Saturday, February 13, 2016

A PLACE OF GRACE

Six years ago, our little family of three stepped on an airplane and took our seats.
Exhausted. Confused. Disappointed. Overwhelmed. Emotional.

The specific details of that day are here, but basically,
it was a travel day from hell.

Fog shut down two of the airports we were flying out of and snow shut down the cities we were flying into.  We booked new flights only to have them cancelled.  Our luggage went one place and we went another.  In a last ditch effort to catch our flight out of Washington DC, we flew to Baltimore, knowing that they only had one lane cleared throughout the city, and took a taxi to DC.

We were headed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with nothing more than our backpacks and carry-ons.  That day, that travel day from hell, was just the beginning and we would never again be the same.  We simply had no idea.

As I sit here, remembering that stressful day, I am just as tearful and just as tired.

I still get confused.
I still get disappointed.
I still get overwhelmed.

We flew home from Ethiopia with big dreams for our new family of four.
And we have spent the last six years grieving the loss of those dreams.

I never thought.  In the middle of this six year journey, when I was convinced God had made a massive mistake in choosing me to be Miles' mom, I never thought.  I never thought that God could redeem all the doubt, all the hurt, all the dark, all the pain.

Even though our circumstances haven't changed, in fact, in someways it's harder than ever, I am not the same.  To be in a place where you welcome hard and messy because you know that is where God dwells is such a beautifully place to be.
It is a place of grace.

I love the way Greg Lucas describes this exact idea in his book, Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace

“My experience is that God will place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot possibly carry it alone. He will break your back and your will. He will buckle your legs until you fall flat beneath the crushing weight of your load. All the while, He will walk beside you waiting for you to come to the point where you must depend on Him. ‘My power is made perfect in your weakness,’ He says, as we strain under our burden.”

He goes on to say…

“Grace enables us to thrive in the presence of this world’s sufferings while magnifying the One who breaks us with affliction – that He might equip us with comfort, compassion, and strength to give others.”

Photo Credit
God, in all of His wisdom, in all of His power, in all of His sovereignty,
used a little baby boy - born half way around the world, born to a different Mom, born with a disability - to help me to see how much He loves me and to help me internalize the life-changing truth that EVERYTHING I need I can find in Him.
EVERYTHING!

“His divine power has given us everything we need to experience life
and to reflect God’s true nature through the knowledge of
the One who called us by His glory and virtue.”
{2 Peter 1:3, VOICE}

Everything I need (love, acceptance, security, worth, approval, forgiveness, purpose, hope, intimacy, respect, etc.) is freely given to me in the person of Jesus Christ.

Think about that for a second.

What would it feel like to love and serve others without needing ANYTHING in return?  What would it look like to give all of yourself away without needing applause, approval, or acceptance?

Doesn’t that sound like true freedom?
Doesn't that make you want to throw on a kilt, paint your face blue and yell FREEDOM!

That is the true message of the Gospel!
That is the true message of Grace!

God gives God.
And when you get God, you get "everything you need to experience life and to reflect God's true nature..."

When you take your eyes off of Jesus, you are forced to look to others to meet all of your needs.  You love, serve, and give of yourself trying to satisfy that place that only Jesus can satisfy.  When others don't come through, you are left hurt, disappointed and empty.  But you keep trying.  Eventually, you become so dependent on everyone around you to give you what you need, it strains your relationships because it's never enough.  They are never enough.  Not only is that exhausting, it is the exact opposite of true freedom.

So I sit here today, six years into our new normal, praying that I can live daily in that place.  That place of freedom.  That place of grace.

Sweet Miles,
You're a gift I never would have asked for.
You're a gift I didn't know I would need.
You're a gift I thank God everyday for.
You're a gift I'm so humbled I received.


Soli Deo Gloria!
{Glory to God alone!}

“Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God,
this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.
Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advise?
Everything comes from Him;
Everything happens through Him;
Everything ends up in Him.
Always glory! Always praise!
Yes. Yes. Yes.”
{Romans 11:33-36, MSG}

Monday, February 1, 2016

MAKE SPACE

When Keith and I started our Small Group, we read this story as a way to help our new friends see our vision for, not only our little group, but for the church as a whole.  This story, found in three different books of the Bible [Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5], challenges us to be different, to live eyes wide opened, to create space, and to relentlessly pursue Jesus.

One day Jesus was teaching in a home and a large crowd of people gathered to hear him speak. The power of the Lord was with Him to heal. The house where He was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no place to stand, not even outside the door.

While Jesus was preaching to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.  They tried to bring him and put him down before Jesus, but there were so many people that they could not find a way.

So they [the four friends] climbed on the roof,
dug a hole above Jesus' head, and lowered the mat into the room
so that the crippled man was lying before Jesus.

Jesus said to the paralyzed man,
"Stand up.  Take your mat and go home."
The man immediately stood up in front of everyone.
He picked up his mat and walked home, praising God.

Every time I read this story, I find myself asking the question...
Who am I?  Am I the crowd, the friend, or the paralytic?

THE CROWD.
They came from all over the area filling the house inside and out.
They heard Jesus was speaking and they wanted to hear what He had to say.
They knew Jesus could heal.

The religious leaders claimed their front row seats closest to Jesus,
but they were shallow in their thinking and blinded to their own needs.
The people filled the house to listen, learn, and see,
but they didn't notice the crippled and hurting people around them.

They shared space with Jesus, but they didn’t have an encounter with Him.
They witnessed four grown men lower their friend from the roof and place him the feet of Jesus, but it never dawned on them that they are just as needy, just a paralyzed.

FOUR FRIENDS.
They were going toward Jesus.
They had a friend who was paralyzed that they wanted Jesus to heal.
They knew getting their friend to Jesus would be hard, but they refused to leave him behind.

They didn’t get discouraged when the crowd refused to make room for their friend.
They were willing to go the distance, carry the weight of their friend, destroy private property, and not stop until their friend was lying at the feet of Jesus.

They were tired and exhausted from carrying their friend, but their hearts were full as they look down through the roof at their friend laying right in front of Jesus.
They did their part, had faith that Jesus would heal, and watched their friend walk home, worshiping God.

THE PARALYTIC.
He was paralyzed and needed help.
He was unable to get to Jesus on his own.
He was needy, struggling, and messy.

He was carried on his bed mat, the mat he lived on.
He and his mat were not able to get cleaned up before meeting Jesus.
If and when he got to Jesus, he needed people to be willing to make space for him.

He was blessed with friends who had their eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus.
He was immediately healed by Jesus and obeyed by getting up and going.
His encounter with Jesus forever changed him.

Who am I?
Who are you?
As a church, who are we?

It is so easy to be the crowd.  It is a role that, if we take our eyes off of the gospel, we innocently slip into.  We can get in the routine of going to church, claiming our seat, saying hello to the familiar faces around us, and without realizing it, go completely blind.

Blind to the lost.
Blind to the hurting.
Blind to the messy.
Blind to those very things in us.

If our Small Group is full of the crowd, the group becomes so inward focused that we make it hard for outsiders to come in, to feel part, to meet Jesus.  They have to work at it.  They have to be willing to keep coming back week after week and to make the hole in the ceiling big enough to fit through.

“How tragic it is when spectators stand in the way
of people who want to meet Jesus.”
{Warren Wiersbe}

To be a friend, like one of the four, is tough.  We have to make our relationship with Jesus our number one priority.  We have to commit to keeping our eyes on Him.  We have to purposefully take a step toward Jesus everyday single day.  If we are going pick up a hurting friend and carry them to Jesus, we need to already be walking in that direction.

It takes love, grace, and mercy.
It takes patience and determination.
It takes faith to trust that Jesus is enough and it provides unspeakable joy when you see your friend stand up and go, praising God.

Photo by Kelsey Tice Photography

The paralytic is a role we will all find ourselves in at some point or another.  When life gets messy and we become paralyzed by our hurts and disappointments, we have to humble ourselves and ask for help.  Lying down, paralyzed, acting like everything is good is just crazy.  It's pride.

There is nothing shameful about needing help.
There is nothing shameful about life being messy.

We often feel defeated because we have an enemy who preys on the hurting.  Satan wants to make us think the mat is comfortable.  He can even make us resentful if the people in our lives refuse to keep carrying us around.  We have to remember that the goal is always to be carried to Jesus.  We are suppose to be left at His feet.  After we've been on the mat a while, getting up is hard.  But we are suppose to get up, take our mat, and begin walking the path of healing, which can be painful.  But, the quicker we get up and go, the quicker the pain and suffering can be redeemed.

I pray that our church looks and acts like the four friends.
I pray that the messy and hurting feel safe in our groups.
I pray that we will make space so that it is easy for people to meet Jesus.

Friday, January 29, 2016

BELOW-AVERAGE ME

Learning was never easy for me.
Reading was always a struggle for me.
Studying always defeated me.

In elementary school, I couldn’t see the board and missed most of what was going on. I remember going to the front of the room each day after the bell rang and frantically writing down the spelling words and the homework assignments.

I hated that I couldn’t see.
But I thought it was because I was a Z.

My maiden name is Zulpo.
I was always last. Always in the back.
It sounds sad, but I didn’t mind.
I liked that I could hide in the back.
It was a gift to a socially awkward introvert like me.

It wasn’t until junior high that I realized that I needed glasses.
I just assumed the W-X-Y and Z’s just don’t get to see.
Until my friend, she was a T, let me try on her glasses.

I.COULD.SEE.

Missing so much information during the early years made me hate school.
It was just so hard.

I was never on an honor roll.
I didn’t graduate high school with any scholarships.
And I only made it through a semester and a half of college.

I was always embarrassed that I didn’t get school.
It was always a source of shame.

It’s not that I gave up or that I didn’t try.
I even went back to college several years later to give it another shot.
I lasted a semester. It wasn’t for me.

I’m not even average.
I’m just me.

The problem with learning, reading, and studying being hard is that, as Christians, we are given a book. And not just any book. We are given the very breath of God in written form. We are told the Bible will change us and help us. We are told it is a weapon and can protect us. We are told to study it, memorize it, meditate on it.


But I’m me.
I didn’t understand it.
I just didn't get it.

So many people.
Names I couldn’t pronounce.
So many words.
Their significance I couldn’t figure out.

I have been a Christian for 13 years, 10 months, and 28 days.
And just like school, I was always embarrassed that I struggled reading the Bible.
I mean, my husband is a PREACHER! Which meant more shame for me.

But then God gave me a gift.

Miles Misikir.
Miles’ name means ‘gift from God.'
Misikir means ‘witness or testimony.'

Isn’t that beautiful!
God gave me a gift that has completely changed my witness, my testimony.

But there is another meaning.
One that we should have taken more seriously.
The one my gift seems destine to live up to.

The name Miles also means ‘destroyer’.
DESTROYER!!!

In just 6 short years, this gift, my gift from God,
He has managed to destroy my pride, my shame, and my insecurities.
He has managed to destroy any witness or testimony of who I used to be.

Little by little, God is using the gift of Miles to destroy the old me.
It’s hard. And painful. And worth it.

What God is putting in its place, in the place of shame, is a deep love for His Word and a desire to understand. It is not unusual for me to sit down in the morning to spend time with Him and look up and my day is gone. He is taking the shame of being blind and giving me the gift of sight and I simply can't get enough of what I see. 

The learning.
The studying.
The understanding.

It’s addicting.

When the Holy Spirit helps me grasp a new (for me) concept,
it’s like I’m back in 7th grade putting on those glasses for the first time.

I SEE IT!
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?
HOLY SPIRT, DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE?
AND YOU’RE TAKING THE TIME TO SHOW THIS TO ME!?!

I can’t even.

In those moments, I imagine God, so proud and filled with love. Jumping up and down with excitement for me as I dance around the room with delight.

He knows I struggle.
He knows the shame.
And little by little, He is taking all of that away.

Before, the old me, I couldn’t see.
And now, the new me, God redeemed so I could SEE.

MIND.BLOWN.

Who in the world, but God, could do that?  Who, but God, could take the very thing that brings you shame and use it to give you life?

“And we know [with great confidence]
that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things
to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God,
to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.”
{Romans 8:28}

Are you like me and know the importance of spending time in God’s Word?
Are you like me and get discouraged because you don’t understand God’s Word?

The space between the knowing, the struggling, and the understanding is lonely.

The Holy Spirit wants to speak to you. God’s goal is a personal, intimate relationship with you. Protect your heart from the effects of sin so you can clearly hear the whisper of God in the deep places of your being.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

{Psalm 139:23-24}

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

#ilovemychurch #ilovecc #crosschurch

Several years ago, when the gift of Miles turned our family upside down, the hardest thing for me was being isolated at home. Miles couldn’t handle the real world and I couldn’t handle Miles. So when we weren’t at therapy, we were home.

I was so used to serving in Keith’s ministry. Right by his side.
I didn’t expect to feel so lost, so useless, so left out.

But God…
He changed my purpose for that season.
I wasn’t being left out, I was being freed up.

When I was in that place of feeling lonely and stuck, God reminded me that I don’t have to be physically present to be on the front line of ministry.  He challenged me to make praying for my husband and the other families we serve with my new ministry. I could have an eternal impact and celebrate all God was doing throughout our church by praying for our staff and their specific ministries every week. I could play a part in protecting their marriages and families by praying for them and their children by name every month. So I did. And what God did in my heart was the most unexpected blessing.

God began to knit these people, these families on my heart.
I want them to walk closely and intimately with Jesus.
I want their marriages to attract people to Jesus.
I want their children to grow up to love Jesus.
I want their ministries to help people know Jesus.

There are so many things I love about my church,
but nothing comes close to the love I have for our staff.

Each person is special.
Each one completely unique.
Each person is important.
Each one part of the team.

And our leader, our Pastor, there is no one else like him.
He is an Early-rising, Jesus-loving, Gospel-preaching, Vision-casting,
SBC-leading, World-traveling, Football-watching, family man.

He is driven.
He is gracious.
And he leads us well.

His eyes and heart are fixed on Jesus and he is “running hard toward the finish line to receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Jesus Christ, is calling us.”

And that’s why we follow him.
We know exactly where he is going.
We know exactly where we will end up.

As I sat down yesterday to pray for my Tuesday’s, our staff, I was simply amazed as I looked at the team God has formed. We all came to Cross Church from different places. And for this season, God has put us all on the same team to serve the same church to reach the same community with one simple goal...
to reach the world for Jesus.

CROSS CHURCH
Springdale  -  Pinnacle Hills  -  Fayetteville  -  Fayetteville East  -  Neosho

The Cross Church staff is made up of difference makers and world changers and standing in the gap for them the last several years has been such a blessing. Life looks different for me now and I am able to go and do and serve again, but I continue the ministry of praying for our staff because it fills me with love and compassion for them. And because lately, I have a stirring.

It's big.
It's heavy.

I feel the weight of it deep in my heart.
And I am expectant.

God is moving.
God is up to something.

Will you join us?
Will you pray with us?
Will you serve with us?

Will you BE THE CHURCH that you want Cross Church to be?
Will you COME EXPECTANT that Jesus will show up and you will leave changed?

The church is not a building, a Pastor, a staff.
The church is a people, a community, a tribe.

Jesus loves the church.
Jesus died for the church.

Together, we are the church.
Together, we are Cross Church.

"God has meticulously put this body together;
He placed each part in the exact place to perform the exact function He wanted."
{1 Corinthians 12:18}

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

PRAYERS FOR CRAIG STRICKLAND

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are Holy and Righteous.
You are the One whom ALL blessings flow.
You are a really good God and circumstances DO NOT change that.

It is Your nature.
It is Your character.
It is who You are.

You.Are.Good.

But Father,
we are hurting and our community is struggling.

A friend was lost.
A friend is still missing.
And we are so sad and so confused.


Our hearts ache for the Morland and Strickland families.
We ask you to cover them in peace, mercy, and Jesus love.

We love You and we trust You, but we simply do not understand.

Pain and tragedy is something we all try to avoid, but they have a way of amplifying Your love, grace and mercy.  It is a microphone that has the potential to amplify Jesus love to a lost and dying world.

And right now, 
The world is watching.
The world is leaning in.

Please use this as a way to show the world how amazing You are.
Please use this as a way to show the world Your true character.

You are mighty and powerful and there is nothing You can't do!

Your Word, the Bible, is filled with stories of Your interaction with humanity.
You parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to escape from Pharaoh.  You sent an angel into a fiery furnace to keep Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego safe.  You sent Jesus, Your only Son, to this world to rescue us and from our sins and give us life.

You are the Rescuer and our friend desperately needs to be rescued.

God, if You have anything planned for Craig other than a rescue that results in a safe return home, we ask you to CHANGE YOUR MIND.  Please!  We beg you for a miracle and at the same time pray that Your Will be done.  You, and You alone, are the Author of our lives and we trust You to write Craig's story however You see fit.

It's days like this that remind us to keep our eyes fixed on You and live every day with Eternity in mind.  In Isaiah, You told us that Your thoughts are nothing like our thoughts and Your ways are far beyond anything we could ever imagine.  So today, we make a choice based on who You are, not on how we feel.  Today, we choose to trust You and praise you.