Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Love - Hate Relationship

In my effort to be transparent, today I’m sharing something personal that I struggle with. And something that I think a lot of Christians struggle with – walking daily with my Savior. Growing up in church, I was taught that you should pray and read your Bible every day. For a long time that just seemed like a set of rules to me. And honestly it didn’t seem all that appealing. That is, until I came to know Jesus Christ in a more personal way. In college I finally made a real connection with Christ, and since then I have experienced God in such ways I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit resides in me. And I have heard His still, small voice.

Sadly though, despite the indescribable awesomeness of knowing Him and knowing that I’m saved . . . I still manage to turn away from Him at times and even completely neglect Him. What’s so hard to fathom is WHY I continue to fall into this pattern. It’s a cycle of highs and lows, closeness and distance. Now, I know what some of you are thinking: you’re still human! But here’s my argument: I’m supposed to be a new creation! I have the desire to be close to my Lord, but my actions are revealing something else.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying that I need to be legalistic about my time with Him. I’m not talking about just doing religion. The expectation I have for myself is to pray without ceasing, to hide God’s Word in my heart, to ever have my First Love on my mind and heart. I’m talking about avoiding becoming lukewarm! I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. In my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched woman I am!

So that’s where I was last night – a mindset of self-hatred. I was beating myself up for being so selfish toward my Lord. I was hating my Self. And then I remembered something I had heard one day, that self-hatred is actually a form of pride. It was then that I realized I don’t actually hate myself at all. I love myself too much. I often love my Self more than my Lord. So how do I remedy this? Lord, what do I do? How do I reconcile my feelings and human nature with Your Truth?

And then I heard that still, small voice again. “Jessica, it’s a daily thing. If anyone would come after me, he must DENY HIMSELF and take up his cross DAILY and follow me. My compassions never fail, they are new EVERY MORNING. My Holy Spirit hasn’t just changed your life . . . I can change your DAY. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed with having a perfectly ordered spiritual walk. Just give each day to me. See each day as the perfect day to start again. Remember, I am slow to anger and abounding in love. And I will never give up on you.”

Thank You, Father. I will sing of Your mercy that leads me through valleys of sorrow to rivers of joy! Hallelujah!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Vision, Part 2

As I write this, Jeromy is meeting with a group of people to prayer walk on a college campus nearby. This week the Lord has brought at least four different mission teams to the area, that we know of. We are connected with the local leaders who are hosting the mission teams, and they have graciously scheduled some of the teams’ time to come work with us. The bulk of their time with us will be today, with one group here in the morning and one in the afternoon. It is an exciting day for us!

We met some of the groups Sunday morning, as we had been invited to join them for worship near downtown Chicago. Little did we know that the neighborhood where the church is located (which is also where the mission teams are being housed for the week) does not have the greatest reputation. After the service the teams had an orientation time where they learned about the area and all that they will be doing while here. The local leader shared about the neighborhood, and told of a recent occurrence where the church members were afraid to go into the building because a group of gang members was loitering on their front stoop. I also noticed a flyer posted on a light pole outside that said “Neighborhood Alert.” The flyer stated that people should be aware of recent assaults in the area that had taken place in broad daylight, between the hours of 3:30-6:30 p.m. The assailants were described as a group of 14-18 year olds. Of course, while we were there we didn’t see anything that looked even remotely dangerous. And the mission teams are large enough that if they travel in groups they should be fine. But please pray for their safety this week. I share all this just to give you a better understanding of the kind of spiritual warfare and obstacles there are here in Chicagoland.

But despite the obstacles, there are victories happening all the time! Last night Jeromy was privileged to help bring the message at one of the services held at the Pacific Garden Mission in downtown Chicago. He goes with a group once a month to do that. The Mission (PGM) has been in existence for over a hundred years, and primarily reaches out to the homeless of Chicago. (You can find out more about them here: ) Some students from the visiting mission teams went to help out, and Jeromy said it was amazing to watch them just dive into it. They all boldly shared with individuals, and some of them even shared in the larger group setting. By the end of the night, at least three people professed new faith in Jesus Christ! And one of them was so on fire already, that he stood up to testify about it. Praise God!

So, you may be wondering about the prayer walks happening on the college campus today. There will be groups prayer walking on other college campuses this week as well. They will also be surveying students that they meet, and possibly even witnessing as the Lord leads them. The local leader who arranged for all these mission teams to come, shares our heart for reaching students on college campuses. College is a pivotal time in most people’s lives. If you were privileged enough to attend college yourself, then you will probably agree with me wholeheartedly. As I heard someone say yesterday, college students (if they haven’t already been jaded by life) are usually very open, almost searching. It’s a time when they are thinking about the future, and making decisions about careers, marriage, who they really are, and what they believe. Many paths lay before them, and they must choose which way they will go.

In the Chicagoland area, there are over HALF A MILLION college students. And if that statistic isn’t awesome enough, over 20,000 of them are international students. Many of them will be going back to their home countries after graduating. Imagine the possible global impact for Christ if we can reach those international students with the gospel while they are here in our backyard! Imagine the possible impact on THIS COUNTRY if we can reach our own young people with the gospel!

Jeromy and I both have a special place in our hearts for the people who influenced us for Christ while we were in college. It was during that time that we both came to know what it truly means to have a real, authentic, growing relationship with Jesus. And we can both look back and see how our lives were changed so dramatically for the better. If we hadn’t had those experiences with the Lord in college, we would be very different people right now. Because of this, God has given us a burden for college students. Those who don’t know the Lord yet need to meet Him. And those who do know Him need to be encouraged and discipled.

So in response to this burden, we are striving to do what the Lord would have us do, and we’re taking one step at a time. The first step was to identify the first campus we want to reach. It is called Harper College. The second step we’ve taken is prayer. Jeromy has already been to visit the campus numerous times and has prayer walked on his own there, studied in the library, etc. Next, we contacted the one ministry that is already on campus, Campus Crusade for Christ. They have only been working there for a few semesters, and they are very open to having us come alongside them in an effort to reach the students for Christ. So we believe that God has already provided us with a person of peace there. Today’s visits are the next step. We aren’t sure exactly what the end result will look like, but our main goal is to find ways to plant the seeds of the gospel all over that campus, and establish an ongoing ministry there.

Please pray for this campus and all the students who attend classes there, as well as the faculty and other workers. Please pray for the teams who will be on campus today, that they will be bold, that there will be nothing hindering them, and that they might even have some opportunities to see God do something amazing today. Please also pray for the mission teams who are here this week, and for everything else they will be doing while here. Thank You, Lord, for sending workers into the field for harvest!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Oppression, Depression . . . Perseverance, Resolution

For the past 6 days my husband has been gone. So that means I’ve been like a single-parent during that time. I salute all the single parents out there, because you have an incredibly hard, taxing job. And for me, since I’m not used to doing this parenting thing on my own, it was a prime time for me to get discouraged, worn down, and beaten up by the enemy. That old “poor me” feeling started creeping back inside my heart. And when I get that way, the extrovert in me starts to shrink back and crave my miserable solitude. How pitiful, you say? You would be right. In my heart I was pathetically giving in to the temptations of self-absorption. I was wallowing in discontent and resisting the Spirit’s leading to press on. And as they say, an unsatisfied soul is a stronghold waiting to happen. Yikes.

But the silver lining in all this was that I actually recognized what was happening. In times past I would have spiraled downward so quickly that I’d be stuck in a pit, and then wondered how in the world I got there. But life (and God!) has taught me many things in the last few years, and I think I am finally beginning to learn from some of my experiences. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that if you just sit there and “take it” from the enemy (and from yourself) . . . well, absolutely no good will come of it. The path of self-absorption, self-pity, and self-hatred is dark, and it always leads to a terrible, lonely place that is very hard to get out of. The path I should be on is that of Christ, and it always leads to Light, immeasurable blessings, and joy. However, the entrance to this path is constantly terrorized by those who do not want me to enter. Many times I have fearfully listened to the roar of the lion who prowls there, the enemy of my soul. I have shrunk back in defeat more times than I’d like to admit.

But no more.

I have learned that I don’t have to sit there and take it. I have nothing to fear from the hands of the enemy! He who is in me is greater! And He is calling me to stand, to resist, to FIGHT. This enemy is not someone I should turn the other cheek to. He is the one enemy that God actually commands me to fight against. With weapons and armor, no less.

And if I start to feel unworthy or inadequate, the sword of the Spirit quickly reminds me that God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong. His specialty is using weak, lowly people to accomplish great things. So I must humbly have faith that it is Him who works in me to will and to act according to His purposes.

So as I was making up the kids’ beds this morning, feeling guilty about my spiritual failures lately, but still wishing that God would use me despite myself . . . the Lord reminded me of something my old pastor in Georgia used to say. He said, “Stop asking God to use you – get yourself useable and He will wear you out.” And I am here to tell you that this word is true! Not long after I deliberately stopped my to-do list of the day and sat down with the Lord, He literally plopped an opportunity to be used right into my lap. Today I have been given the chance to minister to someone in need, and boy does it feel good. I believe it is a confirmation from God that He will definitely use a willing, repentant heart, despite my failures. As soon as I started running back towards the path of Christ, He immediately showered me with affirmation and love. And oh, what a love! The love of Christ makes me glad to lay down my own desires. Glad to crucify my “self” for the chance to show love back to Him through service.

The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
~ Galatians 6:8-9