when our mindset limits our Gospel reach

The difference between our churches reaching new believers and seeing a decline in membership might just be our mindsets as leaders. You are a pastor, yes, but you are also a leader if you plan to use your influence to help people in your church community work together towards a common goal (like the Great Commission, or the Great Commandments, or…fill in the blank with the vision God put on your heart). When it comes to reaching new people with the Good News of Jesus, our efforts might be falling short if we think we can reach people the same way we did 10 years ago. Our mindset, what we believe to be true about today or the future, is critical to our leadership efforts as pastors.

Going from thinking "the future will be the same as today" to "the future is uncertain and we should plan and pray accordingly" requires that we change our mindset. In the Wharton School’s article "Eyes wide open," the point is made that it takes courage to admit ignorance about the future, "because it conflicts with our common notion of leadership, which prizes omniscience.” Just because we are Christian leaders and profess a belief that only God is omniscience does not mean we are immune to believing we are omniscience as well. And if we are honest, not all of us are ready to admit that we aren’t sure what the future holds.

Accepting that the future might be uncertain, or different that we imagine, means we need to be open to innovation and creativity. In his book, Thomas Chermack suggested that there are three barriers to creative thinking and innovation that must be managed: perception, fear, and social intelligence. In order for our churches to thrive in turbulent and uncertain futures, we must be ready and willing to deal with our perceptions, fears, and social intelligence.

In order to move from strictly linear strategic planning to envision a variety of different futures (because we can’t actually predict the future!), a mindset shift has to happen. Our imaginations of 'what could be' are grounded in our past experiences -- what we can perceive. By changing our perceptions we can change our mindsets. Fortunately, there are many tools that we can use to do so: prayer, imagery, the use of narratives, and immersion experiences. Another way that we as leaders can do this is through scenario planning. Scenario planning, as Chermack has pointed out, provides learning environments such that behavioral changes take place, novel strategic insights emerge, as do new perspectives …aka mindset changes!

If we hope to continue reaching new generations with the Gospel of Christ, we need to accept that the future is uncertain and filled with limitless opportunities. It requires that many of us undergo mindset changes in order to envision a variety of possibilities and thus enable our churches to become more agile and responsive to the world in which God has placed us.

annual planning when future uncertainties abound

Our daily decisions are driven by what we know about the past and believe to be true about the future. As Richard Slaughter put it, the interplay between someone’s understanding of the past and their "anticipation of the possible futures" are what drive their decisions today. What if what we believe to be true about today and tomorrow aren’t accurate though?

In his book, Futuring, Edward Cornish challenged the notion of a leader's "present reality" by highlighting the reality that because of the increased rate change to available information "we all live psychologically in the world of the past." That reality, coupled with each of us living (read "limited by") in our own spheres of interest, Cornish suggested that most of what we "know" about the world is actually outdated. His remedy to living psychologically in the present? Becoming comfortable and familiar with the trends that are shaping our external environments.

Here's where leaders in the Church can benefit the most when it comes to "annual planning."  We're all familiar with traditional strategic planning methods. However, the reality is that these strategic planning methods were designed in, and for, the 20th century Industrial Age. But we now live in the Age of Technology. When organizations rely solely on traditional strategic planning, their baseline assumption, as Thomas Chermack put it, is "a surprise-free, status quo, growth-as-usual" future. Why? Because the rate of change during the Industrial Age was more constant, much slower, and there was a high degree of confidence about the external environment and the future. Projecting last year’s projects into the future worked, and worked well...in the 20th century. Today though? Well, the rate of change in the external environment is exponentially faster and uncertainty about the future has skyrocketed. Traditional strategic planning methods completely leave out the reality of today's uncertainty. So what now?

As leaders, we need to make “informed” decisions in our day-to-day operations using what we know about the past and foresee about the future. But what if the information we have about the future is outdated and plain wrong (which it likely is)? The consequences of doing nothing mean we are out of step day-to-day and our strategic planning could be sending us to certain death. If we remember anything about Church history, it's that this is a recurring theme throughout history: revival, church growth, and then eventually the death of the local church. Yes, there are spiritual forces that play into this, but let's admit the role of human error as well.

Here’s where strategic foresight, and being aware of external trends, can help us as leaders maximize opportunities, minimize risks, and actually create our envisioned future (heaven come to earth) regardless of what is happening in the external environment! When we couple traditional strategic planning methods with strategic foresight this enables us to challenge our assumptions about the future, anticipate the future with a high degree of accuracy and decrease surprises (which, let's face it, usually aren’t in our favor). We don’t need to throw traditional strategic planning out, but we do need to tweak it if we want our local churches to exist 10 years from now. Not planning for uncertainty will certainly be to our demise. Get to know strategic foresight, it might just become your new best friend.

reaching a click-stream culture

The world is changing faster than ever.  Technology is advancing exponentially and with it: culture.  In his book Future Smart, James Canton suggested that the best way for leaders to prepare for the future is by being “predictive and adaptive for the future,” what he termed “future smart.”  In other words, leaders need to know what the external emerging trends are and adapt accordingly.  In this way, leaders can actually create the desired future.  Doing anything less, and Canton warns that leaders risk the death of their organizations, sooner rather than later.

In order for the Church to continue reaching new believers, church leaders must become future smart.  Have you heard of “click-streamers”?  They’re the people who are constantly online.  They’re digitally savvy, mobile, always connected.  Canton estimates that by 2020, 70% of the global marketplace will be made up of click-streamers.  Their entire personal and professional lives will be and already are in many places, lived out online.

Interestingly, while doing research for her new book Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown found that face-to-face social interactions are imperative for genuine human belonging.  In fact, she found that a person’s very life depends on them.  A lot of Christians know this, and while they themselves may be click-streamers, they still show up to weekly services and participate in our small groups.

In the future, weekly gatherings of Christians will continue to be of utmost importance, if only for the sake of our need for human belonging.  But getting new believers to engage in our communities face-to-face, that will start as an online endeavor.  Adapting and contextualizing how the Gospel reaches new people must be an ongoing process.  Our ever-changing cultures demand that church leaders become future smart.  Creating our desired future, heaven coming to earth, requires that we anticipate the future and adapt accordingly, it requires that we become future smart.

the foolishness of miracles

Have you ever laughed at one of God's requests?! I know I have! I mean, sometimes they can seem so ridiculous, and borderline crazy. Not like bad crazy, but like the kind of crazy that means we run the risk of looking foolish to everyone else... I love when Jesus asked to borrow Simon's boat as a pulpit (Luke 5:1-11).  Simon and his friends had just come in from their shift of fishing and were cleaning everything up to put it away for the day. Then Jesus comes along, climbs into Simon's boat, and then asks him to put the boat out a little ways so that the people could see and hear him better.  At this point, I'm sure Simon is like, "yeah, sure, okay, Jesus, you're a great preacher, I'm mean look at all these people that have come to hear you! Of course, you can use my boat as your pulpit; I'd be honored!"

But then after Jesus taught the crowd He turned to Simon and told him to put his boat out into the deep water and put his nets back into the water for a catch.  Record scratch.

At this point, Simon has to make a crazy choice.  The crowd was still all there, all eyes on Simon's boat and Jesus tells him to take his boat back out into the water and put his nets down with everyone watching.

Jesus is basically asking him to put his reputation on the line.  Here's Simon, a known fisherman.  He had already gone fishing for the day and didn't even get a nibble.  His nets were cleaned and he was already in rest mode for the day.  But then Jesus comes along and asks him to publically trust Him by going back out to fish.

I can imagine what's going through Simon's head, "Now?! But my boat's all cleaned, my nets are put away. I just got done cleaning everything up, and it's all packed up!  I literally just worked my butt off; I've already put everything on the line for the day, Jesus!  I'm wiped, and seriously, I'm ready to call it a day...I know your day just got started, but mine is over. And honestly, you must not know much about fishing because this is a horrible time to go. I hate to tell you this, but Jesus, I happen to be the expert in this scenario. Why don't you stick to your teaching and preaching?" Simon has a split second to make a choice while everyone's eyes are on him.  Is he going to quietly tell Jesus this is a horrible idea or is he going to muster up all of his courage, humble himself completely, and do what Jesus said, risking looking like the biggest fool?  He's got to be pitting out at this point; I know I would be! And in that moment, tension thick in the air, Simon says to Jesus,

"Master, we've been fishing hard all night and haven't caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I'll let out the nets." (Luke 5:5)

If you know anything about water, you know that sound travels really well over it.  So in this moment, for everyone to hear, Simon agrees to do the most foolish thing a seasoned fisherman could do. But something in him caused him to put his reputation aside and to trust Jesus.  He had just been out in those waters and didn't even get a nibble!  His whole crew knew this too.  He knew this looked crazy.  If he went back out there and didn't catch anything, would anyone even want to work with him again?! They'd think he'd lost it. They would forever more question his abilities, his knowledge, his wisdom, his trade, everything he had worked for all these years!

Simon goes out, the nets go down, and no sooner did they touch the water then a huge haul of fish start to overload the nets!

Here's the thing. We don't know if Jesus knew the fish were already there or if He caused them to be there, but what we do know is that Simon would never have experienced the miracle of that catch if he hadn't been willing to risk his reputation and look crazy, willing to become completely humbled, willing to take a ridiculous leap of faith, and go fishing one more time!

Experiencing miracles almost always involves us humbling ourselves, putting our public reputations on the line, and risking looking foolish to everyone watching.  It's trusting Jesus and saying, "okay Lord, the circumstances couldn't be worse for experiencing success at the moment, but if You say so, I'm in" and then putting the results in Jesus' hands, no matter what happens. The risks are certainly there, but so are incredible miracles! Who's in?!

between our dreams and God's timing

I couldn't help but laugh at the irony of listening to our 6.5-month-old cry while reading the story of Elizabeth and Zachariah in Luke 1.  Here our son was, crying for breakfast because to him it felt he was waiting for an eternity and breakfast might never come!  But I knew that I would feed him in exactly 13 more minutes. See, I was almost finished with my quiet time with God this morning (which is sporadic at best these days as we are still transitioning out of night time wake ups and my sleep is as sacred as time with the Lord, God said so...literally...if you've ever encountered me on little sleep, you'd know why...I'm the 8-9 hours of sleep a night kind of person...) but to Aaron it felt like an eternity before I would be done, if I would ever even finish (actually he had no idea what I was doing...he just knew I wasn't feeding him now)!  Anyway, Aaron's feeding was going to be in just a few minutes but he might as well cry like breakfast would never come because he has no concept of what time even is...all he knows about time is that he can accidentally call daddy from mommy's watch... Anyway, Aaron's concept, or lack thereof, about time, can be like our concept of time in God's reality, let's be honest.  I love the story of Elizabeth and Zachariah because to them, their reality of having children was over. They had shed their tears, cried out to God, and all but given up on their dream of having a child. But in God's reality, their time simply had not yet come.  Even when the angel Gabriel told Zachariah that God had heard his prayer and was going to answer it in just a little while, Zachariah scoffed at the idea that now, God would answer his prayer, after all this time, "are you kidding me?! No way, also, not possible, we're too old," Zachariah thought.

"Every word I've spoken to you will come true on time -- God's time," Gabriel told Zachariah.

Maybe you've had the opportunity to be on the fulfilling end of someone's hopes and dreams and desires and you know that at just the right time, it'll be fulfilled, but it'll still be just a bit longer. And you wish that some way you could convince them to not lose hope in their waiting because in just a short while "fill-in-the-blank" will be more than satisfied!  For us in this season, my husband and I have the opportunity every morning to try and convince Aaron that breakfast is in just a few minutes and that he doesn't need to be sad while waiting because "we promise, we will feed you (just like we do every morning) until your heart's content wee one, and actually there's more breakfast than you could hope for or imagine" (any nursing moms out there?? You know what I mean!). But try as we might, our wee bub is never convinced, he might as well be waiting until forever and forever still might not come.

If we read between the lines in Luke 1, God would say the same things to us, "My promises are true always, have I ever let you down?! My timing is more perfect than you could imagine and sometimes your hopes and prayers won't be answered until My time is just right. No need to be sad while you're waiting, I promise, I will deliver and it'll be better than you could dream, just like every other time!!! BUT, if you are sad and disappointed and angry and upset and scared and distraught, that's okay, I will do everything I can to comfort you in the meantime. I love you more than you could possibly know."

It's okay if we're not convinced of God's perfect timing, but maybe we'll occasionally allow ourselves to be comforted in the meantime.


I'm sorry for what I've done and haven't done

As I sit here waiting to see how much more destruction Hurricane Irma is going to inflict upon humanity, I can't help but wonder what my role in just these past two week's storms (or lack there of in the PNW of the U.S. which has been impacted by major forest fires) has been.  



The earth is groaning, there's no denying it. The earth is violent, turbulent; the earth is crying out. While there are likely lots of factors that we can't fully know about why the abundance of natural disasters is currently tormenting us, there are several things I am sure of.

I am convinced that my own selfish behavior is part of the problem. And to everyone who is being impacted right now (and will be for generations to come), I'm truly sorry. My heart is so heavy with grief right now. It would be easier for me to point fingers at everyone else and say "look at all the energy they are using, all the resources they are wasting, all the pollution they are creating, all the things they are doing to cause global warming," and then continue to personally do absolutely nothing about it. And isn't it just like the enemy to deceive us into believing that we aren't part of the problem so that we continue to be used by him in our own destruction and demise, not too mention other people's. As a Christian, I am convinced that we were placed on this earth to steward it and to steward well. I also believe that God calls us to ensure that all people get to experience the fullness of life this side of heaven.

I'm convinced that my response can't just be one-dimensional. If you have been impacted by the recent natural disasters, or are about to be, please know that I am praying for God to intervene, to cause the storms to stop dead in their tracks, to avoid you completely and for you to experience God's peace that surpasses all understanding. I'm also humbly acknowledging and confessing that I am part of the problem and asking for forgiveness and for God's mercy and grace. I do believe God can and does do miracles to save us from our own stupidity and selfishness and the ways in which we play a part in our demise. Not to mention prevent the schemes of the enemy who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy using all means necessary.

I am not naive to the reality that there are things in my own life that I can, and must change, in order to bring the kind of life that I long for people around the globe to experience. So, please know that I am also praying for myself and for our family to know what we can personally do to be part of the solution and how we can discontinue our involvement in the destruction of the one place God created to be our home, humanity's home, for generation upon generation.  I genuinely do want to love you, my neighbors, as I love myself, and I realize that I am not doing that well right now. I also know that no matter how hard I try to do that in my own strength that I will continue to fall short, and so I pray that God will enable me to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit active and alive within me.

It would be easier to believe the lie that one person, one family, living in Minnesota cannot actually in effect change the reality of the earth today.  And in fact, that is the lie that too many of us have bought into.  But today we stop believing that lie and recommit ourselves to daily rely on God to help us love our world better, to love our neighbors better, that we might all experience the fullness of life this side of heaven as God has always intended.

when we let God 'pick our nose'

Our son Aaron is almost two months old already! We cannot believe how quickly he is growing up. The weeks go by so fast, but some days oh-so-slow, am I right parents?! ;) Two nights ago, Aaron had the biggest booger (yes, booger!) coming out of his nose that was clearly infringing his ability to breathe, and thus eat. It was obviously really uncomfortable. The thing with newborn noses is that you can't just stick your adult-sized finger up it and get it out for them, nor can you just ask them to blow their nose and get it out. No, you have to use one of these newborn sized nose suckers to get the things out. If you've ever spent time around newborns (or people in general for that matter), having something new introduced to them in order to make their lives better is not as easy as you would think. You see them struggling, you know exactly what needs to happen so that they can breathe easier (literally and figuratively), see better, hear more, feel better, etc. and yet when you try to help them they scream. Not just a little yelp either. No, one of those body shaking kinds of screams that says "I'm terrified of that new thing coming at me. I know I can't breathe, BUT I will take not breathing over you sticking that unknown object up my nose. I don't know what that thing is going to do to me! Do you even LOVE me?!" And as parents, we are of course trying to tell Aaron, "if you hold your head still this will literally take 2 seconds to get that thing out of your nose and you'll be back to breathing and eating again like you can't even imagine." But of course, he doesn't listen, because after all what do we know (and also, 'cause he's only seven weeks old, but still...)?

Isn't that just like us and God too? How many times have there been things in our life that are causing us to experience less than the fullness of life that God has intended for us (John 10:10), and when God tries to come and help us, we scream and holler and push God away because we're more comfortable with our discomfort than we are with the unfamiliar remedy God has for us? Even more than parents do, God wants to "pick our noses" for us and get those ginormous boogers out so that we can breathe easier and live unhindered lives. Or a more elegant image is one that Jesus gave a while back:

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." -Jesus (Matthew 7:9-11)

We do not even need to ask and God, in His grace, wants (and tries) to be our remedy. But then when do we actually do ask, we can know that God wants to provide for us in ways we couldn't even imagine. Sometimes those remedies appear to be even more uncomfortable than our problems, but let's trust that God's love for us is more perfect than we can even imagine. Letting God help us will always amount to breathing easier and experiencing a fullness of life we never thought possible.

do we cooperate or compete & fight?

I love social media and staying up with people's lives, even virtually, as much as I can; celebrating with them, praying with them, thinking with them, grieving with them, just "doing life together" as best as we can even when miles/jobs/life separates us. But I must confess that lately, it's been really tempting to just stay off of social media because so much of what I read is so heavy, divisive, belittling, hateful, negative, and frankly disheartening... Don't get me wrong, I love passionate people.  But as I was saying to Jake last night, I have never changed my mind or position on something because I was yelled at, sworn at, made fun of, belittled, degraded, made to feel insignificant, or made to feel like me -- who I am -- didn't matter.  If anything, whenever I have been made to feel those ways, it has only made me dig my feet in harder, listen less, surround myself with my own echo chamber, and want to justify my beliefs that much more.

In Matthew 5, Jesus told His disciples that, "You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family."

I don't know about you, but these words of Jesus create tension in me in the midst of all that is going on in the world today. It's tempting to refer to the words in Ecclesiastes that tell us there's a season for everything and take the position that we are not in the "cooperating season" right now. But what if Jesus actually meant that in the times when we're most tempted to compete and fight that that's when, if we can model what it looks like to cooperate, we're blessed and discover who we really are?

We can't cooperate unless we can talk to each other, and I mean actually have a conversation, not just talk at each other. And we can't actually talk unless we're willing to listen to one another.  For the past 8 months, I have watched so many people refuse to listen to each other, refuse to seek to understand someone else's viewpoint.

What if we all took a deep breath and sought out someone who doesn't see things the way we see them and seek to understand?  Or are we too afraid that what we've always believed will suddenly be challenged that we can't find it within ourselves to take the risk?

We've never been called to be uniform, just unified.  But we'll never reach unity unless we're actually willing to listen to someone else, someone who doesn't hold the same views that we do.  If you don't know anyone who fits in that category, that's precisely the problem that we, in the United States, are dealing with right now... It feels like our circles are growing smaller and smaller as we seek to only hear our thoughts, beliefs, and ideals affirmed time and time again...

The definition of cooperate is "to work together; to work with another person or group to do something; to act in a way that makes something possible or likely; to associate with another or others for mutual benefit" (dictionary.com). I don't know about you, but I am intrigued enough by Jesus' words to want to experience a blessing I might not know through any other means.

when we're care-full, not careful

If I asked you what the most meaningful times in your life have been, what would you say? When was the last time you truly felt satisfied in that "I literally did something that made a difference in someone's life" kind of way? Those are usually the times when we feel like our life is the most meaningful, aren't they?

Jesus said that "you're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for." (Matthew 5:7)

It was about this time last year when a friend of mine tragically died while on vacation with her oldest daughter in Jamaica. One of my good friends decided to go with her husband to Jamaica to go pick up his daughter. You can only imagine... :( My friend going with needed his passport and they were rushing to the airport to try and catch the soonest plane they could, so his wife jumped in the car and started her 45-minute drive to the airport. While on her way, she remembered that she had told her daughters she would drop lunch off for them at school (hoping it would make them feel the slightest bit better since they were incredibly close to our friend who had died). That morning she and I had been texting and I told her to let me know if there was anything I could do. On her way to the airport she called and hung up. So of course, I immediately called her back and asked her if she needed anything. She said she felt badly for asking, but wanted to know if there was any way I could bring the girls their lunches. "Oh my gosh, of course, what do they like?!" I demanded (knowing I couldn't possibly know what teenage girls like these days).

And so it was that I set off for Subway to get the girls their lunches and bring them to school for them. It was the simplest of things, let's be real. But I know that it was a need that I could so easily meet, and I could not have been more happy to help!

My cousin recently asked me and another of our cousins if it's enough to tell people in need that we are praying for them. On the one hand, I believe strongly in the power of prayer and sometimes that is actually all I have to offer. But at other times simply telling someone we are praying for them can be an easy way of getting out of being inconvenienced by someone else's needs... If we're honest, sometimes we play it too safe and try to be careful, instead of "care-full".

Jesus said that it's when we're full of "care" and show it to others (not simply feel it towards them) that we will actually find ourselves cared for. Jesus didn't say that when we do things for others that they'll be done for us in return. No, Jesus makes it clear that when our hearts compel us to care for others, in tangible ways, that we then are cared for in return (and sometimes it's simply our heart that is cared for, but boy is it ever?!).

I didn't bring the girls their lunches that day so that they would bring me my lunch someday. I brought them their lunches because I genuinely care for them and wanted to make sure they were cared for in their time of need (lunch time at a middle school is definitely a time of need...am I right?!). It was literally the least that I could do in the tragic circumstances that were at hand. But in return, I felt that genuine sense of satisfaction deep down in my soul. It was in that moment of being "full of care" that I felt genuinely blessed.

It's a dichotomy I know, but we know that it's true don't we? Some of the most meaningful life experiences we have, where we feel utterly blessed, when our heart feels oh-so-full, are when we're caring for another person's need. Here's to living more care-filled lives...

the best meal we'll ever have = God

We can find blessings at the end of our ropes, when we're content with content with just who we are, and Jesus said, "You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat." (Matthew 5:6) I don't know about you, but I love food. Like LOVE food, especially good food (call me a foodie if you want). During the summers growing up, my family would take a driving trip for two weeks to somewhere around the country and I bet I can remember more about what I ate than about what we saw. When my husband and I plan our trips, the first thing I look into is where we should go to eat, every meal. I just enjoy so much of what God has created, and the brilliant creativity of others, through my taste buds. :) I was spoiled this past birthday by getting to go to not one, but two amazing restaurants with top chefs in the North Loop area of Minneapolis. It's said that you can tell a person's priorities when you look at their credit card statements... Though my husband and I have had to go to a much tighter budget these days with me not working and back at school, we have yet to give up our "eating out" budget...now we just have to prioritize where much more so than before. ;)

If I were honest, I'd have to admit that the top two priorities in my day are thinking about what I'll eat (I wake up doing this) and what/when my workout will be; everything else gets fit into the spaces in between. I've been told that this may change when our baby is born (T-11 weeks)...

So when Jesus said that we're blessed when we work up a good appetite for God (or as the NIV version puts it 'when we hunger and thirst for righteousness'), I can relate. For those of you who have ever trained for a marathon, or an ironman, or ever been pregnant, my hunch is you can relate too because the physical hunger pangs during those seasons are real. We're talking wake up in the middle of the night needing to eat N O W kind of hunger.

My hunch is each of us has those one or two things that we start thinking about the minute we wake up in the morning, the things we are passionate about, that set the trajectory for our day, the things that get us excited (or that we're worried about for that matter). What would it look like if we intentionally gave the same amount of energy towards pursuing the things of God? What if we spent the same amount of resources and time on love, mercy, compassion, grace, justice, bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth...? Jesus said that when we do this, our experience of God will be the best food and drink we've ever had... To be more fulfilled than that pork chop from Spoon and Stable left me the other night or the aerated chocolate dessert from Tullibee, wow, I can't wait to experience that!

when you're content with just who you are

Jesus turned things around again when He said, "you're blessed when you're content with just who you are -- no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought." (Matthew 5:5) This no doubt could say a lot to our consumeristic culture, but could it go deeper than that? When Jesus spoke these words, He was speaking to a smaller group of His committed followers. Some of them could have had money, but people didn't have money back then like we do today. Perhaps that made money even more of a thing to contend for, to strive after, to think about, to consume people. But let's set money aside for a minute and imagine that what Jesus was trying to get them, to get us, to see and understand, was that when we live out of our true selves, who God uniquely created us to be, we're blessed.

When we're little, it seems we have no problem loving the things we love, playing with the things we like, ignoring the things we don't... But then somewhere in our adolescent years all of that changes and we try to be like everyone else (there's a rare one of you, who, in your middle school photos doesn't look like all your other friends...for those of you who stay true to yourselves no matter the peer pressure around you, good on you!). And then sometime during or after college (hopefully not too long after that) most of us spend the next 20+ years trying to remember who we were again.

I don't know about you, but I find it tiring trying to be something I'm not. It takes so much extra time, energy, emotions, mental stamina, even money to be someone other than who we were created to be.  Either because we're trying to add something to us that's just not there or trying to take away that part of our personality that we don't think belongs (any other loud people out there tried to live as a quiet person because that one time someone, whom you gave way too much power over you to, was embarrassed by how loud you were? It's so much unnecessary work, let's be real...everyone needs a loud person in their life...s/o to my other loud people!). And more than that, when we finally are content being who we are with our niche passions, odd hobbies, funny collections, it's not only the path of least resistance, that's also when Jesus says we're "proud owners of everything that can't be bought." Everything, really?! I don't know about you, but I'm beyond ready to experience all that Jesus meant by that!

when we're at the end of our rope

Maybe it's just me, but sometimes I come across something that God said and I think, "seriously God, You've got to be kidding!?"

Jesus said, "You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule." (Matthew 5:3)

Reading Jesus' words, I have to pause and work through it. I don't know about you, but usually, when I'm literally at the end of my rope, I am quite frankly, in deep deep despair. The last thing I'm thinking about is how "blessed" I am.

Sometimes I'm at the end of my rope because of a decision(s) I made. But other times, it's because of circumstances around me that are completely out of my control. A few years ago, there was a week-and-a-half period when three unrelated events kept knocking me to my knees to the point where the final one left me reeling so hard that I remember telling my parents, "I can't pray anymore. I'm so tired of all this pain and heartache. i. just. can't. pray."

When we find ourselves at the end of our ropes, we've done all that we can do. We have nothing left of ourselves to give. We've either created some mess that we're in and don't have anything left to give. Or we find ourselves in circumstances created by the evil and chaos of this world and we find there is nothing that we can do or say that can make things better. Either way, it feels like our lives are over. There's no hope left. We're drowning in a pit of despair. Things can't possibly get any better. This must be the end...

But then God. When we've got nothing left, the only thing that remains is God. What if we could believe that when all else is gone, God is big enough that He is actually enough? When we literally have nothing else, we're at the end of our rope, what if God is there? What if God gently wants us to trust that His plans for us, and everyone around us, to experience an abundant life, still remain?

It never feels like a place of blessing when there is nothing left of ourselves. But we can trust that somehow, someway, God still has a plan. And His desire has always been, and will always, be to love us and bless us. It's at the end of our ropes that we experience the fullness of this love, grace, mercy, comfort, peace, goodness, faithfulness. When all else is lost, it's here that we find the fullness of God's blessings.

what lengths are we willing to go?

For the past couple of days, I haven't been able to move beyond the first few sentences of Matthew 5. The Message puts it this way, "When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:" (Matthew 5:1-2). The NASB phrases it this way, "When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying..." I can't help but wonder, "What are we willing to sacrifice to follow the best of the best; to follow Jesus?" Likely the climb Jesus made to get away from the crowd wasn't easy. I doubt He was popular for trying to get away from them either. Can't we just hear the crowds begging Him to stay with them, "Wait Jesus, where are You going? How are we supposed to get up there? Why don't you stay down here with us? More of us can hear You down here. Jesus, stay!" But Jesus didn't. He went somewhere where people had to figure out a way to follow Him.

The message Jesus wanted to preach He only wanted those who truly wanted to follow Him anywhere He went, to hear. It turned out to be one of the greatest messages of all time. Those who chose not to follow Him wouldn't have known what they missed at the time. Jesus didn't shame them, didn't chastise them, didn't rebuke them. Jesus did not make them feel bad for choosing not to follow Him. But those that followed Jesus wherever He went (we don't even know that Jesus invited them to follow, He just went and they went after Him…) got in on some of the most amazing life-changing teaching and miracles that would shape generations to come.

How far are we willing to go to follow Jesus? Are we hoping to stay in the comfortable places, like the crowd? Are we hoping Jesus will always come to us, where we are? (He will never leave us nor forsake us, but Jesus is also always on the move...) Or are we willing to follow Him to potentially uncomfortable places whether or not we know what's in store there?

And then WHAT IF Jesus intentionally leads us away from the crowds, the public spotlight where everyone can see us, to isolated places, will we still follow Him then? But what if no one else will get to know what Jesus wants to tell us, show us, reveal to us…is it worth it if no one else knows…? Is it worth following Jesus if He calls us away from the crowd?

What might it be like if we would be the kind of followers who are too afraid to miss what Jesus might say or do to stay behind…?

perhaps there's a silver lining to 2016

Forgive me, for positivity is one of my top 5 strengths.  I can't help but see the bright side of even the grimmest of things, and let's be real, 2016 was filled with them. I can't remember another year where I have waited so impatiently for winter with the hopes that the cold weather would put a pause on all the senseless shootings that have filled this year (Minnesotans clearly have a different understanding of cold weather as there was a 2 AM shooting outside just a couple of nights ago and it was below freezing...). Nor has there been another year where I have found myself saying too many times to count, "stop, you've got to be kidding me," after reading of yet another young-enough culture-shaping celebrity passing away. Not too mention the countless stories and photos of devastation that we've heard and seen as we have "followed" the refugee crisis that took this year by storm. Sadly, there are too many other truly disheartening things that occurred this year to list, in part because, I promised there was a silver lining. So before I depress all of us, again, let me offer a twinge of positivity. One of the things that I think all of us can agree on is that 2016 was an extremely difficult year for countless reasons. And here's where the silver lining comes in, we can all agree on that. Stop for a second and think about it, for it really is more important than you or I might first realize. As C. S. Lewis reminds us, when it comes to quarreling, we can only truly quarrel with each other when we can agree upon some sort of Right and Wrong. Both parties have to agree "upon some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behavior or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed," otherwise there would be not point in quarreling (Mere Christianity, 1943). If this is true when we argue, is it not also true when we agree upon something? We can take heart, that seemingly once this year, we can all agree about something. And this is just the start.

In a year when it felt like there was more disunity than anything else, perhaps we can end this year realizing that we actually agree on more than we think. It starts with all of us seeing 2016 for what it really was: a really hard year. And just like anything worth working on, we take another step forward, and then another, and then another. I wouldn't have chosen this as a starting place, but it's something and when we find that one thing we can all agree on, it's worth laying everything else aside and taking it from there. So perhaps 2016 can be the start of something incredibly important rather than merely the death of so much...

when a dream coming true is terrifying

Have you ever found yourself in that place where, what 'should' be super exciting, is instead filling you with fear and anxiety? When you find yourself in the midst of something you had thought about forever and the experience is suddenly terrifying instead of enjoyable? On Monday afternoon, my husband and I had our level 2 ultrasound to find out if baby G was a boy or a girl and whether there were any health concerns we should be aware of. I so badly wanted to be excited, but instead was overwhelmed by all the unknowns and quite frankly terrified to find out. You might not be in the midst of a pregnancy, but I have a hunch you might be able to see yourself in my story. We aren't one of those couples who tried forever to get pregnant, we weren't actually trying yet, and we did. Yes, we're one of those couples... However, I have thought about having children since I was 6 or 7 years old. It wasn't a dream that I pursued relentlessly (I didn't get married until I was 36), but it was a strong dream of "God, I really hope that someday..." Not getting married until what is considered "later in life," I wasn't sure if having kids would still be an option for us.  Yes, I know medical technology has come a long way and adoption and fostering children is a huge need in our country, but those are still not things you can bank on for certain. It was one of those dreams I had long ago let go of, having fully accepted that it would be okay if it was never a reality, all the while it was still burning deep within my heart. I'm guessing you can relate...

So here I was, on what should have been an incredibly exciting day, just wanting the appointment to be over with so we could face whatever news there was to face. Sometimes I find that I am just waiting for the other proverbial shoe to fall, especially when it comes to things that matter the most.  I want to hold them loosely and not get too attached. What if it doesn't actually happen? What if...? What if...? What if...I get hurt? I know, I know, there are so many things wrong with this kind of approach to life. My hunch is, I'm not the only one who doesn't head full on into their dreams with reckless abandon...

At the core of my fear, I found myself in this tension of wanting to hold back my love, my passion, my excitement, my hope. As I talked to God about all of this Monday morning, God reminded me of what unconditional love says, "We don't hold back our love based on unknown outcomes, we give until we give all of ourselves, everything we have and love beyond the shadows of the unknown. We love no matter what."

And then God asked me, "Do you think I've held back any of My love even though I've known full well what the outcomes would be? Not even once. Never. Not for a second. If I can, you can through Me. And when you can't and your love ends, I have more than enough to love completely. Yes, to love like Me can mean getting hurt, but it can also be the most amazing, freeing, generous thing you've ever done. And you can't know which it will be until you do it. And even when I've been hurt by those whom I love, do you think I have ever regretted it? Not once."

If God can love unhindered when He knows the outcome, we can when we don't. So here's to living and loving beyond calculated risks.

the things we count on

Maybe we're counting too often. Counting the people who could possibly help, the money we have access to, the resources available to us, anything we think could possibly help us...meanwhile forgetting that God can move mountains with faith the size of a fruit fly (anyone else have a gross invasion of these lately...they multiply like rabbits, it's the most obnoxious thing).  Not that God wants us to set aside all of our math skills, but I think He wants us to count on Him before we count on them.

Doom to those who go off to Egypt
thinking that horses can help them,
Impressed by military mathematics,
awed by sheer numbers of chariots and riders—
And to The Holy of Israel, not even a glance,
not so much as a prayer to God.
Still, he must be reckoned with,
a most wise God who knows what he’s doing.
He can call down catastrophe.
He’s a God who does what he says.
He intervenes in the work of those who do wrong,
stands up against interfering evildoers.
Egyptians are mortal, not God,
and their horses are flesh, not Spirit.
When God gives the signal, helpers and helped alike
will fall in a heap and share the same dirt grave. (Isaiah 31:1-3)

At first blush, it might seem like what Isaiah wrote is all doom and gloom. But if you stand back, it's much cheerier and hopeful than that.  God has always ever wanted us to look to Him for our needs (whether they be a literal battle God-forbid, or our daily needs like food, finances, or clothes...I'm 19 weeks pregnant right now so all three of those are my top 3 daily needs). He wants us to stop wasting time looking to all the other  stuff we think we need to thrive in this life or accomplish X, Y, and Z.

How much more stock do we put into what we have, don't have, can do, or can't do, than in God, the Creator of it all (who by the way has never ceased being Creator 🙄)? I don't know about you, but I'm embarrassed to admit how many times I've thought or said 'but…' when I have had a need or felt promoted by God to do something. 🤔 I mean how many times does God do way more with the least amount of ______ (fill in the blank) than we can do with all our perceived 'necessary' resources in the world? So here's to stop counting and waiting  and fretting until we think we have 'enough' and to saying 'yes' when all we've got is God. God is MORE than enough and has access to all the resources in the world. Let's start with Him.

if we're going to judge anyone...

Only eight more days until our national elections are over for 2016. It feels like there is more contention this election year than there ever has been in the past, and perhaps it's because we know that above all things God looks at the heart. When the prophet Samuel was looking to anoint a new king because Israel's king, Saul, had gone mad, Samuel was looking for a leader in much the same way many of us have a tendency to do.  But God taught us all something that day:

"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'" (1 Samuel 16:7).

Deep down inside, many of us know this to be true, which is why this election feels harder than most others have. The character issues of the top candidates have been glaring this election season. We haven't been able to read or watch the news for months (or years if we're really honest...) without some part of either candidate's character being on full display.

As I have wrestled with this tension for the past month or so, yesterday I was reminded that simultaneously Jesus tells us,

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).

I don't know about you, but that just makes things murkier than they were before! Thank You, God. :) I was recently asked, "what do you do when you've studied the Bible and you're still unsure of what God is saying to us here, today, and how we're supposed to apply it?" There are a myriad of things one can do, until at the end of the day, prayer and humility are our best resources.

I'm thankful for a couple of things this election season: 1) God alone is judge, and 2) I have more important things in my own life to focus on getting right with God than I do judging others. So here's to humbly living in community for the next eight days until this election is over and we can all collectively return to the important realities of our everyday lives. I'm thankful governments still rest on Jesus' shoulders, and they always will.

remember when you asked Me for a king?

I'm so thankful God's ways are higher than ours and God's thoughts beyond our thinking.  As I read these words in Isaiah this morning, I asked God what He thought about all this election stuff in the U.S. right now, and I imagined God chuckling.

8-11"“I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
God’s Decree.
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
they’ll complete the assignment I gave them." (Isaiah 53)

I couldn't help but be amused and ask, "Why are You laughing?" And God reminded me that just as Israel rejected God as King (1 Samuel 8) and wanted to be just like everyone else and have a king, so too we do the same.  We have placed SO many of our hopes, dreams, and expectations on our president that we have forgotten who are true King is.  Sure the president of the U.S. might have some authority to impact our personal lives, but by and large, we have more control over our lives and community than they do. But most people I know are anxious about this year's election results, no matter who wins.  And why? Because we've given our president that kind of authority in our lives.

If God anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel, who literally went crazy while king, we can rest assured that we will be just fine, no matter how this election goes. If nothing else, more darkness gives even just the slightest glimmer of light more influence.  So let us laugh at ourselves and remember who we are: daughters and sons of the King of kings -- the most influential One there ever was, is, and will be.  As Christ-followers we are filled with the very same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.  Let's live like it.

what are you afraid of--or who?

I don't know about you, but it feels like there is a lot to be anxious about these days...the Presidential election in the U.S., rumors of another cold war, the refugee crisis... Just so.many.things. Opening my Bible this morning, my prayer was "seriously Lord, please give me some kind of wisdom or insight, I know You don't want us to be anxious, but there's just a LOT happening in the world right now that is anxiety-producing." I don't know what you pray before reading the Scriptures, but I trust that God will always speak to me in one way or another. And today was no different.

My husband Jake and I are going through the Book of Isaiah these days. So, this morning I opened up to Isaiah 51 and found this truth to be oh-so-comforting:

12-16“I, I’m the One comforting you.
What are you afraid of—or who?
Some man or woman who’ll soon be dead?
Some poor wretch destined for dust?
You’ve forgotten me, God, who made you,
who unfurled the skies, who founded the earth.
And here you are, quaking like an aspen
before the tantrums of a tyrant
who thinks he can kick down the world.
But what will come of the tantrums?
The victims will be released before you know it.
They’re not going to die.
They’re not even going to go hungry.
For I am God, your very own God,
who stirs up the sea and whips up the waves,
named God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
I teach you how to talk, word by word,
and personally watch over you,
Even while I’m unfurling the skies,
setting earth on solid foundations,
and greeting Zion: ‘Welcome, my people!’”
I mean, You're right, Lord. What, or who, am I afraid of? Is it just me, or is it sometimes simply easy to forget that God sees EVERYTHING. We get just this little glimpse of what's going on in the world, but God sees it all. And more than that, God has a plan. God always has and always will. It's so easy for me to get caught up in what I can see, hear, watch, that I forget that it's the things I can't see that are far more real and tangible:  God's plans, God's purposes, God's love, God's compassion, God's mercy, heaven...
Whether it's the upcoming election in the U.S. that's got us fretting these days or the multitude of crisis around the world, we can cling to the reality that God is bigger, always. God MADE this world and our Creator is not abandoning it anytime soon, or ever. So, who or what is there for us to be afraid of? Nothing. We can breathe easily. :)