Wednesday, October 31, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 23: Bold

It's Halloween night and we've finally changed out of costumes and into pajamas at our house.  Our kids were dressed as Anakin Skywalker and a ghost, but we saw tons of other characters throughout the night.  We saw princesses, super heroes, various horror movie replicas and much more.  Despite the difference in costumes, everyone had one thing in common: they were pretty much fearless.  Sure, it's generally just a fun time, but there really is a unique boldness in the air on Halloween night.  People talk differently and they even walk differently; it's interesting to watch.   There's something about walking around in a costume or hiding behind a mask that seems to give people confidence they don't usually have. 
What if we had that kind of boldness every day?  Think of the difference we could make if we approached each day with that fearless attitude that we carry around on Halloween. There are lots of things about following Christ that require boldness.  From speaking about God, to praying, and the way we approach life in general, we see lots of encouragement to make boldness of a part of our lives.     

"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. ~1 Corinthians 16:13
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~Deuteronomy 31:6
"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 4:31
"Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The LORD will do what is good in his sight.” ~1 Chronicles 19:13

"He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!" ~Acts 28:31
"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." ~Hebrews 4:16

Some of these are taken from specific stories and some are written in letters of encouragement.  It's ideal to read these verses from the full passages to get the big picture, but even by themselves, we get encouragement we can apply to our lives right now.  We see encouragement to approach God with boldness, reverent boldness.  We see encouragement to speak of Him boldly.  We see encouragement to be strong, be faithful, and to be bold while we're going through our battles each day.  C.S. Lewis writes, "Jesus Christ did not say, 'Go into the world and tell the world that it is quite right.'" It takes lots of boldness to lead others into discipleship. We can't do that at all without saying things that require courage, without approaching God Himself with boldness, or living with authenticity and boldness.  
You don't need costumes, masks, and fake personas to live with boldness; you have the Holy Spirit living in you and through you.  Let Him empower you today.  Draw that boldness from Him. Let it change how you speak, how you pray, and how you cope with life. Most importantly, let it change you; let that courage transform you into a warrior who is confident enough to live authentically in a manufactured, cookie-cutter world. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity- Day 22: Choose Joy!

Over the last ten years, we've allowed ourselves to redefine what normal life looks like.  In particular, we've allowed Reality TV, which is usually staged and utterly ridiculous, to mold us into a totally new society with new expectations and norms.  The biggest shift I've noticed is that teenagers and adults alike have this dangerous idea that everything in our lives is supposed to be dramatic, miserable, overly complicated, and downright overwhelming.  How crazy!  This need for constant drama and difficulty has done nothing but suck the joy right out of us.  Think of all those video confessionals we watch.  They're usually nothing more than an absurdly dramatic rehashing of some big offense, just another chance to add more tension and to make the show "more interesting."   This video confessional mentality really does change how we cope.  I see it all the time; whether in person or through social media, it has changed the way we deal with real life  That's not to say that complications don't show up from time to time, but God didn't bless us with life in order for us to spend it stirring up or being involved in drama.   All of these blessing and gifts in our lives are supposed to be enjoyed and shared, rather than ignored as we tweet and post about everything that's going wrong.
I'll admit that I've said many times here that we've got to be transparent and authentic in the good and bad-that's so true- but if all we're projecting to others as a child of God is how awful life is, then we've lost our joy. Remember, everything about us reflects God. We shouldn't be in continuous "pity party" mode; it minimizes everything we believe.  As believers, joy should come as easily as breath itself.   Our reasons to smile far outweigh any reasons not to.  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God."  We should be constantly rejoicing.  A joyful attitude is contagious!  That's how we lead others to Him; we show them something different from the world. 
"Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are." ~Marianne Williamson
The Word tells us in Philippians 4 to "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!"  Again in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 we are simply told to "Rejoice always." Those charges are simple enough to understand.   The key here is to rejoice in the Lord always and not dwell on the world.  When you focus on Him and His goodness, it's easy to smile.  It's only when we take our eyes off of Him and get caught up in this world and its distractions that we find so many reasons for complaint.  Let's get away from the Reality TV mindset.  Let's make sure that others can see His presence.  Let's focus on Him and fill our lives with authentic joy. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 21: The Village

"It takes a village to raise a child." ~African Proverb

It takes a village, huh? I suppose that has been true for ages in many societies and cultures, but I think it's always true in your life as a child of God. For some, that village consists of grandparents and church elders who always shared the wisdom they gained through the years. For some, that village consists of precious Sunday School teachers or youth workers who faithfully gave of themselves.  Some are even lucky enough to have friends, parents and siblings in their village.

Your village is simply the group of people who helped you find your way in your walk with God.  Your village is made up of the people who helped you find your identity in Christ. They are the ones you immediately think of when you hear the terms mentors, teachers, encouragers, and prayer warriors. They are people who were completely authentic and made a difference in your life by sharing theirs.

My Bible has a section for listing your spiritual  mothers. That's a good way to think of your village-your spiritual mothers and fathers. After all, they collectively raised you to be who you are today.  I think of several people who shaped me into who I am today. I thank God for my village and the sacrifices that were made on my behalf. Who is in your village?   The Village shows up a good bit in The Word too.  Let's take a look:

"One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds." ~Psalm 145:4-6
"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others." ~2 Timothy 2:2
"Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.  Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness." ~Titus 2:2-7
"Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it." ~Proverbs 22:6
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." ~Deuteronomy 6:5-9

The thing about the village concept is that it parallels the intentional relationships posts in a very complementary way. Each of these passages show just how important a village is.  There's a lot of responsibility within the walls of a village.  You see, villages aren't here to solely benefit you. They're not only here to teach you, reach you, and raise you up. You are here to be a part of another village; you are here to mentor too. How wonderful to know that we can still pour into others while we continue to grow and mature in our faith journey.

Remember that today. Remember those who poured into you and made you who you are today. Remember those who encouraged you to keep going when it all seemed unbearable. Think of those who do those things for you now.  Thank God for them and take time to let them know the impact they've had in your life.

Also take time to consider your responsibility to do the same for others. Are you in someone's village? You're probably in several villages. Thank God for the opportunity He has given you to have that kind of influence.  Be intentional with this privilege to pour into someone else; what an honor to be a part of someone's village, someone's faith journey! Be careful, be authentic, and accept this challenge to make a difference in the lives of others.

"True success comes only when every generation continues to develop the next. ~John C. Maxwell

Sunday, October 28, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 20: Authentically Thankful

"The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessing." ~Henry Ward Beecher
Once again, it's Sunday, and we find it hard to slow down.  In light of this beautiful time of worship and rest, we'll keep it short today.  Simply take some time today and thank Him. We're not talking about a quick breath of thanks, but a meaningful time to stop and truly give Him the thanks that He is due.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 19: Trust Issues

Why is it so hard to really trust God?  Why do we worry and worry about something, pray about it, and then keep worrying?  I've been guilty of that way too many times before.  I've told others before that I was raised to be a worrier, so having authentic trust is against everything I ever saw modeled in my childhood and teen years.  Letting go and letting God is something that takes discipline for me.  (Please allow me to chuckle for a moment.  I'll never see "let go and let God" and not think of a Joe scene from Madea's Family Reunion.  "Let go and let God" took on a whole new meaning there.)  Anyway, it's not easy to truly let go when you're so inclined to worrying.  I'm not completely a rehabbed worrier now, but I'm doing much better. 
I've seen God work in so many situations in my life.  Time and time again, He has been there in ways I don't deserve.  It's strange though.  Even though I've seen Him do amazing things over and over again, sometimes I'll earnestly pray, yet remind myself that it's possible that He will choose to not work in the way that I've asked.  I've been known to fall back and rely on that "it may not be His will" cliche.  Am I alone here?  It's not that I believe that He can't do what I need, but I decide that He might not.  Maybe I've listened to that old Garth Brooks song too many times; there's no denying that sometimes the things we want most are far from what we need. 
Today, however, I'm not afraid to ask.  I'm don't add the "it may not be His will for me" postscript once I've prayed.  A couple years ago, I heard author Liz Curtis Higgs speak.  I honestly don't even remember where this statement tied into her message that day, but I've carried these words with me ever since.  It's not overly profound, but it was so perfect that I'll never forget it.   Are you ready for it? 
"I can trust God to be faithful every time."
I have written those words on my heart and let them change the way I pray.  I've let go of my "God might not..." clause and decided that I'm going to trust Him and depend on Him to be faithful every single time now.  It's been nothing short of rejuvenating.  You should try it if you've had trust issues too.  Remember, people will fail us.  After all, you can only expect so much from human nature.  God, however, is God.  He's the Alpha and Omega.  He's our Sustainer and Provider, our Healer and Deliverer.  He's our Ever-present Help.  He doesn't fail.  He simply cannot. 
I've learned since then to be aware of the Holy Spirit's guidance.  I've learned to fully depend on that intercession mentioned in Romans 8:26-27.  I think that makes the difference.  I think trusting the intercession makes all the difference and just believing in general.  Why did I ever think it was okay to give something to God and then take it right back?  I can trust Him every time!  When I take it back, it's more so that I've decided to share it with him, rather give it to Him.  Giving my needs to Him-and not taking them back- shows that I acknowledge that only He is big enough to handle it.  If I take it back, I'm telling God He's not able.  That's why we've all got to trust Him and leave it on the alter. 
Here are a few scriptures that have helped me with my "trust issues." Maybe there's something here for you too:
"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock." ~Isaiah 26:3-4
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." ~Proverbs 3:5-6
"When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?" ~Psalm 56:3-4
"And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. ~Matthew 21:22
Psalm 91 and Matthew 6:25:34 are also passages I turn to when I need a gentle reminder that I can trust Him every time.  I encourage you to dive in and let them ease your worries the next time you're having some trust issues.  Remember that you too can-and should- count on Him to be faithful every time.  What a promise! Let's hold on to that promise together.  If we're going to be authentic, then we've got to be able to truly let go and let Him work. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 18: All You Need

It can be tough to be content in society today.  We have constant media sources telling us what we need to own and wear, what kind of cars to drive, where to live, and more.  This unending stream of marketing tells us that we cannot be complete, satisfied, or even happy without a constant slew of upgrades for our possessions.  We are brainwashed into thinking that a happy, fulfilled life isn't possible without the most expensive homes and cars.  We can't possibly be happy without the next new gadget being released.  It's okay to want nicer things, but don't let your wants control you.  Remember your priorities and learn to be truly content with what you have.  Let's go a step beyond that: we've got to be content even if we don't have tomorrow the things we cherish today.  We're striving for authenticity here, and your "stuff" isn't who you are in Christ.  First Timothy is only one of several verses that reminds us of that old saying "you can't take it with you."

 "Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." ~1 Timothy 6:6-8

This lack of contentment goes beyond our possessions though.  What about our jobs?  There's nothing quite like settling into a new job for a few months, just to start sending out resumes once the probationary period is over.  Lots of folks are always looking for greener grass.  I mean, there's always a better job somewhere, right?  The same goes for churches; we're often searching for the "next big thing" there too.  Sometimes this can apply to families, friends, and life in general.  We can get so discontented with life, but it's often simply because we're comparing our lives to others.  Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." We've got to stop the constant comparisons and focus on the life God has given each of us.

 "Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches." ~1 Corinthians 7:17

Even so, contentment can still be hard to find these days.  Despite this Jerry McGuire "Show me the money!" attitude we're told to have, our contentment is not found in money.  It's not found in possessions or employment.  It's not found in churches or clothes.  Authentic contentment can only come from one source.  Contentment is found in Him alone.  That's why we see people with millions of dollars and all the material things money can buy who are still so empty on the inside.  We often do the very same thing.  We know His love  and have always experienced complete provision, yet we're constantly searching for security and identity in all the wrong things.  We can't find contentment in anything but Him. 
"Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~Hebrews 13:5
"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need." ~Philippians 4:11-12

If your contentment is found in Him alone, you're okay whether you get a sweet refund or owe thousands and thousands when April 16 rolls around.  You're okay whether you're eating Raman noodles or surf and turf.  You're okay when you're alone or with 50 of your "closest" friends.  If you're finding contentment in Him alone, you're genuinely okay with your season in life.  You can see purpose and give thanks in the good and bad.  It's okay to smile or be excited when something new comes along; it really is.  Just be sure that you still know who you are and can be just as satisfied in the wilderness.  After all, none of these earthly things matter in the end.  Be authentically content in Him.  He is truly all you need

Thursday, October 25, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 17: The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter...yet another title referencing a 90s song, but I can't help myself.  Do you remember Don Henley's 1990 hit?  What was the heart of the matter? The heart of the matter and our topic today is forgiveness.  Forgiveness is something that often gets left behind in our world.  Christians or not, we've allowed ourselves to believe that we have a right to grant forgiveness only when we want to do so.  How wrong!  God has a lot to say about forgiveness and why true, authentic forgiveness is imperative, no matter the situation.  Let's look at some scripture:

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." ~Ephesians 4:32
"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." ~Colossians 3:13
The common denominator in these verses is that we are to forgive because we were forgiven by God.  Sometimes it takes us a smidge too long to remember that we are not perfect.  Even as believers, we all have dirt in our lives. For the sake of transparency, maybe there's a struggle with temptations or addictions in your life (sex, money, food, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, etc.). These are burdens that we can often carry without anyone around us knowing. You may not struggle with any of those, but, at the very least, we've all said things we regret and behaved atrociously.  None of us are without sin, so how can think we have a right to withhold forgiveness from anyone?  The Word reminds us in Romans 3:23 that we ALL have sinned and fall short of God's glory. 

But what if someone continues to do wrong?  What then?  Our world today lives by the "three strikes and your out" mentality and sometimes it's only one strike.  It's ironic (dontcha think?) that we set impossible standards for others, but don't require ourselves to measure up to them.  Regardless, we are to authentically forgive, forgive, forgive, and forgive.  So, how many times do we forgive before we can rightfully refuse forgiveness?

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven. '" ~Matthew 18: 21-22
Please know that this doesn't give us justification to tally up transgressions. First Corinthians 13 tells us that authentic love keeps no record of wrongs. We established on Day 15 that we are called to authentically love everyone, no matter what. That means we can't keep a running tab of everyone else's imperfections or wrongdoings. Let's be honest here, if we can honestly keep up with 490 counts of wrongdoing against us, then there's bitterness in our hearts. That brings the problem back on us. 
I know it's not always easy.  Let's face it, some things are much easier to forgive than others.  Even in the hardest of times, we are called to true, authentic forgiveness.  Don't get me wrong here, forgiveness doesn't equal complete erasure of a wrong against you.  Sometimes there are consequences of sin that are beyond our control, even when confessed and forgiven.  Even so, I love this quote by author Lewis Smedes:  "You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well."  That is an attitude of authentic forgiveness.  That's the kind of forgiveness we should want to give and receive. 
Perhaps the most important reason for forgiveness is that we cannot receive from God what we refuse to others.  We simply will not be forgiven by God if we deny forgiveness to others. A life without His forgiveness and grace takes your breath away, huh? 

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." ~Luke 6:37
"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." ~Matthew 6:14-15

Once again, authentic forgiveness isn't always easy and it completely goes against our "it's all about me" society, but we are called to it. We've got to let go of the imperfections and wrongdoings of others.  If you're going to live authentically, you've got to be able to forgive others they way God has forgiven you.  Forgive and move on. If that sounds too hard, then take it to God.  Turn your struggle to forgive over to Him. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 16: Works Both Ways

In light of yesterday's super-long post, today will be much shorter. Let's revisit Day 11 for a bit.  We talked about how important your influence is to those around you.  For that same reason, it's important to know who influences you.  In other words, make sure your friends and the people you surround yourself with are pouring into your life, building you up when you need it, and keeping you accountable when you're likely to fall.  Be mindful of who is influencing you and what marks their influence leaves behind.  That's the flip side of intentional relationships.  

"Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." ~Proverbs 13:20

"One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray." ~Proverbs 12:26

"Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another." ~Proverbs 27:17

"Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." ~Proverbs 11:14

"Do not be deceived:  bad company ruins good morals." ~1 Corinthians 15:33

The Word tells us quite a bit about friendship and the importance of choosing friends carefully.  Those are only a few verses.  Whether we like it or not, if we're hanging out with fools, we'll be foolish; if we're hanging out with wise people, we'll be wise.  Likewise, if we're intentional about our relationships, we'll surround ourselves with people who are authentic.  


The point today is that living authentically for Him requires us making sure we have like-minded people in our lives.  I'm not saying to cut off anyone who isn't perfect; if that's the case none of us would have any friends at all.  However, if you're going to do better, if you're going to grow, if you're going to make a difference, it's going to be virtually impossible without the right people in your life.  While you're out there using your influence to make a difference for Christ, make sure those who influence you are making a positive difference  in your life as well.  After all, iron sharpens iron.  There's no way around it.  Having authentic people in your life is a must if you're going to strive for authenticity.    

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 15: What's love got to do with it?

"Love others by... 1.) Finding value in every person. 2.) Overcoming self-centeredness. 
3.) Loving people more than being right." ~Pete Wilson

We all have those people.  You know, those people who make you want to go all Kate Gosslin-like.  I know I've experienced that horrid emotion more times than I'd care to share.  I can think of a past acquaintance who used to say that her ex-daughter in-law "sucks the very life out of her." Ironically, I often experience similar thoughts when I think of this very acquaintance.  Let me stress that I'm not proud of that, nor am I proud of any time I felt like I was going reenact an episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8.  Those are definitely not my proudest moments.  I can't stress that enough here.  

Sure, we all have moments like that.  We are human and we will irritate each other, while some of us are simply not compatible with others. There are even some people we just don't understand.  It can be tough to love sometimes. The problem is that we are called to be Christ-like.  And, snarky attitudes about others are not like Christ at all.  So, when we start each new day and deny ourselves to follow Him, that kind of attitude has to die in order to carry the cross of Christ.  We have to genuinely try to overcome this and love one another, no matter what, the way we are called to love.  

Simply put, we've got to do better.  We can't love some and not others.  We can't love only those who laugh at our jokes, dress as we do, and are enjoyable company.  We can't love only those who have status (that's a blog for another time), who share our hobbies, music, and TV shows.  We can't love only those who have money, the latest gadgets, and the easy life.  We can't love only love those who vote as we do, believe as we do, or worship as we do.  

We've got to love those who are even "unlovable" in our eyes.  What is unlovable to you?  The answers could go on forever.  Unfortunately, it won't take long to come up with a mental list of people we deem "unworthy" of our time, much less our love. Maybe you don't think of individuals; rather you have certain groups or labels you deem as unlovable.  Regardless of individual people or groups, the fact that we can compile a list of unlovables is inexcusable.  We cannot call ourselves followers of Christ if we think we have justification to not love everyone authentically.  If there are unlovables in our lives or even in the peripheral view, then we are ineffective.  Let's be honest, if we don't express and exude genuine  unconditional love, then how can we have God in our lives?  How can we share what we don't have?  

There are more than enough scripture references to show how essential love is in the life of a Christian.  The Bible itself is God's love story.  There are more than enough in 1 John alone.  That's where we're camping today.  If you haven't read the entire book in a while, or ever, I challenge you to do so.  You'll be quickly reminded that authentic love isn't optional for us.  For today, let's just look at this: 

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." 1 John 4: 7-12

"God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." ~1 John 4:16-21

There's really nothing more to say here, but in case it didn't click, we simply cannot follow Christ without love.  Whatever reasons you may have for deeming someone "unlovable," get over them.  Keep in mind that everyone has a story.  Everyone has a road they've walked to lead them to who they are today.  You may or may not know the things that cause your unlovables to be difficult for you to love. It doesn't matter what you know about the people God has sent your way.  If there's someone or some group especially hard for you to honestly love, start with prayer--not for them, but prayer for yourself.  Pray for yourself and your struggle to love first, then pray for them.  Even if you don't see an overnight difference in them, you'll eventually see a difference in yourself if you're praying sincerely.  After all, you could be the very obstacle preventing that love.

We're going to have times when this is easier than others, but we've got to truly love.  We are all God's children and He loves us all, even those we find unlovable.  If God finds value in everyone, then we can too.  When it's hard, we've got to try harder.  Will you commit with me to love authentically?   Let's do what we're commanded to do.  Let's love.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 14: Serve!

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve.
You don't have to have a college degree to serve.
You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.
You don't have to know the second theory of thermo dynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Let's be honest, it's an "all about me" world.  You see it on bumper stickers, baby bibs, dolls, etc.  That mantra is everywhere. Sometimes we're too busy or too absorbed in our own corner of the world to reach out. Maybe that's why it's so hard to serve others.  Maybe it's hard because we're not sure how to serve. After all, how can you serve if you're not sure what that actually means or what will be required of you?   Maybe it's hard because we don't know who we are in the body of Christ.  It can be hard to decipher those spiritual gifts and see how they work in today's setting.  Teaching, faith, evangelism, hospitality, administration, etc....that list seems to go on forever!  What do those gifts even mean?  Wow, maybe it's hard because we sometimes don't want to serve others.  Serving requires sacrifice.  Serving often requires us loving those who aren't easy to love, for whatever reason.  There are lots of possibilities. 
There's no reason for anything lengthy today.  It's all pretty simple.  We cannot authentically live for Him if we are not serving.  Trust me, we are no greater than our Master. 

"And whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~Mark 10:44-45
Christ himself wasn't here to be served.  How can we be so arrogant as to presume that service isn't an important part of our Christian walk?  How can we think we deserve a break from service?  We are here to serve!  What's holding you back today?  There are churches, ministries, and charities everywhere that are waiting patiently for you.  They are waiting to give you the chance to make a difference in the lives of others.  Acts 20:35 reminds us that Jesus himself said "It is more blessed to give than to receive." It is such a privilege to serve!  Is there any greater blessing? 
If you're just not sure what you're called to do, do some research.  I'm sure your pastor would gladly point you to a spiritual gifts study that would help you find your spot.  There's nothing worse than filling a role you aren't called to fill, simply because there's a vacancy. If you're not passionate about it, keep looking. It's probably not what God has for you! What are your passions?  Where do your talents lie?  Use those to get you moving in the right direction of service.  God wouldn't have wired you with those talents and passions if you weren't supposed to use them to glorify Him through serving others.  First Corinthians 12 says it all so wonderfully!  We each have a part to play in the Body of Christ.  Make sure you know your role in service. 
Make a difference.  Give yourself away and serve.  Don't let anything keep you from serving. 
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received,
how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat,
I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
~Mother Teresa


Sunday, October 21, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 13: Stained Glass Masquerade

It's Sunday, so I'll keep it short.  This song has been out for several years now, but it's still a reminder of how important authenticity is within a church fellowship.  Even if you know the song, take a close look at the words.  Look it up on Youtube, grab your iPod, or whatever.  Let it sink in if you haven't before. 

In some ways this is just revisiting a previous post, but let's be better than this.  Let's not be afraid to be real with others.  We all have struggles, we all have dirt.  Let's stop acting as if we're happy plastic people.  Let's be authentic and show others how God gets us through the good times and bad. 

Stained Glass Masquerade
By Mark Hall & Nichole Nordeman
Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin' so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they'll soon discover
That I don't belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything's okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I'll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the part again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone who's been there
Are there any hands to raise
Am I the only one who's traded
In the altar for a stage

The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart
Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be

Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay
Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Saturday, October 20, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 12: The 1 Thing

Thom and Joani Schultz, founders of Christian mega-publishers Group Publishing, released a book back in 2004 that was supposed to change the way many churches "did church." All of the reviews and commentators said it was going to be a "gamechanger" (my words, not theirs).  The release of The 1 Thing was very well publicized and many of us involved in ministry couldn't wait to read it.  What was the one thing people were craving?  What was missing from their experiences within their bodies of believers?  What was it that kept everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, coming back for more?  The 1 Thing promised to let us all in on that secret. 

I recommend reading it, especially if you're in any type of leadership within your church, but the main point of The 1 Thing was totally right, and ahead of its time in many ways.  The one thing that everyone was looking for was friendship.  They were all looking for authentic relationships.  Sitting in a pew and listening to a powerful, convicting sermon is great, but people were (and still are) wanting more.  They needed something else to be connected to our churches and challenged to lead authentic lives for Christ.  Relationships with other believers made the difference.  "Hey, how are you?  I'm fine.  How are you?" That kind of "relationship" wasn't cutting it anymore.  People were craving authenticity, and that sort of interaction is far from authentic.

Fast forward to today's church scene.  Many churches have replaced a weekly service time with small groups, life groups, etc. to fill that void.  Sure, the group itself doesn't fill that void, but it gives a group of people a chance to dive into The Word and build authentic relationships.  I know lots of people involved in small groups in their churches and I see something new in them.  Through these groups, relationships have been formed. They're encouraging one another and they're truly a part of each other's lives.  My friends are fulfilled; their vibrancy spills over into every area of their lives.  It's amazing to see!   I can't say that The 1 Thing is solely responsible for this shift, but I totally believe that it brought awareness and a reminder that we are relational beings. 
The point today is that we are to make sure we can offer the one thing.  When I see Acts 2:42:-7, something really stands out to me. 
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
What stands out to me is that they weren't only devoted to learning.  They were devoted to fellowship and being together as much as possible.  This short passage refers to togetherness several times.  It tells us that they were together, meeting each day, and doing whatever it took to help those in need.  Shouldn't that be our model?  This alone should tell us that there's got to be more to church than listening to a sermon each week.  You're not meant to do this alone!
Churches are so different today; it would be naive to think that the example in Acts 2 would look the same within every modern church body.  Whether it's in small groups, Sunday School, or something totally different, find a way to offer authentic friendship through your church today.  Find a way to give fellow believers what they've been missing.  How can you make sure your church is offering authentic relationships?  The beginning is always the first place to start, right?  That means it starts with you (and me), making every effort to build something real, an authentic relationship through Christ.    It's obviously easier to do with the folks you've know for most of your life. Do it where it counts: find that person who needs you. Do whatever it takes to get rid of the "I'm fine...How are you" status quo. 

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one."  ~C.S. Lewis


Friday, October 19, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 11: #greatcommission

"It takes tremendous discipline to control the influence, the power you have over other people's lives." ~Clint Eastwood. 

Where does life take you in the span of one week? How many different people do you talk to within those seven days? Your influence extends in many directions in the course of a week. Think about how many people cross your path in these places: work, school, church, home, gas station, grocery store, restaurant, library, park, bank, movies, mall. That's a lot of ground to cover. Even if you only show up at half of those places in a normal week, you come in contact with lots of people. Some or those interactions are short, maybe only a nod, wave, or smalltalk, while others are more meaningful. Either way, we have many opportunities to influence others for Christ. We aren't making the most of these opportunities if we aren't international with our interactions and relationships. Whether we're referring to more acquaintance-like relationships, closest friends, and everyone in between, authenticity requires a permanent awareness of the influence we have and the responsibility we have to use that influence wisely.

Above all, our primary purpose here is to lead others to Christ. We must use our opportunities to influence carefully in order to lead others to Him. We must be intentional with these relationships! There is no greater explanation of our purpose than Christ's Great Commission:

"Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
~Matthew 28:19-20

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?"
 ~Matthew 5:13a

We are here to be different; we weren't called to blend in. A note in my Bible says that Christians are losing their separateness. We've got to reverse that. We must be different so that we can intentionally influence those people God has put in our lives.

"Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, and purity." ~1Timothy 4:12

This was the champion verse for youth groups everywhere for a long time, simply because youth is mentioned. As nice as that sounds, it applies to us at any age. We are to be examples to the believers in words, conduct, love, spirit, faith, and purity. That just about covers everything, huh? The point here is that we are to be conscious about influence. Our examples reach further than we know.

"And these words which I command to you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." ~Deuteronomy 6:6-7

As a mom, this verse speaks to me so strongly. Will I ever have greater influence on anyone than my children? What a blessing, honor, and privilege to shape these children of God! However, if you're not a parent, this verse still has substance. Simply replace children with coworkers, classmates, family members, friends, etc. It still applies. We are to show all around us the importance of loving God more than anything else. We are commanded to teach it diligently, when we are talking, resting, traveling to and from, when we go to sleep, and when we wake. We are to teach, and thereby influence, others with each chance we get.

"For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God."
~2 Corinthians 2:15-17

There's a saying that's gaining popularity among church signs these days.  It says that you may be the only Bible that some will read.  Second Corinthians 2 tells us that we are the very aroma of Christ; now that's some serious influence!  We've got to be intentional with our influence because of this very thing.  Who we are in our relationships with others reflects the very God that we serve.  Like it or not, your influence matters.  People are watching and reading God's Word through your life every single day.  Sure, that's a huge responsibility, but aren't you just a little excited to think that God trusts you with His very reputation? 
So, the authenticity challenge today is to be intentional with your relationships and your interactions.  Use your many points of influence to make a difference in the lives of others.  Use your influence to "go therefore and make disciples..."  Use your influence to teach and reach.  Be intentional with each relationship, encounter, and opportunity. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 10: Be a builder

"Promise me you'll always remember:  You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." ~Christopher Robin to Pooh (A.A. Milne)
We don't have to dive into psychology or explore the Bible to see why encouragement is important to us.  Encouragement keeps us moving forward when the road gets tough, it gives us affirmation that we need to keep trying.  We need it to get by in this often less-than-pleasant world.  We've all had days that were just awful.  It's not hard to remember a day where you just felt beat down.  Maybe nothing went right.  Maybe some around you were just plain hateful that day.  Maybe you had a mountain on your horizon and worry was creeping in, making it hard to hold on to your faith.  We all have those days.  I've looked up before and asked, "God, what is going on here?  What do you want from me?"  I can't be the only one who has had those moments. 
Then God sends the right person- and the right words- along to get you through.  You know without any doubt that person and those words were ordained by Him as a gift for you.  Those words can be the very things we needed to hear.  That encouragement makes all the difference.
It's not hard to see that we are supposed to build each other up.  We are clearly compelled to build (and not tear down).  Let's take a quick look. 
  • "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." ~1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. " ~Proverbs 25:11
  • "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. " ~Hebrews 10:24-25
  • "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." ~Ephesians 4:29
I'm certainly no expert, but it's obvious that we are supposed to encourage one another.  Sure, there are times when this is difficult to do, but we're still called to do it.  There's no exception that says to edify when it's easy or convenient.  There's also no exception that says to edify when you think it's warranted.  Even if someone around you seems to be making all the wrong choices or has turned his back on God, you can still encourage.  Ripping apart isn't your only option.  I know some who disagree with this, but I'm a fan of positive reinforcement.  There's a time and place for correction too, but I don't ever want to be remembered as someone who only spoke when things were wrong.  I want to encourage others to keep going and keep serving. 
In closing, I heard a pastor speak about encouragement months ago.  He said that you can't wait until someone is dead to tell them what they meant to you.  We do that all the time, don't we?  We wait until it's too late to encourage and leave those words unsaid.  Let's do better.  Let's be authentic and make a conscious effort to build.  It doesn't have to be complicated, but it has to happen.  Build. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 9: Are You Listening?

You've all seen it.  It happens all the time when you're eating at a restaurant with family or friends.  You can't help but notice it.  You look around and see booth after crowded booth with very little life.  Folks are sitting there, but rather than enjoying conversation and time together, everyone at the table is silently texting or scrolling through the phone. No one is engaged.  They're all just there eating dinner at the same time and place.  I've been sitting in that silent booth texting away and I've been the one noticing that silent booth.  I'll be honest, I didn't really realize how sad the scene is until I stepped out of the booth.  Families and friends are together, but they're not really spending time together.  Sometimes, sitting on the couch next to your favorite person is the loneliest place in the world.  Being physically present and emotionally engaged are not the same thing.  We see that evidence more and more in today's tech-driven world. 
Can you be a good friend if you're not listening?  Can you be a good parent if you're not hearing your children?  I look back at those flawed moments and know for certain that I don't ever want our kids to think we weren't listening.  Victoria Osteen recently Tweeted this, "Multi-tasking isn't always the best use of time.  Sometimes we have to stop, look people in the eye, and give them the gift of listening."  Life moves fast, but what does it matter if we're too busy to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  Do you ever want others to say that you were too busy for them?  That Tweet is so true.  We've got to look people in the eye and let them know that our focus is on them and what they are saying. 
Where does that leave us as followers of Christ?  Luke 6:31 tells us  "And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them."  Do you genuinely want to be heard?  Then you've got to treat others the same way and listen.  Also, James 1:19 says "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." When I read "quick to hear" and "slow to speak" I can't help but see a picture of what authentic conversations are supposed to be like.  I don't know about you, but I'm much faster in speaking than I am with my hearing.  (In the true spirit of transparency, I confess my nasty habit of finishing the sentence you were saying for you.)  This all applies to me too!
We can't only listen to the things we want to hear either.  Ladies have long suggested that "selective hearing" is something most men are guilty of having.  Truthfully, we ladies are just as guilty.  The Word tells us in several places that we've got to listen to the advice of others.  Sometimes it's solicited advice, sometimes it's not.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who isn't a fan of unsolicited advice.  Either way, we've got to listen to the people God has placed in our lives. 
  • "Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge." ~Proverbs 19:27
  • "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." ~Proverbs 12:15
  • "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." ~Proverbs 11:14
 Be sure that you're listening to those around you. Slow down and pay attention.  Someone needs you today. Maybe you're the one in need today; maybe someone has just the words you need to hear to make it through.  You won't know unless you listen.  Chose authenticity by choosing to listen.  After all, you can't make a difference if you don't take the time to listen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity- Day 8: All Day,Every Day

"The true test of walking in the Spirit will not be the way we act, but the way we react to the frustrations of life." ~Beverly LaHaye

While we were visiting our sweet nephew in the NICU a few nights ago, we encountered a misunderstanding.  It wasn't anything major, but it was a good reminder that authenticity is a 24/7 commitment.  My sister had made arrangements with Trent's nurse beforehand for me to be able to bring my kiddos back to the NICU family area.  This area is located behind the entry doors of the unit and is reserved for immediate family of the NICU babies, meaning only siblings of the babies are allowed to be there.   I was really grateful that my kids would be able to go back to the family area; what a huge relief to have them closer to me while I was visiting!  Since they aren't siblings, they can't actually be in a NICU patient room.  That makes visiting much harder if I'm at the hospital alone because someone has to leave Trent and watch Thing 1 and Thing 2 in order for me to see him.  Having them in the family area, if nothing else, would avoid the inconvenient (admittedly necessary, but still inconvenient) process of back and forth buzzing the intercom to be admitted and readmitted to the unit every 15 minutes.  This would allow my mom or sister to be watching my kids just a few doors down without the bothersome buzzing in and out.  It was much better than signing in, signing out, scrubbing in and scrubbing again each time I needed to check on them. 

When I arrived, I signed in and mentioned that we had made arrangements for the kids to be in the family area.  The receptionist told me very quickly that the area was only for immediate family.  I mentioned that we were aware of the rules, but restated that my sister had received permission from the nurse, and that they wouldn't be seeing the baby, just hanging out -with supervision- in the family room.  It didn't matter; she had no intention of "bending" that rule.  I tried to remain fairly polite when my mom came out to take the kids back.  I explained that there must have been a misunderstanding and that it looked like they couldn't be back there after all.  I was irritated, but I didn't let it show.  It's okay to be irritated.  In fact, it's even okay to be angry, but anger (or irritation) isn't a free pass to behave however we want even when it's completely justified.  We are told in both Psalms and Ephesians to not sin when angry. 

Where does authenticity come in?  Well, we left the NICU and went with my mom and sister to grab a bite to eat.  We were gone for a while and a different receptionist was at the desk when we returned.  Rather than try our luck with the new receptionist and head back to the family area, my mom sat in the main NICU waiting area with the kids while I went to see Trent with Erin.  When I left to check on Mom and the kids, the original receptionist was back.  I'm so glad we weren't tempted to try it again because even being "difficult" in your daily interactions can damage your testimony.

When it was time to leave, the original receptionist called Matthew back to her and said something that went like this, "Hey, little man, I just wanted you to know that you blessed my heart here tonight.  I overheard you telling your Nana that you were going to go forward in church Sunday morning and tell the world that you asked Jesus in your heart." 

I didn't hear much after that.  I was processing the weight of it all.  I took away two things from that.  The first one was that Matthew had just heard some awesome encouragement from an unexpected place and been an unplanned blessing that night in that waiting room.  The second was how grateful I was that I didn't give in to any temptation to put up a fight when she told us we couldn't use the family area.  It sounds insignificant, I know, but I'm almost positive that her reaction to Matthew's conversation with Nana would've been different if I had behaved negatively in our first encounter with her.  If I had received her "no" with a different attitude, it really would've destroyed the testimony Matthew gave just by having an innocent conversation that she overheard. 

Ephesians 4:2 says "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." There's no clause in that verse that says to be humble and gentle when it's convenient, easy, or only when you think the situation calls for it.  We are called to be this way all day, every day.  We are called to this in the big moments when everyone seems to be watching and in the little moments when we think no one will be affected by our behavior.  As parents, James and I look for teaching moments in hopes of deepening Matthew's (and one day Lucy's) understanding of God's Word and how it applies to us in everyday life.  Teaching moments are for us as God's children too.  I had my very own teaching moment that night.  It was a very real reminder that being authentic isn't a part-time commitment.  If we treat it that way for a moment, we can be labelled as "just another fake" in a heartbeat.  Be committed to authenticity.  The world is watching you at all times.

Monday, October 15, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity-Day 7: Identity

"Give up yourself and you will find your real self.  Lose your life and you will save it."
~C.S. Lewis

I can't think of many things that would leave me more miserable than not knowing who I am.  I know people who are constantly trying to figure it out and it's so heartbreaking to watch.  You know the type.  They wander around from group to group, job to job, hobby to hobby.  They're really high on life when they first make their ways into latest venture.  They're unstoppable, spirited, sometimes so confident that it's obnoxious.  Then reality sets in and they're done with it before they really even started.  They're deflated, defeated, and depressed.  They're unpleasant to be around because they're so lost.  It's a nasty cycle.  It's painful to watch.  Why does it happen?  Why is identity so hard to find?

First of all, we have more media sources than ever telling us who we're supposed to be today.  You have voices from music, movies, TV, reality TV, Facebook, Twitter, and tons of other places telling us who to emulate, who to watch, who to adore, and who to worship.  Our media tells us what to think and believe.  We stupidly depend on media to define what "normal" means and to set the standards for a happy, successful life.  While we sincerely love our families and friends, we've often got those voices telling us who to be too.  They usually mean well and are just trying to help, but is there anything worse than trying to fit into a mold that others have chosen for you? 

If you're a follower of Christ trying to find your identity, you've got to block out these voices.  Seek the one voice that matters; that's where you find identity.  Take a deep breath and shut the door.  Turn off the phone.  Talk and listen to God.  Take some time to honestly consider who you are and where your life is going.  This isn't a challenge to find a profession that brings fame, money, or attention.  It's not a chance to figure out which direction is easiest or quickest to obtain.  It's not even a time to reflect on your gifts, whether spiritual or secular.  It's a time to take an honest look at yourself and who you want to be one year from now, five years from now, and ten years from now.  Maybe even beyond that.  Who are you in five years?  Are you still roaming aimlessly from group to group and circle to circle? 

Don't be distracted by what you don't know.  Focus on what you know for certain.  First, you are known and chosen. Isn't that awesome? You are known by Almighty God!

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.~Jeremiah 1:5
Secondly, you are a child of God.  Because of that, you are a co-heir with Christ.  What an ultimate picture of love and adoration!
"The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." ~Romans 8:16-17
Lastly, you have been bought.  You are His.  He wouldn't have paid that price if you weren't known, chosen, and loved. 
"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."  ~1 Corinthians 6:19-20
It is in these truths that we find identity.  This is what matters.  We don't find identity, our authentic identity, in the Kardashians or Jersey Shore.  We don't find identity through the number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers.  We don't find identity in paychecks or fame.  We find identity and true authenticity in Christ.  We are nothing without Him.  This is yet another awesome Pinterest find.  Doesn't this say it all? 

If you were supposed to roam from place to place trying to blend in with your surroundings, you'd be a chameleon.  But, you're not.  You are known, set apart, and purchased.  Honor God with who you are.  Let your life reflect that you are His.  Find your identity; when you've got that, authenticity makes itself known.  Be you, just you; not the "you" that the voices and sources are telling you to be.  Be who you are in Christ.  The rest will fall into place. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity- Day 6: Heart of Worship

Okay, so it's Sunday and we're busy.  Sure, we're often busy "for the Lord" on Sundays, but in years in ministry, volunteering, and even just attending I've often been so busy on Sundays that I don't truly worship.  We should first establish that worship isn't something that happens only on Sundays and only during corporate worship.  Worship isn't a song and it isn't just closing your eyes or lifting your hands.  Worship is praising God through your life.  Worship is your lifesong! 

With that said, sometimes it takes a beautifully written song to capture our deepest emotions.  Sometimes it takes a song to say what you've been trying to say all along.  Sometimes we need that song to pull us away from all the busyness and to send us running to His arms.  Today, we should be reminded that authenticity and authentic worship go hand and hand.  Take some time right now to bring Him more than a song; give Him all of you.  Reflect and rest.  Make sure that the heart of worship is more than a song to you.  Make it a reflection of your life and your love for Him. 

*On a side note, I'm not sure why, but this video credits Chris Tomlin for this song and performance.  While Chris Tomlin has brought us many amazing songs, this one is actually by Matt Redman. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity- Day 5: Rest in Him

"Beware the barrenness of a busy life."

We have the technology and means to go anywhere we want at any time we want.  At any given moment, we can know exactly what's going on anywhere in the world without leaving our homes.  We now fall asleep with smartphones in hand.  We interrupt the precious gift of rest to immediately respond to anyone who texts, tweets, posts, or comments.  We rarely allow ourselves moments of true rest because we must be constantly connected. 

I will confess that I'm guilty of this.  My sister suggested that I turn off my phone a few days ago and I chuckled at the mere thought of it.  I'm old enough (shudder) to remember life before instant access to everyone and everything.  We survived.  We were still complete and happy.  As a whole, maybe society was more content.  I know these things, but I still wasn't interested in turning it off.  Crazy, huh? 

Whether you think you can or cannot function without this constant connection, remember that there is good and bad involved.  Everything has pros and cons.  We already have work, school, church, family, and friends keeping us busy.  We have things we're preparing and chores we're doing.  In the middle of all this, we've tricked ourselves into thinking that everyone has a right to immediate access to us. We've bought into constant access to us, but also constant busyness. 

Rest.  Even God in all His omnipresence rested after the creation of this world and all that was in it.  After all, our bodies are temples (see 1 Corinthians 6:19).  Take care of your temple and rest!  Don't run yourself ragged all the time.  The other and possibly most important downside to this constantly busy life is that we often have time for everyone and everything, but God.  We were created by Him and for Him.  If we can't slow down enough to spend time with Him, then we're just way too busy and (or) too connected.  I saw this on Pinterest a while back.  How true!
The Bible talks about stillness several times.  Perhaps one of the most known is Psalms 46:10:

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” 

Some of the others talk about being still before or during battle and trouble (Exodus 14:13-14, and bunches of Psalms, for example).  Sometimes the verses focus on being still so that you can hear God (Numbers 9:8, Isaiah 4:6, and, again, plenty of Psalms).  That's where we need to be today.  If we're too busy for God, then we're probably not hearing much He's saying.  If we're not listening to Him, then we're definitely not authentic, for it's impossible for us to live authentically without Him.  Slow down.  Be still.  Rest.  Disconnect for a while and spend some time with Him. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

30 Days of Authenticity- Day 4: Gut-wrenchingly Painful

In many ways, today's post is further exploration of the "bad" highlighted yesterday. Sometimes life is more than bad or difficult. Sometimes it's pain, sorrow, heartbreak, death, etc. Sometimes calling something "bad" just doesn't paint the picture with the proper shadows and darkness. That's where we are today: being authentic when it hurts. Allow me to be very personal with you here.  I'm about to get rather transparent. 

Some people don't struggle with this at all, but some have a hard time allowing others to see them in their darkest, most vulnerable days. Personally, I tend to be in the latter category. I consider myself to be a pretty strong person. I can usually handle things (note the usage of usually rather than always) better than some would expect. God has been with me each time I've been in the wilderness. Knowing He was with me in those seasons has truly strengthened me.  I've been through those fires and come out fine because He was there.  I'm usually okay when it's over. Usually...

In spring of 2010, we learned we were expecting another child. We were thrilled and everyone we knew was excited for us. It was still very early in the pregnancy when I had a little scare. It wasn't anything terrible, but it still needed to be checked. I went to the ER that night and was diagnosed with a threatened miscarriage. That doesn't mean you're guaranteed to miscarry, but it means your odds are higher than most.

I remember spending time praying, reading my Bible, and preparing myself for the possibility. Even though I totally believe that your thoughts have power (see Proverbs 4:23), I still felt like denying the very real possibility of miscarriage would ultimately hurt more than help.  I remember hearing words that Sherri Burgess shared at a women's conference a few months before. Sherri and her family lost their precious baby boy Bronner to a horrible accident and started sharing her family's testimony soon after. I remember Sherri saying that God kept saying to her that He was enough. I remember how those words encouraged me when miscarriage was so likely.

It was a waiting game for sure, but it finally happened. My actual miscarriage started the night before Mother's Day. I remember that moment of acceptance vividly. James and Matthew brought me my Mother's Day gift that night-a sweet necklace that I cherish to this day- and let me have some time to "relax." I wasn't really "relaxing," but we hadn't quite decided how to approach the news with Matthew at the time. A more honest look at that moment would show a time of processing and grieving.

It hurt. We wanted another baby. It took us years to become pregnant again. It was finally happening, but it slipped away so quickly. I love(d) James and Matthew more than words can say and I was still blessed more than I'll ever deserve to have them in my life. I remember having those thoughts that night. I turned to Psalms 30:5 that night. Could there be a more perfect verse? There was surely sorrow that night, but being Matthew's mother would be especially celebrated in the morning on Mother's Day.

I held on to that verse much longer than expected. That night of sorrow lasted for five months, but my days, for the most part, were filled with joy. I was okay, I was handling it well, or at least as well as could be expected. I didn't understand it though. I was fine all day long, yet each night I'd dream of a baby or pregnancy. I would awake each morning to the realization that it was all just another dream. It was heartbreaking and I never told anyone I was struggling with it. After all, I was the strong one. If the strong one struggles, it affects everyone who relies on that "strength." 

I don't know why it took so long for it to click. I just don't. After one especially bad night of dreams, I knew I had to ask God to take this desire away. I thought I had moved on. If you asked me at the time, I would've told you with sincerity that I was content to trust God with this. If we had another child, that would be such a blessing. However, if we were only supposed to have Matthew, I was still beyond content.  After all, that sweet child is such a blessing all by himself. I don't know how I came across it, but I heard Steven Curtis Chapman's "Beauty Will Rise" that morning. I sobbed and sobbed. This hidden, unknown heartbreak and desire finally surfaced.

Later that morning, I went to the alter and I turned it over to God. I prayed for Him to take those dreams from me. I prayed for emotional healing. I prayed to never again experience miscarriage, even if that meant never becoming pregnant again. I remember how relieved I was to release that heavy burden.

I promise I'm going somewhere with this. Stick with me.

I finally talked to James about this private battle I fought. I even somehow talked about it with two dear friends from church later that night. The thing was that, those ladies, unbeknownst to me at the time, had walked that road of heartbreak. We talked openly and honestly about how much it hurts to lose a pregnancy (and child). We were in Arby's with tons of folks around, engrossed in their own happy conversations, being gut-wrenchingly transparent about one of the hardest things we had ever experienced. They were bold. They were honest. They were authentic. It was everything I needed to be able to truly let go. I needed to talk to someone who had been there. I didn't need to hear what scripture would help me. I needed fellow believers who would talk openly about their experiences and remind me that God would carry me the same way He carried them. God put them there for me that night.

Second Corinthians 1:3-4 says: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."  That's what Kim and Pam did for me that day. They took the comfort God gave them and they shared it with me.  It was what I needed more than anything.  I'll always remember that. 

I can guarantee that miscarriage and loss are not among their favorite topics, but they went there with me that night.  It's also exactly what Sherri Burgess was doing earlier that year at that conference,  only before I even knew I needed to hear it.  Even though it had to have brought back painful memories, they were all authentic and transparent.  When I learn of someone else experiencing pregnancy or child loss, I have to be available to share with them now.  The opportunity may or may not present itself, but I have to be willing.  When someone else is experiencing a change of plans because a newborn is in the NICU, I have to be available to share our experience with Matthew.  Those are just two things God carried us through and we have to be able to comfort others with that same comfort we received, just as we are compelled to do here in 2 Corinthians. 

What has God brought you through in your life?  There's so much more than good, bad, and the in-between.  We've all experienced true pain in our lives. Some immediately think of death, some think of ended relationships, some think of financial struggles.  Whatever it may be for you, share it when you see someone else experiencing something similar.  If it's hard or even painful to think and talk about, it's probably even more important to share.  Think of it as paying it forward.  It makes such a difference to those who are going through the fire.  You can't get more authentic than that.

On a positive note, when you hear us refer to Lucy as our rainbow baby, this story is why.  In the midst of all of those rough days, God sent a rainbow.  I took a picture of it because I knew it was for me.  I knew it was a promise that I wouldn't experience that again.  We found out we were expecting Lucy in Spring 2011 and she'll be one on December 1.  We are honored and humbled to have Matthew and Lucy; they are our greatest heritage. It is my joy to serve them in motherhood.