Change is hard. Good change, bad change, it makes little difference, it's always a bit of an adjustment. It used to get on my nerves when people around me had a hard time with change. "Why don't they get on board already?" But I understand it better now after living through a traumatic change. It seems to be a natural part of the process of moving forward; you have to grieve the past.
I believe that a key to breakthrough when the pain of change hurts a bit to much, is gratitude. I have learned that I must stop the treadmill in my mind of all I will miss, or what I have lost, and the only dependable cure I have found is to start giving thanks. It messes with the wiring of habitual thought and it actually instills hope!
I have this quote written in my calendar, "Thanksgiving positions you to recognize the abundance that is available to you. It builds faith that can recognize the greater reality." If you re like me, you want to recognize the abundance available you.
Don't you love that? I think all of us want to be in that position. To recognize abundance, to see and hope for a greater reality than what we see, we are called to be people of faith, after all!
If you are going through transition or any kind of change, let me encourage you; gratitude is the key that will let you through the next door. Use that key!
Write down your top 3 things to be thankful for. Every day. Make it a habit that you'll never regret. As I sign off my old Connie Friend Facebook account for the last time, these are things I'm grateful for.
1. Reconnection with old friends has been a joy and delight to my spirit.
2. The instant availability to encouragement, scriptures, and stories from friends lives has given me courage too many times to count.
3. The honor of sharing my life with so many of you on a daily basis is something I am truly grateful for. You have been a blessing to me.
Recognize the abundance available to you right this minute by writing down your gratitude list.
One month ago, on the first day of July, 2016, my life blew apart. One moment I was the pastor of a beautiful group of people; people who I had the pleasure of pouring my life into, people who trusted me, people who turned into teams that had become family, family that I thought I would be with until I became too old to serve. One moment I was the chief cheer leader, pointing the way and the next moment, charges had been leveled against my husband and at once, everything shattered.
Our church had endured so much already. We had gone through financial hell since the 2008 recession, then suffered an embezzlement by a trusted accountant, and now this? This was just too much.
The leader of our organization looked at me and said, "This has nothing to do with you, but you are not allowed to go on campus, you cannot talk to anyone. Until an investigation has been completed, you must stay away."
It was a Friday. The end of the business day, the end of my world.
All I could think about were my plans for a patriotic celebration on Sunday. How strange, the things your mind attaches itself to in times of sudden trauma. How silly. How insignificant. Plans and people had to be abandoned. "No contact".
I was left with so many questions. How would the people respond? What would they think of my abandonment? Will the accuser be given a voice, but not the accused? Did my leadership even count for anything? Has it all been a waste? Why? Why do I have to be relegated to collateral damage?
By the time we stepped out of the meeting and into the parking lot, cracks in my facade had appeared, and tears were flowing. All I wanted was to protect our beloved friends from more pain. "We resign!", we said, "Let us simply slip away and spare them the pain."
But it was not to be.
The past 45 days have been a blur. Admittedly, the thoughts come along with the sobs, in fits and spurts. As messy as the process may be, I feel urged to at least try to record my journey.
I learned many years ago a lesson taken from the journey of Lewis and Clark. Every supply they brought with them on their trek across the country was carefully and painstakingly recorded and protected. They took an inordinate amount of ink. INK! Why bother? What was the point?
It comes down to one monumental mantra, "It's not enough to take the journey; you must be willing to mark the trail!"
I know people are coming up behind me. Through good times and bad, am I willing to mark the trail? This is my attempt. It may be ugly, it may be strewn with broken promises, shattered dreams, blood and guts, but I pray God will use my journey to help someone else. After all, I'm not the first to experience the pain of betrayal or abandonment or just plain misunderstanding, and unfortunately, I won't be the last. The truth is, we all go through difficult, unexpected hardships in life.
Matthew 5:45 says it in a rather in-your-face style, “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that." (MSG)
A situation such as mine will test your love, that's for sure. Those dear ones I always thought would be by my side, aren't. Some I hardly even knew have proven themselves to be faithful friends. To "respond with the energies of prayer" is something I am working on.
My lessons so far?
*Be slow to judge - desperate people do desperate things.
*Guard your heart - everything in life flows from that place.
*When chaos abounds - do what you know you heard from God last.
The compass may be shattered, but God remains constant. As I shake the broken glass from the instrument in my hand, I see that He is still faithfully pointing the way. I welcome you to follow my journey.
"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a
voice behind you, saying, "This is the way: walk in it." Isaiah 30:21 (NIV)
If you have been married to someone for any length of time, you are bound to discover little habits and quirks that drive you crazy. My husband has this thing with trees in our yard. He prunes them. All the time. In every season. He trims back leaves, chops off entire branches and cuts off the tops. Just when I start to enjoy the flourishing growth, he whacks away at it. He says things like, "It will produce bigger fruit! It will grow taller. Trust me!"
But I don't want to trust him! "Let 'em be!", I say.
In time, I forget about the clippings on the ground, and go on with life. Until a day like today comes. Today was a day that I went out to check on our cherry trees. When I looked up I was treated to a pleasant surprise. Bright red, shiny, plump cherries hung in huge clusters from the branches. I couldn't even wait to get a bucket. I just enjoyed eating them right off the tree.
John 15 tells a parable of Jesus, when He said, "And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more." I think there are periods in life when we feel really good about what we are producing through our lives. Everything is clicking, our personal time with Father is meaningful, our relationships are flourishing, then all of a sudden, WHACK! And we cry out in astonishment, "But God, I am doing everything right! But God, don't you love me? But God, I deserve more, not less! What is happening?!"
I like to trust in the mystery of God when He gives me unexpected, pleasant blessings. But when I get cut, I bleed, just like you! But to trust God in the mystery of unexpected pain, that is another story. Can I set my eyes further than my pain, and see that He will produce more through my life as a result? I am trying.
Maybe today you are asking "why", through tears, through injustice, through devastation. I believe that the Father of your heart, the Gardener of your life, is creating something beautiful. He is tenderly caring for your limbs, seeing glorious fruit to come. It will come. He has not abandoned you. He is with you. Let your tears become the water that will nourish the soil of your life. Let the strength He has already placed within you sustain you as you stay planted. Lean on Him as He props you up with His caring hands.
Through the pain, trust in the promise of fruit to come. He loves you so much, too much to leave you mediocre. He has placed greatness within you, in the very seeds of your DNA and when He prunes you, He is calling the greatness forth. So rise, my friend. When He subtracts, it brings multiplication. God math. Crazy God math.
Know that the pain won't last forever, but the promise will.
So I will trust Him. I still may not trust my husband with garden shears in his hands, but I trust God. He is a good Gardener. His promises are worth the pain. I have to believe that. Maybe you should too.
What is your posture, your attitude of expectation when you pray?
I admit, most of the time when I am asking God to set something in motion in my life, or I am asking for dreams and plans to come to fruition, I set my expectation somewhere in the future, as though it takes God time to put His answer together. But the truth is, His ability to answer is not dependent upon my ability to ask..
Isaiah 65:24 tells us something unbelievable. It says,
“It shall come to pass
That before they call, I will answer;
And while they are still speaking, I will hear. (NKJV)
Recently my husband Stan and I were in Paris with our daughter Aly. We had traveled from another region of France by train and when we arrived we wanted to get our bearings, so while my husband rested in the hotel, Aly and I decided to walk all the way from Notre Dame along the Seine River to the Eiffel Tower.
It was so beautiful we didn't mind the miles. The details on every building, the beauty of the river and the Spring color blooming, we were in PARIS and it felt as though we could walk forever. As we arrived at the Eiffel, our senses were abruptly bombarded by the crushing sea of people. The green lawn so familiar to us in photos was completely hidden beneath the crowds. Illegal vendors pushing selfie sticks and trinkets, food carts, tourists, bicycle taxis, lots of yelling and noisy traffic made us want to find a quiet spot from which to gaze upward at the magnificent structure we had dreamed of seeing.
The only place the people weren't was a curb separating the sidewalk from the street. We found our spot. We were happily watching people stroll by, taking the mandatory selfies and just chatting about the world and our place in it.
All of a sudden I began feeling ill at ease. Remembering the recent bombings here and seeing the huge crowds before us, I couldn't understand what I was feeling. Was it fear? Was it all in my head? Was it a warning from God? Just as I was ready to get up and leave the area, I felt a shift in the weight in my pocket. My brand new iPhone, filled with thousands of photos from our trek through Europe had been plugged into an extra battery pack in my pocket, out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash. As I looked down, I saw the cord laying out of my pocket on the ground. "My phone is gone!"
Oh the terrible wave of shock and regret and panic that came over me. In this sea of people, how could I ever find it? Someone had snuck behind us and silently slipped it from my pocket, and I sat there like a stereotypical, clueless tourist and let them!
Aly ran one way, I ran the other, our eyes frantically searching the crowds for signs of WHO. We saw the armed military guards present, but surely their goal is to catch terrorists, not pick pockets. "It's just a phone", I kept saying.
Aly and I both turned and met in the middle, as we did, we instinctively grabbed hands and prayed a desperate, impossible prayer. We prayed that the person would somehow return it and as tongues flew from our lips, we turned back to the spot where we had been sitting. Just then we saw the selfie stick guys cluster and run across the street. Aly had been living in Rome and she knew that when the vendors run it means police are near. So she said, "Let's find a cop!". I thought it was ridiculous, no one would care.
A man wearing cargo pants, looking as though he were middle eastern, with broken English he looked at Aly and said, "I have your phone". Wait. What? Who was this man? How did he have the phone? He slid it from his pocket and showed it to us and just as quickly put it back in his pocket. "You can have it back if you come with me," he said.
"Not on your life, buddy", is what we were thinking. How could we know it was even mine? What did he want? What is going on? We noticed a band on his arm that said POLICE. Was it real?
Just then two other men approached, guiding another man with his hands behind his back. They held him up against the food kiosk until his face was smashed against it. He was mouthing the word, "sorry". Another man in full police garb complete with bulletproof vest rode up on a bicycle. At this point we began comprehending what was happening. Again, the man said, "If you come sign a statement you will get your phone back".
We told the man that we didn't know how to get there, we barely even knew where we were. He told us that they would send a car. A few short moments later, we began hearing that siren noise we have all seen in the movies. "Ner-ner, Ner-ner, Ner-ner!"
The crowds parted as the police car pulled right up on the curb. They threw us in the back seat and away we went. We sped through the city, running red lights, zig zagging through traffic at a very high rate of speed. It was spectacular!!!
The policemen didn't speak English and we didn't speak French, but as we pulled into the gated facility, we understood they wanted us to follow them through the doors, through the metal detector and into the station. All heads turned to look at the Americans. They seemed super happy about what had happened and were congratulating each other.
We took a spot on the hard wooden bench. To our right was a small glass room. The man who earlier had been smashed against the food kiosk was inside the glass, staring at us, silently gesturing prayer hands, begging "sorry".
After an agonizing hour or so the original undercover policeman told us that we needed to wait until 9:00 pm for an interpreter to come so that we could make a statement. They still had my phone so we had no choice but to wait. Aly asked him how they knew the phone was even ours, in that sea of humanity, how did they know? He said, "I was watching you."
It took us awhile to wrap our minds around that. Why us? There were thousands and thousands of people there. Why watch us, sitting on the curb, taking selfies, eating our little popcorn?
As the hours passed we struggled to put the pieces together.
Finally the interpreter came and we were ushered into an office to give our statement. As the interpreter talked with the policemen, we didn't know what they were saying then the interpreter turned to look at us and said, "This is the first one". Huh?
"This is the only phone they have ever recovered." The undercover policeman had watched him take it and slide it under his shirt, and they got him! That was a big deal to them.
Through all of the chaos, the hand of God was impossible to ignore. Before we asked, God heard. As we spoke the words, as we communicated in tongues, all of heaven went into action. Only God could've orchestrated all of that simply to demonstrate that He immediately answers our prayers.
I was reminded of the story in the book of Daniel, when the angel came in response to Daniel's prayer he said, "‘Relax, Daniel,’ he continued, ‘don’t be afraid. From the moment you decided to humble yourself to receive understanding, your prayer was heard, and I set out to come to you. But I was waylaid by the angel-prince of the kingdom of Persia and was delayed for a good three weeks." Daniel 10:12 (Message)
In the past, I have thought God was slow. Slow to hear, slow to act, slow to fulfill promises, and that my prayer life was a strategic waiting game. This experience in Paris has challenged those notions. I realize now that God is quick. He hears before I ask, He answers before I listen. If the response seems to be delayed, it is not His fault. In fact, it is usually my own fault or it is a warfare dilemma such as Daniel experienced. I can trust God to answer. All the time. Every time. He is not far away, He is near.
"God is our refuge and strength [mighty and impenetrable], A very present and well-proved help in trouble." Psalm 46:1 (Amp)
At the end of the night, I got my phone back unharmed and when I left the station, I left my old way of thinking behind. I will never think of God as slow again. His response is faster than a speeding police vehicle through the streets of Paris. His response is quicker than the thoughts I form in my head before the prayer is said out loud. He is faithful!
In time of trouble, crisis, or emergency you can count on His rapid response. What do you need to release into HIs hands today?
Church goers around the world but especially in the West, have become well trained worshippers. We have every tool at our disposal to make entering into worship easy. From Powerpoint to video productions with words printed larger than life on the screen before us, we rely on so many electronic cues as we are led to the throne of God.
It's so easy. Too easy at times. We can choose to stand there and let others worship for us. We become so accustomed to the ease of it that we forget what we are even doing. We turn our attention to things such as preferences, styles, familiarity, and we forget why we came in the first place!
We came to worship! To worship Jesus! The one who took our place of punishment, took on our shame, the Lamb that was slain, who now stands as the Lion. The one worthy of all that we have to give! We came to bring our praise as an offering before the throne, as we gather with untold numbers to bow before Him and offer whatever we have to give. David knew the truth about the heart of God even in the time of the old covenant, even when no one else was worshipping God the way David was, he somehow knew. "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings." Psalm 51:16 (NIV)
Some feel as though they deserve applause for rolling out of bed, donning smile-less faces, walking into church only to go through the motions of worship. Their bodies may be sacrificing to stand and offer praise, but their hearts are far from worshipping.
Hosea 6 says,
3 Oh, that we might know the Lord!
Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
or the coming of rains in early spring.”
6 I want you to show love,[b]
not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me[c]
more than I want burnt offerings.
But that's not even the point of this blog! The point is, after we get our hearts right, after we position ourselves to cooperate with the Kingdom, after we are truly ready to hear from the Father's heart in worship, when the words are stripped away. How do we worship when its just the instruments and us? No words on the screen to fall back on, no one prompting us with the right words to say. How do we worship when there are literally no words?
There are seasons we all go through as human beings when we might feel as though we are hidden or invisible. We feel alone "in the valley of the shadow of death". Our emotions are raw and there are no prescribed words on any screen that can match the feeling within us. It is impossible to describe the depth of despair and loneliness at times. Song lyrics fall flat and make the distance between our hearts and God feel further still! What then?
What are some practical tools you can use, to enter deeper into worship when there are no words?
#1. Close your eyes and shut the world out.
The truth is, when Jesus sacrificed His life and died, He had YOU in mind. So get alone with Him. Stand before Jesus, in whatever state you are. Lonely, angry, lost, broken, whatever. Choose to stand before Him and be seen. He acknowledges your pain. He is acquainted with the way you feel. Paul writes in such plain language,
"So then, we must cling in faith to all we know to be true. For we have a magnificent King-Priest, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who rose into the heavenly realm for us, and now sympathizes with us in our frailty. He understands humanity, for as a Man, our magnificent King-Priest was tempted in every way just as we are, and conquered sin." Hebrews 4:14-15 (Passion)
#2 Position yourself before the throne.
"So now we come freely and boldly to where love is enthroned, to receive mercy's kiss and discover grace we urgently need to strengthen us in our time of weakness." Hebrews 4:16 (Passion)
Picture him in your imagination. God gave you your imagination. Use it!
There He is! God, seated on high. Jesus is at His right hand. On a beautiful throne, made of precious gold and whatever you imagine, What does it look like? There are colors we've never seen before on earth.
He is surrounded by thousands upon thousands of angels worshipping before the throne. What are they saying? "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord, God Almighty! Who was and is and is to come!" Add your own words of adoration!
What does is sound like? What does it feel like? What is the melody you hear in His presence? Begin to sing it out. Choose to stay there, in that realm. Put yourself in the picture because the word of God says that you have every right to be there.
Ephesians 2:6 (NIV) "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,"
#3 Listen. He will speak.
If you have a question, ask! He will respond to you in this most holy, sacred space.
"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.' Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)
Now's your chance. Maybe you ask, "How do you see me?" or "Am I doing a good job?" or "Show me how you love me." Be ready for Him to answer.
Respond to what you see, hear, and feel. Jesus is real and He's right here with you. So do whatever you feel appropriate to you! Get on your knees, cry, shout, sing, run, dance, laugh out loud. This is your moment to communicate heart to heart with your friend and King Jesus! Don't let it pass by unmarked! Even your choice to be silent can be a valid response.
"Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth." Job 40:3-4 (NIV)
It is not healthy to simply go through the motions of life on auto pilot forever. Worshipping God is healthy for so many reasons, but one big reason is that it puts you in touch with the reality of how you are feeling and that swings the door open for healing! Healing cannot come to the places where we deny any need of i!
I encourage you to try these four steps the next time you enter into worship. I would love to hear what you experience. He wants to encounter you. Do what it takes to make it happen. I hope this helps you, and I pray you enter into a new freedom in your worship expression to Jesus. I know He will meet you there.
Across the entire earth, this past Sunday, Easter was celebrated as one of the largest events on the Christian calendar. We celebrate what glorious victory our King has won for us!
There are lots people who only darken the church doorway on occasions such as this. They go to Easter services out of obligation to a loved one, out of tradition, or for the sake of the kids. Our culture has made Easter a big deal, (marketing in stores, on t.v., etc.), so church is at the forefront of people's minds more during Easter and Christmas than at any other time.
In many churches, it is a day when the salvation message is boldly proclaimed, and preachers and pastors go for broke. They attempt to reach people who are desperate for change and longing for relief from the burdens they have carried for too long. Countless numbers of people took the giant leap of faith to receive Jesus as their Savior last weekend. (Yay God!)
I watched it happen in my church. I saw many tears. I recognized the familiar elation and joy experienced by so many at the altars that day. Salvation is a miracle when stubborn human beings recognize their need for a Savior. It's a sign in itself, when people feel the presence of God for the first time. His unconditional love washing over them is almost too much to take. When shame and fear of judgment are cast aside and nothing is left but peace, it's crazy! It's a wonder!
For the last couple of days, I have been replaying our Sunday altar scene in my head, and wondering what about Monday? What about Tuesday? What happens to all those people after they say "Yes"? What about next week? I mean, salvation is miraculous, but it's not instant sunshine and roses. That one time commitment to Jesus doesn't suddenly make life easy. All the pieces don't fall in place immediately for most of us. There is a lengthy process to it. The habits and choices that created the mess in our life, or caused us to carry heavy burdens don't disappear in an instant. It took a long time to get in that position, and it will take some time to untangle the unhealthy knots we have gotten into.
If expectations of the newly saved are out of whack, perhaps it is because of the way the gospel message is presented in some churches. I don't think pastors intentionally make promises they can't deliver, but in their zeal to see transformation in people's lives, maybe they do present the precious gift of eternal life as a magic pill that will solve all their issues. "With 3 easy monthly payments of $19.99 you will have smooth sailing from here to eternity!" We long for people to say "Yes" to Jesus, and we try to remove the obstacles or roadblocks that are in the way.
A one time commitment to Christ isn't all their is! As my husband so eloquently teaches, salvation is two fold. Step one is conversion; the vertical relationship with Jesus begins when we commit our lives to Him. Then step two, is sanctification, this is working our salvation out daily, which of course, is the horizontal relationship we commit to within a body of believers. We need both steps to complete the salvation process.
But many preachers only give the first part! So people "get saved", then we wait a whole year to see them again, they have no foundation, no Christian friends, no accountability, and they pick up the same habits and patterns that they just laid down at the altar again!
And I just want to yell, "But wait, there's MORE!" There are things that happen in church life that don't happen any other place! The rough edges get smoothed off. Faith is stretched. Capacity is grown. Friends become family. Hope is restored. And growth is unlimited.
2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (NASB)
Our Christian life is supposed to go from glory to glory until eventually, we look, act, respond and love like Jesus himself! Somehow people have been made to think that the one time cleansing of the conversion experience is all there is. But wait, there's more!
You might have taken a shower this morning but that one shower won't be the last one you ever need. To stay healthy and in good condition, and to not offend others around us, bathing is something we must do frequently. In the same way, our commitment to Jesus at the time of conversion made us clean, but we have to come back to Him frequently, and connect with others on the same journey to work out our relationship with God in community.
Perhaps Philippians 2:12 explains it best, "So then, my dear ones, just as you have always obeyed [my instructions with enthusiasm], not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation [that is, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, actively pursue spiritual maturity] with awe-inspired fear and trembling [using serious caution and critical self-evaluation to avoid anything that might offend God or discredit the name of Christ]." (Amp.)
Conversion is the start of a beautiful journey of freedom. But wait, there's more! We have the opportunity to grow in wisdom, so we will make better decisions. We get to grow in love, and perfect love casts out fear, which means we can become brave! We get to experience true, deep and lasting peace. The kind of peace that the world is longing for.
If you have a friend who has told you they "got saved" but they are continually struggling with life, encourage them about the 2 step process. They need the strength and security that intentional growing provides. If you go to C5, get them to come to Connect U with you. Maybe this describes what you have been wrestling with understanding. If so, get yourself connected to a healthy church full of people you can relate to, get committed and see how your life with expand in ways you didn't even know possible.
Don't allow discouragement or doubt to creep in and rob you of what God has initiated in your life. Your conversion was a great start, but it's not all there is. But wait, there's more! Abundant life is actually available.
So the next time you feel like you are up against a wall, don't give up. Don't settle for good enough. Jesus paid for you to have freedom, deliverance, health, stability, hope, joy, love, and peace. But wait, there's more!
God rarely answers our prayers the way we expect or in our timing, but He always answers in His perfect way and in His impeccable timing.
In today's blog, I am sharing my piece of the story of the 2016 C5 Easter.
In the months building up to Easter, we have been distracted. Distracted by good things like revamping every ministry in the church, growing people, and experiencing many open doors for new ministry in our city. But we have also been distracted by money problems, delays in breakthrough and waiting for completion of a financial restructure.
As a leader, I know better than to blame distractions for my lack of planning, so let me just say, Easter came early and I wasn't ready, I wasn't free to spend a bunch of money on advertising. I wasn't able to buy little gifts for our guests. I wasn't creatively inspired. (It's funny how inspiration usually carries a price tag) - but again, those are not excuses, but they are reasons. Frustratingly stupid reasons.
One huge benefit to being where we are, is that it forces us to think differently. We began to think not about what we don't have, instead, we ask, "What is in our hand?" And through the refining process, we finally are discovering who we are as a church, where our strengths lie, and working into them instead of throwing money at our weaknesses. We have great people. We have revival fire. We have the Holy Spirit. We know how to worship and bring heaven into any situation. We have His Word. We have great BIG faith.
God met us right where we were. He does that, doesn't He? He meets our natural with His super, and that's how we see miracles happen. Supernatural breakthrough happens when we choose to stand in faith and trust God in our deficiency.
Good Friday was an especially sweet service. Good Friday is meant to be a somber, sobering reminder of all that Christ suffered as He became sin for us. The atmosphere in our church was pure sweetness instead of a forced sadness. It was sincere and authentic thanksgiving to God for sending HIs Son. Gratefulness to Jesus for His ultimate sacrifice.
On Saturday, we didn't know if people would even come to our Eggstravaganza event because we didn't do much advertising. But they came. Oh how they came! By the hundreds, they streamed in. The crowds weren't the miraculous part though. It was our volunteers. Such genuine compassion for the lost, such love for our community. It was a beautiful scene being played out across all of Seeliger Field. All while the Dream Center was quietly and discreetly providing food, clothing, and love to those who needed it most.
On Easter morning, we put our proverbial stake in the ground. We were given a permit to hold a Community Sunrise Service on the Nevada State Capital Grounds this year. Because we believe that God wants to impact our city and have every person come into relationship with Him, we were determined to meet there, to sow our seed into that ground, even if the staff were the only ones to come.
As we began gathering, a beautiful mule deer ran right through our gathering place! It was as if all of nature had been waiting for us to gather there, and the welcome mat had been rolled out for us.
And to our surprise, people came! People from our city we had never met before, people on vacation, our own faithful C5 God-seekers all gathered. We sang. We worshipped Jesus in front of the State Supreme Court, the Capitol building, in the open air. It was incredible. As Pastor began to close in prayer, the chimes of the bells at the Laxalt building began to ring, as if echoing our plea to make Jesus famous in our city.
As we all departed to head to the church, the sky suddenly opened and drizzled tiny drops of rain. I think God was simply watering the seeds that we had sown. Then as quickly as it came, it left. The sky cleared up again, the sun came out and the rest of the day was picture perfect.
Inside C5 Easter morning, there was an atmosphere of expectation and joy as we gathered for early morning prayer. We were simply there to celebrate Jesus. No pleading, no longing, just thanks.
As we began our worship service, people kept streaming in. Through the entire worship set, as I sang on stage, I watched. I watched people be welcomed. I watched people receive prayer. I watched men get more chairs. I watched brand new people that had never been to C5 before come forward to receive communion. I watched people as they cried and bowed there knees in gratitude. I watched men get more chairs still. By the end of the service, I watched so many accept Jesus for the first time. Easter 2016 went so far beyond my expectations.
This may have been the first time (for me) that Easter wasn't about the production. It wasn't about the advertising. It wasn't about the crowds. It wasn't about a new stage design. It wasn't about giving away anything. It was all about JESUS.
And since it was all about Jesus, His glory was all the production we needed. He spread the word and drew people to His house. He brought the crowds. He gave the gifts! He gave Himself. What more could we ever ask for?
So 2016 Easter at C5 will always be the perfectly imperfect celebration of Jesus in my opinion.
This morning when Carson City woke up to falling snow, I felt as though God was winking at me, saying, "See? You believed for a Miracle March, you trusted me with what you had, and I am faithful." Isn't He funny?
I'd love to hear how God revealed Himself to you this Easter.
I just hung up the phone with a friend of mine. She has been praying for her neighbor who is a police officer for some time. She has been looking for ways to share Jesus with him. She has brought him cookies. She has brought his trash can up from the street on garbage pick up days. She has said the occasional hello. But today, he came to her house and knocked on the door. He had one question.
"Will you pray for me?" He was asking for it. She was shocked and thrilled at the same time!
My friend, we are witnesses to the end of an era. The atmosphere has shifted. The winds of revival are blowing into our city. Will you be ready?
About 10 days ago, the Lord began speaking to me about sharing our faith here in my city, but I have a feeling that it's beginning to happen in cities all across America. I felt the Lord say that it would not be hard anymore. I heard Him say that people are going to begin ASKING FOR IT!
1 Peter 3:15 tells us, "Worship Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you about the hope you have. But be gentle and respect him." (WE)
People are beginning to ask! When they ask you, will you be ready with an answer?
For years, it has seemed that sharing your faith with people, witnessing, and seeing loved ones come to Christ has been very difficult. When I was a student in high school attending youth group, door to door evangelism was a big deal. We had to memorize questions and lots of scripture, and prove the reality of heaven and hell and it was like a high pressure pitch of the gospel. The process was intimidating and frightening. I'm sure the tactic worked for some, but for others, the confrontational style was enough to scare them off sharing their faith forever.
I'm so glad times have changed. Witnessing became more about friendship than salesmanship. But this tactic had its' flaws too. Many became lazy and complacent and made excuses for not sharing their faith at all.
The truth is, people living without Jesus are going to end up spending eternity in hell. That very fact should cause us to use any means necessary to win them to Christ.
But I'm telling you, the season has changed. Just this week alone, on Monday, a woman who does not attend our church came bursting through the doors of the Activity Center. When our staff asked who she was looking for, her only response was, "Jesus!" She was asking for it!
Wednesday morning, as we were working in the office, another person came, crying buckets of tears, just needing prayer. She was asking for it.
At our C5 Student Ministries this week, through a simple prayer, God's presence filled the room and one young lady "felt God" for the first time. She followed me into the hall to ask questions. Then she and 4 other students gave their lives to Christ that night. They were asking for it.
We need to be aware of the times and the seasons. If people are asking, we had better be ready with an answer. A sincere, authentic, heartfelt answer. An answer that shows love. An answer that inspires hope. An answer that displays JESUS.
Be mindful of people asking questions and recognize the opportunity that God is handing you. Let's not waste the momentum or be ignorant of the changing tide. God is drawing people to Himself. People know they need something. You know they need Someone. So, get your answers ready, because you never know when it will happen. Maybe at work, maybe at the mailbox, perhaps in the grocery store. It will happen.
Sometime soon, someone is going to be asking for it.
"Faith empowers us to see that the universe was created and beautifully coordinated by the power God's words! He spoke and the invisible realm gave birth to all that is seen." Hebrews 11:3 (Passion)
Did you really read that? He spoke and the invisible realm gave birth to all that is seen. He created the world with His words! Words create, words destroy. Words release power and destiny but they can also release damage and destruction.
We all know Proverbs 18:21 by heart, when it tells us, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue," (NKJV) Yada, yada, yada, what does that really mean anyway? We have a hard time grasping things that are not tangible, things we cannot see, smell, taste, touch, and hear. But so much about God stretches beyond our senses. It spills into the realm of faith.
As Christians, we believe that every word in scripture is true. God's word is infallible. It is inerrant and incomprehensible. That's where faith comes in. Faith has the ability to carry us beyond logic, past our human reasoning, into realms of the unknown.
I remember one of the most popular television shows when I was growing up was Bewitched. It was so popular it ran for 8 seasons and even had a movie remake in 2005. With one twitch of her nose, Samantha, the main character could unleash havoc or cause things to disappear and appear. People have always been enamored with magic, they so badly want to see and understand things in the unseen realm. Magic has always been a tool the enemy uses to counterfeit the reality of God's unseen world.
When God wants to change things all He has to do is speak, and it's the same for us. We are made in the very image of God. Ephesians 2:6 reminds us, "For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus." (NLT) We are seated with Christ in heavenly places. The words we speak have come with authority. Our words release very real change in atmospheres. Our words usher the heavenly realm into our earthly atmosphere. Words release power.
There have been many times when things that are visible have demonstrated what is happening in the invisible. Jesus was Himself the visible image, (the perfect representation) of the Invisible God. (Colossians 1:15) At the time of the flood, when God was finished with earth's punishment and God declared the promise, a rainbow marked the manifestation of the promise. When Jesus died on the cross, He spoke the words, "It is finished." At that moment, the ground shook, rocks were sent tumbling, thunder crashed and lighting cracked the sky. In the temple, the veil of separation between God and man, heaven and earth, was literally torn in two. It happened the moment Jesus gave the cue with His words.
Could it be that all the angels are on standby because we refuse to give the cue? Is it possible that our lack of declaring His promises, our lack of prophetic proclamations, our lack of literal verbal prayer and victorious praise is literally holding back heaven?
Lately I've started shifting the way I think about what comes out of my mouth. Ive been thinking about the aspect of release. The dictionary defines release this way, "allow or enable to escape from confinement; set free." When we set our words free from the confinement of our mind, something invisible happens. Something powerful gets released.
When we pray, when we worship, we are releasing the sound of heaven into the earth. It is the sound that all the angels have been waiting for. Alignment. Unity. Agreement. The Cue.
So instead of offering someone a word of encouragement, I release life into their situation. Instead of silently offering up my supplications before God, I boldly declare the goodness of God over my situation. Instead of worrying about the enemy hearing my prayer, I release prayer in tongues that sends him running! After all, tongues is the language of heaven.
I don't want to send mixed signals anymore. It it time for clarity. It is time for me to give heaven the cue.
I will never forget the first time I heard it. I was sitting with my son, listening to Banning Liebsher (of Jesus Culture) talk. He began remarking on the kindness of God. He seemed to be awestruck by how kind our Father is. Not good, not loving, not His faithfulness, or how he was amazed by God's works of healing, just His kindness. It seemed so odd! There I was, with my nearly grown kid, listening to another kid, (yes, Banning is a kid to me), and I was trying to remember if there was ever a time I thought of God as kind.
The question stuck. Is God kind? And if He is, why did I hold Him at such a distance that I remarked on His greatness, yet overlooked His kindness?
Perhaps I had always treated God's grace as a legal transaction. One of those if-and-then propositions. "If we confess our sins, then he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 (ESV) If I confessed, then He owed me forgiveness, like putting money into a Coke machine. If I put the money in, it owed me a Coke in return. Could I have really been that callused?
After all, I was the one lost in sin. I was the guilty one. He owed me nothing. I was the one who owed a debt that I could never repay. I was broken. Lost. Marred by the same dirt that gets on all of us. Just as guilty the the man serving time on death row for murder. I deserved death.
But the He found me. In His kindness He found me.
"But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." Titus 3:4-7 (NIV)
Did you see that? He not only provides us with forgiveness, and new life, but we become heirs! True sons and daughters of God!
Maybe I received Christ at such a young age that I never fully comprehended the measure to which He went to win me back from death. The older I get, the more I realize that I am not entitled to any of His kindness. From the best of the best, to the worst of the worst, we all deserve death.
"So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding." Ephesians 1:6-8 (NLT)
The attribute of kindness is not just something Jesus displayed on the cross, it has always been a part of His nature, and will always be a part of His nature. One of God's names is Elohim Chaseddi; the God of kindness. It was the love of the Father that sent Christ to the cross. It is the love of the Father that continually, faithfully, consistently draws us unto Him.
"Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?" Romans 2:4 (NLT)
Even now, as we strive to emulate the love of the Father, it is not the crooked finger of condemnation that draws people into repentance. It is the open arms of kindness that draw people unto Him. It is His kindness openly displayed on the cross, and continually displayed through God's people demonstrating kindness and compassion, (not sugar coating the sin), but loving people out of their lostness, out of their shame, and into the loving light of Jesus. Kindness that does not give up on people when they fail. The kindness of a gentle reminder that they are loved, even though.
I am on journey to know God better, so I hope this helps you a little bit as you too, strive to know Him. God is love. Love is kind. It's really not that complicated.
How has He shown you kindness lately?