life without fear?

29_NewsPGMPHovIn less than one month, my brother-in-law Paul who is a Navy Chaplain will get on a plane and head to Afghanistan to serve our country. He will say goodbye to my sister and four-year-old nephew for six whole months. Because of what’s going on over there, I have my share of worries and fears when it comes to Paul’s safety and God’s sovereignty.

But I’ve been encouraged today in reading Chapter 1 of Max Lucado’s new book Fearless. I downloaded the PDF off of The Fearless Times, a site that’s all about the book and is a great marketing tool for it.

In almost 25 years of writing, more than 65 million books filled with Max Lucado’s words have been sold. Max is so gifted when it comes to words that you’d think he was Jesus. But he’s not. He’s a human being with fears just like you and me.

Here are some of my favorite lines from Ch. 1 that I hope will tease you into heading over there and reading it for yourself:

“Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors.”

“Christ-followers contract malaria, bury children, and battle addictions, and, as a result, face fears. It’s not the absence of storms that sets us apart. It’s whom we discover in the storm; an unstirred Christ.”

“Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. We begin to wonder if love lives in heaven. If God can sleep in our storms, if his eyes stay shut when our eyes grow wide, if he permits storms after we get on his boat, does he care? Fear unleashes a swarm of doubts, anger-stirring doubts.”

“And fear feels dreadful. It sucks the life out of the soul, curls us into an embryonic state, and drains us dry of contentment. We become abandoned barns, rickety and tilting from the winds, a place where humanity used to eat, thrive, and find warmth. No longer. When fear shapes our lives, safety becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the risk-free life.”

“If we medicate fear with angry outbursts, drinking binges, sullen withdrawals, self-starvation, or viselike control, we exclude God from the solution and exacerbate the problem. We subject ourselves to a position of fear, allowing anxiety to dominate and define our lives. Joy-sapping worries. Day-numbing dread. Repeated bouts of insecurity that petrify and paralyze us. Hysteria is not from God. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear” (2 Tim. 1:7).

I have always loved 2 Timothy 1:7 in that fear is not from God. Fear can make us do all kinds of crazy things.

As we get closer to Paul’s deployment, I know that God wants me to continue to trust that he’s in control and he’s directing Paul’s path no matter where he goes. The issue isn’t really about Paul going to a dangerous place, but whether I will trust and have faith in God that He is good and is sovereign over everything in life.

Savoring Solitude

1150829_algarrobo_beach_2Before we left on Friday for a Labor Day weekend getaway, the one thing I needed more than anything else was rest and solitude time away from the busyness and baseline stress that comes with living in a big city… and that comes from life in general.

As we drove into the wide open spaces, I felt my burdens lifted away. Jeremiah blasted the radio and rolled the windows down. John loved the breeze against his face. We sang, laughed, and talked. It was just the beginning of our journey to getting refreshed and encouraged again.

All throughout the gospels Jesus withdrew in solitude away from the crowds and the disciples to be renewed in his relationship with God:

“At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them” (Lk. 4:42).

“Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him” (Mk. 4:36).

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Lk. 5:16)

Knowing that Jesus did this often, speaks volumes to me. How can I expect to live life apart from being alone with God- just me and him? How can I expect to love others well if I don’t separate myself from people from time to time? How can I expect to be renewed by staying in the same place day in and day out without ever getting away? A few things I’ve noticed when I choose not to withdraw to my “lonely place” is:

1.) I worry, worry, worry

2.) I’m not sensitive to God’s leading in my life

3.) I carry stress and don’t easily serve others

4.) I don’t share the gospel and what God is doing in my life

5.) I am mean and sin more

It’s crazy to think that choosing not to withdraw has led to those things in my life, but it makes total sense. Solitude time is examining life, confessing sin, being refueled in God’s word, and most of all resting in Christ for his strength. Life is just too hard not to make room for his presence in my life.

While I’m far from being perfect, a few practical things have helped me when it comes to making solitude time:

1.) I write it on my to-do list. Since most of the time, I get done what’s on that list, my quiet time is non-negotiable as well.

2.) I pretend like there are no dishes to be done, laundry to be folded, voicemails to return, and that not one person needs me.

3.) I leave my phone off, shut down my Mac (no emails, facebook, etc.)

4.) I go somewhere quiet with my journal, Bible, and pen and most of the time, I do this when John is asleep.

5.) I try to be still and pray in the car on the days I commute to work.

Well, I’m sitting on the couch in my pajamas listening to the sound of waterfalls trickling into the pool. The morning breeze is so refreshing and the birds love it too. The past few days I’ve been renewed in God’s word and renewed physically and emotionally. I’m sad we’re at the end of our journey at my parents because the time away has been so sweet.

But I can say I’m ready to travel back to Dallas and face the realities of life again with a better perspective than when I left.

A love story & lemonade

lemonade1Yesterday I went for a run around White Rock Lake and in the distance I noticed a little boy selling lemonade on the side of the running path. I felt a nudge to talk to him and share something really important that my pastor reminded me of that morning in church.

I stopped and first asked him if the lemonade was free. He said it was $.50 and that it was for a raffle at his school. I told him I didn’t have any change on me. After we talked about his school a little, I asked:

“Do you mind if I tell you something?”

His brown eyes got big and he was focused.

“No,” he replied.

“Have you ever thought about how much God loves you?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you know about Him?”

“Um… They nailed him to a cross. He didn’t like that. It was very bad… And um… the people didn’t like him because he said he was the son of God and stuff.”

“You’re exactly right. Where did you learn that?” I asked.

“At my school,” he replied.

He told me he was 9 years old. His name was Kyle and he wanted to be an architect when he grew up. I told him when I was not too many years younger than him that I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was 6. I tried to explain to him that growing in a relationship with God takes time and when he gets older that he will understand even more. I explained that Jesus died for him and died for his sins (the bad things he does) so that he can have a full life.

He didn’t say anything after that. I could have been way over his head or he was just listening.

I sensed our little conversation coming to a close. I said it was nice to meet him and continued on my run.

Kyle was the cutest kid ever and he taught me something about faith.

The gospel is simple that even a 9 year old could grasp it.

Yet in its simplicity it is so incredibly profound. Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again, but that fact can’t just stay there. The question is whether I will act on that truth by following him and surrendering all that I am to him because of what He’s done for me.

The love he showed on the cross might seem simple, but it wasn’t. It was “very bad” like Kyle said, in all of its forms. It was evil. All the sins of the world… he bore them. It was his blood shed on the cross that has set us free from our sins.

It’s just so amazing that Someone could love me this much. And even crazier that God sent his son to prove his love for all of us. He has given us this awesome gift of undeserved GRACE and He’s inviting all of us in to accept it. If anything in this world could lead me away from my sin (in repentance) and closer to him, it is because of his kindness and undying love.

My prayer for Kyle is that one day he will become an architect who knows the fullness of God’s love and that he will love him in return.

Leading Yourself Well

1161714_kids_under_treePhillip Brooks, a 19th century clergyman once said that “Character is made in the small moments of our lives.”

Typically, the real test of character is not in one huge defining moment but is in the daily choices made every day and that includes in the mundane details of life.

In college I read a really impacting book called Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. In it, Sanders asks some really challenging questions when it comes to leadership. They have really made me think and realize that I’ll never lead anyone past how I am leading myself. This could potentially be a scary thought, but more so, it’s really challenging and encourages me to grow.

These questions have spurred me on to have a clearer vision for what it means to produce character in my life. Here they go:

Have you ever broken a bad habit? To lead, we must master our appetites.

Do you keep self-control when things go wrong?

Can you handle criticism?

Can you turn disappointment into a creative new opportunity?

Can you exert discipline without making a power play?

Are you a peacemaker?

Do people trust you with difficult and delicate situations?

Do you depend on praise from others to keep you going?

Can you forgive?

Do you welcome responsibility?

Do you “use” people or cultivate people?

Question for discussion:  Why do you think it’s important to lead yourself well? What struggles have you had in leading others?

Fighting Complacency

If you’ve followed my blog for a little while, you know that I’m going through the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. The last few chapters I’ve read have dealt with the lukewarm Christian and what God says about Christians who are lukewarm in their faith. I couldn’t believe some of the verses that Francis pointed out. They were convicting to say the least.

They have led me to search my heart deeper and to ask: Do I have lukewarm tendencies? Am I living in mediocrity anywhere or struggling with complacency? Do I sometimes take Jesus’ words half-hearted or even say “I’ll do that another day…”

In my relationship with Christ, just like in any marriage, I have to constantly fight against complacency. It’s so easy after the honeymoon stage, to just settle in and be comfortable. In following Christ, it’s easy to kick back, go on with the day, and lose sight of who He is. And then the relationship turns to legalistic rules and rituals (duty) instead of a wholehearted desire and delight to know and love Christ for who he is.

I don’t think Jeremiah would ever want me to respect and love him out of duty. He would never force me to love him either. So it is with God’s love. He wants me to choose to love him. And to me, this requires battling my laziness and complacent heart that I have at times.

This past weekend, we didn’t stay in our apartment but we went down to my Dad’s (he has a corporate apartment in our complex) and we just enjoyed the setting down there. We watched the Dallas Cowboys, cooked, talked, and had friends over for dinner. It was so relaxing and refreshing. Our relationship felt renewed.

Some things I’ve been doing lately in my relationship with Christ to revitalize it and stir up the passion is listening to podcasts of some really great pastors, praying on my way to work, going through old journal entries, starting a Bible study with some friends, reading blogs, and most of all revisiting God’s word- reading and meditating on it.

I’m so glad that God doesn’t leave us where we’re at. He is so patient and when we truly desire change (and we seek it), he will give it to us in the smallest ways… even if it’s just a different place to spend the night!

Question: What has helped you in times of feeling “stuck”? How are you currently fighting the war of mediocrity?

Rain

I’ve heard it said once that you’re either in a storm, coming out of one, or getting ready to enter one.

Sounds encouraging, right?

Not really.

Over the past few months, my husband I have been in a little season of waiting on God and at times, it has felt like a horrible storm to me. We’ve been seeking answers and praying but everything has seemed silent. And I often tell God, will you just hurry up? Can’t you see that we’re waiting?

We’ve also faced storms of tragedy and different trials that have caused us to question if God is really there and if he really cares. And it’s usually that after we question (or continue to question), we might not get an answer but we sense a peace that He is still near. It’s as if He wants us to seek Him first and not so much an answer.

I always love hearing, reading, or watching an illustration that drives that truth home. I know Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos have been out for a while, but the truths in these videos are timeless. I have always loved the Rain illustration- I think it’s my favorite. It always helps reinforce to me where God is exactly in the storms of life.

Here it is in the 2-minute preview version.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2qrrUFuxgk]

Can you hear the still, quiet voice saying “I LOVE YOU… We’re gonna make it…”?

Marriage: Built to Last

marriageAt Bluefish, we’ve been finishing up our upcoming marriage DVD driven Bible study series called Marriage: Built to Last. We’ve interviewed 20 real-life stories of couples for the series, shot incredible teaching from Pastor and Author Chip Ingram, and have some great interviews from 2-time MVP Quarterback Kurt Warner and his wife Brenda and financial guru Dave Ramsey and his wife Sharon.

I’ve been connecting our producers to some marriage stories of my friends, assisting in writing the host copy, and editing our Leader’s Guide along with writing an article inside the guide called I Signed up For What? that helps answer some of the tough questions when it comes to leading a group.

I’m so excited about the content and stories in this series. The marriage interviews are so raw and candid and I think every marriage will relate in some way. Chip’s teaching is engaging, relevant, and hope-filled. I was also encouraged to see that I’m not alone in my own struggles to love and respect my husband to the fullest or crazy in striving to have the most abundant, Christ-centered marriage that I can.

Here’s a sneak peak into the sessions:

1. Adjusting to Expectations 2. Learning to Communicate Clearly 3. Breaking Down Walls 4. Resolving Conflict 5. Restoring Sex & Intimacy 6. Striving for a Christ-centered Marriage

Everything is about to go off to the press. When all is said and done, we’ll have over 13,000 Leader’s Guides and over 80,000 workbooks floating around for this series. At this point, we only hope that all the work that’s been put into this series will have an amazing impact on marriages all over the country. And that most of all, couples will really learn what God’s ultimate design is for their marriage.

Archives Page for You

WordPress just announced their new code for Archives so I’ve added a page on my blog above for you to browse through any past content you’d like. Unfortunately they don’t have a categories section yet. I’m sitting at 131 posts over a span of about two years. That basically means that I’ve just now starting blogging consistently.

My confession? I’m naturally lazy at blogging. I don’t mind writing in my personal journal or for magazines, books, or of course anything that’s asked of me at work. I think I’m deadline driven and that’s the issue. But I have to say I’m enjoying it the more I do it. My greatest struggle is wondering what you appreciate content wise. What will speak to you? What will provide depth for you, and not fluff? What will help you grow and get a greater glimpse of God’s love for you?

The answer is probably that I just need to be who I am. Write what I’m passionate about and write about what God is doing in my life. And not try to be another great blogger out there who can boast a ridiculous amount of stats and comments.

So… grab a mug of coffee or tea and enjoy the archives. Comment as you feel led. The best is yet to come my reader friend…

Don’t Be Afraid

FearlessHB_LThe economy, global warming, finances, job losses, health care, swine flu… Behind these issues often comes the word FEAR. A lot of us are living lives in fear and can’t seem to tackle it. I’ve definitely had fears and struggles when it comes to those things.

But God has been showing me more of his love lately and it’s been casting shadows on the fears I’ve had inside. When I go to his word, I’m strengthened because he addresses my very fears (amazing how He knows them all) and gives me such indescribable love and peace.

1 John 4:18 says it beautifully: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

I love how John says that perfect love drives out fear. If we live lives constantly overwhelmed by fear, we’ll never have the life God wants for us. We’ll never experience the depths of his love. Our goal is to be made perfect in love, and not fear. The way to do this is to cast our cares, worries, and concerns upon Him. To literally throw them on him. And he will take care of our burdens for us.

A few months back, I had the opportunity to meet mega bestselling author and master storyteller, Max Lucado. I absolutely loved meeting him and talking with him for a little bit. He just had this great peace about him. You just wanted to be around him. He barely answered the questions I had for him. He just wanted to know more about me and my family and what I did.

My work was interviewing him for some small group training videos to help leaders across the country. We asked him some questions about fear, keeping in mind he was writing a book called Fearless. Max’s clip has been edited and you can check it out here at SmallGroupExchange.com.

If fear is something you really struggle with, in addition to finding all you will ever need in God’s word, be sure to pre-order Max’s book to get another glimpse on the topic of fear.

Remember the Past

1077990_memoriesThis past weekend, Jeremiah broke out some of his old CD’s he had stashed away. He played a CD that impacted him a lot during some really hard times growing up. He got so excited about it and shared with me a story related to that song. The crazy thing was that some of the same songs he loved, I loved too. Yet we were in two different places. I was in North Carolina and he was in Michigan and we knew nothing about each other.

Listening to the words of those songs brought back so many memories for me. It reminded me of where I’ve come from and where I am today. I was encouraged and actually strengthened by the lyrics just like I was several years ago. I was reminded of some of my frustrations, struggles, dreams, and even that longing to find “the one” some day. I think that’s what I always thought about in college at least.

Remembering the past really is critical for today. In marriage, it’s easy to just live life and forget your history together. To just be comfortable. To lose that spark. And sometimes not “feel” in love. But marriage must be based on truth and not on temporary feelings. After listening to Jeremiah’s CDs, I looked at some of our honeymoon photos and journal entries and reflected back to when we were dating. It made me excited and encouraged by all that we’ve gone through together and to see where we are today.

I’m starting to realize even more that in my relationship to Christ, it’s so important to remember the past to be encouraged today. Walking by faith with someone you’ve never seen can get hard. The fire that was once kindled so brightly can quickly burn out. Mediocrity can creep in. And it’s easy to forget God’s work and to quit on getting to know Him in his word. It’s easy to not let others into your world. All of the latter is something that I fear so much that I’m trying to do everything I can to “stay at it” and to persevere in my faith. But I think I make it much harder than it needs to be. I want my faith in Christ to be more of a delight in a person, and not a mere Christian duty.

Continuing to reflect on the past every once in a while in my marriage and relationship to Christ will hopefully carry me all the way through to finish strong… with few regrets.

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