To follow Jesus

kbgirl  —  March 7, 2015 — Leave a comment

I have never considered myself to be much of an evangelist.  Much to my shame and embarrassment, I had only led one person to the Lord in 20 years of being an adult Christian.  But God has called me into a deeper ministry in my school district as a Young Life leader, and in order to train me he has been showing me examples of his ministry from the book of Luke.

Young Life follows a ten week cycle for its simple club messages from the existence of a God who cares about them individually, to the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection, and finally to an invitation to follow Jesus.  I had reached the tenth club last week, so I was going to have the opportunity to invite kids to give their lives to Jesus.  I used the following scripture before I gave the invitation because I wanted the kids to truly understand what it meant to follow Jesus.

If any of you wants to be my follower,” he told them, “you must put aside your own pleasures and shoulder your cross, and follow me closely.  If you insist on saving your life, you will lose it. Only those who throw away their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live. And how does a man benefit if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process?”  Mark 8:34-36

Contrary to all of my predictions, the most unlikely girl gave her life to Jesus. Many of the students who I would have considered more open to the gospel declined.

In the fifth chapter of Luke, Jesus called Levi (a tax collector and a sinner) to follow him, and Levi did something amazing!  He got up, left everything, and followed Jesus.  Levi later became known as Matthew and wrote the first book of our new testament.  But what struck me was his simple willingness to leave everything behind and follow Jesus.

This did not always happen of course.  Unlike me, Jesus already knew who was ready and who was not.  Later in the book of Luke, Jesus visited a Greek region on the other side of the lake, across from Galilee, and delivered a man possessed by a legion of demons.  How did the Greeks respond?  In fear they begged him to leave.  But he left behind a sane and restored man to go tell what the Lord had done for him and to plant seeds that might later bear fruit.

Jesus did not walk a smooth path.  His path was littered with criticism, danger and spiritual opposition.  But daily he withdrew to a quiet place of prayer, and then taking his direction from the father he completed another day’s ministry.  How I want to follow his example.

 

 

I am reading a new book by Richard Foster’s son, Nathan Foster.  I cannot say enough good things about it.  I highly recommend buying and reading, “The making of an ordinary saint: My journey from frustration to joy with the spiritual disciplines”.  I have only read three  chapters (submission, fasting, and study), but his authentic and humble style of writing has challenged me.

In his fourth chapter on study, Nathan discloses his struggles with a learning disability.  I cannot imagine how difficult this had to be for him being the son of such a brilliant and famous man, but he chose to face his struggles with learning as a spiritual discipline. He gave up the need to compete or impress, to stay safely within the confines of his talents, and asked a colleague to tutor him in grammar and writing:

“Making this process a spiritual discipline happened naturally as my work kept bumping me into God.  My learning became a prayerful experience of wonder and amazement.   “God, what does this mean?  How can I use this?  Teach me abou the gift of language and how together we can creatively use it for good and beauty.” (p. 54)

I am so glad he did because the truths in his book are profound.  And his journey reminds me of my daughter’s journey with reading.  I have shared some of her struggles in school (see “praying momma”), but I have not talked about her lingering anxiety over her reading fluency.  She feels anxious if she is asked to read aloud because her reading speed is slower than her peers.  Every night before she reads at bedtime, she asks me to pray.  And every night her speed and concentration have gradually improved.  She asks God for help and then bravely tackles her fears of inadequacy. And growth in reading and spiritual growth are intertwined as she learns to trust God with her deepest needs.

 

Last year my son August learned to submit his life to God. He quickly read the entire Bible, and the changes to his life were phenomenal. This year he has been helping me in starting a Young Life Club in the town where I teach. Even though he is only 14 years old, I have come to rely on his spiritual maturity and insights. But the past several weeks I have noticed that he is beginning to struggle again with some anxiety and uncertainty. This has caused me some concern, so I have taken it to the Lord in prayer. What might be the next steps in his spiritual formation?

Yesterday, my husband and I took our kids to meet some old friends in Salem. We have maintained our friendship with our neighbors from Corvallis, and we periodically exchange kids for the weekend so that Natalie can play with her two girlfriends, Christine and Alyssa, and August can hang out with their older brother Zachary. Their mother, Inn, has recently committed her life to the Lord, and is growing in her faith. She is also passing it down to her three children.

It was Zach who unintentionally pointed me toward our next steps with August.

We all decided to browse a Bible bookstore in Salem together. Zach decided to purchase two Bible studies for himself and August seemed intrigued. At this moment I realized that August is floundering a bit in his quiet times, lacking the structure to practice the spiritual disciplines on a regular basis. (See “A Narrow Path to Transformation”) When he loses touch with the voice of God, old habits surface. This is true for all of us, and it is our job as his parents to help him to learn how to hear God’s voice daily.

I think every Christian is familiar with this verse:

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Prov. 22:6 (ESV)

As parents we are all hoping that our faith will stick. We want our children to inherit this life with God even after we are gone.

I love the Easy to Read Version’s translation of this same verse:

“Teach children in a way that fits their needs, and even when they are old, they will not leave the right path.”

My two children, August and Natalie, are very different. They learn and process information very differently. Additionally, August is two years older, so he is naturally ready for more. As John and I pursue our own quiet times with the Lord, he gives us wisdom for discipling them both. This weekend it occurred to us that we should read Richard Foster’s book, “Celebration of Discipline” with August and train him to use the spiritual disciplines. (Book summary) 

August is an intellectual. I think he will respond to deeper scripture study. I also think he is ready to practice all of the inward disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting and study) with purpose.

Doing good work

kbgirl  —  January 31, 2015 — Leave a comment

I experienced a very difficult spiritual attack this weekend that I am just beginning to pull out of.  It started Thursday afternoon and continued for over 48 hours.  I had a busy week between my job as a special education teacher, my ministry as a Young Life Leader, and my responsibilities as a wife and mother.  It was my first week back after Christmas vacation, and by Thursday I was feeling overwhelmed emotionally and beginning to feel sick physically.  My throat was sore and other cold symptom were beginning to emerge.  In spite of this, I had a mountain of work to complete.

I layed in bed with my laptop all day Friday while my kids were in school, drinking hot tea with vitamin C and trying to complete ministry work.  My anxiety level kept mounting and my productivity level kept decreasing.  I knew I was under a spiritual attack, but I didn’t know where it was coming from until my quiet time this morning.  It is my experience that the enemy cannot toy with me unless there is an unsanctified area in my life, so I asked the Lord to show me what it was.

This morning’s study verse was as follows:

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”  2 Thessalonians 1:11

Other related verses are:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:10

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3:17

In a moment, as only he can do, the Holy Spirit spotlighted the ego that had been driving me lately.  I don’t want to do good work; I want to do great work!  I want to be a great teacher and a great Young Life leader, and this pride was opening me up to this attack.

As I laid down my pride, my burdens became lighter and the anxiety dissipated.   The only area in my life where I need to pursue perfection is in the area of holiness.

 

Pray more and work less

kbgirl  —  January 10, 2015 — Leave a comment

As the second week of my vacation is approaching an end, I have begun feeling overwhelmed about returning to work.  I was hired to start a transition program at the high school where I teach.  Starting something is a whole lot more work than working for something that is already established.  On top of this, the Lord has lead me to start a Young Life Ministry in my district, which really takes an amazing amount of volunteers hours.  Again, starting a ministry is a lot more work than stepping into an established one.  I have begun to feel overwhelmed every morning when I first wake up, not even knowing where to start in on my mountain of responsibilities.

I began my quiet time with an anxiety level that was quickly feeling like panic!  I opened my prayer journal and began praying through the scriptures written there.  As I became more centered on truth, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper, “Don’t work harder; pray harder.”

Such a good reminder…What is needed for most of my students is a miracle, which I cannot provide for them.  But every time I pray, my faith grows a little bit more, and a mature faith will move mountains and cause miracles:

“If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you.”  (John 15:7)

So I have begun to pray for each and every need, both big and small.  And already, my prayers are becoming bigger and bolder.  Sometimes we have to start small, see God work, and gain momentum from our new found faith.

 

I started my Christmas vacation with a cold and a fever.  Perhaps this is the reason why I have had such a difficult time engaging with friends and family over the holidays.  I have had this overwhelming urge to withdraw into my own world.  However, this need to retreat has bad memories for me.  It is an old sinful strategy for self-preservation rather than the life of selfless love that I would like to live.  And since I haven’t struggled with this for a while, it discouraged me.  I found my spirits sank right along with my physical state.

In my devotions  I began reading Hebrews 12:

“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  (Hebrews 12:1b)

I truly want this.  I want to rid myself of old sin patterns once and for all so that I can run this race of faith well.  I appreciate the Lord’s discipline, have come to rely on it.  Which is the very next topic in Hebrews 12.

“…but God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness…”  (Hebrews 12:10b)

So I asked the Lord to come and correct whatever was causing me to be vulnerable in this way again.  I know the enemy’s arrows will bounce right off of a sanctified heart, fever or no fever.  What was in me that needed correction?

He showed me an error pattern that had taken root in my heart.  I have experienced a level of healing and restoration that brought me to a place where my faith was coming more naturally and easily than it ever had for me before.  Lord knows that I have struggled enough with woundedness and emotional pain throughout my life to have plenty of empathy for those are encumbered with sin.  But instead an arrogance had begun to form.  How quickly we forget our own past and look down on others who have not yet found freedom.  A few of my own judgemental remarks and sarcastic statements came to my mind and the Lord said, “You cannot afford this.”

A quick repentance restored me to the state of grace that fuels me and enables me to live the way that I want to live.  I am on day seven of this nasty cold, and still don’t feel healthy, but my spirits are restored and I think I can enjoy my family more for my second week of vacation.

 

My older brother really got me thinking the other day.  He has recently been moved to a parish in Anchorage Alaska where he faithfully ministers as a priest.  He is such a godly man that all of our conversations seem profound to me, but this one has really moved me to a deeper level of commitment to our Lord.

We are all familiar with the parable of the sower that Jesus tells in three of the gospels (Mark 4, Luke 8 and Matthew 13).  The seed fell on different places: the road, rocky soil, shallow soil and finally fertile soil.  If we have decided to become a Christian, than the seed has found fertile soil or a noble and good heart that is willing to put their faith in Jesus.  But what my brother pointed out to me is that even the Christian can produce fruit in different measures.  The fertile soil produced 30, 60 or even 100 times what was sown (Mark 4:20).  Just like we have the choice to become a person of faith, we get to decide what level of commitment we would like to live.  How serious are we about our faith?

I have been working through another study of William Barclay’s on the book of Hebrews.  In the famous chapter on faith in Hebrews 11, the author mentions Enoch:

“By faith Enoch was taken from this life so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away.  For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.” (Heb. 11:5)

Barclay points out that Enoch walked with God so closely that to him even death would have been seamless anyway:

“But surely the idea behind it all is that in a wicked and corrupt generation Enoch walked with God, and so when the end came to him, there was no shock, no break, no interruption, and that death simply took him into God’s nearer presence.”  (p. 153, “The Letter to the Hebrews”)

Oh, how I want to be like this!  I want to walk like Enoch did, so closely that even death is no big deal.  It is simply another transition into the presence of God.

 

I will give my first club message to my Young Life group on Monday, December 1st.  The first message is designed to teach the kids that God exists and he cares about them.  I have expanded my main point to facilitate emotional healing:

There is a larger story going on that explains much about who we are and what we were made for.  To understand our own life’s stories, we must go back into history, way back before God created this world.  We must understand that God also created angelic beings.  Lucifer, commander and chief of angelic armies, convinced one third of the angels to rebel against God in a great war in heaven.  (Ezekial 28)  God cast them down from heaven and now they are bitter and defeated and looking for revenge.

Bitter and defeated,  Satan introduces a lie…”God is holding out on you.”

“Life is very confusing if you do not take into account that there is a villain.  That you, my friend, have an enemy.”  (Epic. p. 39)

It is at this pivotal point in history that God created the world.  (Genesis 1:1-2:18-25)  When God created the first man and the first woman, he created them in his very image and, they were without shame…

This was before insecurity…before those feelings of “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have what it takes” or “nobody will ever love me.”  We were meant to be like him, strong and brave and free.  Beautiful and perfect, running free in his image…

And before all of this, before angels, before our world he had decided to love us:

“Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!)”  Ephesians 1:4 (MSG)

Two of my students convinced me to read the Hunger Games trilogy.  I had avoided the series because of the graphic violence that I knew was in it.  However, the third book, “Mockingjay”, gave me the perfect metaphor for how our evil villain uses violence and deceit to control our emotions.  {Spoiler warning}

Katniss is the heroine of the series and Peeta is the hero.  Peeta is captured and tortured by the enemy at the end of the second book.  In the third book he is rescued, but only after the psychological damage has been done:

“Peeta’s condition has come as a shock to all of us,” says Plutarch.  “We couldn’t help but notice his deterioration in the last two interviews.  Obviously, he’d been abused, and we put his psychological state down to that.  Now we believe something more was going on.  That the Capitol has been subjecting him to a rather uncommon technique known as hijacking.  The Capitol’s very secretive about this form of torture, and I believe that results are inconsistent.  This we do know.  It’s a type of fear conditioning.  The term hijack comes from an old English word that means ‘to capture’ or even better, ‘seize.’  …”memories are changed…brought to the forefront of your mind, altered, and saved again in the revised form.” (Mockingjay, p. 180-181)

Peeta begins to respond to the revised memories with fear and violence which alters his personality completely.  Katniss wishes she could go into his mind and “untangle the mess of lies” (p. 381) and bring back the personality of the boy she loves.

His treatment is slow and painstaking:

“Jackson has devised a game called “Real or Not Real” to help Peeta.  Peeta mentions something he thinks happened and they tell him if it’s true or imagined, usually followed by a brief explanation.”

“Most of the people from Twelve were killed in the fire.”

“Real.  Less than nine hundred of you made it to Thirteen alive.”

“The fire was my fault.”

“Not real.  President Snow destroyed Twelve the way he did Thirteen, to send a message to the rebels.”  (p. 272)

The Lord led me through a similar process to overcome my own anger that stemmed from emotional wounding (see “a very personal story”).  It felt like a painstaking process at the time, replacing lies with the truth of God’s word, but it did result in complete wholeness.  This is the path I hope to start my students on in the next ten weeks, or whenever they are ready to start the journey. For more information see, “partnering in my own healing”.

 

Since our first Young Life Club starts on Monday the 24th, I have been spending a lot of time preparing for my club messages, which teach the entire gospel message in ten clubs.  All of my students need emotional healing, so I have been using John Eldredge’s way of presenting the gospel in his short book, “Epic”.  Eldredge has a background in counseling, and his way of presenting the gospel is profound, and has lead many Christian to the healing they have not successfully found in their churches.  So picking out key teaching points has made me think about what the successful ingredients are to emotional healing, because the gospel (correctly taught and correctly understood) should be enough.

Giving people the correct context to interpret life:

When we fully understand the true story, we understand who our enemy really is.  Most importantly, we understand that we are safe and secure.  Everything is going to be ok.  A good God is in control.  It is not up to us.  We do not have to rely on our old defective strategies to feel safe, gain power, defend ourselves.  We have a heavenly father even if our earthly fathers have fallen short in protecting and providing for us.

Forgiveness:

We accept the price was paid for our past failures, and we don’t have to defend or rationalize anymore.  We realize that this has been done for us and receive it with faith.

Self-image:

God renames us.  He exposes all of the horrible things we have believed about ourselves.  He gently leads us to see how he sees us.  We dare to believe that we have intrinsic value.

Purpose:

God gives us purpose.  He shows us how our personal story is meant to flow into his greater story.  Although he is sovereign, he has given us an irreplaceable role to play in the drama that is still unfolding.   The world needs us to share his gospel and lead others to healing in a way that only we can do.

Safety:

As God restores our self-image and our purpose, we start to realize that he is trustworthy.  No matter what happens in this life we understand that we are perfectly safe in his care.  We relinquish our addictions and turn to him instead.

For more thoughts on healing and overcoming addictions see, “Taming the Cobra of Feelings”.

 

Learning to trust my own heart

kbgirl  —  November 11, 2014 — 1 Comment

My little daughter said something profound to me one Sunday after church.  She said that she preferred the types of Bible stories that changed her mind.  Bible study should transform us, and God does this by changing our minds.  He is constantly correcting our way of viewing the world and interacting with it.  He is also correcting our view of him.  He is renewing our minds, and in doing this he is also healing our hearts.

I can still think back into the not so distant past and remember how misleading my own heart could be.  It was like a broken compass that could not be trusted to guide me.  Mistrusting my own heart was the first step towards healing.  In order to change we must first recognize that something in us needs fixing.  I learned to ignore my own inner cravings, the things of this world that I turned to for comfort and safety.  A broken heart craves unhealthy things to fill the void.

The healing process happened little by little, but it did happen.  Recently I have realized something amazing.  My own heart does not mislead me anymore, at least not to the extent that it used to.  The things that I desire seem to be prompted by the Holy Spirit.  I guess when the psalmist said, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4), he was talking about the desires of a healed heart.  Or as the psalmist prayed below:

Direct me in the path of your commands,

for there I find delight.

Turn my heart toward your statutes

and not toward selfish gain.

Turn my eyes away from worthless things;

preserve my life according to your word.”  Psalm 119:35-37