Category Archives: Further and Deeper

Give Life

Posted on Sep 16, 2016 | Download

I will never forget the past two and a half weeks. I am overwhelmed. I am inspired. I am encouraged. I am forever changed. The call of our church this past year has been to go “further” and “deeper” in Christ as we seek to live a life worthy of the calling (Ephesians 4:1). My prayer is to encourage you through sharing how the Lord is teaching me, for His glory, even in the midst trial and pain. My two-year old nephew tragically passed away a little over a week ago. Before he passed, I spent many late nights and early mornings in the hospital by his bedside. These are moments I will never forget – moments of blessed assurance that the Lord was right there with us, providing peace in the midst of chaos; a good shepherd in the midst of a shadowy valley. In those moments I was surrounded by the peace and comfort of our Savior. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3 I love the promises found throughout God’s word. It is so easy to read over these promises as they register in your mind. Too often, it is not until we are broken down and have worn through every ounce of self-reliance that these same verses resonate in our hearts. C.S. Lewis wrote of how God uses pain. “It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” These moments with Remy were eternally rousing for me, moments of refinement and encouragement. I will forever cherish the precious moments I spent with Remy by his bedside. We sang, prayed and read scripture. One night, I read him a poem I remembered from long ago - “Only One Life, Twill Soon Be Past" by C.T. Studd. One particular stanza provided both an encouragement and challenge: Give me Father, a purpose deep,             In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;             Faithful and true what e’er the strife,             Pleasing Thee in my daily life;             Only one life, ’twill soon be past,             Only what’s done for Christ will last. “A purpose deep.” “Faithful and true.” “Pleasing Thee in my daily life.” These words resonated with me. It speaks of a singular purpose, a purpose of glorifying God, remaining faithful and true. So much life has come from Remy’s passing – physical life, spiritual life, and emotional life. I like to say, “God used Remy to give life.” The amount of glory given to God in these last few weeks speaks to an all-knowing God and His perfect plan. I say “God used Remy to give life” because what people less familiar with the story may not know is that through Remy’s death, he was able to give life through organ donation. His blood type was extremely rare, and due to his gift, two other people that had very little hope were given life. We call Remy a hero. God used him to give life! At his memorial, 5 people committed their lives to Christ. More life! His parents - my sister and brother-in-law, have held steadfast in their faith, trusting God during the darkest time in their life. Their confidence, strength and resolve to glorify God through it all is unbelievably inspiring. Since his passing, countless testimonies have been shared of how this story has impacted the lives of others. To God be the glory! These are people Remy and his parents have never met. What life! What an impact! Through the grace of God, this precious two-year old boy has been used by God, impacting more people than most can reach in a lifetime. One of the greatest gifts I have from my nephew is a precious inspiration to be used by God, as Remy was, to “give life” and return glory to Him. In Remy’s story, both his life and his ability to give life to others returned glory to God. We have been given the gift of life through Christ, so we may be used to bring Him glory. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 So, what do I mean by “give life?” To “give life” in this metaphor is to be used by God to return glory to Him. This is done through our relationship with Him and our relationships with others. The Chaplain leading Remy’s memorial prayed that we would all “remember what life is all about – Our relationship with God, and our relationship with others.” In Matthew 22, Jesus shares the two greatest commandments – “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor.” God can use everyone in different ways to “give life” and glorify Him. While not everyone can give a physical gift of life like Remy, we can be used by God to “give life” in our families, our marriages, our careers. All of this can bring God glory. We can “give life” through love; through mending broken relationships, through redefining priorities, through intentional discipleship, through pursuing missional living, through outreach, and most of all, through praying for one another and loving one another. In all things - our thoughts, our actions and our lives as a whole, we are to love the Lord and love each other. The time the Lord gives us on this earth is not certain. Intentionally living out these two commandments is how we can be used to return glory to Him. Remember the poem above – “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” Be encouraged! No thought, action or deed is too small to be used for God’s glory. Do not discount your age, position, status or capabilities. God can use any person, at any age, for His glory. Just look at Remy! “Now to Him who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20 However God uses each of us to “give life”, I am confident it will continue to lead each of us on the path of “further, deeper” as we seek to live a life worthy of the calling. “Give life”, grow in Christ and experience the joy of going further and deeper with Him.

3 Reasons to Stop Going to Church

Posted on Aug 21, 2016 | Download

Church can feel like a confusing and frustrating place in our culture. It seems like all the time we hear of a minister falling into sin or major doctrinal divides among denominations. Hypocritical, thievish, immoral, judgmental, these are some of the horrific words that are often used to describe the Church. And for many, even the “good” churches do not seem all that necessary. After all, I can download sermons and praise songs on my phone and have an entire worship service in my living room, right? It certainly beats sitting in a large room full of people I don’t like while pretending not to feel awkward until it’s over. Who needs church? This isn’t a new problem. 1 Samuel 1-2 records one of the worst church experiences most of us have ever faced. Elkanah and Hanna are a very sweet couple, and they are barren. Hanna desperately wanted children. So when she and her husband came to the temple (church) to offer the annual sacrifice, she prayed earnestly that God would give her a child. And this is where their bad church experience begins. Unhelpful Pastor Hanna prays sorrowfully and silently for a child. “Hanna was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard” (1 Sam. 1:13). Eli, the priest (pastor) saw her praying and somehow took her silent prayer for drunkenness: “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you” (vs. 14). Put yourself in this story. There you are, a God fearing woman (or the husband of a God fearing woman), bearing your soul before God, trying to trust Him, but also broken and frustrated. And the pastor judgmentally accuses you of being drunk. How would you react? Hanna’s response was humility. “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit… I have been pouring out my heart before the Lord.” Finally, Eli blesses her, (doesn’t apologize, mind you), and prays that she would have a child. Ungodly Church Elders Hanna made a vow that if God would give her a child, she would give him back to the Lord. God showed Himself faithful and blessed her with a son whose name was Samuel. She kept Samuel until he was weaned and then brought him to the temple to be raised as a minister to the Lord. Samuel would live at the temple with the priests for the rest of his life. That’s quite a vow for a mom to make. Chapter 2 tell us about some of the other priests Samuel would be influenced by—the sons of Eli. “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.” (Can you imagine if God called you worthless)? It goes on to explain why these men were worthless. First, “the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt” (verse 37). They had no fear of the Lord and did not care about the people, so when worshippers would come to offer a sacrifice, they bullied the people and disrupted worship just to eat some of the sacrificial meat. Second, they were sleeping with the female temple servants. If you were Samuel’s parents, would you leave your kid with these guys? Unmet Expectations So Hanna and Elkanah kept their vow and gave their child to the Lord. They have remained gracious and unoffended with their Pastor’s accusation of drunkenness, they have chosen to trust the Lord and leave their child in the company of these wicked church elders, and now they have gone back home where they are practically left with no children, yet again. What unmet expectations might they have experienced? Have you ever grown bitter with God thinking, “After all I’ve given to Him, why isn’t He being faithful to me?” But this was not their heart. God had, as of yet, given them no more children. Their circumstance had not changed. But they still came faithfully every year to give the annual sacrifice, and 1 Sam. 2:19 says, “His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.” It was after they came faithfully to worship that they were finally blessed with more children.   WHY? So is church really worth it? Why would this couple pour so much of themselves into being committed to the Church after such a terrible experience? There are at least three reasons we should never give up on the Church. Because God is Faithful When Hanna brought Samuel to the temple and showed him to Eli she said, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord.” Nothing in this life is truer than that when we obey God He abundantly blesses us. We remain faithful to Him, and therefore to His people, because He is faithful to us. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things,” (Romans 8:32)? Because Jesus Loves the Church The Church is the Bride of Christ. When we give up on the Church we are giving up on Christ’s wife. He paid a high price for her, and I promise He knows her flaws much better than you do. You have no right to give up on the Church until He does, and He never will. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” (Ephesians 5:25-26). Because YOU are the Church We have all seen hypocrisy, we have all been hurt by someone in the Church, and probably more often than that, we have all felt the fakeness of “playing church.” Honestly, sometimes it does feel easier to just stay home. But may I encourage you not to give up on the Church? Church isn’t just a place to be blessed and filled up, it is also a place to be a blessing and to pour yourself out. When you walk into a congregation and become frustrated that no one is kind enough to meet you and invite you into their circle of friendship, you be the Church and reach out to someone you do not know. When you see hypocrisy, you be the Church and live an example of godliness. When you see fake Christianity, you be the Church and show others what it means to be genuine. Where you see the Church not acting like the Church, you be the Church.

Evangelism through the Heart

Posted on Jul 8, 2016 | Download

Compassion for the lost – that is what fuels the fire of evangelism in my heart. There are so many people who are lost in the world. We see people all around us who don't know Christ and appear to have their lives all together; yet they are filled with emptiness and have barren souls. We often categorize "the lost" as being the homeless, drug addicts, or people living in third world countries . . . and after all isn't it the missionaries’ job to reach the lost? Not according to the Bible. Anyone who has received Jesus as his or her Savior is called to proclaim the good news of Christ. Why then do we find it so difficult to share who Jesus is and what He has done in our lives with unbelievers? So many of us have adopted the misconception that evangelism means going door to door or presenting an unbelieving friend or family member with a prepared speech. We work up the courage, blurt the whole thing out, and hope they don't ask any questions, and then think "whew, I've done my duty for the year." No wonder so many non-Christians get scared when they see us coming! The model for evangelism that Jesus showed to us was sharing through relationship. God will sometimes bring us spur of the moment opportunities to share our faith. However, more often than not those opportunities come through friends, coworkers, neighbors, or family who are lost. I think non-believers want to see that we are human too, not some super -disciple whose feet never touch the ground. We are sinners who make mistakes, but we have a Savior who has set us free from the bondage of sin and bridged the gap between God and us. When we share how Jesus has worked in our own lives and the relationship we have with Him, that can spark a lot more interest than a speech blurted out at record speed. In Luke 8:16 Jesus says, "Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lamp stand, in order that those who come in may see the light.” People should be able to see Jesus in our lives, the way we behave, what we say and do. God brings opportunities to share His Saving Grace as our lives bear witness to Christ in us. "Why are you so happy all the time" or "How can you not be worried about this" are questions that open a door to share Christ with someone. John 15:5 says, “I am the Vine you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him shall bear much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Abiding in Christ is where evangelism begins. When we bear fruit our lives are a testimony to Christ’s power to change us. Although, our witnessing may only plant a seed that we don't see grow into maturity; we can trust that God will use that seed to "woo" that person to Him. I love how Rebecca Manley Pippert, in her book, “Out of the Salt Shaker and into the World,” sums this up: "If we are to be followers of Jesus, His values must permeate our values. We need to be concerned more with how our lives reflect His love, His holiness, His obedience, than with the latest witnessing techniques. When we live as Jesus did, in His power and with His presence, seekers will be drawn to us. Evangelism will not be a dreaded task to be ticked off every Wednesday. Rather, sharing Jesus will become a true delight and evangelism will become a lifestyle".

Do You Like God?

Posted on May 11, 2016 | Download

Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. -1 John 2:15   Have you ever liked a photo on Instagram or a post on Facebook? Chances are you have. Now you might be wondering why I would bring this up, and I wouldn’t blame you. It seems out of place to talk about something other than Jesus on the church blog, right? Actually, Jesus himself always taught in parables, which are still relevant today. Our Messiah gave people bits of information that they could understand and relate to in the stories He told them – then He went a step further and explained what the stories meant and represented spiritually. Since the answer is probably yes to whether you have tapped that thumbs up icon on your well-used Smartphone, I’ll ask this question: do you “like” God?  The question is really asking do you have a close relationship with God that people envy? One that gives you an unbreakable bond to Him in everything you do? Or do you passively interact with Him? Do you just tap the thumbs-up on the Christian icons and like or favorite God every now and then? Imagine a phone with a bunch of text notifications – some are from God, some are from the world, and some are from Satan. Which ones do you answer the most? For me, the worldly ones, as well as Satan’s personal texts seem the most appealing at times. They appear as shiny and flashy ads and they seem like they will solve all your problems, but if you click on the ads they just lead you away from what you were focused on, cause viruses, and lie to you. Just like notifications on our phones, we can choose which messages to listen to in our lives. Do we listen to the voice of hope and peace and love? Or do we let whispers of ambition and pride and jealousy into our hearts and minds? We choose which messages to receive and in turn, it is our responsibility to answer them. What if the reason we don’t get more spiritual “texts” from God is that we don’t text Him back? If we don’t actively seek God’s word and character, we are left to piece together an incomplete picture of God and His plan for our world and for us. What if you just “like” what He posts and favorite all His tweets, but you don’t ever connect to Him personally? For us as Christians, if we don’t have a personal relationship with God through prayer and striving to follow his ways, we are just His metaphorical Facebook friends. We wrongly use the word “friends” and only know the easy-to-digest outer things about God because we refuse to engage on a deeper level. We as believers tend to just tap that thumbs up icon all day instead of actually connecting to our Savior and having a real relationship with Him. As followers of Christ we need to get off our spiritual cell phones and see that God is right here in the room from us – all we have to do is take a few steps off the couch and he will be waiting with arms open wide, ready to receive us.

Lessons from an Oven for My Heart

Posted on Apr 27, 2016 | Download

I was inside the oven. Just like Hansel and Gretel, except that I'd put myself there rather than being shoved inside by a witch. There I was, being overwhelmed by fumes from the chemicals of the oven cleaner I'd sprayed on because my oven is ancient and has no self-cleaning cycle. It was nasty. I tend to procrastinate when it comes to oven cleaning, which makes the task I avoid because it's gross even more disgusting by the time I get around to spraying it, waiting, and then wiping out the toxic greasy mess. Even though it’s unpleasant, it's something I do before Passover every year. God commanded the leaven to be removed from homes in ancient days, and declared it to be a command forever. While I'm not Jewish, I observe God's feasts. I’ve decided to follow the God of Israel and for our family, that includes (as it did for the mixed multitude that left Egypt and observed that very first season of bread with no leaven) the instructions for His Holy Days. We eat the frozen pizzas and cookies and use up the baking mixes in the days leading up to Passover. I lament the almost-full jar of yeast that gets thrown away because I should've planned better...again. Still, we get rid of it - because God told us to. Most scholars agree that in the Bible leaven is usually used as a metaphor for sin. The examples of leaven in Scripture paint a picture for us of staying away from behaviors that are contrary to God's word and God's will for our lives. We go through Passover avoiding all the yummy bread, instead eating the flat, yeast-less variety to remind us of the sin that we are also commanded to avoid. I wasn't thinking about this while I was cleaning out the oven, though. All my efforts were focused on the task at hand. Until something pressed so deeply into my heart and thoughts I couldn't escape it. Why don't I approach the "leaven" in my own life as diligently as I do the oven cleaning? Why am I so determined to rid that oven of every crumb, every spill, every bit of burnt-on cheese, and every trace of cleaner yet when it comes to my own life, I have a very different approach? I am willing to stretch and strain and end up with greasy black marks on my arms and brown chemical sludge on the front of my shirt to prepare my home for Passover. Why am I not willing to do the work, to endure the effort it takes, to dig deeper and reach farther when it comes to my own mess? I would rather do a bit of light duty cleaning on the outside. But real cleaning that requires elbow grease? No, thank you. We all come to a season where God says, "It's time. Time to get the leaven out. Time to clean house." We have to be willing to take an honest look at our messes and do the work to rid ourselves of the sin in our hearts. We have to want the leaven to be gone. We have to determine that whatever it takes, it's time to rid ourselves of what's built up, stuck on, and burnt on. If we're serious about walking with God, we have to be serious about reaching into the corners, however dirty they've become, and using heavy-duty cleaners until the job is done and all that's left is what God made us to be. It's not pleasant; it's messy and difficult but it's what we need to do. May this season of Unleavened Bread prompt us to clean out more than the leaven in our pantries and may we work as hard to be like our Messiah as we do to ready our homes for His feast.   Get rid of the old hametz (leaven), so you may be a new batch, just as you are unleavened—for Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.   1 Corinthians 5:7

Letting God Heal Deeper

Posted on Apr 13, 2016 | Download

The last year has been a time of immense changes. My husband and I returned from a year living abroad, hoping to find jobs somewhere on the East Coast where I could use my newly acquired degree. After searching and applying and interviewing for months, I got a temp job instead. I was frustrated and full of despair – I constantly expressed fears to my family that I would end up getting “stuck in Texas.” The temp job became a permanent job and my husband and I moved into our own apartment in town. I resigned myself to the fact that we would probably be “stuck” for about a year, but then we could get out as fast as possible.   But God has changed my heart. My husband and I joined an amazing Life Group and found a community that encourages us “to live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received” (Ephesians 4:1). We began to pursue the Lord as a couple, praying and reading His Word together. God has lovingly convicted me and encouraged me in different seasons, but throughout it all, I can see that Tyler, Texas was His plan for us. God placed us in the exact right place at the exact right time to bring the most glory to Him. And now I have the opportunity to be a part of the message of hope that Soma has the privilege of delivering.   Throughout this year, Pastor Tony has reminded us of the words he received from the Lord for Soma for 2016: “Further and Deeper.” These words have served as an encouragement and rallying cry for me in the last few months. Last weekend, I attended a conference in Dallas that was focused on being rooted in the Gospel. I was excited to learn more about how to engage with the Bible, but didn’t really know what God wanted to do with me there. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I prayed that God would take me further and deeper in new ways.   In the first session, when the speaker gave a word about making Jesus the very center and core of one’s life, the Lord convicted me; further and deeper is not only about spending more time with and learning more about God and the Bible. Going further and deeper is about letting God have access to the deepest parts of you. The Holy Spirit brought to my mind a sin from my past for which I refused to accept God’s forgiveness. He asked me, “How can I be the center of your life when you are holding onto that secret sin so tightly?” I felt compelled to confess it out loud and let God into that part of my life. A tremendous weight was lifted off me and I felt real freedom from a heaviness that had plagued me for several years. The next day, the Holy Spirit dug deep again and reminded me of someone whom I had refused to forgive. I always felt justified in hating the person because they had done incomprehensible harm to someone I love. God broke the spirit of hatred in me and showed me that I cannot go deeper if I refuse to forgive. I am now working through this hurt with the Lord and hope that by His grace I will be able to forgive fully. As it says in Ephesians 4:31-32, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.”   God has responded to my prayer that He would draw me into a closer relationship with Him. He has begun to excavate the sensitive space inside my heart and is healing it with His love. My prayer for you is that wherever you are, you would go deeper and that your heart would be open to the amazing work of our God who wants to see His people set free.