The Death of Self for the Kingdom Community

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised…(Heb 11:39).

Sometimes our faithfulness has little to do with what we personally will receive from it in the present or near future. It could be that our faithfulness is meant to bless the generations to come with an outpouring from God’s Spirit. It could be that your circumstances will not end how you would hope. It is not because God does not love you, but there is a bigger purpose that you cannot see and may never see on this side of heaven.

The Israelites understood this, because, to them, life was not about the individual, but instead about the community. This is why it was so shocking that the prodigal son left his family. He was practicing one of the most heinous things a Jew during that time could practice, cutting himself off from the community to become more of an “individual.”

community-144653342

I think one of the reasons we often feel like God is giving us the short end of the stick when life seems unfair is because we think in terms of ourselves, not in terms of what is best for the community of believers in the kingdom of God. If I am hurting, I become my main concern. It is difficult for me to see that maybe God has allowed my suffering for the purpose of the generations to come. It could be that what I’m walking through is for the strengthening of the community. Our own selfishness makes it difficult to not allow ourselves to be the focal point of our present pain.

While Jesus was taken up upon the cross He suffered excruciating pain and mistreatment. Yet, He did not have Himself in mind, but the community of faith. He did not allow His suffering to birth in Him a “woe is me,” attitude. Joseph didn’t either as he sat wrongfully in prison. Instead, he waited for God’s redemption.

In our Western world, we must be extremely intentional to switch our thinking away from ourselves and towards what is best for the community. Any parent who loves their child understands this. If they live for themselves and make decisions for themselves, their children suffer through it.

Do not be discouraged if what you’re walking through right now is painful. Understand there is a bigger purpose at hand that you may never see come to fruition on this side of heaven. Rejoice with the Lord that He would see you as fit for the task, under HIs strength in Jesus name.

Lord, often times, my main concern is me. My dreams, my desires, my hopes, my wants, my time, my money. The list could go on and on. I am selfish to the core, yet you have mercy for people like me. Because through Christ I am not selfish. I am a new creation! I can give freely knowing that you will bless me and the generations to come, Amen!

Shame: I Can Never Get Out From Under My Past

She was bent over and could not straighten up at all….(Lk 13:11).

The voice of shame can be so powerful. I can recall the many times I have allowed its pressure to keep me from walking in true, lasting freedom.

images-24

Jesus has an encounter with a woman in the synagogue who is crippled. She is bent over and unable to straighten up. Jesus says that Satan has bound her for 18 long years. I can’t help but think about how many of us have been bound by shame for many years.

Whenever we are bound in shame it is as if we are bent over with the inability to see ourselves of any value or worth. Yet, Jesus says something quite different about us. He realizes that shame is a tool of the enemy to keep us in chains. Jesus longs for us to walk in freedom, with backs erect and heads lifted up thanks to His mercy.

With our heads bowed low in shame it is difficult to look Him in the eyes and see His deep love for us. However, as we stand tall and assured in our relationship with Him we can look at Him, face to face and experience the tenderness of His deep love for us.

Pause and think about that for a moment. Imagine yourself looking Jesus face to face, locking eyes with one another. Let yourself experience the tenderness and warmth of His love. Ask yourself why you’re quick not to let yourself stay there in that place of tenderness if anything rises up against you to make you feel undeserved of such a place.

Although Jesus is King and much different from us, He does not use His power to shame, belittle or demean us. He uses it to empower us with joy. Do not believe the lie that you are of little value and worth, that your past defines your present or that God desires to hold shame over your head.

You are God’s beloved. You have been set free. You are a new creation. The past is no longer your present and shame is not of God. Claim your victory in Christ and experience His great love for you today!

Jesus, thank you that you love me. I do not have to hide in shame because I have been set free through the cross. Thank you that you love a sinner like me. Thank you that I can look you in the eyes and experience your deep love for Him. Set free those who walk in shame. Help us to see the light of your truth, Amen!

The Rebirth of Discipleship in the American Church

As I have been talking with church leaders around the country the past couple of months, there is one issue that keeps coming up.

“Heather, we’ve been doing discipleship all wrong and we are hungry to take our church attendees from participant to fully devoted follower of Jesus.”


“Heather, we’ve been doing discipleship all wrong and are hungry to take our church attendees from participant to fully devoted follower of Jesus.”


Churches are wrestling with the question of, how do we do real discipleship? I’ve been wrestling with that question too. Every time a new pastor or ministry leader brings up their struggle on how to make disciples, my mind goes back to my time in Israel. During my nearly four week journey in 2011, I was thrust into the life of what it may have been like to be a first-century Jewish disciple. There was an aspect of daily living that I did not understand as a 21st-century Westerner. While there my eyes were open to an understanding of following Jesus that I had never considered before. I can say with full assurance that trip radically changed my life and my walk with Jesus because of it.

Each morning as we would recite the Hebrew Shema and dig into God’s word I was reminded of the devotion a disciple would have had to their teacher. I was challenged to think about Jesus in a way I had never even thought of. I was encouraged to follow the Rabbi, not just know things about Him. In our Western world, we obsess about knowing information. Eastern culture, however, focuses on doing life together and knowing others in a deep familial way. Yes, knowing the scriptures was absolutely essential to a first century Jew, but life on life, knowing one another is the kind of life Jesus modeled. Jesus emphasized practicing faith over head-knowledge. He cared about the hearts of those He encountered.

In fact, Jesus’ contemporaries, who knew the scriptures inside and out refused to do anything on the Sabbath. Even if someone was in trouble. Since they followed the letter of the law they did not permit themselves to lift a finger to help anyone on the Sabbath. Jesus however, heals, helps and redeems on the Sabbath, because to Him following God is much more about considering the needs of someone else and doing something about it than being a pious, religious person.

Each Sunday we sit inside our comfortable church buildings with our comfortable, “successful” church programs. We feel validated when we can tote big numbers and exciting programs. However, Jesus’ focus was not on numbers, but on the investment of people. Jesus cared for people. Let me say that again, Jesus cared for people. When we take our eyes off of caring for people and more on our own programs we have neglected one of the most important aspects of discipleship- caring for people.

Discipleship is not a program to be followed or a checklist to complete. Discipleship is a way of life. Each day is a chance to be a disciple. The word disciple in the original language means quite simply, “to sit at one’s feet.”

monkimage.php

Disciple-makers are not people who are great at completing tasks, hold M Div’s or gather a large crowd to sit in for the Sunday sermon. Disciple-makers are people who invest in people. They are people who listen to the hearts of broken, hurting people. Disciple-makers are people who direct others to the healer. They are not the hero themselves, nor the one with all the answers. They point people to the one who knows all their scars, pains and hurts. They are students of the Lord Jesus Christ who invest in others with the hopes of igniting a passion in them to be fully devoted followers of Jesus.

What our churches are missing is not the model of discipleship,(we have plenty of books, articles, and sermons on that) but instead, the modeling of discipleship.
We cannot truly become a disciple or make disciples until we open up our lives to others in a way that they are known by us and we know them.

The body of Christ is not perfect, but she loves to act as though she is. I know this to be true because I have lived in that place of pretending. However, we cannot rightly love others like Jesus until we say, come, let me tell you of all He has done for a broken sinner like me. Let me tell you of His joy and delight. Let me show you how He has changed me from the inside out.

The fullness of discipleship is not found in the most perfectly polished program, but in the raw and realness of an open door as we invite others into our lives. An open door into our brokenness, and our struggles. An open door into our desires to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls. An open door into our failures and struggles against sin. An open door into what we have learned about God by how we have put His word into practice. An open door into the grace and love of God. An open door to all of mankind to come as they are and hear about the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think far too often the church has focused its time and energy on being a voice for those we’d rather keep out, than those we want to extend God’s open door towards. We, in our own desire to be “set apart”, have instead polarized ourselves by placing ourselves in different social, political and cultural camps, letting that be our focus instead of the love of Christ. Yes, we should stand for biblical truth, but when our vehement standing of biblical truth shuts a person out from hearing the gospel and learning about Jesus, we have made a grave mistake. We have ceased making disciples. Why do we believe it is our role to change a person before they can learn about Christ? What if instead, we welcomed all of those unlike us to come and learn about God, and allowed the Holy Spirit to change them?

If my open door lets you into the truth of who I am, with all my junk and baggage, then I think we start to understand what modeling discipleship actually is. The best kind of disciple-makers are really learners in disguise. We may think the best kind are teachers, but in all actuality, the best kind of teachers are first and foremost, the best students. Therefore, we must place ourselves under the Lord Jesus Christ and His teaching. We must, “sit at His feet.” We actively submit ourselves to the hard things we don’t want to accept that we find in God’s word, with the intention of inviting someone along with us to show them the way towards a life of devotion to Jesus Christ.

I think one of our deepest misunderstandings in western culture is that we believe when Jesus said, build my church He meant, construct a building and fill it with people- mission accomplished. We feel a sense of achievement when we have done such a thing. However, I don’t believe this is what Jesus meant at all. In the original language, the word for church means, “a gathering of people” I believe when Jesus said, build my church, He didn’t simply mean make something, but “become something.” Become the church. Become the hands and feet of Jesus to a lost and dying world.

Why did the church in Acts see such tremendous exponential growth? Was it because they constructed some beautiful, gigantic edifice, came up with a fancy name and served piping hot coffee? No, not in the least. They loved, served and cared for one another. They became the church. If we want our churches to grow that’s good, but when growth becomes more about what we can build than what we can become through the Lord Jesus Christ we have gravely misunderstood the call go to and make disciples to the ends of the earth.

Jesus, give us a grand vision for making disciples. Take us outside of our buildings and into the world. Lord, use us to become disciple-makers as we grow as your disciple. Grow us in transparency and authenticity. May our lives and hearts be open doors for others to hear the gospel. Give us the courage to set aside our schedules to make ourselves available for people. In Jesus name, Amen.

Witches, Wisdom, ​and Waiting

So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes…(1 Sa 28:8).

As Christians, we are called to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. Until we fully understand what this means we will not live in the fullness of our calling.
 
Saul was King of Israel and would have worn a number of royal vestments to set himself apart from others. His royal robes would have spoken of his position in the kingdom. Saul becomes impatient and irritated because God is not responding to His prayers in the time frame Saul is comfortable with. Instead of waiting on God with a heart that trusts in the sovereignty of a loving, faithful God, Saul strips himself of his royal robes and consults with the medium of Endor.
samuel-redford-saul-and-the-witches-of-endor
Prior to this Saul had outlawed such a thing, but he throws that out the window because he cannot deal with his own personal anxiety. Saul takes the easy road because it feels safer, more comfortable and predictable. If our faith doesn’t make us uncomfortable from time to time, we probably aren’t practicing it and we are fools to think that consulting with a witch can offer us what only the wisdom of God can provide.  
 
We too have royal robes that we wear. Robes of righteousness, given to us by the King. Robes of the priesthood to set us apart from those around us. Robes that are given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ so that we may offer up spiritual sacrifices to God. These robes signify who we are in Christ. We are sons and daughters of the Lord Jesus, wearing robes of the priesthood, enabling us to go before God, because of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ.
 
Our role as priests before God is not to set ourselves up as greater than, but to establish within our hearts a willing obedience to offer up our lives as living sacrifices. Saul didn’t understand that as king of Israel his life was meant for the very same purpose. To offer up his life as a living sacrifice. Instead, he strips himself of his royal robes, acts as if he is no longer king and consults a spiritist. Sauls grave mistake was that he did not understand that our duty before God is to sacrifice the tension within our hearts to know all the answers right away. The only thing a living sacrifice can do is wait with hopeful expectation.
 
We can try to strip ourselves of our royal robes too, but there is no fooling the one true God. By all means, Saul was not acting as any king who was worthy of leading God’s people. Stripping himself of his royal robes was a powerful statement that maybe he himself didn’t even understand. Whenever we go our own way, we do the same. We are quick to sacrifice our time, energy and talents, not to God, but to our own need for affirmation through the idols and ideologies we worship.
 
Wear your royal robes today dear friends. Go before the Lord and wait for Him. Do not strip yourself of your vestments, because you cannot wait upon the God. Believe that you are His, you are loved, valued and adorned. Live in light of who the King says you are and find yourself in His purposes by offering up your body as a living sacrifice. This means the waiting may hurt for awhile. It is not often pleasurable to offer up anxieties, fears, and frustrations and place them on the table of sacrifice. It is, however, where we find freedom in Jesus name.
 
Lord, today I want to live in light of who you say I am. I am a royal priesthood, so that I may offer up spiritual sacrifices to you. Today God, I sacrifice my future, talents, and calling. I cannot make anything happen in my own strength. It is only you so I will wait upon you, in Jesus name, Amen.

The Way of the Simple

but the simple keep going and pay the penalty…(Pr 27:12).

Without a right understanding of God, we will eventually, “pay the penalty.” This is true even of those who follow Jesus. Even though we are free from the penalty of sin and death, we are not exempt from the Lord’s discipline as a result of our rebellion.

The Bible uses words like, “stiff-necked” to describe stubborn, rebellious people. In our own foolishness, we go before God with teeth clenched and mouths tight in anger, expecting Him to wave the wand and fix our imperfect lives. Yet, we keep going our own way. He speaks into our lives and we refuse to release the grip of our own control. In doing so, we continue to walk the path of stubborn rebellion. Our hearts stray from the Lord as they walk the paths of the simple and not the discerning.

walk_alone_by_dsrcreative-d8h6y4m

Could it be that we have missed something about God, not because of His unwillingness to reveal it to us, but our own will has deceived us into spiritual blindness? Everyone has blind spots. All of us, from time to time, are unable to see with eyes of truth the depth of our own personal deceptions. This is a result of an unwillingness to release control and submit our own desires to God.

If my heart leads me to believe that God cannot be trusted, I must take up the reigns of control or insert myself into the equation to- “make things happen.” Then, I am far from understanding the perfect will of God. I have become my own god of little power and much consequence. The heart cannot find peace in the forced will of self. However, it can find consolation by resting in the power of God.

I do believe the reason we go the way of the simple is that we are not listening to God. We have found our own personal idea of wisdom more acceptable and safe. We believe the voices of people over the wisdom of God. We do not listen because we are too busy. We do not sit before the Lord because it is a discipline we do not have the time for.

It is not far from God to release us into our own understanding. Yes, there are consequences there, but It is because He loves us. If there is a result we are seeking apart from Him He will show us the stubbornness of our way. He will guide us towards the path of the discerning, but we must be willing to follow Him there.

Be honest with yourself, whose path are you following today?

Jesus, I want to be wise.  Not in my own eyes, but in yours.  I long to release the control of my own grip to take up the wisdom of your own heart.  Show me when I am walking my own stubborn path.  Lead me beside quiet waters towards your heart, in Jesus name, Amen.  

 

The Ancient Paths

Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths, ….(Je 6:16).

Whenever we stray from God we should ask for the ancient paths.

path

As the prophet Jeremiah stood before the nation of Israel he implored God’s people to return to the days of old. To remember the ways of the patriarchs and walk in their wisdom.

A nation will quickly give way to rebellion if it does not remember the wisdom of ages past. As Solomon says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Yet, we are always searching for something new to fill our hearts and minds with a sense of satisfaction that only God was meant to fill.

It is in the grace of God and the wisdom of His word that we find hope and direction for our lives. The beautiful story of the Bible is that God’s word is full of people who messed up time and time again but received grace. This gives me hope for someone like me who doesn’t always do it right.

When we forget the ancient paths we are sure to have a wrong understanding of who God is. Much our misgivings about Him stem from a lack of understanding of His true nature. When we call ourselves to remember Him, His word, His justice, and His sovereignty we can find courage for our souls to keep pressing forward in faith.

I’ll be honest, I really struggle with trusting God. Fear is a real issue of mine. God is pressing me into places where I am being forced to trust Him. He is squeezing me into circumstances where I can do nothing but lay passive in His hands in full submission to His will. I cannot make things happen for myself in this place, nor can I manipulate anything. This is the place of remembrance. In this place, I am being called to remember the same God who raised the dead, set captives free, caused the sun to stand still and parted the Red Sea. Truly, if He can do those things for those who have gone before me, then He can do the same for you in me.

Where are you not trusting God today?

Jesus, I trust you. Sometimes, I become afraid. I fear man’s control over me. I fear the outcome might not be as I desire. I forget in my own finite thinking that you are in total control. Forgive me when I do not remember the ancient paths, but when I allow my heart to stray from them. I want to walk in wisdom, in Jesus name, Amen.

A Fake Smile to Hide a Ruined Life

Why highlight your eyes with makeup?
You adorn yourself in vain….(Je 4:30).

“Heather, you’re ugly, worthless, and will never amount to anything.”

This was the message I repeated to myself time and time again as a teenager. Outwardly I would fake a smile and do my best to have an attractive outward appearance, yet inwardly I constantly felt like my life was a heap of ruins. I was too afraid to share with anyone about the devastation of what lied beneath the forced smile, makeup, and styled hair.

I know there are many others out there, just like I was, who feel destroyed inside. You feel as if your life is in ruins, yet try to cover it up with a glamorous, attractive life, hoping no one will see the devastation of your own heart.

heart590

We cannot run from our own devastation. Eventually, it leaks its way out to reek havoc in our lives. If we cannot maintain long-term relationships, ever find joy, or satisfaction in life I would suggest it is because we are not whole persons. We are persons living among a heap of ruins; the wreckage of our own hearts. We keep pursuing something, anything to give us freedom from our personal devastation, but end up woefully short with each attempt.

This is why Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”-(John 10:10)

Jesus is the repairer of broken walls. He is the life giver and the devastation breaker. He fills the empty soul with joy. He makes all things new in the heart that feels as though life will never get better. It is His love that goes beyond the surface to heal the innermost parts of our war-torn souls.

“Behold, I am making all things new.” – (Rev. 21:5)

That includes you if you would be willing to trust Him today. Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened, for I will give you rest”…(Matt 11:28)

Coming to Jesus is really quite simply saying, “I’m done, you take over, I need your grace, I turn from my way of life to embrace your resurrected life.”

When the heart turns to the joy giver, it is completely healed and restored- set on a path towards full and complete redemption. There is no more emptiness in the heart because it is filled with the love of God, in Jesus name.

Lord, I know who I used to be. A young girl without hope, joy or purpose. Yet, you have filled my heart to overflowing. Your love has changed everything about me. I am whole. I am deeply loved and am being made new. For those that feel empty, destroyed and without hope, I pray they would turn to you, the restorer and life-giver, in Jesus name, Amen!