Heart Renovations {Good Friday Reflections}

our kitchen in progress

We’re in the middle of a major renovating project in the new house we’re set to move into at the end of the month. With the help of very generous friends in our church, my parents, and my husband and his friends, the ugly 60s style carpet in our living and dining room has been ripped out. The kitchen tile has been smashed out and new hardwood floors will be installed soon.

As you can imagine, the downstairs is a wreck. And on this Good Friday while I have just a few minutes to reflect on it, I can’t help but take a look inside the condition of my soul, apart from Jesus.

Apart from Jesus, it’s an absolute disaster. There is nothing good that exists (I wish there was).

I’m a sinful being and my sin is so disgusting and offensive that a price had to be paid to cover it.

Jesus’ death on the cross paid the massive debt I owed. A debt which I could never actually pay on my own accord. On the cross, Jesus said “It is finished.” Wholly. Completely. Not in part- but in full. Because of the pain, suffering, and anguish he endured and the spilling of his blood, I’ve been set free from the chains of sin. And no one else could do it, but Jesus.

Because of his death, grace washes over all our sin. Amazing grace for you and for me. A most precious gift.

But the cross can’t be left by itself, displayed on a church building, or worn around our neck as pretty jewelry. The cross, which showed his great love for us, demands an answer from us. A choice that we must make. Will we accept Jesus’ gift of grace and surrender our lives to Him? Will we turn from our sin and cling to Him? Will we allow him to renovate the ugliest, shameful parts of our heart so we can be restored again?

He is more than willing if we let Him.

The beauty of the cross and his grace is that He removes the junk and debris. He changes us and makes us new. It is all an act of His grace- a profound mystery.

Today, let’s not forget just how awful our sin is and how disgraceful Jesus’ death on the cross was. But let us also not forget…

Sunday’s coming.

Check out this video.

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]

10 things the Cross has saved me from

… continues to save me from:

anger, control, pride, fear, condemnation, envy, shame, bitterness, anxiety, lust.

The weight of my sin on the cross was great, but not greater than the One who took it upon his shoulders:

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

Amena Brown: Resurrection

This week, I’ll be taking a break from writing on my blog to post a few video clips that our Bluefish producers have created. I’m excited to spend this week taking a step back to reflect on all that our Savior has done for us and will continue to do.

I hope the videos posted this week will strengthen your faith and encourage you in whatever you’re facing today.

The voice behind this 2-minute video is spoken-word artist, Amena Brown.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nl40wVuCJUA]

Church, Meth, & the Gospel

“The church I grew up in was hypocritical,” my waiter said after I asked him about his church background.

“I’m from east Texas- you know the Meth capital of the world. So people would do Meth and then go to our Baptist church on Sunday,” he said with a somewhat frustrated voice. “They acted so religious too.”

Not being from Texas, I didn’t know east Texas was famous for that.

“Do you go to church anywhere now?” I asked.

“No, I work Sundays and everything… and… church just isn’t for me.”

“Yeah I understand,” I said.

Where’s the life and joy?

My husband chimed in and shared about the ugliness of hypocrisy he saw at times in his church growing up.

Our waiter listened, gazing at the glasses that needed to be filled in the distance. As they conversed, I took some bites out of my steak, completely annoyed at where we stand as “the church” today.

I remember times growing up in the church and putting on my Sunday best. Singing those hymns, smiling, and shaking hands with people, but feeling like I was swimming in a sea of dead people. All I wanted to see was life and joy. I didn’t want to see hypocrisy.

When I went to college, I began to see God’s love like never before through his people and his Word. I grew in intimacy with him as I was surrounded by other Christ-followers. I started to look to God, and not at other people. Since getting married and moving to Dallas several years ago, I’ve been learning a lot about true, biblical community at our church. I’ve experienced what it means to be authentic, confess sins, and share struggles and it’s been life-changing.

The Church isn’t a Building

It’s the gospel over and over again- broken people coming to Jesus. But how come the church is missing it- they’re not even on the map?

I think we all have to face the fact that there is nothing great in us apart from Christ. We are all, in a sense, hypocritical people. That’s why we need a Savior. We need him to help us navigate the rough waters of isolation and pretending.

We have to realize that the church is made up of real people who are supposed to love God and others. It’s not a building. It’s the bride of Christ, put here on earth to reflect his glory.

The Gospel’s Transforming Power

Well my husband wrapped up what he was saying to our waiter and then invited him to our church, handing him a card with info on it. I sensed that he thought we were a little weird (Okay, maybe foreign), but that somehow he appreciated us chatting with him.

It’s my prayer that one day he can step foot in the church again and see how the church was really meant to be. That he would see the power of the gospel transform all forms of hypocrisy.

Whiter than Snow

Last week, while we were eating out I gazed out the window and snow started sprinkling out of the dark sky, covering the sheet of snow on the ground. It was heavenly. So clean. Fresh. Pure. I could almost taste it. I laughed and smiled like a little girl.

I was reminded of the verse in Isaiah that says: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” – Isa. 1:18

Sin stains. It’s dirty. Evil. Wicked. It breaks the heart of God. It has separated all of us from His love. Its pathway leads to death.

Sin doesn’t deserve to be made whiter than snow.

But because of Jesus’ suffering on the cross, his resurrection, and our repentance and belief in Him, we’re made clean again. The crimson stain is blotted out because of his shed blood- as if we’ve never rebelled at all.

Today, even though there’s no blanket of snow keeping the ground warm here in Dallas, I feel like a little girl leaping for joy that my sins are forgiven, but also perplexed why God chooses to save us?


5 Ways to Fight Consumerism this Christmas

Consumerism is the equation of personal happiness with consumption and the purchase of material possessions (Wikipedia). Consumerism reigns like a proud King in America. He’s captured hearts. Chained families to debt. Caused divorce. And has crept into churches.

But that’s not all. Consumerism is mainly an issue of the heart— the flesh’s desire for more, and a failure to trust in God to provide all things.

Here are five practical ways I’m trying to fight consumerism this Christmas:

1.) Remember former debt. It wasn’t a fun experience a few years ago paying off around $700.00 of credit card debt from Christmas time. (Thanks to Dave Ramsey, we cut our credit cards up so they no longer tempt us).

2.) Pray for a spirit-led shopping experience. Before I went out the other day I prayed that God would help me decide what I needed to get vs. what I wanted to get for other people. I  believe that prayer and being led by the Spirit helps keep me from over-spending.

3.) Accumulate experiences, not possessions (thanks Mark Batterson). I’ve tried to put relationships and time together with those closest to me in my life above accumulating stuff and things that don’t last.

4.) Be in authentic community. I’ve surrounded myself with friends who will ask me the hard questions. And they know our budget. While they don’t ask about this all the time, I know I have to be ready if they do.

5.) Give to those you know who are in need and love on them. This Christmas, we’ll be giving away some of the resources God’s given to us to certain family members who are struggling. Sometimes I think I’m only doing “good” if I give to a charity or other organization, but if a family member is in need- he or she really is who takes precedence.

Above all, the gospel is what transforms our hearts and keeps us from being led away by the desire for more. I’m thankful that as I daily surrender to the Spirit’s control, I can be victorious in the constant battle where consumerism tries to be King.

Have you thought of a plan of attack for fighting consumerism in the upcoming days?

Being on Mission in Holiday Madness

While at Whole Foods the other day, I had to overcome some fears and I had to do it quickly.

As my cashier Jaime was loading my groceries into the bag, I asked him how the crowds had been with the Thanksgiving rush… He said they weren’t too bad.

I told him I shop at Whole Foods on special occasions. My husband was in seminary and our budget was tight.

“What’s seminary?” he asked.

Trying to think of a simple answer to what seemed like a complicated question, I said:

“Well, it’s a school where you learn more about the Bible and eventually become a pastor or something like that. My husband wants to help teach others the Bible… It’s a non-denominational, Christian, evangelical school.”

“Oh okay,” he replied.

I could tell the people behind me were anxious to get their groceries on the belt, but I had another question for him and those people were annoying me so I just blurted out:

“Do you have a church background at all?” I said extremely fast.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Did you grow up in the church at all?”

“Well, my family is Roman Catholic and I grew up in that but I’m not into the whole ceremonial stuff. You know…”

“Yeah I understand… Well, the church my husband and I go to is more about a relationship with God than it is about religion. It’s laid back and it really doesn’t look like a church at all. You wouldn’t think it was one.”

“Where’s it located?”

“It’s a big building off 635 and 75. We’re still in the building phase actually.”

He said he thought he’d seen it before from the interstate.

“I think you’d really like it!” I added.

He stopped and looked at me.

“Well I’ll promise you this- I’ll go and check it out sometime.”

I was shocked. Really? You would? I thought.

I smiled, said that would be awesome, and wished him a great Thanksgiving.

As I left that day, I was ecstatic that God used that 2 minute window for me to talk to Jaime. I often get this knot in my stomach before starting up a spiritual conversation. Even though Jesus is the most important person in my life who I want to proclaim to the world every day that I live, I still have fears. I still struggle with getting past “me” and other insecurities.

But I’m learning that the greatest way to overcome that fear is to dive in wholeheartedly, no matter the risk.

To lovingly engage people in conversation.

To live on mission.

To get past the distractions so that God can receive glory, even during the holiday madness.

I pray that Jaime will remember our talk and check out Watermark so he can learn what it means to have a relationship with God.

I hope you’ll pray with me too. In the mean time, I’ll be checking up on him the next time I need a treat!

Not by coincidence

Every day, we’re given a blank page to write- another page in God’s story.

Today is a day that He’s given you and I to live for his glory and his kingdom. Yet how often do we forget that the circle’s he’s put us in are exactly where we’re supposed to be to shine his light?

I was just thinking the other day how the nursery care worker at my gym that we see regularly is not by accident. The grocery baggers at Kroger that we see every week isn’t by chance. The people I live near and the certain friendships I have are a part of God’s plan. And it doesn’t just happen to be that it’s the year 2009 and my family and I live in the city of Dallas, Texas.

Many times, I ask God to bring the people he wants into my life so I can share his love and grace. But I forget that often, they’ve been planted right in my midst- in the every day places.

Even in the tiniest details of life, nothing is an accident.

It takes hard work to be aware of this every day and it’s amazing that God chooses us to be the vessel to help grow God’s kingdom here on earth.

Was there a time when you knew that something was not “by accident” but was a part of the story God is writing?


the day my true love died

1212536_open_bibleJeremiah’s been reading through the book of John for one of his seminary classes. Last night, he was thrilled to tell me all about what he was learning while I was cleaning up the kitchen. And I love that I get to be the one to glean from it. He then blurts out, “I’ve gotta watch the Passion.”

It’s a little late. It’s like 2 hrs. long and it’s not one of those movies you can just pop in and play. It takes mental and emotional preparation… is what I’m thinking. I thought about doing my own thing and not watching it with him, but I decided to get on the couch and join him.

It was my third time watching it (with the exception of a few scenes) and some thoughts came to my mind that have encouraged me today:

  • Jesus’ humanity– even though he was God, he came down to earth as a man and lived in our shoes. He experienced rejection, suffering, hunger, thirst, laughter, tears, and alienation from those closest to him. He understands the pain I experience today.
  • Jesus’ love– he didn’t have to go to the cross for us, but he chose to because it was his father’s will. It was the only way for man to be saved from the penalty of sin. His shed blood on the cross makes us free and alive today. The cross is the ultimate proof of his love for me today.
  • Jesus’ perfectionJesus came as a man but he was holy and perfect in every way. YET, He took on our sins for us so that we didn’t have to pay the debt. No matter where we’re at today, he invites us to come to him in all our sin, brokenness, junk, hurts, habits, the whole 9 yards. What Jesus did 2000 years ago, requires a response from me every day that I live.

After getting my pride behind me, I was really thankful to be reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice and I know it will probably be a while until I watch the Passion again.

And I can’t help but think of Phil Wickham’s song True Love:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gU-ejQxEXk&feature=player_embedded]

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