A Common Life Lived with Uncommon Joy

Posts tagged ‘gospel’

Frugal Friday: My Weekly Frugal Accomplishments

This was a great week for free food for us.  Between the rehearsal dinner, the wedding reception, being treated to a meal out with friends, and food brought and shared by my mother-in-law and my uncle from the funeral, there were several meals that we didn’t have to cook or provide food for.  It was a real blessing to our food budget!  I also officially started Christmas shopping this week, actively searching out little deals here and there.  And after several weeks of not being able to do any thrifting, I was finally able to go today and scored some great stuff.

books

Here are my frugal accomplishments for the week:

Used my $10 Amazon credit to buy six pair of mustache earrings, two scarves and five stylus pens – these will be stocking stuffers and gifts for my children to give their friends.  I still have $2.49 credit left to use.

After the wedding, we brought home a beautiful round cut of wood to use as a plate stand or base in decorating, both flower girl baskets, lots of crayons tied with ribbon and a travel size bar of soap.  The wood went into my hospitality drawer, the flower girl baskets have been repurposed to hold a thankfulness project I will share with you soon, and the crayons and soap went  to the Operation Christmas Child stockpile box.

Started a compost pile on the backside of our raised bed garden.  Ross also weeded the garden and cleared it out for cold weather.

Blessed with spaghetti, sweet tea, a large bag of rolls, apple fritters, boiled eggs, a fruit cream pie, barbeque, sandwich buns, slaw, chips and a chocolate cake.  This provided two dinners, a lunch, and several snacks and desserts.

Made garlic toast from the Texas toast I bought at the bread store last week and put it in the freezer.

Using a Swagbucks offer and a coupon code, I ordered a gift box from Citrus Lane, which I received this week.  I earned 1000 Swagbucks for signing up to have a box delivered and the coupon code cut the price in half.  So for $12.50, I received a cool little nightlight, a copy of Ladybug magazine, a harmonica and a small bag of organic potato crisps.  Plus the 1000 Swagbucks earned me the $10 Amazon credit mentioned above.

Made apple dapple cake from the apples we were gifted last week.

thrifting

Went thrifting and bought three books for $1 each (two for Christmas gifts for the kids and one for school), four glass dessert dishes for $0.50 each, a quart size mason jar for $0.79, a stand for my new beverage server for $1.49, four black dish tubs for $0.59 each to use for storage in my pantry, and an orange and white Saks Fifth Avenue purse for $1.99.

Picked up three books from a freebie table at my Grandma’s church: The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn, The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler and In My Father’s House by Corrie Ten Boom.

What did you do this week to make or save money?

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Even More Undignified Than This

The Joy of the Redeemed (King David Dancing)

The Joy of the Redeemed (King David Dancing): John the Baptist Artworks

A couple years ago, my kids went to Bible School at a neighborhood church.  The last night of Bible School, the church set up a carnival in the gym.  The kids played games and won little squirt rings, temporary tattoos and way too much candy. The most anticipated event of the night was the pie eating contest.  Every day of Bible School, my son had taunted and bragged to Frank, one of the leaders, that he could easily defeat him in the contest.  When the time came to belly up to the table, Ross was disappointed and frustrated to learn it would be kids against kids.  Still, he sat down and ate his “pie” (a plateful of whipped cream) as if it were his last meal but in the end, he lost to a faster, hungrier kid.  The chance to be redeemed came when they announced there would also be an adult challenge.  Eagerly, Ross begged my husband to beat Frank in his place, but Michael wasn’t about to make a fool of himself.  I immediately volunteered and made my way to the table.  Ross’ eyes were as big as saucers and he had to pick his jaw up off the floor before he could start cheering me on.  The announcer yelled start and I inhaled a plateful of whipped cream in no time flat.  I had whipped cream in my hair, behind my ears and all over my face but I had defeated Frank and, more importantly, risen to the ranks of coolest mom ever in less than thirty seconds.  I learned that night that sometimes being foolish is worth it.

In 1st and 2nd Samuel, we read the story of King David.  David was chosen by God to be king of Israel at a young age.  The only problem was…Israel already had a king – King Saul.  Saul hated David and for years he tried to kill him, chasing him all over the countryside, hiding in caves and waiting for the perfect moment to destroy him.  David was constantly on the run, but through it all, he trusted that God was in control.  On two different occasions, he spared the life of Saul when given the opportunity to kill him.  The day finally comes that Saul is dead and the throne belongs to David.  David immediately goes to defeat the Philistines and return the Ark of the Covenant to the City of David.  After so many years of hiding, running for his life, and living in caves, God gave him the victory!

So what does David do to celebrate?  As the parade makes its way into the City of David, here comes David dancing with all his might…in his underwear.  His wife is mortified and gives him a piece of her mind.

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” 2 Samuel 6:20

So much for a little show of support from the wife, right?  Michal was the daughter of Saul, the same man who had pursued David and tried to kill him for so many years.  Naturally she wasn’t too happy with the whole situation to begin with, but seeing her husband dancing down the street half naked was more than she could stand.

David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel – I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.  But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” 2 Samuel 6:21-22

David reminded her once again that God has chosen him, not her father, to rule the people of Israel.  He was willing to be foolish in the eyes of man if it glorified God.  He didn’t care what the slave girls or anyone else thought.

Think about that for a minute…if God told you to celebrate something incredible he had done in your life by dancing down your street in your underwear, would you do it?  Maybe that’s a little extreme, so let’s be more realistic.  If God asked you to look a little foolish by saying no to something everyone around you is saying yes to, could you be a fool for Christ and say no?  If He told you to share the gospel with a friend or a coworker or your neighbor, could you get past the fear of man and be willing to look foolish in order to witness to them?

So many people think of Christians as uptight, stick-in-the-muds that play by all the rules and never have any fun.  Christians aren’t supposed to be silly or foolish or do something that might call attention to themselves…they’re supposed to be dignified!  Really…are you sure?  Let’s see if the Bible backs that up.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.  Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential, not many were of noble births.  But God chose to use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose to use the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He     chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  1 Corinthians 1:18, 25-30

We can’t proclaim the good news of the gospel to those who are lost without looking foolish because the gospel is foolishness to those who have not yet been saved.  Think back to when you were saved…I don’t know many people who were saved because of their intellectual pursuit of God or their logical findings.  If you’re anything like me, you tried living life on your own terms and made a royal mess of it.  It’s hard to see a way out when your life is falling down around you and everything looks hopeless.  But then God put someone in your path that told you the craziest thing you’ve ever heard.  They told you there was a God who loved you…and not just an ordinary love but an incredible sacrificial love, a love so deep and wide that he sent his only son into the world to die on the cross for all the things you did so that you wouldn’t have to pay the penalty for all those bad decisions.  Not only that, but you didn’t have to do anything to receive his sacrifice in your place except to acknowledge you needed it and thank him for it.  How crazy is that?! It’s unbelievable!

When we go against the grain, the world takes notice because it’s foolishness in their eyes.  To the world, nothing is more important than being accepted. God calls us to be in the world but not of the world.  We need to stop worrying about fear of man and do whatever it is he’s calling us to do.  You can‘t fit in and be popular and follow Christ at the same time – it won‘t work. Jesus says the world will hate you…not might, it’s a sure thing!

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  John 15:18-19

David understood that his outspoken love for the Lord was undignified in the eyes of the world.  He was willing to be humiliated in order to bring God glory.  His famous underwear dance says, “This victory isn’t about me, it’s about the God who made it possible.”

I want to let go of the fear of man and live a life out loud for God.  I want to worry more about the state of my heart before God than the state of my popularity before my peers.  I want to trust God enough to let him worry about my reputation.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  Luke 9:23-26

Jesus makes it clear that this life is not about me and it‘s not about you.  I’m pretty sure he won’t ask us to dance in the streets in our underwear, but he may ask us to reach out to a hurting friend or say no to something the world says is okay.  He may lead us to be excluded or outcast. If our lives make sense to unbelievers, then there’s something wrong with the way we’re living our lives. I’m willing to walk to the beat of a different drummer and stand out from the world.  I want to be undignified and foolish…because this is one time I know it will be worth it all.

As always, your comments make my day!  Have you done anything undignified or foolish in the world’s eyes recently?  I’d love to hear about it.

The Beginning of My Greatest Adventure

Dear Son,

I can hardly believe you are 13 today!  Your birth was the beginning of my greatest adventure, the adventure of motherhood.  It seems like just yesterday I was talking to Grandmama and Grandaddy while they were celebrating their anniversary in Hawaii, telling them they were going to be grandparents.  It’s only been a blink of an eye since your first steps, your first words, your first haircut.  How could it have been more than a moment since you last called me Mommy?  And yet, here you are, standing beside me now, almost eye to eye.  You are becoming a man right before my eyes, but before the day comes when you will leave the nest – and it will even more quickly than the last 13 years, I’m sure – I want to be sure there are things that you know.

First, know that Mom and Dad will fail you.  Your closest friends will disappoint you.  There will even be a special girl or two who will crush your heart.  But in all the shortcomings of humanity, there is a God who is faithful, who never disappoints, never leaves you wanting, always supplies, always provides, always cares for you.  Don’t be afraid to follow hard after God, even when it means being different than those around you. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.  They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness.  He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever – holy and awesome is his name.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.  To him belongs eternal praise.  Psalm 111:7-10

Second, know that you don’t have to wait until you grow up to impact the world with your faith or the gifts God has given you.  Do not waste your youthful energy and enthusiasm, your ability to dream big and then run after it – use that energy, that enthusiasm, those dreams to begin to do the work God has given you to do.  Pursue the passions He has placed in your heart with all that you have.  Give yourself wholeheartedly to your education and recognize how everything you do now is preparing you for what He has in store for your future.  But also be aware, keep your eyes open, for all the ways He is already using you now.  He has given you such a gift of compassion for others, use it well.  Be on the lookout for those who are hurting, minister to those in need, pray with those in need of comfort.  Cultivate the rich prayer life God has already begun to grow in you.  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.  1 Timothy 4:12

 

Third, plan your future with open hands, being willing to go where God leads you and do what He has in mind for you.  He has planned your greatest future, with your best in mind, and He will help you achieve all He has planned for you if only you will trust Him and follow His leading.  Place your relationship with God above all else and everything else in life will line up as it should.  The Lord has made it clear over the years that you will be a “mighty man of God” – whether as a Christ following faithful husband and father, or as a dynamic preacher or missionary.  Be willing to follow wherever His calling takes you and know that your Dad and I will support you every step of the way.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:11-13

Fourth, begin to pray for the woman who will one day be your wife.  Pray for her home life, her spiritual  life and her purity.  Ask God to begin to prepare her for the life He has for you both.  Pray that God will keep your own heart and mind pure while you wait for the day He brings her into your life.  Pray for patience to wait and contentment in your relationship with Christ while you are single.  Bring each girl you take an interest in before the Lord in prayer and be willing to walk away if she’s not the one for you.  A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  Proverbs 31:10-11

Fifth, learn now how to properly manage your money so that you will not be restricted in following God’s calling because of financial difficulties.  Develop the habits of saving and tithing and paying cash for things from the beginning.  Be generous in giving to those in need and in blessing those around you.  God is faithful to provide for your needs.  He will bless you for your good stewardship and generosity if you give out of a heart overflowing with gratitude for all He’s given you and not out of obligation.  “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”  Malachi 3:10

Lastly I want you to know how proud we are of the young man you have become.  From the time you were little, we’ve seen a love and passion for God in your life.  We are excited to see that love and passion grow and develop into whatever calling He has for your life.

The following verses are my prayer for you:

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.  Ephesians 1:15-19

Happy Birthday Ross!

Love, Mom and Dad

 

Of Mercy, Mohawks and Misson

 

Once again, in my prayers for adventure and stretching outside my comfort zone, I find myself in an unfamiliar place with unknown challenges and obstacles waiting to be overcome.  I’ve volunteered for this, but now I’m hesitant and unsure of what I’m getting into.  What do I need to do?  How do I help my kids understand what is both new to them and a little scary?  And most of all, what if she doesn’t remember me??

I sign in at the front desk, walk down the hall and around the corner, spot the room I’m looking for.  I read the name on the placard by the door, just to be sure I’m in the right place and then I knock.  There’s no answer but the door is cracked so I step inside and motion for the kids to follow me.  I see her and I smile, but I have to move closer to her before she can see I am there.  She turns and smiles, recognition lighting up her face, as she says, “Aw Jenny, I’m so glad you came to see me.”

I sit in the chair beside her and take her hand.  The children settle in nearby – Gracie at my elbow, Ross in another chair, Amber and Georgia hiding behind us still unsure of the whole situation.  We are here to visit my friend Karen, the once vivacious, outspoken pediatric cancer nurse who is now reduced to this shell lying in a bed completely dependent on the nurses of the rehab home to care for her every need.  Karen, who showed no fear or trepidation in sharing Jesus with her patients and their families, often praying for and with them as they battled cancer, now struggling to speak with slow, slurred speech as a result of her own brain cancer.

I sit and stroke her hand, taking in the changes in her since I saw her last more than a year ago, unsure of what to say or do.  She looks at me again and I smile.  I introduce her to the children and I’m happy to see she remembers Ross and Gracie.  Slowly Amber and Georgia peek out from behind chairs and begin to warm up to her.  And as the children begin to relax, so do I.  I tell her how pretty it is outside today and she asks for something to drink.  I find a cup of water with a straw on her bedside table and hold it for her to sip.  And then it slips into my mind, the words that tell me what to do here, and I know He’s with me again…here in the deep end of the pool.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’   And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ”  Matthew 25:34-40

For the next hour and a half, we sat and visited with Karen.  I rubbed her stomach where it ached and scratched her back where it itched, helped her eat her dinner and wiped her mouth when she was finished.  I brushed her hair with my fingers and told her I liked her mohawk, noticing the c-shaped scar above her ear from her surgery, her battle scar.  She asked me how old the children were and afterwards I teased her that she and I were both 25 – “I’m not so sure how that works,” she said, “since I’m about 40 years older than you are!”  Shhhh…it’ll be our little secret, Karen.  She talked about missing her mom, her dad and her husband – all deceased.  She asked me three times to tell Michael she needed to buy a new car and wanted him to pick it out for her – “Definitely not a Volkswagon…it can be a Honda, since he’s good with those, but make sure he knows it doesn’t have to be a convertible”.

All the while, I thought of my Jesus – who lived his life without a home, scorned and rejected by his own hometown, on his knees washing dirt and stink from his disciples’ feet, healing the sick, raising the dead, restoring leporous skin and demonized bodies.  In all times and in all circumstances, Jesus stopped and served those who were around them.  He met their greatest needs, both physically and spiritually.  He lived the mission – to make disciples and make His name known – without complaint when days were long, or hesitation when crowds were hostile, or apology when his message was hard to hear.  And in thinking of Jesus, it is easy to serve Him as I serve Karen, to love her because He loves me.

On the drive home, I pray and ask for more…more boldness in proclaiming the gospel, more heart to serve, more opportunities to be in the deep end of the pool…because in essence what I really want is more of Jesus, and I know I can find him there among the hungry and thirsty, the naked and needy, the sick and imprisoned.  But first, I gotta get in the water, plunge deep into this challenge to live life loud for him, leave the safety of the wall and depend completely on him to keep me from sinking.  I’m ready to swim…are you?

As always, your comments make my day.  Feel free to share your own adventures so I can cheer you on!

 

 
Consider the Lilies

Who’s Your Daddy?

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March 27, 2007 started like any other day in our house.  I gathered up my kids – back then I only had two, what did I do with my time?!?! – and headed to the library for story time and a huge stack of books destined to be lost under couch cushions and bunk beds.  My day was all planned out – library time, home for lunch, do a little math and reading with Ross, make an early dinner, then head to church for a women’s meeting on time management.  We had a great time listening to stories, doing some finger plays, visiting with some moms and their kids from church and picking out a pile of books to borrow.

I got into the van and checked my cellphone, saw two voice mail messages and clicked “call”.  Sometimes the simplest little things like voice mail and phone calls can change your life forever and you have no idea it’s even coming, the blessing or the tragedy.  Both messages were from licensing workers from social services.  Now before you get the wrong idea about me, they weren’t calling because of my kids, they were calling because we were foster parents and on that day, we were being invited to become parents again.  The first voice mail was about a newborn girl being released from the hospital that afternoon.  And the second message was about a little two year old girl ready to be placed the next day.  My hands shook with excitement and anxiousness as I dialed the number to the social services office and talked to the worker about the details of each little girl.

My plans for the day went right out the window and I spent the next three hours rushing from home to Target to the hospital, hurrying to prepare for the arrival of the girls.  I could hardly wait to meet them and hug them and give them the love they desperately needed.  At 4 pm, I walked out of the hospital carrying baby Amber and a new diaper bag stuffed to the gills with every little freebie the nurses could find for her.  I was home just long enough to change her into something cute, grab the stroller and head to church.  I wasn’t about to miss the women’s meeting – going from two to four children in 24 hours was definitely going to require some time management!  Michael met me in the parking lot and there I introduced him to this precious little bundle with a headful of dark brown hair.  And he fell in love.  You can imagine the surprise of the moms that night – “Weren’t you just at the library this afternoon? I didn’t know you would have a baby by tonight!”  Well neither did I!  Such is life as a foster parent.

The next day was another flurry of preparation for the arrival of Trisha while also trying to adjust to life with a newborn again. For the next fourteen months, we loved these girls like our own.  We said goodbye when Trisha was placed with her aunt.  But with Amber, we prayed goodbye would never come.  We waited and hoped and pleaded with God, trying to be patient and have open hands, wanting Him to be glorified above all else, but having hearts full of love for her that we knew would break in two if she were to leave us.  And on May 16, 2008 we got another life changing phone call – she was ours, not just for now, but forever.  We had a huge party to celebrate her officially coming into our family, but to us, she had always been ours, always been loved.  Now we just had a document that made it legal and binding and real to the rest of the world.

Have you ever pictured God like that, an eager adoptive parent waiting in joyful anticipation for the day you would be his?  Can you see him reaching out to you over and over again, slowly drawing you closer to him, loving you even before you really belonged to him?  And the celebration in heaven when you finally became his child, finally accepted his gift of salvation and allowed him to be Father God in your life – wow, I bet God throws a terrific party when his children come to him.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”  Ephesians 1:4-6

Sometimes I feel like God is stuck with me, wishing I would straighten up and finally get this Christian living thing right.  I imagine him thinking, “Oh no not her again, is she still doing that?!?!”  But just like adoptive parents here in earthly relationships, God is eager to bring us into his family.  He doesn’t do it begrudgingly!  He can’t wait to be your Daddy.

Adopted children hardly ever come in perfect packages.  Most of them are available for adoption because of the brokenness of their parents, which most times leads to brokenness in themselves.  Adoptive parents take on all the hurt and neglect and junk heaped on a child prior to their adoption and they love that child through it.  In the same way, God comes into broken down, messed up, rejected hearts full of hurt and distrust and bad behaviors that stem from all those things.  He doesn’t send us away, doesn’t deem us unworthy and amazingly, He isn’t disgusted by our filth.  Why?  Because when he looks at us, he sees the righteousness of Christ – his perfection, his sacrifice on our behalf – and it’s enough to bring us straight to Abba Father, to Daddy God where we can lay our battered and broken hearts at his feet.

As always, comments make my day!  I would love to hear your adoption stories, or any other adventures you’ve had.

I Am The Church

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Today we are doing things a bit differently.  This is a little longer post, so hang in there with me – I promise it will be worth it.  When I hear a sermon that really puts a spark in my heart and pushes me to action, naturally I want to share it with you!  Today’s post is one of those gems.

First I want to go back to the beginning of when God first started inviting me to join him on adventures in what he was doing in the lives of those around me.  One of the pastors at our church, Nick Swan, had preached on the mission of the church and I got really fired up about it.  I started rearranging my life in a hundred different little ways in order to make the mission – to spread the gospel and make disciples – the highest priority.  In the middle of turning my life upside down, our family took a little weekend trip to Atlanta for my Dad’s retirement ceremony from the Air Force.  I had been listening to messages by Louie Giglio online and found out his church was in the area so we planned to go that Sunday.  And oh, by the way, the worship leader was Chris Tomlin.  Needless to say, we were all excited about it.

Sunday morning we arrived at the church with plenty of time to bring the kids to children’s ministry classes and then head into the sanctuary.  We still had 15 minutes until the service started and the place was already PACKED.  An usher told us if we didn’t already have a seat saved, we could sit on the back row, stand against the wall, or sit on the floor in front of the stage. Of course, we chose the floor.  The next 30 minutes of worship, with Chris Tomlin leading less than 10 feet away, were nothing short of amazing.  Louie came out to preach next and his sermon is what I want to share with you today.  It fit in perfectly with everything God had been doing in my life at that time, and what he’s still doing today.

My friend Chelsey Miracle took what I’m about to share with you and put it on her blog Miracle in Me.  Her blog is an amazing look into how God is moving in the college campuses surrounding our city.  I highly recommend you check it out!  The response from my guest post is one of the things that fueled my start in writing Life Lived Loud.  So, without any further delay, here is “I Am The Church”.

I grew up thinking I knew everything there was to know about what church is.  I went to Sunday School and made macaroni crafts, held a heavy hymnbook and sang old songs full of words I didn’t understand, and tried to pay attention to a sermon that didn’t seem to be about anything relevant to my life.  Sometimes there would be a potluck dinner with all the old ladies flaunting their best pies or a whole week of fire and brimstone sermons when the revival preacher came to town.  Church was where you dressed up in your best most uncomfortable clothes to sit still on a hard wooden pew and listen to the preacher tell you about Jesus who came and died for sins everyone in the church was pretending they had never committed.  Everyone put on their best on Sunday – the best clothes, the best smile, the best appearances – then they went home, took it off and put it away until the next Sunday.

Maybe you grew up in a church just like that.  Or maybe the stereotype of church turns you off and you’ve never committed to attending one.  But church is more than a building full of Christians singing hymns and hearing sermons.  I am the church.  You are the church.  I’m not just an attendee or a name on a roll.  The church lives and breathes and ministers through me and through you.

In the book of Acts we get a picture of the early church, those first believers who spread the gospel and began the work of the mission.  The 120 people who began the early church included Jesus’ mother and brothers, his disciples and others who were eyewitnesses to his resurrection.  They had listened to Jesus teach.  They were among the 5000 people who ate and were satisfied by five loaves of bread and two fish.  They saw lepers healed, sight restored, mute tongues loosened and dead men rise.  They were there when Jesus was crucified.  They carried his body to the tomb and in three days returned to find it empty.  When he appeared to them after his resurrection, they touched his hands and feet.  They stood on the mountain and watched as he ascended into heaven.  When the clouds closed up and the glorious light faded and Jesus was no longer standing there with them, what did they do?  They didn’t go pick out a building to meet in, print some bulletins and write some worship music. The early church was vastly different from the church we are all familiar with.  So how did we get from those 120 people to the millions of believers in the church today?

The early church was not an incremental church with six people professing to new faith in Christ and twenty people baptized per year.  It was an explosive church.  On day one, the early church went from 120 people to more than 3000.  There are three distinct characteristics that separate the explosive church of early Christianity from the incremental churches of today.

First, the brand of the early church was Jesus.  They didn’t need a logo or a website, t-shirts or coffee mugs to spread the word about their new church.  They didn’t come up with outreach programs or community events.  They simply went out and preached about Jesus.  They told anyone that would listen, and many who didn’t want to hear, about this man who healed the sick and fed the hungry and fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture.  It didn’t matter what the name of their group was, the only name that mattered was Jesus.

The second distinctive of the early church was that each and every one of them was an eyewitness of the resurrection of Jesus.  Peter wasn’t running around saying, “Hey, I met this guy who knew somebody whose cousin said he saw a man raised from the dead who claimed to be the Son of God.”  No, he preached “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to the fact.” (Acts 2:32)

The church doesn’t hinge on the teachings of Jesus.  It doesn’t hinge on the miracles he performed.  It doesn’t even hinge on his sacrificial death.  The church hinges on the resurrection – the finished complete work of Jesus on our behalf. Through the resurrection, he interrupts our funeral, breaks the chains of condemnation, and frees us from the slavery of sin.  And we are eyewitnesses of this!  We need to carry in our hearts the experience of a supernatural power that has brought us to life.  We all have a past – we are broken and hurt and filled with pain.  But when Jesus steps into the picture, he uses the bow of brokenness to launch the arrows of healing. We feel like we’ve gotten our life back!

Death will not be the final resting place of those who are followers of Christ.  The end is not a cemetery plot or an urn on the mantel.  Death is just a doorway into the presence of Jesus.  And this is only possible because he has defeated death through his resurrection.

The disciples didn’t begin preaching after Jesus’ crucifixion.  In fact, they did the opposite – hiding in a locked room full of fear.  It wasn’t until his resurrection, when they saw him with their own eyes and witnessed the consummation of everything he had told them would happen, that they came alive and were anxious to preach the gospel.  But Jesus told them to wait – there was one thing more that was needed, the third distinct characteristic.

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about…But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:4, 8)

Remember, these 120 people were the closest witnesses to everything Jesus said and did on this earth.  They ate and slept with him, knew him better than anyone else.  If anyone was qualified to go preach the good news of the gospel, it was these guys.  But Jesus said even that wasn’t enough, they couldn’t do it in their own strength.  They needed the power of the Holy Spirit and then they could be his witnesses.  He didn’t say, “Hey guys, it might be a good idea if you wait around, because I’m sending you the Holy Spirit and he might be helpful to you in the mission.”  No, He said, “Do not leave…but wait”.  This is the third distinctive characteristic of the explosive early church.

If these men and women who were closest to Jesus weren’t qualified to preach the gospel without the power of the Holy Spirit, then I cannot assume I am able to.  I need the Holy Spirit to empower me to do the work God has called me to do – it’s a non-negotiable.  The church today is divided when it comes to the Holy Spirit.  Some churches say they are filled with it and others only talk about it.  When the Holy Spirit comes to empower you, then your life becomes a mission to be his witness.  That witness is the work of the church and it comes from people like you and me, not from a well designed building or a great website.  We don’t want a church that is cool.  We want a church that is powerful.  And that power comes from the Holy Spirit.

“For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone.  In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”  (Ephesians 2:18-22)

Paul describes a church built on the foundation of the early church, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone.  He describes the church as you and me becoming a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.  So how do we know when the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us?

First, the Holy Spirit always brings with it the evidence of a changed life.  Acts 3 tells the story of Peter and John going to the temple to pray.  As they walked through the temple gate, a crippled beggar asks them for money.  Peter tells him they have no money but they will give him what they do have.  Then in the name of Jesus, he takes the man by the hand and brings him to his feet.  The man immediately begins walking and jumping and running around the temple, praising God.  The people in the temple can’t believe their eyes.  They know this guy running around the temple.  They’ve seen him begging by the gate his entire life.  Then Peter says to them,

“Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power and godliness we had made this man walk?…You killed the author of life, but God has raised him from the dead.  We are witnesses of this.  By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong.  It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you all can see.”  (Acts 3:12, 15-16)

Peter and John were eyewitnesses of the resurrection and they couldn’t stop talking about it.  Even when the Sanhedrin put them in jail and questioned who gave them the power to heal, they continued to proclaim the gospel.

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  He is ‘the stone that you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12)

The Sanhedrin were amazed at the courage of these ordinary, unschooled men.  They knew they were friends of Jesus.  But the thing they couldn’t ignore was the crippled beggar running around the temple.  It was evidence that the Holy Spirit was at work, changing the life of this man.

“But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there, there was nothing they could say.”  (Acts 4:14)

Secondly, when the Holy Spirit came to the early church, they began to live as one family – caring for one another, working together, eating together.  They became aware of the needs of the other believers.  This didn’t just stop at the doors of the church or the edge of town.

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked, ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?…we hear them proclaiming the wonders of God in our own tongues!’”  (Acts 2:4-8, 11)

Can you imagine what it must have been like?  Surrounded by people from every nation, suddenly hearing the gospel preached so that each man hears it in his own language.  On day one, the church became globally conscious.  They didn’t need a missions conference, they just needed the Holy Spirit living in them.  Jesus had told them this would happen.  They were his witnesses in Jerusalem and then they went out, each to his own land, to the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria, and even further to the ends of the earth.

I’ve heard so many people say that Christianity is a western religion, an American religion that we insist on spreading to the rest of the world.  The roots of Christianity began in Jerusalem, the most controversial city in the world, in the center of the Middle East.  When the Holy Spirit came to those 120 people, things happened exponentially and 3000 new believers were added to their numbers on day one.

It’s not weird for me to have a mission mindset.  The Holy Spirit is not reserved for an elect 4% who went to a missions conference and felt called to serve.  There are millions of people who need to hear the gospel and the Holy Spirit dwelling inside you compels you to go!

Thirdly, when the Holy Spirit came to the early church, they began to boldly proclaim the gospel.  Being bold has nothing to do with volume.  God may call you to stand and preach loudly on the sidewalks of your local shopping center, but it’s not likely.  But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you cannot help but proclaim the gospel.

Let’s go back to our story of Peter and John and the crippled beggar…the Sanhedrin didn’t know what to do about the situation.  Here is this beggar who has obviously been healed and these two men insisting that the Jesus the Sanhedrin had crucified was resurrected and had given them the power to heal him.  They couldn’t ignore the evidence right in front of them but they wanted to do their best to keep it from spreading.

“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked.  “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer in this name.” Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:16-20)

In spite of the Sanhedrin’s best efforts to shut them down, Peter and John continued to proclaim the gospel.  Many who heard them preach in the temple that day believed and were saved and added to the church, until the number of men grew to about five thousand.  Talk about explosive growth!  Peter and John returned to the church people and told them everything that had happened to them and they all began to pray.

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”  (Acts 4:29-31)

Notice that they didn’t ask God to get the Sanhedrin off their backs or even for protection.  They asked God to do it again! They prayed for boldness.  On day one, the gospel was under fire.  Christianity is not meant to be a life of ease, but a badge of honor we wear that says, “I’m with Jesus.  I’m never gonna be ashamed of the gospel and I will always fearlessly proclaim it.”

In December 1989, the people of Romania overthrew the communist dictatorship and formed their own democratic government.  Christians in Romania who for years had suffered relentless persecution, imprisonment and executions were suddenly free to practice their faith without fear.  Louie Giglio had an opportunity to meet one of the pastors who lived in Romania both before and after the revolution.  He asked him this question: Was it better for the church before or after the revolution?  The pastor said the answer was complicated, but offered this simple answer.

During the time of persecution, Christians in Romania woke up with only one choice to make – am I with Jesus or am I with them?  The answer to that question took care of the rest of your day.  People in the church prayed constantly with their families, especially before leaving the house.  They prayed for protection and strength and the courage to face whatever persecution might await them when they stepped outside.  Every goodbye was meaningful and tearful, knowing it could very well be your last.  Christians had to make a daily decision to follow Jesus and totally depend on Him in spite of the risk.

After the revolution, the daily choice of whether or not they would follow Jesus became less urgent.  It was no longer the main focus of their lives.  The choice to choose Jesus was swallowed up in the many decisions of everyday life.  And because of that, the church has suffered.

So what does church look like to you now?  Are you content to put your time in on Sunday singing worship songs and listening to a sermon, checking the clock to see how much longer until it’s time to eat lunch and watch the football game?  Is church just a once a week obligation for you? Or are you ready to be the church?

     *Is your identity wrapped up in hobbies or your church or a great ministry you‘re involved in?  Or is it in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus?
*Has God interrupted your funeral?  Are you a witness to the death of your old life?  Can you see the effects of a resurrected heart?
*Are you trying to be the church in your own power?  Or are you tapped into the power of the Holy Spirit?  Can you see changes in your life? Do you have a global mindset? Are you ready to boldly proclaim the gospel?

We don’t have to wait to find the perfect church.  A great church or ministry program isn’t enough.  It starts with you and it starts with me.  We have to go out and give away what was freely given to us.  We have to be the church.

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.”  (Ephesians 6:19)

What would happen if we moved this to the top of our prayer list, that every time we open our mouths, God would give us the words to speak so that we can fearlessly proclaim the gospel.  We don’t have to settle for incremental church growth.  We can see explosive growth in the church.  We just have to be willing to open our mouths.

Maybe you’ve been reading this post and you aren’t very familiar with this gospel I keep talking about.  The simple facts are these: None of us are perfect (holy, righteous) as God requires.  God loves us so much he didn’t want our imperfection to keep us separated from him, so he sent Jesus into the world, to live the perfect life we can’t live and die on the cross as the perfect sacrifice we can’t offer, so that through the perfection of his Son we can also be declared righteous to holy God.  When we confess that we believe this, and receive the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice in our place, we become a child of God and he adopts us into his family (more on this part in a future post).  If you have any questions about the gospel, or you responded to what you’ve read, I would love to talk with you more about it.  Just send me a private email at givengracegomer@earthlink.net.

As always, comments make my day! I love the adventures God is calling me to pursue and I’d love to hear about yours too so I can cheer you on!

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