Spiritual Legacy: God-Sized Dreams

So Thursday morning I’m going to wake up earlier than I want to and board a flight to the rest of my life.

(How’s that for an opening line?)

Actually, I really have no idea if or how my Thursday-through-Sunday excursion will impact the rest of my life given the whole I’m-not-omniscient thing, but I do know it will be an adventure I will remember for years to come because, no matter what happens, just my getting to go on this trip was an act of God. Another story for another time…

I knew the first few moments I began to read a plain, black, hardback Bible I lied to get when I was 16 years old… I knew I was hooked on it. It was oddly intriguing, this ancient collection of writings, all telling the same story, yet leaving me with so many questions… it spoke to me and about me without ever using my name…

A year later I found myself teaching what little I knew about the Bible to others who knew even less… for me, it just came naturally. I had to tell what I was learning… Something compelled me. And I suppose it was way back then – my senior year of high school – that I knew deep down inside that I wanted the major emphasis of my life (other than family, of course) to be teaching the Bible to others.

So I went and got my degree in Biblical Studies and Theology, and a couple of years later I got my chance to start teaching Bible to small groups. A couple more years went by, and I started teaching through this blog. And somewhere along the way, when I was knee deep in toddlers no doubt, my heart began to desire a broader ministry.

(Truth be told, I will probably always struggle with how much of that desire is God-given versus selfish, but it’s probably healthy to continually examine that as I go along.)

When my daughters were both under 5 years old, my desire to help people become passionate about the Bible grew stronger and stronger… and, logically, the more people I could influence to that end the better.

But my call to care for my littles 24/7 was more important to me (and, evidently, to God, seeing as how that’s the way it turned out) at that time. My dream to teach more people more often would have to wait. And that was okay. My time with my pre-school daughters was precious and valuable (and stressful and overwhelming, but I digress).

Every one of those summers with my babies I longed to go to the She Speaks conference… I’d scroll through the pretty website, read over the schedule, daydream about the workshops designed to help women like me become speakers – Bible teachers to the masses. And my dream would get a little bigger, threatening to cause my heart to burst with enthusiasm. But every summer would come and go without my being able to attend.

Well, my baby turned 5 years old last week. Both my daughters will be in full-time, big kid, real deal school in t-24 days (but who’s counting?)… and the Lord just so happened to move a mountain to send me to the conference this summer.

He’s up to something.

And when I take my eyes off Him, I’m terrified as to what that something might be.

But when I remember that He is good and that He loves me, my heart quivers a little less. Today our guest pastor preached on God being sufficient to supply all the resources we need to accomplish the God-sized dreams He’s given us.

I share all this to make you smile. He is in every detail.

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On Account of You

I’ve read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead a time or two. But when I read John’s account again last week, something new grabbed my attention.

On Account of Us
image via digidreamgrafix/freedigitalphotos.net

Which is something I adore about scripture. But that’s a different post.

After Jesus, exhibiting God-like qualities, raised Lazarus from the dead, John reports that a lot of Jews started believing in Jesus. This ticked off the Jewish leaders, in part because they didn’t believe Jesus was God, and in part because they didn’t want to catch flack from the Roman government over the Jesus brouhaha.

So guess who the Jewish leaders wanted to kill?

Did you guess Jesus?

I did.

And I was wrong.

Or partly wrong.

They did want to kill Jesus, but they also wanted to kill somebody else. John 12:9-10 reads, “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well…”

What?

Why in the world would Lazarus be on their hit list? He hadn’t asked to be raised from the dead… And, honestly, what good will killing him do? It wouldn’t erase his resurrection  from history… There would still be people who had witnessed his resurrection telling others about it…

Verse 11 tells us the logic the Jewish leaders were using to justify their desire to murder Lazarus, “…for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him,” (John 12:11).

Jews weren’t believing Jesus was the Messiah because of Jesus’ teachings or the disciples’ following Him or the rumors they’d heard about Jesus’ miracles in distant lands. They were putting their faith in Jesus because Lazarus – a man they knew from their town – was living proof of Jesus’ power.

Not only was he most likely verbalizing his belief in Jesus’ deity, Lazarus’ very life – his breathing and walking – was a testimony to Jesus’ godness.

Lazarus’ existence was so compelling, the Jewish leaders felt they needed to eliminate him.

As I read verse 11, you can guess what questions came to mind. On account of me, are many people believing in Jesus? Are any?

I talk a lot about Jesus. I say the Gospel often. But does my existence – my life – what I do – encourage others to believe?

Your initial objection might be, “Yeah, but we haven’t been raised from the dead like Lazarus, so our physical existence isn’t quite as compelling as his was…”

Have we not?

Believers in Christ have been born again in a spiritual sense – resurrected from spiritual deadness and given new life through Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). In a much more significant way than Lazarus, we’ve been raised spiritually. We have a story to tell. A story that will compel others to come to Jesus and believe in Him.

Are we telling it?

We have the ability to live new lives by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, Romans 8:11-12). Our existences – our breathing and our walking – should look supernatural to those who don’t know Christ.

Does it?

Who is believing in Jesus on account of you?

At the end of the day, that’s all that matters…

Spiritual Legacy: Getting Over My Fear of Church

After I decided Jesus was legit, and after I started reading the Bible some, the next logical step was for me to start attending a church. (Logical to the believers around me, that is; the concept was lost on me for quite awhile).

But that idea terrified me.  So I spent the next 5 months refusing to go.  My friends would invite me, my stomach would knot up, and I would reject the offer, over and over again.

I was afraid of church.

I was afraid that all the other kids in the youth group would already know everything in the Bible.  I was afraid they’d been learning the stories from birth, and I’d stick out like a sore thumb.  I was scared I might be called on to read from the Bible or to answer a question about a Bible story, and I just couldn’t risk that kind of humiliation.

I was also afraid that when it came time to leave Sunday school and attend service that I’d have no one to sit with.  I imagined that all youth group kids went and sat with their perfect little families during the service.  I didn’t have a family to sit with, and I didn’t want to be any other family’s third wheel.

But God knew these fears would keep me from going to church.  So He eliminated them.

Not in some hocus pocus kind of way, but in a practical way.

When I grew brave enough to tell my friends why I was afraid of church, they were able to address my concerns. After many conversations, they finally convinced me that Sunday school was not an environment where everyone knew more than me about the Bible.  On the contrary, it was a non-threatening environment with 80+ kids, and I wouldn’t be expected to say a word.  Fear number one eliminated.

Also, turns out the group of kids that I had been hanging out with all went to church without their families.  (I don’t believe in coincidences.  God had this in His plan as He guided my parents to move me to Memphis instead of Alaska, to enroll me in the 8th grade instead of the 9th, and to put me in the Collierville school district instead of the Houston school district.)

My church friends either had parents that went to different churches, or they all went to the same church but didn’t sit together during the service.  Most of the youth group kids sat together, as opposed to with their individual families.  My friends didn’t even drive to the church with their parents; they drove themselves.   Fear number two eliminated.

I was really left without any valid reason to avoid church any longer.  In May, 2000, my friend, Jonathan, who “just happened” to live on my street, picked me up for my first day at church.  We drove across town and picked up Chris, and we headed to Central Church.

I was indescribably nervous (yet, here I am describing) as I walked into the Senior High area.  There were more kids than I could count, and there were adults hugging and shaking hands with each student as they entered the room.  It appeared that these kids and these adults had relationships….on purpose…and the kids liked it…how foreign to most teenagers.  And then it occurred to me, “Oh no, they are going to realize I am new.”  I didn’t want any attention drawn to me, so I tried to pretend like I’d been there before.  I played the part, shook their hands, smiled, and walked through the door.

Knowing these adults all these years later, I am certain that they were aware that it was my first time that day.  They care enough about people to notice that kind of thing.  But they didn’t make me feel new.  They didn’t ask me one hundred questions or make the mistake of saying, “I’ve never seen you here before!  What’s your story?!”  They let me come in, sit down, and take it all in.  Perfect.

When Sunday school began, three of my friends stood up in front with their acoustic guitars and led us in some songs.  I had no idea there were guitars at church!  I was excited.  Music consumed much of my life back then, so they were speaking my language.  I didn’t know any of the songs they were singing, but I liked them well enough.

After worship Don Gilbert stood in front of the youth group and introduced the new youth pastor, Darryl Lawler.  Darryl spoke for a few minutes, and I was immediately drawn to him.  His sincerity, his love, his joy.  In short, I was drawn to Jesus in Darryl.  It was fitting that Darryl and I were both there for the first time that Sunday.  He would become a key part of my spiritual growth that year.

After I survived Sunday school, my friends and I headed over to the sanctuary for service.  We walked into a massive worship center and sat down.  I watched as families filled the pews, thankful to be able to sit with my friends.  I don’t remember any particulars about the service, but, clearly, I survived that too.

That first visit to a church was a critical step in my spiritual formation.  I went back the next week.  And the next.  Eventually, I met my husband at that church, I was employed at that church, my kids were born at that church (not AT that church, but you know what I mean), my oldest goes to preschool at that church, and I now teach the Bible at that church.

Fear almost kept me from all of this.  Praise God He helped me overcome that fear by using just the right people at just the right time.

Spiritual Legacy: How I Lied to Get a Bible

(For the story of my salvation, read Part I, Part II, and Part III.)

I became a Christian through a long process that culminated in November, 1999.  Once I decided that Jesus was really who He claimed to be – the One True God and the only Savior that could make amends for my failures – I thought it would be good if I read His book.

But I didn’t have a Bible.

image via Amazon.com

Actually, I had a Children’s Bible my Catholic grandma had sent me when I was a child.  It was a thick volume with creepy, old-fashioned pictures, and we never read it.  It lived on the shelf of my closet my entire childhood.  After I became a Christian, I dug it out, opened it, and considered reading it.  But I felt silly, being 16 years old and reading a children’s Bible.

I didn’t have a job (read: money) or a car, so I wasn’t sure how I could get my hands on a real Bible.  And I was too embarrassed/fearful to ask my parents for assistance.  I just wasn’t sure how they’d react to my interest in the Bible.  We never talked about religious things, and I assumed it would be an uncomfortable conversation if I asked them for a Bible.

But God wanted me to have one.  I saved my allowance and asked my mom to take me to the bookstore so I could do some Christmas shopping.  While she was looking around, I snuck away to find the Bibles.  I stared at a WALL of books, all Bibles, and had NO idea how to determine which would be best for me.  I took a look inside a few of them and, ultimately, selected a cheap, readable Bible.  I took it to the cashier as fast as possible and never made eye contact with her as I handed her exact change.  I hoped my mom, being under the impression I had bought a Christmas gift for someone, wouldn’t ask me what I bought.  And she didn’t.

(My flesh STILL wants to justify that deception by saying, “I did buy a Christmas gift that day.  I bought myself a Bible for Christmas…  see?  I didn’t lie to my mom!”  But I can’t convince myself that’s true.  So my flesh tries a different approach, “Well, even if it was a lie, it was a justified lie – I was lying to cover up buying a BIBLE, for goodness sake!”  But I still don’t believe myself.  I’ve read too much Bible to sit here and pretend like the ends justify the means.  God NEVER supports doing the right things the wrong way.  And so the struggle with self continues…)

When I got home, I went to my room and opened the bag.  I pulled out the Bible, opened it, and stared at the pages.  What were these strange notations?  Why was each sentence numbered?  I read the tag, “Psalm 32:2”.  What was that colon about?  I didn’t understand.  I felt like I was looking at a foreign language.  I flipped back to the “Introduction” and read every single word, hoping I’d find instructions on how to read this book.

Thankfully, it explained that each book was divided into chapters (the big numbers, as it were), and the chapters were divided into verses (the small numbers, it turned out).  Feeling more informed about how to use the book, I decided to start reading it from the beginning.

Genesis began to explain to me how the earth and everything in it was formed.  It didn’t sound like anything I’d ever heard before.  I had never even heard of Intelligent Design or Creationism.  My science-loving dad had never spoken of this, not even as a mere possibility.  Whenever he taught me things about the universe and space and humanity, he explained things from an evolutionary stand point.  And I had always taken his word as truth because he was my dad.  His authority was all I ever needed as a child to believe what he was saying.  Similarly, the public schools I had attended my whole life had failed to mention there was more than one theory out there about the origin of the world.  But my teachers were my teachers, so I had trusted that they were teaching fact and truth.

As I sat and read this alternate idea as to how the universe was made and how people were created, I was fascinated.  I knew it was true.  In a similar way to how I just knew Jesus was God/Savior one day, I trusted this book without any need to verify its truth.  I read it most days, eager to learn what it had to say, but often not understanding the significance of what I was reading.

And that was ok in the beginning.  I was learning.  And you have to learn before you can question.

To be continued…

Part 5

Spiritual Legacy: Discovering Jesus

(For Part I of my story, read Spiritual Legacy: I Once Was Lost.  For Part II of my story, read Spiritual Legacy: What Difference Did God Make?)

I was 16 when I relied on God for the first time.  It was more like I threatened God, telling Him that it was His responsibility to get me through this painful thing called life.

And He took me up on the challenge.

I began my junior year of high school with a broken heart and a downcast spirit.  I can’t say why some of my classmates chose to befriend me in that state, but they did.  They didn’t talk to me about Jesus or church, they just took the time to chat with me about school, music, and soccer.  And soon I found myself with a handful of new friends.  I hadn’t considered whether or not they were Christians; I just wanted some friends and enjoyed talking to them.

One October night one of those friends, Chris, invited me to go to a concert (Fuel and The Nixons, for those of you who like details) with a group of his friends.  I jumped at the chance, excited for the show and the social interaction.

I ended up in a car with some “random” kids.  I knew them from school, but we hadn’t ever had a conversation.  We had a great time at the concert, and on the way home, I was the last person to be dropped off.  I barely knew the guy driving, Tyler, but we pushed through some small talk.  As I was getting out of the car, I thanked him for the ride.

And then God nudged Tyler’s heart, and he extended an invitation to me.

“A bunch of us meet at my house once a week to talk about life.  I’d really like you to come next week.”

I told him I’d think about it (yeah, right).  I just wasn’t ready to awkwardly work my way into a group of friends that had known each other for years.  I wasn’t confident in my social skills anyway, and the thought of showing up at this guy’s house BY MYSELF turned my stomach upside down.

I can’t remember how many times Chris and Tyler invited me to that weekly meeting, but it was a lot.  I finally gave in and went for the first time in November when Chris offered to come to my house and walk me DOWN THE STREET to Tyler’s house.  (I really was (am?) quite the social weenie.)

I was scared.  And felt socially paralyzed.  But it wasn’t the worst experience of my life.  There were probably 12 kids there and a couple of “random” adults.  I have no recollection of what we talked about – some non-threatening topic like stress, parents, or school.  And then we broke up into groups of 3 to talk some more.  (Actually, I didn’t talk at all.  I went to that group every week for two months before I ever voluntarily spoke up).

Chris and one of the adults were in my breakout group.  At one point, the adult, Wayne, started drawing this on a scrap piece of paper:

image via Bible.org

I watched him draw.  I listened to him explain the Gospel as he wrote.  I felt nervous.  Then Wayne asked me, “Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins?”  I said yes.  I think I surprised him.  I know I surprised me.  Honestly, part of the reason I said yes was because I wanted to please Chris and Wayne and not embarrass myself by being the only person in that house that didn’t believe in Jesus.

But that was only part of it.  The other part of it was that for some reason, I felt like what Wayne was describing was true.  It was all brand new to me, but there was a surreal comfort in it.  I had never heard the Gospel at all.  I didn’t know anything about Jesus, the history of His life, the significance of His death, or that He had supposedly risen.  I hadn’t verified any of the things Wayne was talking about, but I believed what he was saying.

That November night, I trusted Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.

And that was the step in the right direction I needed to take to begin to experience heart change.

To be continued…

Part 4Part 5

Spiritual Legacy: What Difference Did God Make?

(For Part I of my story, read Spiritual Legacy: I Once Was Lost.)

There I was, 14 years old and finally willing to believe that there was a God.  But my everyday life didn’t change.  I was still a disgruntled teenager with no hope for the future.  I was bitter and cynical and depressed.  I was still missing something.

Why wasn’t I feeling any differently?  Why wasn’t my life changing for the better?

The night of the concert I left that church with a belief in God, but I left that church without Jesus.

Nobody had explained to me His essential role in heart change.  To be quite honest, I didn’t really get His connection to Christianity.  In all the talks I had had with people, they had all focused more on trying to get me to believe in “God” than “Jesus”.  I came to believe that the essential difference between Christians and me were that they believed in God and I didn’t.

After I accepted God, I spent the next year and a half being exactly the same Kelly I was before I accepted God.  I never went to church.  I didn’t befriend any Christians.  And I never read the Bible.  I didn’t know to do any of these things.  Instead, I hung out with the same crowd I’d always hung out with – the skaters, the druggies, the rebellious.

When I was 16, my boyfriend and I broke up.  We had been together for two years.  Our sophomore year was coming to an end, and so did our relationship.  I backed out of our circle of friends, knowing it would be too uncomfortable for us to still hang out together.

While I believe that was a good decision, I was lonely.  I was dreading a long, friendless summer.  It “just so happened” that we lived within walking distance of the high school.  And it “just so happened” that on the last day of school, my soccer coach invited me to come to the field whenever I wanted over the summer to participate in practices with whichever of his many teams happened to be practicing that day.

Did I mention that I almost didn’t try out for the high school soccer team my freshman year?  I got cold feet the night before try outs.  But God knew I needed to be on that team to meet that coach.  So He used my dad to convince me to try out.

Anyway, I took my coach up on his offer and found myself out on the field most of those summer afternoons.  I practiced mostly with a team of freshman and sophomore boys.  That should tell you that we didn’t exactly bond.  They weren’t chatty to begin with, but throw a junior girl into the mix and they were SILENT.  They were too busy worrying about whether I would be impressed by them or totally embarrass them on the field.  So playing with them didn’t do much for me in the way of companionship.

But my coach, on the other hand, had been my coach for 2 years.  We were close.  We had similar senses of humor, he had gained my trust by helping me talk through problems, and he always made practice fun.  That summer, he really was my only friend.

He had his own problems, however.  He wasn’t a Christian influence at all.  Eventually, he found himself in some legal trouble, resulting in his abrupt resignation from his teaching/coaching position at my school at the end of that summer.  Within one week’s time, my best/only friend was ripped out of my life and moved to Wisconsin.  There were a lot of questions surrounding his departure, and my world was upside down.

That afternoon, late in July, 1999, I broke.  I was home alone, and I remember being in the kitchen.  The tears flowed as I tried to process the injustice of what was happening to my coach and to me.  I remember being very angry, and saying out loud to God, nearly screaming, “If You want me to make it through this, You are going to have to do it.  I can’t do this!”

It was the first time in my life I relied on God for something.  It was the first time I admitted I needed Him.

And that was a giant step in the right direction.

But I was still missing something.

To be continued…

Part 3Part 4Part 5

Spiritual Legacy: I Once Was Lost

I was not raised in a Christian home.  My parents were both raised Catholic, but neither practiced that religion once they became adults.  In fact, they raised my brother and me without any religious influence whatsoever.  They wanted us to choose for ourselves what religion, if any, we’d subscribe to.

As a military family, we moved around the world throughout my childhood.  When I was 12, we moved to San Ramon, California.  Less than a year later, my dad became a Fed Ex pilot, and my parents had to choose our next home: Anchorage, Alaska, or Memphis, Tennessee.

I fully believe God led them to choose Memphis, without their knowing it, because He had a plan for my salvation that incorporated many key people in the Memphis area.

We moved to a suburb of Memphis just in time for my eighth grade year.  Again, my parents had to choose which school district they wanted me in – Houston or Collierville – and, again, the Lord was working behind the scenes.  I wound up in the Collierville school system.

Because I attended 3 different middle schools in 3 years, I was quite ahead of the curve in math.  I was an honor student in all subjects, but I was even more advanced in math.  Decision time – do I skip eighth grade and begin high school, where they offer the math course I need, or do I attend eighth grade as scheduled and supplement my math class in an unorthodox way?  Although none of us knew it at the time, this decision was crucial to my salvation.  Most of the students who would later expose me to Jesus were in the eighth grade that year.  So God made sure I was too.

With no education in the way of religion, the eighth grade me was confused by all the churches in Memphis.  I had never lived anywhere else in the world where church attendance was such a central part of life.  I could literally count on one hand the number of friends I had in my first thirteen years of life that attended church of any kind.

Couple this oddity with my jadedness from all the moving, and I just wanted to rebel against and reject people in Memphis before they had the chance to reject me.  As a result, I decided I needed to reject their God, even though I knew nothing about Him.

I began to argue with kids at school about why Christianity was stupid, and how they had no basis for their beliefs, and how all beliefs are equally possible, which meant I wasn’t going to subscribe to one belief – the odds of me choosing the right one were minimal.  I didn’t like those odds, so I chose not to choose, which, it turns out, is a choice in and of itself.  I chose not to believe in anything.

When I was in ninth grade, I continued my quest against Christianity.  But even though my heart was hard, God decided to show His power to me.  One of the senior guys at school was in a rock band, and they were having a concert.  I wanted to go because I thought he was cute.

My first clue that something Jesusy was going to happen should have been that the concert was at a church.  But that didn’t register with me at all.  This guy didn’t look like the Christians at my school – he had skater jeans and a blue mohawk.  I guess I just figured they let people use the church like a community center, and the band somehow was allowed to have their concert there.

There were about 100 kids from school at this concert.  Everything was going fine until halfway through the band’s set.  They dimmed the stage lights and went from playing high energy rock to an acoustic worship set.  I didn’t know what was going on, but the guy singing had his eyes closed the whole time, and the kids around me – kids I knew – were singing to God with arms raised.  It was all very strange to me.  And as I tried to process what was happening, I decided that God was happening.  God was affecting people.

I left that concert that night thinking, “If God can affect this many people, He’s got to be real.”  And that was a giant step in the right direction.

But I was still missing something.

To be continued…

Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5