February 13, 2019

Cultivating and Using Your Gifts Takes Risk

At some point, you'll recognize that God has given you eyes to see what others cannot or do not see. Whether in your church or your community, you'll see a need or an opportunity, as well as the hole or the lack, and you'll feel a little nudge inside that perhaps you're the one who God is compelling to meet that need.

That nudge is something to pay close attention to, because it may just be your "for such a time as this." However, recognizing the nudge and actually taking action on it are two different things. Teetering between the thought and the action is great risk and a long list of anxiety-provoking questions.

What if the thought of pursuing this specific calling or taking this certain action isn't from God? 
What if others see me and think I'm prideful, naive, or silly? 
What if nothing comes from it in the end, and I feel like a failure? 
What if my motivations aren't totally pure? 
What if I start and am unable to finish? 
What if it's not the right time?
What if I don't actually have the gifts and skills I thought I did?
We should certainly take our time, prayerfully considering our internal motivations, our capacity in our current season, and whether or not we can follow through on commitments. But we should also consider God and others.

We must first look at God and consider if the greatest hindrance to our service is that we lack faith in his abilities. Most of the time we only consider ourselves. We look at our abilities and determine we don’t have enough. We look at our logistics and can't figure where the resources are going to come from. We look at our circumstances and wonder how we'll get from Point A to Point B. Looking at ourselves doesn’t make us bold, but looking at God and finding our source of confidence in him helps us take risks.

Second, we should look at others, or rather, where God is pointing others out to us. What unmet needs consistently plague you? What do you think everyone should be passionate about? How has God arranged you within your local church and within your local community in order to be a part of his work and his solution? What would he have you do by faith in dependence upon his abilities in order to meet a need?

Perhaps nothing. Perhaps nothing right now. But perhaps something, and this is where we must take a risk. How do we push through the risk of cultivating and using our gifts? 

We discern more clearly what our gifts and callings are by trying what we think he's leading us to do. Only by doing--practicing the use of our gifts--will we begin to see more clearly. For me, trying specific gifts on for size opened up a whole new set of questions and obstacles. But by acting, God had the opportunity to burn away my improper motivations for service, and show me more clearly how he's made me and wants me to serve him.

God gave you the gifts that you have, and so he intends that you use them as an act of worship back to him. In fact, that's how I first began to recognize what God was compelling me to do: I felt as if by serving in a specific way, it was an act of worship before the One who gave me the desire and the skills in the first place.

People may or may not cheer you on as you serve. They may or may not notice. They may or may not wonder, as we fear they do, just who we think we are. However, although we serve for the benefit of others, we're ultimately obeying God's command to use everything we have to bring him honor and to edify the church. God is not pleased only when we're successful or if other people celebrate. He's pleased with the faith it takes to do something for him and believe he will use it as he sees fit. This is perhaps one of the most freeing reasons we risk using our gifts: the results aren't up to us, nor are they requirements for pleasing God. We're the sowers, and God is the grower, and so our focus can simply be acts of service by faith.

New Season of By Faith
When it comes to using your gifts, friends, don't just take my word for it. Join me for a brand new season of By Faith, starting February 19, as we tackle the questions, motivations, and difficulties related to cultivating and using our gifts. I've invited guests such as Russell Moore, Caroline Cobb, Melissa Kruger, Anna Perez, Jared Wilson, and Christie Purifoy onto the show to explore with me what it means to serve by faith.
How are they using their unique gifts and talents in their specific context and season of life? How did they come to know their gifts? What challenges are they facing as they serve? And what are they learning that can help us where we are? These are the questions I hope to answer, with the goal of encouraging, challenging, and equipping you to step out by faith and use your particular gifts for God’s glory.

Giveaway
The season kicks off next Tuesday, February 19, and in celebration I'm doing a giveaway of each of my books on Facebook and Instagram. The Instagram giveaway also includes a $50 Amazon gift card! 🎉 
Enter one or both as many times as you like. Click through to Facebook and Instagram to get all the details and to throw your name in the ring.

Subscribe Today
In past seasons, I've posted on my blog when new episodes released. I'm saving this space for more frequent writing, so I will no longer be announcing new episodes here. Please subscribe today on iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, or Spotify so you don't miss out! And of course I share new episodes on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter, so come give me a follow. 

Looking forward to launching this new season and sharing these conversations with you!

February 6, 2019

His Vow Came First

Last week my husband Kyle and I went away overnight, and as we always do when we take a step back and view our life together, we marvel at where we've come. We're no longer young newlyweds, young parents, nor young church planters, and the process of becoming not young has been a harrowing journey. There have been hard-won lessons, hard-fought victories, and there have most certainly been tears. There is only one explanation for how we've made it through some of our darkest days intact: there is a God, and he's carried us.
Driving home, the bare trees blurring into gray outside my car window, I thought about our wedding day and the vows I made to Kyle. I vowed to be faithful, and I meant it, and I have been, but I was so incredibly young when we married, and I really had no idea what it would take to fulfill my promises.    

I thought then about what faithfulness is, and how a steadfast marriage is a picture of a greater reality of God's faithfulness.

Because sometimes I feel as if I'm shouldering the world. When I think ahead to what needs to be done, or when I consider what others within my reach need, or when I wonder how I can make the future unfold in just the way I'd like, I feel the heavy weight of my desired faithfulness.

This is me, playing God again, attempting to pick up precisely what he says I should, no must, cast upon him.

I'm learning, however slowly, to be human, and part of the learning is accepting that God himself is not impatient with my humanness.

Because I certainly am.

But God vowed his faithfulness to me long before I gave myself to him, and the treasure of this brings me such comfort. When I consider where I've come in this life, I know I've only been able to remain faithful because he is faithful. He's held me up and together. He's upheld me when I in my weakness couldn't hold onto anything.

The seams of my self--the self-righteousness, self-perseveration, self-focus--have burst open within the past year, and it's been as painful as it sounds. But it's been the sort of pain that's like a high fever burning off what harms the body; it's the good pain of sanctification burning off death, precisely so life might flourish.

God's motion has felt slow at times, but then his conviction comes like driving rain, and in those times I haven't been able to capture all the truth and grace and hold it together as one. I find myself wanting to "get it," to learn the lesson, complete the assignment, move onward and upward.

And there it is again, the humanness like a prison cell, my frantic turning of the key of self-ability as my supposed way out.

However, when I consider the present moment, my humanness so real and constricting, I remember that he is faithful. He will always be faithful to lead me, help me, and move in me, because this is who he is. No matter how weak or frail I feel in my faithfulness to him, he is delighted in the current working of the Spirit in me.

My life is not dependent upon my own faithfulness.

It's dependent upon his, and this is what it means to be a Christian, that his vow of love came before mine.

But God proves his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

January 23, 2019

Love Where You Live

My friend Shauna Pilgreen has a new book out called Love Where You Live: How to Live Sent in the Place You Call Home. Hopefully you heard her on my podcast this past season when she stopped by to talk with me about befriending our non-believing neighbors. Her new book elaborates on what she shared with me, and I was honored to give it this endorsement: 
We often wonder why God has us in the places and roles we're in, perhaps because we believe if we were somewhere else doing something else, we could finally be used by the Lord. In Love Where You Live, Shauna reminds us that whether God calls us to stay or go, we are a sent people, and therefore our places and roles have divine purpose. Through biblical stories and her own story, she illustrates practical ways we can live as the sent people we are. For those who are new to an area, for those needing fresh eyes for where they already are, and for those needing a jumpstart toward loving their neighbor--you'll find this resource immensely helpful.
I meant every word of that endorsement. Shauna has written an incredibly relevant and helpful book, and I recently asked her a few questions about why she wrote it.
In the subtitle, How to Live Sent in the Place You Call Home, what do you mean by "live sent"?

Living sent is a lifestyle, a perspective, not a t-shirt slogan or an employee badge. It’s the way of seeing where you live and what you do and in whose Name you do it in. To dwell in a place because you have purpose beyond the surface. Sent is a move with purpose.

A move typically happens in a set number of hours, days, or months. It's tangible. You can hold the contract, paperwork, packaging tape, and keys. Living sent takes time and it varies from one individual to another. The extroverts out there are hosting a party by the following weekend and us introverts are willing ourselves out the door, hopefully by day 13!

Living sent is perspective beyond the boxes. This heart-intensive philosophy embraces what can take place despite the emotions of a move and the potential of what lies outside the walls of your home. Living sent is a mindset. A willingness to love the place you now call home and receive all that it has to offer.

You’re living in a place that you never expected to be. Tell us how you ended up in San Francisco.

It wasn’t my idea! From my childhood I’d dream of living at the ends of the earth in an obscure village, telling people about Christ. A global US city wasn’t on my list of possibilities whatsoever.

To give you the most vague and most honest answer, we ended up in San Francisco because God wanted us here. And you and I both know from experience, that He doesn’t reveal all the whys on the front end. It’s a dance as I describe it in the book. His move, our move. His move, our move. Working in tandem to trust and obey as He leads us - and it’s no typical dance!

On paper, we moved to San Francisco to start a church. And that doesn’t come with a “how-to” guide either. Every journey is different. For us, we first believed our call was to start a church in a global and strategic US city where the percentage of Christians was low. Then after a lot of research, prayer, conversations and a trip to SF, we took the posture that we would be SF residents in 16 months and did everything we could to learn from afar before the move, so that when we arrived, the edge from culture shock wouldn’t be so drastic. That didn’t happen like I had hoped either. Mentally, I was there. It has taken my heart a while to catch up!

How did you begin to know your city?

My approach would have probably looked different if it were just me and Ben, but we had 3 little boys, ages 2, 4, and 6, when we moved. So imagine a stroller and a scooter leaving an apartment complex, holding a phone with google maps, and making sure I packed enough snacks for all of us, cause there was no telling how the adventure was going to go! I wrote a 31 day guide for us (it’s how I’m wired) giving us something to do every day for the first 31 days. This was every bit intentional. Every bit strategic. I had no clue what I was doing though, especially not the outcome. Some days were intense - we’d board the train which required counting heads and limbs and collapsing a stroller and a scooter in guinness book record time! Some days were easier - we made cards for the elderly home across the street from us.

It got us outside of the apartment, outside of the boxes, and outside of ourselves. It has proven to be foundational. Getting outside and exploring your city, makes you more okay with making mistakes and learning and figuring things out. We get brave! We get curious. We make friends. We become local.

What would you say to someone who is trying to discern if God is calling them somewhere else?

Have an internal and external gauge. This isn’t verbatim from the Holy Bible, but I do think it’s got some biblical backing! An internal gauge has questions like: What do I think of this place? What do I connect to here? What sense do I get in my spirit? Can I thrive here? An external gauge has questions like: Can I find community here? Would I contribute to the needs of this place? Can I see myself living here? Could my gifts be used here? Got family - you’ve got to ask these questions for the whole as this move most definitely affects everyone.

We answered these questions for our kids as they didn’t get a vote- they outnumbered us! But we most assuredly took their personalities, ideas, thoughts, and questions into serious consideration.

I describe this process as the stirring and the urging. Stirring is something that keeps coming to mind that you can’t shake and aren’t always sure where it came from. The urging is like a prompting that often doesn’t make sense, but it’s undeniable the work of the Holy Spirit.

Then I say, find someone to share this with and pray with you. Bringing into the light make it more real and causes you to make a decision.

What would you say to someone about living sent though they’ve never moved?

It means the same for all of us, but looks different to each of us. Moving shakes things up a bit and gives us new perspective, but we can all fall victim to complacency and comfortability and forget the reason why we live where we live.

On the lighter side of this, if you’ve been doing the same thing for quite some time, like you can’t even remember how long you’ve been doing the commute, or using that grocery store, or going to the same gym, or hanging in the same circle of friends - it’s time to change things up. Take a different route, go to the gym at a different hour. Open up your circles to newcomers.

On a stronger note, see longevity as a powerful tool to loving where you live. You bring value to a community because of your years there. I’m 8 years into calling SF home and I see people I know and can linger on the sidewalk in conversations because of living here this long.

The cautionary tale is to pay attention. Don’t fall asleep in your hometown. God is doing a new thing and He wants you to be a part, if not leading the way for those who are moving into your neighborhood.

How has the mission of living sent involved your whole family?
It’s been a family thing since day one. But I’ve talked with families in all seasons and I can say that this lifestyle can start today and it can be for any makeup of the family. We see that everything we do from work to play to church to community as being a together endeavor. We show up Sam’s baseball games and learn teammate names. We make introductions asap with each year’s teachers as their cheerleaders. We go where they want to go, be it a certain park or favorite restaurant. We help set up and host for small group and neighborhood gatherings in our home. We’re not here for dad’s job. We’re here because God has a plan for all 6 of us. We did tell our oldest one night at bedtime that he kinda has to live here until he’s done with high school, but then he’s free to go wherever he wants to go. That it will be a time for him to ask those internal/external gauge questions. But for now, we’re all citizens of SF and that means a whole lot! Our kids have their own circles and quadrants as they get older in the city, but we operate out of the same hub (home) and when that’s the case, we’re the Pilgreen family. There’s strength in living this lifestyle as a family, same is true as a faith community.

Why is observing and understanding the culture of a place important?

Woe to any of us who take our previous culture and expect our current culture to get with it! Recall when God sent His people into exile into Babylon. This place was not like where they had come from on so many levels. God told them to build houses, grow gardens, etc. He essentially told them to move into the neighborhood and learn from their new neighbors.

When does someone feel valued and seen? When we listen and ask questions and learn from them. The fastest way to lose your job is to come and make changes and ignore all the work and history of the company. Same is true with cultures. Listen, ask questions, learn. You will start to make a difference when you know the difference that needs to be made.

What is one step someone can take today to begin to love where they live?

Go for a walk.

Find a new place in town to sit and think and watch.

Take someone out for coffee.

Invite someone over.

Do just one of these today. And then I’m going to ask God to meet you there and help you with the next step! 

Grab your copy of Shauna's book today on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lifeway, or Christianbook.com. Find out more about Shauna and how she's loving where she lives at shaunapilgreen.com.

January 16, 2019

Sacrificial Service When You're Tired

The following post was commissioned by one of my Patreon supporters, who asked me to answer this question: "How do I show my husband value by meeting his needs when he gets home at the end of the day when I also have put in a full day and am exhausted?"

Thank you, Leigh, for making the "By Faith" podcast possible through your support! If you'd like to join her and others in supporting my work (and find out how you can commission a blog post), find out more here.

--

When my boys were small, I distinctly remember standing at the stove, stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce in preparation for dinner, with a small child clinging to my leg, and hearing the garage door open. My husband was home from work, which I was glad for, but the noise and clatter of my other boys running through the house rattled my nerves, and I still had much to do in order to get food on the table. When he came in the door with a smile and arms open for welcome-home hugs, I watched as the boys ran toward him, but I myself did not go to him. I turned back to the stove and to my suddenly very important spaghetti sauce, excusing myself from warmly greeting him as a subconscious silent protest: look at all that needs still to be done, and look at who is doing it! I tried with my darting and dashing around the kitchen to manifest the old cliche before his eyes: a woman's work is never done.
The truth is that I was being stubborn. My husband and I had previously had a conversation about what we'd like to see different in our marriage. I'd myself asked for the feedback: "Are there little things that I'm not aware of that would make you feel more loved?" The only thing he'd mentioned was the moment he returned home after work. "I'd like for you to stop what you're doing for just a moment and give me a hug and kiss. That's all," he'd said. My husband rarely requests such specific changes, but I thought it was silly. Didn't he see that all I carried in a day--three young children, housework, volunteer work, part-time work, ministry, shopping, and cooking--came to a chaotic crescendo right when he returned home? Couldn't he see that I was already serving him through all of this? A hug and a kiss was frivolous and could certainly wait.

Again, the conversation. Again, the request. He didn't raise his voice (he never raises his voice). He didn't condemn (he never condemns). He again asked that I intentionally greet him at the end of the day.

Of course it was so much more for me than a simple greeting. And my response to the request said so much more about my heart than about my busy day. I didn't want to serve; I wanted to be served. I wanted reprieve from my day-long service. I wanted him to see me in action in order that he might validate and appreciate my service. No matter that he'd been pastoring, leading, shepherding, counseling, and managing all day. His arrival at home meant it was finally my turn to receive.

I know how ugly this sounds. Your heart may not be so ugly, but we all at some point are challenged by life's circumstances to serve and give, not because we're looking for return, but out of our love for God.

That's what I realized Kyle's request was challenging. It was not that I didn't love my husband or want to please him. It was that I needed a deeper well of love to draw from when my emotions, will, and energy were completely dry. I needed to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, imitating his sacrificial service in honor of his Father. It didn't matter if he was feeding people or teaching. Everything he did, he did with an eye toward God the Father.

We, too, must consider all we do to be for God. Our service may be directed toward people and benefit them in some way, but the only way we can pour out our lives for others is if we're serving "as unto the Lord."

The greeting of my husband at the door was stubbornly hard for me because I'd made it about me. But if I were to think, "This is a way I can love God (and of course my husband too)," then the choice is clear before me.

So for those of you who are serving while you're dry to the bone and exhausted to the core, here are a few suggestions:

Have the Conversation
Sometimes we put ideas in our own heads about what is expected of us and others around us are not actually expecting those things. It helps to ask a question: "How can I help you?" or "How can I show you love better?" and ask for practical answers. The response may be as simple as a greeting at the door, when, as I assumed, my husband wanted a perfect meal on the table just when he got home. My assumptions had made me grumpy and consistently dreading his arrival. Having the conversation also allowed me to say, "It's helpful to me that when you come home, after we say hello, you take the children from the kitchen and give me space to focus on finishing the meal."

Don't Spew or Stew. Express Your Needs
One of the best lessons I learned early in our marriage was that I needed to be able to label my own feelings. Before I learned this, my typical way of handling my emotions was to spew them out in every direction at the exact moment I felt them. My poor husband couldn't process everything coming at him, and sometimes he'd stop me and say, "Can you help me understand exactly what we're talking about right now?" I wanted to scream. Don't you know based upon everything I'm throwing at you? No, he did not.

My other typical way of handling my emotions was to stew in them, not say a word about them, and fully expect my husband to recognize what I was feeling. I didn't even know what I was feeling, and I expected him to read my mind?

I honestly was afraid to share my true thoughts, feelings, and needs, not because he made me feel unsafe, but because I'd never done it before in a healthy relationship. I slowly began to learn that I must take time to pinpoint exactly what I'm feeling and thinking. What is at the core of what's bothering me? What do I need from my husband in this? Answering those questions allowed me to know myself better but also to go to him with unemotional, clear requests.

When it comes to weariness and potentially needing a moment to yourself (especially if you've been at home all day with small children), ask for what you need from your husband, and be as specific as possible: "After dinner is cleared away, I'd love about 20 minutes in our room to read or text with a friend or take a bath." (Or whatever is your jam.) Let your request be something that recharges you for the evening ahead.

What I'm describing is not being demanding or unreasonably expectant. I'm describing a simple request for help. Sometimes, however, our requests cannot be met in the moment, and this is when we need to know Christ's love.

Know Love
You are greatly loved! Christ indwells you by his Spirit, and so you are never without him, his love, or his help. There are many times we will not feel the desire to serve. There are times we'll wonder if anyone will meet our needs as our requests go unheard. I've found in my own life that I can trust him to care for me, especially in those moments that Paul described as "being poured out as a drink offering." In his help, we have everything we need in order to sacrificially serve. We are never more like Christ than when we're serving others, and the good news is that he sees everything we do in honor of him.

January 9, 2019

What Relationships Do I Invest In?

The following post was commissioned by one of my Patreon supporters named Rachael, who asked me about discernment in knowing what friendships to invest in and to what extent. Rachael is single and works at a church in a transient city, where the opportunities for new relationships are many, and she does in fact have time for lots of coffee dates and such. How should she navigate her role and opportunities? I've answered in letter form below.

Thank you, Rachael, for making the "By Faith" podcast possible through your support! If you'd like to join Rachael and others in supporting my work (and find out how you can commission a blog post), find out more here.

--
Dear Rachael,
I'm thankful for your heart to serve and love others. I imagine in your role you are pulled in many directions and have countless opportunities for relationships, but you may have little time to stop and consider what a privilege it is to do what you're doing. You may also have little indication that what you're doing matters, so from one laborer to another, I want you to know how grateful I am that you're at the plow in your city, faithfully serving the Lord. When I get weary, I remember that God sees every unseen thing, and there is a harvest waiting when we all see him face to face. Press on, dear sister!

One of the challenges I didn't see coming when I entered ministry is the abundance of relationships I'd enjoy combined with the limits on my time. I tend to forget I have limits; I prefer to try to push through them or ignore them altogether.

But it's good to remember we have limits.

We're limited in time, energy, and in the ability to carry the burdens of others. God isn't impatient with us in our limits; he in fact created us with them. And so we must walk closely with him in order to follow his Spirit's lead in knowing when we serve sacrificially and when we may need to stop and rest for a moment. If there is anything I've learned in ministry, it's that I can't depend on myself, nor can I trust myself. I must ask him about everything. I must say a gracious no when he leads me to do so, no matter what the person I'm saying no to thinks of it. And I must say a joyful yes when he leads me to say yes, following through with my word always, ever ready to sacrificially serve in the name of Jesus.
One thing God has taught me as I've tried to followed his lead is that I must label my relationships rightly. A friendship is different than a relationship. A friendship is different than a ministry relationship. And when we're in many relationships and ministry relationships, it's easy to lose sight of these distinctions. Here's how I know it's friendship: it's mutual. A friend sees me as me, not "me" as a role or a job or as someone who has no spiritual needs. A friend draws out the "me" that makes me what I am. Armed with this definition, you probably see fairly quickly that you have many relationships and a handful of true friends.

God has additionally taught me to follow his lead with my time. As a married woman with growing kids and a career, my time is more naturally delineated for me. As a single woman with a career centered primarily around people, there are greater nuances you'll need to discern when it comes to your time. In other words, you're going to have to draw some lines for yourself. I would suggest taking the two categories I mentioned previously--ministry relationships and friendships--and consider how you can give yourself well to both. If you're not careful, ministry relationships (i.e. work for you) can overtake all of your time, whether your work hours or free. How can you carve out time in your week that's reserved solely for friendship? Pursue your friends, both longtime and burgeoning, in those times. And when it comes to the casual, "Let's get together for coffee!" from someone new in your church, keep some open and specific spots for those opportunities as well.

Of course, this is idealistic and rigid, and I'm not suggesting that you keep such firm boundaries that you aren't loving people well. I'm just suggesting that you be intentional with your words and how you define your relationships with others. And I'm suggesting that you be intentional with your time. It's not more spiritual to do ministry work all the time than to spend intentional time with people that fill you up. One of God's graces to us is the gift of friendship, where we're encouraged and challenged. We should enjoy this gift while we also serve sacrificially.

If you're following along, you'll know that this means we must learn to say no to occasional requests. Jesus said no. People who understand God has created them with limits say no. People who are trusting Jesus rather than themselves to be the Savior say no. We say no when it's time for a Sabbath rest. We say no when a request pulls us away from fulfilling our commitments or priorities. Again, this is where we must walk with the Spirit and know his leading. I can only know his leading when I take prayerful time before I answer a request, and this is something I've learned the hard way.

Often when I cannot give my time relationally, it's not because I don't want to. It's because I'm limited and because God has pointed out my limits and priorities. But one thing he's taught me is that my no is often someone else's yes. I would suggest to you that you could see your role as a connector or an intersection rather than a cul-de-sac. You know many women, so how can you connect a new woman with someone in the church who shares an interest or a challenge? Perhaps that one-time coffee could be an opportunity for you to help her find her way into the church. What a joy!

I hope that helps, dear sister! May the Lord bless the work of your hands and give you discernment as you go forward.

With love,
Christine