When the Dried Out Seed Meets the Savior

When you have a two year old who wakes up like a firework that somebody just lit and doesn’t burn down until bedtime, you have to get a little creative with your daily routine.  The normal “play with babies, pretend to cook, read a book, take a nap” kind of routine is just not enough to satisfy.  It just so happens that I have one of these extremely energetic versions of a preschooler. 

One of the activities that I came up with to occupy her increasing curiosity about the world was to play with an old bag of dried black beans that I had in the cabinet.  She loves to use all sizes and shapes of cups, bowls and spoons and make up games with the beans.  It can get a little out of control, so it is a game that we have moved outside.  A couple of weeks ago, she played with the beans on the front porch before bed one night.  The next day I noticed that several of the dried beans had fallen down in the cracks between the wooden slats of the porch and were stuck.  I tried to sweep them out but with no luck, so I forgot about them.

Then , today we were out playing on the front porch and I noticed what I thought was a weed growing up between the wooden slats of the porch.  This really intrigued me considering that our porch is really an elevated walkway that is easily 20 feet off the ground.  On further inspection I realized that the weed was actually one of those dried black beans that had sprouted.  When I looked again I noticed that all of the beans that were wedged into the porch were now tiny little plants.

Those little plants fascinated me.  They are such a beautiful picture of what God can do in our lives.  Even when we have been sitting on the shelf for years, hardened almost to the point of being considered dead, He can use us.  All it takes is exposing ourselves to His love and He will open us up for His use again.  We just have to be willing and available. 

There is nothing that is impossible for God.  No one is out of the reach of His love.  The only requirement is our willingness to be used by Him.  When we love God and desire to be used by Him, He will pour out His love on us.  All we have to do is show up and get out of His way.  We must put our own agendas aside and just say, “Lord, here I am.  Use me.”  That is all He needs.  He can take it from there.

No matter how long you may have been turned away from God…no matter how hardened you feel like you are…no matter what you have done or said or felt…God is just waiting on you to be available to Him again.  Don’t be surprised if you have to go through some discomfort like being jammed down between wooden porch slats and pelted with rain.  But when He has broken you open and nourished you, you will begin to grow in Him in a new, powerful way that you could never have done sitting on the shelf.  Even though your comfort zone may be on the shelf with all your dried out friends, God wants so much more for you.  He wants you to live out in the sunshine and sprout beautiful fruit for Him.

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When God Calls

This is a beautiful illustration of how we can either live for God’s glory or fight against His plan because of our own weaknesses.  Thank you Elizabeth Brock for this blog post!

It has been a little over a month since my grand adventure in Africa came to a painful halt.  Rarely does a day go by when I do not think of that sweet place across the ocean and the beautiful people that live there.  There are moments when all I want is to be able to share stories and laugh until my sides ache with my host family.  There are moments when all I want is a cup of coffee made by my sweet friend BK.  There are moments that I wish, more than anything, to be back beneath the Botswana sunshine, teaching a crowd of smiling African children how to play basketball and showing them the love of Jesus.  

 But for each moment of sadness and longing to be somewhere else, there are ten more moments when I rejoice about where God has placed me now.   Right now, I am here.  I am a resident of the most beautiful town in Alabama, about to start my second year on the near-perfect campus of UNA.  I am here.  And God has something He wants to do in and through me—here and now. I can feel Him stirring.

 God taught me a lot in the beautiful country of Botswana and in the journeys there and back, but the one thing that rings true in this moment is that He can use me anywhere.  Last fall, I had already made up my mind to go to Senegal with the Well college group.  No great calling on my life, it was just something I decided to do—a decision I made.  But God had an entirely different plan.  Chris Underwood approached me just after Thanksgiving, asking me if I’d be willing to serve 4-6 weeks in Botswana with one or two other students.  I told him I’d pray about it, but inside I was thinking, “Was that a joke?”  You see, I am the queen of homesickness.  The thought of leaving my family, my friends, my house for 4-6 weeks was like watching a horror movie unfold.  I was terrified.  But at the same time, I could not shake the feeling that maybe God was calling me way outside my comfort zone.  

 When I think of my conversations with God during the following months, I can’t help but think of the conversation Moses had at the burning bush.  After witnessing three miracles and audibly hearing the voice of God calling him out to be a prophet to the Egyptians, this is what Moses said in Exodus chapter four:

 “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently norin time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

 My words were shockingly similar.

 “Father, You know me better than anyone and You know how panicked I get when I am far from my family for a long time.I’ve always been that way. Also, I’m a writer, not a coach.  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do this kind of ministry.  I don’t think I’m the right person for this job.”

 Though my words and Moses’ words were slightly different, God’s answer was the same for both of us:

 “The Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”

 So many times, Christians are called by God to do something “hard” or “uncomfortable.”  We panic because in that moment, all we can see is our failures and shortcomings and we lose sight of who God is. We get comfortable, nestled down inside ourselves.  We lose sight of the fact that He did not call us out of the darkness only to sit in a dimly lit room.  He called us to the sunshine.  He called us to step out of our comfort zones and into the blazing light of a life filled with purpose.  That purpose?  Acts 20:24 says it best:

 “I consider my life worth nothing to me that only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

There is change coming.  He is stirring among us.  Calling us out to a life of purpose.  As college students, young adults, in school or out, everyday is new day filled with one more person who needs to know the name of Jesus.  So take a deep breath.  Remember how powerful God is.  Remember what He has done for you.  Step out, and follow His calling.  Because, no matter how scary or uncomfortable you feel, all you really have to do is trust Him.

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”

 

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Learning to Trust

What a beautiful testimony from Rebekah Methvin…

A few short years ago…I became really discouraged with myself and other Christians for our lack of authenticity… I was burnt out and honestly questioned who God even was or if he cared. I wondered if my choice to be a Christian was simply a byproduct of being raised in the bible belt-a southern girl and preacher’s daughter…let’s face it…that’s just what you do! You love God, go to church every Sunday, TRY real hard to do the right things, and then rush out of church to a yummy meal and forget about it on Monday.

 

Country Club Christianity, as some like to call it. And for a long time, I was an active member.

 

My husband, Roddy, and I had many conversations about how we both wanted more for our family, more than we were giving and more than we were getting. I don’t mean stuff….I mean REAL authenticity and a bigger view of who God was. We felt like there had to be more to being a Christian than what we were experiencing at that time.

 

I can still remember that conversation I had with God late one night… “I want to live for You but, I am so confused by what I see around me…it just doesn’t line up with who I think you are. There has to be more to this!” Literally the minute that prayer was spoken—God went to work. All of a sudden my life got really messy….. and I was slowly beginning to realize how many areas in my life I was exhausting myself trying manage on my own. We soon found out, unexpectedly, that we would be adding a new one to our crew…yes.. our 3rd baby under 3. God started leading us to leave our current church…one that had been our home for many years. And then….we walked into the darkest valley we had ever known….burying our 6 week old baby. I quickly found my perfect little life that I had all planned out…. spinning completely out of control.

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In the 42 days we were given to spend with Mills, I have never felt more out of control in all my life, in fact, it was beyond ANY human beings control. We were living every parents worst nightmare. We would wake up, praying it was all a bad dream, only to find ourselves facing another day of the unknown with our child. We spent his life in a delicate balance between preparing for loss…yet praying and hoping for a miracle. One of those days in particular, I was sitting by his isolette, when two different families were brought in to say goodbye to their babies right beside me…a thin screen separating me from the worst moment in their lives. As I sat there watching my own baby fighting for his life, my doubt began to creep in.. “Really?? I mean, what kind of God watches a mom hold her dying baby?” On the drive home I couldn’t fight the rising lump in my throat and the harsh feeling of a brick pressing down on my chest. With panic beginning to overtake me I yelled, “What do you want from me, Lord? I have no idea who you even are anymore! Can’t you show me who you are without leaving me in this broken mess?“ Little did I truly understand at the time…just how He was meeting me in this mess. With each layer of myself that He stripped away one thing was consistent…God was present in it all. Not only was He present, but He was real. And I could feel myself becoming real with every layer that was shed. I felt God telling me that in order for you to TRUST me completely… I need you to know WHO I am… and knowing who I am means knowing and also trusting my heart. No preconceived religious ideas about who I am. My heart is way bigger than your safe box you keep me in. I need your brokenness so I can dig deep. I will show you my heart but you must let go of yours—all your expectations. Hand over to me your plans. Your adding up good and bad behavior. Your idea of who you should be. Your idea of what your family should be. The life OR death of your child….

 

Whoa…wait a minute….I don‘t recall signing up for that! I said I wanted more….but not this! Let’s be honest, you and I want the message without the mess. The victory without the trial. The success without the humble heart. The wisdom without the challenges. God began using this painful time in my life to teach me how to let go of the reigns and trust that He was in control. Still, I couldn’t help but tighten my grip even more. Not this… God…I’ve got this! You can have this area of my life over there- I am not budging on this one! I wanted to take it all back, and run safely back to my comfortable pew. It was like I was standing there, with my knees shaking and toes gripped to the sand not wanting to jump where I couldn’t touch. My Type A personality kicks in and I feel the need to have a grip on these things just in case they get too out of hand. But it was in that moment… I knew… I had to jump in face first and not look back. I knew I couldn’t go back to where I had been safely on that shore. He had brought me too far now. I had to take a deep breath….dive in deep…. and trust Him like never before.

 

God met me where I was at. He carried me… and yet still I continue to struggle daily with my false sense of control. And there my One constant remains, tugging at my heart and breaking away these strongholds that I have built up. Reminding me to let go and trust Him. I am so thankful He did not let me go even when I thought that He wasn’t holding up His end of the deal. That He is a God that can take all of our hurt, disappointment, anger and frustration and uses it to guide us to Him. In fact, He welcomes it. And as I get to know His heart it truly redefines everything. I still don’t know why we don’t have Mills with us here on earth….and probably never will. I am incredibly privileged to see glimpses of His glory through Mills life and how He continues to use Mills story to draw myself as well as others to Him. But I have to TRUST that He is working this all for the good and one day… it will become all clear. It doesn’t take the pain away…but resting in that hope makes all the difference in the world to me.

 

How differently would we face our greatest fears if we truly believed He is good and is on our side? All He asks is that we completely surrender our hearts and expectations of our lives and TRUST that He has the best in store for us…though it may not look the way we anticipate it. In fact, it almost never will…it will be better than you could ever fathom. And as you get to know His heart….you will find that while it is good…..it is also wildly addictive and incredibly captivating…You…my friend, will never be the same..

 

He can only change our lives and make it beautiful when it is no longer ours.

 

 

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It is Well with My Soul

Great word from Elizabeth Brock…

 

I have always said that the week of July 4th is my favorite of the month, but Handy Week runs a close second.  I have a blast listening to music all over town with my family and friends. 

However, one of my favorite nights of this past Handy week was not a Handy event.  On that Thursday night, I went to Clements Baptist Church in Athens to hear a gospel singer named Charles Billingsly.  The music was brilliant, but it was actually through something Billingsly said that God really spoke to my heart.

Billingsly has built his ministry around his voice, so you can imagine his panic when a doctor looked at him and told him that he might never sing again.  Billingsly had a throat condition that required serious surgery.  The night before his surgery, he called together a group of family and friends to sit and pray on his behalf.  The last person to pray approached Billingsly before he started, looked him straight in the eyes, and asked this pivotal question:

“If God chooses not to heal you, and if you can never sing again, will you still love Him? Will you still serve Him?”

When I heard that question, I decided to put it into context for my own life.

Here is an excerpt from my journal entry on the following Friday morning:

Father God, I just want you to know something:  If, for some reason, my hands are amputated and I can never write another word, I will still serve You.  If I am never married or have a family of my own, I will still trust You.  If everyone I love should walk away from me, I will still call You faithful. If things get hard and I become a modern day Job, I will still love You.  Because the truth is, all of those things are extra blessings.  If you had never done anything else for me, dying on the cross for my sin was enough for me to commit to loving and serving You until my dying breath.  The cross was enough.  You are enough for me.

Maybe we all need to take a hard look at the what-ifs in our lives.  Gaze into the beady eyes of the things we fear most and declare that “even-if _____” we will still love and serve the one who saved our souls. 

The last night of Handy week, I went to hear a few musicians play at First Baptist Church.  The theme of their set list was “Hymns of Our Faith.”  They played one of my favorite hymns, and the lyrics go beautifully with what God has taught me this week:  

It Is Well with My Soul:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

 

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

  

Can you sing those words in truth?  Is it well with your soul?

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Where is the Love?

I feel like God has been working on me for this blog post for a long time, but I have been shying away from it.  I don’t like to express my opinion about controversial topics before putting a lot of thought and prayer into what I’m going to say.  Controversial topics are usually controversial because so many people have strong feelings about them.  And I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, but more than that I don’t want to hurt my witness for Christ by saying something that hurts someone.

But God keeps pushing this button with me until I feel like I need to write about this topic.  So, here it goes.

Let’s talk about homosexuality.  I need to preface this blog post by saying that everything that I write today is my own opinion, which is based on my reading and understanding of God’s word.  I am not taking this subject lightly and I pray that God speaks through me instead of allowing my own humanness to take over.

First, let me say that I believe as Christians that we have the responsibility to stand against sin.  We should not allow it into our own lives, into our own homes or into the homes of those people that we love.  When we see other believers who are living in sin, God wants us to gently, quietly and privately (notice those three words – they are important!) bring that sin to their attention.  As Christians we should hold each other accountable for our actions and decisions.  But it is my belief, that is where our responsibility as far as sin is concerned ends.  Sin is God’s territory.

We are not the sin police.  Focusing on eliminating sin from our lives is something that believers do to fine-tune our relationship with Jesus.  We do not have to rid ourselves of sin before coming into a relationship with Him.  What would be the point if we did?

I think that many believers today get so caught up on the sins of non-believers that we are driving people away from the cross.  This has never been more evident than with the subject of homosexuality.  In the last few weeks and months I have heard some things said by my friends and on my Facebook page that make me cringe.  Not because they are wrong, but because they are so insensitive and, I believe, so harmful to our witness for Christ.

Does God see homosexuality as an abomination?  Yes.  Does He condemn this sin and anyone who practices it?  Yes.  Does He warn that His wrath will fall on those who live homosexual lifestyles without repentance?  Yes.

Does God ask His believers to quote these facts to non-believers who live in sin until they have a change of heart and repent?  No.

Our purpose in life after we become Christians is to live our lives in a way that so exemplifies Jesus that people are drawn to us, to God’s love, and give their lives to Him.

God’s intention for our relationships with all people – saved or not, practicing lives of sin or not – is to love one another as He first loved us.  In fact, it is one of the Ten Commandments.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Not, “love your neighbor as yourself as long as they are straight, living a life worthy of God’s love and in all ways easy to love.”

People who practice sin, whether it is homosexuality or gluttony, adultery or thievery, without remorse are one of two things: either they are lost, dying and going to Hell or they are believers who are living so far out of God’s will that they cannot even see how wrong they are.  Either way, what they need from us is not condemnation.  They need unconditional love.  They need Jesus.  And when they find Jesus, He will cleanse them of their sins and show them the way to repentance.  We cannot save them.  We cannot convict them of their sins. We cannot cleanse them.  We cannot force them into repentance.  All we can do is love them and show them the life of Christ in us.  Jesus will do the rest.

Here is the problem with the Christian Holier-Than-Thou type of attitude:  there is a world full of people who are dying without God’s love because those of us who have the keys to salvation won’t give them away to “sinners” like that until they have repented first.  We are standing between a lost world and Jesus holding picket signs rather than open, inviting arms of acceptance and love.

We are all sinners.  There is no one more unworthy than me of God’s love.  The only difference is that I have accepted His grace and I live daily trying to put away the things of this world and take up His example.  Jesus’ example is one of love and compassion.  We should be trying to be more like Jesus every day.  Jesus, who would have dined with a married gay couple and shown them the brokenness of their own lives with the contrasting example of His wholeness.  Would Jesus have brought their sin to their attention?  Most definitely.  Would He have convicted them of their sin and called them to repentance?  Absolutely.  But, then again, He is Jesus.  Our goal is to exemplify His character, not do His job.

So, I’m calling all Christians to a new standard.  When called on to make a decision about what you believe about sin, believe what the Bible says.  Homosexuality is a sin.  So are impure thoughts.  Anybody seen ‘Magic Mike’?

Believe every word of the Bible.  Tell people that you believe that.  But also remember that our purpose in life is not to debate the issues of this world.  God has already said all that needs to be said about every subject that matters.  We are called, not to spout our own opinions and create controversy with our words, but to stand firm in our beliefs and be an example of Jesus.

When you speak against homosexuality, some people will take what you say and twist it and make it into something hateful no matter what you say.  Just ask Dan Cathy, the owner of Chick-fil-A!  We can’t control the world, though.  We just have to believe the truth, and, when called to, speak the truth.  But above all, we should live lives that leave no question about who our Savior is and how much He loves us all – gay or straight, saved or not.

A day of judgment is coming for everyone.  And I pray above all things that there is never a time in my life when I do or say something that leads others astray from God’s love to face His wrath.  We need to remember our purpose in God’s will is to lead others to Him.  He will do the rest of the work in them and in us.

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When We Get Splashed in the Face

This past Saturday my husband, Justin, and I took our daughters to the splash pad for the first time.  Scarlett, our one year old, wanted nothing to do with any of it.  And it took Avy, our two year old, several minutes and much coaxing to get her to go anywhere near anything that even resembled a drop of water.  Finally, though, she did.

She wanted me right beside her, so we held hands and walked tentatively through the splashing water.  If you have never been to a splash pad, let me explain a little about how this works.  There are basically  man-made geysers that shoot straight up into the air at different intervals and then go semi-dormant, just barely bubbling a few inches above the ground before shooting back up at least ten feet in the air.  Well, during one of the sweet little bubbling moments, Avy decided she wanted to touch the water.  You can imagine where this story is going.  She leaned her face directly over the water to get a better look just seconds before it went into full geyser mode.

I, being the dutiful mother that I am, sacrificed myself, my dry hair, my face full of makeup and my fully clothed body onto the shooting water just in the nick of time.  Avy got a little water to the face, but was mostly unaffected.  She didn’t even cry about the little splash she took. 

So, yesterday out of the blue she started talking about the splash pad.  I asked her, “Avy, did you have fun at the splash pad?”  And she said, “Mommy splash Avy face with water.”

I was taken aback and not a little insulted that this was not only the only thing about the splash pad that she remembered, but also that she gave such a biased and incomplete description of what happened.  Justin, of course, thought that was one of the funniest things he had ever heard.

Great story, right?  I bet you’re wondering where I’m going with this.  Here it is…

How many times in my life do I get splashed in the face by a drop of water only because God is laying across the geyser protecting me?  And when that happens, how do I view the situation?

What we usually fail to realize is that God very rarely does things to us.  He is not up there with his fly swatter, smacking us every time we get out of line.  He is, in fact, protecting us in every possible way from the dangers and problems of life.  However, we live in a fallen world.  Sin is rampant, and the consequences of sin – both ours and other people’s – we have to live with. 

Bad things are going to happen.  But when we have Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can be sure that they are not punishment, and that they could probably be so much worse without the protection of Jesus.  We so often forget that no matter how bad something is, it could almost always be worse. 

We cannot see God’s big picture.  He is working in the lives of His children in millions of ways every second, using the good things, designed by Him, and the bad things, that are consequences of sin, for His purpose and His glory.  You can be assured that no matter what has happened to you in the past, God did not do it to you.  Actually, He was probably protecting you from an unspeakable tragedy that you will never even know He sacrificed Himself to protect you from.

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God, help me!

“God, help me!”

How many times have I let out that cry?  In frustration, in fear, in desperation.  Sometimes that is the only cry my heart and mind can produce in the instant that I cry out to God like that.  But then I have a moment of clarity when I regroup and pray more in depth about what is troubling me.  That is because God and I are on a first name basis.  I spend a lot of time in prayer these days.  And more often than not, I spend my prayer time praising and listening to God.

However, there have been times in my life when the only prayer I ever sent up was “God, help me!” or “God, I need something!”  As you can probably imagine, those prayers never got answered.  Not because God didn’t hear me and not because He didn’t care that I needed Him, but because I was asking the wrong question in the wrong way.

Our relationship with God is not about paying our fire insurance to keep us out of Hell.  It is not about presenting our wish list to Him to have our requests granted.  It isn’t even about having an all-powerful God to take our needs to when we have problems.  God loves us.  He made us.  And He wants a real, no-strings-attached kind of relationship with us.  He wants us to know Him intimately, to love Him for the amazing God that He is, to praise Him because He is worthy.  That’s all.

Our needs…our wish list…our desperate prayers for help…none of that is what God is interested in.  Does He hear our prayers?  Yes.  Does He answer our prayers?  Absolutely.  I can give you some very powerful examples of God answering specific prayers in my life.  But if the only prayer you ever pray is “God, help me!”  You can count on it that you probably aren’t getting an answer to that one.

First, because it is too vague.  Even though God knows our needs and our hearts, our prayers should be specific and focused to do the most amount of good.  Second, because God isn’t interested in being your emergency hotline if He isn’t on your speed dial.  He wants a relationship, not an occasional cry of desperation.

Our goal should be to spend so much time with God – in His word and in prayer – to know Him so well that our will is aligned with His.  That way, when we pray, He will always answer our prayers.  After all, if your children only ever asked you for things that were good for them, things that you wanted to give them and had the ability to give them, you would always say yes.

That is what God wants from our prayer life…not for us to ask for our needs and Him supply them, but for us to completely surrender to Him and want what He wants so that He can readily give it to us.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and it is not as easy as it sounds.  We are flawed, human.  But God knows that and He loves us anyway.

So, start wherever you are.  If the only prayer you have sent up lately is “God, help me!”  Try praising Him for a change.  Get to know God, love Him for who He is.  And you will be surprised at how many of your needs He meets just by being close to you.  It is perfectly fine to ask God for help.  But don’t stop with a desperate plea.  Dig into His word, pray diligently and draw close to Him in praise.  Only then will you find the help that you so desperately need from Him.  Only then will your prayer be answered.

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