November 18, 2014

The Book That Was Written on My Heart {Giveaway!}

This past weekend the women from our church gathered for a one-day retreat. It was my great joy to be with people I love and share with them what God has taught me through the book of Galatians. When I started preparing many months ago, I took gobs and gobs of notes, and as I slowly whittled it down to several succinct talks, I discovered that I was basically saying everything I'd written in my forthcoming book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel.
As an author who has painstakingly written a book that has yet to see the light of day, this time in between the writing of the book and the publishing of the book sometimes lends itself to panic. When the edits arrived in the mail a few months ago, I put off reading the manuscript for several weeks because what if it's horrible and I cringe my way through it and I have to completely start over?!? I care so much about the message in this book that I fear not communicating clearly or creatively so that it gets lost or muted.

But then the retreat happened and the notes were whittled and the message was the same and, oh, it was such a joyful relief. Galatians was written on my heart by God over many years, and my heart's response is this book, From Good to Grace. I can't wait for you to read it!

The heart of the book is that we so often begin the Christian life by faith and then continue by our own self-effort. We believe that we're responsible for our spiritual growth, so we vow to be better, try harder, and discipline ourselves more. We try to be good, because we think that's what God wants us to be. But what if God has called us to something so much more joy-filled, so much more freeing, and so much greater than good? (You can read more about the book here.)

The wheels are turning for a March 2015 release, and in my communication with my publisher, I've discovered that I still have 3 advance copies of the book that I can gift to people. I'd like my blog readers to have a chance at those advance copies, so I'm giving those slots away to 3 of you! It's my way of saying thank you to each of you for reading and for encouraging me in return.

If you don't win a copy, you can pre-order a book on Amazon, Christianbook.com, or Barnes & Noble. I wish I could give each of you a copy. Now that I think about it, I wish I could give each of you a copy and then have a sit-down over coffee with you and discuss the message in this book. What I would encourage you to do, however, is to consider reading this with friends or your book club in the spring. It's something, I think, that you'll want to digest with others.

Now what are we waiting for, let's get to the giveaway!

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November 13, 2014

When You Wonder If All the Work is Worth It

Sometimes I want to run away from home. I want to lay on a beach somewhere with an umbrella drink and a well-written novel and never come back. I want to move back to Texas and live full under the big, blue sky in my dream home--wrap-around porch included--in the Hill Country. I want to retire now, at 38.

I told my husband this on Saturday morning, leaving out all the gory details so as not to scare him. It came out more like, "I'm feeling kind of blah today." Quite the understatement. We sat together with our coffee in hand and our feet up on the dining room windowsill, peering at the mountains that are visible again through bare trees. Looking out, I added, "At least it's pretty here. Sometimes that's what I hold on to when I don't want to be here."
He knows what I mean without me having to elaborate. We planted our church over six years ago and, while a million little good things have happened in those six years that have led to this Saturday in the dining room, sometimes I feel like nothing has happened at all. There is a church where there used to not be one, yes, but we're still working really hard and sometimes it feels like we're spinning our wheels. When it's going to get easier? When is God going to do something big and miraculous instead of the small and incremental? 

That's why I want to run away sometimes. I want to run away from the work and what the work makes me face in my heart and all the dang sanctification. I want to run away from the discomfort of trying to shed the missionary's heart and God asking me to take it up again. I want to run away because I wonder if any of this is making a difference spiritually and sometimes it feels harder to care about this city than to not care.

As we looked out at the line of blue mountains in the distance, Kyle said, "The beauty of this place so often masks the spiritual darkness." I had forgotten for a moment that there are spiritual battles playing out all around us and also within my own heart. It is precisely the weight of that spiritual battle that wearies me and makes me feel like it's hopeless and that I should run away. Do I believe that God is working here and He is able or do I believe it's too dark and too far gone for Him? There is only one answer that will keep me here for the long haul.

What was it that I'd heard in a podcast recently? "Revival has happened in history when God has chosen to act in a miraculous fashion among people who are just being faithful where they're at over a long period of time." I care about the people in my city and I want revival here, but sometimes I want it to come through miraculous and instantaneous events, not as the fruit of faithful obedience over a long period of time.

I knew that God was asking for me to put one foot in front of the other but also to pray big prayers in light of the spiritual battle raging beneath the beauty of this place.

I got really fired up, right there with my feet propped up in the dining room window. I do believe my God is able! My city is not a hopeless case. God is worth my faithful obedience over a long period of time. And, really, I don't want to run away, because if I ran away? I would miss out on the sweet taste of whatever fruit God wants to bear here.

November 11, 2014

Emotions as Clues

It has often been implied that, as followers of Christ, we should be wary of our emotions. We should, it's been said, give greater attention to our beliefs and will and let the emotions follow behind like the caboose on a train. 
I understand the wariness; we can't build our beliefs about who God is and how He relates to us on the foundation of fluctuating emotion. However, I've found my emotions to be vitally important to my spiritual life, because they act as indicators of my beliefs. If my heart is overcome with jealousy, for instance, my emotions often recognize it before my mind does. On the other hand, if I've repented of said jealousy, there is an emotional component to the release and relief of God's forgiveness and restoration. So I've learned to listen to my emotions like I read lights on my car's dashboard: if a certain negative emotion is flaring, there is likely something going on in my heart that needs to filtered through the truth of the gospel.

A few weeks ago, I was living under a cloud of frustration and bitterness toward people. As is my tendency, my emotions led me for days before my mind jumped in. I just felt and felt, reacting to every little thing and creating for myself a negative cycle of emotion. Finally I stopped to think about it: Why am I so frustrated toward others when there has not been a specific circumstance to precipitate such a response? 

This took me deeper, from emotions to the beliefs and motivations that were driving them. I am frustrated because people are not responding the way I want them to respond to me. And what was it that I was wanting? To be frank, I wanted a response of love, approval, and appreciation. And whether I wasn't receiving it or I wasn't receiving what I perceived as enough, I don't know. All I know is that it was birthing an emotional response in me, a negative emotional response. Because it was sin and sin can't bear good fruit. 

Then I happened to read this passage in The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller:

"Gradually during those weeks it became clear to [Jack] that the reason for his anger and disappointment was his own wrong motivation for ministry. He realized that instead of being motivated only by God's glory, he was hoping for personal glory and the approval of those he was serving. He said that when he repented of his pride, fear of people, and love of their approval, his joy in ministry returned." 

Joy. Although joy is not always an emotion, it was in fact the emotion suffocated by my frustration and bitterness. The passage from the book made it so clear what was at the root of my emotions: a desire for personal glory. The fact that others wouldn't (and couldn't) give it was creating in me a great dysfunction and a well of negative emotions. How sickening to discover, as I considered who's glory I sought, how much what I was doing for others was motivated by self! How prideful I was to think I could swipe God's glory for myself!

When we confess and repent, God is so quick to forgive and restore. And how quick frustration and bitterness fall away and how quick joy returns when our hearts are for His glory!

This has become the question I ask myself as I start my day and look ahead to ministry opportunities: Am I doing this for my own glory or for God's glory? It has also become my prayer--a prayer that leads to joy, I might add--God, let me serve in this day, in this moment for Your glory. I want to bring honor to Your name!

Perhaps you are where I was a few weeks back--weary, burned out, annoyed, or frustrated. It may be that you just need a really good nap, but it may also be that you need to look at your emotions as clues to your underlying beliefs and motivations. Do you believe you're responsible for the spiritual growth of everyone around you? Are you looking for validation or approval from people? Or are you serving for your own personal glory? 

God, let us serve for Your glory alone! Let us bring honor to Your name, believing that You will give us joy in return.

November 4, 2014

Don't Turn Away From His Love

My husband pulls back from the embrace we're wrapped in as we stand in the kitchen. He brushes my hair behind my ear and says, "You're beautiful, more beautiful than ever." The kids are running through the house, a grocery list is running through my head, and the never-ending to-do list is running over with urgency. I turn away, afraid to receive those words, distracted from receiving those words, not quite sure of the truth of those words in light of the lines etching themselves ever-deeper on my face.
Why is it so hard to receive? Why do I turn my head away? Because I don't feel beautiful. Because my heart and mind are all twisted up again and he knows best how ugly I can be. Because there is always something more that needs my attention--something to give toward, not something to receive. I don't believe I've earned beautiful. Because I believe that my activity will make me truly beautiful. 

But he already thinks that I'm beautiful. I recall the words he speaks over grooms at weddings he officiates: "Your bride should be more lovely and more holy because she is married to a man like you." It is the groom's sacrificial service and nurturing love that bring out his bride's loveliness. A woman loved is a woman who is beautiful, and not primarily externally beautiful. She is at rest, ever secure, always wanting to be the best that he already sees in her.

I remember then that this wedding charge is drawn from Ephesians 5, a picture of how Christ loves the church: ". . . just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing."

I think of how I turned my head away, how I pushed from my mind that he might think me beautiful because I know the truth about me.

How often I do this to my Christ as well! I dwell not on His love and kindness but on what I must do to be holy and without wrinkle for Him so that He'd count me as beautiful. When I am already beautiful! I am already what I aspire to be. And in actuality, it is His nurturing care that makes me more and more lovely. His love is the catalyst for my sanctification and holiness. As I focus on receiving His love, He will make me beautiful. He will make me love loveliness. He will make me holy.

Why do I turn my head away from my Christ? Why do I move so quickly to activity and attempts at self-sanctification rather than soaking in the tenderness of God's love toward me? For the same reasons I turn from my husband's love. Because I don't feel beautiful. Because my heart and mind are all twisted up again and He knows best how ugly I can be. Because there is always something that calls for my attention--something to give toward, not something to receive. Because I believe that it's my activity before God that will make me truly beautiful. 

And so I turn my head toward Him, not away. He is not repulsed by me. No, Jesus has made me lovely in His eyes. And He is making me more lovely in time, as I receive His love and tender kindness.

October 27, 2014

20 Powerful Statements About Humility

Humility by Andrew Murray has been on my to-read list for a while now. I don't know why I waited so long to read this short and simple yet deeply rich book! It has challenged me, not only showing me how prideful I am, but how far God has gone to humbly serve me through Christ and how much humility must be a part of my life if I am to serve Him in return. I hope you'll read it yourself. Here are some quotes from the book to give you nuggets to chew on for today and to whet your appetite for more:

His humility became our salvation. His salvation is our humility. (17)

Humility is the only soil in which virtue takes root; a lack of humility is the explanation of every defect and failure. (17)

Humility is simply acknowledging the truth of one's position as creature and yielding to God His place. (17)

Meekness and lowliness of heart are to be the distinguishing feature of the disciple, just as they were of the Master. And further, that this humility is not something that will come of itself, but that it must be made the object of special desire, prayer, faith, and practice. (18)

Is it any wonder that the Christian life is so often weak and fruitless, when the very root of the Christian life is neglected or unknown? Is it any wonder that the joy of salvation is so little felt, when that by which Christ brings it is so seldom sought? Until a humility that rests in nothing less than the end and death of self, and which gives up all the honor of men as Jesus did to seek the honor that comes from God alone (which absolutely makes and counts itself nothing) that God may be all, that the Lord alone may be exalted--until such a humility is what we seek in Christ above our chief joy, and welcome at any price, there is very little hope of a faith that will conquer the world. (26)
Jesus' humility was simply the surrender of himself to God, to allow Him to do in Him what He pleased, regardless of what men might say of Him or do to Him. (33)

The root of all virtue and grace, of all faith and acceptable worship, is that we know that we have nothing but what we receive, and bow in deepest humility to wait upon God for it. (34)

What will be the chief distinction in the heavenly kingdom? The glory of heaven, the mind of heaven, is humility. (38)

His service is our highest liberty--the freedom from sin and self. We need to learn another lesson--that Jesus calls us to be servants of one another, and that as we accept it heartily, this service will be a most blessed one, a new and fuller deliverance from sin and self. (40)

Ask not for exaltation. That is God's work. See that you humble yourselves and take no place before God or man but that of a servant. (41)

It is only where we, like the Son, truly know and show that we can do nothing of ourselves that God will do everything. (49)

It is easy to think that we humble ourselves before God, but our humility toward others is the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real. (53)

Let us look upon everyone who tries us as God's means of grace, God's instrument for our purification, for our exercise of the humility of Jesus. (58)

The great test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it is manifest in the increasing humility it produces. . . Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness. (61)

Jesus the Holy One is the humble One: the holiest will always be the humblest. (63)

The law may break the heart with fear; it is only grace that works that sweet humility that becomes joy to the soul as its second nature. (73)

Not to be occupied with sin but to be fully occupied with God brings deliverance from self. (73)

Let us gladly accept whatever humbles us before God or men--this alone is the path to the glory of God. (79)

How can I die to self? Death to self is not your work; it is God's work. . . Place yourself before God in your helplessness; consent to the fact that you are powerless to slay yourself; give yourself in patient and trustful surrender to God. (85)

True humility will manifest itself in daily life. The one who has it will take the form of a servant. (85)

October 23, 2014

A Selfish Way to Pray {A Guest Post}

I'm welcoming Ashley Haupt, a mama and pastor's wife, to the blog today for her take on ministry and leadership, although I think her words are applicable to every woman. Without further ado, here's Ashley:


Recently, as the sun inched up over the horizon, I began to pray over my day. I was meeting with an acquaintance and I prayed that I would be able to minister to her. Suddenly I became aware of a subtle danger in my approach to my day. Yes, my friend had recently been through some trials. Yes, I wanted to encourage and edify her in our time together, especially in light of the rocky path she’d been walking. But I was struck with the danger and pride in assuming that she was the one to be blessed and I was the blessing-giver. Quickly, I changed my prayer to this: “Lord, may I minister to my friend today and may she also minister to me.”

On the surface, it may sound like a selfish way to pray, but it could be a game-changer for those of us in leadership. To approach every person in our path as only an opportunity to minister creates the potential for two dangers:  

We forget the true Source. Pride whispers that we are always the teacher, never the student, and we begin to act accordingly. Eventually, we find that while many people love and respect us, no one actually knows us, with our struggles and imperfections because we haven’t been humble enough to let them minister to us. We are human and we should allow people to see us as such. Not only does it help us with expectations and boundaries but others can connect to our humanity and it gives them hope for their own spiritual walk.

We are only giving grace instead of also receiving and we will become drained. Mutuality in ministering creates a two-way connection that is full of energy and power, rather than a weak, one-way connection that will quickly drain us and leave us exhausted. Our church body is a family working together toward the common goal of worship and holiness. Vulnerability requires greater maturity and receiving grace is humbling.

If God is sovereign and the Holy Spirit is our teacher, we as leaders ought to adopt a posture of humility and teachability, even towards those who we are leading. It doesn’t mean we are weak or immature; it means we are humble and aware that all truth belongs to God.

In our minds we often scan each person we meet for their influence, spiritual maturity, beauty, intelligence, maybe even wealth. This scan is natural but entirely of the flesh and faulty. We should be careful with it and let the results onlybe penciled in to our mind’s ledger--that is, easily erased--because we do not know how God sees each person. We certainly know He sees more than we do.

After all, no one who met Christ expected the work of God that was coming:

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:2-3

My flesh wants to assign categories to people based on very limited information and I must work to resist this tendency. Once we assign categories and even stereotypes, we tend to look at people through the lens we’ve created, further reinforcing our own impressions. It takes something very disruptive to jolt us out of preconceived notions; it’s more beneficial to be wary in forming them from the start. 

According to our values, we tend to determine the worth of others. If we value education, but find the person had less than us, we’ll immediately lower their potential for influence in our ledger. If we value wealth and see signs that this person has acquired less than us, same response. If we value spiritual maturity, and pick up on some deficiency of Bible knowledge, we’ll assume we are always going to be the mentor.  The danger is that we “see” so very imperfectly with our still-sin-stained sight, yet we stubbornly hold onto our impressions.

Now we see dimly, friends. This is why we must walk by faith rather than sight. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Let us approach people with humility, ready to teach and be taught, ready to give and receive grace. Let us pray more selfishly, that we will be recipients of truth and not givers only. The Lord might have a word for us coming from someone we least expect it to come from.

Ashley Haupt is a writer, pastor’s wife, and mom to four. She loves to read, write, take walks, be creative, and spend quality time with people. She is a recovering people-pleaser learning to live more minimally in order to sharpen her pursuit of Christ. She believes in the abundant life Jesus promised and doesn't think it’s found in being stressed, tired, and overstimulated. She loves to write about grace, joy, family, and minimalism. Writing is her play, people are her favorite, and books are her friends.


Visit Ashley's blog, Little Pieces of Ordinary, or find her on Facebook: Little Pieces on Facebook.



October 21, 2014

You Can't Have it All, At Least Not All At Once

Fall is the middle, a shifting. Each brilliant leaf lazily drifting down is a reminder--although I don't care to be reminded, thank you very much--that winter is coming and, with winter, barrenness and stillness and cold. Or as a friend recently reminded me, "Fall is actually a beautiful death." Then, after the earth lies dormant, we will beg, under layers of scarves and coats, to see the little sprouts on trees that announce spring is coming.
After growing up in a place with two seasons (blazing hot and a month or two of sort-of cold), I love living in a place with four distinct seasons. I remember as a child browsing my mom's Land's End catalog and wondering who really wore all those heavy winter coats and snow boots. It seemed like a magical, far-off place. And I now live in that place, a real-life Land's End catalog! 

Four seasons means I've had to learn the necessity of salting our driveway and the art of wearing scarves. We make the annual trek to the apple orchard and enjoy being outside in the not-blazing-hot summer before the hibernation of winter. 

I love the seasons because they break up the monotony, but also because they have taught me so much about life. They've taught me this most of all: 
You can't have it all, at least not all at once. There are seasons for everything under heaven, but you can't have the tulips when it's the leaves' turn to show off. You can't force the trees to sprout when snow is climbing up their trunks. 

We can't have it all, at least not all at once. To believe otherwise is to run ourselves ragged, spinning wheels but never getting anywhere, and definitely not getting anywhere with any semblance of joy. To believe otherwise is to go against nature, the very nature that speaks to the character and activity of God.

There will be seasons of fruitfulness and seasons of barrenness. 

There will be seasons of beautiful, blossoming new life and seasons of beautiful suffering.

There will be seasons when we are filled and able to give and seasons when we are empty and need to receive.

There will be seasons when God appears to be living and breathing everywhere and seasons that are dry and quiet under His watchful care.

There will be seasons when He says yes and seasons when He says no.

There will be seasons when His love feels like delight and seasons when His love feels like discipline.

And what is our response? The response is what I'm really thinking about. Our response of obedience--a yes to God--often means a no to a million other little things. We can't have it all, at least not all at once. Sometimes that feels like the beginning of summer--freeing and warm and wildly satisfying. But sometimes that feels like the tail end of fall--little deaths like each leaf fluttering in the wind. It requires faith that, in the barrenness and stillness, God is preparing a new season of fruitfulness. We must wait. And we must rejoice in the season we're in, not wish for what's next.

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