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

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Customized Faith

Journey with me as we meet Naaman, a character in one of my newfound favorite Bible stories. It's funny how, we sometimes read the Bible like we read the newspaper- just skimming for the latest gossip or the most interesting headline, forsaking the rest. Then, later, when some news comes up we wonder why we didn't know. Is it because we didn't have the information? No. It's because we didn't deam that information important.

The same thing happens with the Bible. In the middle of the Noahs, Jonah, Davids and Joshuas, we miss some of the 'smaller stories'- Rahab, Gideon, and Naaman.

I came across this story in my Bible reading last week. I am embarking on a journey to read my Bible through for the second time from cover to cover. Believe me, there are "dry" days- and he died...and he begat... and he died...begat...died...begat...died- I still haven't figured out how to apply that to my life. But, there are days I find little treasures and that makes all of the 'extra searching' well worth it.

We meet Naaman in 2 Kings, chapter 5. In fact, his name is the second word of that chapter.

"Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable , because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour..."

This story kinda pops out of the middle of nowhere. It actually follows right on the heals of an Old Testament version of the feeding of the five thousand (honestly, how many of you knew there was one of those?). In these first few words we are introduced to a man who is fairly impressive. He was a big boss in Syria- noble, respected, in good standing with the king, strong, brave. This guy was pretty important stuff, but did you notice the little "..."?

...but he was a leper .

That, my friends, is a problem.

As God would have it, there is a Israelite maid in Naaman's household who says one day, "Man! I wish that Mr. Naaman was with that prophet in Samaria because he could heal Mr. Naaman from his leprosy" (paraphrase, for those of you wondering). The grapevine reaches Naamana and he gets all excited and tells the king (remember, they are friends), and the king of Syria sends word to the king of Israel inquiring about how to make this possible.

Well, the King of Israel is a bit slow on the upbeat. He spazzes thinking that this is some precursor to war. (Talk about a lack of faith!) Well, Elisha (the aforementioned prophet) hears that the king is having an issue and send him a message (paraphrase again), "What is your problem?! Send him to me and I will show him that there is a God in Israel." Happily the king sends Namaan on his way.

Elisha doesn't even come out and speak with Naaman. Elisha sends a messenger to Naaman to instruct him to go dunk himself in the Jordan seven times. Naaman is probably insulted- after all, he is some top-ranking official in his home country. He is obviously upset. If you read through the chapter, Naaman wanted a show.

He wanted Elisha to come out, call upon God and do a song and a dance and cure Naaman. That's what Naaman wanted. Easy, breezy, done. Instead, he gets instructions to wash in Jordan, which make him mad and send him on his way back home. If I want to take a bath I'll take one in the clean rivers back home.

Praise the Lord for Naaman's servants who stop him and try to reason with him.

My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash , and be clean ?

That is the verse that just jumped off the page as I read this. They were saying, "Listen, if Elisha had asked you to go drink snake venom or go do something extraordinary, would you have done it? So, why are you mad that all he is saying is wash and be clean?" Naaman listened, dunked in Jordan, and walked away knowing that there was a God.

There are so many ties you can make from this story. The one that jumps out to me the most is the idea of a 'boring faith.'

How often do we wish we were the other guy? I have been following up on a young woman named Katie, who moved (not went short-term as a missionary- she straight up moved) to Uganda when she was in her early 20s and now, probably in her mid-late twenties is the mother of 14 beautiful girls in Uganda- orphans that God has given her. When I see things like that, there are times when I think, "Now God, why can't You give me that assignment? Seriously! Give me something big. Something with 'GOD' stamped all over it. Give me a big faith!"

And sometimes He does. We all have those Abraham-Isaac, David-Goliath, Daniel-Lions moments in our lives, but more often than not, we have a Naaman-Jordan moment. It's a surety that the whole world isn't going to know about our Naaman-Jordan moment. It won't make the headline of any newspaper. It won't gain applause or recognition. It may even seem stupid and insignificant, but it is no less important.

It's hard, at least for me, to be faithful in those Naaman-Jordan moments. I will catch myself thinking, "God, if you called me to China, I would go. I surrender to Your will for my life." But what if His will for my life has nothing to do with China? What if His will for your life has nothing to do with spiritual extravagance? What if His will for your life is as simple as sharing the Gospel with the gas station attendant? When He prompts you, do you listen or do you scoff and say, "Pssh! That's nothing important."

We have to learn to be faithful in the little things. You know, there was a degree of faith exhibited by Naaman. He had no reason to believe that the murky waters of the Jordan could cure his leprousy. He dipped his toe in that water in faith. This man of great renown bathed in a dirty river- that was his Isaac moment, his fiery furnace moment, his Goliath moment.

How our faith works out will be different for each of us. Katie's faith seems so much stronger than mine, but that isn't necessarily true just because she has landed herself in Uganda. Uganda is where her faith has led her. My faith will not lead me there, but it will lead me somewhere.

Whether in Uganda or sitting in a college classroom, we are called to be faithful. Whether your faith leads you to pioneer some mission field or leads you to raise a family (or maybe both!) God does not ask for a song and a dance, He simply asks that you trust Him.

"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Defining Moments

It's September 11, and I feel horribly that I'm not taking time to really reflect on everything that happened nine years ago. It's not like I don't remember or that I've chosen to forget; it's just that there is so much life going on now that it's hard to find reason to sit down and really reflect and simmer in what happened.

I remember exactly where I was. Exactly what I was doing. Exactly what was said. I can remember seeing my English teacher's TV on and thinking a bomb had hit tower one. We were handed tests for MLA formatting in research and looked up as the second plan flew in. She took the tests back. I remember the call to evacuate the local nuclear plant because if it was hit, it would take out a 10 mile radius.

I remember sitting in my 4th period study hall and watching Flight 93 fly overhead and the panic in the cafeteria as we realized that plane was flying so low and the wrong way. Less than 30 minutes later, that flight went down. So, yes, I remember.

Isn't it amazing how some days we never forget, no matter how many years have passed yet we can't remember where we just set our keys. The difference is one is a defining moment. Our lives are full of them. The defining moment of when you become a spouse. The defining moment of parenthood. The defining moment of graduation. Our lives are full of physical defining moments.

How many spiritual defining moments do you have? Some don't feel their spiritual walk is that big of a deal, but do you remember that moment when you truly grasped in ingraspability (new word!) of God's love for you? Do you remember that moment that you realized the work of Calvary? Do you remember that moment of surrender?

I remember a few: major 2 by 4s that God used to get my attention and reroute this crazy train. Still, how often to I sit and purposefully remember them?

How often do you sit and meditate on what God has done in your life, privately? We, as a nation, remember nine years ago. When this generation is gone, the nation will forget, but what about God's working in our lives? What about His continual goodness and grace offered to us? That is more life-changing than any terrorist attack, any war, and how often we forget.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rolling with the Punches

God's Word tells us His mercies are new every morning. Ever have a day that you wish had a few mornings, or one of those rewind buttons. I need a rewind button.

This morning was a salute to braindeadness, and, were it not for God, it would have made for one rough day, let me tell you.

I left my house this morning, late (for those of you who are curious "late" is On my way to take my brother to work, I realized I had left my mom's bag at the house, the bag she called me the night before to remind me to take to school. Yes, that bag. Not with me. Not going to school.

I get to the pool (my brother is a lifeguard) and go in to swim. As I open my duffle bag I notice a certain something missing. Namely, a swimsuit- at home, probably with the other bag I was supposed to bring. So, I shower and get ready for work. Walk out of the locker room and realize I could have spent the last hour pushing weights instead of blow-drying my hair and chilling with the high school swim team after their practice.

I drive to school, arriving a whole hour and a half before school starts. While retrieving my stuff for work (the other work- the one after school), I discovered I had left a box of work at the house, probably next to the bag and the swimsuit.

To cap it all off, as I closed the trunk, I realized something tragic. My school shoes, and my lunch box were not at home. They were, in fact, in the trunk of the car, right next to the keys.


This is one of those, "You must certainly be kidding me!" moments. I stared at the trunk in disbelief and then looked down at my flip-flop clad feet, complete with a toe still swollen, sore and healing from an encounter with a jagged metal edge two weeks ago. Flip-flops are not part of dresscode, and they weren't my intended footwear of choice. Minutes later I had fellow staff members questioning why I couldn't follow school dress code policy. I'm such a rebel.

Ever have one of those mornings? My whole day was like that, even up to 8:00 this evening, but I will spare you the details. It is so easy for us to get caught up in the stuff and happenings of the day. I praise the Lord for the boss I have at the school who has taught me to laugh at moments like this, and to laugh at myself.

It's a rough lesson to learn- to laugh at yourself. To not beat yourself up over the little brain moments we have every day (some of us much more than others). I do not know how many times I have to look at my students and seriously ask them, "What was I doing?" My first year of teaching, I tried to act like I had it all together, and would get frustrated with myself, with them, and with the dog next door if I didn't get everything perfect. Not any more.

That's the beauty of God's mercies. It gives us the safety of falling. I know that seems so strange and you may be thinking, "Ok, Jessica, God's mercies have nothing to do with you locking your keys in the trunk of your car." Oh but they do.

See, new mercies bring hope! New mercies means that God in all His fullness is available to me every single day. I'm never going to run out! He will never stop pouring Himself out upon me, and while so often I am deserving of His wrath, I believe on days like today I hear a ripple of laughter coming from my Father. As I forget this, lose that, lock this there and just act like a completely knucklehead, He must certainly sit in Heaven surpressing Divine laughter.

"Oh, Dear Child, if you would just slow down for two seconds and learn to think clearly... What am I ever going to do with you, little one?"

With life comes the maturity that learns to fight the battles worth fighting and to let the small stuff go. We learn to just keep plugging on because when this is all over no one is going to remember how many times our brain shut off in the middle of something. We roll with the punches, even if that means rolling for quite some while. We have this confidence that God is there with us (and more than likely amused by our human stubbornness in some cases) and that He will never leave us, no matter how many times we send ourselves scrambling for the rewind button.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Learning to Let Go

It's hard, when you pour time and energy into something to really completely surrender. Must be what Abraham felt like offering up Isaac.

"You want me to give up my son? My son- whom I have spent years raising, years teaching right from wrong, years training, nurturing, developing, praying for and working with- that son? If You were just going to kill him off, why did I even bother?!"

If I were Abraham, that's what Abraham would have thought. That's what I have been thinking over the past couple days.

In June, I began counseling at a local crisis pregnancy center. In that time, I have had some easy cases- women who come in ecstatic because they are pregnant. Wham bam out the door they go. No big issues. I have had a couple abortion-determined clients who came in already well decided. Then there is this one. This one who, by confession of the staff, is one of the hardest cases we have had. This one, who has weasled her way into my heart and soul and it is killing me to let her go.

The first appointment usually lasts 45 minutes, and they don't usually contact us again. My first appointment with Sarah was 3 hours long, and we have talked for a couple hours since. She is still leaning toward abortion, and it is taking all of my willpower to not just straight up tell her "don't do it." She had a follow up ultrasound scheduled for today, and I had planned on going.

I felt as if everything was lining up as an 'all systems go' for me to go to the ultrasound. It was a half day at school today; I didn't have to report for jury duty. So much was going my way, except for this nagging feeling that I was wrong. I was wrong to want to be there with her. Wrong for having a list of 'things to discuss' with her. Yet, how could I not be involved. It was a gut-wrenching predicament. Would I do more harm than good by showing up for this ultrasound? Finally, I decided to write a letter to Sarah, telling her how much God loves her, how much He wants to shower His grace on her and pleading with her to seek His heart in this.

I drove it to the center and she hadn't yet arrived. I dropped it off with the nurse and slipped over to the other side to pray. A few minutes later, I returned, the nurse mouthed "She's here. She's in the bathroom." I slipped out the front door, said a quick prayer and fought off tears of surrender as I got into my car.

The accuser of the brethren had snuck into my car while I was inside. "You failed. You know she is going to abort. It's over. All of that work. All of that prayer. All of those hours. God didn't hear you. It doesn't matter. You wasted your time." The battle raged for a few minutes. My heart cried out that he was wrong. I just knew he had to be wrong. He was, and is (as always).

After reaching a dangerous point of brokenness (like my eyes need windshield wipers) I heard a question posed by the director of the pregnancy center. "Whose ministry is this, anyway?" She hadn't asked me that question; she was sharing a story about one of her first counseling experiences. She had been frustrated because a client wasn't listening to her. My situation differed in that my client was listening to me. I was simply running out of time. Still, the question God asked me was, "Jessica, whose ministry is this anyway?"


I can't change her heart. No matter how much I plead, threaten (not that I threaten), or stuff with facts, I can do nothing. She did not need me at that sonogram appointment; she needed Him, and He was there. In the form of nurses and counselors on shift, He was there. It has never been my job to save her, but it has been my job to love her.

It is my job to fulfill the calling of Christ on my life in whatever ministry He has given me. Today that was letting Sarah go and knowing that I had done everything I could to be a channel for God's grace on her life. Tomorrow it will be to go to school and be an example for my students and then going to work and getting the paperwork done. That's it. Just be faithful. That's all He asks of us. Sometimes that is not so much an action. Sometimes it is just simply standing back, letting go and allowing God to take it from here.

Friday, September 3, 2010

More alive than ever

One month away! Sorry! That wasn't intentional. Guess I've spent too much time catching up with my Facebook people. A lot has happened in that month, but it's just too much to go through- ha! I will tell you that right now a lot of big changes are on the horizon- the honest-to-goodness life changing changes that require a lot of prayer and counsel, so if I disappear again, I will be back.

Truth is, in this last month, I have been honeymooning with my Saviour. No, we haven't gone anywhere special, just here. Life has progressed at a mind-melting pace, but still, I have never felt more at peace.

I was sharing with a friend today that the relationship I have with my Saviour is overwhelming. It is intimate beyond comparison and just blows me away every morning. To know that every morning, He waits for me. He watches me while I sleep. He knows when I awake. He is there with me. My God, the Lover of my Soul, my Jehovah, my Comfort, my Sustaining Power... right there, with me, every single day. Blows me away.

I couldn't begin to capture it all, seriously. Couldn't begin to describe this change, this life I have now. I am more alive than ever and all I can do is let my fingers blubber across this keyboard in an attempt to express speechlessness. I can't. So instead, maybe I can lead you here. It's one of those "you have to see it for yourself" types of things, and all I can think to do is tell you how I ended up here, piece by piece.

I strongly encourage you to take up the challenges I lob at you. It's not because I am some great expert in Christianity. It's all because one day, in December of last year, a complete stranger did the same to me. I took him up on that challenge and my life has never been the same.


Spend two hours at the feet of your Saviour.

I know. Two hours?!? I did the same thing. I seriously thought my 30 minutes was worthy of a metal. I was fairly consistent at reading 4 chapters of the Bible and reading through my prayer list. Two hours was overkill.

Truth be told, I've never made it to the two hours. I average right around one and a half. The point is not to set a kitchen timer for two hours and sit around until the bell goes off. The point is to set aside time for God.

So often, we pencil God in. We fit our devos in between meetings. We get our daily bread via e-mail so we can read it while we check our e-mail. But two hours. Two hours alters your day. Your day centers around that. Your sleep schedule changes because of that. Life changes because of that.

And I promise, you will change because of that. If you make God the number one most important thing in your life. So much so that you make plans to spend two hours a day with Him, He will meet you there. He promises to.

If you're trying to figure out exactly how to fill those two hours, here's a basic outline of what I do:

1) I journal. Jessica, that isn't very spiritual. It's cleansing. It helps me clear my mind of everything going on. It gets all of the stuff out of the way and helps me focus. Not everyone has to journal, but I do.

2) I read. Pick something that takes you about 45-60 minutes to read, seriously. Start at Genesis and just read it through. It's amazing! I promise. Earlier this year, I did the Bible 90x (a read through the Bible in 90 days program). It was intense but I began to see connections I had never seen before. After that, I began reading a specific number of physical pages in my Bible. Whatever amount takes you about an hour to read- to actually read, not speed read, but actually read.

3) Reflect. This combines 1 and 2 (at least it does for me). I sit back and reflect on 2 and how it can apply to the situations in 1. It's meditation. It's something we are told to do.

4) Pray. This is my hardest spot. People say they can pray for hours, apparently I just think fast. I must be a speed-prayer. I am learning, and you will too. For my prayers I usually follow a pattern.
a) Reflection on God's character based on the reading
b) Praise (just plain praise)
c) Family
d) Close friends
e) Ministry needs
f) My heart's desires
g) My needs for the day
h) Thankfulness for filling those needs (because He will)
i) Amen!

It may seem like a sudden change, but it all starts with determination. I am no saint when it comes to this; believe me. I have missed more days than I care to count, and there are others when I barely clear an hour, but your spiritual life does not grow on its own. It must be nurtured. Nurture it.