Ingredients

I hate choosing favorites. I am so indecisive, and I have the hardest time just choosing one “favorite” of anything. So I won’t say this is my favorite message of all time, but I have never listened to a message more than this one.

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX, preached an amazing series on the book of Ecclesiastes. In 2009, I spent a few weeks working for the 2010 United States Census. I spent hours canvassing around Iowa to map residences and update their maps from the previous census. I listened to the entire Ecclesiastes series during that time, and I still can picture walking down streets in Waverly and Denver when I hear these messages.

The fourth message, Ingredients, was just what I needed at the time. Ten years have passed, and I have listened to this over and over and over as life keeps happening and I regularly turn to this beautiful reminder of how God orchestrates all the ingredients of our lives so perfectly. I have shared it with a lot of friends, and I decided to share it here today.

My heart is a bit heavy as some people who are close to my heart are facing tough cancer diagnoses, challenging courses of treatment, and questions about what their future will hold. Many of life’s circumstances can cause us to wonder if God is paying attention or if He cares. Oh, friend, please listen to this beautiful word and be reminded of His deep love for you.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:37-39‬
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Abundantly More

Creative. Artistic. Dramatic. Talkative. So, so talkative. And this week, I decided relentless. Not just persistent, but absolutely relentless in pursuit of what she wants (usually something from me).

These words describe Isabella, my 9 year old. She has some great strengths that will serve her well in life. She also has to work harder in some areas…like math. This year, she had some extra help and still she was not caught up to where she should be. The school recommended that we pursue math tutoring for the summer. As soon as they mentioned it, a little pang of anxiety struck me. Isabella is unique. Many adults adore her, some don’t know quite how to take her. I prayed that we could find someone in the former category as she would be meeting with this person 4-5 times a week all summer long.

Isabella’s wonderful 3rd grade teacher suggested a name, a woman who had taught music to Isabella when she was in kindergarten and possibly first grade. I didn’t know her well, but I remembered her as kind and always smiling. I asked Isabella, she didn’t have any problems with it. So we made arrangements and waited for school to end.

Isabella has been meeting with her for 3 weeks now. A few days ago, I remembered my early anxiety in anticipation of the whole scenario. I teared up as I immediately recognized God’s great faithfulness. This woman has been the perfect teacher for Isabella. Isabella works well one on one. She responds much better in that environment, and this whole arrangement is so good for her. Her teacher works hard on math, and she has told me that she is very happy with the progress they have made so far. She also cares for Isabella as a person, and she works with her personality and cares about the things that matter to Isabella.

I honestly could not have hand-picked a better person for this task. If it had been up to me, I would have labored over names, wondering how they would work with Isabella and if they could handle her intensity. But it wasn’t up to me, I prayed and left it up to God. He picked the right woman, and I send off a happy child every day to work with her tutor. She has never once complained about going.

The answers to some prayers take years to unfold. I must confess, I sometimes grow weary in waiting for the answers to some of those prayers. But in the meantime, God answered this small prayer that meant a lot to me, and He did it so beautifully. I am reminded of His great love for Isabella tonight. He chose a perfect tutor for her, and in the process He also deepened my faith in His ability to provide for her in the future.

And He reminded me that He hears all the cries of my heart. All of them. The wonderfully worded ones, the groans and cries without words, the ones I don’t want anyone else to overhear. He hears them all, and He knows the heart behind each word. One of my favorite verses to remember when I think I am asking too much of God is Ephesians 3:20-21.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians‬ ‭3:20-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

He can do more than we can even think to ask. He can and He will. Keep believing, and I will, too.

Things That Do Not Exist

Romans 4 talks about Abraham, a man to whom God made an amazing promise. God spoke to a man who had no offspring at the time and promised to make him a great nation. God told Abram that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

A 75 year old man with no children.

This is the God who creates something out of nothing. ‭‭Romans‬ ‭4:17‬ ‭(ESV) says,

“as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

‬‬He calls into existence the things that do not exist. This is not an ability we possess. If it were, I would most certainly call dinner into existence every evening about 5:55. And a maid to clean up afterwards.

But really, some of the deepest desires of my heart have left me with questions that don’t have answers I can see right now.

There are relationships that don’t yet exist that will continue to shape me as a woman, a minister, a writer, a mother. There are sources of funds that do not yet exist to provide for the needs that keep me awake at night. My dear friend is pastoring a church that did not exist a few years ago, but God spoke life to the dead and called it into existence. Now it is ministering to people who didn’t have any idea of God’s plan to use this church body in their lives.

Some of you can easily identify the empty places that you have desperately begged God to fill. Me too. I can think of at least a handful of them. I have been in seasons of ministry and motherhood that do not look anything like what I expected, and the questions have outnumbered the answers for years.

Proverbs 13:12 (ESV) says that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

If you have experienced hope deferred, you know this heartsick feeling. I have had a some periods of great hope in the past decade, believing that I could see a new thing on its way or could predict how God was planning to move in my life. One by one, those opportunities fell through and I was left with a sick heart. I am well acquainted with the pain of deferred hope.

But I worship the God who has no questions and knows every answer. When I am weak, He is strong. I can pray and ask Him boldly to provide in ways that seem impossible.

Romans 4:17 has given me great hope over the past few weeks. It has refreshed my soul and put my focus where it belongs – on the One who speaks life to the dead and calls into existence things which DO NOT EXIST. He can do that, and I serve Him! He loves me and wants to do exceedingly, abundantly more than all I could ask or think.

If you are struggling with hope deferred, I would love to join you in prayer for God to move, to call into existence things that do not exist. Comment or send me an email so I can join with you and see what God will do!

Made for a Purpose

A friend sent me this picture a few days ago. It was 2006 or 2007, and our church didn’t have a baptismal, so we did baptisms in the river or the local pool. As the children’s pastor, I had the privilege of baptizing the kids who were taking this amazing step of faith. This was so special to me. I was a neighbor to this sweet girl’s family before I married Matt in 2006, and I loved these her and her siblings so much (still do).

A couple years later, I was still a pastor on staff at the same church and a licensed minister, but I was not allowed to participate in baptisms that year. I’m not gonna lie; it was devastating. I loved serving this church, and I was unexpectedly not included with the other pastors in this incredible, life-changing moment. I still remember it all very clearly almost 11 years later.

I was blessed with so many friends, fellow ministers, and encouragers through this time. But I learned something that you might be familiar with: it is hard to get past one naysayer, one person who doesn’t believe in you or your gift, one who refuses to see what God has placed within you. Even when others remind you of the truth, the lies are so loud. The truth whispers, but lies scream. They get in your face and beckon you to doubt who you are and what God wants to do in you.

You have met a naysayer. It doesn’t have to be related to ministry, for God has placed a call on each of us to use the gifts we have been given no matter what they are. Maybe it is a family member, a grandparent or parent whose doubt and negative words have riddled your self-confidence with so many holes that you can no longer put it back together. Maybe something happened and there is someone in your life who will never let you forget it.

If God has placed a gift in you and called you to use it, He does not change His mind. Romans 11:29 says, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (ESV) There are seasons of life and ministry, but the gift you have within you is still there.

A few weeks after my first baby was born, I was at a wedding and saw my youth pastor and his wife, two of the greatest spiritual mentors and friends in my life. He said to me, “God still wants to use you, you still have a call on your life.” I clung to those words for years. I still do as I live in the preschool years with my last child. God put him in my life at age 15, and still at 41 his words have immeasurable impact on my life.

God has been so good and so gracious to place loving, encouraging friends and leaders in my life. If you are in a place of discouragement or uncertainty concerning the calling God has placed in your life, please know that you are not alone. Just because one person has decided that they aren’t interested in what you have to offer does not mean you have nothing to offer. If that discouragement and negative feedback has caused you to tuck your gift away in what feels like a safe place, can I encourage you today to think about using it again? It may look different than it has in the past, but if look carefully, I know that God will show you ways to use the gift that has been sitting there inside you.

Don’t let a lie from the father of lies convince you that there is no way God needs you in His service. If you still have breath, He has a purpose for your life and a reason that you are still here. Ignore the lies, and find those who will speak truth, encouragement, and life today.

Here We Go Again

17 years. Today marks 17 years that I have lived in a Waverly of my 41 years, the same amount of time I lived in Des Moines from birth until I left for college. About a year ago, I found myself in a frustrating place. Some very dear friends of ours made the decision to plant a new church, and they asked us to consider joining them. It meant packing up our lives here and moving a couple states away.

I was ready. I spent a couple years pretty broken by life and was ready for a fresh start. I wanted to wipe the slate clean and join with friends I had been in ministry with. I got my hopes up. I dreamed of leaving behind what I saw as a couple of terrible years that I just wanted to forget.

Unfortunately, as Matt and I talked about it, I saw that it was not going to happen for us. I was unhappy as I had confidently assumed that it was clearly God leading us in this new direction, and to see it fall apart hurt a lot. I thought my chance for a fresh start was gone and I was going to be stuck in the same frustrating place for the foreseeable future. Stuck not just physically but emotionally and mentally. It’s winter and we just had a lot of snow. I picture getting stuck in the snow, wearing a groove with your tires and not being able to get out no matter how hard you rock the car back and forth, back and forth. I needed and desperately wanted a push out of the rut.

But God. He was stirring my heart, and even as this beautiful opportunity passed right on by, behind the scenes He had not forgotten me. Matt and I started to discuss changing churches. Our kids are growing and getting to an age where friendships become increasingly important. The church we had helped to start was half an hour from our home in another community. It was a very different picture than what I wanted for my kids to experience as they grew and entered the stage of youth group and all its activities and friendships.

One of the best decisions my parents made for our family was changing churches to one with a more vibrant youth group when I was in elementary school. They did it early enough that I could make friends and be established at the new church before entering the teenage years. I could never thank them enough for that decision. So much of my formative teen years was shaped by my youth pastor and his wife who came to that church as I entered eighth grade. The friendships from that church were my lifeline in high school, and all my experiences there led to the moment I felt called to full time ministry and decided to attend Bible college. God chose to use the church we joined and the people there to influence and guide my life for years to come and still now. I held that thought in my heart as I considered the church experience I want for my children through their school years.

We decided to visit a church that had been started by a group from the church where I served as children’s pastor and staff pastor for about 7 years. I really had no idea what to expect from seeing so many people I knew again, but we could not have received a warmer welcome in those first visits. We finally decided to leave the church we had helped start 7 years ago and the wonderful church family there to attend this church back in our own community again.

God has worked in some amazing ways since we decided to join Crosspoint Church. I will take more time to describe it later because it just fascinates me how He works when we have no idea that He is doing anything, and one day, things fall into place that I never knew were even a possibility. He had a plan to give me the push I needed out of my rut. It looks different than I thought it would, but it is beautiful and exactly what I never knew I needed.

Another year has come and gone in Waverly, the town I was going to live in for a year or two. But God had plans I couldn’t see. He still does as He unfolds our lives day by day, showing us just what we need to take the next step forward. And today, I can sincerely say that I am so grateful He kept us in Waverly.

He Never Ends

As we drove home from school a few weeks ago, Jack (6) asked me when God was born. I explained as best I could that God was never born. He has always been and always will be. The kids were curious how Jesus could be born but God was not, so I offered a brief explanation of the Trinity, how God the Son became a man and was born, but God the Father was not.

I said that God has no beginning and no end, and as soon as I said it, the enormity of the truth just hit me.

“Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?” Isaiah‬ ‭40:12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The God of this world, this universe has no beginning and no end. The fact that I doubt His plans, that I wonder if He knows what is going on in my life is a bit laughable. How could He not know? It sounds overwhelming when I try to explain to my children that He knows everything about everyone and He cares about each of us. But this is the God who created something out of nothing. What could be too difficult for Him?

“’Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah‬ ‭32:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I can list 6-7 areas in my life right now that are open ended. We have prayed, we have asked God to work in this person or in that situation, and we are waiting months and years later. We still ask, we still pray that He will heal or we ask that He will provide a way out of struggle. Nothing is too hard for Him. Nothing. Not one thing.

The job that feels like a dead end with no way out.

The struggling family member who is caught in a never-ending cycle of destructive choices.

The ongoing physical pain that mystifies every doctor you see.

The pain of a child who wants nothing to do with you.

The trauma that continues to haunt your days and nights.

Not one situation is too difficult for Him to break through. Not one heart is too hard for His touch. I am well acquainted with the struggles that seem to never end. You pray, you wait, you pray, and you wait more. Can I remind you (and myself) that there is most certainly a purpose to God’s plan and to the way and the timing in which He works? He wants us to seek Him, to know Him beyond our desire to get the answer to our desperate prayers.

He has no beginning. He has no end. Marvel at the thought today, and remember that this ever present God catches each tear as it falls from your eyes. You do not walk this road alone.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalms‬ ‭56:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Hope for the Weary

img_0058I went to bed last night frustrated, weary from the constant struggles of the day. It had been a very hard day with my daughter, and I regretted some of my reactions to her choices. It has really been a rough few weeks, and I hoped that it might be the craziness and excitement of Christmas break and the lack of a normal schedule. I feel exhausted and frustrated so many nights. I have three children, but the one who breaks me gives me constant reminders of my desperate need for God’s grace. Before I became a mother, I had a pretty good feeling that I mostly had things together. But from day one, this child has been determined to prove to me that I don’t.

And it’s true. I am painfully, excruciatingly aware of my shortcomings these days. I am daily faced with the decision to give my children to God, and I am very willing to admit that I need God’s help and wisdom on an hourly basis. I am in the middle of the battle, where the ending isn’t clear and I cling desperately to the hope that He is working where I cannot see.

I spent a few years listening almost constantly to podcast sermons, and Matt Chandler was my favorite. He is honest, and he speaks directly from the Word of God without fear. His honesty about the hard seasons of life drew me in when I was struggling through a very hard, lost season. And now in a different and very hard season, I have been brought back to many of the sermons I heard and verses that speak to hope.

“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:24-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

My eyes were opened to the idea that we hope for what is unseen. Hope is such a nice, pretty word. We name our daughters after it and use it as a positive, uplifting idea. But hope is HARD. It is painful. It is not easy to hang on in the dark, waiting for the speck of light to appear, showing you which way to go. If you can see the end, if your answer is near, there isn’t any faith required to hope for the outcome. The hope I have is based on the promises of God that I find in His Word. It is based on His faithfulness to me and His faithfulness to all generations.

I hope for things I want to see in my children, I hope that the daily struggles of raising a very challenging child will someday subside and there will be more moments of joy and less struggle. But as I pray for Him to do His work, I do my best to remember who is with me on every single hard, emotionally exhausting day. I am saved by Jesus, and in Him, I have all I need for this battle.

Are you in the middle of a hard thing? You’ve lost sight of the beginning, and you have no idea when the end will arrive. I encourage you today to call His name. You don’t need to have the right words to say His name. He is listening.

Many nights after the kids are in bed, I listen to worship music that feeds my soul. This song is on repeat tonight.

Can’t go back to the beginning,

Can’t control what tomorrow will bring

But I know here in the middle

Is a place where You promise to be

I’m not enough, unless You come,

Will you meet me here again?

‘Cause all I want, is all You are,

Will you meet me here again?