“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25 (NKJV)

In the aftermath of traveling (by foot and ship), preaching to hardened hearts and skeptics, converting those whose hearts were opened to the gospel, and casting out demons in Christ’s power and authority. Even just one of those exhausts me in reading about it. In the midst of all this, Paul and Silas were met with opposition which took a violent turn into floggings and imprisonment. All of this after being directly guided by the Holy Spirit to go to this exact place.

And what are Paul and Silas found doing at midnight, of all times, in prison ? They are praising God and singing hymns. And the prisoners are listening to them, as one would a beautiful piece of music, with delight and intent.

I don’t know about you all but I whine and complain about minor inconveniences in my daily life. Like a busted water pipe, missing a workout, a car not starting, traffic, stress at work. I don’t automatically and with voice raised sing hymns and praise God in the midst. I admit that freely because it’s not my natural tendency.

But it should be as a child of God. Just like Paul and Silas.

They were specifically and unjustly being punished for their faith. For preaching the gospel we know today and Christ which we call Savior and King. They were experiencing true persecution, and not just inconveniences we too often feel in our every day life. And yet, they were rejoicing in the God who had led them there by His Spirit. More than that, those in the jail were listening y’all.

People are listening, watching as those of us who are believers react and respond to life, circumstances, situations and inconveniences. They see what it is we truly place our hope and faith in when we face the dark of midnight.

Paul and Silas were living testimonies that circumstances don’t define our hope, our joy, our faith, the gospel, Christ Himself. Not a bit of it weighed them down as they were bleeding and chained in that prison. They knew where God intended to have them, to use them, to spread His truth and His word at just the right time, that no one else would be fit for that time and those men in prison.

Maybe you’re not called out to international missions, but you are called as a believer to carry the gospel with you each day, in each interaction and circumstance. And how you respond to the stressors of this life could be the only glimpse of Christ a person might have, and that you were called to be in that place at that time, even if it’s an inconvenience to you, it could mean eternity to someone else.

Because when you continue to read in chapter 16 you see a jailer and his family believing and receiving Christ as their hope and redemption. That is worth the inconvenience of your time and your life.

The Legitimacy of Singlehood

I write and delete quite a bit when I am writing on singleness. Because I fear what I say will be misconstrued or even so boldly taken as offensive. But what I struggle with more is the tension I feel within the church more and more for singles. My heart is for them, because I am one of them. It’s something I have grown into wrestling with over the years and now find as I look around the landscape a desperate need for us within the walls of the church and in the community.

You’ve likely heard the statistics that people now-a-days are waiting to get married later in life (27 ain’t that late y’all) and there are more singles than in years past whether from never marrieds, divorce, widowhood.

So we’re prevalent in numbers and also in need. We are a subset based upon our marital status has left us wanting community, wanting a safe haven, a place to be. To walk out lives of faith with others. Sometimes that means with couples guiding the way, other times that’s in similar communities, and invariably it means living life with groups of the same sex because we are often drawn to what we know and do daily.

But when I look at the landscape of churches these days, I don’t see much modeled in the legitimacy of singleness in leadership. Yes, you’ll have a handful in the pre-school or nursery ministries, maybe even in kid’s ministry that are singles. You’ll have a couple of singles leading life groups that are for singles. But what you don’t see are singles in pastoral positions for the most part. (I put a contingent on there because I know of ONE) I don’t see singles in other leadership roles within a church staff.

To me it seems that we aren’t counted worthy in the church until there’s a band attached to our fingers. That we cannot be taken seriously as leaders, servants in the church, unless we have a spouse. I understand the difficulties of leading in ministry, and when you are single, the inherent loneliness that surrounds you in that. I have seen it first hand and heard from others.

It just makes me wonder what the undercurrent culture we are building in the church is saying to those of us who are single. That we aren’t worthy? That we only matter yea far and no further? That we can be responsible for babies and teaching kids, but don’t get us near a group of grown adults? Or that we’ll read Paul’s words in the Bible, learn from words given him by God and then forget that he too was single. Or that frankly Christ Himself was single throughout His ministry here with us. The Son of God brought forth here in earth was never married. In His 30s.

And yet, we can’t be bothered to consider how singles can impact the world with their faith just by pouring a bit more into them? That we’d rather discount their abilities simply out of the lack of a spouse. We’d discount their calling God has given them, their spiritual giftedness, simply due to their marital status.

Maybe this is my soap box currently. That the church has moved corporately in many ways to the family, without realizing the very definition of family was long ago crushed and restructured by Christ-brothers and sisters defined by faith and not blood. That we are all the Bride of Christ.

Resolutions, Words and Prayers.

new-years-resolutions-goals-ss-1920I think we all can agree on resolutions in the new year…they tend to be made with good intentions and often we find by next week we aren’t really doing too well with them, and we give up. Several years ago I joined the OneWord365 community where you pick a word to be the theme of your year. That’s often one I find I can stick to as well until around April or May, then revisit in the fall. I may even venture into another word theme for the year as I keep having a word pop up on my heart and mind for 2018, especially as I reflect back on 2017, as we are want to do these early days of a new year.

This year I wanted more of a prayer for my life. I am walking into this year knowing there are things I will accomplish and goals I want to set for myself. One in particular is getting certified to teach POUND fitness classes. I have been taking those classes for two year, growing to love it and the community it has brought. Another is to finish writing my book and have it submitted to literary agents. It’s a big goal but one I have carried year to year for a bit too long.

But the more I thought on this new year I couldn’t help but feel this pull to have a prayer for the year. For each month, each week, each day and even each moment. I desired to bring me back to the recognition of His Presence in moments, in situations, in my life in all things. I stumbled upon the words of someone as I was thinking through what my prayer would be, and it hit exactly where I was desiring to be in 2018.

Let me approach each moment as one God has appointed for His glory.

I don’t know about anyone else but that prayer, those words, were meant exactly for me to carry, to ruminate on, to pray fervently for throughout 2018. I want to cling to them and the moments He has appointed for me. Each and every one.

The hard ones? Yep.

The doubting ones? You got it.

The mundane ones? Um yeah.

The joyful ones? Oh yes.

And I have found that already I am running to those words as I begin to encounter moments where I can’t quite figure out why I’m in it, or how I should navigate it. Let me approach it knowing He has appointed it…not for me and my self, but for Him and His glory. It doesn’t mean all the moments will be good or #blessed.

It does mean I will need to look for Him in the moments, the days, the weeks, the months ahead, being proactive in seeking Him rather than retrospective of seeing Him when looking back. Because we aren’t too far gone from Christmas, and the reason for the season, Immanuel Himself. God with us. He is with me in all things, if I approach it with Him, if I pray to seek Him, preparing before any and every thing to know He is in control, He is good even when I fail at keeping my resolutions.

Do you have a resolution? A word for 2018? Or even a prayer or mission statement for your life? Or even a Scripture? I’d love to hear about it, so share below!

Do I Matter to God?

I heard him rattle of phrases such as Daniel in the den, Moses at the burning bush, David and Goliath. It’s that “Go Big or Go Home” mentality but with a spiritual twist on it. As believers we often point to the big works of God and want that for ourselves. To be plucked out of shepherding of the field to take down a giant. From unknown in the hard work of daily tending to on the largest stage of battle slaying a mouthy colossus of a man, showing him our God is bigger. Our ark to build for safety away from the sin-filled world around us.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all want that big moment. To go from unknown to known. From feeling meaningless in our work for God to meaningful. When we get the small or seemingly mundane task, we fight against it. We wage in the tension of the small, our obedience in it because it feels like there should be more. We should be more. More known. We wonder if we’ve been forgotten by God in our small things. Are we not special enough to get the call for something big for God? Where’s our ark? Where’s our Isaac? Can we not be trusted with such big works for Him?

And so we give up in our daily, small works for Him. Our faith falters, we stumble in our egos and emotions. We question, doubt, we throw our hands up in frustration. We believe ourselves to be less than everything He’s said we are to Him, to one another. Or better yet, we strive after arks of our own building and battles that aren’t ours to wage. All as a means to make ourselves known more to God. To be seen by the One who sees all, who knows all-especially those whom He created…that’s us. Because we feel as though we don’t much matter unless He’s giving us something big to do, a platform or cause, a war to fight on His behalf that we’ve not been called to. We busy ourselves with work that isn’t ours all for the banner of being known, of mattering to God.

Mary and Martha come to mind…one recognized the immediacy of the task at hand-being with Christ, called to obedience in sitting at His feet, being in His Presence, knowing Him. The other? Well she looks a lot like me. Busying herself to matter to Him, all the while He’s asking me to come sit, be in His Presence. He’s whispering that I matter because He’s chosen to dwell with me, here and now. Not for what I can do big for Him but for simply meeting Him there, in my small, in my mundane, in my daily. Hour to hour, moment to moment.

That “Go Big or Go Home” mentality that calls us to this new year with new pages to write on our stories may look like small moments. Small yeses in the mundane, hourly obedience and living out the fruit of joy, peace, patience, kindness in the immediate things. So maybe that means sitting a bit longer at His feet, in His Presence rather than rushing to organize that conference or speak from a platform. Maybe that is what matters most to Him-your attention to Him and not to the stuff.

Regardless of what we do or don’t do, we matter to Him. We matter so much He came to be with us, to go before us and be the sacrifice in our place, to take on our guilt, shame, sin so that we could be in relationship with Him, with God, and the Holy Spirit. He chose us because we matter to Him…so maybe your obedience in the small, in the seemingly mundane is meaningful. Maybe today He just wants you, your attention, your presence with Him.

Advent Joy

It’s the start to the third week of Advent, where we look at JOY. But I have to say I am just not feeling joyful. I’m not.

I anticipate and look forward to this time of year so much and yet I find myself sitting in this time of shear unjoyfulness. There’s just this immense lack of it in my heart and mind. All around me I see it, and I desperately want it, but it’s just not there. It’s as if this overwhelming grief and sadness has just enveloped life for me.

It’s jarring to even admit because I have been trying to cover it up, put on a mask and smile and be joyful when deep within I ache and want to shut off everything and every one. It’s the glimpses of a seeping depression coming through cracks in my life that I have attempted all too poorly to patch up with manufactured things, stuff that doesn’t fill those cracks.

The opposite of joy is fear, it’s the basis and the origination of sin from the very beginning. Fear of missing out, fear of being alone, fear of not being enough, fear of being too much. It compounds and mounts, leading to more of me trying to figure out or patch it up. To overcome the fear with confidence and gusto. But the more I tried in my own might I kept finding the grasp I was holding onto was slipping.

While the world looks at joy as emotion evoked by success or well-being, Biblical joy is a fruit of the Spirit, born out through labor and toiling, by pruning and stripping back. James tell us that we are to count it all joy when we are face to face with trials. It’s hard, it’s difficult and we often feel guilty for not feeling this exuberant joy all the time when it looks as though things are great on the outside.

This morning as I struggled to face the week of Joy in Advent I pulled open His Word to Zephaniah 3. (Yes, it’s a book in the Bible, but I did have to look in my index to find it too) These words cut deep to a heart struggling in fear and searching to make joy on it’s own.

“Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak.
The Lord your God in your midst, the Might One, will save,
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

We’re not to fear, to not resign ourselves to hopelessness. He is with us, the Warrior God fighting for us. He rejoices over us. He quiets our hearts with His unending love. He sings over us. Words of love, beauty, mercy, grace and JOY. He joys in us when we can’t find joy for ourselves. HE is our JOY. He is MY JOY, when fear tries to take hold and pull me under. When fear thinks it has won the battle in my mind and heart. He brings JOY to fight, songs of redemption is His battle cry, His strength in my hands for taking up the fight.

Joy may not look like a smiling, successful, fortunate turn of life. It may be the cries of the heart in battle, with God singing over us as He is with us. But JOY has come for us. To be with us. And for today, for now, we cling to a joy in Christ’s coming that brought hope, peace and love with the joy of today.


Newborns, Expectancy and Advent

Yesterday I had the privilege of holding a friend’s newborn baby. He was a mere 13 hours old and I have to say the sheer breath of calm and joy he ushered in was beautiful. To see friends becoming parents, and the elation and sereneness on the faces of my friend as she looked at him, as her husband held him, was one of the most beautiful sights to behold. (Thank you Abby and Tom for allowing me to witness that and hold the fantastic Fitz)

All week there’s been a build up of expectation, even as another friend awaits the arrival of her son whose holding out a bit on them a week after his expected arrival. It occurred to me the same feeling was overcoming me as well heading into Advent season. This expectation of the glory of the Lord. The celebration and elation of the birth of Christ 2,000+ years ago even now.

In doing some digging into expectancy, and what that word looks like (hi word nerd over here) in the Bible, it is so strongly correlated to hope throughout the Hebrew. They are linked and intertwined, and then I found this beautiful imagery of expectation. It is as one with an outstretched neck.

I don’t know about y’all but I LOVE THAT. Expectation is us stretching out to look, to see. It took me back to the days of going to parades in my hometown, and leaning out my head to see what was coming, to see if Santa was near at the Christmas parade, or the band was marching next in our 4th of July parade. You have to put yourself into it and truly feel the expectation in your body.

The expectation doesn’t come without a wait. It doesn’t come without some pangs of hurt, loss, strife, and suffering. Expectancy can be long and drawn out, but it’s still lingers. Hope builds in expectancy, confidence in the thing believed to be on the way. And just as my friends are now living out the fulfilled expectation of new life, so do we. The expectation of this season of Advent brings new life in joy, peace, hope. It ushers in the new life of Christ with us. In flesh now appearing. It brings confident expectation of new life not found in ourselves, but in Him.

All may be calm, it may be quiet as we wait in expectation. But may we lean out our necks to see the fulfillment of our expectation this Advent season in Christ’s presence with us.

In Everything? Give Thanks?

In everything, give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

This time of year, especially the week of Thanksgiving, we see the first part of this verse tossed around. It’s on plates, napkins, chalkboard walls, plaques. It was probably on church bulletins Sunday and will be statuses come Thursday.

But I have to be honest that Sunday I really didn’t want to give thanks in my situation. As I sat waiting for the police to take an accident report (I’m fine, Betty’s scratched up) I was not giving thanks thinking it was God’s will for my life. I was frustrated and irritated at the hassle of someone not paying attention and side-swiping me. In the extended wait time for the cops (who never showed) I didn’t give thanks for that time in my car in the middle of a busy thoroughfare near my neighborhood. Thankfulness was not entering my mind as I steamed over plans for my afternoon that were now thrown out the window.

Real honesty here that I was just pissed. Pissed that now I have to get my car fixed, pay a deductible and deal with insurance claims for the next few weeks. It’s life I know, but I was not having it and most definitely was not giving thanks through it. I stress baked and fumed for a good part of the night. Then suddenly this verse floated into my head. So I pushed it aside and distracted myself with a book I’d gotten. I dove into another world to find some semblance of salvaging my afternoon, my evening, my day.

This same verse from 1 Thessalonians 5 popped back up yesterday morning in my mind. It was a gentle reminder that I hadn’t taken stock of giving thanks in my circumstances. That I was intentionally living outside of the will of Christ because I was vehemently choosing to be unthankful in my circumstance. I didn’t want to be thankful it wasn’t worse. I didn’t want to be thankful that there weren’t injuries. I wanted to pitch a fit and be stubborn in my irritation.

Guess what though…you don’t get to live in that attitude or perspective. Because it’s not in the will of Christ. No, instead we give thanks in every circumstance, not comparing that we are better than the next person in it or that we aren’t like them. We give thanks that He saw fit to place us here in this moment, that we have a God who hears when we’re frustrated, broken, angry. Thankful hearts recalling seasons of joy and pulling them into our now. Thankful minds choosing an attitude of thanks in all things rather than an attitude of disdain.