All In

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If I had known at 20 that at age 30 I would be serving as a single female missionary in the Middle East,  I would have probably married the next guy that came along.  And, I would have regretted it, I’m positive.

Why?  Because I am right where I am supposed to be.  On the good days, my heart is so full of love for Him and others that I feel it may explode.  On the hard days, when I tend to ask, “Why, Lord?” and my prayers are peppered with complaints, it is often through tears and on bended knee that I renew the choice to trust Him.

Marriage was my plan. Always. Truthfully, it is still in my plans, and I consistently bring it up in my prayer life.  But I don’t think the life I’m living is some sort of backup plan to the “perfect life” that could have been.

There was a moment, a few years after I became a believer, I felt Him asking me how much of my life was really His, how much was I really willing to give up?  Would I hold back areas of my life, my plans, and my dreams from His touch?  Would I cling to the things of this world over Him?

It was one of those rare times in life, when the world may see nothing happening, but in my heart I was forever changed.  I was set on a path to following Him–whatever He wanted of me, my answer was yes.

Really, it’s the commitment every Christian makes– if we make Jesus Lord, then we are giving up our lives then and there.  But how often do we (and I mean myself in this!!) simply take our lives back and go on doing what we want to do and living how we want to live?

Shortly after that time of commitment (re-commitment?), I felt called to missions.  At that point my experience was limited, and I am pretty sure my answer of “yes” still included a husband, children and “white-picket fence” future.  Never could I have imagined where He would lead me.

After living in sixteen different places since college graduation, I feel like I am finally home–in the Middle East, odd as that may seem.  I am convinced that He is working in the lives of the women around me and some have hearts burning with desire to know Him.  As I move about my city, I am trying to meet these ladies and share with them the Truth they long to know.

I’m living the life He means for me to live, one day at a time.  Tomorrow I could be hit by a car (I mean, really, there are no crosswalks!) and be on my way to see Him.  Or something could happen that sends me on a plane back to the States.  Maybe I’ll get married someday, or maybe I won’t.  It could be I will see crazy large amounts of people turn to Him. Or possibly His purposes for me will be different.

Whatever He has in store for me, I’m all in. Not all in with bitterness. Not all in with hesitancy.  I’m all in with a great big smile on my face.

Pushing Through

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At times God places a vision inside your heart, or permits some difficulty into your life for your own good, or tells you to move to an unknown land (Genesis 12:1), or tells you to sacrifice your eldest son (Genesis 22)? (Well, not you. Abraham in this case, but you get the idea). Yeah…my instructor did that.
I like the instructors that tell me how many reps or sets I have left, the ones that scream encouragement the entire time. Oh, and when I get really close to quitting, my favorite instructor will shout over the loudspeaker, “Don’t quit! Hang on in there! Summer is here! Remember your goals!” as though she can see me about to give up. I always make it through those workouts with no problem.

A new instructor, however, explained the exercise but didn’t tell us how long we had left, nor how many total were in the set at the beginning. She merely demonstrated the exercise, and said, “go!” The next thing I know, the music started to play, and I started moving. I went, and went, and then I got tired. And when I got tired, I started to rethink the activity.
I entertained the idea of quitting. “I can’t do this! If I stop, my muscles would stop burning. I could breath easier…oh, and the water!” Stopping sounded great. This instructor didn’t scream encouragement. She just said, keep going. What I really want is for her tell me how long I have left. Tell me how many reps. Tell me the time is up. Tell me something.
She didn’t though, and just when I decided I couldn’t do it anymore, she told me I had 30 seconds left.. then the activity was over.

When I arrived home, tired after the hard workout, I thought about God’s relationship with the Israelites. He led them out of Egypt (Exodus 13:18). Next, Moses led them through tough situations, but each time, they did what I did, or rather, I did what they did. Moaned, groaned and whined the entire time.

Moses, we are tired of eating this bread! Moses, where is God? We are thirsty! Why did He bring us out here to kill us? Exodus 16:2 (_____) Moses, Moses, Moses! Numbers 14:12 (Paraphrase mine) version)

In that gym class, I didn’t shout, “Moses!” I just stopped, which is likely worse. When the Israelites shouted their complaints to Moses, God’s anger “kindled” against them (Numbers 32:13).
Yikes. The anger of God is not something I want to experience. Fortunately, it looks like I don’t have to because Jesus accepted all of God’s wrath against sin on the cross. The thought of wrath is sobering. It communicates God doesn’t like grumbling. He doesn’t appreciate constant moaning and groaning in spite of the difficulty. In the face of physical, emotional, or mental distress, God prefers we simply trust, endure to glorify Him for His faithfulness. Then thank Him.

Even when He doesn’t tell us how much longer we have in the difficulty, or what the entire staircase in the climb looks like, when we just move forward in humility, in the light of His love, in respect of His sovereignty, He is glorified.

When the hard workouts of life hit, and you are being moved from milk to meat (Hebrews 5:12), remember God’s goodness and His previous display of love every step of the way, for He will deliver you from them all (Psalms 34:19).

Snip, snip. Ouch, ouch!

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I have this problem called self-reliance. Lately, it’s been popping up in my prayers in the form of raw inappropriate confession. “I want to do this by myself!” “Why do I have to wait for you! Why do I have to trust you for everything! Isn’t what you have enough?”
Yikes. I know, right. But, before you click exit, you should know that I’m candid, not rebellious; besides, God knew it before I said it. Saying it rips away the facade. Verbalizing feelings tears away any pretentious mask, allows me to hear the unbelief that would have otherwise remained in the crevices of my fallible soul. Being blunt with God allows Him to deal with me in truth and since I’m so candid, I get dealt with…a lot, and lately, it’s about this self-reliance thing.
The most ambitious of us have this weakness. We like to compete. We like to know that we can do it. We tote around superhero suits in our bags, purses and briefcases. We don’t ask for help often; maybe not at all. We like to hide our weaknesses or work really hard at annihilating them with intense self-improvement and self-development hoping to be ever strong and awesome. Our good God sees the work we’ve done and, yep, the fruit we bear.
Then comes the chop of pruning! Snip snip! John 15 says that if you bear fruit, pruning happens.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. John 15:2 (ESV)

It comes again and again to those who are His–to those who hear and obey Him.
Snip! It comes upon those who call on His name, for our merciful God wants children who aren’t self-reliant, but God-reliant. He wants the fruit of our lives to yield glory to Him, not admiration to our own surname or to our superhero title.

After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people!’ No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The Lord your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people.” (Deuteronomy 9:4-6) NLT.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6 ESV)

Allow God to do some necessary snipping today, and shift the gaze of your admirers and yourself to the truly Glorious One, Jesus.

El- Roi: The God Who Sees You

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And I will make my mountains into level paths for them. Yet Jerusalem says, ‘The Lord has deserted us, the Lord has forgotten us.’ Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? See I have written your name on the palms of my hands. All the world will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel. Isaiah 49:11, 14-16, 26 (The Living Bible)

You are not forgotten as a single. Sometimes, when she gets engaged or when he finds his princess…just sometimes… it’s easy to let the mind roam. “What about me?” You wonder.

Bring back your attention the truth: God has not forgotten you. You are in the palm of His hand.

You are seen by him. He knows your desires for love or for singleness. Your hopes for a family or for independent adventure. Your affection for another or your appreciation of solitude.

God is with you in each of these moments.

13 So[a] she called the name of Yahweh who spoke to her, “You are El-Roi,”[b] for she said, “Here I have seen after he who sees me.” Gen. 16:13 (Lexham English Bible)

Just as God saw Hagar and her child alone in the middle of a desert, He sees you.

Light out of darkness

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Why do we have difficulties?

As followers of the Way, we are called to hard lives. Jesus is pretty clear. Carry your cross.

The more we traverse through scripture, the more plain the cross becomes. Lives of sacrifice. Lives where we choose others over ourselves. Lives where we believe and act as if others are better than ourselves. And, turning the cheek and humbly accepting criticism and persecution that comes with that territory.

No wonder the path is narrow.

What part of God’s character does this come from?

After wrestling with ideas of suffering and difficulty, ponder the fact that God is the Creator. Does God wants to show His glorious power by bringing light in the darkness? How can God create light out of light? (If anyone could, He could). When there is darkness in our lives: darkness in our minds, bodies, families, workplaces, homes, neighborhoods, is God’s creative power most abundantly expressed?

The Beginning
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. …Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.…(Gen. 1:1-4)(HCSB)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 2 Cor. 4:6 (HCSB)

What if God wants to separate the light from the darkness in your life?

He can logically only separate light from darkness if darkness exists. Therefore, sin and evil in the world function as a part of His ultimate plan to redeem and show Himself most glorious and, for us, make us even more bright and beautiful than ever before, despite our stubborn will. The Sovereign Lord turns it all for our good by creating light out of the darkness of our stubborn will (For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV)

What is the darkness you are experiencing?
Could you imagine what light will look like in the center of the situation?
Being the artist that He is, what light might He be growing in you as a part of His masterpiece?

Authority of Scripture and a Game of Telephone

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Sometimes, I like to play a little game with my students.

it’s called “telephone.”

The objective of the game is to transfer the same message from the front of the line to the end of the line. When we are ready to begin, I communicate the message to the first person, and then I let the message go!

Sometimes, when I check with the last person, the message got through…and sometimes… the message failed mid, or quarter-way through.

If I really want the message to transfer, I walk down the line and watch and make sure it passes the inattentive kid, the one who can barely hear, and the one who paraphrases things to the point of distortion. In the case of communication issues based on their tendencies, I repeat the message, louder, slower, repeatedly…by any means necessary.

This is what the Holy Spirit has done for us throughout the ages. He is the One walking from ‘person to person,’ watching over the message AND the transcriber of His message: the apostles, prophets, teachers throughout church history, biblical translations, etc. to make sure his message did not get “lost in translation.”

In the same way that I ensured that my message got through the entire line, the Holy Spirit watches over His message. If I am a human and can do this, How much more can the King of the Universe perform “telephone” in the span of human existence?

Right. Much, much more.

We can trust His message because we can trust the Messenger of all messengers.


Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. – Acts 8:30-31

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:3

Having A Heart Ready for His Word

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John Piper’s article, “Satan Takes the Word” from resonates as it explains the parable of the sower.  In the explanation detailed in the above article, Piper tells his audience how to prepare their hearts for the Word. It is tremendously valuable; I advise you to read it. It is in reflection of that article that I pose the following question: how do you prepare your heart for God’s Rhema Word? If you follow the reference link, you will find that rhema is the insight/knowledge/message that the Holy Spirit would like to speak directly into your heart personally to direct, lead and encourage you. How does one prepare for such personal communication from the Holy Spirit and when it comes, are you willing to be led?

I am like a donkey, I kick my heels in and find myself “kicking against the goads” pushing against the very One who loves me the most in this season of singleness. Sometimes when my heart has not been properly watered, lacks nutrients and hasn’t been recently tilled, my heart refuses the One I love, Jesus. Yet, during this season, nothing is more important than leaning into the comfort, the love, the affection and the validation of the One who loves me more than everyone on the planet combined.

In my exploration of what it means to have a tender heart to the Lord, to be willing to obey, to have the desire to please Him and to say “yes” every time His beckoning calls, I must have a tender heart. (My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” Psalms 27:8 NLT).

Here are a few things I’ve noticed about permitting the tenderizing process of my heart- from stone to flesh:

  1. Worship – When I find myself grumpy, or silent in spirit, I need fertilizer. There is a drastic difference between the atmosphere in my heart when I have been listening to worship, and not secular music or nothing at all. Worship stirs the affections of the lover toward the loved and should not be taken lightly. What is the difference between a pastor getting up to speak first, instead of worship first? The atmosphere! To change the atmosphere of your heart, try worship music. After turning on the style of your choice, your heart will tilt towards your Beloved King of Kings and the dull moments of your life will turn into extraordinary meetings with the divine. Turn it on, leave it on, watch your heart grow!
  1. Community– Sometimes it’s nice to stay in. Sometimes work is hard, and you are tired, and there is this and that to do, but community life is vital! Through the fellowship of other believers, we are made strong. When we are weak, we have prayers from our brothers and sisters. When we are discouraged, we are encouraged! “Unfriendly people care only about themselves; they lash out at common sense.“ (Proverbs 18:1 NLT).  Community is the kneading done in the heart. It is the massaging, the tilling and it works the Word past the tough rocks like unforgiveness, bitterness, and unanswered questions of your heart. Without tilling the soil, the fruit is hindered.
  1. Word – The Word is the seed. If it does not go in, nothing can grow! In times of intense discontentment and frustration, the cause is often missed my Bible reading. When we read/listen to the Word, we find ourselves thinking of how to apply the Word through various situations. Scriptures that respond to everyday concerns pop into our heads and tell us to press on. The Word is as critically important as food, and we need it every single day. As in the natural, in the spiritual, there are many ways to get your daily Bible allowance.

We were all born into iniquity. None of us are righteous. Since we still live in the flesh, we have to daily choose our spirit man over our flesh (refer to Galatians 5:17 below). The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.  

To win the fight, obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading is required, and to achieve a transformational obedience, a fertile, ripe, and ready heart’s is necessary. When we have a tender heart, we are most ready to receive the rhema Word of our Heavenly Father who leads, guides and orders our lives.

Galatians 5:16-18 16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. (NLT)

Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. (NLT)

Did I Make a Mistake?

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My plane landed in Central Asia in the wee hours of the morning. After training, I couldn’t get here fast enough. This is where I felt called to and had been working towards for a long time. It was finally happening. I was joining the work of taking the Good News to the nations.

I piled my four VERY heavy bags on a cart, and basically skipped to the exit to meet my mentor. I was so excited to meet her. She dropped me off at the guest flat and told me she would pick me up in the morning to attend an office luncheon where I would meet the rest of the team. I was ready to hit the ground running.

The “guest flat” was in a dilapidated Soviet apartment building, and I was nervous to stay by myself. However, updated my Facebook status (you know, first things first), and settled in…. And then.. it hit…

I started sobbing. I’d never felt more alone, trapped, or scared. Doubts and fears flooded my heart. Three years suddenly seemed like an e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y. After texting with one of my mentors, I fell asleep two hours later. It would be better tomorrow, right? Nope…more tears. When my mom called, I tried to disguise my emotions (because, you know, moms can’t see through that), but I wept. I felt like a child again, being held by her momma. And through her, God held me. She didn’t tell me to come home, instead reminding me I was right where the Father wanted me. The first two weeks I could barely talk to anyone without crying. I even struggled to comprehend the Word through the jet lag, culture shock, and roller coaster emotions.

A local Believer shared with me she thinks we are often like the Israelites. She explained that although God parted the Red Sea to deliver them from the Egyptians and lead them to the Promised Land, they were grumbling about the mud on their feet. Okay, so the part about the mud is not in the Word, but there are plenty of accounts about the Israelites grumbling about other things.

This made me reflect on the grace and love He has shown me. He has done miraculous things in my life, demolished seemingly unmovable strongholds, and surrounded me with amazing supportive friends and family. And yet, I was struggling to trust. God never promised comfort or ease, but He does promise that He will NEVER leave us. I am NOT alone. Evidence His hand facilitated my journey to Central Asia is apparent. He led me here, He has a plan, and He will sustain me. Those first few days brought me to my knees, but it is the best place to be if I’m kneeling before Him. I’ll always remember His first Words to me in this country – “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

Lean On Me

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“I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit He takes away and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me. As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches, whoever abides in me, He it is that will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1-5 ESV

There you have it. The verdict. Apart from Him- Christ- We, I, You, We can do nothing. Nada. Zilch. Nunca. What is the epitome of nothing? A fruitless life. Maybe a passing moment of excitement, maybe full of temporary thrills, but in the end, it’s sterile, like a bottle full of placebo pills. It’s striking to consider that the opposite–a full meaningful, substantial and fruitful life means a life full of reliance–not on self–but God. Full reliance–to the point of dependence. Dependent like a subordinate clause. Dependent like a poopy baby with a serious pick-me-up within three-seconds requirement. This brings Bill Withers’  “Lean on Me” to a whole new level. Not only when you’re not strong, but even when you are, and when you’re hungry and full.  Sleeping or awake.

The life of an unmarried person comes with much variety. There are single and dating, single and not dating, single and engaged and single with children, (which means you’re probably never alone). The unique part of singleness for all types is that one can never put him/herself legally into a binding union with the partner. The only binding union that’s safe and legal in the eyes of God, so much so that two become one, is the marital union….which means that for the single, we must lean on the Savior.

Think about it. What happens when you get a promotion? Argue with a friend? Get into a wreck? Go to a funeral? Celebrate a new move or jive over a new cup of java? You want to tell someone! Understandable. Who do you tell? A married person might call his/her spouse. Singles may turn to a best friend? A sibling? An Aunt or Mother? Yes indeed. All of the above.

In fact, healthy singleness encourages all of the above! Lean on a large group of friends and acquaintances in this special season of life, or lifestyle God has called you to. But the best choice to celebrate a wonderful life? The more comforting way to get through a tough time? Lean on God. In Philippians 4:11, Paul encourages the church to be content, “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” (NLT)

In His contentment, He encourages us to give thanks. James 5:13-16: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”  (ESV)

There’s always someone to lean on as a single.God is ever-present. The Lord of the universe waits with bated breath for you to lean on Him.

Head in the Sand

I sometimes stick my head in the sand. It’s comfortable down there. Especially around the 1st and 15th of the month when I have to sit down, write checks and pay daunting companies for the services they provide out of my already low bank account. Indeed. Punching numbers and paying the Piper has lost its joy these days, but not paying the Piper brings unwanted rats into my life. As I sighed one day in annoyance at the consequences of my sand-like avoidance, I wondered why I did it. I knew that such evasion would mushroom into a big ugly stink, but I burrowed my head anyway.

How many times do we stick our head in the ground when we know there’s something unpleasant to battle or face in our lives? Whether it be a bill collector or a secret sin, avoidance only amplifies issues and prevents us from dealing with the situation at hand. As singles, avoidance is easy to do. We have a choice to invite people to hold us accountable, to call us out of the sand or to be silent and stay in it. However, when we lift our eyes and face the facts, we obtain clarity, structure, healing, teaching, encouragement and whatever else, and usually more than, we need. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9 (NIV). The alternative to our heads in the sand is to keep our eyes open, our heads up and pay attention.

How many times have you made an error because you weren’t paying attention? Overpaid? Missed a deadline? Said the wrong thing? Heard the wrong thing? Undercounted? If it’s easy to miss things in our everyday visible life, how much more could our spiritual, invisible lives suffer detrimentally due to the lack of attention?  

Fortunately, our Father already knows what we need and has provided it for us in the form of His Word. Hebrews 2:1 encourages us to pay close attention to the Word: “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it” (NLT). The truth of the Word is a tidal wave washing away the sand from our lives.

Attention requires discipline, which isn’t pleasant at first. But after a while, reaps a harvest. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (NIV) Training requires focus and attention. God’s word tells us to focus and fix our gaze upon Him and when we do that, we will reap a harvest of righteousness and peace. If we discipline ourselves and accept the discipline from our Heavenly Father, we will bear more fruit  “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:2  (ESV)

If you and I lift our heads, gaze on Him as we face the discomfort, the things in our lives which threaten the status quo and require obedience and sacrifice– if we just face those, I believe our lives will be made better by He Who washes away all dirt.