As long as I live there will be something worth fighting for, worth writing for, and worth dying for.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

This post was going a completely different way. Then an analogy popped in my head and the entire 500 words was scrapped, all for the sake of chocolate-covered strawberries.

Yesterday, as I studied, I was thinking about faith, about the battle between our spirit and our flesh. I realized a few things. One, there will always be a battle. Even if we think our flesh is dead and gone, it will come back to overpower a weak spirit. Two, our flesh does not change, the desires it had before it was killed off will be the same desires it is resurrected with (I am talking about our fleshly nature here, not the glorified bodies). Three, who you serve is who you feed.

Four, you can "feed" your spirit and your flesh at the same time.

Before you can at me with "no man can serve two masters" let me explain. It is like chocolate-covered strawberries. On one hand, they are good for you, but they are still not considered healthy, right? Why? Because chocolate is not the best thing in the word for you. If it were, it would be in a food group other than "fats."

But what are spiritual chocolate-covered strawberries. They appear spiritual but are fleshly motivated. For instance, I read my Bible every morning for ten minutes because that is 'spiritual' but my motivation in doing it is to impress... myself, I guess. Maybe that's why people opt for chocolate-covered strawberries instead of candy bars. At least reading five chapters is better than reading a romance novel, right?

So, while my spirit man may be gleaning a bit of sustenance from my meal of candied fruit, the one who is really getting the benefit is my flesh. It should be no surprise to me, then, that in the end my flesh is stronger. It wins out.

Yesterday was a day that solidified the reality of chocolate-covered strawberries. Here I felt like I was doing a good job devotionally-wise. I was pretty faithful about reading my Bible every morning and read for a decent amount of time and I would pray through my students and other needs at the front of my mind. I thought I was doing pretty good. Someone else, a complete stranger, told me otherwise.

I received a phone call, and interview yesterday morning as I removed a load of laundry from the dryer. I walked over to a comforter and sat down and was asked to share my devotional life. So I bragged about how I can pray in the car while I am driving to work, and how I have this Hebrew-Greek study Bible that makes me the equivalent of a theology grad student (not really). I felt pretty impressed by myself. Surely I had to be making an impression on this person. Not really.

He said very plainly that my devotional life needs a lot of work. It was like getting a cavity from my chocolate-covered strawberries. Maybe more of a root canal. It hurt. My flesh immediately went into revolt as he challenged me to up the ante in my spiritual life and really make time for God. Two hours each morning was the challenge.

When that was first presented I was reeling. Two hours!? Two hours is for people like Charles Spurgeon or Amy Carmichael. Two hours is not for people like me. As I listened to him explain his challenge, I calmed a little. He asked, "How do you feel about that?" There was a long pause, and all I could say was, "Woah."

That is like an all-organic diet, or a juice fast. It's for those 'other people' not for me. Jessica doesn't do organic. I like my chocolate-covered strawberries, thank you very much. But then it occurred to me. I had it all wrong. The 'spiritual greats' did not have great spiritual lives because they were great. No. The spiritual greats were great because they had great spiritual lives. They were spiritually healthy because they had ditched the chocolate-covered strawberries. You don't get healthy and then decide to eat right. You eat right and then become healthy.

So, two hours it is, but not right away. It's like training for a marathon. It takes time to develop... and those chocolate covered strawberries have to go.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Never Despise Starting Over

To say I am at a breaking point would be an understatement. Right now, I would consider myself just plain broken. I have spent the past 24 hours grappling with where I am after 24 years of life. I cried myself to sleep last night as I thought, "This is not where I wanted to be." My life feels so impactless at the moment. I know it has its impact, but I had hoped it would be more. Much more.

So, I am broken, because somewhere along the line I missed a step, I think. That step would be the sacred.

Years ago (man I feel old when I say that), I read a book by Eric Ludy. The book, entitled, "Meet Mr. Smith" talked about the sacred. In it, Eric introduces the reader to Sacred, a personification of the attribute that should be present in our lives. In telling the story, Eric shares how he actually set the book itself aside, in the face of looming deadlines, in order to care for that which is sacred- his wife.

For me, sacredness and patience work hand in hand. That which is sacred must be waited for. I can get so impulsive. My train of thought is instant. If God calls me to be a missionary, I should go now. It does not make sense for me to wait for two years. If God calls me to write something, I should write it now, and in turn He should publish it now. Right? It's not like it isn't needed right now. Right?

But this morning, as I sat in little pieces on the floor, a friend sent me a Scripture reference: Ecclesiastes 3:11. If you will tolerate a paraphrase: God makes all things beautiful in His time; don't try to figure out what He's doing.

That was the version according to Jessica. That is how I read it this morning.

As we come up on Christmas, I think back to a Sunday school lesson I taught months ago. I talked about how the world had waited for Christ. That's why the hymn sings, "Come thou long-expected Jesus." For centuries the world waited for Redemption. Did they need the Redemption then? Of course they did. Did God know what was best? Absolutely.

So, I have spent some time reflecting on God's timing. Some people say to never despise small beginnings, to serve where you stand, to bloom where you are planted. That's all fine well and good except for the fact that when Jessica is given a brick, I build the whole wall. I am not one to enjoy the journey. I am one to find the quickest route possible to the destination. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line at five over the speed limit. That's how I work. So, God gives me bricks, lays a foundation and then I grab the blue prints and build the rest of the wall. Sure, I had small beginnings, and I didn't despise them but doesn't God want more from me... and now?

I build it up, and then triumphantly turn and face my Father. With love in His eyes, He says, "Tear it down." I'm crushed. What?! "Tear it down. That isn't want I wanted for you. Tear it down."

And down it comes again. That's where I stand right now. Or maybe I am sitting. Sitting amongst a pile of broken dreams trying to figure out the exact point when God's work became mine. I can't find that point, so it's back to the drawing board. Given the choice of cutting myself on broken glass and letting God help me start over, I think I pick the latter.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Just for Fun

As Aslan, you are brave, noble and have an astute awareness of morality. You may be quick to anger at times, but you have a heart of gold, and are respected greatly among your peers.

Narnia Personality Quiz

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I woke up in deep thought this morning, quite a way to start my 25th year of life. I sat down in front of the Mirror and cried out to God, "What is my problem?" He replied gently, "you."

I'm taking a break... catch you all on the other end of it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Open Doors

"When something becomes frustrating or confusing, it is no longer God doing it; it's us."

That is a paraphrase from Joyce Meyer's book, "Seven Things That Steal Our Joy." It's a quote God reminded me of today as I wrote to a ministry partner of mine.

So often, I run ahead of God- far ahead. It's not that I am not supposed to go to a certain place. It's just that I'm going without Him.

Years ago, my family visited Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, TN. We entered the cave to lead us to the falls and, in a few moments, realized we had lost my youngest brother. We strained to see through the crowd and spotted him nearly 50 yards ahead, on his way to the Falls. He got in trouble. Why? Is it because he was going the wrong way? No. He was simply getting ahead of us.

I do that to God so often. He opens a door, and I walk through it. Then, I get so excited about being through the door that I burst into a full out sprint and miss everything entirely in my mad dash to open door #2.

God is so gentle and patient with me. He reminded me of that today in a strange way. He actually reminded me through a YouTube promotional video for an independent Christian music group composed of 24 year olds. In the end of the video one of them said, "We are just walking through the doors He opens."

Service to Him does not have to be a blazing spitfire. There is much service to be had in boldness and courage. Everyone reading this is very confused, but I promise in the next few weeks, all that I have said will make sense. Being Reckless is not about swinging a sword and shaking an angry fist in the face of society and saying, "Deal with it."

Being Reckless is simply this: Deciding to follow Jesus and never turning back.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

And We Wonder Why...

I've heard it many times before, the beaten dead horse statistic that young adults are leaving church when they hit college and aren't coming back until they have kids. Here's a thought: maybe it is time we stop quoting statistics and work on changing them... just a thought.

I did a little research before I sat down to right this and found 101 Different reasons why young adults leave the church. I think, as a young adult myself, very few of them actually know what they are talking about. This one article did hit home. It bears the subheading "Young adults will leave church if they are overlooked." It was published by the Baptist Press in 2006.

Being a Baptist, I feel very comfortable in saying, leave it to us to nail the problem square on the head and then do nothing about it. It's like searching for years for a diagnosis of a chronic illness. The doctor finally figures it out, announces the diagnosis, then leaves. As if you have the medical training to treat yourself.

In the article, it polled Christian young adults (there's an idea: ask the people who are actually in that stage of life) asking what they were looking for in a church. I can hear the 'older' generations thinking now. Immediately, they all went down the "all these young people want is drums and a fun time." You would be wrong, and if I may, you would be half the problem.

Here is the other half. Of those young adults polled in a 2006 survey conducted by Lifeway Research, 73% of 18-34 year olds thought it was important to be able to develop relationships with people their age. 71% felt hands-on service in the community was important. 68% wanted to be able to explore religious environment without pressure (a.k.a. establish themselves in their own faith). 67% wanted to be able to get advice from people with similar life experiences, and a whopping 66% felt it was important to be able to utilize their own talents and gifts in the church.

The percentage of those things I see done in the modern-day church- 0%.

Notice, nothing was said about music, or games, or programs. In fact, the article goes on to say this, which is really the whole point of this rambling blog. It says,
"I truly believe [this generation] wants to embrace Jesus Christ and His plan for their life...They want to embrace church, but only the genuine, earth-shaking, Christ-powered New Testament church. For some churches, that’s going to mean changing methodology but not the message of the Bible.”

Johnston said the solution is simple: Give this generation the unbridled truth of the Gospel, without apology, and they will actively embrace it.

And that's where we, as a church, have fallen short. We give the truth like we give vitamins. We pump it full of sugar and make it a flavored and cute chewable. Church is a dietary supplement. Let me ask you this: can you survive on a bottle of vitamins?

In a little over a month, Reckless will be launching. Reckless, along with other already-established ministries such as The Rebelution, are geared toward activating this generation of young people to live life for Christ.

Frankly, I'm done. We're done. Done settling for second best in our walks with Christ and in our churches. Done settling for a faith that can barely move a blade of grass much less a mountain. Done.

The problem holds guilt all over our churches. We lack discipleship. We lack responsibility. We lack depth.

We have these children's and youth programs. They are shallow, pumped full of music and a good time. Pumped full of points and systems and strategies. Mass-produced and microwaveable. Tell me, can you survive on that?

What we need is depth. What we need is intention. We need a generation of leaders willing to do hard things (to steal Alex and Brett's line) in order to raise up a generation of young adults who will do hard things. I have seen it and I still see it. This generation of teenagers is a generation that is done with the sugar coating and fluff. Give them the truth raw and wriggling and keep your nasty chips (yes, I am in a quoting mood today. Name the movie!).

Liken our faith to a swimming pool. There is a community pool in my back yard, literally. There is a shallow end, a deep end and a wading pool. As a church, we have our youth in the shallow end. We don't want to scare them by going into the deep end, so we let them play in the shallow end. Then, once they hit college age, we push them down the water slide into the deep end. We expect them to become actively involved and step into leadership roles. And we wonder why they drown.

How about, instead, we take the teenagers to the deep end and teach them how to swim. Guess what, though, swimming lessons are best one on one. Less likelihood of drowning that way. What does that mean for us? That means a few things. First, we have to get in the pool. Second, we have to know how to swim (hard to teach someone when you don't know yourself). Third, we have to patient and willing to teach.

But it's so much easier to mass-produce a lesson and hand it out along with our little fortune cookies. It is much easier to smile and nod and keep walking than to sit down and actually have a serious conversation. It is less time consuming and less expensive to just meet with youth on Sunday and Wednesday. Besides, we don't have the gas to drive to McDonald's or the money to buy them a $1 cheeseburger. Can't they figure out how to swim on their own?

A few do. But just a few. The rest grab on to the life raft offered by the world and climb out, never to return again.

And we wonder why...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More than Just Surviving

This morning, I sauntered over to my Facebook and posted about how horrible today would be. Maybe not horrible, but just how long it would be. Yesterday had been a little rough, and had resulted in a rather impressive headache last night. After trying to battle it for a couple hours, me and my churning stomach made our way to bed, where I slept until 6 this morning, when my brother woke me up (there is no such thing as sleeping in here).

The to-do list for today was longer than a normal Saturday and I was still not feeling 100%. So, in typical Jessica fashion, I vented on my Facebook status about the four major things I had to do today. When I returned home after aerobics class (major thing #1), I read a friend's reply to my status. She said, "I pray you survive."

The thought occurred to me that survival is not the issue here. I have no doubt that, barring an unforeseen accident, I would be alive long enough to see tomorrow morning. That was not the problem. The problem was how I wanted to live today.

It's one thing to hole up in your room, and drown the world. It's entirely another to face a day like today and to do so in faith. To live the day, not just survive. So it has been with today, but I think God used yesterday to prepare me.

Yesterday marked day one of two that my boss, the school principal and high school teacher, would be out of town. I walked in to school fairly confident in my ability to handle a Friday without her. Within ten minutes, my confidence was faltering. I was standing in the school hallway with a parent halfway down my throat, reeming me out about how horrible of a teacher I was, etc, etc, etc.

Four years ago, I would have returned the favor and been halfway down hers. God's timing is perfect though, that morning I had read about how even a fool is regarded as wise when he keeps his mouth shut. I proceeded to listen to her for the next ten minutes, keeping my mouth shut, letting her vent off steam that probably resulted from dealing with the child she had to deal with. She ended the conversation by informing me that it was my job to teach and her job to deal with her child, and that I should do my job and she would do hers. Then, she left.

I proceeded to go into the office and exhale. I don't recall breathing the entire time she was talking to me. I let out a few tears because it is hard for me to not defend myself. I want to come back with this crass argument and tell her that her child's issues are not my problem. I can't, and that is humbling for me, because, in a situation like this, and a few others in my life, God has to be my defense. I have no choice.

After school started, I opened my e-mail, and God smiled. While one parent was raking me over the coals, another had sat down to write an e-mail of appreciation. She wrote about her child and how the staff had helped her child do much better in school. She thanked me for the time I had given her child, who is one of my 'focus' students. Guess maybe I'm not a scum-of-the-earth teacher after all, huh?

All of that yesterday prepared me to face all of this today.

After aerobics class this morning, mom and I went shopping. Our church is doing Thanksgiving baskets for needy families in our church and there is one family in particular I wanted to ensure had a basket. In order to do that, I bought them their basket. It's not like I am some rich person. Honestly, I was using money I do not have. I turned to my mother and said, tongue-in-cheek, "Why did you have to give me such a giving heart?"

The woman in charge of the baskets thought the same thing. When we arrived at the church she looked at my mother and said, "Here we were going to extend the food to give a basket to you guys and you are out shopping for people!" I guess, for us, it is part of faith. For now, we are blessed. We have a roof over our heads, a well-stocked pantry. We are fine. We are blessed, and are pretty intent on blessing others even if it draws blood from our bank. We'll be ok. God has always taken care of us.

Living the day.

After packing the baskets, we went to shop for my cousin's bridal shower. It's a bit of a rough situation, and for reasons unknown to me this particular cousin and I have a rough relationship. As we walked through the store, I was trying to think of the most practical thing to get her (because I am a huge practical person). My mom and I finally decided to pitch in together to get her something. We are now getting ready to head over to the shower, but the whole time I have been thinking about today. It hasn't been that bad.

In fact, sometime between doing the bulletin and shopping for the bridal shower, my headache and other ailments subsided. Now, I feel fine. I would say I have survived but there are still many hours left in today. I will say this though, it is one thing to make it through a day, it is another to make it through the day with your faith still intact. That's probably the hardest part of all of this.

At the end of the day, what will people say about me?

Bigger Than Life- 4Him
Life – sometimes such a bully. It sneaks up and knocks us to the ground. Life – seems to show no mercy. Well It laughs at us and kicks us when we’re down.

Well I’ve been there in it’s shadow and the time has taught me this, if we look over its shoulder, we’ll see that our God is

Bigger than life. Bigger than anything that comes our way. Bigger than life. Bigger than any problems we might face. Our God is so amazing beyond all we can say so hearts of faith take courage come what may. He’s bigger than life.

We, we all have had our bruises when life has led us to a painful place. Time and again hasn’t our God proven, He can handle any struggles that we face?

Well He’ll be the same tomorrow as He’s been through all the years so even when this life’s not fair, we have no cause to fear."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Our Satisfaction

Satisfaction is a strange part of our lingo today. We can satisfy our hunger or satisfy a debt. It holds the idea of being completely content or fulfilled. We can fulfill a longing, or fulfill the terms of a contract. Customers have satisfaction surveys that indicate if a product met, even exceeded, their expectations.

The sad point is, if Christians filled out satisfaction surveys on their walk with Christ, I doubt many would have a high rating.

But isn't God enough?

Ready? No.

Before you report me to some ethics and religion board, let me explain. Should Christians rejoice in their salvation? Absolutely. Should we have life abundant offered to us because of our salvation? Sure!

That's just it though- it is offered to us. We don't receive life abundant at salvation. We receive life eternal at salvation. We receive life abundant when we are living out God's will for our lives.

That was the message my Pastor shared Sunday night, right after I got back from the purity retreat in Vermont. I had been thinking all weekend about how this is what I want to do! This is the kind of stuff I love to do! I thought of how much I would love to be able to minister to teenage girls for the rest of my life. I came back to school Monday extremely frustrated by the fact that I did not have another ministry event to prepare for.

But God...

This morning, I prayed for the next step. I prayed for Reckless. For wisdom in getting it started. I shared the concerns and short-comings I felt, and I drove to work today much more at peace with where I am. I know that God has brought me here and He will use me here. Then, this afternoon, a ton of discipleship- the one on one kind that I love. Reckless was just born... and to me, that is nuts. It is exciting though! Extremely exciting and I must say I am satisfied.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Impeccable Timing, Your Majesty

No, that isn't an original title. I stole it from a Disney Movie. Can you name it??

At any rate, that is the dialogue between God and I at the moment. It is rather amazing how He always seems to know just when I need something. He especially likes to use the unexpected. I think that brings Him a great sense of joy when He can delight us with the simple things.

I am finishing a critical reading (editing) of an upcoming book. It is the 10th Anniversary of An Anchor for the Soul, by Ray Pritchard. This marks the third book that I have been able to have as a preview copy (the official term just left me). This, however, is the first of those three that I have been able to edit and give input for. It is a rather daunting but enjoyable task. I am not responsible for grammar as much as I am for content. I'm actually helping to update the book for its release, which is fun!

More than fun, it is informative. An Anchor for the Soul is simply an expanded Gospel Tract. It is an indepth look at the Gospel and presents truth in a take-it-or-leave-it matter of factness that would be good for some preachers to practice. Dr. Pritchard pastored a church himself and was one of my professors in Bible college. It is a blessing to work with him on this project.

The project itself has been a blessing. I have seen God and the Gospel in a new light since I read through the first 20 pages of manuscript. The timing couldn't have been better. At a moment when I was desperately needing to drink in some grace, when I was needing a new look at my Saviour, I found it... in a writing assignment nonetheless. Who would have figured?

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Fear of the Lord

The past 24 hours have been a spiritual roller coaster. I have to confess that for the last couple weeks I have, in fact, been cocky. Really cocky. Life has been going so well that I began to feel like I could handle life on my own. It was as if I said, "Ok, God. Thanks for getting me out of that mess. The road looks pretty straight from here and I have a GPS, so if You don't mind, I am going to take it from here."

Thing is: He does mind.

That was never more evident than last night when the utter blackness and depravity of my own heart scared me. Even when regenerate, we are such sinful creatures. Even when desiring a walk with God, we are so prone to fall. In time, our eyes adjust to the darkness and we find ourselves walking just fine in the black night, until God's light shines in. Then, we find ourselves truly blinded, shocked by the contrast of Truth and the reality we have been living.

Last night was a serious time of reflection before my God. A prodigal son moment, if you will, when this heart came crawling back to her Maker, battered and bruised yet again. Yesterday afternoon, I read a blog by Leslie Ludy in which she tells the story of taking her two oldest children to a local pumpkin patch. When they arrived back at their car, a swarm of bees decided to attempt to ride home with them. Leslie tried to heroically defend her children but finally called her knight, Eric, to come rescue them. When their oldest son, Hudson, heard Leslie talking to Eric, Hudson exclaimed, "Daddy, help! Come save us from the bees!" It is a heart-warming story, and Leslie, being the gifted writer she is, draws a beautiful parallel to our walk with Christ. That is the reliance, the dependence we are supposed to have on God. We are supposed to run to Him yelling, "God! Please save me!"

That was our conversation last night. It was a "God! Please rescue me... from myself." Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. If we weren't so darn independent, we wouldn't have this problem, but our nature makes us act as if there is no God and we are in no need of one.

Yesterday I also came across a video blog by author Joshua Harris. In the video he was talking about self-control and how we have to make ourselves make time for God. How we have to actively alter our life schedule and make time for God. He was speaking on a passage from Proverbs that talks about sleeping leading to poverty. He says that it doesn't always have to be sleep. It could read, "A little Facebook, a little e-mail and your poverty will come upon you..."

It made me realize that my priorities have been, once again, way out of whack. Instead of getting up at 5:30 to read my Bible and pray and eat breakfast, I have been getting up at 6:30 to check my Facebook, e-mail, Beggar's Daughter and leave. The ministry God gave me began to become more important than my walk with Him. Everything in my spirituality had grown to center around what it would do for Beggar's Daughter. It had begun to consume me in an unholy way.

This morning, I decided to change that. Because change, really, is within our control.

I woke up at 5:30 this morning, took a shower while my mom was out on her walk. Emptied the dishwasher and settled in on the couch for a solid, uninterrupted time before the throne of Grace. This morning, God was waiting there for me, with a message very clear. I opened my Bible to Job 23 and read chapters 23-28 where Job is talking about how he would come before God. Somewhere in the middle, he says that hypocrite has no place before God. Ouch. The last verse talks about the fear of the Lord being wisdom and that departing from evil is understanding.

I then turned to Psalm 25-26 and read that 'the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.'

On to Proverbs 2 where the fear of the Lord brings wisdom.

It all started tying together.

So often we pray for wisdom and understanding. We will ask God to give us discernment and guidance. Here it is, in black and white. God's plan- the source of our wisdom, understanding, discernment and guidance is to fear God. When I am searching for a topic for an upcoming speaking event, my first step is not an outline or research. My first step is to fear God, to remember that I live and breathe only because He allows me to intake oxygen. To remember that I write because He has gifted me, not for my own glory, but for His and He is jealous of that glory. That is what it means to fear Him, and He is a God worth fearing.

Read on to Jeremiah (I did not write down the chapter). God is dealing (again) with the nation of Israel. Talk about a group of rebels! He discusses how He does not take sin lightly and is not at all happy with what they are doing and that He will be sending wrath, and lots of it, on them and their enemies. It awakened the realization that my God is not just a God of mercy. Is He a God of mercy? Yes. However, He is a jealous and holy God. He wants me to have fellowship with Him and only with Him. He wants my entire heart. He wants my entire life and, if history bears any likeness, will go to great lengths to bring me to Him.

Prayer this morning was bittersweet. Bitter because of the mud and filth that had to be cleaned out of heart and mind. Sweet because there was a restoration of fellowship, even if it was slight. There is a scar, a reminder that this is not a wise path to take, and Lord willing, I will not take it again. The Facebook was deactivated this morning. I probably will not sit in front of my computer for a while. It is a media vacation of sorts. I am finishing up an editorial project for the 10th Anniversary Edition of "An Anchor for the Soul" by Ray Pritchard. It is a beautiful 'Wal-Mart English' read about the Gospel.

That is as far as my media goes. My speeches will be hand-written. This is a time to sit and relish in the God who made me, loves me and desires to be with me. This is a time to restore a fellowship that has been broken and to bring healing where healing is needed. A time to learn what it means to truly fear the Lord.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

They were first called "Christians"...

Drive time=think time for me, it always has. Some of the deepest moments of my spiritual walk have been behind the wheel of a car, actually. There is something about being completely alone that does it for me. I can actually talk out loud with God. If I did that in my house, my family would first off, be eavesdropping. Secondly, they would think I am crazy. I really look forward to my time behind the wheel as a time of reflection and prayer.

Yesterday, as I drove to school, for some reason, I was thinking of Christianity. Recently, I have been working with a ministry that is predominantly Catholic. Mind you, I am not Catholic and do not intend to convert to Catholicism. In fact, I have been dubbed 'the Protestant' by their founder. The fact is, this Catholic ministry is doing more than any 'Protestant' ministry has done. Why is that?

As I thought of it yesterday morning, I became frustrated. It is a point that I have been thinking over lately, that maybe we are too busy being religious to be Godly. News flash to all: they are not the same.

It dawned on me yesterday morning that "Christian" has become a very bad, broad, label. Yet, we still use it. We have "Christian" Contemporary Music. We have "Christian" Schools. "Christian" dating sites. "Christian" this. "Christian" that.

In Ohio, one of the preachers would always say, "If you have to walk around telling everyone that you are in charge, then you aren't in charge." In other words, if you are what you say you are, people will know and you won't have to say anything.

Such it is with the term "Christian." Do you realize that the first believers did not use that name? Do you realize that the world gave them that name? It means "Christ-followers" or "Christ imitators." The world, at that time, had seen Christ, so they would know what a Christ follower would look like. Hence, the coinage of the term.

However, it has now come to mean anything from right-wind extremists to anti-government. Now, I know Jesus was not loved and He told us that we would not be accepted because He wasn't accepted, but would someone like to tell me why we are instigating this problem? Did Jesus instigate? No. He didn't. Did Jesus walk up to people, smack them upside the head and say, "You better listen to me, because I am God"? No! Jesus loved them. He reached out to them. He fellowshiped with sinners, and THAT is why people hated Him. Too often now the church is all about hating sinners, which would be why the world hates us.

My thoughts were capitalized last night when author Ted Dekker posted a similar line of thinking on his Facebook page.

According to a Barna Group poll, only 9% of those outside the church think Christians in America are nice, loving people. Whatever happened to ‘you shall know them by their love?’ Throughout most of the world Christianity is simply no longer associated with the core beliefs of sacrificial love that birthed our faith. It has become like a large vessel of dirty bathwater, full of nasty associations that fly in the face of Jesus’ teaching which centered on love and the cry that ‘we judge not lest we be judged.’ A Newsweek cover story cited the dramatic decline of Christianity in the United States. We live in a post Christian world, many would say. They might be right. And who’s to blame them? No one wants to swim around in dirty bathwater.

But wait a minute. There is more than dirty bathwater in this vessel. There is something precious and live-giving! And there is a rising generation of thinkers who are as eager to protect and cherish that life as they are to throw out the dirty bathwater.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, we say.

His cry was to get back to what it means to follow Christ and forget all of the hoopla and drammada of religion. We cling so tightly to the label "Christian" and it no longer means what we think it means. We spend so much effort and energy defending our stand and faith that we look more like Pharisees than followers of Christ. It's ridiculous really. So, I think I am actually going to drop the whole label of "Christian." I am not a Christian, I am a follower of Christ. Sadly, yes, there is a difference.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Only Pulse

Recently, the youth group at my church just started a study in Daniel. At the first meeting, they discussed the passage where Daniel asks for pulse to eat and not the king's meat. After ten days, Daniel and his friends looked better than any of the other captives of Babylon. It sounds like a great story, some huge miracle, doesn't it? In an age of high-protein, low carb zap a snacks, we cannot imagine that a diet of vegetables could make us look better.

But the Bible scores again!

Yesterday, as I readied for school, I flipped on the TV, which is highly uncharacteristic for me. I don't really watch it much anymore. I turned to a show on the health channel (my personal favorite) and saw an interview with a holistic doctor.

I hate the medical field in general, which is ironic since I once wanted to be a physician. I do not take medicines unless extremely necessary and even then, I only take half of the recommended minimum dose. I have never received a flu vaccine and will never take one on my own will.

Needless to say, I was remarkably intrigued when this physician recommended juice fasting to a cancer patient. For months, all she ate was vegetables and she drank water. After six months, she was cancer free.

So, I decided to do a little research. Turns out Daniel and his friends were on to something. Juice fasting is a highly recommended detoxification procedure, used to cleanse the body of impurities. The deprivation of calories begins the process of the body eating itself. However, different from starvation, supplying the body with flesh, natural nutrients helps the body restore itself, so it just eats the bad stuff, like fat, and cancer.

Some benefits of juice fasting are listed as being renewed energy, increased alertness, cleared up acne and a 'glowing countenance.' Sound familiar?

I think I may just have to try it. This one is not about weight loss as much as it is about improved health. Lately, I have been subjected to frequent colds and congestion as well as allergies. All are conditions which 'qualify' for juice fasting. Some of our teens decided to go on a 10 day vegetable fast, but I might kick it up a notch right before the holiday (and psycho not-good-for-you-baking) season starts.

I thought all of that last night, and then this morning, my boss just handed me a juicer. She does not use it anymore, and just wanted to give it away. Too cool!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An Example Through Leadership

For the past hour or so, a thought has been tumbling in my head. This concept of leading by example. How can that apply? Some people are the example first and then lead. For instance, I would be a bad person to lead discussion on a good marriage since I am not married. It's kinda the same reasoning behind why non-parents should not write a book on parenting. They have no clue what they are talking about. There is no example to follow.

However, what about situations where the example is the leading?

I've been tormented lately by this thought of starting a ministry to teenage girls, teaching them to be recklessly abandoned to Christ. Well, in my life that abandon is not huge. I have not forsaken all and flown to Africa to see what God would do with me. Nope. I live a relatively cushy life. I have never felt called to missions. Would I go? Absolutely! I would do it in a heartbeat, but if I bought a one way ticket to Africa, God would not bless. I would not be being obedient.

That being said, I haven't figured out how to reconcile this passion for ministry with this need to have experience. That is until these last few minutes as I have thought through some Biblical leadership. Think of Moses. Moses was free. He was called by God to lead Israel out of Egypt. Had he traveled the road before? No. He was called to lead and his example of faith was found when he stepped up and filled that role.

So, I am thinking. I am thinking of moving forward in a radical way by using the example of others in order to call young women to be reckless. Of using the stories of women around the world who HAVE been there in order to take that story to the women who are afraid to go there. In that way, it is not about me and following my example but it is about God and sharing His passion.

The thought I am working through now is can I become an example of it through leadership or must I be an example first?

Who said growing up was easy??

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Radical Faith

It is not often that God grips my heart so strong and impresses something on me so much that I can literally feel my stomach twist. Right now it is twisted so much that I might throw up and I do not know if it is the fear, the excitement or the 'Are you kidding me?!' shock I am in at the moment.

I spent the past four days in Ohio. Doing absolutely nothing. Correction: I was writing. As I sat on my grandmother's living room couch Thursday I thought of how flexible my current ministry is and how boring it is. Surely there has to be something more than this. That was the thought in my head all weekend. There has to be something more.

I have had many friends tell me I am blessed because my ministry is so portable. Right now, my ministry is so easily auto-piloted. The hardest thing was starting it. Now, God is taking it and working with it, and I am just letting Him. It is His ministry, not mine. Despite His working with that, I still felt like so much was lacking.

Thursday night, I looked over the study for my small group. I was ashamed. If you had asked me if I have a shallow faith, I would have told you no. Now, is it as deep as it could be? No, but I did not think it was shallow. Until I got to question 1 on the application. Then, I realized that I know a lot of Bible and can even do a lot of Bible but I am not connecting the two well. I can apply certain parts of Scripture, but the challenge of the study was to apply Scripture- period. I had to put it down for another time when I had time for it.

Thursday or Friday God had sufficiently planted enough disatisfaction with the current state of my life that I was chomping at the bit to do something about it. I started thinking about starting Reckless this coming summer, but after my little bout with the small group study I seriously doubted my ability to start a discipleship ministry. Besides, how reckless is it if all that is reckless is establishing a ministry about being reckless. (Did that make sense?) If I did that, I would be making myself big and that is not how it is supposed to work.

Then, and this is what I love about God, He used completely random circumstances to rattle the last bit of my sanity. I went and visited my friend, Katy, on Saturday. We spent an hour or so sitting in her dorm room and I noticed a book on her bed. I grabbed it and flipped it open to a random page and this is what the author wrote, "I looked at my husband and blurted out, There has to be something more to the Christian life." I skimmed through the chapter quickly as the authors reflected on "big" Christians from the past.

Their conclusion was that, at some point, ministry stopped becoming about them. That they surrendered their lives entirely for the life God wanted for them, the life He would empower them to live. I looked at Katy and said, "I have to get this book."

The entire drive home Saturday and the evening were spent mulling over what needed to change. What exchange am I not making. What is next because, there is, indeed, a next. There is a big next that I am missing and, honestly, I do not think it has anything to do with a book. If the books work, that's great! But, they are portable. A writing ministry is portable. I could write books from a jungle in Kenya if I wanted to. Writing is too small to live for. There has to be more.

For that matter, a ministry is too small a thing to live for. What if God calls me to something small? Would I be ok with that?

It occurred to me that I am not dependent enough on God to be OK with that. He still is not everything He should be to me. Not even close. It has to be a big deal or no deal at all for me. Still, I do stuff. I do lots of stuff.

God does not want our stuff.

You would think I would learn that.

This morning, as I attended services at my old church in Ohio, it hit me that I really miss the on fire Christian fellowship. I miss the atmosphere of Bible school and I was hoping to find it in my small group, but haven't. So, in the middle of the sermon, I was tallying up numbers to figure out when I could move back to Ohio and plug into the ministries there at the church. I was calculating mortgage payments and everything. It was dissatisfaction to the extreme.

Then, it was as if God said, "No. I don't want you to come back here."

"Well, God, I cannot exactly stay where I am. It isn't working."



"So. What next?"

"That's kinda the question I had for you. What is next?"

"Do you trust Me?"

"Of course."

"Enough to cash in on a dream you had years ago?"

"Umm... sure."

"Ok. Let's go."

"Go?? Go where?"

"You'll see."

Years ago, we are talking maybe three or four, I longed for a day when I could literally say, "Ok, God, I am all Yours. No strings attached." I wanted to have all of my loans paid off from school and a good setup in savings, ready to go out into the world. I wanted to be at the point in life and in my faith when I could truly be Reckless and just step out in faith and walk the water.

For the past few months, I have been telling friends about next summer. "Everything seems to be lining up for summer 2010. I will be totally free by then. I will be 24. I think God is going to do something big." I was pretty fixed on it being marriage. That obviously is not happening. But I realized this weekend, that, instead, that is the time I have been waiting for! The moment I have been waiting for is nearing. The moment when I can cut all ties and say, "Ok, God. No loans. No job. No family ties. It's just You and me. Let's do this."

Now that I see it, it is freaking me out. More than that, an old old old old old old dream (like before wanting to be a doctor dream) is being reborn and I find myself thinking, "Where on earth did that come from??" I am excited and apprehensive. I'm trying to stifle my logic, because my logic wants to wait another year.

Still, I am taking step one tonight. I am asking to come out on the water, and if God says yes, I am going to go. I am going to trust Him to get me through. I can't help but feel like this is crazy! Because it is. But that's the thing with faith. Faith, in its truest form, is reckless. People do not offer their sons for sacrifices or step onto a raging sea because it makes sense.

This, for the moment, is my anthem.

Great Adventure, by Steven Curtis Chapman

Started out this morning in the usual way. Chasing thoughts inside my head of all I had to do today. Another time around the circle try to make it better than the last.

I opened up the Bible and I read about me. Said I'd been a prisoner and God's grace had set me free, and somewhere between the pages it hit me like a lightning bolt. I saw a big frontier in front of me and I heard somebody say "let's go"!

Saddle up your horses we've got a trail to blaze through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace. Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown. This is a life like no other - this is The Great Adventure.

Come on get ready for the ride of your life. Gonna leave long faced religion in a cloud of dust behind and discover all the new horizons just waiting to be explored.
This is what we were created for.

This is the greatest journey that the human heart will ever see. The love of God will take us far beyond our wildest dreams.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lessons From a Watermelon

In one of my ministry groups, we are discussing the fruit of the Spirit. Last night, someone brought up the idea of God needing to prune us to make us more effective. The exact context was talking about things that harm us or our testimony. The application was that God needs to cut off what isn’t useful. That’s great… for a tree.

Not every fruit-bearing plant is a tree. Some things are vines.

My mom and I tried (unsuccessfully) to grow watermelon in our garden last year. Watermelons grow on a vine, and let me tell you, the vine was crazy. It found its way all over our back porch. It was climbing up our fence and strangling our tomatoes. After about three weeks of wild growth, we decided to trim it back. There was a slight problem. It was all one vine. It was not many branches of one vine, it was one vine. One wrong cut would kill the plant. So, we had to unravel it. We found it to be well over ten feet long. The poor thing was so busy growing and reaching that it couldn’t produce fruit. The nutrients were spread too far. They were spread over too much ground space. If we did have any watermelons, they would be too far from the roots.

Sometimes, God has to prune back healthy, vibrant life in order to ensure an abundant fruitful life.

At the moment, I am like that watermelon vine. I have myself spread too far. I’m not involved in bad things. I’m not involved in a variety of ministries. I have one vine. One vine that has just become so long that I can’t keep up with it. I can’t bring forth abundant fruit when I am trying to pump energy through 10 feet of vinework.

That hurts.

This is not the first time I have had to trim back. I have to cut off things I love. Ministries that are healthy and God-honoring, in order to make sure that I am at my top level of performance in the ministries that are closest to my roots.

But God is the Divine Husbandman. I have to trust Him. Just like that watermelon plant, if I am left to myself, I will keep spreading, looking for coverage instead of productivity. When the first frost in my life comes, I will be tilled under and marked as fruitless. I don’t want that. Neither does God.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fortune Cookie Faith

I received a text from a friend the other day. It had something to do with seeking the will of God for our lives. Anyone who knows me knows I am all for a good, deep spiritual discussion, even debate. Anytime! Seriously. If things are veering toward the spiritual, everything else goes on hold. But then there are times, times like the other day, when ‘deep’ went no further than the wading pool at the local park. We weren’t even in the shallow end! Our toes barely went under water. Those days frustrate me.

The Bible is our truth, is it not? Are we not called to consume it like meat and milk?

Then why on earth are Christians settling for regurgitated leftovers? I have never seen a person walk up to a cafeteria line and, when faced with the choice of mac and cheese or meatloaf say, “Well, I really don’t want either. I just can’t stand the work to chew them. Would you mind taking a mouthful of each and chewing them up for me? Maybe mix a little bit of the fruit salad in there too, just so I can have a balanced diet. Chew it up real good and then put it on my plate. I won’t even need a fork or a spoon; I’ll just get a straw.”

That kind of stuff doesn’t happen!! You do not do that when you are getting your physical food, so why depend on someone else to chew up your spiritual food? It makes no sense, but we are still doing it!

Instead of delving into God’s word and searching through the depths of His grace for ourselves, we crack open the nearest inspirational living book and make it the new Bible. As a soon-to-be author, this fact scares me because, trust me, none of us consider ourselves God. Not a one of us. Can we be inspirational? Sure. Greeting cards can be inspirational, but only the Bible is inspired.

The great thing about the depths of God is that we all bring something to the table when we discuss it. Just like with food, there are different contrasts and dimensions to flavor that one of us might taste while another is totally oblivious. In this is the beauty of Christian fellowship. It is like a group of friends, sitting down in a restaraunt, each ordering something different, then sampling each other’s food. No one expects their friend to chew up a bite and then spit it out for them to try. That is unheard of.

The Christian life is something we discover on our own. God has shaped us with individual personalities, talents, and desires- “tastes” if you will- that make our walk with Christ uniquely ours. It cannot be matched by anyone else. It is meant to be consumed in whole by us as individuals, not blended and mass distributed.

I often accuse people of having a ‘fortune cookie faith.’ Those people are the ones who have read way too many books on Christian living and have one too many “cute Christian quote of the day’ calendars. Know someone like that? You give them a call, share your burden and they spit out some mindless modern-day Hagaddah that you have to sort through and apply. Some cliche lame answer that, while it is true, has no depth at all. Just like fortune cookies!

Situation: “My husband just lost his job. We don’t really know what to do. It’s hard. It’s so hard to trust.”

Fortune cookie reads: “God will take care of you.”

Situation: “We just lost our son. He was so young. We don’t understand.”

Fortune cookie reads: “God is in control.”

Situation: “I am trying to find the will of God in my life. I am just praying and don’t know.”

Fortune Cookie: “God does not call the equipped, He equips the called.”

They are cute sayings. Little spiritual crumbs that have fallen from someone else’s meal and we treat them like they are never-ending vats of oil and flour. They are cute sayings, and that is as far as they go- sayings. Is there truth in them? yes. Are they the Truth? Absolutely not.

If you think that those people don’t already know that God is in control, you probably have another guess coming. A friend of mine just experienced a heart-breaking situation and all of the Christian Neosporin in the world just stung more. Brainless quotes like, “Well, God knows” or “God has a reason” or “It must not have been God’s will” do not help a hurting heart.

A fortune cookie faith is not effective. Basing your walk with God on the crumbs of others will lead you to a very bland, and unhealthy life with Christ. You will play like a broken record and be shallow until the day you die if you don’t learn how to communicate the truth for yourself. If you don’t want to dig into the Word to find answers, if you don’t want to pray about how to handle a situation before you open your mouth, then get off the court and zip it. Leave the field open for the people who have teeth.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I will Walk On

I absolutely love when I stumble across a song that speaks right to what God has been teaching me. Music can be such a tool in our lives. It gets that hook in our head and, if it is Godly, that hook can affirm truths in ways no other thing can.

Today, just moments ago, I came across “Walk On” by 4Him. The chorus is simple but anthemic and motivating.

“I chose to take this road called faith. I will walk on. I trust that You will lead me through. I will walk on.”

The whole concept of a determined faith is something that God has been establishing over the past months. The idea that my faith is a choice. It is a determination and in every moment of every day it is a choice I make.

Scripture says I cannot serve two masters. Over and over Christ tells us to take up our cross and follow. He isn’t throwing our cross at us. It is a determined will and choice to take up a cross. No man wakes up one morning and wonders how this burden has landed on his shoulder, he knows he has chosen this because the prize in the end is worth it all.

That is faith.

Faith is stopping on the easy road, turning and seeing a rugged cross lying there in the dirt. It is looking up and seeing a cloud of dust and in that cloud is a figure, Christ bearing His cross. It is seeing Him turning, looking over His shoulder, and saying simply, “Follow me.” Faith is that decision, to turn to our right and wave the world goodbye, to kneel down, grasp that cross, place the crux on our shoulder, straighten up as much as we can under its weight, fix our eyes on Christ, and move. At any moment, we can drop that cross if we would like, but through the sweat and the tears, even the blood, we press on, because Christ did the same for us.

That is faith.

“The course is set. Life’s hard but yet, we will walk on. Around each bend, until the end, we will walk on.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Promote with Enthusiasm

I had an amazing meeting with fellow youth leaders tonight. We just finished a killer summer 'roadtrip' theme and are preparing for a packed season ahead. These next two weeks are devoted to planning that season. Getting nearly 20 grown (opinionated) adults to work together takes Divine intervention, so I praise the Lord for the men and women who I am privileged to work beside.

Tonight was an encouraging challenge though (and those are the best kind). The crux of it all:

Are we as excited as we want the kids to think we are?

Pastor Doug (the youth pastor) mentioned multiple times about how the teenagers look up to leadership. That the presence and enthusiasm of leadership is a key motivator in the teens. They will begin to view important what we view important.

When someone looks at me, what do they learn?
As I teacher, and a former student, I know it to be true that teenagers catch excitement easily (unless you are cheesy, in which case you are quickly ignored). If you are genuinely excited about something, genuinely sold out, it becomes easier for them to understand because they want to. When I teach math, I try to make it fun. Now, there is a certain element to math that is academic, but I try to be creative. I have taken classes outside and done sidewalk chalk math problems before just to try and keep them involved.

I love math. I get it, and I want other people to get it. I'm not just "a teacher", I am privileged to teach. It is not a job for me, it is ministry, it is actually fun. There is no greater joy for me than to witness a lightbulb moment or to watch a student score an A on a test. I love that. LOVE it!!

Am I as passionate about my faith as I am about my math class?

I should be. I would like to think that I am, but I know there is still room for growth. I think I am one of the privileged few who wake up every morning and get to do something they love. I don't get to teach; I get to work with teenagers. They are my thing. My passion. If the world eliminated all teenagers, I would be highly upset and very lost. I love that six mornings every week my feet hit that floor with the assurance that I will be interacting with youth that day. That is what gets me up in the morning (it isn't the math).

We should be excited about God. Excited about serving Him and looking for those lightbulb moments. I should be just as excited when a girl faces a trial of faith. That is the crux of discipleship. I catch so on fire for God that someone else can't help but burn for Him. That is the idea.

What do you burn for?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This is the Life

No, literally, it is.

What happened, Jessica? Did you win the lottery? No. Did you get a boyfriend? No. Did you find five dollars in your jeans? I wish.

So what happened?

I guess it would be more something that is "happening." I am getting confirmation and not from people but from God. He is somehow showing me that all the ideas I have been bouncing around in my brain are viable and true ideas. A friend of mine was chatting with me last week and we somehow got on the topic of dreams and I told her I have big ones. She kinda laughed and asked something to the effect of when would I ever have enough. My response was this: "I am a big dreamer; God made me that way. So I dream big. When God blows those dreams out of the water, what choice do I have but to dream bigger?" And that is the truth!

Why would I stop? Why would I put God in a box when He has proven over and over again that He will not be put in one?

This morning, as I prayed, I had a session of praise, just thanking God for giving me such clear direction in life. I never said the way was easy. It has not been, it is not, nor will it ever be. But I know He is guiding me and He is making the steps very clear in His time.

This morning, I listened to part 2 of my podcast interview on Covenant Eyes. I sent an email to the producer just chatting about the podcast and the editing and such. Throughout that, I was introduced to yet another young woman, a teenager, struggling with pornography. My heart instantly broke for her. One of the questions asked in the interview was if we felt alone in our struggle. I thought I was alone, in hindsight, I really wish I was. I hate to think of the pain and emptiness those other women are feeling, and wish I had a little barcode scanner thing. I would just walk around and be able to tell who needed help. That burden, that brokenness was confirmation for me that yes, this is something I need to be doing right now.

But there's more. Is there allowed to be more?

Earlier this month, on Facebook (I have way too many blog things) I talked about how God was molding my life. How He was changing my desires and my emphasis on ministry. In that post (which is way too long to repost here)I talked about the hurt we see around us and how we need to reach out to help heal that hurt.

I decided to start throwing myself out of my comfort zone. There needs to be a label on the first step though. It's a doozy, and you should know, God never stops with the first step.

Every Monday and Tuesday, as I drive to babysitting, I pass by a little old lady on a street corner just a mile or so from home. She is there without fail, with her little cardboard sign, gnarled hair and toothless smile. I've given a dollar or two a couple times just to stave my conscience. I decided to do something else. Something bigger. I decided to actually treat her like she is a human.

See, she is a human. She was created for a purpose, just as much as I was. She has a story. A story only God knows. I don't know how she ended up on a street corner, but I know that many times, were it not for the grace of God, my family would have been on the street as well. It speaks nothing to her as a person, but it does speak to her heart. She is someone God loves. Someone God longs to be with. As someone who is supposed to be modeling Christ's love, I am commanded to see her as God would see her. Beautiful. Precious. Worthy.

This morning, as I prayed, I prayed for that little lady on the street corner. She hasn't been there for the past two weeks and I do not know why. I began to wonder if I was wrong, if I had gone off-focus. Then, through the same conversation with the producer, I stumbled across a blog of thoughts for the day. The thought posted today (which is actually for August 17) is this:
I was asked “if Jesus was here now where would he go to church?” I think he wouldn’t. I think the church would go to him. And if the church would go to Christ if he were here, and Christ said he was the least of these, maybe we know where the church should be.

Wow. All of the thoughts from my rambling Facebook note condensed into a mini-paragraph. I have to work on my writing!

My life feels like it is beginning to meld into the lives of others, which is weird. I feel like my passions are starting to find roots in the passions of others. It is an amazing phenomenon, but really indescribable. How amazing is it that God would give me this passion for purity, then connect me with a group of authors and singers with the same passion. How amazing is it that God would give me a heart for the hurting and then bring to light others with the same heart? How amazing is it that God would give me a desire to help people live livesof reckless abandon and then use mainstream people of influence to pave the way for that?

This is how the body of Christ is meant to work. This, my friends, is THE life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The One Class I Failed

All throughout high school, I got As. Straight-As. I prided myself in rarely getting a B, and never being seen with a C. D and F were absolutely unheard of until college. College has a way of kicking smart people in the butt. I have found that to be oddly common and it confuses me, but it is true. It was in college, more specifically Bible school, that I failed a class for the first and only time. It was a class on prayer.

Yes, I failed, as in solid "F" a class on prayer. There is a life lesson in that alone, the fact that obviously I was passing all other classes in my strength, but the one on prayer, I just couldn't wrap my hands around it. So much has changed in the past three years.

I just finished chatting with a friend about prayer. It is a subject that has been on my mind and on the mind of other Christian authors as of late. Leslie Ludy shares a story on her blog from the birth of her most recent child, Avonlea Rose. After a horrific experience with their first child, Eric and Leslie prayed that this birth would be different, and it was. Leslie recounts that even while in labor, she and her husband would pray fervently. At one point, just before the transition stage, Leslie knew her strength was failing her. This had been the hardest stage with Hudson, and she did not want to go through it ok. So she prayed, she prayed specifically that God would work in her body and bring their new baby into the world without having to have the transition phase. According to Leslie, minutes later Avonlea made her arrival. Coincidentally, Eric and Leslie just finished a book on prayer. I don't believe it is on shelves yet, but after following what God has been doing in their lives, I can assure you, it will be good.

For the past six months, God has been teaching me about prayer. Since, obviously, I couldn't get it when a professor tried, God has given me a remidial class and has driven me into a deeper, bolder prayer life with Him. I could tell you the date. Well close. This class began on February 27. As I prayed, I felt a strong impression to ask God for a publisher for my book. It seemed foolish to me. Of course I need a publisher. Of course I want a publisher, but I didn't even have a book. To me and my human logic, there was no point in asking for a publisher. The next day, guess what He gave me.

I had not asked, but He had given. When I prayed after that, I realized the faithfulness of God. He gave me a desire of my heart and was faithful to provide that which I did not have enough faith to ask for. It would be the same if Peter had just thought, "Man! I wish I could do that!" and God teleported him out onto the water. God was giving me a taste. A small taste of the power of prayer. Since then, I have learned much.

Prayer needs to be bold. I guess I equate boldness with honesty. I get highly annoyed when people tiptoe around an issue. It drives me crazy. It takes all of God's grace for me to not throttle them and say, "Would you just tell me!" Yet, I do it to God so often. I pull the whole, "God, you know the desires of my heart so if you could please just give them to me, that'd be great." I wonder if God's response isn't, "Yes, I do know them. Humor Me, though, just this once and actually ask for them."

Unlike humans, God doesn't get offended when we ask for something. At least, I don't believe He does. He longs to bless us. He wants to give us abundant lives. He says in the Gospels that we have not because we ask not. So prayer is bold...

and specific. Beating around the bush drives me crazy. So does vagueness. Do not expect me to understand what you mean when you do not tell me what you mean. It is really an interesting concept, and it kinda ties in with boldness. Since June, I have been praying for a certain couple I know to get pregnant. I know they are wanting to, so it is not as if I am praying spite on them. More than that, based on the circumstances, I have prayed that God would give them twins. Specific prayer.

I finished reading the Kings last week, and there is an account of Elisha (or Elijah, can't remember) working with a widow. She is in debt and is afraid for her family, so the prophet tells her to gather jars and fill them with oil. If my memory is serving correctly, she had to lock the door. As she filled the jars, the oil didn't stop coming! Until she reached the last jar. She looked up for the next jar and there weren't anymore, and the oil stopped.

We really need to be expecting God to do big things. He is God, is He not? He is able. So, why are we so afraid to ask? Ask for specific things. I have one dream in this world that I have shared with one other person and I have begun to pray for that one dream to come true, and have, in that prayer, explained to God why I want that dream to come true. That may sound selfish, but it is not. I think God wants prayers like that more than prayers of "God please bless me today."

How would you like that blessing? Rare or well done?

Prayers need to be willing. We have to be willing to accept a change in our plans. We have to leave room for the will of God. Our prayers are not "God give me this or else." They are "God, I really desire this and I am asking You to make it happen and in the meantime give me the contentment to live without it." That is true, powerful prayer.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Trying to Figure out Tomorrow

I have learned lately that it does no good to try to understand exactly what God is doing in our lives. We will, without fail, get it wrong.

This morning, I taught on Genesis and all of the beginnings of Genesis. As inhabitants of the 21st century, we are blessed. We have the whole story, but Genesis is full of beginnings, and just that, beginnings. Genesis is full of promises, some of which have yet to be fulfilled, others which were fulfilled millenia ago, but long long after they were promised. I think specifically of the promise of a Messiah.

This promise is first mentioned in Genesis chapter 3. What we have to realize is Genesis chapter 3 occurred shortly after creation. If we say that the earth is 6,000 years old, then this promise of a Messiah is 6,000 years old. That means that it would be 4,000 years before the promise was realized. That is twice as long as we have lived after it. That blows my mind. The people of the faith waited for 4,000 years. For what, exactly, they were not sure but they were waiting, trusting God to fulfill His promise to them. When He did, it still caught them by surprise.

You just cannot figure out tomorrow. It cannot be done. But I love to try. I like to try and put together all of the pieces to the puzzle without having the picture. It seems to be my nature to fret and to worry.

Stuff has happened recently that can tend to be very distracting. It is nothing at this point, but being who I am, my mind races ahead to what might happen, what could happen, and I try to prepare myself for it. Problem being, it is conflicting with my now. Right now, I am called to have a ministry. A ministry which God is blessing immensely. I am not called to make a life-changing decision right now, as much as my brain wants to figure out the answer now. God gave confirmation in that twice already today- once with my Sunday School class and again with an email from Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand.

God works in mysterious ways. Both confirmed that my ministry has the right focus and that now is the right time. I need not worry about where this current situation may possibly might lead to and how these ministries will work there. I am not there.

God promises to guide our steps. He doesn't promise to sign off on a route and send us on our way. He walks with us. Which means the step we take tomorrow will be guided tomorrow, not today. It is tomorrow's step. If I focus on it today, I am going to trip and fall. But if I worry about today's steps today, then He will give me direction for tomorrow's steps tomorrow. I cannot make a wrong move if I am walking with Him.

Friday, July 31, 2009

To Be One: A Review

I have to say, sometimes God's timing is just so cool. Too cool.

These past few days, I have really been trying to focus on what is next for me. Life is not easy being nearly 24 and nowhere near where you thought you would be five years ago. There have been struggles-- many. There have been emotions like a roller coaster-- excitement, then paralyzing fear. So many decisions lie before me, and I just know that I can't make them all.

God always shows up at the perfect time.

I did my podcast interview yesterday- issue 1: resolved.

I worked on my website today (speaking of which, I still have work today)- issue 2: nearing resolved status.

I attempted to write a book proposal while babysitting- issue 3: postponed.

I am really struggling with this whole marriage idea-- enter "To Be One."

Circumstances lately have flung the concept of marriage to the front of my mind, which is not where I prefer it to be. In fact, I have a ministry based on the idea of it not being there. Nevertheless, it is there, with its usual baggage of unanswered questions, freakouts and what-ifs. Mark this down as a moment that has truly shaped my perspective on relationships leading to marriage.

To Be One: The Review

"To Be One" in my opinion is a must-have video for any family with teenagers or single young adults that wants to see God honored in their childrens interactions with people. Three very unique love stories are covered in this video, and covered completely from start to "finish", including interviews with the six sets of parents. "To Be One" presents beautifully the idea of marriage modeling the love of Christ for the church. I just cannot get over the excitement it created for me just realizing I am the bride of Christ!

It is unique. It is fresh. It is real. It is personal. There is no acting. No props. These are real bonafide human beings with real hurt and apprehension, with real faith and real love. It is so refreshing to see, and again, a must have for any youth ministry, single young adult ministry, parent, or single young adult. It is a message that, I think, if heard, will revolutionize marriage in America. Let it start with you. Visit their website: and get your own copy now.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get...Gardening

Yes, that's right. They don't go anywhere; the tough people garden.

Today is supposed to be a scorcher here in DC. An absolutely unbearable 90 degrees. At 8 this morning, the temperature was nowhere near 90 degrees. In fact, it was a gorgeous summer morning. Perfect really, maybe just a little on the muggy side. After a short walk to the mailbox, I got an itching to go into the back yard and play in the garden. My discovery was a terrible one. Our garden is very green. The problem is, the green things were weeds.

So, I donned gardening gloves and grabbed a rake and shovel and went to work. In the quiet of the morning, tearing away at thistles and grass, I had an interesting time of reflection on life. I thought of growing up with a farming grandfather. How blessed. He taught me the meaning of hard work. He taught me all I know about seeds, soil and harvest. Every year, I helped plant, prune, thin, debug, and eventually harvest. It made for some interesting childhood experiences, including a garden rake to the skull courtesy of my younger brother. (It was an accident).

To this day, grampa still keeps a garden in his yard. I visited it last week while I was in Ohio. I walked through the rows of corn, searched the kiwi bush for any fruit, picked some blackberries and some blueberries, looked over the cabbage and the broccoli, trudged through the squash hills and the tomato patch. Fond memories there. So much I learned, so much I am grateful for.

Today, though, as I tore up weeds and cleared out the debris from a summer harvest, I learned some more life lessons.

1) Weeds grow anywhere. It doesn't matter if your plants can't grow there, the weeds sure will. Our soil is rocky and full of clay, not exactly conducive to vegetables, but the weeds love it. I pulled one today that had a rock entangled in its roots.
In our lives, weeds work the same way, don't they? It doesn't matter if we can't function in an environment, weeds always seem to be able to withstand it. In fact, at times, they even embrace and thrive in an environment where we struggle to hang on.

2) Keep changing. This is good on so many levels. If you dig at the soil, first off, you introduce oxygen, which is good for plants. Second, if you harvest something, plant something different there. Grampa taught me that. If you plant corn in one part, corn won't grow as well there again. Farmers in Ohio will rotate their crop. One year, there is corn, the next soy, the next snap peas and then they go back to corn again.
We have to keep changing. Sometimes, that can be frustrating, but to everything there is a season. Our spiritual lives can go dry if our worship is always the same. If we read 5 Psalms everyday for a year, that's fine. But the next year, we will 'get less out of it.' Our spiritual growth will start to plateau. We will still grow, but we won't be as fruitful as if we had changed things up.
The same applies to our ministry. Things change. Weather changes. Climate changes. Our world changes. The things that worked 15 years ago, are going to be less effective now. It's time to switch it up.

3) You may not be able to change the location, but you can change the soil. As I said, our garden is in our back yard. The soil is full of rocks. Last year, when we first turned up the soil, it was solid red clay. Plants don't grow in red clay. But we really have no other option, we have certain spots for our garden. That's it. So, we bought a bag of Miracle Grow potting soil and worked it into the soil. Now, it can sustain vegetation (other than weeds).
We may be stuck in a place, by contract or by whatever else. If our location can't change, we need to change the soil. We need to work to effect change so that, even if we end up moving, something can still grow there. If you aren't growing there, chances are not many others are.

4) Adversity is good. No one likes 90 degree weather plus humidity. Except plants. Plants thrive in adversity. They need warmth, sun and water. Things we don't really care for. That thunderstorm may throw off your ball game, but the squash plant is elated. The blazing sun may make you melt, but the bean plant seed is perfectly cozy.
Or how bout them bugs? Who honestly likes worms? Or bees? No one I know of. We don't make pets of these things, but they are a plant's best friends. Worms are naturals for putting oxygen into soil. Bees pollenate the blossoms.
Situations in your life may not be comfortable. Embrace them. God brings trials for our good. He brings them to help us grow. He wants us to bring forth fruit. He wants us to be productive.

Next time the going gets tough, get gardening.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

To Be One: A new Approach to Marriage

It's a heated debate in some circles. Depending on who you ask there are different guidelines, different definitions, different opinions. Even with all of that, we still stand firmly on what we believe to be truth backed by human right. Many could probably not discern the exact difference between dating and courting, but they will still tell you they will never do one or the other.

Here's an idea. Let God lead. I really like that idea. The liking of that idea is exactly why I am still single, but it also is why I am content. It is out of my hands.

This is exactly the idea that is put forth in the new documentary To Be One. I will admit, this is a shameless plug, I know one of the young ladies in the film. After all that she has done in prayers for my ministry, I saw it fitting to return the favor for hers. Her story is told in the video. A story not of falling in love but of choosing to be love. I know her story, and it is beautiful. It is inspiring, as all love stories are. But most of all, it is a story of surrender to God's leading, to God's control. It is the story of two lives with a heart-felt desire to do what would most honor and glorify God and a story of joy in that process.

Stop by the site, view the trailer, and, by all means, buy a copy of the DVD. After all, who doesn't love a good story?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Physical Boundaries: How Far is Too Far

I don't usually do this, but when a topic comes up three times in the same day, it leads me to believe it is something I am meant to address. This particular topic: the area of physical touch. Guys and girls, especially teenage guys and girls are always asking. Always pushing the limit. Wanting to see how far they can go. Wanting to know how far is too far. What is the Biblical standard? Where is the line?

Fasten your seat belts, this is going to be a rough ride. Truth is not meant to be soft and cushy. Soft and cushy truth is a truth that is easily manipulated and avoided. Soft and cushy truth isn't truth at all, it is just soft and cushy. Truth has a back bone. Truth has a voice. Truth fights. Truth stands. There is a reason the Bible (Truth) is referred to as a sword, and a two-edged one at that. It gets you coming and going.

If there is one thing I am very passionate about, it is the sanctity of sex. I believe it is good; I believe it is God-given; I believe it is meant for the marriage relationship of one man to one wife. That is all truth, with Biblical basis.

So what's the deal with pushing the limits? Why all the gray areas? Because we are human and we want what we want and are not willing to accept the standard God has given us. That willingness is really all it comes down to. Are we willing to accept the boundaries God has given us? We like to put conditions on guidelines. We are constantly searching for loop holes. How can I bend this rule? How can I avoid this one?

It reminds of something that happened earlier today with one of the girls I babysit. She was hopping around on one leg. When I inquired, she informed me she had jumped off the shed in the backyard. Mind you, this shed is a solid eight feet tall and she is nowhere near half that height. What little idea made her think she could do it? Her brother. He informed her that she could jump off the top of the shed. She did. She got hurt.

Trying to seize a teachable moment I knelt down and asked her who was in charge, her mother or her brother. Her simple response was, "Well, mom wasn't outside then." I countered by saying, "But does your mom want you climbing things that are high up in the air?" Another clever counter-response: "But the wooden playset we had was higher." So, I tried yet again, "Did your mom give you permission to be on the shed?" The response: "Well, see, Miss Jessica, we were already up there and mom came out and told us to get down because we weren't allowed up there. At first I was going to do the right thing and go down the way we came up, but then he told me to jump, so I jumped." She is six, and is already half way through law school.

When it comes to God's standards, we do the same thing. Instead of doing what we know to be right, we are more worried about what exactly is wrong. Especially in the area of physical touch. It seems everyone wants to know how close they can get without crossing the line. In order to establish that, we need a line. That's when things get fuzzy. For one person, the line is at holding hands. For another it is at kissing. There are a lot of lines. To an extent, that's ok. I believe there is room for personal preference and conviction, but I do believe that there is a line for us to see and it is drawn way before the act of sexual intercourse.

In fact, picture yourself standing right next to God. Right next Him. Put a pencil in your hand reach down and draw a circle around you and God. Congratulations, you have found the line. For many of us, we are so far from God that the line is way out there. The further you are from God, the further out your line. In all reality though, the line should be right there. Right next to God. Why? Because God is holy, as is sex. They belong in the same bubble, and guess what. You belong there too.

This is the Scripture reference I site for a standard of physical contact: 1 Thessalonians 4:6 "That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter:..."

Before you all cry that I have taken the verse out of context, let me inform you that the context of sexual purity is exactly where this verse falls. Here is your context: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

So, let's set a new standard. Sex is holy. It is good, and get this, God wants us to have it, hence the reason for our sex drive. Do not equate pleasure with permission. This is a common problem. I hear it more than I care to admit.

"Jessica, I think we went too far, but it felt good. It wasn't bad. It was a 'special connection.'"

Let's break this down.

"I think we went too far" if you think that, then you are probably right. Guilt is normally a good indicator of wrongdoing.

"but it felt good" right again! It was made to feel good. It is supposed to feel good. If it didn't you wouldn't be here. However, just because it feels good does not mean it is right.

"It wasn't bad" partially true. It wasn't bad as in the opposite of good. It may not have 'felt' bad, but it was wrong.

"It was a 'special connection'" Right again. That is how our sexuality is designed. Regardless of whether or not you 'go all the way' every step you take toward a bed strengthens the 'connection' you have with each other. It's called hormones.

So, since our feelings are not to be trusted, we have a problem. We can no longer determine when we are in over our heads. We are no longer a good judge of how far is too far. Exactly why God makes His standard very clear.

He basically says, "I called you to be holy, so you need to control your body and use it the way I tell you to."

Our bodies are to be holy. Holy simply means set aside for a purpose. Holiness is a big deal to God. A HUGE deal. If you doubt that, read through the Pentateuch and look at the tabernacle and everything that had to be done to keep the tabernacle holy. Holiness is the crux of who God is. Holiness is the crux of our relationship with Him because if it were not for holiness, there would be no need for Calvary. Tell me, though, how can you be holy while you are snogging with your boyfriend/girlfriend?

Can you be holy while snogging with your spouse? Absolutely. The marriage bed is honorable. I think God gets excited when married people snog. They are enjoying intimacy as He intended. Outside of that context, you are playing with fire, and I doubt that makes Him happy.

On top of all that, we are instructed to watch out for each other. That portion of verse 6 is my battle stand for modesty as well. Too many times I hear, "Well, I can wear whatever I want to, it's his problem if his mind wanders." Wrong. We, as Christians, should be making every attempt to protect the purity of each other. Now, does that mean we walk around in potato sacks? No! But that means you keep covered what you believe God would have you keep covered.

In the area of sexuality and physical touch it means you keep your hands off. It should be noted here, that anything that gets you turned on, or whatever you want to call it is messing your sex drive, no matter how you slice it. I've worked with teenagers who have 'gone too far' without going all the way. Usually to the young lady, it was just innocent. To the young man, it is so much more. So where is the line there? If kissing makes either mind wander, then you don't kiss. If you don't like that, too bad. You can make up for it, once you are married.

Honestly, my advice is to get that line as close to the holy of holies as possible. I tell people to draw it to protect the weakest area. Think of a fortress. A castle. There is a secret tunnel leading into the castle. Your castle is now under attack and you have reason to believe the secret tunnel has been compromised. What do you do?

Well, you board the doors to the tunnel shut. You then barracade them, just in case. Then you lock the door to the room where the tunnel is and barracade that one, maybe even set a trap. Then you position guards in the hallway just in case something gets through all of that.

The same it should be with purity. Your body is a castle. A temple. Something meant to be holy and you are under attack. The devil is well aware of a weakness. A way to snag you. He is after the core of who you are. He is after your sexuality. If he can get you to fall. If he can draw you out, he can take you down.

Too often, instead of bolting, locking and guarding, we run down the tunnel, just out of range of his darts and razz him. Eventually, we fall. I have seen it so many times.

In college, I had a friend who met the man of her dreams. Early on they just talked about sex. Then they started talking about it alot. They started laughing about it. Joking about it. Then, they started snuggling in the lounge. They started to listen to music with sexual undertones. Three years later, I received word of a horrible break up. I'll never forget the message she sent me:

"Jessica, what he didn't tell you is that he broke up with me the morning after he slept with me."

Christian girl. Christian guy. Christian college.

Yet another young lady sent me a story about how she and her boyfriend snuck off campus often. They would drive to a vacant field thinking "Now that we are off-campus the 'no touching rule' doesn't apply." In his truck, they would make out, at night. At first it was innocent. One night, it was no longer. She said it started out making out, then before she knew it she was just mere moments away from giving up her virginity. She came to her senses and called off the whole encounter. Fortunately, he had enough self control to honor her wishes and drive her back to campus, but she could have just as easily been raped.

Christian girl. Christian guy. Christian college.

Know your own weakness and build that boundary strong. You are not invincible. Protect your body. Draw a boundary that you know will stand. Draw it as close to God as possible and know that He will be honored by that, as will your future spouse. It isn't about what feels good. No one is going to tell you it doesn't feel good, but feeling good and honoring God can often be polar opposites.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Open Door Church

I am finishing up the first draft of my first-ever book. Two potential publishers are lined up and will be receiving a manuscript proposal soon. Honestly, this all has not happened the way I thought it would. Oddly enough, at times it seems perfect, just...slow. I like to run ahead of myself, so I have been thinking about what next. It's true, if this is a dream of mine, I need to sell out to it. Sold.

I've been thinking about what books to write next without distracting myself from finishing these. I don't know that it is possible. Two book dreams are on the drawing board, one more recent the other the oldest dream I have had. A book entitled "Unloved." A book intended to wake people up to the fact that, for Christians, there should be no unloved. But there are.

We are a closed door church. Ushers are bouncers, standing at the door and accepting those with the appropriate social status and skin color. It's a righteous weekend club, where we come and sit in air conditioning on soft cushioned pews in our pretty dresses and snazzy suits. It's like a country club, without the valets. Why have we stopped reaching out? Why have we categorized grace?

I spoke with a mother the other day about her chidren, three of which can be little rascals at times. She apologized for their stubborn will and admitted that they were hard for her to handle, that they had some chemical imbalance treatable by Omega-3s. After she finished, I looked at her and confessed that those three were the three I got along with best. That shocked her.

That's always how it has been for me. Maybe because, statistically, I was supposed to be one of those kids, I have always had a heart for the 'trouble children.' Give me your rebels, your disheartened, your broken, there is grace at the foot of the cross. It's the cocky, nosey children I don't tolerate well at all. I like to be able to function without having everything I do questionned, "Miss Jessica, why are you doing that? Why does that look that way? What is that for? Who are you talking to?" It takes every grain of grace in my body, and some I don't have, to keep from responding tartly, "None of your business kid."

I've always been drawn to the unloved. That kid sitting alone in the back of the classroom. That girl who struggles with her self-esteem. Kids who are labeled as retarded or problematic. I love those kids. You know, the ones no one else is supposed to love. During summer school, one girl in particular spent hours at my desk, nearly in tears because she couldn't understand math. For one of her English papers she wrote about how she got made fun of and her teachers had called her stupid and slow. A righteous anger burns up in me when teachers do that.

It's the same thing we do as a body of Christ. The moment someone steps across our threshold, we size them up, stare them down and determine whether or not they meet our standard. Newsflash: our standard doesn't matter.

I heard this song today, and wanted to share the lyrics. They are perfect and I am so grateful for Jonny and the impact he is making with his music.

He's been preached at a million times
so he can tell you what's wrong and right
but he still sits with a heart of stone
'cause condemnation is all he's known.

But what if we took a different route,
got to know him from the inside out,
showed him that we're all the same
and told him about amazing grace.

'Cause he needs love, he needs love,
lots of it before he'll ever open up.
He needs grace from God above,
but from us he needs love.

(she we they)

If she doesn't somehow catch an eye,
she'll sleep out in the cold tonight.
So she works the corner with fishnets on,
just blocks away from a house of God.

She claims she'll never go inside,
just doesn't think that it would feel right,
but what if we stepped out to her,
with love that she doesn't have to earn?

I bet the world would change if it knew love
well we know His name so it's up to us.
We gotta reach our hands to wash some feet
go another mile to find a need.

We gotta step off of our pedestals,
if we want a change that's radical.
If we're gonna serve the least of these,
then love is what we really need.

"They Need Love" by Jonny Diaz

Sunday, June 28, 2009

When Messiah becomes the Kid Next Door

Teaching a Sunday school class brings with it a grand amount of responsibility and the harsh realization that I still have so much more to learn. Taking truths of Scripture and applying it to the lives of teenage girls requires first that I find an application to my life. Sometimes that is the hardest part. In the end, it always turns out to be the best part.

This morning, I taught the lesson of Jesus' rejection at Nazareth. The text is found in Luke 4. Keep in mind that this is where Jesus grew up. Until this point, His ministry has been elsewhere. In this text, He has returned home, and He is famous.

Jesus was known throughout the land as a worker of miracles. He was a hot commodity. A public speaker, if you will. He would walk into synagogues and the people would listen. That is, until He reached Nazareth.

Jesus returns to Nazareth, and, in keeping with Jewish customs, visits the synagogue on the Sabbath Day to hear the Word. They did not have cute pocket PDA Scripture back then. Scripture was written on, 'huge clonking scrolls' (as I put it this morning). Having a copy of the Bible was not convenient not to mention not possible. With every page handwritten with care, these weren't in high supply in the times of the Old Testament. The synagogue would have a copy, and they would regard that copy very highly. So, people would go to the synagogue to hear the word read.

On this particular occasion, Jesus has been handed the scroll of Isaiah to read. Isaiah had to have been a huge scroll. It was not like the priest handed him a verse scribbled on notebook paper and said, "Here. Read this." He handed Jesus the scroll. In our Bibles, Isaiah has 66 chapters. The text Jesus read is from Isaiah 61. He didn't even start where it was convenient! He had a message for these people.

Luke 4:18

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

If you look in Isaiah, you will see that Jesus has left out the end of this section of Isaiah. He has stopped in the middle and it has left the people waiting... they are waiting for the message... for the punch line... for the reason why He has stood up and spoken so little.

He goes on to announce that He is Messiah. They don't believe Him. You can almost hear the thoughts in their heads.

"You? Messiah? HA!! Yeah right! You couldn't be Messiah."
"What? Jesus... our Jesus is Messiah? The Promised One? But He grew up playing in the streets with my little Rebekah. He couldn't be Messiah!"

I could go on about how they wanted miracles to prove it and how He did none. I could go on about the prejudice of Jews to Gentiles. I could even discuss the rest of the prophecy in Isaiah, but what got me the most today was this.

Has He become so commonplace to me, that He means nothing? Has He become so 'simple' that He couldn't possibly be more than what I think He is? If He were to come out and say, "Listen, you need to fix this part of Your life" what would I say? Would I believe He has any right in my life or would I dismiss Him like any other person in my life?

Has Jesus just become the kid next door?