Lessons in the Desert

I hate the desert. The seasons where God’s love feels more like a leaky faucet than a tidal wave. The seasons where His voice sounds more like crickets than thunder. It’s in these seasons where the seas crash over into the boat, and I grab my little cup and try to scoop out all the water to stay safe. The water flooding in faster than I can scoop it out. All the while, Jesus is sleeping in the back of the boat, refusing to respond to my desperate cries for help.

It’s very confusing.

When I ask God for more of Him, I expect Him to answer with Holy Spirit fire and rainbows and butterflies and puppies and pumpkin chip cookies. Instead, He takes me to the desert. It seems so backwards. But I’m learning from personal experience that only the desert can show us where our flesh is reigning. My flesh. It’s only in the desert that I discover this thing in me that hates being dependent on a God that I can’t control. Knowing that He is Love, but being absolutely powerless to force Him to fill my soul with His life. It is in the desert that I discover that I’m completely dependent on His willingness and desire to give Himself to me. And something in me despises the fact that I can’t have God when I want Him in the way that I want Him without ever having to be vulnerable with Him. (Apparently that’s not a real relationship.)

However, it’s also in the desert that I discover something in me that longs to be dependent on a God that I can’t control. There is something in me that is desperate to live in this place of abandonment and trust and wonder. Jesus says that whoever doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child won’t enter the Kingdom. That Greek word for child literally means a newborn infant. An infant can’t do a single thing for itself. It doesn’t contribute to society in any way. It can’t chime in at the dinner table. It is completely dependent on the goodness of another person to take care of its every need, and has no ability to give anything in return. It can only receive.

No wonder the cross is such an offense to our flesh. Romans 7-8 talk about these two desires within us that war against each other. There is something in us that hates God. And there is something in us that longs for God. And every day we have a choice of which desire we will nourish and which desire we will crucify. Realizing that we have a choice has planted a small seed of hope in my heart. Hope that I can acknowledge my desire to do everything on my own without actually bowing down to it. Hope that I can also acknowledge my desire to entrust my entire being to God and actually do something to position myself to be dependent on Him.

I wonder what would have happened if the disciples hadn’t frantically woken up Jesus. What if they followed his lead and took a nap with him? I mean, seriously. Would they all have drowned? Would the water have filled the boat to the point of capsize? That’s sure how it feels in the midst of the storm. And nothing in me wants to position myself to be dependent on him to keep me safe when clearly we aren’t going to make it across. Allowing space for God to move is terrifying because what if…

But I’m also learning that it’s in the “what it” that we find that God is everything that He says He is.

Of course Jesus doesn’t even crack open an eyelid. I asked for more of him. So why would he contribute to keeping alive the thing in me that hates being dependent on his goodness? We ask for more of him, and so he takes us to the place where our flesh is crucified. And it is painful beyond words. It requires an incredible amount of vulnerability and courage. Because every fiber of my being flesh wants to respond in self-reliance, self-protection, self-preservation.

I’m beginning to wonder if Jesus sleeping in our storms is actually proof that he partners with us to crucify our flesh by refusing to enable it survive.

Isn’t there a way to experience resurrection life without a crucifixion death? If only.

So, as much as I hate the desert, I’m thankful that He so deeply longs for me to have His whole heart and for Him to have mine, that He refuses to relieve the pain of the death of the flesh.

Thank you God for allowing the pain for a little while so that my heart can be wholly Yours forever.

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A Change Is Gonna Come

Well, it’s that time of year again. The semi-annual writing of the blog post.

I’m finding that following Jesus will take you on a very interesting journey. Dark and winding valleys of sorrow, mountains of bliss, seas of loneliness, waterfalls of joy. You name it, he’ll take you there. It is a journey that is full of agony and wonder. And no matter how ugly it gets (or how ugly I get), he always stays with me. The mystery of all mysteries, it seems.

Exactly one year ago today, I was kneeling on an altar at a church conference in Austin, TX. Heidi Baker had invited anyone who felt called to follow Jesus to the nations of the earth to come up so she could pray for them. Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I loved the nations. I had once wanted go to the bush of Africa, the jungles of Papua New Guinea, the mountains of Central Asia, to see people of every language and culture fall in love with Jesus. It used to burn in my heart. But honestly, it took the back burner when I fell in love with Baton Rouge. God completely changed my life in the six years that I’ve lived in this city and I wanted to stay here. To go up to the altar, I would feel like a fake.

But the still, small, sweet voice of the Holy Spirit reminded me that He was the one who gave me that passion so many years ago, and it certainly wasn’t on His back burner. He gently told me that my dreams for my life with Him had gotten too small and that I needed dream bigger.

Don’t get me wrong, Baton Rouge is THE best city in the cataloged universe. Hands down. And to follow Jesus is absolutely the greatest honor and adventure of your life, no matter where he takes you. But I had dreamed of people all over the world falling in love with Jesus, and somehow I became scared to believe that God would actually use me in that. Next thing I knew, I was up on the altar with the rest of the crazies, wondering what God on earth might do with my little life.

Sometimes it feels like God takes a lifetime to move. This was not the case. I don’t know what on earth she prayed, but three days later I was driving home with Cameroon on my mind. The story of how Cameroon entered the picture is for another time. But over the following weeks, God flooded my life with Scriptures, conversations, events, dreams, all pointing to Cameroon. Before I knew it, I was saying yes to spending the next who-knows-how-many-years of my life with Jesus (and an incredible, passionate, wholehearted, wacky team of people that includes my best friend) in Cameroon.

I don’t feel very brave. Most days I feel crazy. And most days I wonder how on earth this is my life. And some days I’m pretty sure I’m making an enormous mistake. But I’m starting to figure out that when Jesus invites you to go somewhere, you really don’t want to say no. Here’s hoping it really will be worth it.

I’m intending to chronicle this adventure here. I’m also discovering that any story about Jesus is a story worth telling. Even if no one reads all the way to the end. If you did, mad props to you.

Zacchaeus

Jesus has been using the story of a wee little man named Zacchaeus (Luke 19) to melt my heart and mold something new in me.

I think sometimes we’re afraid to really share the depths of God’s love because we feel it’s important that people know they don’t deserve it and that He doesn’t approve of their sin. Like, Jesus loves you a lot, but don’t get too crazy!

But I’m pretty sure that deep down Zacchaeus knew he didn’t deserve love. He was a chief tax collector. He was a man who worked for Rome to take money from his people and give it to Rome. Not only that, but Zac sat on a mountain of money because he pocketed a lot of what he took. He was hated. By all means, this man was a complete slimeball. When I think of Zacchaeus, I picture Danny DeVito. I don’t know if Danny’s a slimeball too. But he’s short. I wonder if Zacchaeus was lonely. I wonder if he went home sad because he had all this money but no one wanted him. Until Jesus came to town.

Everyone had heard of Jesus. He was unlike anyone else. He healed, he liberated, and he was kind and generous and everything that Zacchaeus was not. When news spread that Jesus was going to pass through his hometown, it says that he went out into the streets because he was seeking to see who Jesus was. He couldn’t see because the crowds were so big and he was so small, so he ran ahead and climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of the famous Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus, with a heart full of love, stopped at his tree and asked him by name to come down so he could stay at his house! I can’t imagine how Zacchaeus felt when Jesus called his name. The surprise and the joy he felt in being wanted. And not just by anyone, but by the kindest, most joyful, most loving man the world had ever seen. Everyone wanted a piece of Jesus. And Jesus gave himself to this crook.

It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus that Zacchaeus didn’t deserve to be called down from the tree. One encounter with the love of God turned this thief into a generous man. He ended up giving half of his money to the poor, and with the rest he restored fourfold to everyone what he took.

I think of the “worst of the worst” that live here in Baton Rouge. The crooks, the pimps, the failures, the dropouts, the addicts, the losers, the fools. And Jesus wants them all.

We are afraid that if we lavish the love of God on people, they will think somehow they did something to deserve it. But it’s not until the light turns on that we see what is dark and what is light.

I’m discovering that God’s love isn’t some fluffy Hollywood character. It is uncomfortably radical and has the power to change the leper’s spots and melt a heart of stone. And we get to spend an eternity discovering the depths of His heart. He never ceases to change me.

Anchors Away!

Life is a whirlwind! Literally. Hurricane Isaac decided to sit on Louisiana for what seemed like forever. Pastor Kevin McKee said it wonderfully this morning: “Like a bad guest, it came late and stayed for far too long.”

I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the love of God. I came across something a couple days ago that sank like an anchor deep in my heart:

How precious is Your steadfast love, Oh God
the children of mankind take refuge in Your wings.
They are filled by the abundance of Your house
and You give them drink from the river of Your delights.
For with You is the fountain of life
and by Your light do we see light.

Psalm 36:7-9

This has not ceased to fill my heart with LIFE. That He crafted us to behold His power and glory, to be loved beyond our comprehension every moment of every day. He LOVES to fill us with His delight. His unending, irrevocable, sure love is our life and joy. It sure is fun to learn to walk in it!

Rest assured, God is using everything in your life to root you and build you in His love. (Colossians 2:6-7, Romans 8:28-29). Enjoy being His beloved today.

Grace and peace,
Hope

My Affair with Charles Spurgeon

I went to China two summers ago. I saw God move in power, both in the students and in my own heart. And there was something that God began to show me there that has continued to burrow into my heart. I pray that it resonates with some of you inter-webs out there.

That summer, I had been reading some awesome stuff from the great Charles Spurgeon. I always wondered how these giants of the faith did it. How did they love God SO much? This guy would spend hours studying the Bible and even more hours in prayer. My devotion paled in comparison to dear Charles. I was bound and determined to live up to this challenge.

It was the second week and I was still adjusting to the crazy twelve-hour time change. (China is literally on the other side of the world, for those of you who didn’t know. I’ve seen Street Smarts. You’d be amazed at what people don’t know.)

I woke up at around 4:30am. Charles Spurgeon probably wakes up this early on purpose I thought to myself. I rolled out of bed, grabbed my Bible and journal and went in to the living room of our extra Chinese apartment.

It seemed appropriate to start my morning with some prayer. Charles Spurgeon probably prays on his knees with his face to the ground. I assumed the position. I figured that if I could pray like Charles Spurgeon, maybe I would eventually love God like Charles Spurgeon. Facedown on the floor, I waited for said love to come crashing down on me. Aaaaany minute now…

Fifteen minutes later, I decided I would try from a different angle. Charles Spurgeon knew his Bible like nobody’s business. I picked up my Bible and sat down at the kitchen table. It fell open to Romans 7. I read it. And then I read it again. And then I prayed and prayed for God to let me love Him. If God would just God let me feel His love, then it would make it much easier to read the Bible and pray all day. Surely, He knows this!

I felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. I began to weep. Think of the ugliest cry face and then slap it on mine. It was bad. Swollen eyes. Runny nose. The whole shebang. Romans 7 was sopped with tears. I finally gave up after an hour. The sun had risen and my roommates were beginning to stir. Clearly, God didn’t love me as much as He loved Charles.

I felt utterly rejected by God. I didn’t read or pray for days. I was too scared. However silly it sounds, my heart ached at the thought of going through that again.

A few days later I was riding the subway after a long day and I finally asked God what had happened that morning. He answered immediately.

I don’t want your Charles Spurgeon heart.

I beg Your pardon? It was so loud and clear in my heart, it was almost as if He actually spoke it into my ear.

I don’t want your Charles Spurgeon heart. I want YOU.

This began a new journey in my life. It was something I had never even considered. God was actaully doing me the favor of refusing to accept my devotion that morning because I wasn’t actually offering anything. I didn’t think He wanted me! My mind was too messy. My heart was too broken.

But in trying to be like Charles, I was actually hiding. Just like Adam and Eve’s fig leaves in Eden.

He told me something I hope I never forget.

Hope, I know who I am. I don’t need you to tell me. I don’t want your empty praise. What I want from you is to entrust your heart to Me. Your hopes, your fears, your anger, your joy, your sorrow, your dreams. No matter how ugly or shameful you think it is, I want it all. People give their hearts to the the ones they trust. It’s the most beautiful sacrifice you can offer.

Two summers later and I’m still learning this. But God has been so patient and so faithful every step of the way.

Yes, there is much that I can learn from Charles. But to try to be Charles is a crime of the highest degree. Do you know why? Because I was, in effect, telling God that who He made me to be was simply not enough. And He is kind and gracious to show me the truth:

It’s true. I’m not enough for God. He deserves more than you or I could ever give Him. But JESUS’s life is enough! And when he died and rose again, he gave us his “enough”. And then he gave us new hearts and made us children of God, to be loved to the absolute core. And because everything is forgiven under the blood of Jesus Christ, we can be fully known and fiercely loved. And so even though we aren’t perfect, we are enough.

Being His child means that I can bare the grossest, darkest things in me and He doesn’t look away in disgust. Instead, He looks directly at me without even wincing and says it’s forgiven. No more fig leaves.

Do you hear me? NO MORE FIG LEAVES. Naked and unashamed, baby! There is nothing more freeing than that. I have to quit hiding. Jesus died so that we wouldn’t have to hide. We have to quit hiding.

Fully known. Fiercely loved.

Girl Interrupted

I may or may not be sitting in class right now. And I may or may not have refreshed my Facebook feed so many times that I’ve actually slowed time to a halt. It’s not even a freakishly beautiful day outside. I just can’t sit here any longer. And since I can’t actually rise from my seat because there are only twelve people in this class, I’ll just write a little bloggy poo.

Well, I’m in the last leg of my college education. It may be cliché to say that I just can’t believe it. But I just can’t believe it. I’m not so much taken back by the speed at which college went by. I’m surprised by the fact that I survived. I at least deserve a t-shirt for this. I get a diploma. Even better.

Oops. Just got called out for not paying attention.

Signing off.

Good Morning America!

Somehow, life has turned me into a morning person. And I LOVE it. Waking up to enjoy those blessed moments of peace before the world wakes up and begins its business. We have a sun room. And it is a yellow sun room. And when the sun creeps up over the trees, its rays pierce our yellow sun room and light it on fire! Figuratively speaking, of course.

All of my roommates have to wake up early. So the mornings are when we laugh together the most, simply enjoying each other’s company before we, too, dive in to the business of our lives. We dance in our underwear. We play tricks on each other. We make fun of each other’s morning hair.

My favorite part is making the cup of coffee that I don’t actually drink. I love the idea of sitting down in the morning with a hot cup of coffee. So I go through all the necessary means to bring this into fruition. But I only actually drink a half a cup. But it’s ok! The coffee is cheap and my heart is full.

May your morning today be full of joy.

Grace and peace,

Hope

Anyone else out there a morning star? Anyone ? Bueller?