Friday, March 16, 2018

Beyond What You See

"Look beyond what you see," is the slightly-cheesy-yet-actually-wise quote a baboon once said in one of The Lion King movies. If I remember correctly, it wasn't even the original Lion King, but one of the later ones that never quite measured up to the original. Regardless, the quote came to mind today and got me thinking...

How often do we actually get stuck in only looking at what's right in front of us?

"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:5).

Romans 8 has been on my mind often, as I grapple with questions that do not yet have answers. Amidst much life change, the Lord keeps reminding me of the word wisdom. A book I read recently said it well, "We will be wise when we desire with heart, soul, mind, and strength only the things that God also desires for us - and nothing else compels us or even catches our wandering eye" (E.F. Davis).

How do we do this? If wisdom begins with fear of the Lord, what step does that mean we take in the midst of our desires being reordered by the Lord? There are lots of steps, but one of them is to "set our minds". Davis also says, "Fear of the Lord is the deeply sane recognition that we are not God." If this is true, then we ought to set our minds on the power of God and the "smallness" of us.

When we look beyond what we can see right in front of us in our daily struggles and questions, we with eager hope, along with the rest of creation, await the day when we will join with God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay (Romans 8:23).

We acknowledge that we are weak and still in a world of sin (Romans 8:23-26), but that God has rescued us in his great mercy and salvation happens both now and on the day of Christ's return.

We recite yet again the confession of old, "I am not my own. I belong to God," and thus daily set our sights on the great and mighty LORD and choose to worship him. All the while, God is shaping our desires and giving us right standing before him, and also inviting us to come to him (Romans 8:29-30).

I have much to learn. How I praise the Lord that he lifts our heads and lets us see him as we confess our sin and believe in his son Jesus.

What are you setting your mind on today? 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Days Our Lives Change

I will never cease to be amazed at the way the Father draws people to himself by his mercy and undeserved favor. How did he invite you into fellowship with himself, through Christ, by the Spirit? Or how is he inviting you even now? 

I grew up hearing testimonies of young leaders who met Christ for the first time as teenagers and their lives drastically changed like the flipping of a light switch. Darkness to light. Just like that. At times, I have wished that I had a testimony that involved a radical turning point of following Christ like that. 

My story is more of an unfolding though, one that began with the "first light of the morning at sunrise" that brought hope and comfort to a five year old Claire who was afraid of what could await her on the other side of a surgery -- what would await her in the "dark". 

I vividly remember sitting in the backseat of the car with my brothers on the eve of my fifth birthday and praying to trust in Jesus, with the help and guidance of my mom as she drove down the highway. This simple, but honest, cry of a scared five-year-old was met with the presence and hope of the Gospel. 

This message of hope was delivered to me by my parents then, and then throughout my childhood repeatedly, and I am forever grateful. The fear that gripped me at five was something that the Lord redeemed then in part and then continued to redeem in the years to come. I can say that it is a miracle that I'm not daily walking in fear and anxiety. 

It may not be fear anymore that daily constrains me, but he's still delivering me from my sin ("which clings so closely," as Hebrews 12 says). He's continually in the business of saving (beyond just one prayer!), of bringing us back to himself when we've wandered off. 

The light keeps dawning again and again, like the sunrise, as his mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). He changes hearts, not only upon the day you were saved, but every day after that (1 Thessalonians 5:23). We still run this race with endurance after the day we first believed. 

What I can say from both my testimony and the ones of those brave young believers and leaders here in Czech whom I so admire is this: that God would reconcile us to himself through Christ is a miracle every single time. No matter what your background is, if you have been drawn into right relationship with our holy God through repentance and faith, you are a testimony of his powerful grace. 

This brings me to today. 

This is "Dorost," our church's ministry with 9-13 year-olds. Many of these kids come from Christian families in our church, which is beautiful. The other exciting part about today was that some of those kids invited their classmates to dorost, and we had the most delightful little group of newcomers today for a snow party and cafe afternoon. 

This is one of those young leaders I was talking about earlier that I so admire - she is awesome, and I am so grateful she's on the dorost team.

Cupcakes and hot chocolate were prepared by one of our junior-highers and served beautifully to a group of energetic dorost kids who came inside to warm up after snow games. 

I couldn't help but wonder what the Lord was doing on a simple day like today. What will their stories be?

Perhaps he is strengthening the love these kids have for Him as they serve and play together.

Maybe the Father is saying, "come and see... see what I have done and what I will do!" (Psalm 66:5) to the kids who were here for the first time.

One of those 6th-grade girls said, "Will you be here next time? I didn't even know something like this existed, but I'd like to come back!" Maybe he is already writing her invitation to His goodness? Oh, I pray He is!

And maybe today, and tomorrow, and the next day, is what God will use to bring about another testimony in these kids' lives, and in my own as well. It might not be a light-switch story. Or it could be. It could also be the dawning sun, a glimmer of light that will then continue to burst out and shine bright as day for eternity.

"Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." - 2 Corinthians 5

Monday, January 8, 2018

First JV Office Day

It was my first day in the JV offices today, and I couldn't believe when I sat down at the (well, I suppose I should say "my") desk how the Lord has led up until now. 

Who would have guessed that the same office building I used to visit in high-school when I needed to pick something up from my dad on my lunch break, would be the place that I would drive to work to on a dreary rainy Monday? 

Who would have guessed that years studying at Moody in downtown Chicago would lead right back to this town - the town with no traffic lights, with fog and smog and the prettiest valleys and mountains. Sometimes we don't see the sun for days. Sometimes I recognize a former elementary schoolmate in the grocery store. We both wonder if we should say hi. This is the town in the valley where the threads of my childhood criss-cross the side streets and rivers.  

Not only was it surreal to be at the offices today, but I got to think about the JV Kids all day today. Tomorrow I'll think about them too. And the next day. Serving those kids and their families, whom I love, is my job. Wow.  

I still wake up feeling small and insufficient for all that is ahead. As familiar as this place is to me, this role is new. Being a missionary is new.

Yet, as my alarm clock goes off each morning, and I recite sleepily (sometimes in thought, sometimes aloud): "I am not my own, but belong to God. I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me," I find myself still feeling small, yet comforted and renewed by the greatness of our God. This God chooses us. He calls us his own, and he calls us by name. We are his ambassadors. These homes we dwell in are like embassies for his Heavenly Kingdom. And Christ is King. 

Thus, here we all are. We are showing up. And we are eagerly and hopefully (and sometimes fearfully too, right?) awaiting God to show up. We wait for his voice. We wait for him to sift through the muddled thoughts in our heads. We wait for him to convict our hearts and show us truth. We wait for him to use us for his name's sake. 

You know what? He loves to show his glory. 

So we wait with confidence. Oh yeah. That's what faith is - assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). How I'm praying that God strengthens mine (goodness, I can't do that alone!), and yours on this very day. Though that may come through trial or silence or suffering or waiting, he will show his glory and he will draw us near in Christ. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Fireworks and Slips of Paper

The holiday season has officially "ended" here in the Czech Republic with the celebration of Three Kings Day yesterday. Everyone is stepping into the new year of 2018 "plným proudem," as we say in Czech (i.e. "in full stream")! 

We are precisely one week into this year, and I am still wide eyed at what this year will shape up to be.  It will be my first year living in Czech again, and my first year stepping into this role with the JV Kids. It's going to be a big year. 

Our church has somewhat of a tradition that every year you pick a verse "out of a hat" and ask the Lord how he'd like to teach you through that passage in the next year. Our pastor made it very clear that this was not something prophetic, and that the Lord may or may not choose to use this particular verse to speak into the coming year. Yet, our pastor also called us to pray and ask God to bring a verse to our attention, in order that our eyes may be fixed on Jesus. 

The basket went around and I sifted through the slips of paper and randomly chose one that had a verse from Colossians printed on it. It was strangely applicable to my heart. (I see you, Lord!)

In context, it reads:

"And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. ...

For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.  

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins." - Colossians 2:6-7, 12-13

(Those are the Ellenwoods and my parents - we've been celebrating New Years together for years now here in Czech!)

This whole concept of the "old" and "new" life has been on my mind often in these past months. I have talked about it with friends and church family. We have talked about what it means to claim our baptism, to repent and believe again, yet with the security that we have already died to sin and been made alive in Christ. We have already been saved when we repented and put our faith in Jesus, but now we learn to walk. To let our roots grow deep. 

And this is my prayer for this coming year then: that you and I would let our lives be built upon Christ, and that we would live every day in the reality that we have already been raised to new life by the power of our mighty God.  

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Czech New Beginnings

I have moved to the Czech Republic. Wow. Christmas has now even come and gone, and the new year is just about to roll around, with many new chapters about to begin. 

Here's to new beginnings, the constancy of the Lord, and the beauty of what he promises in His Word...

“Behold, I am making all things new.” - Revelation 21:5

Moving to Czech may be a "moving back", but the Lord has changed my heart since I last lived here. I'm grateful that he is unchanging, but that we change. I feel small and sinful next to him in his holiness, yet so safe and known by him as he receives and forgives constantly. And he is forming and shaping the church here, just as he was able to continue drawing us, his church, to himself all the way in Chicago. His hand is ever reaching out to us. 

He is Imanmuel, God with us, just as we sang in church this morning.

This song has been playing on repeat in my thoughts and heart these past couple of days. May we sing it ever more loudly in this next year! 

I lift my eyes up to the hills
This my morning song
Where my strength comes from

I lift my eyes up to the hills
This my evening song
Where my help comes from ...

This is the hope of every land
Just as the universe expands
Your love is reaching
You're holding everything

(Gravity of Love, The Brilliance)