Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Why Good Friday Matters For Our Messy Hearts & Lives



I have ALWAYS had a hard time finishing ANYTHING.

I'm easily distracted, I fly by the seat of my pants, I'm a professional procrastinator, I'll get to it sometime is my life-long motto.

If it weren't for Good Friday, I'd say I'm a quitter.

Good Friday? What's that got to do with it?

I have this distinct childhood memory of my sister and I staring at the disaster that was our bedroom after being told we had to clean it up or we'd get no supper. We both flopped on our side-by-side twin beds and plotted for an hour (or hours - who was counting? We weren't.) about how we might go about cleaning the mess before us.

We wrote out our plan on little wooden chalkboards. Erased it. Then wrote a new plan when we realized Plan A would mean we'd have to get up and actually do something. Then we were so worn out from all the planning that we sat down on the floor amidst the mess and created a lavish Barbie wedding with a roll of toilet paper.

I'm sure hours passed before either of us ever gave a thought to the fact that all the planning, the chalkboard lists, and the really, really good intentions would mean the eminent banishment to our bedroom for the rest of our lives.

Sometimes I think I was just never taught. I didn't have organized parents. I didn't grow up in an organized house. When my mother said, "Clean under your bed", I threw everything in the closet. When she said, "Clean out your closet" - (worst scenario EVER for a kid who was told last week to clean under the bed), I shoved everything under the bed.

I'm a wife and mom of five kids now. But, wow - I am still that eight year-old shoving messes from one place to another. When I clean out my closet - now, as a grown-up, a mother of FIVE children - I put everything in my bedroom. If I need to clean my bedroom, everything goes back in the closet.

Mess shuffler? Does that sound right?

Sometimes I feel like I'm a prisoner of what I can't be, don't know how to be, wasn't taught to be. And in today’s world, we get to put on an instant, public, filtered, snapshot-worthy display of ALL the things we are and ALL the things that we do well. We never have to expose or allow others to see all that we are not. It's easy to share successes, right? Take pic, edit, filter, post. Repeat.

Repeat, again.

But, behind that perfect photo, we’re all full of doubts about who we really are, aren’t we? I am. I'm scared and overwhelmed by all that I'm not. I look around and see what is unfinished in my life and all that is unworthy and unwelcome about me in this Pinterest world we live in. I see the secret closets and the drawers full of yesterday, yestermonth, yesteryear. I see a mess of stuff I shuffle around in my head - things I want to do, to be, to actually complete.

But, more than ANY of that, I know the secret places in my heart. The places that are dirtier, messier, and unlovelier than any bedroom, any closet, any drawer.

Can I tell you why Good Friday matters to a messy sinner like me? Why it matters deep down - in the places that define me?

Because of Good Friday, because of the cross - when God looks at me, He doesn't see all that I am not. God sees Jesus on the cross. The one who died instead of me. The one who bore my shame, carried the messes of my heart on his beaten and bloody back, and I live free of judgment and shame because he died in my place.

When I feel like a quitter who just. can't. get. it. together, I cling to the message of hope the cross of Jesus declares for me: God gave his only son for sinners. Like me. Like you.


Because of the cross, I have THIS promise:

And I am sure of this, that he who began
a good work in you will bring it to completion
at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6

God is not a quitter. He carried his own cross on his back and died for me in the most glorious finish in history. My life is his work. And, he doesn't give up.

He isn't giving up on me. He isn't giving up on you.

I may not be organized. My bedroom might be messy. And, the drawers and closets and secret places in my heart that I don't want anyone to see scream out, "You are not good enough." And you know what? I'm not.

But, the cross of Jesus is. I have God's promise - that he began something marvelous in me when he made me his, and until I fly through the ribbon at the end of my life and finish this race, I will cling to the grace and promise of knowing that I am his project, his plan, his girl.

And, He's not finished with me yet.

So as Good Friday approaches, it matters to my messy heart and life because the cross is where Jesus declared that that my sin and my failures and my “not enoughs” and the work I could NEVER do for myself no longer define me. The righteousness of Jesus is my victory cry.

He finished what I never could.

The cross for secret closets.
The cross for messy hearts.
The cross for quitters.
The cross for little girls with chalkboard plans.
The cross for mamas who can't get it together.

The cross of Jesus – the hope of Good Friday for me.
The hope of Good Friday for you.

Monday, January 29, 2018

To My Teenager (As We Walk This Rocky Road Together).


I remember the first time I was DEEPLY afraid for you.

We were coming out of a restaurant and your wild, two year-old body couldn’t escape to freedom fast enough. You bolted right off the sidewalk and into the parking lot towards an onslaught of cars. Your Daddy – he ran after you and scooped you up in his arms and carried you back to safety. I stood there with my hands over my mouth in disbelief at what had just unfolded before me as I watched helplessly and in that moment I found MY LIFE VERSE:

I AM NEVER LETTING GO OF YOU, AGAIN!

Can I confess something to you? Now that you are a teenager, I’m afraid, again. I’m afraid to let you go. I see you growing and changing and ITCHING to let your fingers slip out of mine and RUN TO FREEDOM. I see you pulling away, and my not-so-little one, you should. I know you should. You were meant for an adventure designed just for you. You were created to be SO MUCH MORE than just my son.

I know you think I just don’t get it. You don’t feel known and you feel deeply misunderstood and all of these rules are ruining your life and you have so many questions about everything around here and why it is the way it is. I’m so “old-fashioned” and “You just don’t get it, Mom” and you know what? Maybe I don't get it.

But you know what? I get you.

I know you. I have been your mama through your every joy and sorrow. I know HOW MUCH you want to be seen and loved and LIKED. I know how much you love Pop Tarts and how much hair product you use and that the swoosh in your hair with pristinely buzzed sides is TOP DOG right now. I know that your friends can be BIG FAT JERKS and you don’t know whether to join them or stand up for what you know in your heart is right. I know HOW HARD it is to reconcile being a follower of Christ and a kid who the world sees as cool.

I know because I know you.

I cannot protect you from all of these hard things, even though most days I would if given the choice. I can guard you for a season, but only God can protect you. His hand is the one that will hold tight when mine isn’t the one you want to hold anymore. And I know that day is here. I wish I could answer all of your questions the way you want me to answer them, but I would be robbing you of the ONE THING YOU NEED MOST:

A broken, confused heart that runs to Jesus.

Here's what you'll find in him:

- When you feel misunderstood, Jesus knows JUST how you feel.
- When you feel afraid, Jesus will be your light.
- When you feel like you just wanna do what you wanna do, Jesus tells you to come when you’re weary and he will give you rest.
- When you wonder if your friends are really your friends, Jesus knows this all too well and he will be the TRUE friend you have ALWAYS wanted.

I am such a broken example of ALL of this for you. I am a desperate sinner who needs the grace of Jesus EVERY SINGLE DAY, and running to him is the ONLY hope I have for me and for you. I wish you could see him better in me, but instead, you get a MIXED UP, MESSED UP sinner and the BEST thing I can do for you is try to point you to the one who will love both of us through it all.

SO here’s what I do:

I pray God’s word over you. Because no matter how much I want to protect you or what my dreams and wants are for you, when I pray God’s word over you, I know I’m praying what HE wants for you:

A loving and patient heart. (1 Corinthians 13:4)
A man who runs to Him. (Psalm 31)
A faithful warrior of prayer. (Psalm 55:17)
A true and kind friend. (Mark 12:31)
A man who loves God’s word. (Psalm 1:2)

The Lord. He is your shepherd.
Your shield.
Your refuge.

He will never leave you, even after we survive this crazy we're in and you leave to discover the world without me. He will walk with you through every trial, through every heartache and He will DELIGHT over you as you run to Him with any and EVERYTHING. He wants to know your failures. He wants to know your joys.

He will forever be your Father. And He will love you for every single day through every single thing when you put your trust in Him.

As we walk through the rest of your teenager years together, if you remember nothing else as we shout across the hallway at each other - trying to find our way through all of this, remember that your mama is a sinner who needs God’s grace, just like you do.

We’re in this together, you know? We are more alike than we are different: We BOTH need a Savior.

So when I cry when you go to the dance this spring and say “no” to some things I know you really, really want and yell at you over stupid stuff we can’t agree on and you feel like I’m just a BIG OL' DUMMY who doesn’t get it, know in your heart how much I love you.

That I am for you.

And, that above all else, I want you to know the love of Jesus that will NEVER let you go.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Let's Give Up The Hustle [And Trade It For What We Really Want]


Last year, I made a New Year’s resolution: Read through the entire Bible AND journal it in my brand new journaling Bible.

I suppose I thought it would honor God (and I still know it would), but honestly, my motivation was ALL SHADES of wrong. I thought the promise of praise by the people around me at the completion would be all the motivation I’d need to really finish it. Sadly, that's why I set the goal in the first place.

So I posted about it: Look what I'm doing, y'all! SEE! I AM A HUSTLER.

NEW GOALS.
Fresh start.
Go tell it on the mountain of social media: I am someone who GETS IT DONE.

Do you know how far I made it? TWO DAYS. Two. To put that into context, Adam was still blissfully running around the garden nekked.

I was rolling my eyes at myself and lamenting that I JUST CAN'T GET CRAP DONE, when THIS truth began pressing itself on my heart:

There is nothing, Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING I can do that will make God love me more. NOTHING.

I didn’t really understand this at all until I had children. The five faces that look up (and now down 😭) at me everyday? There is NOTHING they can do to make me love them more. Not a SINGLE thing. Am I somehow a wiser, more loving parent than God? I doubt it.

So why? Why was I hustling?

I thought your approval would motivate me. I put it out there, and if you saw me as a hustler, as a goal-setter with a mountainous task ahead, the promise of YOUR praise at the end would be all the motivation I’d need. The praise of others, man. It’s POWERFUL stuff.

This last year, I learned that the hustle is a big time FRAUD. All the trying, all the grasping, all the scheming to somehow manufacture contentment through approval of others by a whole lot of DOING doesn’t work. The dividends are ZERO. Hustling for approval NEVER pays.

A few days into the New Year, I asked my hustler self this question:

What if my ONLY goal this year was to rest in the goodness of the Lord and look for ways to display that goodness to others?

What if I became more vulnerable, less prideful about what I know, and became a better listener instead? What if I wrote when I wanted, NOT to get paid or get YOUR approval or AMENS or accolades, but simply because I enjoy it? What if I slowed down, honed in at home and fostered a handful of DEEP friendships instead of “managing” a host of acquaintances?

What if I said “yes” to things that would build others up and love them well, and “no” to things that would do that for me? 

It wasn’t perfect. In fact, it was a perfectly messy, perfectly scrambled, all over the place emotionally year. Approval is like a drug, and detox is BRUTAL. I failed a WHOLE bunch because I know I’m hard-wired to seek approval.

But this last year? I FINALLY gave up the hustle and traded it for a deep contentment I’d never known. 

A friend looked across the room at me a couple of weeks ago as we recounted what we’ve seen in each other this last year and said, “I saw a vulnerability in you I’ve never seen before.” I not only adore her, but I fought back tears that she saw what God had been secretly doing in me. You see? This kind of year was a work inside of me. Not a work to put on display.

BYE-BYE hustle. HELLO contentment.

Friend...

- You are not more loved because you become thinner.
- You are not more accepted because you've read more books.
- You are not more worthy as a friend because your schedule is packed full of lunch dates.

And you will NOT be more content. I can promise you that.

As we set up goals, make resolutions, determine to DO THAT THING, can I just throw out there that maybe, JUST MAYBE, this year might be YOUR year for resting? A year for waving goodbye to all the manufacturing and maneuvering and stressing over the DO THIS AND THAT so that others will love/accept/think more highly of you. But instead, focusing on finding contentment where it can be found - giving up the hustle and resting in the deep contentment that is found by fostering deep, close community and resting in the goodness of the life God has set before you. 

And discovering ways (within your newfound RESTED self) to show that love to your people.

This just might be your year, friend.

Monday, April 10, 2017

How I Found My Place (And My People) at a Megachurch


I used to wonder why people would attend a megachurch.

I mean, THOUSANDS on THOUSANDS of people streaming into a building on any given weekend? Is that ANYONE'S idea of a good time? I actually wondered what people were thinking in CHOOSING a church so large as their place of worship when they could attend a smaller church down the street with easy parking, good ol' fashioned potlucks, and a small community of people who all know each other.

I've had several friends over the years who attended some of the biggest and most well-known churches in the country, and the reasons I was CERTAIN they attended them are the SAME reasons people assume I attend one now.

- It's because of the GREAT programming: children's activities, women's ministries, a totally TURNT UP VBS, opportunities galore laid out right before you. Well, let me tell you, that ain't it. While that stuff can be great in ANY size church, I'm not gonna choose a church based on programs and activities that could come and go.

- Or maybe it's the amazing worship band covered in smoky awesomeness wearing hipster glasses and weathered plaid button downs? Annnnd ... a big fat NOPE. Not it either. I can fire up iTunes and hear the originals anytime, anywhere.

- Maybe it's that I don't really want to be known - you know, you can sneak in and out of a megachurch and NO ONE will notice you, right? The pastor doesn't know you, the people don't know you - come on in, get a little pumped up for the week, and go right on out. It's Dreamland for Anonymous-Wanna-Bes. Yeah well, if you know ANYTHING about me, I ain't trying to be anonymous, y'all. ANYWHERE. I want to be known and loved. Deep down, don't we all?

- It's probably that megachurches are BIG and RICH and FANCY. Which OF COURSE means I now have a big and rich and fancy life. Well, my church meets in a warehouse/strip mall of sorts - and has YET to write me a big, fat check from the tithing pool. And based on the number of straight up broke college students rolling in and the number of clunky, barely hanging on minivans I see in the parking lot each week, I highly doubt anyone else is gettin' one either.

So WHY then? If it's none of those reasons... then WHY?

Well, here's how it went down for us: My family moved into the area and went searching for a church where the gospel was preached EVERY week and the people loved Jesus and had hearts for the lost people he came to save - not just each other. And, when we found that in a church TWENTY times the size of what we might've considered ideal, we stayed.

We've been at our church, a church of over 10,000 people, for six years. We have grown in our relationship with Jesus and in our passion to love people well in ways we never could've imagined. And as I sat down to think about WHY we've stayed and WHAT we love about our church, I wanted to share with you how we found our place and our people here.

If you want true, rich, deep community within a larger (not just mega) church:

1. You MUST join and be part of a smaller group of people within the church. At our church, we call them... well, small groups. (SEE? We fancy.) If you're in an church of 10,000 plus people, you NEED people within the church who know your stuff. I mean, your REAL LIFE STUFF. They don't have to be your BFFs, but they NEED to know HOW to pray for you. They bring meals, they hold the baby, and they laugh and cry with you through your hot mess of a life. These are people who KNOW you, walk everyday life with you, open their Bibles with you, hold you accountable, and are committed to praying for you. They rally around you, help you when you're sick, laugh with you and celebrate your victories, and they hurt with you when you are hurting. And, you will know TRUE JOY in getting to do and be that for them.

The only way to be truly known within a very large church is to have a core of people, WITHIN the church, who know you, love you, care for you, and are walking closely through life with you. This group may change as seasons change and people move or you branch out to start new groups as you grow, but they are IN IT with you for the season you're together. THESE ARE MY PEOPLE, y'all. They effectively take a large church, and make it smaller - so that within the larger community of your church as a whole, you are known, cared for, prayed for, and loved.

2. You HAVE to serve in some capacity within the church. You can't come in, sit down, be entertained by the band, get pumped up with a God pep-talk for the week ahead, and leave. If you don't serve inside your church, you are not only missing out on being known by the people you regularly serve with, but you are depriving the rest of the church of your specific, God-given gifts and talents. At a large church, there are no small amount of opportunities to serve - volunteers and servant leaders and people willing to give of their time and talents are needed ALL OVER the place. In serving, the larger church gets to be blessed by you, and YOU get to experience the collective joy of ALL serving God together - ALL for His glory and for the eternal work of seeing others come to know Jesus.

This next one is a BIG one. I've heard people say that if you go to a megachurch, the pastor doesn't really know what's going on in your daily life, what you're struggling with, and well, "he just can't possibly know ALL those people."

They are ABSOLUTELY right. He does not and cannot. But because of my small group, and the people I serve with, I don't need him to be that. I've already got it.

So this is an IMPORTANT one:

3. You don't need your pastor to know you and all the details of your life. A pastor COULD NOT do this for even THIRTY people. So if you go to a church of more than that, megachurches aside, a pastor cannot be that for you. NOTHING and NO ONE can replace the role of God's people in your life. One man most DEFINITELY cannot. I don't care how charismatic or godly you think he is.

Here is what I do need from my pastor:

A. I need him to personally love Jesus and have an urgency about unsaved people. But how can you know this when you rarely, if ever, interact with him? Well, because he is transparent about it when he preaches each week. My pastor talks about his time in the Word and what specifically that looks like for him and he helps us become better at it. He shares with us various everyday encounters he has with people and how he strikes up gospel conversations with them - and challenges us to do that as well. {I pity the fool who sits next to my pastor on an airplane. They don't even know what's comin'.} And, he not only INSISTS that we go on missions trips (short or long term) to spread the gospel to unreached people groups, but he has modeled that by taking his family and going himself.

But most importantly, I will see and know his worldview and his basis for it because...

B. I need him to faithfully preach God's word every week. Straight up. Not some watered down version of the Bible or some alliterated, hokey thoughts he's thinking on it, but the straight up, reading right from the text, WORD FOR WORD, chapter by chapter, book by book Word of God. If what he preaches from the stage each week is DIRECTLY coming from God's word, and he stands on THAT as the truth in his life (and points me there in mine), then I trust that he is leaning on the word of God and faithfully preaching it to us as well.

It took me some time to understand this one, but hear me on this:

C. I need my pastor to love and pray for HIS family and HIS neighbor, not mine. I don't need him to know the details of MY life. I want my pastor to be living out in HIS life and family the same call God has given to all of us as believers - "Go and make disciples." Yes, he is a pastor by vocation, but he is also a husband, a Dad, and a neighbor. I would rather have a pastor who is praying for HIS family and for the salvation of HIS kids and HIS lost neighbor than have a pastor who knows all of my family's junk and is praying for me.


Further, I would rather worship alongside a room full of one thousand people on a Sunday morning who are sharing the gospel with and LOVING HARD the lost people God has put in their lives than a room of one hundred whose primary purpose at church is to know and love me.

4. Going to a megachurch means setting aside your preferences - ALL the time. We didn't find the "perfect" church when we found ours, contrary to what some might believe about people who attend big churches. Quite frankly, it wouldn't take me long to write out a nice, hefty list of things I don't like about it or wish were done differently. But, I have come to see setting aside my preferences as a way of LOVING people well and celebrating the diverse makeup of the Kingdom of God. Of saying, "There are 9,999 other people here and there are thousands of others in my city who might consider coming through these doors, many of whom are VERY different from me, and I don't need to have things my way." If I don't like the worship music, it ain't changing because I throw a fit to the pastor, anyway. And, if I determine the VBS theme is terrible this year, I can march up to the kids pastor and tell him, but he will surely be able to point me to hundreds if other families who LOVE it. So week by week, I lay down how I might want things to be because it ISN'T about me. It's about Jesus - and I yield to the wisdom of the leaders in my church to determine how we can best reach people to know him.

So, here I am.
Known and loved.
Serving in a megachurch, a place I NEVER thought I'd be.

I've found my place here and I've found my people. REAL people with REAL problems and I've found deep and true relationships.

I need to say this: I could leave my church of 10,000 and attend a church of 20 people tomorrow. Why? Because what I've come to value about my church has NOTHING to do with its size - and EVERYTHING to do with its mission: To see lost, unsaved people come to know Jesus. I've seen people that I love and respect be sent out by my church in the name of that SAME mission. People I've grown to dearly love have left to go plant new churches, to serve overseas - to reach lost people ALL over the world. I am NOT saying that a megachuch is the place for everyone. I want to make that clear. But I AM saying that it is absolutely possible to find real, true, gospel-centered community in one.

I love the hearts of the people in my church - who lay down their preferences EVERY week in a thousand different ways to see the lost come to know Jesus.

I love the heart of my pastor - who boldly proclaims the gospel of Jesus every week.

And I love that church used to feel like it was for "me" - but, now I walk through those doors each weekend and see faces I don't recognize and people who don't know me and I see ALL of it, everything we do as a way to reach people, love them well, make them feel welcome and wanted, and make much of Jesus.

And my hope each week is that when I look around at ALL these people, they know Jesus. That they hear the gospel preached from the stage, that they see people loving them and serving them and each other and that their lives are changed - right inside my big ol' megachurch.

And, that they find their place and their people.

Just like I have.