Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reflections from Honduras

Every year our church goes on a mission trip to Honduras.  We bag and distribute hundreds of pounds of food, build a house for a poor family, and spend a lot of time playing with the kids in the streets.  Here are the reflections of my heart from this year's trip.
Today I met a woman named Tona.  I would guess she is in her early fifties.  Her house was washed completely away by a storm surge this summer.  She used to make donuts, but all of that was washed away, too.  With no place to live, no job, and no hope, she had resolved to hang herself.  But Marlene, the women's pastor, found her and talked her into going to Bible study.  Now, she attends every week.  She is living with friends and will have to find a new place to stay at some point soon, but now, she has hope.  She has Christ.  I thank Him for making things new.  I tell her in broken Spanish that Jesus saved my life, too.

Tona is the one on the right at the very end, in white.  The lady to the left of me is Marlene, the women's pastor.

(Sisi, on left, and me)
Sisi, who is 10 years old, used to have two sisters.  She doesn't know what happened to one of them.  I am not sure if this sister ran away, or if she just vanished, or what.  I wish I knew how to speak better Spanish.  One day, Lord.  I hope that this sister has not been a victim of sexual slavery, as it is very prevalent here...

Found out later that Sisi's sister is safe and ok, she is just not living with Sisi and her mom anymore due to some rebellious behavior. Thankful that's it. 

I am singing "La Niña de Tus Ojos" in the street with the kids.  It translates, quite literally, into "The Little Girl of Your Eyes," meaning His eyes.  As I play the guitar and sing with these little girls, the meaning of the song and the circumstances overwhelm me with emotion.  These girls...the little girls of His eyes.  I get choked up and the tears roll down.  I am unable to sing, but the little girls, they continue...they carry the song.  How beautiful are their little voices to me.  One of the moms and I meet eyes and she is bawling, too.  I think she tells me what a blessing I am.  We share this moment and embrace each other.

The girls on the team and I are on the patio, singing.  We are learning a new song, a song about trusting Him with everything, letting go completely.  One by one, we are consumed by the Spirit.  Each one of us breaks down.  By the end, the tears are flowing freely.  Spirit lead us where we trust You without borders...

Ashley, Alejandra, Sisi, Kimberlin, Naydelin.  Those are their names.  They take my hand and won't let go. They sit beside me on the rock and snuggle up to me.  They grab me and spin me in circles until we all fall down.  They jump on my back.  They fight for my attention.  We play and play.   "Where is your mama?"  I ask each of them.  "At the house," is always the reply.  Are they really here all alone?  Lord, how they fend for themselves.

("Kreesy, Kreesy, Kreesy!!")

(Me and Naydelin.  She would barely leave my side if I was around.)

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

We are fasting today.  Before our devotional I am feeling very hungry and my stomach is growling, but after it, I am full.  Physically and emotionally and spiritually full.  I am not even thinking of food any longer.  
Last year, I never got to tell Shelly goodbye.  Shelly is 7 or 8 years old, but she looks about 2 or 3 because of a developmental disease.  Last year I saw her in the classroom and I said her name, "Shelly!"  She looked up at me in surprise and said, "You remembered my name!"  Of course I remembered your name, Sweetheart.  

The teachers don't want to baby her too much, but I do anyway.  I only come once a year, so I figure it couldn't hurt.  I help her color an assignment that much younger children are doing.  But that year, I didn't get to tell her goodbye, because the last day at the center, the rain was coming down.  This year, I find her in the street and I am so happy.  "Do you remember me?"  I say.  Shelly smiles a knowing grin and nods big. I grab her and hug her tightly.
(Shelly and me)

(Shelly, me, and another little one who wanted in on the picture)

Él tiene celo por mí, 
su amor es un huracán yo árbol soy 
doblándome bajo el peso de su viento y gracia. 

Y así de repente, 
Ya no recuerdo mi aflicción eclipsada 
en gloria, 
me doy cuenta de cuan hermoso eres Tú 
y cuan grande es tu afecto por mí. 

Oh, Él nos ama hoy, 
cuanto Él nos ama, 
Él nos ama hoy. 

Él nos ama, 
¡Oh! Él nos ama, ¡Oh! Él nos ama 
cuanto Él nos ama.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Letter to Our Group

Dear Group,
I would like to start this off by telling you that this sermonette is y’all’s fault for talking to me too much.  ;-)I love y’all.  Lol. Truth is, I love that you feel like you can come to me.  I love that.  So this letter is me, coming to you.

A lot of you guys are in relationships, getting into relationships, or thinking about entering into a relationship, and I was inspired to write you all some thoughts about being unmarried and trying to honor God with your body.  After multiple conversations with many of you, I just wanted to let you know how proud I am of you for trying to do that.  It is a tough call, so tough, to be single and remain pure in this world.   The world viewpoint is so much different than God’s, sometimes it is almost embarrassing to admit our intentions of purity to others, much less exercise them.    
So, I wanted to write out some thoughts to encourage you and help you, to give you some advice as you navigate through these difficult waters of being single and Christian in today’s world.  This is especially for those of you who have entered into relationships, new or old, or may be considering entering into one, but I hope that anyone not in a relationship or dating situation will put this into their hearts and thoughts as well.  Wherever you are with dating, I hope you will get something out of it. 

First of all, I wanted to say that it IS possible.  It is possible to have a sexually pure relationship, even in today’s world.   Do not fool yourself to think otherwise, because  I know of too many people, including my husband and I, who have fought the battle and WON. J  I can think of at least 5 couples, right off the top of my head, (heard of another one today, actually) all within the past 2 years, who have refrained from having sex in their relationships until they were married.  You can, too.  Ladies, don’t convince yourself no guy would wait for you, because the right one will.  Guys, don’t make excuses for yourself or try to justify a lack of being able to do what God has called you to do, what He has equipped and enabled you to do.    

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

Those of you who have messed up, you can start again.  Even if you have been married before, or if you have had the trauma of abuse and it influenced your further decisions, or if you have fallen time and time again, or maybe you made one mistake, WHATEVER the situation, now is the time to allow God’s truth to guide you.  By His grace, it is never too late.  Sexual purity is not an outdated concept, it is the Word of God at work, and it applies even now.  Even now, His Word lives and speaks to you and through you.  He. Can. Be Trusted.  

But how do we do this?  What are some practical things we can do to try to make our relationships pure?

Here is the best suggestion I think I have: Make boundaries, and do it early.  This means:  Talk with the other person about how far you can go without it being sin for you, and do this at the first possible opportunity. Early on in your relationship. Yes, it is awkward.   Yes, it is uncomfortable.  Yes, it is NECESSARY.  Do you think you can make a good decision if you try to address this stuff in the heat of the moment?  Don't count on it.  Before any sort of physical contact, pray about a good boundary, talk to whomever you are dating about it and have them pray, and honor each other.  Honor whatever boundary is the stricter.   I cannot express the urgency of this enough.  You don’t want to set yourself up for a situation that could easily become sin and address it at that point--it will likely be too late.  Take courage to speak beforehand, in the right circumstances.  (Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Proverbs 25:11)

Also, as you are praying and considering what boundary you need for you to remain pure, consider this:  God doesn’t just call you to purity of body alone.  He calls you to purity of heart and mind, too.  In fact, your heart and your mind will be what lead to your behavior, so consider how you can keep those things pure FIRST.  (For out of the heart come evil thoughts--murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. Matthew 15:19) If you are lustful in your heart or in your thoughts while engaging in any specific physical contact with someone, consider making your boundary more strict.  Just a helpful hint: safer is better than sorrier.  You don’t want to wind up with regret.  One more helpful hint:  If you are in a relationship where someone is unwilling to honor your boundary, or doesn’t want to be pure for the sake of being committed to Christ, I would recommend seriously evaluating whether or not this is a relationship God would have you in.     
Another piece of advice comes from my husband, who put it perfectly one time when he said, “Don’t test fate.”  We were created with sexuality as a major part of our makeup and it is a powerful thing, but this is what God's word says about sexual immorality: Flee. Do not entertain it, not even in your mind.  Do not go near it. Do not go as far as you can with it just to test your resolve.  Do not push it as far as you think is reasonable for it to still not exactly be sin. Flee!!  This is a powerful sin and if you don’t treat it that way, you will get burned by it. 

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.  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 6:18-20

Your body is a temple. Consider that you are not your own, you are bought with the price of Jesus’ death.  You were made for holy purposes, not of your flesh. You belong to Christ and have His Spirit within you—HE is who you are sinning against when you sexually sin. Don’t be prideful and think, “We can sleep in the same bed and be strong enough not to mess around” --that logic will fail you.  I tell you all this not to chastise you, but to warn you.  From many stories and also from my own experience.  Pride goes right before a fall.  (Proverbs 16:18) Sleeping in the same bed with someone you really like (who really likes you) and thinking you can “be strong” is just asking for trouble.  So are late nights with no one around, drinking too much alcohol while the two of you are alone, etc.  Don’t allow yourself to get into situations in which you are tempted.  Be wise to avoid temptation, and you will.   
The other danger of regularly “testing fate” is that you don't want your relationship to fall into the trap that many fall into--creating a false sense of intimacy by making out all the time instead of talking. You don't have to have actual sex to build your relationship on the physical instead of the eternal. If all you ever do when you're alone is make out or fool around, you are not really getting to know one another.  I would encourage you to save the physical stuff as much as you can so that you can really invest in finding out if you are compatible.  You want your relationship to be based on something solid!!  Open up the lines of communication that are healthy and honor God. 

Also a good thing to keep in mind is this:  How you act in your relationships will eventually be part of your testimony. Every minute of every day, you are living out your testimony.  Be mindful that you are set apart for His holy purposes. (1 Peter 2:9)  You are redeemed, you are sanctified, You are holy in Christ….so live it out!!!  Live it out so that your life will speak to others.  And if anyone knows that you believe in Christ, which I hope they do, what you do speaks boldly to them about Him.  In fact, what you do means way more than what you say.  Keeping a commitment to stay pure in such a sexually fallen world will be an incredible testament to your faith.  Your friends who are not committed to Christ will recognize the bravery and strength to do that, and wonder what is behind it.  And you will point to Him and lead others to Him, maybe inspiring them and encouraging them to do the same thing. 
And they have conquered him (the enemy) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…Revelation 12:11

Our stories have the power to overcome the greatest of evil, if we are led by Him.  Fight the good fight for the sake of your story, His story. 

Lastly, know that this is for your freedom. This call to purity is for your GOOD.  God didn’t give you these guidelines to deny you, He gave you these guidelines to give you abundant life, a life full of promise and blessing!!  You will be so much better off without the consequences of sexual sin, I say that from the bottom of my heart.   Jesus died that you might be free from the penalty of sin, that you might put on His righteousness.  His word leads the way for you….it brings joy, peace, love, hope and life.  His ways are freedom from the chains of slavery.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

If you can wait until the finish line, you will see what God intended with the gift of sexual intimacy as He designed.  You will see how powerful and beautiful and binding it is when expressed within the guidelines He created.  You will be able to share with your spouse the awesomeness of it.  You can wait.  It is worth it.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Results

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is on trial for 7 counts of first degree murder.  According to the testimony of former employees, his abortion clinic was responsible for the unlawful deaths of many premature babies.  Abortions performed way past the length of time considered legally permissible, done in atrocious ways, occurred regularly.  His practice is also accused of being unsanitary and downright filthy, using and distributing illegal drugs, employing untrained or unlicensed staff, and even killing at least one patient.

You might have seen the headline on this story and looked away rather than read the details. It would be understandable.  It is uncomfortable, to say the least, to read.

Personally, it just kills me.  Not because the thoughts of some of these so called "procedures" strike me as inhuman.  Not because I mourn for the mostly underpriveleged women who have resorted to an abortion in this dirty clinic.  Not because I grieve for what they went through afterwards.  Not because of the murders of living infants, who were induced to existence by birth and allowed to squirm and breathe and live only to die viciously and reprehensibly and brutally.  

No.  It just kills me because it brings me to this:  These are the results.  The results of us making a decision we were never intended to make, the decision of where life begins.  The results, ALWAYS, of when human beings take authority over things that only God should own. And because abortion is becoming more and more commonplace and accepted, the trend is that our law continues to loosen it's boundaries on it.  Does the legality of abortion mean that all clinics operate like this Dr. Gosnell's?  Probably not.  But it certainly did help.  If abortion were illegal, would this clinic have been in operation for over 30 years?

I guess we could have claimed ignorance about abortion at one point.  When Roe vs Wade paved the way for the legality of it in all 50 states, we didn’t know the things we know now.  But now, we know.

We know that the fetus develops a heart in the fifth week and the heart begins beating around the 6th week. We know that every individual human heartbeat is so unique and specific to that person that researchers in Taiwan are currently developing an algorithm to use it as a security system. People would be using their palms to get into their computers with the passcode of their hearts, because heartbeats are unique enough to secure encrypted data. And DNA? Consider for a moment how complex and unique and specific that is to a person, when does that begin?

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.

                                                      Psalm 139:14

So what defines life? A heartbeat? DNA? A developing brain? What defines a human being? Where do we “begin,” because the complexity of human beings is astounding!!  And more and more research indicates that HUGE things are happening right from the beginning.

In the initial weeks, we may be a "clump of developing cells," but a human blastocyst is dividing those living cells at an alarming rate to form the most complex species of life on the planet. Blastocysts become embryos, forming neural systems and circulatory systems and “clumps of cells” that will be our eyes, our faces, everything that makes us unique as human beings in those first weeks. So the question is: Do we really think we can say definitively that abortion is not the termination of a human life? 

Personally, I think we are rather brazen to even ask the question of where life begins!!! How do we have authority to determine what life is or where life begins when we are subject to the power of life and death ourselves? Did we decide when we would be made alive and when we would die for ourselves?  How can we assume we have authority over that, or put any sort of definitive answer on things we continue to learn about?

Humanity is such a mess.  There are an estimated 27 million people living as sexual slaves.  World leaders are threatening our national security.  Millions and millions live in poverty and starvation around the world, with very little regard or help from prospering nations. We are selfish and hedonistic.  Depraved and wicked.  Dying daily. Even our physical bodies outwardly waste away like wisps of grass, soon to wither and be gone. Who are we to think we could decide a question as important as what is and what isn't murder? 

These are the results of our decision on that.  God, help this great nation and save us from ourselves. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Letter to my Girls, Part 2

Girls, I am thinking today about something we simply brushed over last night in prayer request time...have been thinking about it all day. It's about inwardly following Christ. I'm thinking about what that really means, especially when it comes to us in our specific circumstances. And I am thinking about the very real things we talked about last night, things that affect us now--our thought lives, our eating habits, our relationships with our boyfriends, our work. I am thinking about how Jesus would have us handle those struggles. I am thinking on this story:
37 While Jesus[e] was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. Luke 11:37-41

When He says "give as alms those things that are within," he means for them to give offerings from their hearts. Usually, an "alm" refers to food or money that you give to the poor, something material, but in this instance, Jesus means the gifts that come from within. Their good will. Their love. Their heart motivations, their thoughts, their everything inside, should be gift worthy. Make these things within you clean enough to present as gifts, and then the outside of you, your behavior, will be clean, also.
The Pharisees were all about cleanliness on the outside. They were big on religious rituals and ceremonial cleanliness and rule following. And from the outside, they looked good. But they thought their outer obedience outweighed what was going on in their hearts. They thought that by putting on good behavior, they were excused to think and feel whatever they wanted.

But the problem with that is: whatever is in your heart, whatever is in your thoughts and your motivations and your innermost being, that will eventually come out in your behavior. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45) For the Pharisees, their sinful hearts, not checked or cleaned internally, resulted in them excusing the things they thought were ok--pride, taking advantage of the poor, judging people, haughtiness. They figured they could rely on their appearances and it burned them.

We criticize the Pharisees for being religious and more focused on their own rules rather than Jesus, but like we mentioned last night....aren't we guilty of the same things? Excusing idolatry that comes from within? Justifying our impure thought lives with our good external behavior? Being so focused on food or exercise or fitness and allowing that to trump our dependence on God for our needs? Putting other things or people in a place above Him? Truth is, we have just as much issue with cleaning the inside of the dish.
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Matthew 23:25-26

The key word in this scripture is FIRST. First, clean the inside. Then, the outside may also be cleaned. Because if you try to clean the outside first, you wind up in the same religious boat as the Pharisees. Obedience and appearance driven, rather than grace driven. Miserable and never being good enough, rather than joyful and knowing Jesus was more than enough. Dying in your sins rather than living a life of hope and joy.

Jesus wants our hearts first, so He can clean us from the inside out. That's when obedience means something means redemption.
It is for our freedom that He wants redemption for us. He wants us to be free of obsession from food, from insecurity, from idolatry with people or love, from thought lives that hurt us. Jesus says these things are death for us and He wants to protect us from death, that He might show us life. The blessing and the beauty and the glory of life in Him.

It's not easy, but we have to surrender. We are part of the process of redemption. We have to surrender to what we know is freedom for us, and agree to help Him clean the inside. We trust Him and rely on His grace and His strength to help us peer into the darkness He wants to heal. Don't try to do it on your own, and don't try to to do it halfway--you will be dying in your sins. Don't settle for less than all of what He could do in you. Give Him everything. I encourage you to give Him the gift of your whole heart and know what it means to be made fully clean.
It is my prayer that you will do this, and that His light will consume you. You will find freedom from things you never thought you could be free of. His healing and His blessings will be evident in You. (I am already starting to see this in our group and it's incredible!! :-D) His joy and peace and love will overwhelm you and spill out of you. And ultimately, this redemption and change in you will speak to others. He will use your testimony in healing others!!! I pray you experience the joy and awe and wonder of that.
Love you girls,

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Debate at Hand

I’m not a homophobe. Far from it, in fact. It would be awfully hypocritical if I was.
I have dealt with discrimination and hurt and shame from being gay, firsthand. I have gone through the turmoil and nervousness of coming out to my parents and friends. At one point, I reached acceptance and determined that being gay was a part of who I was. And I lived the gay lifestyle for many years.

Of course, I supported gay marriage. I thought anyone who didn’t was either small minded, old fashioned, or prejudiced. I thought gay people should have the right to marry who they wanted, just like any heterosexual. I thought denial of this was unjust. I agreed with the argument that heterosexual people had destroyed the institution of traditional marriage anyway. With the divorce rate being so high, how did straight people have a leg to stand on in denying gays from marriage? Why not allow us to do so? And Christians, who touted the supposed “sanctity of marriage,” seemed insensitive and silly. 

But things are different with me now. Everything is different, in fact.  I see things in an entirely new light.  And I think I know. I think I know what marriage is supposed to be.
It’s supposed to be something radiant.  It’s supposed to be something glorious. It’s supposed to be a contract broken only by death. It’s supposed to be the most fulfilling union ever possible between two humans. And it’s supposed to be representative of a love much greater than ours.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27

It’s supposed to be Holy. It’s supposed to be an intimate, loving, sacrificial relationship.  It's supposed to be so close that two become one.
"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.  Ephesians 5:31

It is a profound mystery, this marriage love.  It runs so deep, it goes beyond our physical bodies and into the fathomless depths of the heart of Christ.  It reaches us in our innermost place, a place only He can illuminate. Husband and wife, Christ and the Church. Both bound together by God.
Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. Matthew 19:6

A union created and united by God Himself.
And now, even as we speak, we raise a question to the highest governing authority of our nation.  Do we change this?  Do we change marriage?  Do we redefine this law?

It was a whole lot easier when this nation, as a whole, agreed on most things. When the leaders of our country and its people shared a common moral compass, we stood united.  But now, questions of whether or not aborting an unborn baby is murder or whether or not gay marriage should be legal are at hand.  These issues, ones of great importance to our morality as a nation, have been and will be determined acceptable or not based on our legislature.  And because of this, our nation stands divided.
It’s not that I want to be divisive.  It's not that I want to deny anyone any rights. Remember, I fought for those rights myself at one point. It’s not that I don’t understand the cause of the gay people and that they would be fighting for what they believe. I relate to them and I understand them for that.

But what I do want...what is in my to uphold a belief that things should be what they were created to be. That marriage should be all of what it was supposed to be.  All of what it was created to be All of what it was founded upon.
I do want to uphold a belief that something bigger than us had a vision and a purpose for marriage from the beginning of time, and that the vision should be realized within us. I do believe, ultimately, that this vision, which is way above our understanding at times, is what’s best for us. I believe it can be trusted.  I believe that, however misunderstood at times, the vision comes from a deep, deep love and longing for us.  The heart of where love began.  And because of that love, I believe the vision is good. 

I am not a homophobe.  I just want God's heart for this country and its people. And I believe His vision of marriage is true.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reflections from Mexico

For so long, my sister was sick.  Typhoid fever.....for so long.  Parasites.  Systemic yeast infections.  For years, she suffered with one thing after another.  She suffered greatly here in Mexico.  But she never looked back.  She never thought of coming back to the states, despite the sickness.  She suffered for the cause of honoring God's call on her life, and it was here.

For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 1 Peter 2:19    

She did not have the desire in her heart to have children, did not want a baby.  How could she get pregnant when she was so sick?  Why would she want to?  She could not get well.  We didn't know if she ever would, but it just wasn't time.  

When it was time, God made her well.  Some dear friends from God did some nutritional tests on her. Formulated a diet for her.  Recommended supplements.  And God used them, God used all this, to finally heal her.  It took time, and under the strict diet she suffered.  But she finally became well.  

Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise. Jeremiah 17:14

When it was time, God laid a strong desire on her heart to have a baby, that it was safe.  That she was capable.  That she was ready.  And now He equips her with everything that she needs to be a mother. 

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  2 Peter 1:3

Her name is Karina Lysette.  It means Beloved, Devoted to God. Her grandaddy sings amazing grace to her.  Amazing grace, indeed.