Posted in discipleship, the cost of discipleship

All or nothing–There is no in-between.

I am in a Precepts study in the second part of the book of Matthew this Spring. There are no more haunting words in the Bible to me than the words of Jesus that talk about us denying Him before men. We live in such a lazily safe culture for meager faith. It costs us basically nothing (save for snickers or arguments) and produces such an anemic faith that cannot even crawl.
Fear captivates our hearts here while in countries where the cost is so great for faith, Followers of Christ move and act in boldness and joy in the midst of harsh suffering. What most of us call a Christian life is not. It is a label of tradition that makes us feel safe and righteous.
What does Jesus say is the mark of one with faith? Matthew lays out to a Jewish audience several things Jesus conveyed. Repentance from sin, humility knowing that we have no resource to bring to God, following after Him and His ways (which include submission, suffering, death), lack of fear, hungering and thirsting for His righteousness, lack of popularity, service, faith, being abandoned by one’s family.

He says:

“you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”M10:22
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” M 10:39
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” M 16:24-26
“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” M 11:6

I do not know about you, but those words are chilling to my bones. This is serious. This is not a half-hearted life Jesus is calling people to. His words leave no room for doubt. Either you follow totally or you don’t. There is no cultural following, no day to day flip-flop, no convenient gospel. It is by His redemption and righteousness that we live in the hope He gives us. We bring nothing to the table (Romans 3), with repentance and faith, he gives us life to live FULLY in Him. We are constantly seeking Him to show us ways in which we need to die to ourselves and live to Him. That is where true life is found.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive article on following Him. My question today is where do you see yourself in the light of these truths? Offended by Him? Self-protective of your rights and what is not fair in your life? Seeking to be admired and praised by men? My prayer is that we examine ourselves in the light of these truths–of what He puts forth, repent of our self-protecting, self-promoting hearts and cling and lean into the righteousness of Christ.

Posted in discipleship, eternal things, God's sovereignty and goodness, infertility, persecution, suffering in joy, the cost of discipleship, trusting God

Living Life…

“Whoever find (her) life will lose it, and whoever loses (her) life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

What does this look like in our day to day life? I am studying Matthew and have been in Matthew 8-10 today. I am reminded again about the cost of discipleship. We are not promised anything different than our Master, Jesus. Let’s evaluate His life…he was popular with the masses when He was healing, casting out demons, forgiving sins (the “what can we get from this” philosophy). He reached out to the forsaken and foreign and sick (place any name here that might cost you to reach out to:)–including us–hello!). He was homeless (we are aliens/strangers in the world–this is not our home). Then, He was rejected in His hometown (hmmm–I have been rejected by those who claim to be on the same side as me). The religious leaders of the day hated Him because of His message and compassion (standing for truth is not popular–nor does it tickle the ears of self-righteous men or women). He was tortured, killed and as an innocent man punished with God’s wrath for His enemies (our) sins (In our freedom in Him, He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him). He teaches that His message will divide families and that our love for them is not to overshadow our love and devotion to Him.

A few months ago, I memorized Phil 3:7-11.

‘But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as RUBBISH, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurection, and may share his sufferings , becoming like him in his death that by any means possible I may attain the resurection from the dead.’

I struggled mightily with that last sentence–memorizing in my heart to really mean it. The power and the resurection part–yeah…on board. The sharing in his sufferings and becoming like him in his death–that’s where the big crowds for healing and forgiveness leave–including me. This all hinges on the ‘surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.’ When we KNOW him for who he really is–we count everything as loss. We are ready to lose our lives here–reputation, status, things, vanity, dreams, self-righteousness, family–because we see his surpassing worth and an eye for eternity with him. This life is a blip, but oh how I treat it as the end all, be all. IT. IS. NOT.
The Spirit has spoken through the Word–take up your cross (die to yourself) and follow me. He is a good shepherd who has compassion and mercy like no other. He takes my dreams and rearranges them and breaks me of my blinded will to weave a tapestry of beauty that points to Him. He says,

“Jennifer, die to the American dream of being comfortable, of having kids to build your life around, of fixing your kingdom here in houses that fade, and of spending on momentary pleasures. Look at the bigger picture. I have created you to be a light for Me–for My glory. Do you know what a privilege that is? Do not cry over scraps of this life when I have called you to the surpassing worth of knowing My Son, peace that passes all your understanding–that fills more than good food, wine, new outfits, awards, attention for beauty, entertainment, accolades for ministry. Your momentary tears will be dried, and you will spend eternity in joy and fellowship and great treasures in Me. You do not have any idea, my daughter–no idea. For this time, I teach you patiently–again and again of My worth. I teach you to die to You and live to Me. My good really is your good–surrender, my child. For in surrendering to Me, you will find All–real life, true life, abundant life. This will look so different to the world–foolish–something to be pitied. Don’t worry about what they think–fear Me–the Almighty God, Creator of this Universe, the One who holds the keys of Heaven and Hell. I have got you–proclaim the life in Me.”

So, today, I surrender. And, I pray for the strength to do so tomorrow. I am weak–but in my weakness, I pray that He make me strong in Him. I pray the same for you.

Posted in discipleship, infertility, thankfulness, Women's Discipleship Concepts

A little get-away…

I have been absent from blogging life this past month with my in-laws visiting, WDC stuff, helping friends, and overall busyness. Because I am linked to Jacob and Beth Winn’s blog about their twins, more and more people I know have been reading and learning about what is going on in my life. That is a little intimidating to say the least. I try to be open, but I do not know if people know how to deal with that very well:). I have had several conversations about the blog with many women around our church over the last month. So many have been heartfelt in their concern and love. I do appreciate the prayers of so many in dealing with issues of infertility and simply life as a woman.
Infertility has had a loud voice in life lately, and I got a great break from that as I took 3 young women with me to the beach. It was a WDC trip–now an annual one per Liz’s suggestion. Three girls went that did not know each other very well (if at all), and we had laughter, stories, silliness, questions, conversations about marriage and struggles and the past and the future. It was a great time of being together, cooking together, playing games together, getting creeped out by sea creatures together. These girls and their laughter were a salve in my heart that has felt like an empty hole has been shot through it dealing with infertility. In fact, I did not even think about it (except for when the conversation came up). We all need retreats away from life with those who are in Christ. Even though I was technically in charge, I was relaxed and grateful for the time with them. I feel like they got to know me in a way that may not be possible over coffee and Bible study. And I certainly got to see their day to day habits and how each of them were hilarious in their own way. This 34 year old got an education in many things from 21 and 22 year olds.
Again, I see how thankful I am for WDC and the wonderful opportunities for discipleship and relationship that God has provided in a special time. It is worth every moment to serve and love on these girls. I know I would not have the fullness of this opportunity if I had two to three kids right now. Thank you to all who give to WDC and pray monthly–you are making a difference in the lives of young women.

Posted in discipleship, God's sovereignty and goodness, grace, spiritual growth, the gospel, Uncategorized

blooming fruit

This past week I have been in Chicago with Greg and Rick and Teresa Dunn for the Gospel Coalition conference, and then I trecked over to Memphis for Tiffany and Chris Leuck’s wedding. It has been a FULL week, but it has been a blessing.
As I looked out at my backyard this morning, I noticed that growth exploded all over it–from an 8 ft poison ivy vine to new grass to old grass that is shaggy:). In one week’s time, everything has changed. What was once cold, brown and bare for months is now teeming with life and growth.

As I thought on that, I remembered the wedding this weekend. I began discipling Tiffany a little over a year and a half ago. She was extremely new in the faith not really understanding what all had happened to her. I was learning how to do this discipleship stuff, and in essence, we learned to walk together. As the last few months have passed, I have seen such wisdom and growth in Tiff. She began leading others in the fall, and is always reaching out to others. The word (the Bible) comes from her lips and is transforming her heart and relationships. Even on Easter, she was in a video which clearly articulated her testimony to the glory of God. This was your typical party girl who looked for life and meaning in everything but Jesus…dead in her transgressions. Our precious Savior, raised her to life and gave her a new heart, put his Spirit in her, gave her new eyes and ears, gave her new desires, and presented her with hope now and in eternity with Christ.

Mary Claire, Jen, Leah and Jenny
Mary Claire, Jen, Leah and Jenny

As I sat at the rehearsal dinner, I looked on Chris who had been saved from himself in Christ about a year before Tiffany. I heard their friends speak of how their relationships with Chris and Tiff–the conversations about Christ and their love had been used by the Spirit to awaken them to salvation. These were lives that had seen an about face in the last few years–I am sure it was confusing to those who had known them all their lives. The gospel was clearly proclaimed at the rehearsal dinner…I was a teary mess. I got to witness Chris’ dad speak about both of his boys who had repented and come to Christ in the last few years–we are talking miraculous, no hope situations. His parents had shown grace and prayed and trusted through some VERY dismal heartbreaking times with their sons. Of course, that led me to greater tears as I thought what joy was in his parent’s hearts as they thought about God’s faithfulness.
Now, as I think about the explosion of growth in my backyard, I think about the fruit God has brought in these lives–not just salvation but sanctification…discipleship of others, and the hope of glorification in the end with Christ forever. Sometimes in the Christian subculture you are innoculated to the desperate need for Christ. For some reason, we think it is something we have done instead of the sole work of Christ graciously bringing us to life. We forget the gospel, and we live a life of sanitized works. Yuck. Yet, there was urgency in the room with those who had come to Christ because they know the old life quite well…they delight in the opportunity to share the good news. That was the greatest gift to me this weekend–to see that.
The privilege of meeting good friends of theirs that I had heard of and maybe known to say hi was coupled with deep conversations and love in the body. I am physically exhausted this week, but I am full of joy that God has given me the privilege of walking with Tiff and Chris. May the Lord bless their ministry in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi.
I am reminded that there may be times that look dismal and dead and like the winter with no buds or growth. However, with God, nothing is impossible–that means no person is an impossibility for his grace to awaken. Months and years of pouring into someone and entrusting them to Christ when it looks like winter will one day possibly have the shoots of spring and the explosion of summer. I am sure Chris’ parents prayed and prayed and loved and spoke truth to their sons in many a winter. This is a picture of trusting God and not giving up. This is a picture of remembering his faithfulness.
Jesus said “I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5
“The One who calls us is faithful and he will do it!” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Posted in discipleship, God's word, grace, marriage, prayer, spiritual growth, suffering in joy, the gospel, trusting God

Am I going to throw up, nope, I just have to speak in front of people.

      Last night, I had the opportunity to stand before over 300 young women and talk with them about walking with God in the midst of the curse (of sin in Genesis 3).  My heart is still beating hard as I think back on it…

      At Crossroad, our city-wide college/young adult service at Fellowship Church in Knoxville, Greg is doing a series on the curse for girls only and for guys only.  He asked me in the middle of this week to share what it is to walk faithfully in the midst of the hardness of life (marriage, etc).  At first, I panicked thinking about the deep well of emotion that I have built up by walking through some of the hardships in my life.  I have been known to boo-hoo in front of crowds while sharing, so the fear of that drove me to cautiously say…” maybe.”  However, by the end of the week, I had thought about it and stepped out to do it.  

      The last 3 1/2 years of life have definitely been the hardest but the most fruitful…and a lot of those hardships have hit from the curse of sin–struggles in marriage (which is the consequence of sin), the death of my father (illness and death in itself is the consequence of sin), job direction (toil and unfufillment–consequence of sin), and the theme of infertility (pain in childbearing, having, rearing, etc is the consequence of sin).  I had so much I could have said, and, of course, I am probably my worst critic (unless I get a scalding email today from an equally harsh critic:)).  

     Though the curse is quite evident in everyday life, the good news is the gospel is more powerful and is the ultimate reality.  The gospel reminds me that I am God’s by the blood of Christ…I am forgiven and in relationship with the creator, sustainer, redeemer, and gardener of my soul (and this world).  God is at work in my heart and my husband’s heart to make us more like Him.  The kicker with the curse is that we women want to be in charge and not wait on God or our husbands.  Greg said something last night that is so true:  “Women are much more spiritually sensitive.”  Time and time again, I talk to my girlfriends or women that I meet with, and they say “I wish my husband would step up and lead–he is so passive.”  We all begin to make assumptions about the hearts of men around us, and then we begin to trust ourselves instead of God.  We think, “well, since nobody else is standing up to lead, I guess I will.  I mean, am I the only one astute enough to get it done?”  This feeds into the curse–we want to devour or rule over our husbands and ignore God’s ways.  The truth of the matter is that we want what we want and do not trust God.  The truth of the matter is that we forget the very heart and grace of God toward us through the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

      A few practices I have learned in trusting God in the midst of living under the curse:

1)  His word changes my heart.  Being in His word–memorizing, reading, studying, meditating, turns my heart away from worshipping myself and my comfort to look into His life changing grace.  There are days when I want to tell Greg off or burrow in self-pity at whatever frustration or situation that I am in, and then, truth hits me in the heart and I am changed.  We cannot survive without His life-changing truth–and we certainly cannot grow without it!

2)  Prayer is essential.  I have learned that I do not change situations or hearts.  I used to think a poignant speech or manipulative actions would bring about change in someone, but that is not true.  The only changer of hearts is the Holy Spirit.  Also, it is tempting to pray merely for things for Greg or others that would change their actions or hearts to bring me comfort.  I think what that is termed is manipulation of God.  I’m pretty sure that is despicable.  The Spirit is always teaching me and correcting me to pray for the hearts of others–that they may repent and cling to Jesus, that they may stop striving by running after other things and trust God fully and know Him fully.  The reality is when others are changed in that way, I may not get my “way,” but the ultimate good and the ultimate fulfillment comes.   I also pray that I find everything in Jesus–resting in Him, trusting Him and being transformed by Him (1 Thessalonians 4:3–His will is for us to become more like Him–and He rested, trusted, loved and worshipped God with everything–John 15).   When I deal with people that I disciple or counsel, this is essential–prayer for their hearts and God’s work in them.  Otherwise, I am wasting my time and theirs.

3)  Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing.  There are times in my life that I just cannot keep my mouth shut.  I think I can solve things by telling people what to do.  I think, again, that I can manipulate.  And, I probably like the sound of my own voice:).  I have learned that even though I may be right that my motives may be far from right.  My heart may long to be served and worshipped by that other person (many times Greg) instead of bringing God love and glory.  There are definite times to push in and talk about issues, but more often than not, I need to drop to my knees and relinquish control to the One who is in control.

4)  Act in the Grace of the Gospel.  In remembering daily who I am in Christ, how can I hold things against Greg or others.  His grace toward me is unmerited favor, and His Spirit resides in me with power to walk in righteousness.  When I rest in that fact and see my own sin toward God and his abundant grace, I look at others differently.  Their offense towards me does not seem so monumental.  The fact that Greg ignored my needs or hurt my feelings or the fact that life seems overwhelmingly unfair, seems to fade in the light of the gospel.  In the truth of the gospel and the power of the Spirit, I learn to die to self and love others in grace and forgiveness.  This short paragraph makes it seems so neat and tied with a bow–but there is wrestling in my heart in this.  This is a choice that I have to make at every offense, and it is a choice that I ignore at times.

5)  Surround yourself with friends who sharpen and be a friend who sharpens.  We can all find friends who complain and who do not share truth, but look for the jewel and be the jewel that sharpens others toward the gospel, love and good deeds.

6)  Perservere!  Do not just fill up with these steps once…we need this daily!  Let not the things of this earth ever sway me–I’ll run til I finish the race by the grace of Jesus Christ.

Posted in discipleship, grace, New year, prayer, spiritual growth, the gospel, transformation by truth

I’m back…

     Well, I am not back in the exact frame of mind I was hoping for.  When I took the “break” for December I imagined coming back invigorated and refreshed to hit the ground running in 2009.  Funny how the best laid plans come up short.  I had slated a break from all things WDC for December, but because of some things with my lawyer, that did not happen.  I did give my brain a rest from study specifically for WDC for a few weeks, and we did have a good week in Texas with Greg’s family.  I tried to relax last week.  This past month has been challenging in a few ways with the consequence being loss of sleep.  For a stretch of days, I saw many more infomercials than I ever cared to see:).   (I am strangely drawn to the Sham-wow, for those of you who have seen that one.)

       As I was praying this morning, I was reminded that in literally EVERY area of my life, I desperately need to rely on and remain in God.  I know God is sovereign over all things…including my last month.  He has taught me and disciplined me with his love in the midst of sadness, frustration, bad moods, joys, traffic jams, consumerism, laughter, laziness, worry, and glory in his birth and death and resurrection.  I have to relearn his glorious gospel of grace everyday.  I also have to relearn that He is gracious on a scale that I cannot comprehend.  Always, I come to Him trying to make it up to him…pay penance or something, and always, I am reminded that he does not work that way because of the blood of Jesus Christ.  So, I start this day as I start this year…weak, needy, frustrated, and desperately seeking my Father.  Though painful at times, this is the best place to be.  For when I feel on top of things, I inevitably forget the very One for which I am made and redeemed to bring glory.  

      On a much lighter note, I have made one New Year’s resolution:  making my bed everyday.  I know that fits in with the developmental scale for a 3rd grader, but I missed that goal a long time ago.  I have done it 5 for 5, and I am proud.

Posted in advent, discipleship, eternal things, idols, self-absorption, sin, spiritual growth, suffering in joy, transformation by truth, trusting God

swirling thoughts

My prayer for today–also the words to a song:

‘Spirit, now living and dwelling within me, keep my eyes fixed ever on Jesus face.

Let not the things of this world ever sway me.

I’ll run ’til I finish the race…’

      These words encapsulate a theme swirling through my head and heart.  The questions at the forefront of my mind:  How can I continue to grow so much in selfishness?   How do I behold Christ and worship the Father with heart, soul, mind and strength through every thought, word, action, purchase, and decision when my culture and my adulterous heart subtly lull me to be enticed by worthless idols?   I am so easily pacified by worthless things.  Comfort becomes the end to which I strive–financial comfort, marital comfort, physical comfort, ministerial comfort.  This morning as I prayed, I confessed that so many times I use God as a rabbit’s foot…”hey, could you do this just enough so I can feel good and be comfortable and then go away?”  How I prostitute my heart to lesser glories–not lasting and certainly not knowing the greatest treasure of all–intimacy with Christ.  

     Yesterday we sang a song that I have sung seemingly a billion times.  One phrase haunted me ‘all of you is more than enough for EVERY thirst and EVERY need–you SATISFY me with your love.’  There have been times in my life where I have been satisfied by nothing else but His love–nothing else.  As I sang, I was convicted that I was relying on lesser things.  I longed for the times of intensity where I had to rely totally on Him (I was also scared half to death longing for those times because they were circumstantially exhausting).   Waning consumer satisfaction is what I am used to–eat this to feel good, attempt this goal to feel good, buy this for yourself or someone else to nurse the ache in your heart, change a room around to feel better about the void in your heart, look good on the outside to forget about the inside.  (The list is practically endless.)  The sick thing is that this is the easy out that people give.  Have you ever heard:  this has been a hard week, you deserve to relax…why don’t you…go out to eat, go buy something for yourself, go do something for yourself, have a few drinks, etc?   When I am meeting with someone in a disciple-making relationship, the temptation is to dole out that advice because it is easy–especially when I want to be liked for my own comfort.  However, that advice is so deadly–it is a lie, counterfeit joy.  The greatest satisfaction comes from knowing God and going to the depths with him.  The greatest satisfaction is to share our hearts in surrender getting past the surface of ourselves and knowing the absolute beauty of why we were created–to behold his glory.  I know that sounds trite or less than interesting to the heart when we are thinking about us, but going there with him is a deep gutteral lasting satisfaction.  He created us and everything in the world–does the creator not know what satisfies our hearts?  This takes commitment and perseverance  to continually lay down ourselves and trust in him.

     As God was working in me yesterday and today to bring me to this conviction, yet again, I picked up a book that my friend, Laura, gave to me a couple of months ago.  The book is called Five Who Changed the World by Daniel Akin.  It is a collection of five sermons about the lives of five foreign missionaries.  Tears came to my eyes and my heart was turned and awakened to greater treasures than the temporal things that tempt me.  So many times we are presented with theories of what we should be and live and do in Christ, but these were fresh, true biographical stories of giving up the temporal for the eternal treasure of Christ.  John Piper and others have also written biographies of the lives of those who lived fully in Christ.  Oh, how much you and I need to be reminded of what it means to live lives of abandon to Him.

    Now, secretly, I think every girl has this fear in her heart of being called to be single and serve as a missionary in China or some tribal land forgotten by God, but I was reminded of what was the heart of the issue in reading this book last night and this morning.  Each of these people were no more righteous or sacrificial than you or I in nature.  The theme of their lives seemed to be that they longed to know and treasure Christ more than anything.  The more they saw God for who He is, the more they longed more for Him.  The sacrifice that to you or I seems incomprehensible was not because it was about Him and not them.  They were each aware of their sin and aware of his holiness.  They also were aware of the state of the human soul apart from God.  They loved people because they realized His love for them.  Their main thrust or worship was of Him and not their husband or wife or family (and, yes, some had these).  The loss and the lack of human comfort in their lives was a stark contrast to our American culturized Christianity.  Whether serving in the 1800’s or 1900’s, these missionaries pointed out the counterfeit that each American was living when getting lulled to sleep in their comfort.  The prayers of Jim Elliot to know Christ–wow.

     In the land of plenty–yes, even in recession, do you know what I see?  A wasteland of spiritual poverty where we prostitute ourselves to so much lesser, temporal desires than living in abandon to know the One who brings us ALL we ever need–a deep soul quenching satisfaction from knowing Him and making Him known.  I am studying Hosea with Laura, and it is ripe with the imagery of adultery, prostitution and whoring, as the ESV states it, of the hearts of the people to false gods and idols.  They were completely about themselves, and yet, God was faithful.  He was warning of his discipline and he brought it.  The fruition of their prostitution was brought to them–yet he was also faithful to bring Christ–the end in which all hope rests.  Why are we playing the whore today when we have so much more than the people of Israel did–the fruition of Christ and his work on the cross?  In this season of celebrating THE HOPE of Christ’s birth, may you and I examine our hearts and repent and cling to His glorious purpose–our glorious hope.