Rising Up From the Ashes

Rising Up From the Ashes

This one is for the people who find themselves burnt out from life or ministry or marriage or disappointment or anxiety….or whatever is leaving you a heap on the floor (literally or figuratively).

I’ve been burnt out for a number of years now. It’s not a new realization by any means. I knew it. I tried to deny it out of shame convinced if I was a good enough Christian I wouldn’t be feeling this way. It was this drive that sent me deeper, much deeper into this pit where I was determined I could serve my way out of this condition.

Serving. That was my hamster wheel that kept me spinning endlessly and getting nowhere but tired and angry and hurting. Things that once brought me pleasure and joy now left me anxious and bitter and I wonder if I was ever called to ministry after all. I question my purpose and calling, which has been the very core of my being since I was a kid.

It was…is.. my identity. It has entwined itself around my worth and in order to be loved I needed to DO. Holly wasn’t enough. Rather Holly simply BEING wasn’t enough.

So, here I sit in my ashes.

There’s a story of man named Job who had everything he could have ever wanted– money, prestige, family, friends, a thriving business. Then, one day, he lost it all. He lost his family, his health, his wealth and found himself in an ash heap. He sat there (according to Job 2:8, CEV) to show his sorrow.

Ashes can so often represent destruction and devastation. Earlier this year, Australia experienced horrific wildfires that destroyed more than a fifth of the country’s forests. People and animals died, too. Sure sounds like devastation to me.

And yet, every time I think of ashes I am reminded of the Phoenix. A Greek mythological legend says the bird dies by bursting into flames and then is reborn from its ashes. In its death there is renewal and resurrection. It does not limp or walk away from its ash heap. It SOARS away with a grand, majestic and glorious display of strength and vigor.

As we enter this Holy week, that is the image I am mediating on because that is the image Christ Himself exemplified. Not some folklore story mind you, but an actual literal empty grave where His body once lay. Christ did not limp from the borrowed tomb, but victoriously trampled death, disease, discouragement and everything in-between.

In doing so, He has given that same victory to me (and YOU)– to soar on the wings like eagles (& Phoenixes) , to run and not grow weary (or burnt out), they will walk (not limp) and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31, NIV with parenthetic additions made by yours truly).

To go back to our friend Job, he didn’t limp away from his ash heap, either. In fact, he got back everything that had been taken from him and MORE. As you’ve reflected on what has been lost maybe you need that reminder. You will get back more than you had before.

In your marriage that has been on the brink of divorce you will see redemption. In your soul that has been wracked by anxiety you will experience a peace that transcends even a global pandemic.

In my burn out, I believe, a passion will be reignited that will propel me on to do the very thing(s) I was created to do. Not to get love, but from a beautiful understanding that I am loved simply for who I am and not the ways I serve.

Rise up from the ashes, friends! Soar!

Sin & the Coronavirus

Sin & The Coronavirus

Her eyes were fixed intently on her schoolwork as she traced the letters “V” both upper and lower case. Without looking up she asks, “Did sin cause the Coronavirus?”

“Hmm.” I say.

While inside my head I’m screaming, “Hey God! This is a bit outside my pay grade! Mind tossing me some Truth and wisdom a 5 year old can understand? That I can understand?!”

This was important. You don’t want to mess this one up. Ya know? We’re all asking hard questions right now or so I’d imagine. You don’t walk through a global pandemic without one or two boinking around in your brain.

So, I ask her, “What was it like before sin entered the world? Before Adam and Eve sinned?”

“It was perfect!” she says with a smile.

“Yup! It was perfect. No sickness. No sin. None of that.” Things are going smoothly and I’m shocked. SHOCKED I tell you.

We spend a few more minutes discussing the effects of sin– selfishness, greed, fighting with your siblings, being disobedient.

She seems satisfied with our discussion and we move on to other important conversations. Like how one of the boys in her class put chocolate down his pants and then ate it. I’m horrified at this news though less shocked because it’s coming from a girl who tells me boogers are considered dessert.

This story is true, by the way, ALL of it. I wanted to share this cute one in hopes that when I transition into my next point, which will undoubtedly step on some toes that you’ll remember that you once found me funny and endearing.

I’ve been seeing Christians post some pretty “interesting” things on social media with the onset of this global crisis. And it’s those kinds of posts that shake me from my silence and stagnancy in regards to blogging/writing.

My 5-year old niece isn’t the only one thinking about sin and the Coronavirus. I recently read a post that said, “What if this nation were to deal with the problem of sin as strongly as we are with the threat of COVID-19?” My! What a mighty high horse you have!

Mind you, there were many Christians (disclaimer: NOT ALL) who upon first hearing our leaders talk about social distancing and self-isolation were LAUGHING at the thought. How dare they ask us to not meet in groups of 10 people or more!

So, let me get this straight….is THAT how you think I should be dealing with sin in my life? According to your model, we laugh when a sin seems insignificant or at least not relevant for my life, but those other people’s lives. Until we realize that sin is actually effecting MY life and I should probably do something about that, but not before using it as an opportunity to shame some people on the internet first.

Let me stop here for a minute.

It’s much easier to see other people’s sins (and flaws) and not our own. MYSELF INCLUDED.

It was Jesus who reminded us of this Truth in Matthew 7. Other people have specks in their eyes while we’ve got logs. I can’t overlook my crap by putting a spotlight on someone else’s. Doesn’t exactly work that way and yet we try to do that because we don’t want to confront it. Again, I get it. I’m in this support group, too.

Am I saying we never discuss sin? No. Am I saying we should never talk to other people about their sin? Again, no. (Keep reading Matthew 7 for how we should actually go about doing this. I’ll give you a hint: deal with your own crap FIRST.)

What I’m asking is that we STOP SHAMING PEOPLE on the internet. This is a time where people are in need of encouragement and peace and we have the opportunity to offer hope through the social media platforms we are on. You have a voice. All I’m asking is you use it wisely.

 

Take Your Victory Lap

It was a perfect Autumn afternoon. The clouds had parted and there were pockets of blue skies and warm sunlight. The air was crisp, but enjoyable with a rhythmic gentle breeze that would softly place the brightly colored leaves before me as I walked. Like my very own red carpet rolled out for me.

I’ve been taking these walks as often as possible. My intention being that I can get some exercise in for my body and release some pent up feelings to relieve my mind. I’ve been frequenting the same park the past few weeks and have half expected someone to report me to the police for talking to myself, which I often do as I try and get myself out of the mental rut I’ve found myself in that day. Sometimes in the midst of the steps and complaints I hear the Lord speak to me.

That’s what happened to me yesterday.

As the leaves spread out before me I smiled. Admittedly, my first thought had not been a movie star’s red carpet, but rather Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As He rode into the city, the crowds began to throw down leaves (not my Autumn colored leaves, but Palm branches) and coats before Him with shouts of praise.

“Hosanna!” they shouted. This word– Hosanna– had been used in the Psalms as a plea. Please, save me! Yet, in this context it’s used differently. It’s used as a praise of thanksgiving for salvation. Jesus would bring them the help and salvation they needed, but it certainly wouldn’t look like what they had thought or hoped. The people longed for political salvation, but Jesus would bring a freedom much more life altering.

This triumphal entry, in fact, did mimic the type of parades that would accompany military victories. These celebrations would usher in the commander that led the troops in victory. It was their moment to soak in their success and show off the spoils of war.

In modern terms, it’s like a victory lap in NASCAR. I’ve been told by my own resident NASCAR expert (since I know absolutely nothing about the sport) that the winner gets to take a lap around the course as the fans cheer and general merriment ensues. It happens after all other 500 laps have been successful completed. Makes sense. You can’t celebrate a victory until you’ve won.

Jesus, though, took His victory lap before He went to the cross. Before the relentless scourging. Before the devastating betrayal. He took it before the battle had really even begun.

And so can you.

In all honesty, I don’t feel equipped to bring this type of encouragement to you. As someone feeling battle weary, broken and drained, most days I’m mustering every ounce of energy just to hold on. But maybe that’s you, too. Maybe you’re dealing with the loss of a parent or loved one and you wonder if the pain will ever stop. Maybe you’re walking through chemo treatments and the side effects don’t seem to be letting up. Maybe you’re grieving your life/marriage/ministry and how it doesn’t look like what you had imagined long ago.

Whatever you’re facing, you don’t see victory yet. It’s there where I want you to take your victory lap. I know it doesn’t make sense. I know it seems silly.

As Christians, we know that we’ve received victory through Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:57). He’s already given it to us and yet we still face our battles. Not fighting for victory, but from it. It may not feel like you’re victorious, but you are and it’s the moments you don’t feel it that you’ve got to walk in the Truth of it.

If you don’t have a crowd of fans, know that I’m here cheering you on. Keep on going.

Jesus Is Our Daily Bread

If you’ve grown up in the church you’ve been reciting the Lord’s Prayer ever since you memorized it in early morning Sunday School where you enjoyed Bible stories on flannel-graph boards. The Lord’s Prayer was given to us by Jesus as an example of how we should pray. We tend to take the red letters statements pretty seriously in the Bible. In a way it’s become a seemingly common prayer that can be heard in movies, found on wall hangings and even used as inspiration for works of art.

The simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t take away from the depth or power behind it. Like I said, Jesus prayed it so it’s not some wimpy prayer meant to be recited haphazardly without a thought. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I’ve done more times than not and have spent most of my life skimming over it like it was NBD.

A few Sundays ago, I had the opportunity to lead communion at my church, which means I spent days preparing. And by preparing, I mean seizing every opportunity to pray (in the car, in the shower, in bed, etc.) because nobody wants to be the person to mess up communion. In my prayers, I’d ask God to give me some kind of encouraging word for His people. Something that would be fresh and not the usual Sunday morning pep rally speech.

And for days, Jesus said nothing.

It was a bit nerve wracking, to say the least, and I worried that maybe I’d get up there Sunday and just do the normal communion spiel. I’d heard it about a thousand times up to this point so I could wing it if I needed to but really hoped that wouldn’t be the case.

When I walked into church that Sunday, I was resigned that maybe God wasn’t going to speak to me about communion. As worship began, it became very clear that God was speaking. It wasn’t in my timing, which He has a tendency of doing. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. So there, in this personal moment with me and Jesus He said, “I am your daily bread.”

There’s so much to that statement.

Jesus. That beautiful name. The name above every name. The name that will bring every person to their knees in worship. There’s power in His name. There’s no other name like it and no other name that holds such authority.

Is. This one small word reminds us that Jesus is….now….currently…presently….at this very moment our daily bread. That is comforting in the midst of your struggle or need. Jesus isn’t some past help. He is here when I need Him.

Our. As much as Jesus is here for me He’s here for you, too. He’s mine, He’s yours, He’s ours. Christianity was never meant to be lived singularly. We were made for community and it’s only fitting that communion would be done in the midst of that community. It is available for us all as a Body of believers. Jesus’ bread or rather His body, which the bread represents, was broken and used to make us whole.

Daily. Not our bread for just Sundays. Or holidays. Or when we feel like it. He’s meant to be partaken of each and every day. The fact is we need Him daily, but we so foolishly think we can pass on that daily bread. “I got this,” we try and convince ourselves. In my independence, and mostly my stupidity, I thought that it showed strength to try and do things on my own. The fact remains that I need Him. Not just daily, but moment by moment. In the highs of life and certainly in the lows.He wants us coming to Him to supply our needs for that day. In doing so, we will see and know His faithfulness because He’ll always provide.

Bread. This bread is the bread of life. No Wonder Bread here, but bread that sustains us and gives us all we need as we face our day. We can try and satisfy our needs with other things (or people, or hobbies or jobs or money), but nothing and no one can satisfy like Him. Everything else is just counterfeit.

One of the things I love about communion at my church is the way the children respond to it. There’s a lady at my church who makes fresh unleavened bread each time and the kids love it. When they come forward with their parents they grab not just one piece, but two or three. They smile as they do it and I can’t help but smile back. If only we could keep that kind of child’s heart with things– such joy and hopeful expectation.

So, today and every day may you be reminded that Jesus is your daily supply of all you need. 

Get up!

Get Up!

The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.

Proverbs 24:16 (NLT)

I’m not perfect. I doubt that’s a shocking revelation for you to hear, especially if you know me at all.

I love Jesus, a lot, but I mess up. Actually, I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where I think to myself, “Way to go! You did great today!” Most times, I’ll be in bed at night replaying events from the day where I fell short. I’ll remember an attitude I had with someone. Or the way I yelled at the idiot on the highway for not merging fast enough. Or for calling the person on the highway who didn’t merge fast enough an idiot.

And those things just compose the things I did wrong before 10AM.

I’m not here to showcase my long list of failures. I could, but that’s not the point. The point is that it happens AND I’m not alone. Ya, I’m looking at you.

Maybe you don’t suffer from acute road rage or give anyone attitude, but I’m sure there are things you struggle with.

Maybe you judged that girl in the grocery store for wearing leggings as pants.

Or you lied and told your kid there is a Santa Claus (sorry, kids).

Or you stole wifi from your neighbor.

Or you tried to convince me that it wasn’t really stealing when you used your neighbors wifi. 😉

We can all be more relaxed now that we admitted that we fall (or have fallen) at times. As a Christian, that is SUPER encouraging.

What?!?!

YES. It is super encouraging for me to know that I’m not the only one who falls down. That’s what stopped me in my tracks today when I heard Proverbs 24:16, even when I’ve heard this same verse 100 times before. There was this beautiful realization that godly people, righteous people, lovers of Jesus….FALL DOWN. There doesn’t need to be any shame in admitting that fact because I am not alone.

I’m not celebrating my imperfections, but I’m also not letting the realization that I have them keep me bound. There’s freedom in confession.

That’s not the whole story, though. There’s even better news. I can get up.

As a child of God, I have the power to get up. Circumstances, difficulties and hardships will come my way, and they may even trip me up, but they won’t keep me down.

Or in the words of the great Rocky Balboa, “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean, and nasty place an’ no matter how tough you think you are, it’ll always beat you if you let it. It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward.

Life….or our own stupid actions…can hit us hard, but the important part is that we get up. If you’re struggling, get up. You aren’t powerless, but have the most powerful Source within you. Don’t stay on the ground wallowing and complaining about how defeated you feel, but allow the power of God (the strength of God) to move through you and pick you up.

Dust yourself off and keep going.

But first, GET UP.

Patient in Pain

Patient in Pain

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Romans 12:12 (NIV)

For those of you who may not know, I am an Administrator at a church. One of my weekly tasks is to change the words on the church sign. It’s not as glorious or exciting as the Pinterest results may suggest. It’s actually one of my least favorite tasks, which is ironic considering I’m a writer. Shouldn’t I enjoy getting the opportunity to write a weekly message for the entire neighborhood to see?

No. Not one bit.

It’s a lot of pressure. I get all of 90 characters to convey a thought. That’s an entire 50 characters less than Twitter. And, unlike Twitter, I can’t use internet shorthand. Although, sometimes I can get away with negating some punctuation by reworking the verse. I don’t think God minds me taking the liberty, either. If I remember correctly, from my painful year studying Greek, there wasn’t any punctuation in the original text, anyway.

Even without the use of punctuation, I still need to have a complete thought. Or that’s what I attempt to do. Maybe this is the wrong approach to have– maybe I should want those passing by to have questions. That seems like some kind of weird marketing scam though, and I can’t bring myself to manipulate people into walking into church.

I keep the hell and brimstone verses off the sign, too. I’m not sure we should be using fear as an evangelistic tool, but maybe that’s just me.

Honestly, each week, I want to convey love, hope and peace to people. I figure they get enough bad news each day that maybe the Church should be a place they find something different. People are weary, broken down, tired and scared, but Jesus isn’t wearisome. It was Jesus after all who said,  “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt.11:30)

Most weeks, I have no idea what to put on the sign. Sometimes I’ll text my best friend to see if there’s something she’s been meditating on. Sometimes I use a verse from the previous Sunday’s sermon. Other times, I use Google. How’s that for spiritual? If it makes it any better, before I hit “enter” I exhale a simple prayer, “Seriously, God. Can you help me out?”

This week, my search led me to Romans 12:12. A nice short verse that would fit on the sign without too much finagling. Score! As I prepared the large plastic letters, I read and reread the verse over and over again.

Paul is one sneaky dude.

Sandwhiched in between being “joyful in hope” and “faithful in prayer” he lays down a landmine.

PATIENT IN AFFLICTION.

Or as the New King James version so eloquently puts it “patient in tribulation,” neither wording taking away the sting that this guy is telling me to be patient when life hurts. I don’t want to be patient in the pain, I want to speed up and get the hell through it. Right? Or is that only me?

I can rejoice in hope, no problem. Hope is worth celebrating. And being faithful in prayer, that’s not too bad, either. I may not hold hour long prayer vigils in my bedroom, but I try and capture moments throughout my day to pray– like when I’m in the car driving, or laying in bed, or talking with a friend on the phone.

It’s a whole other story to ask me to be patient in affliction. It’s uncomfortable. Painful even. If anything, in those times, I am my least patient self. I’ll be crying out to God, “PLEASSSSSSE, get me out of this already!” with fists pounding my pillows in a tantrum-like state. God listens, but seemingly does nothing letting me carry on like a child.

As I prepared the sign, I thought of numerous friends who were in the middle of a season of affliction. How it seemed like all they were experiencing was pain and, as much as I prayed, things hadn’t seemed to change. So, I did the only thing I knew to do, and I prayed some more. This time, I asked that God would give my dear friends patience– that in the trials, in the desert– that they would be able to stand strong and be unmoved.

The most logical question, the one I’ve asked God repetitively, would be: “Why doesn’t God just take the affliction away?”

I don’t have some pretty bow, to put on top of the answer, for that question.

I heard a story once about a grandmother explaining to her granddaughter the effects of boiling water on two objects. First, she took an egg and put it in a pot of boiling water. After a few minutes, she took it out and it had become hardened. Again, she took boiling water and added it to a tea bag. Within moments, there was a lovely aromatic smell coming from the cup and the water had changed color. It was no longer water but tea.

Everyone is going to face their own form of boiling water– a friend dying unexpectedly, the loss of a job, difficult family members, illness, etc. I know you’ve got your own story, like I have mine. It is in those seasons of difficulty and pain that we can choose to become hardened by the hurts, or we can give off a sweet fragrance despite it all.

It’s not easy. I don’t think God ever intended for us to have an easy life, everything points to the contrary, but He did intend for us to trust Him. At the end of the day, that’s all that patience really is– the realization that no matter what is going on around us that we can trust Him to come through for us. 

Give it a shot. Start praying for patience when life is hard. Ya, I know what “they” say…to never pray for patience. But “they” are wrong, take it from me. You may just be surprised what happens and how you’re changed through that one simple act of obedience.

Lessons from the Queen

The

A few years ago, I was a crumpled pile on the floor of a church at a youth conference.

I was one of the chaperones that weekend, and I could easily blame my lack of sleep for all the emotions, but there was something much deeper going on in my heart. In those moments, on my knees, I was asking God a lot of “Why?” questions. The same questions I had asked Him numerous times before and would continue to ask Him numerous times after.

As I wept, someone came to me and prayed for me. I don’t remember the specifics of the prayer, but I do recall that she was praying that, like Queen Esther, I would see the experiences of my life as preparation for the amazing things that would come. There was a sense of hope in her words…there was something more for me than tears and grief.

But that’s how Esther’s story began– with her own set of trials and obstacles. Esther was an orphan and had been taken care of by her cousin, Mordecai. Esther was not only an orphan, but a Jew, during a season when the Jews were being targeted for persecution.

At this same time, King Xerxes was in search of a new queen. He had just banished his wife for her refusal to come when he had summoned her and now needed a replacement. His men went on a  search for the most beautiful virgins to bring to the king. Esther was chosen (as in– she didn’t have a choice) to be one of the candidates.

Esther, pulled from her home, now must go through a rigorous 6-month beauty regiment in order to prepare her for her meeting with King Xerxes. She is soaked, shaved, perfumed, primped, primed, lathered, moisturized and plucked for MONTHS. As much as I’d love some pampering, this sounds like a bit too much maintenance for me, but the king wants what the king wants.

We’ll get to more of her story in a few minutes, but now back to me.

I find myself in a very similar place to where I was a few years ago. Actually, that’s exactly what has me so discouraged. I feel like I’m in the same exact place as I was then. With a birthday coming up this month and many unmaterialized dreams, it seems like I am getting no where. Yet again, I find myself broken, but God continues to speak to me while reaffirming these truths to my heart using Esther.

Preparation is not wasted time.

I imagine in those months of preparation, Esther wondered if all of the work was worth it. There were after all numerous women going through similar treatments and the king would only select one to be queen. How many times did she think, “What are the chances he’d pick me?”

My season of preparation has been long and as time continues to tick away it becomes easier and easier to wonder if all of my hard work will actually pay off in the end.

While God is working on you– cleansing, purifying, sanding, stretching and repairing–take comfort that all of that preparation is not wasted time. There is purpose in this season. You may not see it now, and Lord knows it sure doesn’t feel like “real” progress, but rest assured it is necessary.

You’d never go into battle without being trained and outfitted as a soldier, and the same goes for whatever it is that God has called you specifically to do. There are lessons to be learned, muscles to be strengthened and hurts to be healed.

If you don’t do it, someone else will.

Let me share a little more from Esther’s life. After all the treatments and her meeting with King Xerxes, we are told the king loved her more than any other woman and made her queen. Her preparation hadn’t been in vain!

Although, it seemed like things were going well for Esther, it was not going well for the Jewish people. King Xerxes had signed a decree that said all the Jews needed to be destroyed. The king still unaware that his new wife, Esther, was a Jew as well.

Mordecai is obviously distraught. Wouldn’t you be?! He tells Esther she must convince Xerxes to withdraw this death sentence, but she knows if she approaches the king without his bidding she would be killed! Things aren’t looking good– and Mordecai responds to Esther’s fear with this:

“If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.”

I can’t get that phrase out of my head– maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.

Fear keeps trying to muzzle me: just stay silent– don’t cause any waves.

But then I hear that voice say, “This is YOUR time. Speak.” There’s risk involved. I’ve received backlash for articles. People telling me I’ve lost all biblical morals while others still are convinced I’m on the wide road to hell. All I know is I’m doing my best to be obedient to the call of God on my life and keep a humble heart while doing it.

Go to the King.

In the end, Esther did go before the king and she ends up saving her people. Her actions required not only courage, but intimacy. If she didn’t have favor and relationship with Xerxes, she wouldn’t have had a chance.

Be bold in your requests to the King. We have found favor with God because of Jesus. We don’t have to tip-toe to the throne, but can approach with confidence. You don’t have to be afraid that He will somehow be offended or will want to strike you down like some worthless peon. You’ve got royal status, friends.

Intimacy is key. If I didn’t have a living, interactive relationship with God there’s no way I’d continue on this path. It is through His urging, encouragement and prodding that I keep speaking. I can tell you though, if I wasn’t convinced it was His leading I would have abandoned this ship long ago. I would have etched out a much easier, more pleasant path.

Esther made a choice to be obedient. In her obedience, she was a conduit of salvation and a reflector of the glory of God. May that be our testimony as well– that we would allow God to use us in this season and for this time.

Allow God to prepare you. Let Him use you. And because He has prepared you and because He has called you– you can do what you were called to do BOLDY.