Sunday, 14 August 2011

Kingdom Planting and Miracles

"But a church for the city, most simply, is a church that practices healthy contextualization. It’s a church that soaks in the Scriptures and is saturated with the gospel. The gospel message should flow down deep into the church, like a marinade that flavors and tenderizes a piece of meat. A gospel-saturated church then takes the gospel into its culture. Submitted to and saturated with the gospel, the church does not have to fear the culture or become the culture, but it can influence the culture, redeeming it, and presenting it back to God as an act of worship. And because the church is securely rooted in the gospel, it is free to consider the information it receives from culture and adapt its methods of gospel proclamation to most effectively influence the culture." -- Pastor Mark Driscoll

So, I am very excited to be part of a church plant here in Gothenburg coming out of a Swedish church (with a sistering denomination in the states called Covenant) where I was involved with an international student ministry last year called The Well. I have watched the leaders of the church plant-- a pastor from MN, actually, and a dear Swedish friend-- going through all the hoops of following this call through their denomination here and mission board in the states. And today, finally, after many months of praying and preparing and taking steps, we had our first official meeting as a new little church family. And it's exciting.

It's exciting to sit in a family living room, with people from all over the world mixed in with a handful of Swedes, and unite on a vision to see God glorified in our lives, in our relationships, in our community. The church is being planted in a rather down-trodden area of the city. It's just exciting. It's exciting to "do church" in a way that gets away from so many religious traditions made by man, and in a way which is just people who love Jesus and want to know Him more and want to bring this love of His out into a world aching for it, meeting in one another's homes and sharing one another's lives, praying, digging into His word, encouraging one another, and eating together. I'm excited about this church model. I have never been very excited about "normal church". haha. We have a vision and a passion for being a city on a hill, being a reflection of His Kingdom here and now, in this city; seeking His Kingdom in our own lives.

We are meeting as a small group in someone's home every other week initially, and in between, we are encouraged to meet with 2 or 3 of us weekly for DNA-- Discipleship, Nurturing, and Accountability. This is what church is meant to look like. Vulnerable and deep, praying for one another where it really matters, where we really need it. Challenging one another on what needs challenging, encouraging one another where we need support. Last week was my first time meeting with my DNA ladies-- whom I love. We talked and laughed and shared and challenged and prayed. We are encouraging one another weekly to do BELLS. Hehe. B stands for Blessing Others. We need to keep our eyes open for how we can intentionally bless others and then we need to share with one another at the end of the week, for the accountability. E is for Eating Together. We hold one another accountable to eat with 3 different people throughout the week, as it encourages us to be hospitable and to reach out. The first L is for Learning Jesus. Encouraging one another to be in the Word. The second L is for Listening to the Holy Spirit, to encourage one another to be keeping our eyes open to what He's doing and how we can be a part of it in our day to day. And the S is for Sent, holding one another accountable about the people in our sphere of influence that He may be sending us to these days. It's an awesome model for accountability and just makes you so proactive about your faith and being missional.

After we shared our BELLS, we had a long prayer time for one another. As we were sharing, one of my DNA ladies was literally laying on the floor with her feet up on the couch, aching in pain with a terrible sore back which she had developed over the last few weeks and which was just not going away no matter what she did. So, when it came time to pray, she asked for prayer about that. So, we simply prayed for her and carried on praying for everything else we'd discussed praying for. And by the end of our evening, she was literally feeling better. She was standing up and stretching and trying to decipher what it was feeling like. She felt literally better for the first time in days. But she thought it was probably psychological. She'd never had such a healing before. Because the back pain was always the worst when she first got up in the morning, she figured that would be the real test, and remained dubious til then.

But when the next day came, she awoke with no back pain whatsoever. And praised the Lord.

And it was very encouraging for us just starting out this church plant. Today we talked about His Kingdom and how the world is aching for it and how He's commissioned us as His hands and His feet to carry it to an aching world. Seeing Him answer our simple, down-to-earth prayers for my DNA friend last week was heartening. A glimmer of His miraculous Kingdom breaking through the brokenness of this world. We were asked at church today, if we could ask God to show His Kingdom in any area of our own lives this week, what would it be? What would it affect? And it just sets me to thinking... and I think it will change the way I pray. The way I trust.

So... I ask you who know this God and the Kingdom Jesus taught about in His thirty-some years on this earth. What is it in your life that you want to see God bring His Kingdom into? Why don't you tell Him so? His love is so much bigger than we know, His plan so much wiser than we could wrap our minds around. May you follow Him right into forever...


"Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that can't be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe."
– Hebrews 12:2

Saturday, 6 August 2011

"...On Fear, Confession, and Grace"

We all have them. Those moments when everything which keeps us going sort of fades into the background and we stand face-to-face with our own darkness, with the hollow places in us, with the gaps of disappointments and hurts and rejections and all the things which make us feel empty. An aching dissatisfaction. What can I do to just be happy? We ask ourselves, as we close our eyes against the memories which haunt us or the unmet desires which taunt us…

Some days, I am more thankful for God’s mercy than others. Most days, if I’m honest, I simply breeze past it without giving it any notice at all. Today, I stop, look at it, breathe it in deep, and am thankful.

I was looking through some photos from college the other night. First of all, one should never sit alone in the dark of a lonely apartment in the middle of the night feeling a world away from everyone she loves and adrift in a stage of life she didn’t see coming, and take that opportunity to look at old photos of times with friends. But, I did. And they documented some of the best years of my life, and some of the worst, and brought up the shiny faces of friends whom have stuck with me through the nitty-gritty. There are photos of dances and meals and parties and trips. Of goofing off in the college garden on sunny afternoons after classes, throwing “hen-dos” (kinda like a bachelorette party/bridal shower), playing games in the common room, chilling at the pub, and visiting the beach. There are Christmases and Easters and Bonfire Days (a holiday in the UK called Guy Folkes Day where there are always bonfires and fireworks on the 5th of Nov). Church retreats, worship times, studying in groups, and just being silly with friends. It’s strange to look back at the photos and remember exactly the state my heart was in whenever they were taken. His mercy reigns across all of it—the common thread tying together the happiest of seasons, and the ones I wasn’t sure I’d make it out of alive.

I just read a wonderful book by Anne Jackson called “Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace” and all the while I took in her story of becoming real, of learning to live vulnerably like His heart, I was thinking of my own. It happened at college in England, those 3 years surrounded by people from every nation in the world all coming together to live in one big old mansion and learn to love Him and one another while maneuvering the stress of attaining a degree (Goodness, I love Redcliffe College). Anne wrote of brokenness; of being real people needy of Him, with flesh and blood hearts which wound and break, caught up in the flood of this world of sin. She wrote of the common thread we all share as people: our neediness of Him, and how we try to fill it without Him in so many ways and how we ache and feel alone and hopeless, and how the only way out of these pits is through reaching out to one another, sharing our brokenness and sin, and giving one another His grace—acting as His hands and feet, living out His heart of mercy, carrying one another until it’s our turn to be carried…

I walked through a season in college where the darkness of my own brokenness threatened to swallow me up. I did a bold thing for someone whose self-esteem was in such tatters as mine was, and I fell in love. But, among other things, I felt the inexplicable sting of rejection, and believed lies God had never spoken over me, but it seemed everything else had from the time I was small. I felt unlovable. I honestly thought I had no worth, and this only reiterated it. And I punished myself for it. When everything hurt inside, I wanted the outside to hurt too—a residue of bad habits born back in teenage angst. My torture of choice then and whenever things would just get too overwhelming was, let’s say, disordered eating—Anorexic behaviours, Bulimic behaviours, sometimes cutting, sometimes just running until my lungs wouldn’t let me go on and I’d be sick til I could no longer stand. It was always “one-off” experiences throughout school and into my first year of college. Like everything would come to a head, and then I’d feel awful for coping as I had done, and He’d restore me, and it would be months before another few days of panic would come around. By the time I was in college, this merciful God had dealt with so much of this in me that it was a shock when it all came to a head again... I was hurting more than I had ever known before and feeling this overwhelming sense of worthlessness more over-powering than ever. But my sinful response to the hurt— to my neediness of His truth over the lies—was not something I felt I could share with anyone. Until that year. It was too sinful. It was senseless and shameful.  And it hurt too much to admit out-loud how worthless I felt. But in the deepest days of my long season of darkness, Jesus made Himself tangible in the people I was living with from every corner of the globe. He saw me struggle, and He let me struggle because I had much to learn in it, but He led me to people and encouraged me to open up and let them into my struggle, to let them hold me in the midst of it. To be real, to be vulnerable, and to experience what His love is meant to be. Grace-filled through His mercy.

(I cannot tell you how deeply thankful I am; how deeply this season has affected my entire life. It’s this which is, I think, my testimony. Something in me was brought to life in His love which had never really lived before. But it took crawling through a long dark night of the soul, and being forced to lay bare my shame to the people around me, feeling exposed and undignified, to end up at the sunrise…)

Confessions were tearful. More than that. “Tearful” makes it sound all graceful and elegant. Broken-hearted confessions are messier than that. Mine were usually loud. We’re talking sobbing and undignified. But every one of the women I timidly opened up to in those weeks, put an arm around me and prayed. I am convinced that is hugely what pulled me out of the darkness which would otherwise not seem to dissipate no matter how hard I tried. There were nights I would literally sleep on the floor of a friend’s room so she could see to it that I was okay, and keep me from self-destructing. And when the fog began to clear over this long, hard season… It was such friendships which led me into more healing and wholeness than I can ever remember having my whole life through, and it has literally changed my life. Friendships where I was real and vulnerable about my brokenness, and met with grace and love, and with vulnerability about their own unique brokenness. In the book, Anne Jackson calls that ‘the gift of going second’. When we are bold enough to share with someone our mess that we keep hidden and so are trapped by, we lend them a bit of courage to share theirs and also take a small grasp on freedom from it. Anne also comments on how we are always as sick as our secrets. How true it is! And how desperately I never want to get trapped in a secret darkness again. To that end, I sought some professional counseling in this season as well. My college had an excellent personal development program in place and caring counselors willing to show Jesus’ heart to the hurting. The thing is, when we’re living in our own secret darkness, we always think we’re the worst. The enemy shames us into staying there. Professional counselors are great because they’ve seen it all, and your mess is never so huge. Puts it in perspective. There’s really no shame in admitting we are broken…

I am convinced that God broke that destructive cycle of sin caused by terrible self-esteem in my life through my honest confessions and His touch of grace through people who showed me love in those times. People who gave me permission to speak freely. I trembled in fear of how I would be received (and still find it does not come most naturally, when the desire to self-protect is so strong! ... Writing this post has been hard!), and yet experienced again and again the bolstering embrace of love and grace and compassion, and admissions of “I’ve been there, in my own way,” a reminder that we are not alone. That humanity hurts (proof of our need for a Saviour? And this longing for wholeness and happiness, proof of a coming heaven?). And that we are only called to meet one another where we are at, and hold out His hope, His grace, His love, until that person can begin to breathe it in for themselves and stand up straight again. The next time, you might be the one needing them to wrap their grace-saved arms around you…

I believe in being real. I believe that being authentic about the hollow places is the only way we can allow Him to fill them. And that He uses the hands and feet of His church to do it, Christ’s body here on earth. Like the writer of this excellent book, having known my own brokenness I feel passionate about being the kind of hands and feet Christ would have making up His body. We often feel so alone when alone is the last thing we ever really are. Let’s endeavor to make that tangible to each other. Let’s be bold enough to lay ourselves bare, and let’s effect a change toward authenticity about our own humanity and neediness of Him in His Church by giving one another ‘the gift of going second’. May we live to show one another the face of God. May we sow His mercy, grace, and love, and may we reap His healing, His holiness, for this entire broken body we are a part of.
Everything is at stake.
And He is endless Hope…

Love on, love on, love on!

*I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Message in a Banana

This is the SMS I received today from a certain adorable (and somewhat zany) boyfriend. Hehe. Oh, the creativity :)

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Kisses from Katie

I want to shamelessly plug this book, "Kisses from Katie", coming out in October. I met this girl Katie when I was in Uganda. My friend Gabi pulled me into her huge van and we bumped along the dusty roads of Jinja with her 13 girls spilling out all over the place. I didn't know them at all, but when we arrived at their home, which they welcomed me right into, her 4 year old Grace jumped into my arms and wouldn't leave them :) I think they learn their love from their mama, 22 years old and in the process of adopting 13 Ugandan girls. She was so down to earth, and yet so much like His Holy Spirit. Her girls totally wrapped my heart around their pinky fingers :) I still carry around in my bible notes and pictures that her girls wrote and drew for me :) Get the book, know the Jesus she serves, love the orphans and the widows, change this world...

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