Bigger is better?

“I want to be extraordinary!”Pile of Pancakes

“I’m going to do BIG things for God.”

How many of us can relate to those two statements? Even if you have never uttered those phrases, would you agree that the thought of it at least has entered your mind? Full disclosure: that mindset has been a part of my DNA for years now, and I am just now beginning to realize and admit it. It’s amazing how almost every person is determined to make a powerful impression on society or within their sphere of influence – and that’s not a bad thing! Nevertheless, what I’ve been wrestling with is how much that passion to be relevant has dictated my decisions and even affected the way that I view other people.

In the book, Go Small, Craig Gross points out that so many of us want to be revolutionaries and change the world; however, we’re so consumed with our desire to do big things that we often overlook the ordinary, bland things, and really miss the raw opportunities that are right in front of our face. If you look at Jesus’ life, He consistently flowed with the seemingly ordinary events of life – and oftentimes that’s where He would do His greatest works.

The challenge with this approach is that often I don’t get noticed when I’m doing the “small things.” I want to be involved in something that’s going to look good on my Facebook post; something that will win hundreds of people to Christ; something that will get me noticed by the masses. But it’s because of that mindset that I don’t notice, or have time for, the child playing around my house; the dirty dishes that are piling up in the sink; the friend at church that just needs someone to listen to them.

How about you? Can you be motivated to blossom right where God has planted you? Not worrying about if you get noticed or not? Live your life to the fullest in the same way Jesus did, in that He “made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” God isn’t focused on counting how many Facebook likes you get or worried about how slowly your small group is growing. Start noticing the “small things” that are sitting directly in front of you and stay faithful to that – you may be amazed at the ways God shows up and the contentment that follows!

Earning My Place

I’m standing before the doors to a regal throne room. My clothes are torn and my face is dirty, but I have to go inside. I see two choices. I can try to clean up my mess and earn a right inside or I can bust open the doors and walk to see the king.

This is not any old throne room. There sits the 680px-Synagogue_of_Dijon_-_Great_DoorCreator of everything we see and feel and know. He is reigning on a throne in the heavens, reigning over every spirit and being. He is surrounded by angels and heavenly beings who are worshiping and serving Him in perfect obedience.

With that in mind, you might think about that second choice and find it a little audacious. How could I walk in and think I’m “important enough” for God to hear? If I was simply an innocent child, it might be a different matter, but I know I’ve failed. I’ve tried my own ways. I’ve been distracted by things that don’t matter. I’ve listened to the lies. I’ve got the face and hands to prove it. There is dirt on my soul.

But, putting that aside for a moment, look at choice number one. Is there any possible hope of me earning my way into that throne room? Good works never impress God and there is no possible way for me to remove dirt from my soul. So really, what I see as a choice is actually an impossibility. There is no way into the throne room except through Christ.

Ephessians 1:4 is talking about those who have accepted Christ righteous sacrifice and been forgiven. It says, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” There is no arguing that our own “clothes” are stained. We have the guilt and shame to prove it. But what Christ did was take those dirty clothes on himself and he gave us his.

So, I’m here before the doors of my Heavenly Father’s throne room. I see the stains of sin on my life and my heart tells me I must change. But instead of working harder, I open the door and I run to the One who can change me. God looks and sees His own child, running through the great hall, and He opens His arms.

Anna :)

Rest

Rest

I have a long track record of becoming far too busy. Things-to-Do pile up, deadlines loom, and the potential to disappoint clients, friends, and family becomes dangerously close to reality. All this leads to a very unhealthy, and ultimately ungodly amount of stress. At some point, I realize that I’m way stressed out and add another thing to my to-do list: rest. However, I find that adding rest to my list of “things to do” doesn’t work. After all, I have more things on that list than I can do anyway, and resting doesn’t really relieve pressure from the rest of the list.

This summer I was challenged in my thinking about rest by some ideas from Jon Acuff in his book Start: Punch Fear in the Face. Here are some thoughts that have helped me that just might encourage you too:

  1. Rest is a gift. God gave us rest and it’s not something that we have to earn or deserve. Hebrews 4 talks about entering into Christ’s rest which is a finished work. I don’t add to it or take away from it. It’s done.
  2. Rest is part of humanity. We participate in God’s design for us and for the world by resting. It’s required. We quite literally cannot live without resting. By having to rest we remember our humanity… daily.
  3. Rest is worship. When we embrace rest we worship God by trusting Him for the things we can’t complete in our own strength.

I have thought about this a lot recently as I fall into bed exhausted every night. I don’t need to feel good about my day, myself or my performance to rest. Resting is an act of worship that embraces my humanity and rejoices in a very good gift from God.

Rest well!
Rowan

Changes

How well do you handle change in your life? If you are like me, perhaps change is something you see as a necessary evil. You cannot stop change from happening, and so you force yourself to accept it. In the past, there have been times where I feared change in my life, and would try to do everything within my power to keep things ‘normal’ so I could feel secure. As I grow through life, I’m learning more and more that my idea of ‘normal’ is not always what God has planned for my life. Change is necessary to bring me to where I can be useful in God’s hands.

Recently I have experienced a lot of changes. Adjusting to living back in Taiwan (Summer is hot. . . REALLY hot. . .), getting engaged, getting married, changing jobs, moving to a new house, and not working at VOICE this year (sad face) to name a few. Of course, some of these changes are good and exciting, but even so, they take me out of my comfort zone.

For some of you, this is a time of year filled with change. Moving to new classes or schools, adjusting to family changes as people move away. For the VOICE class of 2014, some of you may be suffering from VOICE withdrawal and wondering how you can survive! Don’t worry, life goes on. And it goes on because we have fellowship with the One who gives life. 1 John 4:18 shares with us how God’s love drives out our fears. As we walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ and with our Christian family, we have no need to fear change or the future.

Christ is always with us, and has loved before we loved Him (1 John 4:19). As we experience change in our lives, remember that it is because God is guiding us in His love for His children. Even though our lives will be different than they were before, God will never change, and neither will His love for us. With this in mind, we can be accept and even look forward to the changes that God brings into our lives. And trust me, some changes are very good.

Joel and Vicky's Wedding

Joel and Vicky’s Wedding with awesome VOICE friends!

Blessing and Glory

Friend: “How can I bless you?”
Me: “…(long pause)…..What?”

I couldn’t respond, because I had never been asked that before. I had to think about it.

“How can I bless you?” – It seemed like a strange question… at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is a very good question. It seeks to find out how to love others, which is what Christ has called us to do!
Thoughtfulness
At SYME, we talk about the 5 Love Languages.
We encourage our students to look around and INTENTIONALLY show love to others in the way they best receive it. (Which is often different than the way they give it.)

It’s not a question that we are always able to ask directly. In fact, sometimes asking the question can make the act less meaningful!(Because part of showing love is taking the time to discover the answer yourself.)

I want to become better at loving.
We each have 1 or 2 primary love-languages, so my teammate encouraged us to develop our weaker points:

  • Words of Affirmation - Ask God to change your thoughts! Make it a habit to think, write down, or say thankful/encouraging things about those around you.
  • Gift Giving – Thoughtless gifts don’t count. You need to spend time finding out what the person likes that you’re blessing.
  • Physical Touch - Obviously appropriateness of things like high-fives, hugs and back massages will greatly vary due to timing, gender, etc., but start with your family and branch out!
  • Quality Time - Put down your phone/computer, switch off the TV, stash your to-do list, and show someone you value them by giving them quality attention.
  • Acts of Service – Just do it! And even if you’re unqualified to assist in the task someone is working on, ask how you can pray for them, then follow through.

I want to intentionally be a blessing every day.
~~~~~~~~~~

So where does the “glory” come in?
I was struck by a challenge another teammate gave our students last week:

For at least one day, to ask Jesus about everything… EVERYTHING. Whatever you’re doing, thinking, struggling with, excited about — just ask Him what He wants, what He prefers, what His will is for you in that situation; because He has purchased your life. You are His, and you are meant to live this life for Him by His living in and through you!

This takes childlike faith and open communication.
I confess, I haven’t successfully done it for a whole day yet, but the times that I have, I noticed that my thoughts were more directed toward God, my heart was singing His praises, and I was also able to love others better… I was reminded why I live; why I EXIST!

- To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Lay it Aside

“Why do I have SO much stuff?” b88bb_equipaje-pesado

I angrily asked myself this question last week as I walked down the street in Taipei, pulling my very overpacked suitcase while simultaneously carrying an extremely heavy backpack and two smalls bags that were bursting at the seams. My back hurt and my fingers were swollen. But that wasn’t all. I still had two large additional suitcases waiting for me down the street, all filled with my belongings from a year of living in Taiwan. I started to panic as I tried to think about how I was going to get everything from downtown Taipei to the airport. Was this really all my stuff? Why was it so heavy? Why did I need it all? Why was I so attached to it?

Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad to carry all that stuff if I didn’t have to walk a mile. Or maybe it wouldn’t have been so horrible had the weather been pleasant and cool. But unfortunately, none of those things were in my favor, so as I trudged along in the unbearable morning heat, I found myself burdened from the weight that my stuff had brought. I was angry because I hated that I needed all this stuff. I hated the weight and exhaustion my need had created. I hated that I simply couldn’t live without it all, but had to carry it with me.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says “…since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Paul is likening the Christian life to a race. In a race, no one thinks of carrying heavy stuff with them, no matter how beautiful or amazing the stuff is. Why? Because runners know that those things are only going to slow them down and make the race more difficult, especially when the race is long and filled with struggles. Often times, the weights we want to carry in our lives can be good things, just like all of those things in my bags that I told myself I couldn’t live without. But without a doubt, the stuff we choose to carry with us will slow us down. It will exhaust us and leave us angry. It will steal our joy because even though freedom is offered to us, we still choose to run burdened with cares and weights of this life that we tell ourselves we can’t live without.

I think the key to why we should and can lay aside every weight is at the beginning of verse 2: “Looking unto Jesus…” When we look to Him and behold the beauty and worth of Who He is and what He’s already secured for us, we realize that we don’t need the extra weights in our lives, because they’re so small and insignificant when compared with Christ.

Weights come in various sizes and packages. Sometimes we’re even blind to the weights that are burdening our lives. As we look to Jesus and follow Him, there may be things we simply have to let go of and lay aside, not because they’re bad, but because Jesus is just so much better.

How Not to Watch Movies

Since getting married four months ago, I’ve watched “13 going on 30,” three seasons of the show “Scandal,” and a number of other things I would never have experienced otherwise.

But the most humbling part has been realizing how narrow my perspective often is.

What does this say?
I find myself avoiding things I don’t immediately understand instead of asking, “What does this say?” I tell myself I’m asking other questions, such as whether a movie is edifying or whether it has cultural value, but I often define “edifying” and “valuable” by what resonates with me.

What’s wrong…and right…with this picture?
Sometimes I avoid “liking” things because I don’t want to admit that I’m just as messed up as that song on the radio or character in a story is. I like to pretend that if I don’t watch that movie or listen to that music then I won’t fall into this or that sin. The truth is I’m drawn into sin because sin has already taken some form in my heart.

There have been moments I’ve identified with something and then realized, “Yikes! I like that because the selfishness…or whatever…it expresses already lives in my heart.”

Who is this person?
Asking what’s right about something might be even more unsettling than asking what’s wrong because it forces me to confront blind spots. What ideas are underneath the story? How do the characters in this story see themselves? How does that challenge the way I see things?

The Christian narrative teaches me to look for the image of God in others, though it be marred, and that means allowing others to challenge how I see things, even if they’re partly wrong too.

How are we called to respond?
If art is people saying things, and people are made in the image of God, and we are all sinners, then we have a theological basis for listening to what others are saying in and about movies.

We’re not called to like everything everyone else likes. We’re called to love our neighbors, which means giving a lot less thought to the question of liking things and a lot more thought to what others are saying.

What’s dangerous is to imagine we already know.

Honestly, Maybe

IMG_6823

In Matthew 12:36, we are told that one day we will give an account for every word, and I’m getting a tiny glimpse of that these days as my own personal word auditor (my nearly four year old daughter) seems to remember just about everything I say. Often she’s watching to see if I follow through on an instruction or direction I’m giving (like “I will take you outside when your toys are picked up”).  And certainly every casual promise I make to “play in a minute” or take her somewhere “sometime” is recounted before long as she asks me to make good on my word.

My daughter’s sharp memory prompts me to only say what I really mean and intend to do so I don’t end up with a list of things to fulfill. But there’s a far greater reason than my convenience that I want her to have confidence in what I say to her: both now and especially as she grows, I hope to share many things with her about the reality of God, the gospel, and having her own relationship with Him. I don’t want the important things that I discuss with her – things that could affect aspects of her eternity – to seem like another thing that I may or may not really mean.

God’s attributes of faithfulness and truthfulness (Numbers 23:19) allow me to trust Him with complete assurance. Do I mirror these aspects of God? Am I a parent, family member, teacher, and friend who keeps my promises, no matter how small? I know that there will be times I let my daughter and others down when my actions don’t match my words.  But the more they do, the greater the potential impact of the most significant truths to the people in my life.

 

Churches and Friends

Austrian church in the forestAbout 2 months ago my wife and I decided to switch churches. This shouldn’t be one of those casual decisions like “Which burger joint should we hit tonight?”

The Church (note capital C) is a spiritual body that Jesus Christ established when He was here on Earth, as, get this, part of His own body. He put Himself as the head and every single Believer as a member. So in one sense, it doesn’t matter which church you attend, because they are all part of the “universal church” as long as Christ is truly the head.

Proverbs says “He who walks with the wise becomes wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” The people we are with will shape the way we think, act, and the people we will become. So in this sense, the people we hang out with, at church and otherwise, are going to have a strong impact on who we will be in 5-, 10-, or 50 years.

Now, back to our story… For about 2 years we attended a young, hip church here in Portland. I enjoyed it and participated in small groups or ministry teams. About a year ago my son Lewis was born, and our family was ushered into a new chapter of our lives. As we adjusted, well, everything to being parents and having a child, we noticed that the church we were attending was no longer a fit for who we were or who we were becoming. Looking around, we noticed that there were a lot of young couples, and even a few young families, but there really weren’t any grandparents or great-grandparents. The counsel of friends and peers is extremely valuable to us, but so is the wisdom of the aged and the advice of mentors.

God has blessed us with a quick and easy transition into another church we love. We now have both close friends and wise grandparent-types in our church community, and continue to value the relationships we’ve built in both churches.

You may not have a 1-year old or feel the need to change churches, but my thought this week is to consider who you spend time with and how they are shaping the 5-, 10-, or 50-year version of yourself.

Blessings!
Rowan

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

What are You Chasing?

What if God offered you the fulfillment of all your hopes and dreams? What if you could be in your “promised land” in victory and wealth, with an angel to guide you? But, there’s a little catch…God isn’t going with you. Would you take the deal?
1024px-Beautiful_mountain_valley_and_lake_landscape
I suppose that sounds a little heretical, but it’s almost exactly what God told Moses in Exodus 33. He said to go up to the promised land, with an angel to guide the way and their enemies fleeing before them; but He wasn’t going along. Moses’ response proves his heart: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth” (v. 15-16).

I often pray for grace and help in my life, but sometimes I forget that God’s grace is His Spirit in us. I’m afraid I often find my heart willing to take the deal presented to Moses. My dreams, even from God, can so fill my vision that I squeeze God right out of the picture. But without God, the promised land is just dirt.

It’s the enemies of our souls that say, “Be strong. Be you. Pursue your dream.” Don’t listen to them. We find a totally different message in the Word. God says, “I’m your strength. Be like Christ. Walk with Me. Let My Spirit fill you. Pursue Me!Do you get the picture that it’s really not about us at all? It’s so easy to run after the dreams God gives us, but God says to walk with Him. What is the Gospel but the good news that God is Emmanuel – with us!

Dear friends, let’s open our hearts to God. Let’s bring Him our dreams and lay them at His feet. Let’s say with Moses, “Father, do not bring us from Your Presence! Make us separate from the world around us, separated unto you.”