where is the love, oh Christian?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our responsibility as Christ-followers to love the world around us. I’ve also been thinking about what true joy looks like in the life of a believer.

I get so confused when I meet people who claim to follow Christ, but who never smile, go out of their way to love, or have any kind of joy. It actually really bothers me. My friend asked me the other day: “Are some Christians just like that naturally, and others are not?”

It was a great question. I think yes, it has to do with personality- some display it more clearly, but I also think there is something more to why joy might be lacking.

I’m not saying I always have a smile on my face, am a joyful person, or love people all the time (just get to know me personally and you’ll surely see my off days) but overall, I hope and pray that people see a joy radiating within me, that only Christ can give. That they see a love and joy that is contagious even in my imperfections.

If we’ve been called to love the world, can that happen apart from joy? I mean, there needs to be some kind of joy in our lives to love well, right? Otherwise, I think the danger of loving people out of duty instead of delight creeps in and that’s a bad place to be.

Are you ever bothered by “Christians” who lack genuine love and joy in their life?

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How it feels to finally be Debt Free!

a bumper sticker I dig

I’ll have to take you back to the beginning in 2008 when my mom encouraged made a deal with Jeremiah and I that if we took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University for 12 weeks that she and my dad would help pay for Jeremiah’s seminary education. We knew she was serious and who wouldn’t take up that kind of offer? So, we enrolled in the class at a local church with $45,000 in Debt– credit cards, student loans, 2 car payments, and more. During our first class, we found out that our debt surprisingly lined up with the average American’s debt.

Throughout each week, Dave Ramsey’s principles blew our mind. We started to see where we had been foolish and honestly hadn’t been living by God’s word in the area of finances. We started with the lowest amount of debt first and worked our way up. We cut up our credit cards (scary but it felt great!), Put $1,000 in our emergency fund as Dave says to do and starting building our savings. Most importantly, we got on a budget/spending plan. Even though we failed at it at times (and still do), we had a target to shoot for and we finally had control of our finances, rather than our finances controlling us.

We ate out less, didn’t really buy clothes, had a grocery limit, sold stuff, held garage sells, sold a car, didn’t buy unnecessary stuff and before we knew it, we were chipping away at our debt incredibly fast. We even had a baby and didn’t go into debt doing it because we saved, saved, saved!

Now two years later, we are proud to say that we are DEBT FREE!

The feeling is surreal still because for so long we weren’t truly free in that area and it impacted our marriage. But now we are and it’s our desire to encourage others out there who feel like it’s impossible. So many people encouraged us along the way and most importantly, God gave us the grace we needed to persevere and follow his plan.

I wrote a few posts a while back about our journey here and here and here and several more under the Finance category on this blog if you’d like to check those out.

While we’ve actually been debt free for about 3 months now, I can say that managing finances will always be a battle and we will never arrive, but I’m so thankful that our eyes have been opened and that above all, we are learning to better steward what we’ve been given because all that we have is a gift from God in the first place.

Thank you for sharing in our joy today!

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Dream a little Dream

I was recently asked by my friend Abby to be her writing mentor as she’s in the process of writing a family-focused small group curriculum for I am Second as part of her internship at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Last night, over tea at Starbucks, we had our first meeting to talk about writing. It was exciting to dream about what her curriculum could like before it’s even fleshed out on paper. But it was more exciting to dream about something that has great potential to impact a lot of people.

I left our meeting encouraged and excited for Abby’s project. And I was reminded that I am definitely a dreamer. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t dream about something that is sparked in my thoughts, something from music, a movie, conversation, God’s word, or a book. I believe God gives us dreams for a reason. I believe he plants certain desires within us and that some of those desires we will never escape because they are directly from Him.

I think it’s also natural to get frustrated when we don’t see those dreams come to fruition, but yet we still believe that some day they will happen. We believe that God wants to do something in us that is much greater than ourselves.

My prayer is that Abby’s dreams for this curriculum will be fulfilled above and beyond what she imagines.

Do you consider yourself a dreamer? Or have any specific dreams? If you go first, I’ll tell you  some of mine.

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How to depend on God’s grace

Kauai, Hawaii

On our honeymoon four and a half years ago, Jeremiah and I went on a hike via horseback throughout the lush terrain of Kauai, Hawaii. Mid way through the excursion, we planted ourselves at a waterfall to get water, rest, and eat sandwiches. After our bellies were full, we jumped into the water and swam up to the waterfall. We climbed to the rocks behind it and sat still for a few minutes, refreshed by the waterfall and refreshed in our new union.

Lately, I’ve been picturing that waterfall like God’s Grace. So constant. Abundant. Energizing. A beautiful downpour.

And I’ve never seen it quite like this before. When I could be headed down a dangerous path, God’s grace somehow sustains me. When I don’t deserve certain gifts, grace keeps me.

I think when we realize that God’s grace is always available, we stop trying to do “good” works all the time and we depend on him. We see that He’s not in heaven throwing lighting bolts down into our living room. We don’t have to earn his favor. We don’t have to live life chained to bad habits, addictions, or lies. We have his grace to draw from and to help us where we are weak.

Here are some practical ways I’ve been trying to depend on God’s grace:

  • When I’m impatient with my son’s fits or actions – I remember that God is working patience within me and it doesn’t come over night. God is teaching me in the same way I’m teaching my son.
  • When my tone is critical or harsh towards my husband– I remember that I’ve grown leaps and bounds in this and it will be a process of sanctification and a willingness to obey God’s Word instead of go off my feelings.
  • When I don’t love people well in my thoughts or actions– God loves me still, gives me the opportunity to repent, confess that sin to others, seek reconciliation, and do things different next time.
  • When I don’t love God the way I should by spending time with Him– He reminds me of where I’m wavering and that he is better than life itself and gives me the desire to open his word and enjoy him.

To sit under the waterfall of grace, there is no place on earth like it because it changes the way you see everything and most importantly the way you view God. You can be encouraged that he won’t give up on you and will sustain you until the end.

What do you appreciate most about grace?

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Danielle on “The Radical Life”

Danielle wrote an article called “The Radical Life” that’s featured over on Ungrind and I’ve found great encouragement in it today. Maybe you’ve also struggled with how life can seem so mundane when it comes to nursing, caring for, and raising your own children when well, you could be on some great adventure somewhere else! Here are a few snippets from Danielle’s article:

I longed for more “productive” things I could be doing other than spending every few hours feeding my boys. My Type A personality could barely stand all the time I was “wasting” by sitting around all day on the couch nursing.

One day God spoke to my heart and showed me that although I’d longed to glorify God on the mission field, I wasn’t seeking to glorify Him at home. He impressed on me that caring for my babies’ daily needs was the specific way I could glorify Him in this season of life.

I now see God was gracious to show me how selfish I was and I know this was just the beginning of rooting out selfishness in the journey of motherhood.

Even though God hasn’t led me to the foreign mission field to start orphanages, He’s taught me how to glorify Him in my own home.

Check out the whole article on Ungrind.

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a deeper Prayer life

When I was getting ready this morning and realized it was the National Day of Prayer, I couldn’t stop thinking about the prayers my Mom has prayed for me all my life.

“When you were born,” she would say… “I started praying that God would bring you a godly husband.”

Now almost five years into marriage, I can see why she prayed that. The decision to marry Jeremiah has profoundly impacted my life. He has been right there with my mom when it comes to the most influential person in my life and faith.

I’m not sure what my life would look like today without my mom’s prayers. I credit so much to them.

Then I started to think about my own prayer life. Who am I praying for and with on a regular basis? How am I doing in humbling myself and truly depending on Christ for every need I have? Why am I such a slacker at it?

Prayer has never come easy for me. I know that it’s the essence of my faith in Christ. It’s knowing him more and allowing him to change me, not just circumstances. It’s getting rid of self, to pray for others. But a lot of my prayers are on the go, in the car, or with Jeremiah at night. And I want more than that.

And I know it’s up to me to discipline myself in it, not because of duty, but because I delight in all that Christ is.

Whose prayers are you grateful for? Are you reminded of anything on this National Day of Prayer?

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Newest Bible Studies: Prodigal Perspectives, Keep Climbing, & Why Jesus?

One thing I love about being a writer for our Bluefish TV Bible studies is the faith journey I get to take in the process of writing. It’s often that I’m experiencing something on the topic I have to write about (crazy how that works out).

Prodigal Perspectives with Chris Seay is a study that blew me away in the process of writing. I had never truly studied the Parable of the Prodigal Son within its proper context and culture. I was amazed at how in my life, I have been both the elder son and the younger son and that I’m in desperate need of the Father and his grace. The dramatic monologues performed by actor Jason Hildebrand are so powerful. This study is my favorite this year. You’ll have to take a look at the trailer to see what I mean (click on the purple title).

Keep Climbing with Todd Phillips. In the time-frame I had to write the leader’s guide, I was going through a few mountains of my own in life: my Dad’s surgery on his brain tumor and the difficulties of being sleep deprived with a newborn baby while being heavily involved in full-time ministry, work, and my husband’s schooling. It was neat to see how God helped use what I was going through to write the study. I’m not so sure I could have written it the same without going through those trials.

Why Jesus? with David Nasser is a study that David himself wrote and that myself and our publisher Jackie edited. It was filmed on the streets of Israel and answers the tough questions people about Jesus and why they should follow him. I don’t really have words to describe this study because it’s just so amazing.

It’s rare that really any of our team knows the exact impact that our work has on people’s lives, but that’s probably a good thing. The impact is up to God. It’s his kingdom and his work. We just get to be a part of it. And that is what makes it all so awesome.

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Why we need new Church plants in America

I found this video yesterday through my friend Jaime. She and her husband Mark are planting a new church in Arlington, VA. I found John Piper’s statements to be timely and right on the mark. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve ran into here in Dallas, Texas (aka “the Bible Belt”) who are un-churched, de-churched, or have been burned by the church.

I think it’s time for many of us to pray about planting new churches. Jeremiah and I are in that process as we finish out his degree in the next two years and pray about starting a new church (somewhere in America!) along with a core group of like-minded people.

Do any thoughts come to your mind about the state of churches in America today?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lzXuMCeleA]

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Consumerism and the American Dream

To help people trade in the pursuit of the American Dream for a world that desperately needs Christ.

This is the mission statement behind the work I do every day for RightNow, Bluefish TV, and Small Group Trader.

Our passion is to create Traders. A trader is a new kind of missionary not defined by geography but by a resolve to: Choose Daily, Hate Injustice, Work as Worship, and Act Swiftly by using his or her time, skills and money to impact the world for Christ.

Our 3 strategies for making traders is to inspire church leaders, transform small groups, and coach individuals.

As a writer and editor on our team for our Bible study curriculum, articles, and more, my role in our ministry is fleshed out mainly in inspiring church leaders and transforming small groups. I have to tell you though that every day, I’m challenged and inspired by our mission here. In a culture that is all about consumerism, self-focused leadership, and “what’s in it for me?” (yep in church culture too), I’ve been challenged to really consider what the American Dream means in my personal life.

The truth is that the American Dream was once about opportunity, but it has evolved into a “more” and “me” way of life. More house, more car, more money, more everything. And I have to regularly ask myself, do those things control me? Even in the smaller things like getting a Starbucks drink, buying clothes, or household things, I’m becoming more aware of my motives and realizing that sometimes I just buy things because I can or maybe even because I feel entitled to.

But through a process, I really desire change and to trade in those pursuits in order to give my life away for the sake of other people and for the gospel. And this is no easy task because I’m so s-e-l-f-i-s-h and sometimes I love my agenda more than people. I think when we truly grasp all that is at stake when we cling tightly to the American Dream, our lives are changed and we can’t go back. And life is just too short to live it for ourselves.

Over the past few years, my husband and I have both traded in time, comfort, and sleep to provide meals and community activities to our apartment residents every week and through that experience, I learned more than ever what it means to trade in my life. Since I’ve tasted what being a trader is about, I don’t really want to live life any other way. But I recognize I will always need God’s help in order to be a trader.

Have you thought about the idea of being a “trader”? Are you trading in anything right now or would like to in the future?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nql4hb9G3Ns&feature=player_embedded]

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Thoughts on Jennifer Knapp’s Interview

There has been a lot going on in my heart since I read Christianity Today’s interview with Jennifer Knapp. I have felt sadness, compassion, anger, confusion, and disappointment. One thing that I can’t escape thinking about is a question that Matt Chandler asks in a lot of his interviews and sermons: “Where is the fight against sin?”

I think we often forget that we’re in a battle against our own flesh. Not just the world and culture, but the sinful lusts and desires that rage within us. Francis Chan has also spoken lately about the “middle road” that so many Christians have created, neglecting to follow the narrow road of Christ… “If I can just follow some of Jesus’ words, then I can do whatever else I want…”

As followers who love the Lord, we’re called to follow even the HARD words of Jesus like denying self and getting rid of the sin and filth within us (James 1:21). We can’t lie and say that his words are easy, and we don’t have the right to pick and choose what we want to follow.

Will we struggle with sin? As long as we’re breathing we will, but our desire won’t be to live in that sin as a continuing lifestyle void of confession, repentance, or “struggling well.”

There is so much to Jennifer’s story than I will ever know or need to know, but from what I do know that I did not see in her interview with Christianity Today, is a fight against that sin. There was an acceptance of it. And that makes me sad. I want to see her make war with it.

So I guess my next response in all this is to look in the mirror and make sure I’m really engaged in the daily battle against my flesh.

Did you read the article? What are your thoughts on the recent news?

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