God's children (young or old) through service, is to teach them about what He has done in my life... to share the gifts He has given me. And I think this is the transformation that Chan is eluding to... where service is no longer about obligation, but, instead, about the pure joy of loving God and His people... of sharing Him with others.


When you think of service, what feelings do you have? Joy or dread? Do you think of obligation or opportunity? If the word "service" brings up feelings of dread or obligation, maybe it's time for you (like me!) to think outside the box. Sometimes that's where He gives me my best ideas!