So, I Preached This Weekend

Growing up as an atheist, the last thought on mind was preaching the Gospel in a church in my 30s. It just wasn’t something that I ever thought I’d see myself doing. Even when I was in my mid-20s, now a Christian, attending seminary, it was still a thought that didn’t come to my mind. People would ask, “Oh, so you’re going to be a pastor now?” or “So, you’re like going to teach people about Jesus in a church, right?” And every time I would shy away and say, “God told me to go to seminary, but I don’t think it’s for that reason.” Why did I say that? Because public speaking is not something I like to do and I had also been trained to think that woman couldn’t teach from the pulpit.

Yet, I absolutely adore teaching. I love sharing with people what God has taught me. I love the collaboration between the Holy Spirit, myself, and the people in the room. Each time something gets revealed or understood for the first time or someone recalls a truth they used to know, it’s like everything in me wants to explode with joy. Each time someone’s life is transformed whether it’s at the end of our talk or I hear about it later, it’s prayers answered! And as a teacher, I get to experience these things first: I learn new things, I am reminded of truth, and I am transformed. It starts with me and sometimes it’s painful, but its always good.

So, how did I get here? How did a former atheist preach the Gospel to a church?

It Started with Chicago

So, when God called me to Chicago I had no idea what He was going to do. He said go to Chicago to help plant a church in Logan Square with Real Church. Okay! Whatever you say God because I follow you. My heart’s desire is to just be with Him, doing ministry with Him, wherever He says to go. And these past six years have been a growing, transforming, sanctifying process. And maybe one day I’ll write a book, but for now this personal blog will suffice. And really, the story isn’t over; in fact, God has started me on a new chapter.

I Blame Scotland

This next chapter is learning what it means to preach and answering the call to preach. It’s doing a thing I would have never dreamt of, well not until six months ago. Not until Scotland.

When I was in Scotland on retreat, God revealed to me many things. One of which is teaching. And as the months have progressed, He has been revealing more and more to me that I am called to teach — not just classes (though they are my favorite, so I hope I can still do them) — but really, to preach the Word.

I Can’t Preach, I’m A Woman

Some background. I started out as a Christian at a Southern Baptist church and then went to a conservative evangelical seminary, so the idea of a female preaching was nonexistent. Women taught over women and children and that’s it.

So, it’s no surprise that there’s been conflict in my heart. Let me try to unpack this conflict because I think it’s important to explain. First off, if you follow the enneagram, I am a 9w1, so I am all about peace, maintaining the status quo, and I really want truth to reign in my life and I value rules and traditions. So take that foundation and sit with me in this tension.

I’m in a culture that tells me I can’t preach because of tradition or interpretations of Scripture, and yet I also value doctrine and Scripture above most things in this world and I want to follow what God says to do. And then, I have God who is telling me that He has made me to do the very thing that others say is wrong or at least makes them feel uncomfortable. I have a church leadership team that is being obedient to God and offering me a chance to do the very thing God created me to do. I am dealing with my own insecurities because it’s much easier to sit in a crowd and listen than to be on stage and bare my heart to the masses.

There was tension. And I kept going back to God, “Is this really what you want for me? Am I hearing you correctly? Can you show me in Scripture where it says I can do this? Can you confirm it through others? Help me to follow you, Lord. I don’t want to make this about me. I don’t want to dishonor you. Lord, are you really saying this?”

It was a mixture of needing confirmation but also maybe trying to find a loophole to get out of it because as I said, it’s uncomfortable.

In the end, I had to focus on God’s Will. Not others. Not what others would think about me. What I feared. No, I simply needed to pay attention to what God was inviting me to do.

Which Road Will You Take?

This road I have been going (if we want to do another analogy) has taken me to this spot. I really do believe Scotland was one of those crossroads. God was asking me, “Will you follow me down this road? You can go on the other path and I will be there with you too… but you can walk this path. It will not be easy. At times, you will be afraid. It’s going to cause a lot of tension. You won’t be able to follow the status quo [and as someone who is a 9 on the enneagram that is terrifying], but you will be more alive than you ever thought possible. You will have more joy than you ever thought possible. You will know ME more than you ever thought possible.”

Obviously, I chose Him. I chose a deeper intimacy with God. I chose this crazy path of obedience because I honestly could not have chosen the other path, it’s not me. It’s not what I was made for. Why live this life not fully being the woman God created me to be?

As God said, this road is not going to be an easy one. I know I will receive pushback. I know as I continue to grow in these gifts, I am going to have to die more to myself. There’s going to be a lot more pruning. A lot more faith. There’s going to be a lot more external forces that will either push or pull me to take the other road.

And yet, and yet, I can’t go back to the woman I used to be. I am not that atheist, I am not even that seminary student anymore… I have been changed by Chicago. I have been changed by Scotland. I have been changed by God.

If you would like to listen to the sermon, you can listen to it on iTunes or on Google PlayIt’s not perfect but it’s obedience recorded, folks.

Hearing the Call of God is Not About You

Hearing the Call of God is Not About You

“The call of God is not the echo of my nature; my affinities and personal temperament are not considered. As long as I consider personal temperament and think about what I am fitted for I shall never hear the call of God.” – Oswald Chambers

This quote by theologian Oswald Chambers is powerful as it is humbling. How many times have I thought about my life and following God in terms of what I can do? What I can bring to the table? I somehow turn God’s Kingdom into something about me.

Yet, it’s not about me. Sometimes God calls us to do something that we’re not gifted or talented in because it gives more glory to God. Why? Because we are stepping out in faith and obedience when we do something new and different. Yes, it may be easier to do something when you’re talented in it, but it’s much harder if you’re not talented and still do it.

It shows a deep level of faith when we attempt to do our impossible. We have to trust that God is going to show up and help us. It forces us to be dependent and obedient at every step because we have no idea what we are doing.

What Am I Fitted For?

I am not discounting that God doesn’t equip us (Hebrews 13:21; 2 Timothy 3:17) or give us gifts (1 Cor. 7:7) to use for His Kingdom. This is all true. But when we begin to rely on our gifting (whether or not they are from God) more than Him, we are in trouble. It becomes about us. About what we can do. What we can build.

And then we begin to assess the ministries in our lives in terms of what I can offer. “Well, I am shy and introverted, so I cannot teach in front of big crowds. Yes, I have this gift of teaching, but it should be used in this area of my life only and only when I feel comfortable.”

That quote is literally what I have been saying the past month.

Yet Oswald and Scripture has humbled and convicted me. I have been placing too much emphasis on me and less on what God can do through me.

 

What is My Personal Temperament?

I have also learned that my perfectionism and desire for personal peace gets in the way of God’s calling. I want to do it the best or I won’t do it at all. I want to know all the things before I commit to something because I want to do it well, I want to control, and I want an excuse to back out. That’s my sin. That’s my excuses. And that’s me ignoring God’s call.

God has gifted and equipped me for many good works, but when I concentrate on those giftings I don’t see God. I instead see my own failings and unworthiness and pitiful gifts before the King and it causes me to retreat.

Yet, Consider This…

So, if you’re feeling like God is asking you to do the impossible and you think you’re not worthy, consider how much you are looking at yourself instead of your Creator. If you think you’re burnt out because you’re doing all of the things, consider how much you’re doing in your own power and your own talents than relying fully on God. And know that God may call you to do something that may seem contrary to what you’re gifted in, but remember it’s His Plan, His Kingdom, and He knows what He is doing, so just trust and follow Him.

Easier said than done, I know – but the hard things are worth doing.

Losing Weight is More Than Just Pounds

Losing Weight is More Than Just Pounds

Over two years ago I started this movement toward health. I called it #Fitby30 (you can see other postings on that here). I started this at 29 because I wanted to be fit by the age 30; yet, now as I look toward 32, at the same weight I started with at 28, I’ve learned quite a few things.

What I’ve learned most is that losing weight is a spiritual process.

Spiritual Process – wha-what?

As a Christian, I believe that God created me whole – my body, mind, and soul are all one. I cannot separate the body and soul, though I have tried! I would tell God, “All right, help me lose weight, but let’s not touch my emotional weight I am carrying.” It wasn’t until I started seeing them as the same thing that I began to realize that God was answering my prayer to heal my body, but it wasn’t in the way I thought.

He cares more about the interior than the exterior; although, friends, the exterior can also reflect your interior. So, if you’re a mess on the outside there’s a good chance you’re a mess on the inside. And the mess is okay! The mess shows our desperate need for God. The problem is if you allow the mess to build and act as a barrier between you and God.

There are also people who are incredibly messy on the inside and who are put together on the outside. They still need Jesus as much as I do and the outward perfection is their barrier.

Basically, we all need Jesus.

So, Where Am I Now?

So here I am nearly 32 and finally accepting the good work God is doing in me. I am celebrating that I am a mess and that God is helping me clean it up. I am celebrating that while the last two years have been a battle and I have may have lost some, God has also given me many victories. So, that’s why I wanted to mark this year with a photo.

Before Photos Are Tricky

There’s this big movement to do a before and after photo that seems to show the before image one as depressed, slouchy, unhappy, and most importantly, captured with a poor quality camera. And then the after photo is the complete opposite of that.

I get why we do it. I do. I really do. For one thing, we want to motivate others and even ourselves. We want to show the extent of change we may (or may not) have experienced.

But I’m not about that.

I want to honor God and celebrate the body that God has given me now. I want to confidently proclaim that I am beautiful and worthy at this moment.

Do I still have more weight to lose? Of course. Yet my weight loss does not change how I feel about myself — I am fearfully and wonderfully made; I am created in the image of God; and I am the King’s Daughter who is deeply loved and chosen.

Weight loss or gain does not take that away from me.

So to celebrate the work He has done in me and to celebrate the work He will do, I took some before photos.

My Before Photos

I am sure you just scrolled down to this section to see these awesome photos by Heather Love. Yes, a big shout-out to Heather Allison Love Photography for taking these photos for me.

Yes, the bottom right photo is my Valkyrie/Body-Builder Friend Lisa shot.

And lastly, I am posting this shot below because it comprises some of my least favorite parts of my body. And yet still, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

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He Entered Without Knocking

23526522I am listening to the The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski and it’s been quite the treat.

While on the treadmill this morning I heard a quote that struck me (here’s my paraphrase): “He entered my heart without knocking.”  Who said it? I don’t know. Unfortunately, with audiobooks it’s hard to go back to something, especially when you’re exercising.

The chapter was on C.S. Lewis and his early years of being an atheist and how God was bringing Christian writers into his life causing him to question his beliefs. He references this in his autobiography Surprised by Joy:

A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.

Every time I read that quote I cannot help but give a good, grateful chuckle because it was not only true for Lewis, but true for me too. For him it was George McDonald and G.K. Chesterton, and for me, J.R.R. Tolkien.

It was as this author said, like someone entering my heart without knocking. Just one day there was a truth that had taken up residence and everything started to make sense. Christ was real! The myths found in Tolkien’s work were not just stories but echoes of the truth that we indeed are in need of a savior.

The door that was kept closed and locked filled with doubt, anger, and unasked questions was now open, and without me fully understanding, I was able to make space for the Holy Spirit.

And I will be forever grateful.

The Turning Point

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In 1 Samuel 8 a significant turning point happens to Israel that changes the trajectory of their nation. They rejected the judgeship –something that set them apart and was something that made them completely subject to God’s rule, reign, and authority — for kingship. They wanted a king so that “we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20).

I had to admit to God tonight that this chapter in the Bible causes so much tension inside of me. I mean this is it — we are going down the pathway of King David and King Solomon, two monarchs that I love to read and learn about. God did so many awesome things through their kingship. And Jesus came through the line of David! It’s exciting.

And yet, this is the point when Israel rejects God and He concedes. He warns them of the corruption and the frailty of man, the consequential slavery that they are putting themselves back into, and yet they still choose to be like others. It’s painful.

How many times have I rejected God’s reign in my life? How many times have I decided either that the government in my own country is more important than Jesus, my King? How many times have I made myself the monarch?

It’s a high number.

I had to confess to God (and more to myself) where I have been rejecting His authority in my life. And it’s embarrassing and frustrating because I love God … a lot. I love Him more than anything else in this world — except for myself. I still love myself more. I still love my dreams more.

I want to love God more. I do. I end all of my prayers asking God to teach me how to love Him; to grow my heart; to align my will to His; and to love others as He loves others. I need my heart to grow and strengthen.

After my reading and prayer tonight, I started singing “Desert Soul” by Rend Collective. I didn’t know all of the words all that well except for the beginning:

I love you Lord, but I want to love you more

I need you God, but I want to need you more

So I decided to run to YouTube and play it loud and proud in my room and dance around and sing and declare it to God. If you have the time, listen to it (I purposefully chose the video with the lyrics on it).

This is my prayer.

Take Root Where God Plants You

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Recently I had a conversation with someone who was thinking about moving to a new state. I told him that if he moves he should stay there at least 18 months. Why? Well, as someone who has spent four years in a new city I’ve learned that it’s important to take root where God plants you.

Growth Takes Time

The first year or so you’re so busy looking back on what you had and what you miss. You’re continually playing the compare game. Well, where I came from we had access to cheap and delicious avocados. (Okay, maybe I am still not over that one.)

You’re also experiencing a culture shock and when you are in shock you gravitate to what is most comfortable. It’s foreign and confusing. You don’t know the rules, the good places for tacos, the streets to avoid, or how to even get to the grocery store!

You’re also looking forward – what you want, what could be better. Well, if I move to this state or this city my life could be better. The grass is greener on the other side, sort of thing. Well folks, water your own lawn.

Taking Root Helps You Endure

It was hard moving to Chicago to help start a church. I didn’t have any friends. I spent my life in Southern California building relationships. As an introvert it’s also hard for me to make friends. I like to hang out at home and create things, but I also adore deep friendships and conversations with other humans. That stuff takes time. I had to start again.

The past four years I have been through some trials. I could have easily returned back to California but I was stubborn and resilient in my pursuit to take root and it paid off. I broke a foot, gone through some major depression, etc., and through it all I was stable and grounded in my new home.

I also knew that God planted me in Chicago and I didn’t want my fear to take control. The fear of missing out in the lives I had left (babies, weddings, baptisms, etc.); the fear of not being known or understood in a new city; the fear of being alone forever; the fear of not having a security net to catch me if I fell; and the fear of falling in love with a new place and forgetting where I came from.

Remember Why You Moved

So I focused on God and not on the fear. I focused on God’s promises and truth. I focused on the why. Why did I move to Chicago? I also replaced the focus of it being about me and my life and where I wanted to live and remembered what I told God five years ago, God send me where you want me to go. My life is yours. I meant it then and I mean it now. I hold onto that declaration when I am stressed and looking back and it gently turns my head to the present.

Take Root

As a plant, you don’t have a choice where you are planted. You just take root. Growth takes time and it can be painful. Yet, when you bear fruit it is so sweet and you realize it was actually worth it. It made sense. The soil, the climate –  everything was made for you to grow.

So, if you are thinking about moving, my advice is to pray and then take root. Give yourself at least 18 months before you move to the next place. Be patient with this new life that is forming, endure during the storms, and remember why you’re there. Let’s not be a generation of rootless wanderers, but let’s follow where God leads.

 

Having Faith

120HComing from a family without a faith can lead to some problems, especially when obeying and honoring your parents comes into direct conflict with God’s Will.

This problem arose when I moved across country to follow God’s calling to help plant a church in Chicago. It’s something they didn’t get. It’s something that still confounds them to this day, especially as I enter into my fourth year being gone. I had hoped that overtime they would understand but I think time has only made it worse.

The regular question I get asked is when I will return to California. They like to bring up the dangers of Chicago. They like to bring up what I am missing, such as my niece’s life. They like to bring up how being far away from family leads to a lonely life. They pretty much press guilt onto all the insecure spots in my life.

It’s hard.

It leads me to feeling angry, misunderstood, alone, and frustrated. I wanna respond with copious amounts of sass and sarcasm, which to be honest is not a great way to communicate God’s glory and blessings.

I have to continually remind myself that I am at first a daughter of the Eternal King. I put my faith in Jesus Christ and I have given my life to Him. I follow Him.  And none of that means anything to my family, other than that I am delusional and idiotic. But I knew nine years ago when I became a Christian what I was giving up and putting on myself and I would never go back and change that beautiful, wonderful day of grace.

I think about Jesus’s ministry in his hometown and how he was rejected. Sometimes you have to leave for people to see God’s glory. And that is what I pray for: my family will be a family of faith.